Joe Biden’s inaugural prayer service was ‘the most LGBT-inclusive in history’ with blessing for trans and gay people

US president Joe Biden, first lady Dr Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff watch the virtual presidential inaugural prayer service

On Thursday (21 January), Washington National Cathedral hosted Joe Biden’s inaugural prayer service, and it was the most “LGBT-inclusive in history”.

In 2013, Barack Obama’s inaugural prayer service featured the first-ever openly LGBT+ clergy member to take part, reverend elder Nancy Wilson of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

But the Biden-Harris administration went far further, with the live-streamed service featuring five LGBT+ faith leaders, a performance from a gay icon, and including LGBT+ people in the main sermon.

The whole interfaith service had a broad focus on equality, justice, healing and the uplifting of oppressed minorities, as leaders from every major religion joined together to pray for the “new administration, the Congress, the courts and all who serve the public good”.

After some toned-down hymns accompanied by an organist, gay icon Patti LaBelle appeared to give a rousing performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Faith leaders then gave readings, prayers and messages of encouragement to the new administration.

Among them was lesbian rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, who gave a reading from Deuteronomy while sitting in front of a rainbow Pride flag.

Lesbian Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, speaks at the virtual inaugural prayer service

Lesbian Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, speaks at Joe Biden’s virtual inaugural prayer service. (YouTube/ Washington National Cathedral)

Barbara Satin, an 86-year-old trans woman who is the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Faith Work Director, said a prayer for the US armed forces.

Messages from Black, gay reverend Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary, and reverend Dr Paula Stone Williams, a trans author and pastor at Left Hand Church, were also included.

Lastly, reverend Dr Yvette Flunder, presiding bishop at the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, spoke at the serve.

Flunder began her career by ministering to people in San Francisco with HIV/AIDS during the 1980s epidemic, and her church founded the first all-trans choir in the US. She has been with her wife Shirley for almost 40 years.

After messages for the many faith leaders, bishop William J Barber II gave the sermon.

He said: “God, grant us wisdom and grant us courage, until thoughts of destroying one another give way to deeds of embracing each other.

“Until our policies prove our promise of equal justice under law.

“Until we decide too many have been hurting for too long. Grant us courage until in every way we show in out democratic process that everybody has a right to live.

“Until we lift from the bottom so that everybody rises. Until the stones that the builders rejected become the chief cornerstones of a new social reality.

“Please God, grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour.

“Until together we make sure the poor are lifted, the sick are healed, children are protected, civil rights and human rights are never neglected… Until we make sure there is racial justice, and economic justice, and living wage justice, and healthcare justice, and ecological justice, and disability justice, and justice for homeless, and justice for the poor and low wealth and working poor, and immigrant justice.”

He added: “Grant wisdom and courage to every person Black and white, Latino, Native, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, every person of faith, people not of faith, grant every human being created by God, documented or undocumented, gay, straight or trans, young or old.”

Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign president, said in a statement: “President Joe Biden’s commitment to inclusion and mirroring the true image of America in the new administration shines through powerfully in this historic, LGBT-inclusive, prayer service.

“This service reflects a critical change in tone away from the cynical use of religion and faith as weapons of division against the LGBT+ community, and instead towards tools of service in the work of justice and inclusion.

“Elevating the voices of LGBT+ faith leaders sends a strong message to the LGBT+ community – that we are integral parts of faith communities, and that our continued advocacy for equity is crucial for the work of healing the soul of America.”

In contrast with Joe Biden, Donald Trump’s inaugural prayer service was led by anti-LGBT+ pastor Robert Jeffress, who said gay people are “unnatural”, “filthy” and “abominable”.