Editor’s Note: This story was first featured in April 2016, but in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s important to read again.
“More people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, my friends, that is true perversion.” – Harvey Milk
My name is Jana, and welcome to Mississippi 2016. If you are at all pondering what it is like here, and what HB 1523 truly means, well allow me to take you on a journey for a moment. Close your eyes. You are standing before your employer, and he asks you to have a seat. Your palms are sweaty because you are anxious. However, you are optimistic. This must be good news! After all, you are the highest performing employee. I mean, sure it’s a small, private business, but Mr. Business Owner raves about your work ethic, your efficiency and what an asset you are to his business on practically a weekly basis. “Ms. /Mr. Employee….” He addresses you with reluctance. “We have decided to let you go…..”
In August of 2014, my family and I were featured in Showtime’s L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin, and on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant pulled back the mask on this state.
What a diabolical relationship we have, Mississippi and I, the home of all of my achievements and misfortunes. The keeper of each of my secrets, Mississippi. A state that has strengthened me yet kicked me while I was down. A state that has taught me the meaning of hospitality yet slammed doors in my face. A state that has loved me, yet sent me to “the back of the bus,” and now HB 1523 has sent us all to the back of the bus. Mississippi has plastered on its forehead for the world to see, “bigoted and intolerant,” and Mississippi doesn’t care. For those who may have been in hiding this week, HB 1523 is a “religious freedom” bill passed by a staggering margin in the Senate as well as the house and was signed on Tuesday by the governor.
Here’s an excerpt:
The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
Therefore, as of July 1st, I am officially a second class citizen, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a lesbian, or because I’m in an interracial relationship. Yay me, right? Double whammy! You see, I am not agitated that Joe at the hardware store does not want to serve me, or that Sally at the sno cone shop won’t give me extra cream (if you’ve never had cream on a sno cone/sno ball, my gosh, you have missed out on the meaning of life). They do not unsettle me. They are entitled to feel however they choose, no matter how unenlightened those feelings may be.
I, however, would much rather Joe tell me he doesn’t want to help me because I’m gay. I won’t patronize his business, and he doesn’t have to sustain a facade of homophobia, which is really curiosity of this deviant, hell bound “lifestyle” I have “chosen” to lead. Alternatively, Joe uses the Bible, Jesus’s teachings, a book that so many people – gay, trans, and others rely on for guidance or as a source of fortitude and love – to promote his agenda of discriminate and bigotry.
Joe, nevertheless, is clueless. He knows nothing, not the first thing about the LGBTQ community. His only culpability was being born in Mississippi. Joe grew up in a small town like many of the people he has grown to despise. He was raised with and still depends on his “deeply held religious beliefs,” and all Joe knows is someone told him one time that being gay is wrong. In all honesty, Joe has no clue why he doesn’t like gay people, other than the warm, tingly feeling he gets when a gay man walks into his hardware store.
So now, Joe uses the bible to condone his intolerance, ignorance and discrimination. I cannot for one moment fathom how Jesus can wash the feet of a prostitute, have dinner with his betrayer AND offer forgiveness to a thief while being crucified, but right here in Mississippi Joe won’t sell me a flat head and Sally won’t give me my damn cream!
The governor says he wants to protect business owners from discrimination so that—ready for this?—they can discriminate. Let that sink in for a moment.
Mississippi, a state whose sons and daughters consist of Robin Roberts, Fannie Lou Hammer, Lance Bass and Tennessee Williams. A state which celebrates the likes of Medgar Evers, B.B. King, James Meredith and Ida B. Wells. Where is the correlation, you ask. Well, this same state has passed laws at one point or another that infringed upon the rights of these natives all because they were “different.”