A different kind of digital billboard greeted metro Atlanta drivers, days before the start of LGBTQ Pride Month. Erected high above Cobb Parkway, the phrase “Proud To Be Delivered” can be seen emblazoned across the colors of the LGBTQ Pride Flag at the busy thoroughfare. While a glance at the billboard during June may lead drivers to assume the message is pro-equality, the billboards, in fact, performed a bait-and-switch. The “ex-gay” testimonials on the accompanying website and the Marietta church behind the billboard are less subtle in their hostility and condemnation of the LGBTQ community online and within the walls of their church.
The billboard dreams for a bygone era when society forced LGBTQ people to remain closeted, criminalized, and castigated by family, church, and community. They reflect outdated and inaccurate notions that LGBTQ people need to be ‘saved’ and ignore the reality that LGBTQ people are already people of faith. In fact, according to The Trevor Project, one in five LGBTQ youth say their religion or spirituality is important or very important to them.
In a political climate that has become increasingly dangerous for members of the LGBTQ community, the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric espoused by anti-LGBTQ extremists behind the billboard is bolstered by a narrow and extremist interpretation of scripture that uses LGBTQ people as scapegoats for demonization or an invitation to faux deliverance. This is the weaponization of religion and faith, using the pulpit to wield power.
And if that isn’t enough to scrutinize their crusade against a group of people also created by God in his image, then look no further than another marginalized group of people elevated as the face of their “Proud To Be Delivered” campaign: Black people — or more distinctly, Black “ex-gays” who share their testimonies of allegedly being delivered from identifying as LGBTQ. The decision by two white ministers to plaster the images and narratives of Black “ex-gays” on a specially created website and in a predominantly Black city with a large Black LGBTQ population is no coincidence. It is a targeted attack that reinforces Bible-based homophobia and further erodes the Black family by influencing the rejection of Black LGBTQ youth and adults by their families as righteous. The result is often devastating for a dually marginalized group of people forced to navigate racism, homophobia, and family rejection simultaneously.
It has become increasingly clear that individuals and religious organizations using scripture to persecute both LGBTQ and Black people have substituted so-called Christian values with an allegiance to Christian nationalism rooted in white supremacy. It’s also a failing strategy. Perpetuating hatred toward the LGBTQ community under the guise of Christian love is disingenuous, out of touch, and a contributing factor to declining church attendance, especially among young people nationwide.
About a quarter of the young adults who participated in a 2021 Lifeway Research survey said they dropped out of church because they disagreed with their church’s stance on political and social issues. GLAAD found a record-high 91 percent of non-LGBTQ people support the right for LGBTQ people not to be discriminated against, while 84 percent support equal rights for LGBTQ people. It’s not hard to see where the disconnect is.
Congregations like this Marietta church are determined to weaponize faith against LGBTQ people. With anti-LGBTQ legislation at an all-time high and aimed at erasing our existence, there is a refusal to address real problems facing us as a nation: sensible gun reform — the real threat to American children. Lives are at stake. And contrary to what some may preach or plaster on billboards, there are those who acknowledge that God is fully involved in their LGBTQ identity and even responsible for it. LGBTQ people do not require deliverance. Those choosing to inflict harm on others through religious bigotry require an examination of the heart and soul.
The following individuals and organizations have offered their support of GLAAD’s denouncement of the “Proud To Be Delivered” billboard:
Bishop O.C. Allen III, The Vision Cathedral of Atlanta
Mary Anne Adams, Zami Nobla—National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging
Tracee McDaniel, Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, Inc.
Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality
Congregation Bet Haverim, Atlanta GA
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum
Jim Swilley, Metron Community
Deondray Gossfield, The Russelli & Hall Co.
Darlene Hudson, Southern Unity Movement
Toni-Michelle Williams, Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, Inc.
Victor Jackson, Glam Rock Soul Entertainment Group
Jim Farmer, Out On Film
Lynn Green, Rome Georgia Pride
Hayden Walter, Rome Georgia Pride
Matthew Manley, Rome Georgia Pride
Damion Parks-Weekly, Parks-Weekly Ministries
Quincy James Rineheart, Associate Campus Minister, Morehouse College
Patrik-Ian Polk, Filmmaker and Producer
Eric F. Rangel, Latino LinQ (LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization)
Leanne Rubenstein, Compassionate Atlanta
Bishop Kevin Strickland, Southeastern Synod ELCA
Rep. Park Cannon, House District 58
Erick Allen, Cobb County Democratic Committee
Chris McCain, Atlanta Pride Committee
Darian Aaron is the Director of Local News: US South at GLAAD. Ross Murray is a Deacon—Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Vice President of the GLAAD Media Institute.