Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people deserve both legal and spiritual rights in their day-to-day lives, said the Rev. Gil Caldwell, a civil rights activist, at a Saturday gathering.
"Why is it that we as human beings move from -ism to -ism to -ism?" he asked. "Didn't we learn something about ourselves during racism? Didn't we learn something about ourselves during sexism?"
Caldwell was the keynote speaker of the first leg of the Fair is Fair Tour, a six-stop tour of the state to discuss gay rights and faith sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and Truth in Progress.
Truth in Progress is a multimedia project and documentary focusing on race, sexual orientation and religion.
The tour focuses on the intersection of faith and gay rights.
About 50 people attended the meeting at Grace United Methodist Church, 1935 Avenue B.
While a broad range of topics was discussed, much of the meeting focused on the role of faith in the lives of LBGT people.
Marilyn Bennett, with Truth in Progress, said that being excluded from some churches because of their sexual orientation deeply wounds some people and their families.
It doesn't have to be that way, she said, because there are accepting churches. Also, for many people, faith often helps in tough times, regardless of sexuality, she said.
"We have to dig down in ourselves and tap the spiritual wellspring, and that is where we find our strength," Bennett said.
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Caldwell drew comparisons between the gay and civil rights movements while acknowledging that they are different battles.
"One is not attempting to hijack the civil rights movement for gay rights," he said. "What we're doing is recognizing that hatred and bigotry and preconceived opinions come from the same place."
He said many people misinterpret small parts of scripture to justify their own beliefs instead of looking at the overall message.
"People have found in scripture reasons for their -isms," he said. "... There is this strange fear that if we look at scripture in its totality, then we are diminishing it."
The speakers, including Ninia Baehr, ACLU of Montana LGBT advocacy coordinator, said there are plenty of churches in Montana that are accepting of different sexual orientations.
She said 73 clergy members in Montana, including 14 in Billings, have signed a statement pledging to support and accept same-sex couples.
"Fair is fair," Baehr said. "That's really a Montana value."
Caldwell told the crowd that, through education and legislation, he hopes his grandkids won't have to face issues of same-sex rights when they grow up.
"It is my hope that as Montana and other states like this deal with issues of same-sex relationships, you somehow find some solutions," he said.
Caldwell will preach at the church on Sunday morning.