In America, we’re all supposed to have the same opportunities. Yes, we each have our own limitations – income, geographical location, sex, ability, preferences – but those limits are self-imposed. Other people are not supposed to prevent us from doing what we want, from having a decent paying job, from renting an apartment, from going to the store, or from holding our significant other’s hand. If they try to stop us from living our lives, they are infringing on our rights.
The state of Mississippi disagrees. Just this week, Mississippi’s legislature passed House Bill 1523 and Governor Phil Bryant signed it into law. HB 1523, or “the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the US,” as it’s quickly been dubbed, sanctions discrimination. Individuals, religious organizations, and businesses that have sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions can refuse multiple services to LGBT+ people, decide not to hire or choose to fire someone whose beliefs don’t line up with theirs, decide not to sell or rent to people they religiously or morally disagree with, refuse to medically or psychologically help people they disagree with, and make policies forcing people to adhere to gender binary or conservative gender roles – among many, many other things.
Supporters have claimed that HB 1523 is not taking away any rights. You’re still allowed to be gay. You’re still allowed to have a same-sex marriage. You’re still allowed to be transgender. However, people are now allowed to make your life much, much harder. They can force you to go into a bathroom you’re not comfortable with. They can kick you out of your apartment if you’re not married to your domestic partner. Your doctor can tell you that transgenderism isn’t real. Your surgeon can decide day of not to perform gender reassignment surgery. Your boss can fire you for espousing feminist ideals or supporting an antagonistic political candidate. Yes, you’re still allowed to be queer, but you’re no longer allowed to have the same rights and considerations as heterosexual people.
Do I even need to say that this is egregious? Do I even need to point out that it opens the path to wide-scale discrimination? Or that it infringes on people’s rights? That it flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage? That it will disproportionately affect queer people, people of color, and women? Must I say, yet again, that having to interact with a queer person does not, in any way, prevent you from having and practicing the religion on your choice? That another person’s existence does not negate your spirituality?
HB 1523 will go into law in July – unless people do something about it. Numerous businesses have already threatened to pull out of Mississippi as have various conventions and organizations. People are protesting. The ACLU, as ever, is considering what kind of legal action it can take. I encourage you to follow their Mississippi page here. It will let you know how you can protest this decision and help in the fight. I also suggest you contact Governor Bryant here and let him know what you think of his terrible decision. But whatever you do, don’t let this die. Don’t just shrug and move on. Thousands of people will face widespread discrimination in July and most of them won’t have the financial means or time to fight it. Let’s do our part and let them know we have their backs.
* Photo taken from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/05/473107959/mississippi-governor-signs-religious-freedom-bill-into-law