WHEN I WAS A KID, the Civil Rights era seemed impossibly far away. I’d been born in the 80’s, twenty years after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and even though my parents could tell me stories about life before those laws passed, I couldn’t conceive of things having changed just so much in the course of a single lifetime.
I’m only 28 now, and I’ve since seen such a major change easily within the course of my lifetime. At the beginning of 2004, not a single state allowed same-sex marriage. Now, as of this writing in 2015, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and Washington, DC. The feeling of having lived through such a rapid change is pretty awesome, and I’m now confident that I’ll see the other 13 states (including my home state of Ohio, which is embarrassingly behind the times) follow suit well before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
The reason this has happened is because of the extremely effective activism of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Rights movement, and because of a general shift in the United States away from homophobia. But that fight has not yet ended.
This map was put together by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT advocacy group. It shows the states in which bills have been proposed to curtail the rights of LGBT people. Though technically any single lawmaker can propose a bill, and thus their proposition by no means suggests that all of these bills have broad support to the point where they’ll be passed, it’s still a frightening sight: it’s a total of 26 states that have pending anti-LGBT legislation.
The anti-LGBT laws follow four basic strategies:
Religious Refusal Laws: This strategy basically would enable people to refuse service or discriminate LGBT individuals on a “religious basis.” This is the most popular strategy because it allows its supporters to claim “freedom of religion,” but HRC points out that because these bills are vaguely worded, they could just as easily be used to discriminate against Jews, Muslims, or divorcees, all in the name of “religious freedom.”
Anti-Transgender Laws: This strategy is exactly what it sounds like: it’s an attempt to enforce anti-transgender policies in schools and other public institutions, and to make it easier for businesses to legally discriminate against transgender people.
Promoting “Conversion Therapy”: Conversion therapy is a pseudo-scientific attempt to change the sexual orientation of an LGBT person to heterosexual. The American Psychiatric Association has condemned the practice, which has been known to include electric shock therapy and the use of nausea-inducing drugs a la A Clockwork Orange in the most extreme examples. These laws would seek to protect practitioners of conversion therapy.
Nullifying Local Civil Rights Protections: This strategy targets local pro-gay laws by superseding them through state law. HRC says, “Approximately 34 million people nationwide have more comprehensive non-discrimination protections at the local level than they have from their state law.”
The unfortunate truth is that, while we may say that all people deserve basic human rights and protections, the only human rights that are granted to people are the ones that are fought for and won — and the fight doesn’t end after the win. Rights have to be protected, pretty much eternally, from attacks on all sides.
The good news is that it’s super easy to help, especially if you’re in one of the states that is facing one of these bills: use this website to find your state legislator, and contact them letting them know how you feel about these bills, and politely encourage them to vote and work against them. The great thing about local politicians is that they rely on a much smaller amount of votes to win their seats, so your voice is much more likely to be heard. You can also sign up to the HRC’s listserv to get updates about future attacks like this.
The world that travelers have come to love is a world that celebrates its diversity, not one that cowers from it. We should defend that diversity whenever we get the chance.