from facebook: more on hb2

I received a message from someone who supports the North Carolina legislation. I’m paraphrasing, but their position essentially is that it was Charlotte’s inclusion of language allowing transgender men and women to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify rather than that assigned to them at birth that made the local policy unacceptable and the new state law necessary because 1) women don’t want to go to a bathroom with a man in the same room, and 2) a convicted child molester was among the leaders of the movement for the non-discrimination policy in Charlotte. My respondent essentially went on to say that otherwise there would have been no problem with Charlotte enacting non-discrimination policy protecting LGBT people.

I’m making an assumption that points 1 and 2 are to lend credence to what many opponents of non-discrimination policy publicly and frequently aver, that allowing men to access women’s restrooms will result in more children being molested and more women being attacked or raped in those places.

Those assertions are not at all backed up by the facts (see,e.g., here and here) but for the sake of the first part of my response, let’s assume them to be true.

If allowing someone to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify would result in more rape and child molestation, but prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, and public accommodations is not a problem, then why wouldn’t the North Carolina legislature merely pass a narrowly tailored law restricting access to bathrooms? Why would it go on to strip LGBT people, not just in Charlotte, but in 8 other cities that only had non-discrimination protections without the bathroom access clauses, of these protections? Why would it make it illegal for any city to pass non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the future? Why, if the intent was to protect children and women, would the state legislature feel it needed to make it illegal for cities to decide that LGBT people shouldn’t be evicted or fired or denied service at a restaurant just because of who they are? This was not a narrow piece of legislation; in fact, it is the most broad and far-reaching of such anti-gay legislation we’ve seen in 20 years, since the Supreme Court found a somewhat similar measure in Colorado unconstitutional in 1996.

That said, I fully understand that transphobia more than homophobia was the impetus for this hateful, ugly session, but that the state so quickly and overwhelmingly turned against the entirety of the LGBT community, the animus against all queer people, not just our trans brothers and sisters, is crystal clear.

Let’s also look at an (admittedly inexact, but in a way that actually works in my favor) analogy. The majority of mass killings in the U.S. are perpetrated by white men. If we believe that allowing transgender people access to bathrooms increases child molestation or attacks on women in those bathrooms, and the correct response is to deny transgender people such bathroom access, then it should be legal and constitutional to deny all white men access to places where mass killings have occurred: schools, movie theaters, shopping centers, etc. Obviously this would be an overreaction, and clearly unconstitutional if not in fact immoral. The difference is that most mass killings in the U.S. really are perpetrated by white men. But most child molestation—even most molestation that occurs in public restrooms—is not perpetrated by transgender men and women. The vast majority of child molestation in our country is perpetrated by parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, clergy: people known by and familiar to the children abused. Yet we don’t make it illegal for family members to share a public bathroom. Most rapes and attacks on women are not made in public restrooms; most of them, again, are at the hands of family members of and persons familiar to the victims. In fact, transgender women themselves face a significantly and sickeningly high rate of attack, abuse, rape, and murder.

Moreover, if you assert that bathroom access for transgender men and women will increase rape and/or child molestation, then a corollary is that you believe that the 25 Democratic state representatives and the entirety of the Democratic members of the state Senate who voted against this law (or who walked out without voting, in protest) willfully and knowingly support rape and child endangerment.

It is illegal to commit a mass killing, but white men who want to kill large groups of people in a public place continue to do so, with horrific and increasingly numbing repetition; and such evil people would continue to commit murder regardless of whether we were to make it illegal for them even to enter such places. Similarly, rape and molestation that takes place in a public restroom has been and will remain illegal, and men who want to rape women and molest children have done so and will continue to do so regardless of whether we permit transgender men and women to pee in a bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Transgender women are not men; they are women. Transgender men are not women; they’re men. See, for example,

So let’s punish people who actually commit rapes and attacks, and not paint an entire group of people—who themselves are just as if not more vulnerable to rape and attack as those opponents of equality claim to be protecting, and who, like you and me, just want to use the bathroom to pee—as criminals, rapists, and child molesters.

