The fight for LGBTQ rights is over. Ever hear that?
I do, all the time. I’m not really surprised when I hear it from ordinary Americans, decent people who assume it’s against the law to discriminate against gender and sexual minorities in employment and housing.
Even some LGBTQ people don’t realize:
It’s legal to fire and evict people for being gay, bisexual, or transgender —
It happens a lot. While some states have passed laws to protect LGBTQ people, the Movement Advancement Project calculates that only 41% of the LGBT population live in such states.
Enter the Equality Act —
House Democrats re-introduced a bill last week that would modify existing civil rights legislation to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs, and credit.
David Cicilline, D-R.I., the bill’s main sponsor in the House, explains why:
In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are. This is wrong.
If it passed, the Act would be the first national nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ Americans. Opposition will be fierce, though, as it has been since 1974 when the first version of the Act was introduced in Congress.
Given Republican control of the Senate, the Equality Act will almost certainly not become law this year, despite large majorities of Americans across political and religious spectra supporting LGBTQ equality, according to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute.
All the usual suspects oppose the law, from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and broad coalitions of evangelical Christians. They’re opposed to the fact that the Equality Act explicitly disallows religious liberty claims.
Know what really surprises me?
Lots of gay men, like Gregory Angelo, former director of the Log Cabin Republicans, oppose passage too. They say the fight for LGBTQ rights is over, that we’ve won already. They say the Equality Act would trample “religious liberty.”
Former Log Cabin Republicans head publicly opposes proposed LGBTQ nondiscrimination law
Former Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory Angelo has come out against the Equality Act, the proposed legislation…
I say people like that are wrapped up in privilege and don’t understand the reality of losing jobs and homes. They remind me of my friend, who also thinks the fight for equality is over.
Let me tell you about my gay friend, Gerald —
I worked with him until recently. He was my logistics manager, my truck wrangler. He handled all the details of herding a swarm of tractor-trailers in and out of the plant every day.
He’d even get his fingernails dirty and grime his arms up if a forklift broke down unexpectedly.
Gotta keep those trucks moving!
Gerald is a gay man in his mid twenties. He’s also the quintessential boy next door. Smart, attractive, well spoken, charming. In the company of other gay men, he might put out a little advertising vibe, bend the wrist a tad, allow a lilt to creep into his voice.
Gerald is usually unremarkable, though. He’s a nice young guy most people like. Most people would never know he’s gay unless he told them. He prefers it that way. In fact, Gerald has told me several times that homophobia is over, that whatever discrimination we still face comes about as a result of our being too open or too loud.
Gerald grew up in a progressive part of the United States where discrimination against gay men is socially unacceptable.
Perhaps that’s overstating things.
Discrimination against prosperous, white gay men who know their place is frowned upon. So, Gerald does his best to be prosperous and to know his place. He was born white, so he’s got that base covered. He wants the American Dream — a good job, a nice husband he loves, a brick house, and a picket fence.
He’ll never know what it feels like to live as an effeminate gay man, a lesbian, a transgender woman, or a queer person of color. He’ll probably never know what it’s like to live in a part of the United States where even prosperous gay men are openly discriminated against.
So, Gerald closes his eyes, keeps quiet, and convinces himself that everything is OK because he’s OK — because his neighbors are cool with him, his coworkers don’t (usually) diss him behind his back, and because he is personally very comfortable.
I know a lot of Geralds. I know a lot of nice people who are so wrapped up in their privilege that they can’t feel the cold winds of homophobia rushing through the room where they’re all snuggled up.
So let’s leave Gerald to his picket fence, shall we?
Let’s move on to a different American experience with homophobia, one ripped right out of the headlines.
According to an article in The Guardian, Texas elementary school teacher Stacy Bailey — twice named district Teacher of the Year — has been suspended from her job for most of the school year, disciplined, and involuntarily transferred to a position she does not want.
What did Stacy do?
Like many of the teachers in her school, she presented a “getting to know you” slideshow to her class at the beginning of the year.
She showed the kids pictures of her house, her family, her pets, and her future wife. That’s it. She clicked again and moved on.
That wasn’t the end. From The Guardian article:
Later in the week, according to a court filing … a school district official met Bailey and told her: “You can’t promote your lifestyle in the classroom.”
The suit says Bailey responded: “We plan to get married. When I have a wife, I should be able to say ‘this is my wife’ without fear of harassment. When I state that, it is a fact about my life, not a political statement.”
The official is quoted as replying: “Well right now it kind of is.”
Stacy doesn’t enjoy Gerald’s privilege —
She lives in Texas instead of a tony suburb north of Detroit where homophobes are in enough of a minority that they keep their heads down.
She doesn’t like keeping her mouth shut. She doesn’t know her place. She doesn’t do as she’s told.
All the other teachers were talking about their families, spouses, and fiancees, so she wanted to do the same thing. The school district asked for her resignation. She responded with a federal lawsuit.
She‘s not expected to win.
Texas doesn’t have any state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people and the federal Equality Act has never passed. Nothing protects her.
Nothing protects Mary and Bev either —
They’re a lesbian couple denied an apartment in a retirement community in St. Louis. The director told them their status as a same-sex married couple violated the the community’s religious standards.
Or Randal Coffman of Jacksonville, FL —
He was evicted from his apartment last December because he’s gay. He has a video of the property owner telling him he has to go because she doesn’t want “homosexuals coming in and out.”
Coffman has no legal recourse. He had to leave, because it’s legal in the United States to evict people for being gay, bisexual, transgender, or lesbian.
Of course we need the Equality Act —
It’s just basic. Basic civil rights. I’d call it a no-brainer, except that people like Gregory Angelo don’t see it that way. He says corporate America has already solved things, that the free market has taken care of equality.
That’s his privilege speaking. Angelo has forgotten that most Americans don’t work for large corporations and are certainly not housed by large corporations.
He’s worried about religious liberty, and so are powerful religious lobbies. They raise the specter of same-sex marriage as if it makes a big difference, as if the existence of same-sex marriage somebow hurts people of faith who choose not to marry same-sex spouses.
They act as if associating with same-sex couples and providing them services in public accomodations is a violation of religious liberty principles. I’m sorry, but that’s absurd.
There is no fundamental liberty stake involved in providing services for people getting married. No religious person will ever be forced to marry a same-sex partner. This is an artificial problem created by people who want to stop LGBTQ people from marrying partners of their choice.
Here’s the real religious issue —
The Equality Act maintains existing religious exemptions in federal law while treating LGBTQ people the same as other protected classes of people.
The Act does not change the exemption that allows churches, private religious schools, and other religious institutions to prefer members of their own faith when hiring.
It does not change the exemption that allows religious institutions to provide non-commercial housing for members of their own faith.
That’s fair; churches get latitude if they need it. However, the Equality Act specifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 did not create any new exemptions in historic civil rights laws.
That’s the problem —
That’s what people are upset about. They want to be allowed to discriminate because of their religious faith. That would make the Act all but toothless and would set apart LGBTQ people as special, third-rate class of people under civil rights law.
So the drafters say no. LGBTQ people are fully equal. Fully protected. Standard religious exemptions apply, but no more.
And here’s why —
A transitional home forced out a lesbian couple, citing their Catholic funding
A lesbian couple filed a complaint against the transitional housing facility they once called home, after they were…
A Catholic social services agency just threw two homeless women out of a halfway house where they were seeking treatment and transitional services. By all reports, they were doing well. The director discovered they were a couple, and he quite literally put them on the street, citing religious objections.
He got away with it because even though the agency is largely government funded, it’s legal in the United States to discriminate against LGBTQ people.