By Todd Allen, Equality Advocacy Coordinator
Last week, a friend visited me from New York City. He enjoyed a po’ boy sandwich and some blues at Hal & Mal’s. We gave him the standard tour through Jackson and took him out to see the Ross Barnett Reservoir. However, on Friday afternoon as he stepped out of the King Edward Hotel wearing a particularly colorful pair of pants, a group of businessmen snickered at him and said, “Doesn’t he know that ‘that’ is illegal now?” These guys, on the street, understood what the governor intended to communicate when he signed House Bill 1523 into law. Our state leader helped to make harassment and discrimination against LGBT Mississippians more acceptable.
The most recent anti-LGBT legislation consists of convoluted language aimed at giving freedom to those who discriminate. All the strange talk of “protection from government discrimination” only serves to cover up the real effects this law will have on the community. This upside-down law protects those who discriminate against people who are seeking a legal marriage instead of protecting LGBT people from discrimination. HB 1523 fails to recognize diversity and succeeds at promoting exclusion.
I am most concerned about the impact this law will have on “everyday” people. How will children treat each other in the school yard? I am not hopeful they will be more kind and more understanding toward each other as a result of this law. Those in power chose to legitimize antagonism toward LGBT people. Will more Mississippians think they should see gay people as a threat to religious people? This law suggests gay people in church should either stop being gay or stop going to church. Will more people say transgender people are “just faking it?” Those Mississippians who think lesbian mothers are not able to raise healthy children have received praise for their prejudice from these anti-LGBT politicians.
Every believer has the freedom to judge whether one partnership arrangement is better than another arrangement. This type of judgement is protected by the U.S. Constitution when that decision comes from the religious community. However, the Supreme Court decision made it clear we cannot use state power to enforce our particular religious opinion of marriage. Both the choice of one’s partner and the choice of one’s church are equally protected by the U.S. Constitution. The negative impact in our community has begun, and a nationwide boycott of Mississippi is emerging. We must repeal HB 1523. Any law that classifies straight above gay, men ahead of women or white over black is discriminatory. We can do better than this because “We are all Mississippi.”
The “We are ALL Mississippi” campaign is a coalition of more than 25 faith-based and nonprofit organizations that are united to work toward the passage of a statewide, comprehensive, anti-discrimination law called the Mississippi Civil Rights Act. Together, we must combat persistent forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia in Mississippi. We call on leaders at all levels of government to enact and implement nondiscriminatory policies. When Mississippi brings down the Confederate flag, we must also disassemble all of the racial, religious and patriarchal oppression that flag glorifies. True hospitality means real equality.