By: Margot Leckron
Despite the advancements that have been made recently for LGBT+ rights with the Supreme Court decision to allow marriage between two people of the same gender nation-wide, there are still advancements to be made. In many states across the United States there still discriminatory measures in place that limit rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity and more continue to be passed. At least 110 pieces of anti-LGBT religious exemption legislation have been introduced in 2016, according to a list compiled by the ACLU.
According to MAP, an organization that compiles data about LGBT discrimination laws in the United States, twenty-eight states have “[n]o employment non-discrimination law covering sexual orientation or gender identity, though federal law offers some protections”. Three states—Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—have “law[s] preventing passage or enforcement of local nondiscrimination laws”.
One of the types of discriminatory bills is religious freedom bills that claim to be “protecting religious freedom”, such as Mississippi’s recent bill, HB1523. Seven states total had active religious freedom bills this year.
The free exercise clause of the First Amendment is sighted as support—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—with the idea that calling for equal treatment prohibits the free exercise of their religion.
Mississippi’s recent bill, which was signed into law on April 6, allows discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual relationships, and gender identity for employment, consumer services, housing, adoption, child-care services, government services, and more, based on a person’s “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”.
The name of this act serves as yet another slap in the face to the LGBT+ community: Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. It’s good to know that one person’s principles are more important than another person’s shelter.
Recently “bathroom bills” have become a major issue, with nine states this year introducing these bills.
On March 24 the Governor of North Carolina signed such a bill into law that requires that “[p]ublic agencies shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility to be designated for and only used by persons based on their biological sex”. Their biological sex is determined by a person’s original birth certificate and prohibits transgender people who are women but were designated male at birth, or vice versa, to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and/or current sex.
These bills feed off the fears of “a grown man pretending to be a woman” using the women’s bathroom, as an advertisement by Cruz for President stated. The Cruz advertisement continued to ask if it’s okay for “a grown man pretending to be a woman” to use “the same restroom as your daughter? Your wife?” and say “It’s not appropriate. It’s not safe”.
This ad highlights the thought process behind bathroom bills: The idea that if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom that differs from their sex designated at birth, cisgender people will misuse this right to sexually assault people. However this fear is unfounded and ignores the true victims.
“The argument that providing transgender rights will result in an increase of sexual violence against women or men in public bathrooms is beyond specious. The only people at risk are the transgender men and women whose rights to self-determination, dignity and freedom of violence are too often denied. We have not heard of any problems since the passage of the law in Massachusetts [that allows transgender people to use the bathroom of their choosing] in 2011, nor do we expect this to be a problem,” said Toni Troop, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts sexual assault victims organization Jane Doe Inc, to Media Matters. The same is true for all other states and cities that have enacted protection for transgender people to use the bathroom they feel comfortable with.
These bills ignore the fact that people who are transgender can ‘pass’ cisgender individuals. They introduce the problem of enforcing such laws: With people checking IDs before entering the bathroom or someone judging your gender by appearance alone? They ignore the fact that by making transgender men use women’s bathrooms and making transgender women use men’s bathrooms they are putting these people at greater risk of non-sexual and sexual assault. They are putting a group with one of the highest suicide rates and murder rates at an even greater risk for harassment and discrimination, which has been shown to further increase the already high suicide rates.
According to a study conducted by The Williams Institute, 41% of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6% of the general population. A study by the Journal of Homosexuality found that for transgender students who were denied access to bathrooms or facilities 60.5% attempted suicide and for those who were not denied access to bathrooms or facilities that percent dropped to 43.2%.
Though no exact murder rate for transgender people is known due to lack of accurate reporting, the Human Rights Campaign statistic of 1 out of every 12 people is commonly cited, which is much higher than the FBI reported rate of 4.5 out of every 100,000 people for the general population in 2014. In 2015 there were 22 transgender people murdered, 18 of whom were transgender women of color. In 2014 there were 12 transgender people murdered. Many attribute this rise to the rise of visibility of the transgender community, a trend which could continue if people are required to out themselves to go to the bathroom.
The issue of LGBT+ discrimination appears to be one centered around the question of whose rights are more important. By allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity due to religious beliefs, the government is saying religion takes precedent over other people’s right to not be discriminated against for aspects of themselves they cannot change.
Opponents of LGBT+ rights don’t seem to realize that people are not asking for extra rights. The rights people are asking for are rights that white, straight, cisgender, Christian, able-bodied men have always had; everyone else is just trying to catch up.