Today is the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s Day of Silence, an event meant to bring attention to the “silencing effect” of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. In classrooms across the country, thousands of young people will stay silent throughout the day as part of an annual student-led effort that has been occurring since 1996.
In anticipation of the Day of Silence, People For the American Way recently released a new policy toolkit, Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students, which provides activists with the tools they need to advocate for critical safe schools reforms. The toolkit includes lobbying and media tips, talking points, sample materials, and background info on the lead federal legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).
Unfortunately the Religious Right continues to rail against commonsense legislation like SSIA and SNDA that would help make our schools safe for all students. Right-wing activist Gordon Klingenschmitt has warned that the Student Non-Discrimination Act would “give homosexuals and perverts protected status” and “mandate pro-homosexual recruiting of kids in public schools.” Just this week, Mission America’s Linda Harvey – who once claimed that anti-bullying programs would turn schools into “indoctrination camps” – publicly encouraged young LGBT people to stay in the closet.
To learn more about how to stand up to these hateful attacks and push for positive change, check out the safe schools toolkit.
In the wake of the recent uproar about an expansive “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed in Arizona, on Thursday Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quietly signed similar legislation, the so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law.
Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has been a vocal opponent of the distressing law. On the floor of the state Senate last week, Sen. Simmons, who is African American, said:
If you have never been discriminated against, you don't know how that feels…. I urge you to vote against this bill because it legalizes discrimination.
On Friday he spoke out again in a powerful op-ed outlining some of the negative repercussions his state may see now that, in Simmons’ words, “the worst outcome has occurred”:
Businesses wishing to discriminate against any person under state law could use “religious exercise” as a defense to justify their actions.
Federal and state laws do not let business owners with religious objections to “mixing the races” refuse service on religious grounds. We do not let business owners with traditional views of sex roles refuse to sell certain products to women or not hire married women for full-time jobs on religious grounds. Yet the way this bill is written could open the doors to many other types of discrimination.
…The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. I was born 11 years later. I never witnessed those horrible years. I don’t want to see any shadow of the Jim Crow era, but this bill could turn back the clock. Arizona stopped it from happening when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in her state. I was praying for the same here; however, Mississippi just doesn't have the will to do what is right. Mississippi is burning again.
The worst outcome has occurred - Governor Bryant has signed the discriminatory bill into law. Yes, we can hope the Mississippi court system will recognize the importance of enforcing protection from discrimination, but we can act locally. We must ask our counties and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances so our friends of all races, colors, creeds and orientations can find oases from prejudice in the great state of Mississippi.
Notorious anti-gay activist Fred Phelps has died, according to news reports.
Fred Phelps was the founder and patriarch of Westboro Baptist Church, which he and his family members used as a base for attention-grabbing protests at funerals of people who had died from AIDS, at gay-rights rallies and marches, at churches he deemed insufficiently anti-gay, and later at the funerals of American soldiers (based on the “logic” that America itself is vile and hated by God for its growing acceptance of LGBT people).
It is hard to know how much pain Phelps caused individual LGBT people and their families, particularly young people struggling with their sexuality and/or faith, with his denunciations. But he certainly failed in his mission to frighten or harass Americans away from support for equality. In fact he may have accelerated the trend by putting such an unappealing face on anti-gay bigotry that many American Christians wanted nothing to do with him.
Phelps did allow other anti-gay leaders to posture that he was the face of hatred, not them. But the substance of their message to gay people is similar: repent or be damned – it’s just that Phelps framed it as “God hates fags” while people like Bryan Fischer say God loves them and wants them to abandon their demonic lifestyle. They may have disagreed on rhetorical strategy, but they shared their hostility to an America in which LGBT people are treated equally under the law. In the end, other anti-gay religious leaders, even ones who distanced themselves from Phelps’s rhetoric, were tainted by him.
The Phelps family has inspired some truly creative activism by pro-equality activists, who used their appearances to raise funds for progressive organizations, and who created visually striking walls of “angels” to keep Phelps family protesters out of view of grieving family members.
