A lapsed catholic lesbian’s opinion on religious freedom laws

A lapsed catholic lesbian’s opinion on religious freedom laws

After coming out last September, the world became a more colorful place. Living in a world where I am not constantly checking my gayness at the door allowed me tap into a new found happiness and confidence that I did not know existed. People in my Catholic community of Tulsa, Okla., were accepting, loving and supportive. Many of the most devout Catholics I know—including my mother—did not bat an eye at my sexuality. On the contrary, many were genuinely confused as to why it took me so long to bust out of the closet in full rainbow garb.

The influx of “religious freedoms laws” is a harsh reminder why my closet seemed more spacious than it was. Since the founding of our nation, religion has been used a bargaining tool, justifier and legal aide for the harshest forms of discrimination. After what seemed like ultimate progress in a monumental win for the queer community last June, there was immediate and dangerous backlash from GOP state leaders in Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma—just to name a few—passing laws to defend their constituents “religious freedom.”

In the past two weeks, the formation of more “religious freedom” or “anti-LGBT” laws have received national attention including North Carolina’s HB2, Mississippi’s HB 1523 and Georgia’s HB 757. The bills in North Carolina and Mississippi were signed into law, but Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 757 due to the consequences it would have on the Peach State’s economy. North Carolina’s extreme anti-trans law has led for the state to lose major expansion with PayPal and has been threatened by numerous companies. The corporate backlash and threats expressing their grave dissatisfaction with these bills is the moral standpoint in which many would hope that their state, local and religious leaders would adopt.

These laws use religion, and let’s be frank here, Christianity, for blatant discrimination, but none as transparent as Mississippi’s HB 1532In it, the new law states in Section 2 that:

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;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

It’s hard for my brain to process that these abhorrent words so flagrantly stating bigotry were passed in 2016. I am saddened for the people in Mississippi and like-minded states who are now legally allowed to be discriminated against simply for their existence.

As someone who grew up attending Catholic schools and church, who has studied the bible and who knows many members of its faith, I want to express that these laws do a disservice to Jesus’ teachings of acceptance, love and peacefulness. But regardless of the way one interprets religious text, our laws must continue to evolve excluding our individual understanding. We are supposed to be a secular nation founded on the freedom and safety of all its people. Passing these narrow-minded laws into action systematically tear holes in the national fabric of our country.

The statistics for the people in the LGBT community, especially the trans community, who are mistreated, verbally and physically attacked and who contemplate or commit suicide are staggering and these laws have done nothing but applaud and welcome more discrimination. Using religion as a shield for bigotry is archaic, misguided and damaging to the American people. As Abe Lincoln stated: “my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” The bible should not be used as a bludgeon to justify laws or actions in condemning an entire group of people, rather we should function in its virtues of inclusiveness, loving our neighbors and treating others with respect even in disagreement.

Every day I wear a necklace adorned with the state outline of Oklahoma. Not because I can overlook the glaring institutional homophobic and transphobic issues with my home state, but because the people that I know that live inside those lines have helped me become who I am as a proud, open and happy gay woman.

Be kind. Be you. Slay.

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How my rights in this country will change by the end of this article

Written with immense help and words from my lovely cousin, Jase Tilley.

In my parent’s home, above my red, wooden mirror in my small, teal-tiled bathroom adorns a sticker. It reads, “in a world where you can be anything…be yourself.” A gift from my mother most likely purchased on a whim at the Dollar Tree. It is large and ugly, but its meaning has always lingered dear to my heart.

It is a beautiful sentiment for those who have the means and opportunities to choose their own path in life. When I was younger, I imagined that meant becoming the superhero I always thought I was. As time progressed, the paradox of this sticker left me disheartened.

In 1993, I was born an American citizen in the state of Oklahoma. I wouldn’t know this until the hormones kicked in, but I was also born a lesbian—a part of me that I have not shared with many people. Yes, I did struggle accepting myself for a short period in my adolescence, but a larger part of the reason I have waited until now to come out is because I thought the second I was true to myself would also be the second I would be open to discrimination.

This thought blinded me from the perpetual truth. I damaged not only myself, but possibly other members of the LGBT community by selfishly protecting my personal fear. Morgana Bailey, a human resources activist, gave a TED talk that crippled me. It was poignant, raw, and possibly hit me in the most revolutionary, tear-filled moment I have experienced. In it she says:

I’d always told myself there’s no reason to share that I was gay, but the idea that my silence has social consequences was really driven home this year when I missed an opportunity to change the atmosphere of discrimination in my own home state of Kansas.

In February, the Kansas House of Representatives brought up a bill for vote that would have essentially allowed businesses to use religious freedom as a reason to deny gays services. A former coworker and friend of mine has a father who serves in the Kansas House of Representatives. He voted in favor of the bill, in favor of a law that would allow businesses to not serve me.

How does my friend feel about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people? How does her father feel? I don’t know, because I was never honest with them about who I am. And that shakes me to the core. What if I had told her my story years ago? Could she have told her father my experience? Could I have ultimately helped change his vote? I will never know, and that made me realize I had done nothing to try to make a difference.

For those of you who have known me for a month, a year or a lifetime this may come as a surprise to you. The truth is that nothing changes for you. You may temporarily be titillated by the fact that I shared a secret, or confused as to why I am making such a big deal out of something so a couple months ago. Despite the liberal steps forward our country has seen over the last year, discrimination persists. As a result, something so personal, so consequential to ones happiness, becomes a defining characteristic through which our society views you. Instead of being a personal decision, matters of the heart are subject to public scrutiny, with devastating effects on the LGBT community, and the heart of our nation.

In some states there are laws in place justifying discrimination against people like me by hiding behind the guise of “religious freedom.” In states like Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Kansas and my home state of Oklahoma, it is legal for someone to fire me, prevent me from adopting children, not approve a home and refuse service because of my sexual orientation.

Plain and simple, there is a chance that I could be legally discriminated against in certain states. There will be no physical or tangible difference post-coming out, yet by admitting a singular part of myself, that lingering risk still remains. I am still the same human being I was before you read this article–except I may be sporting a little more rainbow. So does it really make sense that there are laws protecting people who think there is something wrong with the way I was born and no anti-discrimination laws protecting people like me just because I happen to be attracted to Beyoncé instead of Jay-Z?

I was raised in a Catholic home, attending Catholic schools through high school. I was required to take courses that aligned with the Catholic faith. What I learned in my years as a student from the teachings of Jesus Christ was the opposite of what I see conservative politics claiming they are trying to uphold.

I’m no expert, but it seems like Jesus was a cool dude. He taught about acceptance, love, sacrifice, and service. The bible has a couple verses about homosexuality and hundreds about acceptance. That’s like standing in a field of beautiful sunflowers and deciding to pick the only one that is dead and forcing people to smell it.

Although it may be time to get rid of the ugly sticker, the message will finally take shape for me. Today, I finally decide to be me in this world where we can truly be ourselves.