from facebook: hb2

Another day, another reason to be ashamed to be an American. The legislature of North Carolina held a rushed special session today in which it hurriedly passed a bill—which the governor already has signed—to prevent LGBT citizens of the state from being protected against discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, or even where they can go to the bathroom. This heinous and immoral law also rolls back such protections from discrimination that a number of North Carolina cities already had passed. This session, which cost the taxpayers of the state $42,000, had no other purpose than to make sure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender North Carolinians remain second-class citizens. It is to ensure that we know that every time we take a step forward, they will be there to pull the rug out from beneath us.

And this ugly hateful law does not exist in a vacuum; North Carolina is not alone is considering such legislation. Since the Supreme Court declared that the U.S. Constitution requires that same-sex couples be afforded the same constitutional right to marriage as their neighbors, friends, and siblings in opposite-sex relationships, legislators in state after state have been falling over themselves to make sure that we queers know that a sufficiently powerful group of our fellow citizens, if not actually a majority, will do whatever they can to enforce their scriptures–the only parts of which they still follow being those verses that assure them that god hates fags as much as they do—with all the force of the government and the power of the state they can still muster, to damn us to an eternal hell after our deaths while enduring a hell on earth at their hands while we yet live, to deny us our equality and our liberty to whatever degree they still can. If they could, they would deny us our very humanity and our dignity, too, but those things, at least, they cannot take. Nor can they stop us from continuing to fight—and we, and our families, and our friends, and our allies, will fight—for our right to the same protections, guarantees, and liberties they enjoy.

from facebook: talk this way

Last week’s linguistic link was for my husband’s side of the family, but the one he pointed out to me today — A push to restore pride in the way Appalachians speak, Washington Post, July 13, 2015 — hits me where I live. Well, where I grew up, at any rate.

And I’ll confess that the story taps into some personal guilt, in terms of my own erstwhile rejection and belittling of my linguistic heritage.

The native accent of the area where I grew up certainly would fall into the group of Appalachian accents described by this story. When I was in 7th grade, I participated in an exchange program with a school for the gifted in Michigan, and the kids there poked fun at the way those of us from Virginia spoke. Moreover, the pop culture I knew from television seemed to agree with them that people who talked like that — like me — were dumb. And I bought into that fiction, at least to a degree. I purged myself of my native accent.

But that was just part of the story; I cringe now, remembering how as a kid I insisted I must have been adopted, that I couldn’t really have been born there, that my real family must be from (and I don’t know how I latched onto this) the “Upper East Side” (my claims predated, though admittedly not by much, The Jeffersons). And even as a freshman at Harvard, with a subscription to my hometown newspaper from relatives who thoughtfully wanted to help keep me grounded and in touch with my roots, I would post local news items on my dorm room door as a way of poking fun at the speech and the customs I’d left behind. Though it wasn’t my intent to be insulting, I recognized only later that these things must have been hurtful to my family, and I’ve always regretted that.

In the abstract, I’m not particularly “proud” of being southern, but on the other hand I’m not particularly “ashamed” of it either; I had no say in where I was born, or what my ancestors may or may not have done, fighting on both sides of the Civil War, so I had little direct connection, other than genealogical, to any of the good or bad things we associate with the historic “South.” On the other hand, I’ve long been mystified at (and often openly opposed) the symbols of and yearning for the antebellum south that have pervaded that part of Virginia no less than in South Carolina or Georgia, for much the same reasons (i.e., why does anyone born in the south today feel such a personal connection to a place and a philosophy of nearly two centuries ago?). But history aside, I do regret that I wasn’t more accepting of the accent and speech patterns of my Virginia and West Virginia ancestors, and that I changed my own speech in order to try to fit in better to the world outside it, rather than trying to change the world to understand that one’s native intelligence isn’t related to one’s native accent.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable myself with that understanding. But at this point, with my current accent and speech patterns informed and shaped over many years by television, my years in New England and Washington, DC, and my habit of speaking very quickly, the Appalachian accent I divested myself of isn’t one I could ever again truly fall into naturally or comfortably. But I no longer police it, though I once did fairly stridently; when I’m tired, or especially when I’m visiting my Virginia family, or talking to them on the phone, the echoes clearly are there.