Fred Phelps’s decision to protest military funerals may have accomplished the most in terms of helping more Americans view anti-gay bigotry as broadly un-American. He may have left exactly the legacy he didn’t want.
Given Matt Barber’s own penchant for extremely harsh rhetoric, it’s not surprising that his newish website BarbWire has become a home for anti-gay hostility and Religious Right alarmism over the impending death of religious freedom in America.
Today’s offering comes from Gina Miller, who is described as “a conservative Christian political writer and radio/television voice professional.” Miller’s article, “Why Are Christians (Really) the World’s Most Persecuted Group?” was written in response to a column from Middle East Forum that BarbWire had linked to. Its author had argued that Christians are persecuted because Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, it seeks converts, and is a religion of martyrdom. No, Miller says, Satan is the reason Christians are persecuted. And Satan is operating through a lot of channels.
Islam, she says, is Satanic.
Islam is a demonic, militant-political-religious ideology born of the children of Ishmael, and like them, it has greatly proliferated. It is one of Satan’s premiere deceptions, tyrannically ensnaring countless millions of people….
Those who adhere to Islam naturally have a demonically-inspired hatred for the people of the Lord, but as the Bible says, they hate everyone. However, it is with the deepest of hatreds that they regard Christians and Jews, because their hatred is Satan’s hatred, and it goes well beyond simple dislike or disagreement on principles. It goes to the heart of the spiritual essence of the foundational struggle, to the basic forces of darkness and light.
But it’s not just Islam. Every non-Christian religion is Satanic, she says, and so are liberal Christians:
From the beginning of time, Satan and the other fallen angels (demons) have made war against the Lord and His creation. It is their sole mission to steal, kill and destroy what God has made and to keep as many people as possible from the knowledge of salvation through Jesus. In this mission, they have heaped deception upon deception for mankind. They have created countless false doctrines and distractions to mislead and deceive people into taking the path to Hell. The world’s false religions—all those whose foundation is not solely the Gospel of Christ—lead to one place: eternal damnation and separation from God. This includes false, so-called “Christian” religions that deny Christ as the only Way to salvation, and instead, rely on traditions of men and on works to “earn” salvation, something we could never earn.
The frenzied, irrational hatred people of the world have for Christians is inspired by, and based in, Satan’s hatred for God and His people. It’s a demonic hatred found in people who have rejected the Lord. Have you ever noticed that there is not the same deep hatred for non-Christians and non-Christian religions? Satan doesn’t hate his own work; he aggressively promotes and supports it. Supernatural hatred for Christians and Jews exists because they are God’s people, the real deal, chosen by Him from the foundation of the world to be miraculously reconciled to Him. We simply remind Satan of his eternal defeat and the fact that his time as “the god of this world” is short and growing to a close. He is furious in his great loss.
And, of course, supporters of church-state separation (described by Miller as people who want to “eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America”) are Satanic:
At the same time, as we watch our world marching inexorably toward the horror of the very last days and the period of great tribulation, those of us who put our trust in the Lord must not lose courage or hope. The Word of the Lord is true, and every bit of it will come to pass. This is why we see such a feverish effort by satanically-inspired people to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity in America today. The campaign has its source in the demonic realm.
Barber himself is no stranger to such rhetoric. He has said Satan is behind the marriage equality movement and the Obama administration’s support for LGBT equality.
Ryan Hurst is the membership services program coordinator for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have made it legal for businesses and employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people if it was due to a “deeply held religious belief.” Many Arizonans and national leaders on both sides of the aisle vehemently opposed it, including members of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network. US Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) and Arizona State Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar spoke out on MSNBC. Tovar also said in a statement:
SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.
Supporters of SB 1062 and legislation like it have argued that it is necessary to protect the “right” of business owners to deny services to LGBT Americans. Why does fighting this flawed assumption matter? Why would LGBT Americans want to patronize a business that is trying to discriminate against them?
It matters because our values define who we are as a people. Do we want to be an America that permits discrimination because we disagree with someone? An America that legislates away the dignity of a group of our fellow citizens? The desire to have and feel dignity is something that reaches into our very core. It is why African American students refused to get up from lunch counters during the civil rights movement. Though the circumstances behind those heroic acts were different, at least one of the core motivating factors is the same – the desire to have dignity and be valued as a human being.
