Gay Rights –
LGBT Fights Southern Discrimination
“Religious freedom? This is just discrimination. It’s like proposing a law to kill all kittens, and then calling it the ‘Bird Protection Act.’”
– Trevor Noah, The Daily Show
Mississippi and North Carolina have opened Pandora’s Box with legislation aimed directly against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The governor’s of these states call their new laws “religious freedom,” but the rest of the world calls it what it is: discrimination.
Last week, Mississippi’s Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a measure that would allow business and government workers to deny services to anyone they believe contradicts their religious beliefs. The law was designed to protect churches, religious charities and privately held businesses that choose to decline services to people in violation of their beliefs (or in other words, the LGBT community).
I have signed House Bill 1523. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/00DbgQADFt
— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) April 5, 2016
In a statement, conservative legal group The Alliance Defending Freedom said:
“We commend the governor for signing into law protections for schools, churches, businesses, and public employees so that they won’t face government discrimination. After all, you’re not free if your beliefs are confined to your mind. What makes America unique is our freedom to peacefully live out those beliefs, and the Constitution protects that freedom.”
However, the ACLU fought back. “This bill flies in the face of the basic American principles of fairness, justice and equality and will not protect anyone’s religious liberty,” Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said in a statement. “Far from protecting anyone from ‘government discrimination’ as the bill claims, it is an attack on the citizens of our state, and it will serve as the Magnolia State’s badge of shame.”
As protesters gathered outside the governor’s mansion in Jackson last week, Bishop Brian R. Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi called the new law a futile effort “to defend a culture of fear.”
“The State of Mississippi will likely find itself in federal courts once again, spending large sums of funds which could have been spent on building the future,” Seage said.
However, the discrimination didn’t end at the Mississippi border.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which requires transgender people to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificate, instead of the sex they identify with. It also bars local governments from passing ordinances similar to the one from Charlotte, which originally permitted a transgender-friendly bathroom ordinance that has since been struck down by the state. Additionally, it strips North Carolina workers from being able to sue if they are ever discriminated against.
“If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion, you no longer have a basic remedy,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center in Raleigh.
The intense actions by both states reflects an escalating conflict in the south between conservative lawmakers and basic rights, particularly for those who are LGBT. However, such mentality comes with a price.
Last week, more than 90 business and tech leaders signed an open letter urging North Carolina’s legislature to repeal the hastily signed HB2 bill. The letter included a who’s who of tech executives, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, PayPal founder Max Levchin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and others.
“The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business,” the letter read. “This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development.”
However, business leaders didn’t stop there.
PayPal CEO Dan Schulman decided that his company will not remain silent as southern governments allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. So, he is making a bold choice by cancelling PayPal’s plans to open its global operations center in Charlotte — a loss of some 400 jobs for the state.
“This decision reflects PayPal’s deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect,” Schulman said. “Our decision is a clear and unambiguous one. We remain committed to working with the LGBT community in North Carolina to overturn this discriminatory legislation.”
He added: “Becoming an employer in North Carolina, where members of our teams will not have equal rights under the law, is simply untenable. While we will seek an alternative location for our operations center, we remain committed to working with the LGBT community in North Carolina to overturn this discriminatory legislation, alongside all those who are committed to equality.”
Shulman seems to have set a domino effect in motion. Late last week, rocker Bruce Springsteen joined the cause and issued the following statement:
As you, my fans, know I’m scheduled to play in Greensboro, North Carolina this Sunday. As we also know, North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the “bathroom” law. HB2 — known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden. To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.
– Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
It’s unclear whether the tech community and now, members of the entertainment community, will have any sway in convincing the governments of Mississippi and North Carolina to change course. It’s even less clear if their statements and stances will prevent other states from adopting similar policies. However, it is at least a start.
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