I am blessed to live in Columbus, Ohio. I love the city that I call home. It is a city that is thriving with economic opportunity, and it’s just a fun city to live in. The underlying reason that I live here though is a reason that I, fortunately, don’t have to think about that much anymore. It’s safe. I can go to work here everyday for an employer that respects me for who I am as a gay man in a city that offers municipal level protections for LGBTQ people as well. I can leave work and go home to my apartment without fear of finding an eviction notice taped to the door because one of my neighbors noticed me coming or going with another man that I’m romantically interested in. I love my state. Ohio is an absolutely beautiful place to live, but I always breathe a little sigh of relief every time my car crosses the line that is I-270, the outer belt that surrounds Columbus.
Despite feeling safe inside Columbus, I lived most of my in Zanesville, Ohio, about an hour east of Columbus. While Zanesville isn’t that far away geographically, it is worlds away in terms of diversity and culture. If I still lived and worked in Zanesville, I would have to go my job everyday knowing that my employer could legally walk up to me at anytime and tell me that I was fired for being gay. They could do so, and I wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on. I remember that tension and fear all too well, and I never want to have to go back to that. I don’t want to also face the fear that I could find myself homeless at anytime because my Zanesville doesn’t provide housing protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
We live in an interesting time, but it is not always interesting in a good way. Ten months ago, the Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional to deny the right to marriage to any two consenting adults regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Yesterday, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 2, codifying the right to discriminate against LGBTQ persons into the state’s laws and overturning any municipal protections that previously existed within the state. Legislators in Georgia continue to wrestle with whether or not to pass similar legislation in the name of protecting religious freedom. For those of us who live in the realm of rationality and reason, we realize that, when rights are granted to others, the constitution ensures that the religious freedoms of those who disagree with the law are protected already. Legalizing hate in the name of religious liberty is absurd.
But the key word that brought us to the current situation in North Carolina isn’t religion, a sacred text, or any system of belief. The word that brought about this hateful legislation in North Carolina is fear. They were afraid. It is as pure and simple as that. People are so terrified of transgender men and women using the restroom that is in congruence with their inner selves, even if it might not be in congruence with how someone perceives their outer self, that the elected officials in North Carolina have decided that the fear of what they think could happen, no matter how little it resembles the reality of what does happen in places where these protections already exist, is sufficient to legalize the persecution of all persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or any other variance of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Now, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have undergone my own evolution to get to where I am now. I didn’t used to understand what it is to be transgender. I wouldn’t even claim to understand it now. It isn’t for me to understand or explain. That isn’t my journey. I know far more than I did six years ago when I was emerging from the closet myself. I didn’t even used to condone being gay…and I am gay. I thought it was wrong. You know what broke me free form that? You know what helped me to come to a place of better understanding of myself and of other gay people? I met gay people. You know what helped me to begin to understand transgender people? I met one. That first encounter and conversation shattered walls inside my head that I didn’t even know where standing, and, with each new transgender person I meet, the walls continue to come down. I still don’t fully understand though. You know why? Because each and every one of their journeys is unique and beautiful. If you think that you have anxiety about using the same restroom as a transgender person, you know who has more anxiety than you? That same transgender person who is the object of your fear or scorn. While your anxiety stems from outcomes you’ve imagined though, their anxiety is born out of real life events of embarrassment, objectification, and abuse, both verbal and physical. They know that every time they enter a restroom that isn’t the one someone else thinks they should be walking into, they put their physical and emotional safety at risk.
Here, in this wonderful city, we take the protections that we have for granted. Too often, when I try to convince someone here in Columbus that there is still urgent work that needs to be done in the fight for equality, I am met with indifference. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and we have job and housing protections. What more do we need? I saw the need before to make sure that all Ohioans are someday able to enjoy the same protections that we take for granted here in Columbus, but what just transpired in North Carolina brings a whole new fear and sense of urgency. Don’t think for an instant that what happened in North Carolina couldn’t happen in Ohio or any other state across the country. We must be vigilant. We must work to make sure that we not only work to protect the non-discrimination laws that are in place. We must also continue to fight to take those protections to those who do not yet have them. Let’s get to work!