I love the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee. Even though I currently live in San Francisco, I will always support my hometown Grizzlies versus the Golden State Warriors. And I will always defend the primacy of Memphis barbecue til the day I die. However, despite my undying allegiance for the city and its rich culture, I will not be moving back any time soon.
This week, the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill that threatens access to basic mental health services for the LGBT population. I am both saddened and terrified by the prospect of such a law.
I graduated at the top of my class at Briarcrest and was lucky enough to earn degrees in economics and government from Yale and Oxford. I have long dreamed about using my talents to make our city even better. I know that most of those I grew up with feel a similar responsibility to Memphis.
They, like me, yearn to use their talents to give back to the city that has given us so much and would move back in a heartbeat. Yet they, like me, cannot countenance living in a state where friends or family can be turned away from routine medical services because of who they love.
The reason I hold such a deep-seated passion for returning to Memphis is because of the potential — economic, intellectual, cultural — of our community. Unlocking that potential, however, rests on enabling the talents of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Indeed the moral fiber of the city — the very fiber that unites the Civil Rights Museum to the beautiful blues of Beale Street, the gospel choirs of Poplar Avenue to the emergency rooms of UTHSC — consists of caring for those most in need.
This bill, SB 1556, does just the opposite of that. It allows (even emboldens!) a therapist to turn away youth, already bullied at above average rates in classrooms, because they’re gay. Refusing to make cakes for gay weddings is one matter. Refusing to provide crucial counseling when a depressed teenager is contemplating suicide is simply wrong.
We — my generation, my classmates and neighbors and siblings and friends that grew up in Memphis — may be idealistic. But we also have choices of where to live and pursue our careers. And if our home state decides to pass discriminatory laws, then we’ll choose to settle in places where our diversity is celebrated, not disparaged. We may just have to cheer on our Grizzlies and defend our barbecue from afar.
Whether for the sake of retaining the best talent in Memphis or for the sake of preserving our city’s moral legacy, please urge Governor Haslam to reject SB 1556. The arc of the moral universe may inch towards justice, as Dr King suggested, but only if we actively bend it in that direction.
Nico Barawid is a 2008 graduate of Briarcrest Christian School. He is currently a renewable energy financier in San Francisco.