from facebook: ’til death—or constitutional amendment—do us part

So the particular brand of Christians who seem to dominate the public discourse on LGBT people and LGBT equality, like Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who appears on the major networks on nearly a weekly basis; current and former government officials, and presidential candidates, like Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum; and high-ranking Catholic officials like San Francisco’s archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, have called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically to ban marriage equality.

If they succeeded, what would they have happen to those of us already married? Would they require the government to dissolve our civil marriages against our will? I imagine that it would depend largely on how the amendment was written, but I would expect those mentioned above, at least, to argue for language that would in fact void pre-existing marriages for same-sex couples as well as outlawing any future ones.

It would be ironic if not terribly shocking that evangelical and orthodox Christianity would come to that over its loathing of gay people, not just ignoring the prescriptions against divorce and remarriage–some even attributed directly to Jesus–for themselves, a ship that sailed a long time ago, but actually mandating government-enforced annulments for others against their will. When the California Supreme Court, through upholding Prop 8, shamefully legitimized the majority’s vote to strip a disfavored minority of a constitutional right, it didn’t retroactively void the marriages that already had taken place. But that part of the decision wasn’t a certain thing; many of the opponents had in fact called for those marriages to be made null and void, and legal experts were mixed on their predictions in that regard. And in 2004 the same court had in fact voided the marriages that took place, at the direction of then-mayor Gavin Newsom, in San Francisco and elsewhere that summer.

To be sure, this is largely a rhetorical question. since such an amendment is very nearly an impossibility (never say never, though), but I think it’s worth thinking about what proponents of such an amendment would do, and to what degree, if at all, it truly comports with values of equality, justice, and fairness, or even those more commonly purported to be important for Christianity, to wit, morality, love, and charity.

from facebook: public servant accommodations

I want to delve a little more into my strongly held belief that there should be no “accommodations” for public servants who want to opt out of serving some segment of the public due to a personal or “strongly held” religious belief. I’ve been asked, if the person can still get the service from someone else, or from a different office, why shouldn’t we provide the accommodation. Here’s why I believe such accommodations always are wrong.

1. In some places, there might not be anyone else to perform the service. We already saw one county in Tennessee where the entire clerk’s office resigned. Couples — whether opposite-sex or same-sex — in that county now have to travel, at additional effort and expense, to another county. (And bonus: same-sex couples and LGBT Americans will be blamed for the inability of opposite-sex couples to get government services from their government officials.)

2. We’re paying public servants with public monies to provide service to the public. If they’re no longer serving all the public, then they’re de facto not public servants, and they should no longer expect to be paid with public funds.

3. When engaged in the responsibilities of a public servant, the person holding that job is acting not as a private citizen but as the government itself. Private citizens have religious beliefs; governments (at least in the U.S.) constitutionally do not and may not. Yes, we’re asking these people to do things that they may personally disagree with; that’s part of the package of accepting such a position, and we don’t generally hear of public servants refusing to issue drivers’ licenses to women (if they have a personal religious belief that women should not drive), or to refuse to give marriage licenses to the divorced (if they have a personal religious belief that the divorced may not religiously remarry), etc. I think most people would feel a visceral sense of outrage, that the Constitution were being violated, if it were suggested that a government official could just opt out of ever serving African Americans, or women, or Christians, even if someone else in the office would still provide such services; why should it not cause the same level of outrage and inherent sense of legal wrongness when the official wants to be able to opt out of serving LGBT Americans?

4. Being able to get a marriage license to marry the legal adult of your choosing (assuming they’re not already married, etc.) is a fundamental right, according to the U.S.’s highest court’s interpretation of the U.S.’s highest basis of law, the Constitution. Holding a government job is not a fundamental right. When there’s a conflict between the two, then, the first should trump the second.