We as a nation decided to set precedent as a result of the civil rights movement, that we would not allow ourselves to be defined by hate and ignorance, and that discrimination based on race, gender, disability, national origin, and religion would not be tolerated. Why would we hold love to a different standard? Like religion, it is deeply personal and central to who we are, and our freedom regarding that area of our lives is recognized as basic to the very concept of liberty. And we can no more change who we love than change our race, sex, or national origin.
Unfortunately Arizona was not alone in proposing a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to LGBT Americans. In all, 12 states had similar bills simultaneously working their way through their state legislatures. In the fallout from SB 1062, most of these states quietly killed these bills with little fanfare. But a few states like Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota are still considering similar legislation, and Oregon is even considering a ballot initiative.
It is time for us as a country to be bold and unapologetic about our rejection of discrimination. It is important for us to have conversations about why our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends deserve dignity and equality. We must not be afraid to speak out in opposition to these bills if they are introduced in our state, and we must exercise our right to vote by removing elected officials from office that choose to support legislation that diminishes the dignity of others.
WASHINGTON – In response to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto Senate Bill 1062, a measure that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“Almost four years after Arizona shocked the country with its anti-immigrant ‘show me your papers’ law, yesterday Governor Brewer avoided making her state the national leader, once again, in state-sponsored discrimination.
“In Arizona and across the country, Americans can see through the Right’s continued attempts to cloak anti-gay bigotry in the language of First Amendment rights. We hope that the pushback Arizona received this week will be a message, loud and clear, to the states with similar bills pending. Americans don’t want to live in a country where businesses have free rein to post a ‘No Gays’ sign.”
In the past week, tens of thousands of PFAW members and activists spoke out and urged Governor Brewer to veto the bill.
WASHINGTON – In response to a federal judge striking down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples, People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan issued the following statement:
“Today’s ruling is one more strong point in an argument that’s getting clearer and clearer every day: this ain’t the Texas of old.
“In my native Texas and across the nation, Americans are increasingly coming to see that blocking committed couples from the responsibilities and protections of civil marriage causes real, and needless, harm to families. More and more people are coming to the same conclusion: banning same-sex couples from getting married is unfair, dangerous and contrary to the core principles of our Constitution.”
In another win for the marriage equality movement, today U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The judge wrote that "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”
The Washington Post reports:
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.
"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."
Similar bans have been struck down in states across the country – most recently in Virginia less than two weeks ago. Today’s victory in a state with a whopping 26 million residents brings us one important step closer to nationwide marriage equality.
The following is a guest post by Campbell, California Mayor Evan Low, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”
I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.
This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.
That’s not to say that things are always easy for LGBT elected officials. Like Milk, I have received my share of hate mail, with messages like: “We don’t want the homosexual agenda in our community.” As I have told reporters before, I don’t know what is on that so-called agenda, other than basic equality for all people.
One issue that’s certainly on my agenda is the end of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In a petition that now has more than 62,000 supporters, I wrote:
…recently, I hosted a blood drive on city property, but was banned from donating blood myself.
As the mayor of Campbell, providing for the welfare of the general public is a top priority. As a gay man, however, I am conflicted in my advocacy for blood drives. Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, a man who has sex with another man is deferred for life from donating blood. The ban was imposed in 1983 when there were no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV/AIDS. It was also made during a time of mass medical confusion and cultural homophobia associated with HIV/AIDS. The current FDA ban is wildly outdated and perpetuates unfair labels against gay and bisexual men that live on through decades of discrimination.
These kinds of stereotypes are not unlike the ones Harvey Milk was fighting nearly four decades ago, and why he, like I do today, encouraged LGBT people to come out whenever possible – to dispel the harmful lies about our community with the truth. Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, continues his uncle's legacy, and we are so fortunate to have Stuart carry the torch.
In a tape Milk recorded before his death, he said, “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement.” I think he would be proud of the movement that lives on in his spirit today.