The New Ally

The last really big blog post I wrote was about something that I felt very passionate about but that made me very unhappy. The unhappiness that surrounded it was multiplied by some people's unwillingness to see beyond the scope of their own experiences. I'm bisexual. Some of my LGBT friends would rather I use the word "pansexual," but says it's okay for me to keep calling myself "bi," and I'm not at my best around cookware.

When I came out, I was sixteen years old, and it was the year 2000. It's difficult to remember sometimes that there are very motivated, thoughtful, and amazing individuals who were born in that year. Some of whom I had the opportunity to meet at a retreat last Saturday. In Oklahoma, it can still be very difficult to be young and LGBT. In Miami, 15 years ago, I learned that many of my fears were unfounded.

I feared the worst, of course. My friends, mostly boys, would flee from the sight of me. They'd think I was a freak or worse. Being bisexual, by the way, doesn't soften the blow. Then I finally tore off the band-aid, and the response that my friends gave me was amazing. They were supportive, accepted me as I was, and things continued as normal except that I could share some things about me that I hadn't before—like the life-size poster of Leonardo DiCaprio I had up in my bedroom and my secret love for ★NSYNC.

But it wasn't enough. I don't know whether it was my fault or theirs or both of ours, but there was a singular, nagging sense that something had, in fact, changed. That one or more of us was trying to hard to filter through or accept something that was too difficult because, in 2000, there was no template for it. The word "straight ally" was a very new concept. So was the Gay-Straight Alliance, and there wasn't one on my campus at my school because—as far as I knew—I was the only student in the entire school who was openly anything other than straight.

Now it's 2015, and a gay boy's straight best friend is asking the former to the prom.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, "hella str8" Jacob Lescenski had decided to go to stag to his prom. Things hadn't gone as planned for him. "Hella gay" Anthony Martinez was a busy kid, planning school dances. One day, he got on Twitter to lament the fact that he didn't have a date to the prom. So Jacob says, "Why not?" and he has one of his friends help him invite his best friend to the prom.

Boys and girls have been able to go to the prom as friends for a long time. I'm not going to say how long because I'm not entirely sure, but it's definitely been a while. In the 90s, going stag to a prom was definitely a worse fate than at least finding someone—anyone—to go with you. Even Andie Walsh nearly walked away from the prom before finding Duckie to take her hand as they made their way into the ballroom. (That's an allusion to an 80s film, not a reference to a recent news article.)

But, for a very long time, the boy-girl rule remained in place. You didn't have to date, you didn't even have to dance together, but you had to have different parts because eww...or something. The first LGBT prom I attended took place in 2002, the year after my prom, nowhere near a school. It was the one you went to if you were LGBT and unlucky enough to want to dance with someone who shared the same plumbing as you did. That was me, my world, back then. I'm 31 years old now, and prom is way, way behind me.

But then I saw the article about Jacob and Anthony, two guys, best friends, going to prom together because going stag still sucks. I teared up, and I don't tear up easy. It reminded me of being back in high school, wondering what would've been if things I'd been born in a better time. And then I think about all the tears shed by all those old gay men, joyfully weeping at the fact that gay marriage is a fact in their lifetimes. Not a single LGBT person would be where we are today without our straight allies. I hope Jacob can serve as an example to those would-be allies who are still on the fence.

There's still so much work to do. So many people still facing discrimination at school or work, so many families who'd rather throw a child into the street than tolerate their having been born gay, so many states where gay marriage isn't legal, so many countries where it's a crime punishable by death. Across the country we face another wave of transphobic bathroom legislation. The fight is long and hard, but I think I'll always enjoy it when, 15 years later, I read an article that describes some act of humility, affection, love, or otherwise that wouldn't have been imaginable to me 15 years before.

It's a beautiful nostalgia that illuminates the strides we've made, and the peaks we've left to leap.

Religious Freedom or Bigotry?

Beware. This post contains many pictures. Videos too!

As you might have heard, Indiana's governor Mike Pence recently passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law states precisely this:

Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.

On its face, the law appears to protect the rights of business owners to defer to their religious preferences when deciding how to engage in business (e.g., who they will or will not serve). Seems nice, right? Except that no. It's not. Although the law itself does not specifically mention same-sex customers, that's precisely who the law is intended to discriminate against. Governor Pence, in the face of the backlash against the law, is trying to "clarify the intent of the law."

