I was tasked with writing an article about the rather disturbing numbers of ‘religious freedom laws’ that have surfaced in the first four months of this year. My one recurring thought while I prepared for and started to write the article was, “why am I still writing these?” This is the second time I’ve been asked to write an article about religious freedom laws. Only this time, these laws have more, nastier teeth and the ramifications are horrific. In North Carolina and one Alabama city, they specifically target transgender citizens, an already reviled and marginalized group. I’ve heard the backpedaling and the justifications but it all comes down to legalizing discrimination because someone is different. Tennessee law now allows mental health professionals to deny service to those of the LGBT community if they feel it will violate their religious beliefs.
Feeling suicidal because you’re having gay thoughts? Sorry, go see someone else- you go against what I believe. A transgender woman using a men’s room? She may very well be carried out of that restroom on a stretcher. A transgender man using a women’s room? He’ll be called a pervert and may also be carried out on a stretcher or in handcuffs.
End over end, the justification for these laws is so that a person’s religious beliefs are not trampled upon or violated. I’m a ‘to each his/her own’ kind of person. To me, the violation of someone’s religious beliefs is telling them that they’ll be penalized with jail time or fines if they worship in a church/mosque/synagogue or if they go see their priest/imam/rabbi. If I denied someone service at my job because I suspected or knew that their religious belief conflicted with mine, I’d be in a lot of trouble with my employer- and my own conscience.
When you strip away everything about us- our beliefs, our thoughts, our loves, our personalities- we are humans. It doesn’t matter what kind of genitals we have, we have the same basic, biological needs. A transgender man or woman is not interested in gawking at you or groping your children. They’re interested in using what’s behind door number one- with the door closed and securely locked- washing their hands and getting on their merry way. If someone is a predator that preys on adults or children, they will get into that bathroom regardless of any laws. The sick and depraved who prey on others will always find a way so don’t use that as justification for putting innocent people in harm’s way.
On the other laws that are being pushed, that will allow willful discrimination of those who are LGBT- how disappointing. You want to stand on your religion and say it goes against your beliefs to service those who are LGBT because you’ve been taught that they’re sinners? Shame on you. Shame. On. You. Is it not a sin to refuse your fellow man in a time of need? Granted, that need may be something as simple as a cake to something as meaningful as a wedding ceremony or as vital as obtaining mental health. The process of coming out and accepting yourself for being something society- and religion- has demonized, takes a brutal toll on the mental state and image of the self. A mental health professional being allowed to tell a potentially suicidal patient that they need to pound sand because of a religious belief is incomprehensible to me and unconscionable. But hey, it’s a law and it’s allowed now.
Reading these stories, seeing what’s being passed as perfectly acceptable law, makes me extremely angry. The fact that more of these laws are being speedily passed since the legalization of gay marriage has not escaped me. There’s always been a battle, with the religious right on one side and the LGBT community on the other. The battlefield is littered with laws, both passed, vetoed and revived. We won a major battle with the legalization of gay marriage, yes, but we are in danger of losing that if the wrong person gets into office. Our fight is far from over. Maybe, some day, it will be, when all walks of life are accepted. But until then, we can’t just sit back and relax because we can legally get married, not when our transgender brothers and sisters are being harassed, harmed and murdered. We can’t relax when our at-risk youth are being turned out of their homes, turned away from faith-based homeless shelters or taking their own lives because they aren’t receiving the proper treatment.
The biggest weapon against the LGBT community is that the other side is a unified front. They may come from different religious beliefs but they’ve all got the same goal in mind. Us? We’re divided. Gay men and lesbians have a dividing line; there’s a dividing line between the gay men and lesbians and transgender and so on and on and on. It’s got to stop. This isn’t a call for everyone to love each other and sing Kumbaya. It’s more a call for everyone to put aside their prejudices, get their heads out of their asses and see the bigger picture for what it is. We all stand to lose with these laws being passed at the state level. We all live in those states, our livelihoods and our dreams can be destroyed by them. Yes, many of these laws are being fought and taken to the federal level, with Title IX being used as one of the biggest defenses. But that takes time and during that time, these laws stand and those of us who are most vulnerable simply don’t have that time.