At the beginning of June, opponents of Houston’s recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance submitted a petition containing 50,000 signatures demanding a repeal of the bill. The ordinance bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status. It applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting, but religious institutions are exempt. Apparently, there are 50,000 people in the Houston area (assuming all the signatures are valid) who think that not being allowed to discriminate is a bad thing.
What the hell is wrong with them?
It came down, as it so often does, to the LGBT inclusions in the ordinance, specifically in allowing trans*folk to use bathrooms appropriate to their gender identity. I’ve seen a lot of nasty rhetoric surrounding this issue, with some on the right determined to whip up a panic over men entering women’s bathrooms in order to assault them. That trans* women are more likely to be assaulted if forced to use male restrooms is apparently irrelevant.
I’m maybe a bit of an oddity, but I’m used to using gender neutral bathrooms. In a lot of the gay clubs I frequent that’s all they have. I really don’t see the problem with them. There are still stalls with locking doors, so it’s not like anyone can see anything anyway. Nobody’s being asked to pull down their pants in public. And when did we get so uptight about sex that even the act of excretion took on a sexual subtext? Ladies and gentlemen, the bits between our legs are multipurpose, and not all those uses are automatically erotic.
Perhaps if folks in the US learnt how to create a toilet cubicle which didn’t have a 2″ gap all around the door then there wouldn’t be half the contention there is now.
You all know my feelings on the Hobby Lobby ruling, but did you know there’s a case currently pending with the Illinois Dept. of Human Rights because they have refused a trans* employee access to gender-appropriate bathrooms?
We see this a lot, this “religious right” to discriminate. These days, one would be forgiven for thinking that religion is discrimination. No more “Love thy neighbour”, it’s all about stripping people of their fundamental rights and basic human dignity. No equality bill can be passed, it appears, without providing sweeping get-out clauses for those who have “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
What about my belief that women shouldn’t be forced to use men’s bathrooms? What about my belief that if I am qualified enough to be hired for a job, and competent enough to do it well, I shouldn’t have to worry about being fired because my boss doesn’t like my home life? What about my belief that any discrimination is wrong, immoral, and fundamentally un-Christian?
Religious exemptions are scalping protective legislation — a number of prominent groups have recently withdrawn support from ENDA for precisely that reason. I’m sorry, but I cannot and will never understand how people can equate a peaceful and loving religion which inspires them to be better with fighting tooth-and-nail to deny others the rights they so often take for granted.
This isn’t about marriage, or taxes, or anything else people are getting hot under the collar about. This is about having a right to be treated fairly by strangers with whom you interact: having the right to be hired for a job if you’re the best candidate to do it; having the right to be served by a business trading with the public; having the right to use the bathroom without being humiliated or worse. It’s about having the right to function in society as a normal, productive human being. To engage equally in the workplace and marketplace — an engagement which, in turn, benefits everybody in a capitalist society.
I don’t see the people demanding exemptions queuing up to contribute to the welfare of those they want to prevent from holding steady employment or finding secure housing.
The fact is, “religious exemptions” are a nonsense. Any exemption to a non-discrimination ordinance is a nonsense, and as a society we should be outraged when exemptions are demanded, not falling over ourselves to condone them. What does it say about you as a person — about your church as an institution — that you need to prevent others from living peaceably and productively in order to feel secure about your own position in society? Are people that insecure about themselves they need to humiliate others in order to feel good? Does allowing a trans*woman to use the same restroom as you make you less of a woman by default?
I shouldn’t be surprised. Human beings are nasty, vicious, vindictive creatures. We create artificial and arbitrary distinctions between ourselves — geographic, genetic, socio-sexual, and cultural — and then boy do we cling to them. That there are people out there who would place a 2000-year-old dogma over their fellow man says it all. That 50,000 people are willing to put their names to a petition demanding the legal ability to treat others as less than themselves says it all.
If there is to be social stigma in this world, it should be directed towards those most deserving of our contempt: the sort of people who signed that petition. Those who are prepared to stand up and fight for their right to trample over others, and for no better reason than some vague insecurities and a flawed interpretation of a text so old, so often translated, and edited and revised so many times over the centuries that any meaning it may once have contained has long been lost to history. (Wanna argue Biblical interpretation with me, be my guest. Warning: I’ve read it, and I also know all about its history as a political text. You’re gonna lose.)
The Bible says “Love thy neighbour.” The Prophet Muhammad said “Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.” Swami Vivekananda said “The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.” Whatever religion you follow, its overwhelming message is one of love, of kindness to your fellow man.
Perhaps, however, it’s Siddhārtha Gautama — Buddha — who should have the last word. “However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”