By Howard Ross, Founder of Udarta Consulting and the Inclusion Allies Coalition (IAC)
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” James Baldwin
When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination in August 2016, he pledged “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” To many, this was a hopeful sign. However, it has become painfully clear that while he was pledging to protect LGBTQ citizens from “hateful foreign ideologies” he had no intention of protecting them from hateful domestic ones.
A November 5th analysis cited new administration language removing protections based on characteristics such as age, race, sexual orientation and gender identity from a new Health and Human Services rule. This follows an October 21st New York Times Article that stated the Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” the most drastic move yet in a government-wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.
Sadly, these are neither random nor rare occurrences in this administration’s war against equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. The Trump administration has argued in court that it’s legal to fire workers for being gay or transgender; made transgender female prisoners live with male prisoners; argued to the Supreme Court that shopkeepers can turn away LGBT customers; withdrawn protections for transgender students; refused to investigate anti-transgender discrimination complaints in public schools; tried to kick transgender soldiers out of the military; started to rescind protections for transgender patients and protected health-care workers who don’t help transgender patients. These are just some of the aggressive attempts to roll back the rights of LGBTQ citizens, usually under the guise of “religious freedom.”
None of this is benign. When we fail together as a society to explore our collective homophobia, we pay a steep price. It has a cost not only in the health and safety of LGBTQ people, but in our collective sense of decency and morality, healthcare, education, child welfare, and in the safety of our fellow citizens.
LGBTQ rights are human rights. Human rights are positive legal prerogatives –- the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by everyone; there is no one in the United States who does not – or should not – share in these rights, unless they have been legally removed by a court for actionable reasons. LGBTQ rights are not “special” rights in any way. It isn’t “special” to be free from discrimination – it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship. The right not to be discriminated against is a commonplace claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document –- the Constitution. That many have had to struggle to gain those rights makes them precious –- it does not make them “special” and it does not reserve them only for “me” or “people like me” or restrict them from others.
We also are clear that the struggle for human rights is universal. We understand the logic of those who argue that they need to focus on securing the rights of their own group, especially when their needs and rights have gone undefended and unsecured for centuries. At the same time, our professional lives have been premised upon an unshakable belief that our commonalities outnumber our differences. History is very clear that the march to human rights is infectious. When others gain these rights, my rights are not diminished in any way. My rights are not diluted when my neighbor enjoys protection from discrimination –- he or she or they become my ally in defending the rights we all share.
We understand that many people feel that LGBTQ rights should be restricted for “Scriptural concerns.” In other words, these rights violate the Bible – yet this seems to be a very selective narrative. There are two passages in Leviticus that are most often cited –18:22 and 20:13 — that deem a man “lying with” another man “detestable” and Romans 1:26-27, which castigates men for doing “shameful acts” with other men. But, of course, if we are to consider the Bible to be the absolute law then we also have to keep in mind that Deuteronomy 22:20-21 says that if a girl has sex before marriage, the men of her town must stone her to death at her father’s doorstep. Judges 11:30-31 and 34-35 states that a man may sacrifice his daughter to thank God for giving him a triumph. Leviticus 25:44-45 permits the enslavement of foreigners, and Exodus 31:14 clearly states that “Everyone who (works on the Sabbath) shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (You might want to remember that when you’re mowing your lawn on Saturday or Sunday— after all “Sabbath” itself can be different depending upon to whom you are speaking!). Few people have a problem with other people eating ham and pork products, for example, although many Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain and Muslim people are restricted from doing so by their religious laws. In fact, virtually every person of faith, no matter how religious, chooses some parts of their religious laws to follow and some to modify based on current historical realities.
We have determined, as a society, that the rights of people are protected by our common determinations, not by individual choice. The fact that one is a man does not give him the right to deny the rights of women; that one is white does not give a person the right to deny the rights of people of color.
It is very clear that this attempt to deny the rights of our fellow citizens is an attempt to establish a theocracy in our country in which people’s rights are determined only by their acceptance by a minority interpretation of religion, even while significant majorities of Americans believe in equal rights for LGBTQ citizens.
As the Inclusion Allies Coalition, a group of more than 400 professionals committed to full inclusion for all people, we are again speaking out against the encroachment of these rights. We believe, as Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, ‘thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
People are entitled to their beliefs. However, when those beliefs turn into actions that violate the rights of others, we, as citizens must do everything in our power to fight for the preservation of those rights.
We might easily have been convinced by the breakthroughs in LGBTQ rights of the past generation that this was a concern of the past. As active inclusion allies, we know better, and we intend to continue fighting for those rights every day.
We implore you to do the same.