When Alyssa Aldape was fourteen her family moved from San Antonio, Texas to India to do missionary work with the Banjara people. That was when Rev. Aldape saw discrimination in a new light.
“Discrimination occurs when a group claims to be superior and treats another group unfairly and with prejudice. But it’s complicated,” she said. “Discrimination isn’t always as clean cut as being denied housing or forced to leave a restaurant. Too often, discrimination is cloaked in seemingly good intentions, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The Banjara are a nomadic tribe in India and there is a social stigma against them in modern Indian society. Alyssa recalls seeing her parents—practicing Baptists from the other side of the world—motivated to work with this marginalized group: “There are times, when as ministers we have be voices for people who don’t have a voice.”
When she turned eighteen, Rev. Aldape moved back to the United States to attend college in Birmingham, Alabama, where she lived for six years.
“In 2010, Alabama passed a law—HB 56. It was the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the US at the time, but of course it was characterized as strengthening the economy and protecting Alabama’s vulnerable residents—a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This law made it OK for local law enforcement and other government organizations to racially profile. Police could stop anyone they believed was undocumented and demand to see papers. They stopped me twice for a ‘routine license check’ and required I show further proof of identification like a passport.”
Rev. Aldape felt angry and helpless in these moments: “It was more than hurtful, being racially profiled and then overtly called out because I’m brown. It was dehumanizing. But at the same time, it made me recognize I need to do something about this. I keep this as a reminder that there are ways that I can be a voice for people who have been discriminated against.”
Now, as a minister at Missions and Community Ministry at First Baptist Church of Dalton, Georgia, Rev. Aldape considers advocacy an integral part of her ministry. The church hosts food banks and aids local immigrant families and the large homeless population of Dalton. Rev. Aldape is using her platform to speak out against LGBT discrimination.
For her, the journey to “being open and affirming” of gay and transgender people wasn’t a given—it began her freshman year of college when one of her good friends came out.
“This friend was a person that I looked up to for spiritual advice,” Aldape said. “She loved Jesus just as much as I did, probably more. As a good southern Baptist, I grew up thinking people like her were bad people. But when one of your childhood friends says ‘I’m gay’ and they’re one of the strongest Christians you’ve ever met, you start to think: maybe we’ve got this wrong.”
Rev. Aldape said she kept returning to one idea: God is love.
God is not biased. God is all-loving. And I believe that God calls us to love all people. It took me years to reconcile, but now I stand squarely in support of my LGBT friends and fellow ministers. My faith has enabled me to give this support lovingly.
That’s why Rev. Aldape is speaking out against so-called “religious freedom” bills like Georgia’s First Amendment Defense Act. She said these bills are not helpful to religious liberty, they give the Church a bad name. “They are discrimination trying to pass itself off as religious freedom. We cannot let that stand.”
And she backed her stance up with scripture: “If you’re going to take scripture literally and believe that all of us are created in the image of God, then we must treat people as equals who were also created in God’s image. I don’t think that means excluding people and refusing them service on the basis of religion. We are called to treat everyone with love as we would want God to love us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The golden rule is simple, but it is tried and true.”
Rev. Aldape is also concerned that RFRA-style bills would blur the lines between Church and state, potentially endangering the very religious freedoms these bills claim to protect. “Baptists have historically supported the separation of church and state,” she said. “And I believe that the Constitution protects that pretty well considering it’s written into the First Amendment. As of now, the government and state can’t come in and tell the Church what to do. Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
Above all, she opposes the discriminatory First Amendment Defense Act and all other religious exemptions legislation in Georgia because it would leave tens of thousands of Georgians—including some of her friends and colleagues—more vulnerable to discrimination than they already are.
Currently, in Georgia there are no explicit laws banning discrimination against LGBT people. People face discriminatory treatment every day just because of who they are or whom they love—and too often, religion is the excuse. Rev. Aldape said Georgia doesn’t need more religious protections—they need a non-discrimination law:
Rather than another religious exemption bill, we could be working on a bill that protects the rights of groups who do not have the same protections written into law as people of faith do.
One person who would benefit from non-discrimination protections is Rev. Aldape’s friend from seminary, who got married to her long-time partner in 2014. They got married in the northeast over their spring break and returned to Georgia after the holiday. When they went to the county clerk’s office to get their marriage license and have their names changed, the clerk refused to do their paperwork for them, saying it was “against their religious beliefs.”
Aldape points out: “Kim Davis wasn’t the first. She was just the loudest.”
Even though the Supreme Court had not yet legalized same-sex marriage, a 2013 ruling mandated that if a same-sex couple got married in a state where it was legal, then that marriage would be recognizable in any of the 50 states. As such, Aldape’s friends were legally married—even in the state of Georgia. But because there are no laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the county clerk was within her right to discriminate and refuse public services to them.
In recounting this story, Rev. Aldape said all of the same feelings of anger and helplessness that she had experienced when she had been the target of racial discrimination came rushing back. But it’s stories like these that double her resolve.
“The movement for LGBT non-discrimination is important to me because it affects the people I love. These are the same kind of de-humanizing moments that I remember facing years ago on the side of the road in Alabama. As a minister, as a Christian, and as a human being, I feel it’s my duty to speak up.”
Rev. Alyssa Aldape has been in Georgia for four years, first in seminary at McAfee School of Theology and now as a minister in Dalton. And she has a message for lawmakers:
“To Georgia leaders (who I hope are more well-versed in the Constitution than I am)—there are already laws in place to protect our religious freedoms. I urge you to reject the harmful First Amendment Defense Act and rethink all religious exemptions laws as they would set this state back 50 years. We have pressing problems in our state that deserve more attention than this. All Georgia residents deserve to be treated equally and this bill—without question—will be a toxic cloud over the state of Georgia. I encourage Georgia leaders to find it in their hearts to do the right thing and speak up for ALL Georgia residents, and not just some.”SHARE THIS STORY