People have been calling Reverend Rodney McKenzie non-stop since Election Day seeking comfort. The gay pastor and activist said many are fearful they may lose their rights under President-elect Donald Trump.
“I’ve heard from many people who are so sad and who are feeling lonely and who are feeling all kinds of feelings,” McKenzie told NBC OUT. “What I’ve been offering to every person I speak to is to feel it … because that is real, and that you are loved, that you are cared for, and that we will do this together.”
It is unclear what will happen to LGBTQ rights under Trump’s administration. The Republican has made conflicting statements about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues.
“I am very hesitant to believe anything he says,”McKenzie said. “Trump is saying he is more gay friendly, but he has chosen [Vice President-elect] Mike Pence who has a long track record of opposing LGBTQ people and reproductive rights. And I think that’s what’s dangerous—that you can say one thing, but your track record is completely different.”
McKenzie did not parse words on his feelings about Trump, who ascended to the White House on controversial proposals including temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States and building a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border.
“For me as a person of color, as an LGBTQ person, as a person of faith, I’m really concerned and really troubled by where we’re going as a nation under Trump,” he said.
McKenzie stressed his belief that “now is not the time to be comfortable,” and asserted that it is important for those who are upset to be allowed to feel that way.
“You know, by pretending like it will all go away, by these simple ideas of placating someone’s emotions, it doesn’t get us to the real answer,” he said. “My faith calls for the grieving and sadness and gnashing of teeth as it says in some [biblical] texts, because it’s actually critical for us to feel it and be aware. That this fight for justice and liberation is a fight.”
McKenzie said the LGBTQ community should move forward by “building diverse coalitions that actually confront lies and misinformation about LGBTQ people, about people of faith, about Muslims, about immigrants, and to really see that our work is connected.” He emphasized that the community must do better around intersectionality.
“The issues that we typically think of as not our issues must become our issues,” he said. “So class, education, family, all these different things have to be our issues as well as the way Muslim Americans have been targeted in the United States.”
When told about the record number of calls LGBTQ suicide prevention organizations have received since the election, McKenzie encouraged people to understand there is help.
“Even though you may feel this right now in this moment, there are people out there who will support you, who will love you, who will listen, and hear you,” he said. “And I would offer to call one person. Just make a list and start calling people and reach out, because you’re not alone.”
McKenzie understands loneliness. He was raised in a conservative Christian community in Dallas, Texas, and had dreams of being a preacher as a young boy. But when he came out as gay during a church service at the age of 16, the news was not taken well, and some—even in his own family—told him he would go to Hell.
“I literally knew I had to leave Texas, because I needed to be who I was,” he said. He moved to New York City after college and began his career as an organizer for the National LGBTQ Taskforce. When he was 28 years old, he followed through on his dream to become a pastor and even started his own church.
McKenzie now lives in Washington D.C. He strongly believes faith can only be demonstrated with action. “I believe that as people of faith, that we have to get up and mobilize and be in action, and that I will know people’s faith by what they do,” he said.
The 38 year-old, who has “Ministry” tattooed boldly across his forearm, practices what he preaches. As Faith Work Director for the National LGBTQ Taskforce, he helped lead the Faithfully Voting Project, an initiative that opened up a dialogue between the LGBTQ community and people of faith in North Carolina. Organizers stood outside polling stations on Election Day in Charlotte and talked to voters about LGBTQ issues, police brutality and reproductive rights.
“When we do not have conversations with people about why these issues matter to us, when we don’t really have heartfelt conversations about the issues that matter, I think that people don’t understand, and they will vote from fear instead of voting from their heart,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie is still hopeful after the 2016 elections. He is happy that three women of color were elected to the U.S. Senate, and that North Carolina appears to have not reelected Governor Pat McCrory (though NBC News has not yet officially called this race), who signed HB2, a law that regulates bathroom access for transgender people. But he is most optimistic about the thousands of people who have taken to the streets in recent days to protest, whose anger, he said, “is real.”
“What we get to do as those folks who are marginalized, who have been hurt and harmed, is that when we recognize that when we come together, we build power,” McKenzie said. “Our jobs now are to put pressure, to organize ourselves, to do rallies, but also to talk to our legislators, to talk to our neighbors, about who we are, to keep pushing and keep doing the work.”
OutFront is a weekly NBC OUT series profiling LGBTQ people who are making a positive difference in the community.