The following is an op-ed from Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards, president of PFLAG Oklahoma City, which appeared over the weekend in the Oklahoma Observer.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once observed that, "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."
As a member of the clergy, and a wife, mother and grandmother myself, I don't just understand Archbishop Tutu's words . . . I feel them in my core, too. Every member of our family is precious, and no member of God's family should ever be dismissed, disrespected or disdained simply because of who they are.
That is why so many of us who believe in family values and the dignity of all our children were so concerned about recent remarks about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from Representative Sally Kern. Indeed, those of us who value every member of our family, and believe in our country's promise of equality, grieved to hear a public servant so dismissively malign our loved ones.
By now, most Oklahomans know that, while speaking recently to a group of constituents from her district, Kern described the gay community as "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism" and compared lesbian and gay Americans to a "cancer" that will "destroy this nation."
Her shrill rhetoric, however, should not divert our attention from what's really at stake in this important conversation.
Last week, when Oklahoma City supporters of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) sat down with Kern, we reminded her of just how close to home her comments hit. Indeed, the Urban Institute reports that nearly 10,000 gay Oklahomans have served in our armed forces, fighting terrorism and working to keep all of us - including Kern - safe and secure. Oklahoma is home to more than 89,500 GLBT citizens, and approximately 4,000 children are living in loving homes headed by same-sex couples in our state. None of them should be set aside because who they are, and no public servant should leave our families behind.
As a person of faith, and a member of the clergy, I am concerned that Representative Kern has forgotten the adage of "love thy neighbor as thyself." As a citizen of Oklahoma, I am troubled that she has seemingly prioritized attacking our families over tackling the many challenges our state faces. Surely, Kern would be better served - as would her constituents - if she focused her energies on fighting crime, strengthening the economy and working to improve our schools. It is simply unacceptable that she has instead decided to fight families and perpetuate discrimination.
Kern has, so far, steadfastly refused to step back from her comments, and has even stepped up her attacks on our families. And now, she has shut down the dialogue entirely, refusing any further conversations with PFLAG or our families. Meanwhile, all we - the parents, families and friends of lesbian and gay Oklahomans - are asking is that Kern keep her oath to represent and speak for all of her constituents, regardless of who they love. Surely, that does not mean we have asked too much.
There are so many issues that challenge and concern our families. Our elected leaders should not try to divert attention from those important priorities by advancing prejudice in our community. As mothers, fathers and friends of loved ones who are lesbian and gay, we believe family values demand that Kern apologize. And as the people of Oklahoma, we send an unmistakable message that our communities deserve better from those elected to defend our freedoms.
Archbishop Tutu is right: Our families are God's gift to us . . . we just wish Sally Kern would see them as a gift, too.