5. We’re inflicting an additional harm — and in some ways I think it’s more serious than the actual denial or deferral of the service itself — on the member of the public whose right is denied or deferred. In addition to whatever inconvenience or costs (in dollars or time) you incur by having to wait, or to travel elsewhere, when someone else similarly situated is not similarly inconvenienced, we’re sending a message that the government considers you to be someone whose fundamental Constitutional rights are secondary to someone else’s private beliefs. We’re sending a message that the government — remember, the public servant IS the government when performing her public duties — considers you to be someone that it may consider, and to act upon that consideration, as unclean, as sinful, as unworthy of your rights.

Many people get this, especially those who, because of the color of their skin, their national origin, or their gender, or some other factor, have experienced something similar, an expectation that their fundamental rights are secondary to someone else’s private beliefs. But it just takes some basic empathy to understand it. Imagine that you show up at a government office, and you’re told that you’ll need to wait because the person on duty has a religious belief that doesn’t allow them to serve you (maybe because you’re a person of color, or you’re a woman, or you’re left-handed, or you have a tattoo, or you’re a Catholic–there are lots of things that people have found religious reasons to condemn.).

The office has put in a call to another government employee who doesn’t think you’re untouchable, or who is willing to do her job even if she does believe that you’re a monster, but in the meantime, until she gets back from lunch, or maybe even only after she’s back from vacation, other people come in, walk up to the counter in sequence, get their government business transacted, and leave, without being publicly humiliated or questioned just for asking for the same thing everyone else is getting.

Or maybe everyone at that particular office shares the same religious inability to transact official business with you, and you have to get back in your car and drive 60 miles to the next nearest government office, hoping that there will be someone there who will help you.

How might that make you feel, knowing that your government has just told you that you’re not actually equal under the law, that your inconvenience is worth someone else’s satisfaction at knowing they’ve put you in your place? How might your children feel when you try to explain to them that the government is permitted to treat them differently, because some government employees personally believe that they’re going to hell? There’s the harm inflicted by not getting the service, or not getting it as timely or without a tacit moral judgment as everyone else, but there’s an additional harm inflicted by having the government justifying those employees’ private moral judgments. There’s a personal cost when even your own government is permitted to hold and to act upon a belief that you’re sick, sinful, or subhuman, or that the majority is allowed to decide what rights you should have.

Imagine that your state decides to put it to a public vote whether or not you should be allowed to vote, or to marry, or to own property. Even if the vote fails, what might it be like to go through a year of having people debate not just your citizenship but your very humanity and your very likelihood of being condemned to eternal infinite torture (even if you don’t believe it, you can’t escape knowing that they believe it and that they think you deserve it), on radio and television, online, in signs in front yards and billboards, every single day? That might have a cost, too, don’t you think? Personally, I don’t think it’s a cost the government should — or, constitutionally, can — be endorsing, subsidizing, or accommodating.

from facebook: the anti-gay ADF and its “majoritarian” hypocrisy

I think that the hypocrisy, inconsistency, and willful ignorance (of our form of government, of the Constitution, of the lived reality of gay people, of their own religious texts) of the anti-gay right bothers me more than the actual anti-gay beliefs themselves.

It’s easy to understand, after all, how people can be taught to be anti-gay, and not have easy access to the resources or the perceived need to pursue the evidence or to learn any differently. Most people who are anti-gay are so because of what they’ve been taught by the authority figures around them, and it’s hard for some people to peek behind the curtain of authority.

Today I was commenting on a post by Kelley Fiedorek, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom (an anti-gay religious legal organization), who was given a platform by the Washington Post this past weekend to post her organization’s position on the marriage equality ruling. Fiedorek and the ADF positioned their disappointment in the form of an objection that the Supreme Court had made this decision instead of the majority, by popular vote.

Let’s set aside that marriage equality polls all show that a majority of Americans actually do support the issue, and the Supreme Court’s decision, so that even if this were put to a popular majority-rules vote it’s not at all clear that the outcome would be any different now than what the Supreme Court ruled.

