From Arizona to Uganda, We Must Protect the Rights of the LGBT Community

It's sometimes hard to believe that the year is 2014. For all of our advances, tech developments, innovations, achievements and progress, we are watching elected officials enact laws and propose others that are simply unbelievable. Last week, the Arizona State House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow business owners asserting religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. Across the ocean in the country of Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill on Monday that criminalizes homosexuality. It is shocking, outrageous and down right preposterous that in this day and age we have to fight laws that openly discriminate against others. I have been a preacher since I was a little boy and I refuse to watch people use religion to try and justify blatant biased practices.

There was a time when restaurants and businesses denied service to African Americans and other people of color. After sit-ins, boycotts, demonstrations and the unwavering dedication of countless individuals from all backgrounds, we were able to usher in change. Social divides and physical divides were slowly eliminated, and the result was a more fair and equal society. Following all that sacrifice -- many who even gave their lives for justice -- how can we allow businesses to once again discriminate against a group of people? And if you think that this doesn't impact you because you aren't a member of the LGBT community, I have news for you, you're wrong. What's to stop a business owner from citing religious beliefs in refusing to serve anyone based on religion, race, ethnicity, etc.? Arizona legislators are setting an extremely dangerous precedent, and Gov. Jan Brewer must veto this outlandish bill.

As a man of faith, I find it interesting when people cite Christianity, the Bible, Jesus or any other religion to justify this sort of behavior. Last time I checked, Jesus never asked anyone who they slept with or what their sexual orientation was before he healed them. Jesus never questioned someone's personal preference before speaking to him or her. Who are we to judge when religion teaches us that we are all equal in the eyes of the Creator? I will be the first one to admit that I had to come to terms with my own homophobia after watching the struggles of my lesbian sister. But today, I will also be the first one to say that we cannot fight for civil rights if basic dignity and equality are being denied to others. The LGBT community is still facing persecution, and not just in Arizona.

When Ugandan President Museveni signed a bill into law that criminalizes homosexuality, he codified hatred and injustice. The draconian law increases penalties for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment for 'aggravated homosexuality'. Uganda is on a continent that my forefathers came from. It's an area that had to fight oppression for years. It cannot now turn around and oppress others today. This law not only viciously violates the basic human rights of people, but it also undermines efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. Anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians is now a target as well. It's a sad day for all those fighting for justice.

It's far too easy to look at a place like Uganda and think that their laws or societal dealings don't affect you. It's just as easy to look at Arizona's proposed legislation and think that it's not that serious because it will only impact a minority in one particular state. But it's precisely when the rights of minorities or the disenfranchised are at risk that we must be the most vocal. We cannot only speak out on our own personal issues, or pick and choose which rights we want to fight for. Nobody is protected until we are all protected equally under the law. Just as I'm not silent about justice for Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis, I will not be silent about this. It's not about your particular quest for civil rights; it's about fairness and equality for all human beings. Period.