The writers of the recent Letter to the Editor on the subject of LGBT rights and protections conveniently mask their prejudices behind the claim that they are only interested in fair debate and good public policy – that they are not advocating discrimination. Yet, the debate is clearly and directly about the city’s ordinance on discrimination. The proposed revisions, which French and Nelson oppose, are designed to have the ordinance read that it would be “unlawful, based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (over 40), gender identity, sexual orientation, familial status or physical disability of any type, to discriminate in employment, public accommodations or housing practices.”
Nelson and French object to the claim made by the Editorial Board that opposition to the revisions amounts to supporting discrimination. This objection is completely illogical. The actual wording of the ordinance concerns who may or may not be discriminated against. They need to own up to the fact that the debate is directly and explicitly about whether it should be lawful to discriminate–“to make a difference in treatment” (Webster’s Dictionary) –on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. They nearly do so when they recognize that “the proposed ordinance essentially elevates sexual identity and sexual orientation to civil rights status on par with race and ethnicity.” They claim that they do not support “ugly or bigoted treatment,” but this statement demonstrates that they clearly support discrimination, or a “difference in treatment,” for LGBT persons, implying that they ought not be “elevate(d)” to the status of others who are protected. The language of “elevation” here says a lot about the attitude of the authors and their organization when it comes to LGBT persons, whether they want to admit it’s a bigoted attitude or not.
Nelson and French use the wedding cake scenario to help make their case against the supposed negative effects of the proposed change to the ordinance. From their point of view it’s OK for cake bakers to be punished for refusing to bake a cake for, say, an interracial couple’s wedding, but it’s not OK to punish the same cake baker for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.
That is discrimination – treating one couple differently from another. And, while they might argue that such discrimination doesn’t rise to the level of hatred, you could also argue that cake bakers in the 1960s would not have felt it a matter of hatred for them to refuse to make a cake for an interracial couple. If we followed the logic of Nelson and French’s explicit argument, it might be just fine to revise the ordinance to delete ethnicity and race. Or, while we’re at it, why punish business owners for discriminating at all? Against anyone?
The argument about “drag(ging) one’s sex life into the hiring process” is simply illogical and absurd. If an employer does not know the sexual orientation of a potential employee, he or she cannot discriminate. That’s true. But, the aim of the ordinance is not to provide opportunities to inflict punishment on employers. It should be clear to these two college educated citizens that the aim of the ordinance is precisely to protect potential employees when the employer is aware of their sexual orientation. The real issue resting behind this duplicitous rhetorical move, though, has nothing to do with the act of sex. We’re talking about gender identity – the ways in which people move, talk, dress, etc. – and the fact that many people are regularly treated differently simply because of the presumptions people make based on the way their hips move when they walk or the pitch of their voice, for instance.
So, the argument does, indeed, involve the culture of Murray. Does Murray want to recognize that LGBT persons deserve the same treatment as Catholics, Baptists, African Americans, Asian Americans, women, 50-year-olds? Or does it want to persist in the belief that LGBT people are somehow lower than other people and from a legal standpoint may be treated as such?
Dale Ray Phillips
Mary Tripp Reed
Therese Saint Paul