Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Can we get our minds out of the toilet?

The non-discrimination ordinances of Charlotte are up for consideration yet again, and people are focusing on an issue that is a complete non-issue. They’re worried about a transgender person doing something harmful to a child in a restroom. This red herring is thrown into the debate to instill fear in people and distract them from the real purpose of the ordinances. The fact is, in every city where such ordinances are on the books, including some for a very long time, there has not been one instance of such a thing happening. Not one. Ever. So, can we get our minds out of the toilet and consider what’s really at stake?

Although I’m proud to live in a city that has strong anti-discrimination ordinances in place to prohibit discrimination against people because of race, color, religion, national origin or sex, I’m also disheartened to know that we haven’t yet extended our commitment against discrimination to all people. On February 22, we’ll have the opportunity to update our nondiscrimination policies to remedy the omission of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. It’s high time that we put an end to discrimination, not just for some, but for all of our citizens.

Did you know that currently, there is no law to prohibit a public business from refusing service to persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity? Can you imagine what it might feel like to make reservations to eat at a nice uptown restaurant in Charlotte only to be refused service at the door because the maĆ®tre d’ doesn’t approve of the person with whom you will be dining? As a straight person, I have difficulty ever seeing myself in such a scenario, and yet I know that, for many LGBT Charlotteans. it is a possibility that never leaves their awareness.

LGBT people are gifts to our community, and we are richer for their presence. They are parents, health care providers, educators, firefighters, artists. They work in retail, the service industry and factories; they build our homes. They volunteer in our schools, hospitals, museums and soup kitchens. They are citizens who vote and pay taxes, just as we all do. We share a common humanity, and yet we are not equally protected by the law. 

As a pastor, it grieves me to hear some use religion as a reason to discriminate against others. Religious freedom is one of our country’s fundamental values. Following the teachings of one’s faith is important, but that freedom doesn’t give any of us the right use religion to hurt people, to impose our beliefs on others or to discriminate. All faith traditions teach a deep and abiding responsibility to treat others respectfully or as we would want to be treated ourselves. 

I know there are some religious types who believe in their heart of hearts that homosexuality is a sin. They continue to insist that same gender couples shouldn’t legally marry. And they have a hard time understanding what it’s like to be transgender, especially if they’ve never met a transgender person. I want them to know that the ordinances are not about whether or not they find LGBT people acceptable. They are about recognizing that LGBT people are, in fact, human beings, and all human beings deserve equal protection under the law, no matter how we might feel about them.

We’re often anxious or uncomfortable with things we haven’t experienced; that’s just human nature. Sometimes our discomfort can get in the way of doing the right thing. We focus on our anxiety instead of the core values of our faith that call us to love, not just people who are like us, but especially people who are not like us. Discrimination is not a Christian value.

The nondiscrimination ordinances are not just a concern for the LGBT community in Charlotte. When we fail to protect all of our citizens from discrimination, we are complicit in injustice. I’m trusting that our City Council will understand that and it will soon be against the law to discriminate against any person in Charlotte for any reason, including sexual orientation or gender identity. 

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