Anti-LGBT Bills Threaten Real Lives, Based on False Ideas

The Wall Street Journal recently published an eye-catching op-ed from Georgia State Senator William Lignon titled "Why Are Companies Taking Sides Against Religious Liberty?" The Senator expressed confusion and concern over the corporate backlash against his state's "religious freedom" bill which contributed to Governor Deal's veto. The questions Lignon raises are worthy of answers, especially in light of clashes over anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and elsewhere. As a former Christian and conservative, I feel honest compassion for the Senator and other good people like him. As a straight, cisgender woman and a diversity and inclusion expert, I feel compelled to articulate four points to encourage curiosity in those good people and clarify the real issues.

#1 - Your fears about LGBT people aren't based on facts. Passing a law that requires people to use a restroom that corresponds to their birth gender does not protect women and girls from sexual assault. There is not one single case of a transwoman ever assaulting a woman or child in a restroom, including in the 17 states and 200 cities that allow people to use the bathroom matching their gender identity. Sexual violence against women is largely perpetrated by straight, cisgender men, one fifth of whom are married. Eighty percent are men the woman knows, and one third of women's murderers are their current or former male partner. Child molesters are overwhelmingly straight, cisgender and one third are family members. The notion that a new law is the only thing keeping sexual predators from dressing like women to enter (unlocked!) public bathrooms to rape women is not only ridiculous it would have happened already, absent such laws.

However, there are abundant cases of trans people being harassed, assaulted, raped, murdered, and discriminated against - not just in bathrooms, but in jobs, where they live and just walking down the street. Being trans* is not a choice any more than being cisgender or Black is not a choice, and trans* people aren't defined by their genitals and sexuality any more than non-trans people. What will happen in North Carolina when a (trans)woman goes into a man's restroom? What will play out when a (trans)man goes into a ladies' room? For decades and centuries, trans* people have been using restrooms that matched to their gender identity and no one even noticed. (Aren't bathroom stalls private areas with locking doors?)

#2 - This isn't about "political correctness" or protecting people's overly sensitive feelings - it's about protecting people's lives. "Political correctness" is an unfortunate term for "respectful communication" that ensures "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This isn't about "not offending" the thin-skinned, it's about treating others in a way that allows them to live full lives. Not long ago, people were murdered for being Black, female, immigrants, "handicapped" or LGBT, and it still happens today, especially to trans* people. Respectful communication and non-discrimination laws protect everyone's freedom to walk down the street, attend school, shop, eat, do meaningful work, raise families, and enjoy life without being treated inhumanely or having meaningful life options taken away just for being who they are.

#3 - This isn't about religious freedom, it's about limiting the harmful effects of some people's exercise of freedom on others. Christians in the US follow the dominant, traditional religion of our nation and are in no meaningful danger of not being able to do so. However, anyone's freedom ends where it harms someone else's life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in meaningful ways. We have laws against religious practices like polygamy and human sacrifice, for example. We decided in the 1960s that despite some folks' religious beliefs to the contrary, it's unacceptable to treat African Americans as subhuman, second class citizens. We passed the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination (based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin), not just by entities funded by taxpayers, but by those that serve the general public (no more segregated lunch counters!). We passed the 1990 ADA law which requires most employers (including private ones) to accommodate and not discriminate against people with disabilities.

As a nation, we increasingly believe that bigotry of any ilk is immoral, unjust, unconstitutional and rightly illegal. Most people no longer believe that people with disabilities are possessed, nor that dark-skinned people are Lucifer's descendants. Most people no longer believe that LGBT people are deviant, perverted sinners, but realize "they" are just like "us." Believing that LGBT people are bad or wrong isn't illegal, but denying them access to resources or services based solely on their group membership is the very definition of bigotry. Believing that you are completely justified and righteous in your beliefs doesn't make you less bigoted.

#4 - Things are changing, and change is frightening, but your fear is misplaced. It may seem like transgender people are recent inventions, or "businesses and sports leagues [are] suddenly championing leftist ideologies." LGBT people have always been here. What's new is that people once considered inferior - women, people of color, and LGBT - are growing in numbers and power. It's less of a threat to our lives and livelihoods to show ourselves and speak up. Having to share space with new voices and belief systems may be new for you, and you're probably grieving the loss of the old way. You probably didn't realize you were "advantaged" or monopolizing society. Your current distress is real and understandable - but nothing like the threats LGBT people face. When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. (Example, women can be perceived as participating "equally" when they speak only 15% of the time, but "dominating" if they speak 30% of the time.)

This isn't oppression or "antipathy" towards religion. We're not waging "culture wars" or using a "playbook." We're just saying "no" to anyone imposing their beliefs on us in a way that threatens our lives and livelihoods. We're saying "no" to fear and falsehoods and "yes" to truth and respect. Isn't that what good people do?