In July of 2016, ISIS threw a man, they assumed to be gay, off of a building. Afterwards, they continued to throw stones at his corpse. Like many countries in the Middle East, the Islamic State jihadi terrorist group practices Sharia Law, which typically has harsh punishments for homosexuality. In the United States, things are much better. It’s been over a year since the Supreme Court handed down the historic decision allowing LGBT citizens to get married. However, the battle for equal rights is far from over, with “religious freedom laws” condoning discrimination and many states lacking simple laws that would greatly protect LGBT people. There needs to be change, and it needs to happen fast.
It started in Indiana.
One of the first states to begin this trend was Indiana. According to CNN, on March 26th, 2015, now Vice President (who, at the time, was Governor of Indiana) Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Many say the law allowed businesses and individuals to discriminate against an individual for religious reasons. A wedding planner or a baker could refuse service to a couple, simply for no other reason than their sexuality. Indiana lawmakers tried to cover it up by saying that it provided religious freedom, but the governor took a long time to come up with whether he thought the bill he signed allowed people to discriminate.
While it may not seem like a big deal to be refused service, imagine how humiliating it would be to have someone say (in a shop full of people) they aren’t going to treat you the same, simply because of the way you were born.
Bad news for everyone…
Enormous backlash followed Indiana’s law. A popular Indiana News source, The Indy Star, writes that Indiana lost out on many economic opportunities due to this law: ¨Angie’s List canceled its proposal for a $40 million headquarters expansion that promised to bring 1,000 jobs to Indianapolis¨ (King). In addition, many well known people spoke out against the law. Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc, wrote in the Washington Post about how he was raised religiously , but yet recognizes how bad the laws are for America. Cook explains how the situation has become too dire for any of us to sit around.
19 other states have similar laws that protect religious freedom, but these laws are different in that they were published a lot longer ago, and are not targeted at the LGBT. Arkansas passed a law, much alike Indiana’s, but it did not allow for discrimination against LGBT people.
Many proponents of the law claim that the laws are needed to protect the religious freedoms of American citizens. However, the United States Constitution already guarantees religious freedom, so there’s no need to create new laws that permit people to discriminate.
It goes beyond Religious Freedom Laws
No protection from Employment Discrimination
In many states it is “legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity,” the USA Today writes. Many times, jobs are given to straight people, even though there might be a better applicant who happens to be LGBT. The national law prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs, gender, race, ethnicity, or nation of origin. President Obama also signed a law that prohibits discrimination against LGBT for government workers only. However, only certain states have laws that include sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is a huge issue because of how many LGBT people it could put out of a job, and how damaging it could be to the United States economy if people are just randomly fired. Discrimination and harassment in the workplace is also a huge issue, with studies showing “that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace.” This often causes workers to be judged based on their sexuality, rather than their performance.
LGBT Americans can also face housing discrimination, where they may be unable to secure a mortgage or face higher rent than heterosexuals. Forbes magazine points out that “just 40% of America’s LGBT population lives in states prohibiting such housing discrimination”.
No protection from Hate Crimes
On June 12 of this year, 49 people were killed in the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. This was one of the worst attacks on LGBT people in modern history. The NY Times writes that “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group.” A hate crime is a crime committed due to an individual’s bias. Hate crimes typically carry a heavier sentence than regular crimes. 15 states do not have hate crime protection for LGBT people. This is a big deal because hate crime laws keep people who wish to harm the LGBT community, off the streets.
We have the power to initiate change, and we’ve done it before
On April 2nd, 2015, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act was revised to include a clause prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people. This was a direct result of protest across America. This most likely would not have happened without the amount of support for amending the law. But we cannot stop here. With high rates of suicide for LGBT people and discrimination happening on a daily basis for many, there is simply too much at stake. If we want to see change, it is going to take courage among all of us.
Featured Image Credit: Ludovic Berton/Wikipedia