No… it isn’t the 2014 version of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but it could be.
The past 5 days have pulled me all over the country with the news of insane bills and potential laws that are, at their core, new ways for us to be horrible to each other. The past 5 days have brought tears to my eyes, broken my heart, and given me renewed hope for the future all at the same time. The past 5 days have caused me to reflect on my life, how I was raised, and how I have been treated. The past 5 days have been exhausting.
I grew up as an intelligent, overweight, glasses-wearing kid in the heart of the southern United States. I was raised Southern Baptist. I was a cancer survivor – but people didn’t really remember that about me in school. As a child I sang in church, “Let us love one another” and I believed that was how God and my parents wanted me to be. Teachers loved me. I loved school and the challenge of learning. But I was teased, and there were times the teasing verged on bullying. I cried more times than I could count because my best friend chose a new friend, because the boy I liked told everyone “not that fat girl,” because the boys that did start calling me wanted help with their homework or they wanted me to ask my friend to go out with them. I barely even realized I was a lesbian before the teasing and disgusting jokes at my expense began all over again, and another best friend decided we weren’t going to be friends anymore. At 19 I relived the teasing and tears of my 11 year-old self, feeling that I had no one at home to turn to.
But I got away from all that. I moved away and I moved on. I didn’t leave the south, but I left the confines of my close-minded environment. And now, as an adult I am an intelligent, successful scientist who owns my own home, pays all my bills, gives to charities that I believe in, and mentors to students as they work their way through school to join my profession. And yes, if you are wondering, I am a Christian. I consider myself lucky. I have been able to embrace who I am and live (mostly) without worrying about hiding who I am. I have worked hard to make something of myself. But all around me, every single day I am bombarded by stories and images of hate. Discrimination is just another form of teasing, of bullying, of making people feel isolated and hopeless. Is this how Christians really think Jesus would act? I do not believe that it is. We all should just love and are for each other. That is what Jesus would do. But will we ever get there?
Have you heard of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act? It’s being disguised as an update to the state seal, so it is sneaking through committee, but it also aims to “restore religious freedom” in Mississippi. It basically says we are all free to exercise our religious beliefs without fearing the burden of the law. Beat up the gay kid in class because your church said being gay is a sin? That’s okay, you were exercising your religious beliefs! There are so many ways to interpret that.
Did you see House Bill 2453 in Kansas? Same story. A bill concerned with religious freedoms in respect to marriage. It’s aim was to protect someone from being discriminated against for their religious beliefs by allowing them to discriminate against anyone in a civil union, gay marriage or similar arragement. A restaurant owner could put up a sign that said “No Gays Served Here” and that would be perfectly legal. Next we will have separate water fountains and “Gays Only” bathrooms.
How about Idaho? Same story. Different state. Segregation and discrimination legalized under the veil of religious freedom. It’s not the loving one another religion I sang about as a child. It doesn’t feel freedom of any kind to me. And sadly there have been similar bills proposed in South Dakota and Arizona, I may have even missed a few.
Across the globe, the Ugandan President plans to sign a bill that would make it illegal to be gay in Uganda. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) is an attempt to “combat the spread of HIV/AIDS” and wage a war on the “homosexual lobby” in Uganda. So rather than seek care when they are ill, gays and lesbians will likely retreat and hide from the possibility of being arrested.
In researching for this blog post, I came across this column – a story from someone growing up gay, searching, looking for someone like them. This is what it feels like to be isolated, every day of your life. This is what it feels like being teased and bullied as a kid. But, this is what it also feels like when we make laws that allow adults to discriminate against each other, be horrible, and hide behind relegion while they do it. Instead of embracing each other with love, when we are faced with the unknown, with differences, we “eat our own.”
This leads me to the “Turn the Gays Away” bill in Tennessee. Also known as the “Religious Freedom Act,” and very similar to the bills in Mississippi and Kansas, this bill was actually aimed at protecting wedding-related business from lawsuits if they refused service to same-sex couples if it violated the business owners’ religious beliefs. But on Tuesday, Tennessee Senator Mike Bell shelved his bill. A small victory, considering the legislators who were supporting the bill all stated that they felt current laws will protect people of faith from having to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, but it was a victory none-the-less, right?
Then I watched this video. It was part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive Conference. I watched as a young Hollywood starlet came out as a lesbian in front of an audience and cameras and more. If you don’t know her, meet the star of Juno and Whip it, Ellen Page:
“You’ve adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.”
Ellen says it all. She’s tired of hiding, tired of conforming to what Hollywood says she has to be, and you can tell she’s a little scared. Her voice is shaking. Personally, I think she’s probably exhausted, and I think she hits the nail on the head. She had me crying. Why can’t we all just be kind to each other? Why can’t we all practice our religion freely and love one another? If we approach everyone and every situation with love and kindness, does it really matter who we choose to marry?
AIBC team member zenkitty