(Cross Posted from Open Salon)
I live in Springfield, Missouri, a town most known for being the childhood home to Brad Pitt and the epicenter of Bass Pro, a major merchandiser of hunting and fishing goods. We have a population of 160,000 in city limits, but boast a metro area (if you can call it that) of around a half million. We are the third largest city in Missouri, behind my favorite place in this world St. Louis and its rival Kansas City. Both places are safe-havens of those who don't necessarily believe in the authority of the Bible to the exclusion of rationality and thought. Both are forward moving.
In the last few months, a bill was introduced to our City Council that would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, public accommodations, employment, and services. Springfield is the largest city in Missouri (of nine large cities in Missouri) to not include a gender identity and sexual orientation clause to its anti-discrimination ordinance. The City Council decided to hold a session, open to the public to speak, to voice their opinion on the matter. I expected both sides to show up, but what I saw (vicariously--the building was filled, I watched from home via tweets and video) last night was astounding.
I'll start by saying that this is not a gay marriage debate. This is not a debate about whether or not gays should exist. The issue is whether or not gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered (or if perceived as such) individuals should be given the same protections in terms of fairness in access to services.
If you and your best friend, who happened to be of the same gender, looked at apartments and a landlord thought you were a gay couple and refused to rent you a perfect one bedroom apartment on that basis alone, wouldn't you be pissed off? Or if your mother had radiation therapy for her cancer and just started to grow her hair back and looked like a lesbian, and because of the way she looked she was refused entry to restaurant ("We don't serve your kind here.")... you'd be more than a little miffed? This happens all the time here to actual GLBT people and to people who are perceived to be GLBT. We almost forget about the "perception is reality" thing, don't we?
What were the reasons why we shouldn't adopt the clause? That's when it got crazy for me. That's when I started to get mad. Here's some examples of reasoning for not adopting:
"...homosexuality is changeable, despite what the media tells us."
"When is a preference a protected class?"
"This restricts the freedom of business owners!"
"...infringes on freedom of religion!"
"Employers will hire gays and lesbians based on fear."
"If gays and lesbians don't like it here, leave."
Yep. All straight out of the horses mouth.
First of all, homosexuality is not changeable. The American Psychological Association gave up that idea a long time ago. Multiple studies have proven that. Sexuality is not a "preference," but a matter of orientation, so say the scientists, too. As a matter of businesses, what freedom is being infringed? Don't you want to make money? Opening your doors to a wider array of people makes you money. Oh, but the hiring process. Yes. You'd have to hire gays and weirdo trans people. Ah. By all means, if you have to hire, ask your prospective employees about things that don't matter, like sexual orientation and what's between their legs and whether what's on their chest is real. It really makes a difference in whether they can do the job you're asking them to do. If gays and lesbians don't like it, leave? It's cost prohibitive to live elsewhere, for one, and two, I like it here aside from the snide people and the crooked politics. It's a beautiful area and there's a lot to do. I feel a sense of purpose here.
And the clincher--"it infringes on freedom of religion."
If your religion is telling you to kill another person, or to hate another person, or to treat people unequally or with disrespect, or to shame another person... I am ashamed of the God to whom you claim to submit and of the religion of which you call your own. As a person who believes in God, I feel very strongly that we're all equal no matter what religion, no matter what color, gender, orientation, smell, class, location--we're all to be treated with equality.
The one wise thing that was said last night that I believe whole-heartedly was said by a professor of political science at my previous university, Mike Stout.
"Government exists to protect those from harm."
Because there are people who choose to do us harm, because there are those who stand on the unfair side of the street, because there are those who choose willfully to believe out of their own fear that change is bad for everyone, we have to rely on government.
That's why its imperative to be involved at this local level. We see so much corruption, partisanship, campaigning, lack of progress, and stale-mate crap happening at the federal level, but at the local level so much can change. We can be involved and at least know that our voices are heard here at home. We can see directly things being done, a lot of plans being made and actually being carried to fruition, and local people caring about the local area and its people.
I care about my city. I care about the businesses and streets and public works projects. I live here. I'm going to keep living here. I just want the same consideration everyone else receives when I walk into a business when I walk in with my partner.
Right now, it's not about gay marriage (we'll cross that bridge when we get to it), it's not about religion (I have my own, I don't need yours), it's not about a "gay agenda" or "pedophilia" or anything else--it's about being treated with fairness and respect, whether gay, trans, or perceived to be such. Right now, it's about moving our city forward in line. Moving our city toward the right direction. Walking our "Queen City of the Ozarks" from a dark history of racism, sexism, and hatred into a new generation of inclusion.
We move slowly, but city hall was packed last night. There were 46 signed to speak in favor, 31 in opposition. Over 500 people showed up, only 281 were allowed in the building. There are still 13 more to speak in two weeks when the clause will be voted on.
Someday, my hope is that we soon realize how stupid it was to fight over (and to have to be governed to be) treating each other with respect and dignity.