By Ruby Samuels
Two weeks ago, a bearded man with a long robe and a koran threatened me and my girlfriend with a switchblade. We were on a train coming home from an art house in Brooklyn and I had my arm around her. I guess my arm must have been pretty offensive because the man screamed, knife in hand, “I fucking hate lesbians and faggots! Hate them! One of these days, I’m gonna do something about it.”
Little did I know, this was the night after Donald Trump invited the Alliance Defending Freedom to speak at a youth outreach event at the White House. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the ADF an anti-LGBT hate group. They were chosen by President Trump to speak about free speech. Charlie Kirk, who interviewed Trump at the event, used the world “fascism” to describe a religious baker having to make a cake for a gay wedding. What is it called when a gay couple can’t get the only baker in town to make them a wedding cake? What about when a trans person in a rural town is refused basic health care? The government is still figuring that out.
The man who threatened me might not have been protected by the rhetoric of religious freedom because there is just as much Islamophobia as homophobia in America. But what if he had been holding a bible?
I have run into my fair share of bigotry. I’ve been preached at, questioned, propositioned and ignored because of my sexuality. Once, the father of a family sitting across from us on an empty subway saw me peck my partner’s cheek and hurriedly moved his children to the end of the car, where he proceeded to point and whisper.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects reported that there was an 86% increase in LGBTQ murders from 2016 to 2017. Murders. As hate crimes against the LGBTQ community climb, the measures taken against discrimination in this country are increasingly focused on protecting white, Christian, cis, straight people from having to see anything that offends their religious liberty.
As it is, 24% of LGBTQ people in America live in states that do protect against hate crimes based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Although the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009 after the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepherd, it did not lead to a conviction until May of 2017.
After Joshua Vallum was convicted for brutally murdering a transgender woman in order to keep his sexual relationship with her a secret, Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly vowed to prevent hate crimes. He said: “No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Sessions really only meant to protect people based on religious freedom, in spite of everyone else. Earlier this month, U.S. Sen Mike Lee of Utah introduced a new version of the First Amendment Defense Act, which could, according to the HRC, lead to the denial of federally mandated family leave to care for a same-sex spouse, or prevent people in same-sex marriages from having access to certain federally funded homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters.
Senator Lee didn’t really need to go to all that effort, because already, in 2010– the year after the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed– 85 percent of victim advocates surveyed by the NCAVP in 2010 reported having worked with an LGBTQ sexual assault survivor who was denied services from shelters, hospitals, police or rape crisis centers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In January, the HHS Civil Rights Director Roger Severino announced a new Civil Rights division devoted to religious liberty. The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is the answer to Trump’s executive order, issued last May, to “vigorously” protect religious freedom. In Severino’s last positions as director of the DeVos Center for Religious and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, he tried to exclude transgender people from the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provision.
The only part of the government solely dedicated to upholding civil rights is spending their time and resources on the least discriminated against group in America– Christians. Interestingly, Vox foundthat white Christians are so untouched by discrimination that they do not detect when it is used against any minority group. As long as LGBTQ people are publically discriminated against under the law (and as long as hate groups like the ADF are hosted by the the president), discrimination and bigotry will persist.
This isn’t just about violent hate crimes. This is about normalizing the whole spectrum of sexuality and gender so that teenagers can come out to their parents without fear; so a gay person can bring their life partner home and have them be acknowledged; so a transgender kid can go the bathroom; so people don’t feel entitled to stare at, comment on, fetishize and threaten us just for being who we are every day.