This is Not About Cake

 

Dear Christians,

Why are you so afraid of us?

I worry that you all are insistent on passing so many ‘religious freedom’ bills because you are genuinely concerned that if you do not, we, the LGBT community, will burst in through your front door and demand lodging and goods. Bills supporting religious freedom are not new, but they are being revamped to specifically deal with LGBT issues. Primarily, the issues of who uses what restroom, and whether or not businesses have to provide services to people who don’t share their morals. Arkansas, Georgia, and Kansas have all determined not to pass these laws at this time. The most recent of these was Georgia; the Governor vetoed this March 28, 2016. Georgia Governor Deal stated, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.” Indiana passed their bill in March 2015, Mississippi passed theirs April 5, 2016.  Arguably the most extreme opposition on this front, legally, has been North Carolina’s recent law, which was pushed to and signed by the governor all on the same day.

I recognize that the “bathroom bills” are to keep people from being attacked in restrooms, but listen: there is no statisstical evidence that a trans* person has ever attacked someone in a restroomYou know who has been attacked in restrooms? Trans* and gender non-conforming individuals. OVERWHELMINGLY SO. Please do not continue to be ignorant about this: no one has ever reported being the victim of violence from a trans* person in a bathroom, whereas in this survey 70% of trans* people report negative reactions in bathrooms, 9% report being physically assaulted, 58% report that they have avoided going out in public because of bathroom issues.

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Listen, I get it: everyone is worried that people will dress up as the opposite sex to assault someone–most of the arguments I’ve heard are that men will dress up as women in order to gain access to  women’s restrooms and assault women and children. Sexual assault is awful, always. No one trying to protect trans rights is trying to minimize this. But I have an issue with society making the trans community responsible and punishing them for these possible attacks, rather than the male community. To me, this feels the same as teaching women how not to be raped, rather than dealing with the cause and teaching men not to rape. The bathroom issue is strange to me in general because it seems so simple, if people are so terrified that others are going to be using the restroom for dubious means rather than to relieve their bladders, then businesses should just install single-stall restrooms that are accessible to everyone, rather than making it a biological issue.

As a mental health counselor, I work with suicidal people every day. And I can testify that when statistics report 41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide, this is most likely a conservative figure. When someone faces discrimination, negative reactions, and the threat of violence every day, there is naturally going to be depression, anxiety, and trauma. When you have to choose between being true to your own identity and conforming to society’s standards for you, something is wrong with society. Violence against trans women, especially trans women of color, is at an all-time high, with 23 known murders taking place in 2015 alone.

 

I understand that many people do not agree with marriage equality and do not condone my marriage. I understand that they do not want to be forced to take photographs, sell flowers, solemnize the wedding, or bake a god-forsaken (pun intended) cake. And that’s fine. I don’t want to sue those people. But these laws go farther than providing an ‘out’ for businesses that want to condemn someone’s else’s “lifestyle:” laws that allow employers of religious organizations to fire, or not hire, individuals based on their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression. Landlords can choose to deny housing–or can kick out tenants–based on their code of ethics. Adoption agencies can choose not to allow gay couples to foster or adopt children–and conversely, Mississippi’s law makes sure that adoption agencies are NOT allowed to make this decision based upon a couple’s religion. LGBT people can be refused services at restaurants, hotels, stores, and can legally be denied access to restrooms. This is discrimination. This is ironically exactly what Christians are afraid may happen to them, to they have written laws protecting themselves and condemning others to the same kind of “persecution” that they try to avoid.

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Unfortunately, nationwide, unless your state or city has specific ordinances against these discriminatory acts, LGBT are largely unprotected under the law. Larger cities generally have some type of protection for their citizens, but for those that live in more rural areas, there is not a lot of protection to begin with–now that these laws are becoming so popular, their protection will shrink even more.

I am infuriated, Christians and conservatives. Heartbroken that you will not hear the LGBT population when we try to speak with you about our concerns and fears. Frustrated that you are shielding yourself behind the law and claiming that we “got our marriage equality but that’s never enough.” Marriage equality isn’t enough: my wife and I are legally married, yes, but if we did not live in a large city that protected us, we could be thrown out of our home, denied jobs, and denied services by city workers if we were attacked (yes, that is in the law as well). It is not enough when trans individuals fear for their lives and their safety and are often too scared of police brutality to come forward when they are hurt. It is not enough when access to appropriate healthcare and mental health services is impossible for those in the community who have been kicked out of their homes and their families and are living on the streets.

