Utah pastor pushes Congress for equality
For the Rev. Erin Gilmore, sharing God's "extravagant love" goes beyond Sunday sermons in her Holladay chapel to lobbying Congress in Washington, D.C.
Unlike other Christian leaders who may press for conservative social causes, Gilmore calls for civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. She has even asked Utah's politicians to support gay marriage.
On Tuesday, Gilmore will join 300 clergy from all 50 states in visiting congressional offices as part of the Human Rights Campaign's biennial "Clergy Call for Justice and Equality." Gilmore also participated in 2009 when the focus was on marriage.
"What HRC has figured out is that the best antidote to the religious right is mobilized moderate and progressive faith voices," the Rev. Susan Russell, of All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.
This year, leaders from 25 faiths, including Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Judaism, will lobby for two bills that would prevent workplace discrimination and bullying at schools based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gilmore, as the leader of a church that welcomes gay and transgender members, often hears their challenges. Her Holladay United Church of Christ, which has nearly 300 members, also provides food for homeless LGBT youths.
"I work with people daily whose voices are invisible, who can't be out, who are hiding," Gilmore said. "If I can go and speak on their behalf, speak for their equality and their safety, that is definitely out of my conviction that my faith calls me to do that."
Gilmore, 37, hadn't always planned on being a minister. She grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., attending a UCC congregation, but she belonged to more of a go-to-church-on-Easter family, she said. She majored in math at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, heading toward a career in epidemiology or biostatistics.
But her experience as a teen at a UCC summer camp kept "tugging" at her. She wondered if her life's work could be in encouraging a kinship like the one she had there.
"It was a really powerful experience of community and what can happen when we really celebrate one another and all of our differences," she said. "I love being able to help shape communities that empower one another and help us create the world we want to live in."
She attended Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., a progressive, multidenominational Christian seminary. There, she said, she met many fellow students who were LGBT and learned of their experiences with "injustice." Some had felt called to minister early in life but belonged to churches that taught homosexuality was a sin. At school, they shared struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse.
"Hearing stories of them coming back to the [Christian] church and wanting to serve the church was a pretty remarkable transformation," Gilmore said. "They had found a place where they could be themselves and be persons of faith."
She mourned with her peers when, in October 1998, they heard news of Matthew Shepard's death in eastern Wyoming. The 21-year-old was brutally beaten and left to die by two men who targeted him for being gay.
"For me, wanting to understand or to change where this hatred comes from â¦ [and] knowing a large part of it does come from religion, it really solidified for me that there needs to be another voice among the religious community that preaches acceptance and love [of LGBT people]," Gilmore said. "I knew that would be something that would be an important part of my ministry."
Russ Baker-Gorringe appreciated that acceptance and love when he began attending Holladay United Church of Christ after coming out as gay and leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Gilmore performed a marriage ceremony for Baker-Gorringe and his husband, Joe, in 2007. A year later, they obtained a state-recognized marriage license in California during the period that same-sex marriages were legal there.
"I'm not a second-class citizen [at church]," Baker-Gorringe said. "My marriage to Joe has the same dignity as the heterosexual couple sitting next to me."
Baker-Gorringe is not surprised by Gilmore's trips to Washington she has been known, at Sunday services, to encourage members to lobby against anti-gay bills at the state level but he is impressed.
"She inspires me," he said. "I am really touched there is a person of great faith, a pastor who sees the need to go before Congress and stress the need for LGBT people to be treated fairly and equally."
About Erin Gilmore
Age • 37.
Family • Married to Joe Norman.
Position • Pastor since 2003 of Holladay United Church of Christ, 2631 E. Murray-Holladay Road.
Education • Bachelor's degree in math from St. Olaf College in Minnesota; master of divinity from Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Calif.
Pride festival faith service
Holladay United Church of Christ is one of several denominations that will participate in the 10th Annual Utah Pride Interfaith Service as part of the 2011 Pride Festival.
When • Saturday, June 4, 2 p.m.
Where • First United Methodist Church, 203 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
On the web • http://www.utahprideinterfaith.org