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Exxon Mobil to offer spousal benefits to gay employees

Accused of anti-gay bias, oil giant institutes change to comply with fed’l policy

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Exxon, Mobil, gay news, Washington Blade

Exxon Mobil has adopted spousal benefits for its gay employees (Photo of Exxon sign by Ildar Sagdejev, photo of Mobil sign by Terence Ong; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Faced with criticism over anti-LGBT policies and a lawsuit alleging anti-gay bias in its hiring practices, oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil has elected to offer employees in same-sex marriages health and pension benefits.

Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesperson, said in a statement Friday the company had decided to institute the benefits in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act to achieve consistency with the federal government.

“ExxonMobil will recognize all legal marriages for the purposes of eligibility in U.S. benefit plans to ensure consistency for employees across the country,” Jeffers said. “The decision is consistent with the direction of most U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury and the IRS. Legal marriages are determined by the laws of the state or country where the marriage took place.”

Jeffers said this approach to spousal benefits is consistent in all countries where Exxon Mobil operates, which looks to national laws to determine eligibility for spousal benefits. According to Exxon Mobil, the company provides benefits to same-sex spouses in 30 countries outside the United States.

Speaking with the Blade, Jeffers declined to say who executed the change within Exxon Mobil, but maintained it was enacted for the sake of consistency and will be effective Tuesday. Jeffers said the company won’t recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships, only legal marriages.

Exxon Mobil enacts these benefits amid criticism for having anti-LGBT policies. For example, the company has no non-discrimination protections for workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity in its Equal Employment Opportunity guidance. Exxon Mobil has the notorious distinction of being rated “-25” in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the lowest of any company.

Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, called the move from Exxon Mobil “a step toward equality,” but expressed continued disappointment with the company for its overall practices in comparison to its competitors like Chevron or BP.

“There is no federal law protecting employees from discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity and ExxonMobil refuses to join the majority of their Fortune 500 colleagues in adopting their own such policies,” Fidas said. “One has to wonder, what good are benefits for your same-sex spouse if you risk being fired for disclosing your sexual orientation in order to access them?”

The new policy from Exxon Mobil follows a similar decision from retail giant Walmart, which announced earlier this month it would begin offering domestic partner benefits to employees. But unlike Exxon Mobil, Walmart isn’t recognizing the same-sex marriages of workers for the purposes, even in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

For the 16th time this year, Exxon Mobil shareholders rejected a resolution that would have expanded the company’s equal employment opportunity policy to include non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. This year, the resolution was sponsored by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose state owns a significant share of the company.

In a statement, DiNapoli commended Exxon Mobil for its new policy.

“Corporate discrimination in any form is simply not good business,” DiNapoli said. “On behalf of those who have supported the New York State Common Retirement Fund’s shareholder resolutions on this issue over these past four years, I am gratified that ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world and one of the Fund’s largest holdings, will treat its employees with the dignity, equality and respect that they deserve.”

Exxon Mobil enacts the new policy as it faces a lawsuit in Illinois filed by the LGBT group Freedom to Work over alleged anti-gay bias in hiring practices. The case is pending before the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, called the company’s new policy “a victory,” but said it should be followed with the company settling the lawsuit by enacting a non-discrimination policy for its LGBT workers.

“It’s time for Exxon to stop wasting its shareholders’ money by running up legal bills on discrimination proceedings that can be settled right away if the corporation would simply add LGBT protections to Exxon’s official equal employment opportunity document,” Almeida said. “We’d like to begin settlement talks next week in our Illinois lawsuit stemming from evidence that Exxon gave hiring preference to a less qualified straight applicant over a more qualified lesbian applicant.”

But Exxon Mobil shows no signs of buckling on the issue of non-discrimination. Jeffers said the equal employment opportunity is based on the current federal law — which affords no explicit protections for LGBT workers — and said Freedom to Work’s lawsuit is without merit because it’s based on fictitious resumes sent to the company and not any real discrimination.

“We have responded to the claims,” Jeffers said. “We consider them baseless, without merit. We feel that the organization filed the complaint to really use our name to advance its political agenda. This is not a case of discrimination. We do not accept the claim and provided a response to the Department of Human Rights in Illinois.”

