As many of you who follow me on social media know, I have become a strong supporter of my LGBT brothers and sisters over the last few months. It was a big step for me to come out and openly support them and now I am committed for standing up for this still largely oppressed group of people.

Often, however, these conversations turn to the language of LGBT “issues” and for a long time that’s what all this was for me. It was just another issue to be discussed and debated.

No longer is this some issue like atonement or the foreknowledge of God or even prayer. These are my friends. When I speak of LGBT people I am not talking about some ideal or some abstract concept. I am talking about my friends.

LGBT people are people I go to church with. They are people I have learned from. They are people I have laughed with, cried with and prayed with. They are people who have motivated and inspired me and they are even people who have annoyed me.

LGBT people are normal human beings just like anyone else. So I have had LGBT friends who have gotten on my nerves or even made me mad. I do not see my LGBT friends as perfect or beyond the same level of criticism that anyone else is susceptible to.

However, I will defend my friends. I will continue to speak for their full inclusion and affirmation because that is, simply, the right thing to do. When I hear people refer to gay people as sinful I think of the couples in my church who have so inspired me. I think of the people at the Resource Center in Dallas who have given their lives to care for those with HIV/AIDS. I think of people who I have seen do amazing things and who hinge their life on their faith, same as myself.

When people say that trans people are mentally ill I think of the trans woman who patiently explained to me how to use language that is not offensive. I think of the trans woman at my church who literally volunteers for anything and everything that is needed. And I say, if they are mentally ill, I support them in their illness.

I care more about my friends and their freedom than I do about your laws and your judgements. The same people lauding a psychiatrist saying trans people are mentally ill are generally the people who don’t believe archeologists who say the Exodus probably didn’t happen on the scale the Bible says it did.  The same people lauding this supposed “bombshell” are the same people who refuse to acknowledge that the creation accounts in Genesis are metaphorical. So which is it? Do you trust science or not?

For me, I appreciate the contributions of scientists, psychologists, anthropologists etc. but I always want to side with compassion. So if science tells me someone is bad, well I’m not so sure I’ll swallow that. Also, we must remember that less than fifty years ago the American Psychological Association not only listed homosexuality as a mental illness, but they even supported aversion therapy, known to be downright abusive today. When I look at a history like that which has changed course before, well, I want to err on the side of acceptance and compassion, if indeed I will err.

So go ahead and post your links and your arguments and your disgust with my friends. I will stand with them. Go ahead and condemn them for being something you do not understand. I will stand with them.

I do hope, however, that their capacity to love, and my capacity to love, will wear you down, and that you will come to see my friends as they are, beautiful, loving, creative individuals who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual. Once that happens…once you see their humanity, hear their stories and understand their struggle, I have no doubt that you will join with me in affirming and supporting them. And then, to steal once more from Dr. King, “our victory will be a double victory. For we will have won you in the process.”

This is not an issue. These are people. And it is far past time for us to stand with them.