Of course it is not enough. It cannot be enough until every citizen is equal under the law. We do not want more rights than you, we want equality.

 

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Country Mouse City Mouse, A History

 

She grew up covered in the dirt of her softball fields and her grandparent’s farm. I grew up covered in the prayers of my family, celebrating Sabbath with the sacraments. She grew up hearing the blare of the train by her bedroom, I grew up sitting on my rooftop listening to the sounds coming from the train yard. She grew up in public school and small church, where neighbors knew your comings and goings. I grew up homeschooling and attending church in rented buildings, where I imagined no one knew anything about me. With sunset-red hair, freckles blooming over her skin in the summer, and strong, sturdy hands, her body bore witness to her country heritage. I, brown sugar hair and big eyes and a penchant to emote through theatre, bowed to the city.

Gwen and I grew up in opposites regarding family, schooling, hobbies, and hometowns, so when we met at a Mennonite camp we were both working at, there wasn’t a lot of common ground for us to talk about, other than our love for softball and how excited we were for campers to arrive. We spent that summer forming a small bond of friendship, and both idly wondered if that would last the test of distance and time. Lo and behold: here we are, five summers later, each with two new degrees notched into our belts and a set of rings adorning our fingers. Not long after I met her, I knew that this girl, with impeccable memory, sharp wit, and a kind smile, complemented my absent-mindedness and ceaseless fiery and unapologetic passion. We were in the car, and she was running an errand for someone else on her birthday because that’s who she is, and Paramore’s “The Only Exception” came on the radio. I looked at this beautiful, talented, selfless woman sitting next to me and knew it to be true: she was, always, my only exception. “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,” (John Green).

On October 17, my love and I made vows to each other in front of those who fill our lives with love and support; the final lines of our vows filling the space between us: “I choose you to embark upon this great journey with me. I am stronger with you than alone. I promise to be there for you for all your life, come what may.” We celebrated with paper flowers and candlelight, with cake pops and notes, with dances with our friends and fathers.
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Of course, Gwen and I don’t have a legitimate relationship. Our country has decided, in a fit of religious zeal, that we should allow the whims of the majority to decide the rights of the minority (Ayn Rand) by favoring one group’s moral code over all others. Gwen and I are not wife and wife because, to some people, that is an abomination; it weirds them out, it disappoints God, it is part of an agenda, it doesn’t lead to natural childbirth. GOT IT. Those people have made all of their messages loud and clear. I have seen the “fags burn in Hell” signs, I have seen the protesters ordering me to repent, I have been witness to the laws that neither recognize my marriage nor protect me and my wife from hate crimes. We have been told, my country mouse and I, that we are far less than and more deviant than any couple that contains one man and one woman.

A large portion of my contention for all of this comes from how subjective some things are. You say “homosexuality is a choice.” I would like to clarify what you mean. You mean having sexual acts with someone is a choice, because that’s what you’ve boiled down all LGBTQ+ people’s existence to: sex. We aren’t anything but our sexuality to you. So when you say “it’s a choice,” being part of this welcoming community, I want to take two steps back and say being queer is not a choice. I would have been super gay whether or not Gwen and I found one another. That wasn’t a choice on my part; I was not approached with a “be gay today, get a free t-shirt” offer, nor was there a time when I flipped a coin for what type of people I would be attracted to. I didn’t choose a path that has been the source of hurtful conversations, lost friendships, restricted rights, and exclusion from religious communities. What I did choose was to pursue a relationship with someone who makes me a better person, who encourages me and shares coffee with me, who writes me notes and goes on walks with me. I chose to pursue a relationship, the same way that all of my friends and family who have partners have chosen to pursue their relationships. No one chooses who they are attracted to. You choose whom you invest in.

