Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Once again, a dark and dismal cloud hovers over Mississippi. House Bill 1523, the law that Gov. Phil Bryant signed which can allow Mississippians acting on their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBT citizens, is set to become state law this Friday—unless the 5th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides differently.
I am a proud gay man who will always be a product of Mississippi. Once again, I offer this statement simply to show my support for Mississippi's LGBT community and its incredible allies. This isn't just a Mississippi issue; this is a national issue. If this law prevails in Mississippi, other states could adopt similar laws.
We must not allow this law to pass on Friday. We must work to ensure human rights have a seat at the political and social tables. I am asking my fellow Mississippians to voice opposition to the actions of Bryant.
The so-called "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" is an abomination and will roll back many civil-rights gains. Moreover, it is shameful that the loving God I keep close to my heart has been "thrown under the bus" to shield the hatred and bigotry of a small minority.
Our country has made too many great strides in the protection of our civil rights to stop now. This law is an attack on basic human decency and stands in stark contrast to the southern hospitality that my state represents. No individual should grow up in an America in which someone can deny that person basic human respect based solely on a disagreement about personal love and identity. We are better than this.
Stories about Mississippi's House Bill 1523, the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Religious Discrimination Act"
The social ramifications are great. However, the economic setbacks for the state will be harmful to the development of a secured future for Mississippians.
I want to remind my fellow Mississippians that major corporations with operations established in Mississippi have already criticized the state for this law. Companies will greatly scale back or cancel any potential future expansions or investments. No company will offer economic stimulus to a place that proudly supports intolerance.
What will it take for Mississippi to stand on the right side of history? Several states and cities around America instructed their officials to avoid nonessential travel to Mississippi back in 2016 in reaction to the state's passage of a law protecting those who deny services to LGBT community because of religious beliefs. Can Mississippi afford not to have tourists visit the state?
Mississippi's educational system is suffering because of a lack of funding. Many Mississippi school systems are at risk for a state takeover. Over one in five people in Mississippi lives in poverty, and our median state household income is $39,665—or less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three. In 2016, the United Health Foundation listed Mississippi last among all 50 states in the annual America Health Ranking. Could it be that the reason behind many of these bad numbers is that we have political leaders making these types of decisions?
The governor and state leaders need to realize what this law will do. This is not a law that will bridge the divisions that already exist. It will further fragment citizens and violate individual rights. The law is a great slippery slope, and if it prevails, many will continue to use religion to violate civil rights and liberties because of race, religious beliefs, political views, gender identity and sexual orientation. This is a civil-rights nightmare that must quickly come to a close.
Read the JFP's award-winning coverage of the tough fight for LGBT rights in Mississippi.
Nearly every Mississippian is related to a member of the LGBT community. They are your fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. You might disagree with their decisions and whom they chose to love, but at your core, you love these individuals. I urge all Mississippians to stand with the LGBT community against this egregious display of prejudice. They need your support more than ever at this very moment.
I also plead with faith leaders of all backgrounds to exercise the love and tolerance our beliefs' teach. Faith has often been a major part of positive movement in equality. Today, many use religion as a justification for hatred and division. Let's all stand together so that ignorant zealots cannot hijack our core values. We must all represent the love that we preach weekly.
For my friends in the LGBT community who, like myself, have sat on the sidelines and in the shadows their whole lives, it's time to join the fight. This is not solely about you. This is a journey of self-acceptance and tolerance so the young members of the LGBT community can live a life that others denied us. This is our civil rights' fight, and we must stop at nothing to find a solution to this law.
Lastly, I make a plea to the 5th Circuit Court. I ask you to imagine being denied services, all because of the decision on whom you love and who you are.