Op-Ed: Guest author and veteran journalist Brody Levesque argues the LGBT community will never be free and equal as long as religious extremists are allowed to harm their fellow citizens.
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There are now 107 pending pieces of anti-LGBT – and therefore, anti-human – legislation in statehouses across America. As the 2016 legislative year commences, lawmakers are filing bills spanning everything from so-called religious freedom acts (RFRAs), to bills exempting public officials or private businesses from serving LGBT people, to bills voiding the marriages of same-sex couples. There is even one particularly onerous bill in Virginia that would require a sex organ check of school age children to "ensure" compliance with gender-specific restrooms.
The Washington, D.C. based progressive non-profit advocacy organization, Americans United for Separation of Church And State notes these bills "would allow individuals, businesses, and government employees to harm others in the name of religion. The most common bills would allow discrimination against LGBT Americans and deny access to reproductive healthcare, but these bills have other negative and far reaching consequences as well."
Which brings this writer to observe that the United States has once again reached a critical breaking point in its society and culture where human rights, civil rights, and even common decency are being trumped (no pun intended) by the more radical elements of the so-called Christian Right stirring up the masses with fear mongering and, quite frankly, hateful rhetoric. But here's the thing: No one is calling out the stark reality. There is absolutely no way for this issue to be resolved without a major traumatic event.
I cringe every-time I hear a liberal or progressive activist or politico express the need to "work through our differences" when engaging in public discourse about the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ, anti-women's reproductive rights, or racial inequalities and religious bias. At this juncture, that is never going to happen. Human rights, civil rights, basic daily life is not possible as long as there are those who judge, belittle, insult, and demonize their fellow citizens all in the name of their religious beliefs, and as long as their so-called freedoms are protected from censure or forced moderation of their speech and behaviors.
The root cause of these issues is contained within the framework of the American Constitution's Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment’s Speech and Religion clauses. Therein lies the reason there shall never be a resolution. In these modern times and particularly since the Christian Right infected the political process some 40-plus years ago, these hard-liners have fought every step, every inch, every millimeter towards the battleground and conflict that the American nation now collectively faces.
The radical American Right has a long and bloody history of suppression dating back to the very foundation of the nation. In recent times one needs to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement, or even the seemingly never ending series of Black Americans being lynched in the early 20th century. Prior to that it was "No Irish," "No Chinese," No– well the list goes on.
Sadly though, the United States has been in decline since the 1970's. Religious interference dramatically increased and influenced American educational systems – from history, to the sciences, to reproduction – coupled with this bizarre idea that millions of poor people can simply live without some form of assistance by the public sector via government programs. Make no mistake about it, the culprit is religious fundamentalism.
I always ask those on the so called Christian Right this simple question: What are you going to do with the people who are poor, or gay, or trans, or – wait for it – Muslim? The answers back are either a blank stare or some preachy biblical quote taken completely out of context, or in some cases out of reality itself. I find that the vast majority of so-called "biblical scholars" are not even remotely that well educated in the very book and deity they insist "rules all." I fire back pressing my point. These folks exist and aren't going to simply go away, or not be gay or Muslim or what have you. What are you going to do about them?
To date I have yet to get a coherent response.
The scope of the larger issue is that America has become increasing ignorant, in part thanks to the so-called Christian Right's interference in public policy, education, government, society and culture. One might also argue, and rightly so, that the other factor is that America is changing in plurality from a strictly "white" majority to a more balanced multi-racial mix of human beings.
So what does this mean? For the LGBTQ community, yes the freedom to marry may have been won, but that is being pushed back against by any number of the aforementioned bills. There are also still too many on the right who are wrongly convinced that trans folks are mentally ill. Of course even though women are winning the right to be equal on the battlefield and serve alongside men, which includes the members of the LGBTQ community, there are those actively seeking to reverse these hard fought gains. Even worse is the fact that women are once again losing control of their rights over their own bodies.
Unless progressives begin to push back and push back hard against the sum of this peculiar American ignorance, and be willing to simply not be tolerant any longer of those pushing these chosen and so-called religious freedoms that abrogate basic human and civil rights, then I have news for America: If we don't disempower these religious extremists, their speech and hateful rhetoric will ultimately lead to violence on a scale not seen in modern memory.
Think that can't happen? I'd point out that the Americans have collectively decided that the right to unfettered ownership of a gun and the mere fact that mass shootings are an apparent acceptable norm would bear out the fact that potential violence is more than a likely possibility.
If there are those who are willing to reach across the divide and work out differences, that's great. But as far as the hard-liners go? No, the left needs to start exposing them for what they really are. Ignorant, dangerous, religious zealots who have absolutely no interest in the human or civil rights of anyone else other than themselves or like-minded peers.
My favorite expression to those who label me a deviant or just plain evil because I am gay is simple: Your religious rights do not override my human rights and the right to exist. I am no longer tolerant of these persons and nor should be anyone with a modicum of common sense.
Freedom of religion does not give anyone the absolute right to harm another.
I'll end with this question: When is the left going to get the collective nerve to be no longer willing to tolerate religious extremists, be willing to limit their ability to harm their fellow citizens?
Brody Levesque is a veteran journalist and the former Washington Bureau Chief of LGBTQ Nation magazine.
The New Civil Rights Movement from time to time publishes op-eds and personal stories, like this, to share views and experiences of our diverse community.