After coming out last September, the world became a more colorful place. Living in a world where I am not constantly checking my gayness at the door allowed me tap into a new found happiness and confidence that I did not know existed. People in my Catholic community of Tulsa, Okla., were accepting, loving and supportive. Many of the most devout Catholics I know -- including my mother -- did not bat an eye at my sexuality. On the contrary, many were genuinely confused as to why it took me so long to bust out of the closet in full rainbow garb.
The influx of "religious freedoms laws" is a harsh reminder why my closet seemed more spacious than it was. Since the founding of our nation, religion has been used a bargaining tool, justifier and legal aide for the harshest forms of discrimination. After what seemed like ultimate progress in a monumental win for the queer community last June, there was immediate and dangerous backlash from GOP state leaders in Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma -- just to name a few -- passing laws to defend their constituents "religious freedom."
In recent weeks, the formation of more "religious freedom" or "anti-LGBT" laws have received national attention including North Carolina's HB2, Mississippi's HB 1523 and Georgia's HB 757. The bills in North Carolina and Mississippi were signed into law, but Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 757 due to the consequences it would have on the Peach State's economy. North Carolina's extreme anti-trans law has led for the state to lose major expansion with PayPal and has been threatened by numerous companies. The corporate backlash and threats expressing their dissatisfaction with these bills is the moral standpoint in which many would hope that their state, local and religious leaders would adopt.
The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
It's hard for my brain to process that these abhorrent words so flagrantly stating bigotry were passed in 2016. I am saddened for the people in Mississippi and like-minded states who are now legally allowed to be discriminated against simply for their existence.
As someone who grew up attending Catholic schools and church, who has studied the bible and who knows many members of its faith, I want to express that these laws do a disservice to Jesus' teachings of acceptance, love and peacefulness. But regardless of the way one interprets religious text, our laws must continue to evolve excluding our individual understanding. We are supposed to be a secular nation founded on the freedom and safety of all its people. Passing these narrow-minded laws into action systematically tear holes in the national fabric of our country.
The statistics for the people in the LGBT community, especially the trans community, who are mistreated, verbally and physically attacked and who contemplate or commit suicide are staggering and these laws have done nothing but applaud and welcome more discrimination. Using religion as a shield for bigotry is archaic, misguided and damaging to the American people. As Abe Lincoln stated: "my concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God's side." The bible should not be used as a bludgeon to justify laws or actions in condemning an entire group of people, rather we should function in its virtues of inclusiveness, loving our neighbors and treating others with respect even in disagreement.
Every day I wear a necklace adorned with the state outline of Oklahoma. Not because I can overlook the glaring institutional homophobic and transphobic issues with my home state, but because the people that I know that live inside those lines have helped me become who I am as a proud, open and happy gay woman.