LGBT Rights: Why Care?

On Wednesday, March 23, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law what is possibly one of the most blatantly discriminatory pieces of anti-LGBT legislation in recent years. It did not take long for the legislation to spark outrage in the media and grab national attention. The state’s Attorney General Roy Cooper has called the law a “national embarrassment” and has said that he will not be defending it in court.

The law has been largely condemned by the media, the Democratic Party, and numerous companies that do business in North Carolina. On March 31, the CEOs from sixteen different companies including YouTube, Barnes and Nobles, Reddit, and Apple, signed an open letter to the governor’s office calling for the law to be repealed.

Under the guise of protecting religious freedoms and privacy, the North Carolina legislature successfully pushed through a bill that overturns a city ordinance in Charlotte that banned discrimination of LGBT people that was passed in February. Charlotte’s Mayor Jennifer Roberts has said publicly that, “The general assembly [of North Carolina] is on the wrong side of progress,” and that, “It is on the wrong side of history.” The bill also prevents other cities within the state from enacting similar policies and even stops them from creating minimum wages that surpass the state’s $7.25 an hour.

Aside from this new legislation’s obvious attempt for a Republican controlled state to prevent individual cities from enacting liberal policies, this is demonization of Transgender people is being used as a tool to deny the entire LGBT community equal protection under the law. The governor’s office has issued a statement saying, “The bill was passed after the Charlotte City Council voted to impose a regulation requiring businesses to allow a man into a women’s restroom, shower, or locker room if they choose.” The office also stated, “This ordinance would have eliminated the basic expectations of privacy people have when using the restroom by allowing people to use the restroom of their choice.”

It is a major setback for the rights of Americans all over this country. In states where discrimination against LGBT people is most common, cities have traditionally and increasingly become the safe havens and leaders in political and social representation for these individuals and families.

The broad implications of these new laws that target LGBT individuals, such as the recent legislation under debate in Georgia, have many looking closely at the laws in other states. Michigan, for example, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class in anti-discrimination laws, and is one of twelve states that currently have sodomy laws on the books. The State of Michigan Penal Code says that, “Any person who shall commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 15 years.”

These laws, having been in place for many years, serve to undermine the progress the Queer community has made with marriage equality. Two men can be married, however the physical expression of that love remains technically illegal. One could argue that the laws are not enforced, yet in areas of the country where relationships with the LGBT community and police are strained at best, these and other laws are still used to harass individuals. They are another example of outdated, religious based laws that are not reflective of common day values or personal liberties. It is an effort to reinforce the idea that sex is for procreation.

What the general public should understand is that LGBT individuals’ rights are not the only thing at stake here. Laws restricting the rights of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexuals are an assault on every citizen’s personal sexual freedom. The current sodomy laws in Michigan while being offensively linked to the crime of bestiality, are not even restricted to just homosexual relationships.

The gay rights movement represents a new wave of sexual revolution for everybody. As more people come out or choose to live more open lifestyles, the conversation about sexual orientation evolves and becomes a more honest discussion. As these candid conversations become more common, especially amongst young people, the stigma that surrounds sexuality in general lifts.

One could consider the issue in the context of the women’s rights movement and what that did to change how our society viewed issues related to heterosexual relationships for women. These unfair laws and others like them are simply the attempts of one political party to force their version of family values and their vision of social propriety onto the lives of everyday Americans.

The argument that these types of laws are an effort to protect religious freedoms is just untrue and hypocritical. The religious majority is not the group that needs protection. It is merely a legal justification of discriminatory practices and an institutionalized effort to further disenfranchise an already downtrodden group of American citizens. According to data from the White House, in 28 states the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender communities have no protection from losing their jobs simply for who they are or who they choose to love. In 29 states, these people can be denied housing with no legal recourse. In 20 states in America, attacks on these individuals are not recognized as hate crimes and therefore their government sites do not even list statistics on LGBT related assaults, rapes, or murders.

More than three decades ago Harvey Milk led the gay community in telling the world that we must come out of the closet, that we must fight to be seen and to be heard. “Let me have my tax money go to my protection and not to my persecution.” These words are as important today as they were when the community fought to be recognized, struggled against violence at home, and against police brutality. They are as important as they were when Gay men died every day of the AIDS virus and the American government looked the other way.

As this country becomes more diverse, and if we hope to move towards a more inclusive way of life, we need to keep in mind that an attack on the rights of any minority is an attack on the foundation of who we are as a society.