Additionally, Jeffers said the company has a “zero-tolerance” policy for discrimination. Although the equal employment non-discrimination policy doesn’t include protections for LGBT workers, Jeffers said the company has “very explicit” training against any form of discrimination, including sexual orientation, and has employee affinity groups, including one for LGBT employees.

Almeida acknowledged he had read the response filed by Exxon Mobil in the case and said it was written by Seyfarth Shaw, a Chicago-based firm that he earlier said was representing Exxon Mobil in the case. However, Almeida declined to provide a copy of the response. Exxon Mobil didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up request to provide the response.

Still, Almeida noted Exxon Mobil made the change to spousal benefits one week after the Labor Department made public its post-DOMA guidance for employer-provided pension and health care for employees, saying it’s evidence the company will act in a pro-LGBT way if required by federal law.

“The timing shows that Exxon is the kind of company that only does the right thing when they are forced by law, and therefore we will push forward on Freedom to Work’s lawsuit until Exxon agrees to amend its policies to make clear that LGBT Americans have the same workplace protections as everyone else,” Almeida said.

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Texas

Texas attorney general impeached, suspended pending outcome of Senate trial

Ken Paxton over the last decade has targeted LGBTQ people

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The Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 27, 2023. (Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

Editor’s note: For the vast majority of the past 10 years the Texas attorney general has waged a relentless campaign to limit the rights and equality of LGBTQ Texans, especially transgender Texans. Today’s vote is significant in terms of the possibility that a Senate conviction would offer a potential respite from Paxton’s attacks on the LGBTQ community.

By  Zach Despart and James Barragan AUSTIN, Texas | In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro), a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo), who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston). “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Related:

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Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart

[email protected]

@zachdespart

James Barragán’s staff photo

James Barragán

[email protected]

@James_Barragan

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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National

Target stores across the country receive bomb threats over LGBTQ merchandise

Company removed Pride-themed items to back of stores in Southern states

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Screenshot from YouTube (Courtesy of 11 Alive Atlanta)

Police departments in Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania aided by assistance from agents from Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Offices in Ohio and Utah are investigating threats made by email to local media referencing the retail chain Target’s LGBTQ merchandise collections celebrating Pride Month.

KUTV CBS 2 Salt Lake City reported that Sgt. John Ottesen with Layton Utah Police said bomb threats were made to Target stores in Layton, Salt Lake City, Taylorsville and Provo. Ottesen confirmed that multiple law enforcement agencies commenced the investigation after the local new stations received the emailed threats.

A Target store in Layton, Utah, was evacuated after police said they were informed of a bomb threat to multiple Utah locations.

The threats specifically mentioned Target’s Pride merchandise, were three sentences long, and came from a “bogus email address,” according to Ottesen.

WOIO Cleveland 19 News received a bomb threat Friday afternoon against four Target stores in Ohio and a store in Monaca, Pa., purportedly from a person or persons angry over Target Corporation’s decision to remove some of the LGBTQ merchandise after a series of threats and physical threats against its retail clerks and staff in several southern states earlier this week.

It was not immediately known if the threats were legitimate, though precautions were quickly taken to ensure staff and customer’s safety according to officials.

A Target spokesperson who spoke with multiple media outlets said: “The safety of our team members and guests is our top priority. Law enforcement investigated these claims and determined our stores are safe. Our stores are currently open and operating regular hours.”

Speaking for the Minneapolis-based retail giant two days ago, spokesperson Kayla Castañeda noted: “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”

Castañeda also released a statement from the company:

“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month. Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Removal of the merchandise from its online store in addition to the storefronts has prompted harsh criticism of the retailer. California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted.

Numerous LGBTQ activists and groups have condemned Target for bowing to what is seen as political pressure by a minority of far right extremists:

“Extremist groups and individuals work to divide us and ultimately don’t just want rainbow products to disappear, they want us to disappear,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “For the past decade, the LGBTQ+ community has celebrated Pride with Target — it’s time that Target stands with us and doubles-down on their commitment to us.”

On Friday, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic and an LGBTQ activist tweeted her disgust over the decision by Target to effectively abandon company support for the queer product lines and the creators.

Atlanta LGBTQ community reacts to Target pulling some Pride merchandise:

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Virginia

Baptist group forces minister to resign from committees because he is married to man

BWA is based in Falls Church, Va.