Let’s set aside that the Washington Post op-ed was written by a lawyer, who should know that the U.S. is not a pure majoritarian democracy, but a constitutional republic, and that it was set up in part specifically so that the rights of minorities could not be given or taken away by the majority. Either this lawyer received a very sub-par education in civics and constitutional law, or she is deliberately lying.

Let’s turn, rather, to the hypocrisy. I pointed out that if Ms. Fiedorek and the ADF truly believe that social issues, including marriage, are to be settled by majority vote rather than by the Constitution or the courts, then they must agree that Loving v. Virginia was wrongly before the Court in 1967, when it ruled that bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional, and that such marriages — including Justice Clarence Thomas’ own marriage to a white woman in 1987 — should have been illegal until the year that a majority finally said that they no longer opposed them. The year when that happened was 1995 (yes, that’s ninety-five, as in, just slightly before the 20th century ended).

Commenters then said to me, no, the Supreme Court was right to rule in that case, because interracial marriage was never a sin, and because racism and homophobia are different (their assumption being, I take it, that the first is bad but the second is good, or at least divinely mandated). The first kind of answer forgets or ignores that most of the opposition to interracial marriage was couched in purely religious terms. This position also suggests that the government is to legislate on the basis not of laws or the Constitution, but on “sinfulness.” Given that no two religious sects or denominations can even agree on what things count as sin, and that there are religious sects and denominations that do not consider homosexuality or marriage equality to be a sin — and that legislating on the basis of religion is explicitly a violation of the Constitution itself — that seems pretty much a non-starter.

The second, though, is where the hypocrisy becomes very clear; if you believe that social issues should be decided by majority vote, you can’t then say, well, except for those social issues that we don’t think should be voted on, because we’re for them. These people couch their anti-gay, anti-equality positions as rooted in a pro-majoritarian democracy stance, but then they assert that the democratic process should only apply to the things they want to ban.

That’s not pro-democracy, that’s just anti-gay. I’d actually respect them more if they’d just admit to that.

from facebook: yeah, we already knew that.

The Tennessee hardware store owner who put up a “No Gays Allowed” sign on his store’s front door, says he did so “to let the homosexual people know that there are Christian people that are willing to take a stand.”

Believe me, homosexual people are fully aware that there exist Christian people who are willing to take a stand for exclusion, bigotry, and hate. That particular message from some Christian people receives no shortage of sunlight, and has been on display time and again as we homosexual people fought for our jobs, our homes, our relationships, our children, our dignity, and even, too often, our lives.

It’s a message we hear nearly every day from Christian people not just standing in pulpits and sitting in pews, but from Christian people running for president, serving as president, on the playground, sitting in legislatures, baking cakes, governing states, being interviewed on the nightly news, arranging flowers, passing constitutional amendments, serving pizzas, and now, even, from Christian people who just don’t even want to let us buy an Allen wrench. Because somehow selling us a tube of caulk is an affront to baby Jesus.

It’s a message that’s increasingly tone-deaf, mercifully, and more and more often offset by messages of love and understanding from other Christian people, but it’s not one every LGBT person doesn’t hear ringing in the recesses of their psyche every. single. day.

You, Mr. Amyx, are neither brave nor a pioneer.

from facebook: the Texas attorney general isn’t very precedential

Apropos of my previous post, it is in Texas where we’re seeing most of these attempted recusals from official duties, and where the state’s attorney general has taken the position that “religious liberty” should be a shield for public servants refusing to serve same-sex couples in the conduct of official government business. Yet in 1983, the then-attorney general of Texas said that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution would not allow a justice of the peace, who “is clothed with the State power” and “acts in the name and for the State,” to refuse to civilly marry an interracial couple.