I’ve clearly chosen to invest in my relationship with Gwen. Whether or not this falls under someone else’s moral code is really of no concern to me. What is a concern to me is that our tiny family is protected under the law like all tiny families should be. The Supreme Court is currently ruling on whether or not we deserve the right to legally marry, an issue that was denied us by our own State. For Gwen and I, at this point in our lives, this is primarily about being told by our government that we are equal to other couples. For other couples, this is about both being on their children’s birth certificates, or having hospital visitation rights, or being on their partner’s health insurance. You say that marriage equality isn’t giving LGBTQ+ equal rights, but is giving us special rights. Giving a group of people the same rights as yourself is not giving them special rights, it is recognizing that group of people as human beings who deserve respect and protection under the law. Our nation is not a Christian nation. You cannot plaster one religion’s beliefs on an entire nation. I understand that this nation has an extensive history of being overbearing with every minority group, but I believe it is high time for this cycle to end. #LoveCantWait. Couples deserve to say “I do” and be recognized in the eyes of the law. Children deserve to live authentically and be protected under the law from bullies and bigoted teachers. Teens coming out as anything other straight deserve to be shown respect and acceptance rather than rejection and conversion therapy. Gay men deserve to be able to donate blood. Trans individuals deserve to be called by the right name, the right pronouns, and to not be told that their identity is a mental illness. Aging couples deserve the peace of mind in knowing that their partners will be financially cared for after they die. My country mouse and I deserve to be married. We deserve not to be fired from a job just because of our sexual orientation. We deserve to have our own beliefs rather than someone else’s. Respectfully, it is not your job to police others’ actions by your own moral code.

The SCOTUS ruling for marriage equality won’t change everything, because there are many more issues that our community is facing that are far more pressing,  but it’s a damn good place to start.

 

“We” Are Not “They”

I am part of the LGBTQ community, and it’s like being in a second fabulous family, only this one gets super rowdy on our holiday in June and occasionally finds glitter to be an acceptable replacement for clothing.

My favorite part about the LGBTQ community is that we are, as a whole, are an incredibly accepting community. We are a quilt of queerness, each person being incredibly unique and not necessarily having everything in common. We believe different things politically, spiritually, religiously, environmentally, and financially. We disagree on some things. We live our lives under different sets of morals. But we understand that we are a community, that we are a “we,” and we accept each other as we are. If you ask me (and I know you would), I think at least a part of this is because we as a community have faced discrimination, isolation, abuse, and restriction of our rights. 20% of homeless youth identify as being LGBT; LGB youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and 25% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide.

We are told, time and time again, that we are less than. Churches tell us that–or they don’t say anything about us at all. Pretending we are not there, pastors and preachers and ministers and priests speak over us and around us and through us, but none speak to us. Laws determine that we do not deserve the same rights as straight individuals, not just in marriage, but in adoption, hospital visits, financial responsibilities, hate crimes, and job discrimination. Families force us out of homes and into reparative therapy. We are silenced, rebuked, told to repent, threatened, misrepresented.

That makes us really accepting of each other. And that makes some of us sensitive to issues surrounding other minority groups. (LGBTQ individuals make great advocates!) But I’m not really writing this to brag about us. I want to let you know that we can hear you. You don’t exist in a world where LGBTQ individuals do not reside. We’re in your churches, your schools, your jobs, your neighborhoods, your cities (making it all more fabulous, probs). And we aren’t somehow blind to the godhatesfags.com or the Matt Walsh posts or the preachers who talk about beating or killing us. We aren’t unfazed by laws that are pushed in States asking for religious freedom that is somehow turned into a debate on whether or not gay people deserve to shop at bakeries (for real, America, if you are so afraid of us that you can’t sell us a cake, that’s fine. We don’t want your cake anyway.), or online petitions to raise money for shops that promote that they would never cater a same-sex wedding, or people who drop their gym memberships because their gym kicked out a woman who threw a hissy fit about a trans individual using a locker room, or when people talk about “homosexual struggles” and how they will “hate the sin and love the sinner.” We’re not immune to your callous comments. We see what you post on social media. And it hurts.

You don’t have to change a single thing after reading this. I don’t intend to change the world. But I would like you to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, you have friends who identify differently than you do. Perhaps you are hurting people in your life without knowing it. Perhaps you don’t realize that people are listening. Perhaps you don’t realize that “we” are not “they.” “They” don’t have a homosexual agenda. “They” aren’t trying to recruit your children. “They” just want to live normal lives with the people “they” love. “They” don’t want to force you to operate outside of your religious beliefs. “They” just want you to understand that “they” should maybe perhaps have the same rights as you do.

I’m going to end this like I end every blog: let’s start a dialogue. Nothing is going to change until we change the conversation around it. And let’s stop talking like nobody’s listening. We are listening, and we hope you listen, too.