By Julie Rodriguez

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has come under fire for remarks calling LGBTQ Oregonians “immoral.”

The Bend Bulletin and others defend his comment by suggesting his religious beliefs, no matter how harmful, should be irrelevant if he says he keeps them separate from his office. I couldn’t disagree more. Dennis Richardson holds the second highest elected office in Oregon and his words and judgment matter.

Growing up queer, nonbinary, and LDS in Utah, attitudes like Richardson’s are unfortunately familiar to me. From a very young age, I knew something was different about me and that I didn’t “fit in” among my community or my peers. Luckily for me, my parents recognized this as well — they moved us away from Utah and left the church when I was about 12 years old.

It was a decision that may well have saved my life: In Utah, suicide is the number one cause of death among teens, many who face rejection from family and church for their identities. When my family left, I realized I wasn’t alone. I joined support groups at school and made real friends for the first time in my life. Now, I work for Basic Rights Oregon to try to ensure no other child or teen has to feel isolated and rejected ever again.

Others I know weren’t so lucky. I have seen lesbian and gay peers pressured into opposite-sex marriages. I have seen others forced into psychologically devastating conversion therapy. These practices were promoted as official church policy until just a few short years ago — a church which still forces LGBTQ members to choose between living an authentic life and the promise of eternal salvation.

That’s why I’m speaking out against Richardson. Being LGBTQ is not a moral failing. More than 40 years of medical and scientific research have demonstrated, again and again, that sexuality and gender identity are an innate part of who we are. The LDS Church is wrong on LGBTQ issues and so is Richardson.

Richardson is not merely stating a personal belief. By casting our very identities as morally wrong, he is communicating to LGBTQ Oregonians that he is not invested in protecting our civil rights or representing us impartially, which is deeply concerning because he is charged with ensuring our free and fair elections and certifying ballot measures.

In 2017, Richardson should have the good judgment and compassion to understand his words matter. This is not the first time he has publicly made homophobic comments. His statements send a horrible message to vulnerable LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately facing homelessness, violence and bullying because societal rejection goes unchecked by leaders like Richardson. We deserve better from our elected officials.

I’ve seen what happens when religious beliefs are used to direct public policy in my home state. I moved to Oregon in part because of this state’s commitment to LGBTQ equality. Richardson’s attitudes do not reflect the Oregon I have come to know and love, and I believe he is unfit to represent us in public office.

— Julie Rodriguez is the communications manager at Basic Rights Oregon.