As a lifelong Texan and a man of faith, Eric Folkerth has built a life and legacy in Dallas, along with his wife Denise of more than 21 years and their daughter Maria.
As the Senior Pastor at Northaven Church—which has a large percentage of gay and transgender congregants—Folkerth has been delighted to have so many LGBT people as a part of his church and life.
“I’ve been a supporter of LGBT people for many years, decades really. I was especially blessed to be sent to this church, Northaven Church, in 2001 where we have a very large percentage of members who are LGBT—35-40%. We have had the great fortune of raising our daughter alongside gay and lesbian families, and count them as part of our family and partners in faith.”
For Folkerth, his support for non-discrimination protections is grounded in his faith—that we are all God’s children, and that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
“Our tradition is very clear on this, any kind of discrimination is really something that we need to do away with. It’s counter to who we should be as a people, and counter to what our faith teaches us about how we should treat people.”
But it’s more than that. To Folkerth, it’s a matter of basic fairness as well, and the belief that everyone should be treated fairly and afforded the same opportunities.
“I think on this issue, it’s also an issue of civil rights. The United Methodist Church is very strong on embracing civil rights for all people, we even have a statement that speaks specifically to this. There is a lot of discrimination that takes place in Texas, there should be no barriers to LGBT people in the workplace.”
He continues, “It just makes sense to people that we should protect everyone from discrimination.”
Folkerth further emphasizes how his gay and transgender congregants just want to live their lives—work hard, make a living and raise their families—just like everyone else.
“I have seen many gay and lesbian church members over the years, and I have seen the compassion they have for their children. They are wonderful, faithful members of our church community.”
As Folkerth speaks to the people of his congregation and community, he continues to see how ordinances—like Dallas’ non-discrimination ordinance—benefit not just gay and transgender Texans, but all Texans by ensuring that we have an even playing field, where no one is treated differently just because of who they are or whom they love.
Folkherth explains just some of the ways he’s seen his hometown strengthened after passing a non-discrimination ordinance just this past year.
“The Dallas area community has definitely benefited, and people—both gay and straight—are beginning to see the advantages of it. What happens is, more and more, people realize that not only is it wrong to discriminate morally, but it doesn’t make good business sense for a company to intentionally discriminate.”
The reason for this is plain to see, according to Folkerth, who argues that we all need to be protected from discrimination, particularly in the workplace.
“Your security in your job is directly related to your security in your family, whether you are straight or an LGBT person.”
Unfortunately, the fact that Texas state law lacks protections for gay and transgender people isn’t the only thing keeping Folkerth up at night. Lately, he’s grown increasingly concerned with proposed legislation in the Texas State legislature that seeks to make it even easier to discriminate against others, under the guise of so-called religious freedom.
As a pastor and a man of faith, Folkerth is quite frankly offended with the use of religion to promote such a discriminatory law. That’s why he feels it’s his duty as a religious leader to speak out against this mean-spirited and harmful law.
“The idea that we would try to enshrine discrimination into law at a time when there’s more acceptance, it’s inconsistent with where society is going and where people of faith are going.”
He continues, “Religious freedom is being used as a cover, and I think people are appealing to people’s personal faith and trying to allow for discrimination rather than compel people to deal with their discrimination. It’s giving people an excuse to discriminate on religious grounds. I’m offended by that on principle.”
More so, Folkerth doesn’t agree that anyone should be exempted from laws, especially laws meant to protect the common good, in the name of religion.
“If we start down that road, we can all be offended by something, there’s all sorts of exclusions in the public sphere, based on their religious views.. that’s not the way that our society was founded.”
While Folkerth is disheartened to see both a patchwork of protection for gay and transgender Texans, as well as attempts to make it even easier to discriminate in the Lone Star State, he remains hopeful that as a society, we are moving towards a more welcoming and accepting place for everyone. After all, we are all God’s children, and all Texans—no matter their race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity—deserve to be treated equally and fairly under the law.
“It’s very frustrating to see that this is an ongoing battle and an ongoing struggle, it’s heartbreaking to see that discrimination is still so widespread. At the other hand I think it’s growing pains, there are so many places around the country that are welcoming and embracing and passing good laws that are nondiscriminatory and seeing the benefit of that.”