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Will Orlando's Moment Of LGBT Support Endure?

Jun 26, 2016
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There's been an outpouring of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities since the mass shooting at a nightclub two weeks ago. Some of it is coming from groups that have spoken out against LGBT issues in the past. But there are gay and lesbian activists who wonder how long this goodwill will last. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Tears have been falling across Orlando at LGBT community centers, outside hospitals and in evangelical churches.

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JOEL HUNTER: I'm not weeping because I had so many relationships in the LGBTQ community. I'm weeping because I didn't, and I'm wondering why.

WANG: That was Reverend Joel Hunter speaking last Sunday at Northland, an evangelical megachurch in the Orlando area. About 20,000 Christians worship here. Hunter says many of his congregation have been reluctant to become fully engaged with the LGBT community. But the shootings at Pulse nightclub have led him to do some deep soul searching about his commitment to vulnerable communities.

HUNTER: How did I miss this one? And in missing it, am I somewhat complicit in acts of aggression or at least disrespect?

WANG: Hunter says many pastors like him don't talk about homosexuality to avoid controversy that could jeopardize their jobs and divide congregations.

HUNTER: On the one hand, there's a biblical prohibition against certain forms of sexual expression. On the other hand, they've got members of their family and friends who are gay. They love these folks.

WANG: Now Hunter says he's considering publicly supporting proposals for state laws that would give more civil rights protections to LGBT people in Florida.

ERIC ROLLINGS: Out of something bad comes something good. This is a good time to talk to your kids, to talk to your neighbors, to have an open dialogue of why did this happen? What are the next steps?

WANG: Eric Rollings is an openly gay elected county official in Orlando. He says he's been fielding dozens of phone calls about donations for victims' families.

ROLLINGS: It's not the usual people. It's people that maybe have never had a connection with the LGBT community.

WANG: And that's creating a unique opportunity, he says, to heal old wounds from faith leaders, politicians and other groups who have not been supportive before.

ROLLINGS: But I think there's cautious optimism here. They're going to have to prove their love like anybody else does.

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DAVID UTH: I know the LGBTQ community does not always believe we love them. I was told that. I've been told that many times.

WANG: Reverend David Uth spoke about that cautious optimism during his sermon last Sunday at First Baptist Church Orlando. The church's spokesperson did not respond to NPR's interview request, but in a sermon posted online, Uth said his church has offered to pay rent for shooting victims and give other support. And while he believes that homosexuality is a sin, he also acknowledged that Jesus would still love LGBT people unconditionally. For Nadine Smith, words like these are encouraging.

NADINE SMITH: This is a moment to put deeds behind these words.

WANG: Smith heads the LGBT rights group Equality Florida in a state where she says there's a lot more work for her to do. Some cities and counties in Florida, like Orlando, do protect LGBT workers from discrimination at the workplace, but there are no specific protections under state or federal law.

SMITH: And now we'll see whether that was a passing moment of reflection or a true shift. And I hope it is. I don't think it serves us to embrace cynicism as though there's wisdom in it.

WANG: Her activism, she says, is based on the idea that people will change. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.