“Once a justice of the peace undertakes to exercise the authority to marry people granted him by article 1.83 of the Family Code he may not, consistent with the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony for the reason that the parties are not of the same race.”…/…/1983/htm/jm0001.htm

Why isn’t the current attorney general applying the same legal reasoning as his predecessor did, 30 years ago?

from facebook: civil marriage and uncivil clerks

An increasing number of news reports that there are clerks’ offices that are refusing, citing religious grounds, to issue civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples has me boiling mad.

1. If you are a public servant, paid with taxpayer funds, you must serve all the public. You don’t get to pick and choose. Same-sex couples and LGBT individuals pay taxes, too. You work for them no more or less than you do for any other citizen in your community.

2. We’re talking about issuing a “civil” license (and in some cases, conducting a civil ceremony). There is no religious component to a marriage license or to a civil ceremony; in fact, the times I’ve been deputized as a deputy marriage commissioner in California, I’ve been instructed that as a temporary representative of the government I may not conduct a religious ceremony or use religious language. So there is no valid religious reason to refuse to grant a civil marriage license to someone.

3. Why do we never hear of clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to the previously divorced, or to atheists, or to interfaith couples? (And why when a clerk in Louisiana tried to refuse to give an interracial couple a marriage license, citing her religious belief, did Gov. Jindal suggest that what she did was illegal and that she should be punished? The same Jindal who now says that clerks should not be punished for refusing to follow the law regarding same-sex couples’ rights?) Why do their “sincerely held religious beliefs” only come into play with the person walking into their government, taxpayer-funded office is gay? These are not principled Christians so much as they are bigots and hypocrites attempting to use religion to justify one particular prejudice above all others.

4. Why should public servants be able to keep their jobs when they say they will stop doing one of their major functions? In private industry, if an employee refuses to do his or her job, there are consequences, including no longer having that job.

5. One clerk in Arkansas has decided to resign rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She, at least, I applaud for doing the right thing (even as I still believe she is a hypocrite for never having refused to issue marriage licenses to other people that her religion surely considers to be sinners) when she realized she was not willing to do the job that the public pays her to do. I have no patience with or respect for the many others, though, who are not willing to resign, but who think that they should be able to refuse to serve one segment — and only one segment — of the public.

There should be no accommodation for public servants who are unwilling to serve all of the public. Asking someone to go to another county, or to a different office, or to come back on a different day when the non-bigoted clerk is on duty, is no different than asking someone to sit at a different lunch counter, drink from a separate water fountain, or move to the back of the bus, practices that once were justified, by some, as religiously motivated. Has history taught us nothing?

from facebook: objecting to objecting

On a tangent to my previous post about whether today’s opinion requires clergy to marry same-sex couples (as I noted, it doesn’t), it’s been asked whether the ruling allows public officials (clerks, magistrates, etc.) to opt out of issuing marriage licenses or marrying same-sex couples, when that otherwise would be their responsibility, if they have religious objections to doing so.

This issue isn’t as clear cut, and it’s likely that the courts will have to settle it. Recently, North Carolina’s legislature passed a law specifically in this regard — and overriding the governor’s veto — allowing government officials to opt out of performing marriages or registering licenses for same-sex couples, as long as they opt out of doing so for any and all marriages and as long as there is someone available to ensure that a same-sex couple isn’t turned away. In New York a clerk refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and she was allowed to keep her job as long as there was a deputy clerk available to ensure same-sex couples weren’t turned away.

Some may feel that it’s a worthwhile accommodation, as long as the couple still can get a license, or still can find a government official to marry them. I strongly disagree. Personally, I think there should be no religious exemptions for public servants. Civil marriage is not a religious rite, and those who are paid by the public to serve the public should have to serve all the public. There’s just no religious justification, in my mind, that allows someone to refuse to issue a civil marriage license, especially when that person is working to uphold the law and on the taxpayer’s dime.

Letting a government official pick and choose whom they serve sends a government-endorsed message that some members of the public are more equal than others, that some citizens of the country are more worthy, that some people are unclean. We abolished separate lunch counters and drinking fountains; we shouldn’t institute separate clerk’s desks. That’s just not a message or a practice the government should endorse.