As a pastor in Miami’s Liberty City, I hope Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott will help find common ground to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans.

For decades, Congress has neglected its responsibility to protect the LGBT community — but with both parties now offering proposals to add non-discrimination protections to the law, that could change in 2021. I look to Florida’s senators to help hammer out the details of this crucial legislation.

I serve as Interim Pastor of the New Covenant Presbyterian Church. Today, New Covenant is a largely Black congregation proud of its traditions of diversity and inclusion. As Liberty City gradually transformed in the 1960s from a predominately White neighborhood to one with increasing numbers of Black residents, New Covenant was the first Presbyterian congregation in the South to break racial barriers by integrating. New Covenant adopted the motto “A church for all people.”

As a gay man, I like to emphasize exactly what that motto means, encouraging our community to look around and see who’s missing. As part of that effort, I’ve had the opportunity to counsel young LGBT adults who are searching for a faith home that welcomes them. Some of them share the struggles they’ve had finding acceptance and support from their families.

The role that the church plays in honoring every person is at the heart of my ministry. My faith teaches me that Jesus’ message was very clear: we all share a responsibility to love and respect the dignity of everyone around us. The love of justice for everyone is integral to our congregation’s mission.

I sometimes hear people complain that the LGBT community is seeking special rights, when in fact our goal is simply to be confident in having the same rights as every other American. Friends I’ve known for years tell me they’ve been unaware of the rights our community lacks — for example, in securing housing, accessing public accommodations open to the general public, and being free from discrimination in obtaining credit.

We know that Americans from all regions, walks of life, and political outlooks — by a lopsided 69-24% margin — support LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, yet, like my friends, most incorrectly believe those protections already exist on a federal level.

They do not.

And here in Florida, there are no statewide laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination or its youth from bullying in schools. I’ve learned that discrimination has profoundly damaging consequences for LGBT Americans here and nationwide. One in three, according to a 2020 survey, experienced discrimination — in public spaces, on the job, in schools, and in their own neighborhoods — in just the previous year.

That number rises to 60% among transgender people, who experience exceptionally high levels of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. They are also stalked by violence, with a record 44 hate-motivated murders nationwide last year.

Black and Latino LGBTQ folks face greater poverty rates than communities of color generally. Less than half the states protect the community’s youth from bullying in school. Elders must often re-closet themselves, with nearly half of same-sex couples reporting discrimination in seeking senior housing. 

But there is now hope Congress might finally act. For the first time, both Democrats and Republicans have put forward measures adding LGBT protections to our nation’s civil rights laws. The major disagreement between the two parties involves balancing the urgent need to protect LGBT people with the religious freedoms we cherish as Americans. 

Finding a path to getting that job done is what legislators do when committed to solving problems, and Senators Rubio and Scott can look to the 21 states with laws that prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination without compromising religious freedoms.

Washington can follow suit, with senators reaching across the aisle to end the divisive pattern of pitting religious liberties against LGBT rights. Every major civil rights advance — from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Americans With Disabilities Act — has found the appropriate balance. 

Senators Rubio and Scott: Nearly one million LGBTQ Floridians and their families and friends are counting on you.