This makes Governor Pence a liar. Let's consider this for a moment. Here's Governor Pence passionately supporting Eric Miller and his lobby group Advance America:

To Governor Pence, Eric Miller is an inspiration. To anyone with any sense, he's a bigot. While Governor Pence seeks to sugercoat the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, here's Eric Miller's revelation about its true intent.

Churches, Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women). SB 101 will help provide the protection!

Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Miller. He makes the intent of the law abundantly clear. It's not to protect religious freedoms; it's to protect the rights of religious people to blatantly discriminate against the LGBT community. So far, I haven't linked to a single liberal outlet, which I'm pretty happy about. It's best to hear what people believe from their own bigoted mouths.

But maybe Governor Pence got confused, supporting Eric Miller despite his beliefs about LGBT couples. Nah. Here's Governor Pence being asked about marriage. Pay particular attention to the question he's asked at the one-minute mark:

And then there's what he said to the House of Representatives at a hearing at the 108th Congress:

Mr. Speaker, after weeks of legal and moral confusion, from Massachusetts to California, today President George W. Bush called on this Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage historically and culturally as it has ever been, as the union between a man and a woman. In so doing, President George W. Bush brought moral clarity to the debate by calling for this amendment banning gay marriage, in his words, preventing courts from changing that most enduring of human institutions.

His intent is clear. From his own mouth. Not from anyone trying to disparage him by claiming that the intent of the law is anything but what it is. He says it himself.

Twenty states—most recently Arkansas—have passed similar laws allowing for businesses to discriminate against LGBT couples and individuals. This is unfortunate because this issue was already decided upon. As the meme below states, "We've already had this conversation."


Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that...

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

So what's a "place of public accommodation," you ask? Well, the law does a good job of defining it:

Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:

(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence;

(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station;

(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment; and

(4) any establishment (A)(i) which is physically located within the premises of any establishment otherwise covered by this subsection, or (ii) within the premises of which is physically located any such covered establishment, and (B) which holds itself out as serving patrons of such covered establishment.

Yes, that includes bakeries and florists and any other place that is run by racists, sexists, people who'd love to discriminate against members of other religions and nationalities. Why doesn't it include homophobes? Because that's the civil rights issue of our time. If you're a business owner whose spiritual beliefs include the belief that the sons of Ham and the sons of Seth shouldn't mix, you can't use your religious beliefs to discriminate against that interracial couple.

Now, if you agree with the Indiana law, you might be thinking, This law isn't about race or any of that! It's about protecting the institution of marriage! Yeah, well, you're not the only one in American history who's tried to "protect the institution of marriage" by discriminating against those who fly in the face of what you believe. Laws protecting the rights of interracial couples didn't used to exist. Here's the story of the Lovings:

The parallels between the struggles that the Lovings faced and the struggles that LGBT couples face may not be immediately apparent to the homophobes in the Indiana state legislature, but I hope they are to you, dear Reader. Because I'm a writer. And I write gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters. I intend to continue to do so. If that's not your cup of tea, you might not want to read my stories. And that's totally fine with me.

I'm not alone. But if you do happen to disagree with me, here's a great video inviting you to visit the lovely state of Indiana:

I'm proud to see that Oklahoma didn't go the way of Indiana. Don't get me wrong. Oklahoma tried. Our 55th legislature introduced House Bill 1371 in February of this year. It was penned by Representative Chuck Strohm and had a very similar wording as the Indiana law:

In any action brought under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, neither the State of Oklahoma nor any subdivision thereof shall be
entitled to claim a governmental interest which purports to require any person to participate in any marriage ceremony, celebration, or other related activity or to provide items or services for such purposes against the person’s religious beliefs.

Then there's the genius of Representative Emily Virgin, who added a tiny amendment to the bill this month:

Any person not wanting to participate in any of the activities set forth in subsection A of this section based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.

And...that killed the bill. The House leadership pulled it from the floor, and Virgin's amendment wasn't even debated. I guess they were afraid that extreme conservative representatives might actually vote for the amendment, and the House leadership realized that it would adversely affect business interests in the state of Oklahoma. Smart move.

Now there's Josh Driver, the mind behind the Open For Service campaign. It allows businesses, individuals, and religious organizations to express their support for equality by posting stickers on their entrances or anywhere else. You can get your own, and all profits will go to SCORE, which supports small businesses throughout the country by offering assistance in management, organization, and marketing.

I'm getting one, the publishing company I work for is getting one, and you should get one too. It's a good cause, and you can support equality and small business all at the same time.