Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative hosted “Religious Liberty: The Key to Healing LGBT Divides” on Thursday, October 26. The event was co-sponsored by the LGBT Law Forum and featured a conversation with Reverend Marian Edmonds-Allen, the executive director of Parity, a New York City-based national nonprofit that works at the intersection of faith and LGBTQIA+ concerns.
Edmonds-Allen sat with Dean G. Marcus Cole, founder of the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative, to share details on her faith journey as a member of clergy and the LGBTQIA+ community, and how learning she was a part of the LGBTQIA+ community at the age of 40 impacted her traditional, Christian beliefs. Edmonds-Allen also spoke in great depth about her journey as an activist working with LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing homelessness in Utah, and the unlikely ally she found in a legislative aide.
Meeting Laura Warburton, the legislative aide who is a Latter-day Saint, changed her life profoundly and served as a 'Road to Damascus' moment for Edmonds-Allen. She shared that Warburton became a champion for youth experiencing homelessness by bringing together coalitions across partisan divides to actively address and change the laws in Utah. Her persistent efforts led to bipartisan state and federal legislation to help LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing homelessness and increased suicide risk.
“We need people who are different to work together, especially those with differences across religious beliefs, because those make us stronger,” Edmonds-Allen said.
“People are using their identities to stay away from each other. We can have differences and still share together and bond together and grow together,” Cole said. “We need that diversity to reflect the wholeness of God.”
According to a report from the Center for American Progress on homelessness among gay and transgender youth, a survey conducted in New York City found that gay and transgender youth first become homeless as early as age 13.
Edmonds-Allen and Warburton have played an integral role in amplifying the voices of homeless youth and calling upon the national and international communities to protect the LGBTQIA+ community. Five pieces of legislation related to preventing youth homelessness and suicide in Utah were ceremoniously signed into law.
Edmonds-Allen supports “fairness for all” as the best way to address and balance essential religious liberty protections and LGBTQIA+ rights. As a part of the Fairness for All coalition, she helped advocate for policies and legislation in support of LGBTQIA+ nondiscrimination protections. The coalition members included the Orthodox Union, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
“It was a beautiful coalition of different faith organizations coming together to work together,” Edmonds-Allen said. The coalition sought to gain bipartisan support for federal legislation that would unite all Americans around the nation’s core values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity.
Edmonds-Allen also elaborated on the meaning and importance of religious freedom, pointing out that it has transformed into a highly politicized phrase that has spurred division, hatred, and violence. She strongly believes, however, that religious freedom — when fully embraced — should have the opposite effect; it provides for the dignity and wholeness of all people.
"Faith, hope, and love are made possible through religious liberty — especially regarding LGBT concerns,” she said. “Places with more religious freedom have more LGBT rights, while places with less religious freedom have less LGBT rights.”
In addition to Notre Dame Law School students, faculty, and staff, the event was attended by members of the larger Notre Dame community, including undergraduate students and chaplains from outside of the Law School.
Suzanne Santiago, a first-year undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame, said, “The speaker had many impressive impacts through her advocacy and charity work. One thing that I found quite profound was her work with implementing a 24/7 suicide hotline specifically for LGBTQIA+ people.
“I used to volunteer on a mental health line and noticed the higher proportion of LGBTQIA+ people that reached out, as well as the impact a supportive nonjudgmental phone call can have,” Santiago added.
Justin Vickers, a second-year student at Notre Dame Law School, said, “As the president of the LGBT Law Forum and a practicing Ukrainian Catholic, I wanted to hear the reverend's perspective on how people like me can engage with both aspects of our identity. The main takeaway that I got from the discussion was how the reverend encountered many people who had a negative impression of the LGBT community at first, but their minds were changed to become more accepting of us. It gives me hope that people can become more open-minded.”
Toward the end of the event, Cole addressed a question asked by a Notre Dame Law School student pertaining to how the Law School supports the LGBTQIA+ community. Cole noted that it is important for Notre Dame to “nurture an environment of dignity and respect for all people.”
In line with this, Vickers shared a final reflection: “As a Catholic institution, it is our responsibility to show God's love for all people, especially those on the margins of society like the LGBT community.”
About the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative
Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all people through advocacy, formation, and thought leadership. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise and express those beliefs and to live according to them.
The Religious Liberty Initiative has represented individuals and organizations from an array of faith traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to select religious ministers, and to prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.
Learn more about the Religious Liberty Initiative at religiousliberty.nd.edu.