We’re coming up to a crossroads on the equality front, brothers and sisters, and I don’t think we’re quite ready for what’s ahead of us. For nearly the last decade, we’ve depended on a united national front to secure marriage rights for all across the nation and very soon, I believe we will reap the rewards of that long hard battle when the Supreme Court bangs the gavel in June. I’ll write about that when the time comes.
It’s not just on the marriage front; we also depended on national organization when it came to the repeal of DADT and the seemingly endless fight to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (the battle still rages). We’ve learned to unite as one and so far, it’s paid off pretty well, even if some of the best street fighters don’t always get their due.
While we’ve been reaping the rewards of a united movement, the backlash has begun to hit us. It started in Arizona, with the attempts to pass bills barring trans folks from using public restrooms (failed) and an attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill which would allow folks to dodge anti-discrimination laws by claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” (also failed).
Many of us, me included, thought that was the end of it, Arizona is one of the most conservative states in the country and if they couldn’t get such bills passed, no state could. They tried a state approach and it failed, the battle was over, chalk another one up to our side.
But other states are more hard-headed than Arizona, in the year since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the Religious Freedom Bill, other states have taken up similar bills though few of them have succeeded.
In North Carolina, Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples if the magistrate had a “sincere religious belief” objecting to such licenses. The bill would also allow registers of deeds and deputy registers to opt out of issuing marriage licenses. Within the text of the bill, there is no definition of “sincerely held religious objection”. None, no legal definition of what such an objection entails. Senate Bill 2 remains in the North Carolina Statehouse and has not been made law yet.
Arkansas tried for more subtle language with SB 202. The bill became law just a little while ago and it prohibits local towns and counties from protecting classes not already covered under state anti-discrimination law. The bullet of the bill reads “A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” Guess who isn’t covered under Arkansas anti-discrimination laws? LGBT folks.
West Virginia has virtually copied the text from the Arkansas bill in their own HB 2881; “No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” The West Virginia bill has not been made law yet.
The most maddening state of the bunch has undoubtedly been Oklahoma, where Representative Sally Kern has introduced two bills directly attacking LGBT citizens. There is no coded language, no attempt at double talk; the bills say it in black and white.
House Bill 1599 states “No taxpayer funds or governmental salaries shall be paid for any activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage. No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pensioner other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state. No taxes or public funds of this state shall be spent enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license.” And if a state judge decides to issue a marriage license anyway, the judge will be dismissed on the spot “If a judge violates this act, the judge shall be removed from office pursuant to Section 1 of Article VII A of the Oklahoma Constitution.”
House Bill 1597 is even more insane, and serves to directly attack us: “No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Under this bill, a business owner wouldn’t even have to claim a religious belief; they could straight up say “We don’t serve queers, now fuck off” and they would be fully protected under this bill.
Neither of these bills has become law yet.
So where does that leave us? Well as you can see, while we’ve been fighting as a united national front for our equality, our state legislators have been trying to slip a fast one on us by introducing bills to undo our efforts of the last ten years. They’re realizing that there’s little hope of winning on a nation level, so they’re trying to do it piece by piece, state by state.
We’re gonna have to learn how to do it locally and grassroots again, brothers and sisters. I’m in Indiana; I won’t be able to help a sister in Oklahoma fight against Sally Kern’s bigoted insanity. Likewise a brother in Arizona won’t be able to help me if my state legislation decides to pull this bullshit (which by the way, they have). Sure, we can still offer each other moral support, but the hard fact is, the backlash is occurring locally, so it must be fought locally. We’re gonna have split up into the jungle and do it guerrilla style.
But how? Many of us have forgotten how to fight locally since we’ve gotten used to fighting nationally. The first point is find your local allies, your friends, your classmates, your co-workers, hell, it could be your favorite bartender. Find people in your area who are just as tired of this crap as you are, organize them, have a discussion group, a meeting, whatever you wanna call it. Start scoping out your state’s legislation website and find bills related to this cause, usually they are related to “religious freedom”, anti-discrimination, or marriage. Local news is also a prime resource for this, they will often report on legislation being considered before an official bill is drafted.
The second point is finding your local legislator; they’re certainly more answerable to you than your congressional representative or senator. Go on your state’s website and find the contact information for your local legislator, there is usually an email address and phone number listed. Call them, email them, and let them know that you give a damn about LGBT folks in your area and that you won’t stand for them being treated as second-class citizens. Just as a personal note, I prefer a phone call, it’s harder to ignore than an email.
If you need some handy information on how to organize locally, I recommend Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. It’s not LGBT specific, but it’s a pretty good field manual and should help you on your way.
Remember, our Revolution started with a local fight. The Stonewall Riots were sparked based solely on a local issue, the NYPD raiding gay bars. A group of locals got fed up with that and said “Enough!” And well, you know the rest of the story.
Community organizing and grassroots street work are the only way we’re gonna roll back this backlash against us. It’s gonna take some good local sweat and muscle here, you’re gonna have to get to know your neighbors and know your local laws. Roll up your sleeves, brothers and sisters, and let’s show these bastards that we ain’t finished by half yet.