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Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

A Virginia-based Baptist group forced an openly gay minister to resign from two of its commissions because he is married to a man.

The Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger is an associate minister for youth and young adults and community outreach at Lake Street Church in Evanston, Ill., a congregation that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA. 

He has worked with the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who is the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and has preached at the U.N., among other places. 

Williams-Hauger has studied with Warnock and Moss and earned his Master of Divinity at the New York Theological Seminary. Williams-Hauger is also studying to become ordained within American Baptist Churches USA with the support of Judson Memorial Church in New York.

The Rev. Elijah Brown, who is the secretary general of the Baptist World Alliance, which is headquartered in Falls Church, in an April 21 email to Williams-Hauger confirmed his invitation to join the group’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commissions had been rescinded.

Thank you for your prayerful attitude,” wrote Brown. “Following our phone conversation yesterday, this email confirms that the invitation from BWA for you to serve on Commissions is rescinded. Please know that I am praying for you.” 

Williams-Hauger told the Washington Blade that it “has always been known that I’m married to” his husband.

“Brad and I have been together since 2005 and he has to accompany me to many events with the Sharpton family to events at Trinity United Church of Christ (in Chicago),” said Williams-Hauger. “In fact, when we got married to our wedding, was celebrated by the clergy at Trinity United Church of Christ with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss and Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade said Brown nevertheless “decided to get rid of me” when he found out he was married to a man.

Brown, according to Williams-Hauger, “lied to us” when he said the BWA’s Executive Committee “made the decision” to rescind the invitations to join the committee.

“He initiated the situation,” said Williams-Hauger.

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger, right, with his husband. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

BWA affirms ‘Christian marriage and family life’

The BWA’s belief statement states it affirms “Christian marriage and family life” and affirms “the dignity of all people, male and female, because they are created in God’s image and called to be holy.”

“For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development,” states the BWA on its website.

A BWA spokesperson in a May 21 statement to the Blade did not specifically comment on Williams-Hauger’s allegations. The comment also did not include a reference to the BWA’s position against marriage for same-sex couples.

“As a Christian world communion, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) represents Baptists in 128 countries and territories with a governing General Council comprised of global representatives,” reads the statement. “Drawing upon over 400 years of shared Baptist history and more than 100 years of organizational history, the BWA remains committed to our mission to network the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ. With more than 400 commission members from across the global BWA family, we acknowledge their commitment to serve as volunteers and are not able to comment further on the specifics of any current or previous commission member.” 

Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger with Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo courtesy of Rev. TJ Williams-Hauger)

Williams-Hauger on Friday in an emailed statement to the Blade noted the BWA “adopted a resolution stating that same-gendered marriage is incompatible with scripture” and “on April 20 I was asked by Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown to step down from my position on the BWA’s Interfaith Relations and Racial Justice Commission; a role I have faithfully served for three years. 

“When Elijah Brown rescinded my invitation to serve on the commission it was not just a personal attempt to silence, but rather it is an attempt to silence others like myself, particularly Black queer persons,” Williams-Hauger told the Blade. “Further it was an effort to silence our prophetic presence and witness, our God ordained call to serve and advocate for justice and equality all while calling the family of faith to be and do better.”

Williams-Hauger said he and other Black LGBTQ people “will not be silenced.”

“Standing on the shoulders of the ancestors of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and countless others who lived and died and whose spirits give volume to our voices. We call out the hateful theology being practiced by the BWA,” said Williams-Hauger. “This hateful theology does not represent the message of Jesus, nor does it even represent the entirety of the Baptist Community. This theology of hate is embodied in by the likes of Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee to name a few. If Dr. Brown and the BWA wish to go down that path and be another representation of that, hate; we pray for their souls.”

Williams-Hauger told the Blade that he and other Black LGBTQ clergy “will continue to serve a God of justice.”

“We will build upon the legacy of and work alongside the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton and his children, Rev. Jesse Jackson and his children, Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the good people of Judson Memorial Church NYC, Riverside Church NYC, Lake Street Church, the body of faithful American Baptist Churches, the Alliance of Baptists, and our siblings in the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the body of the some friends among the Association of European Baptist Churches until justice rolls and we get a bit of heaven here on earth.”

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