It's Pride Month, and instead of using the month to celebrate the LGBTQ community, unfortunately there are a number of people who would rather spend the month spewing hateful rhetoric.
If you've ever heard the malicious "God hates fags" line, it's not true. It's a lie. God doesn't hate anyone. Read the Bible. My teeth clench in horror when I hear people who say they represent the God I believe in spouting hateful lies. But, no matter what you believe about God, the reality is you can't impose your own religious standards on those who don't don't believe what you believe — especially when it comes to government.
The First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion — the freedom not to be forced to adhere to or follow a religious path you haven't chosen. So when lawmakers use the Bible to justify legislation, it's a clear crossover of the boundary between church and state. All Americans aren't Christian, so the laws that govern us should not be guided by that particular religious system of beliefs.
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- Memphis Pride Parade
But let's pause for just one second and pretend this country was governed in a true Christian way. We would not be intolerant, hateful, or speaking ill of those we don't know. We would welcome immigrants, feed the poor, care for widows, and most importantly, love our neighbors — all of our neighbors.
Unpause: That is not the case. However, we do live in a country that guarantees liberty and justice for all. All means all.
The LGBTQ community matters. Their access to human rights matters. Their safety matters. Their dignity matters. Their lives matter. Because at the end of the day, no matter how one identifies, gender-wise, or who they love, they're human.
I believe people should stand up for what they believe in, except to the point at which they are just being a bully. As my mom always used to tell me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all."
It's crucial that people learn to respect even what they don't understand. Be curious, not judgmental.
And we need legislation to help with that.
There are very few state laws in place that protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, guaranteeing they have the freedoms, access, rights, and privileges of every other Tennessean. Currently, in Tennessee, there are no laws that prohibit housing, private employment, or education discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Neither are there laws to address school bullying or harassment related to students' sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tennessee doesn't require public accommodations based on orientation and gender identity, nor does it ban or restrict conversion therapy, the discredited pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The state doesn't have laws or policies in place that facilitate a gender marker change on driver's licenses and birth certificates.
Finally, and possibly the most damning of all, is the fact that Tennessee does not ban insurance exclusions for transgender health care or include transgender health care in health benefits to state employees.
During the recent session of the Tennessee General Assembly, GOP legislators introduced a number of anti-LGBTQ bills. The most glaring — HB 1369 or Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act — would have limited the definition of marriage to "natural marriage" between a man and a woman. The regressive measure was an attempt to void the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that requires states to recognize same-sex marriages.
The draft of the bill states that the act was an effort to resist an unlawful federal court order. The bill compares the Obergefell decision to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. These lawmakers had the audacity to compare its intolerant views of gay marriage to Wisconsin's 1854 rejection of the Slave Act, due to its unconstitutionality. So gay marriage apparently is just as unconstitutional as returning slaves to their masters.
Thankfully, the bill didn't get too far. Still, if this is where we are in 2019, we have a long way to go before our LGBTQ friends and neighbors feel safe, secure, and welcomed. We have a long way to go before they can know they won't be denied a basic right because of who they are.
It's not right. It's unfair and unconstitutional. And this is a conversation we need to be having all year 'round, not just for one month. Because all human lives matter, this conversation matters.
Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.