Freedom Means Freedom From ALL Discrimination

By Shane Stahl • July 16, 2018 • 4:03 pm

Throughout the month of July, we’ve been exploring the multi-layered and myriad definitions of the word “freedom,” and how it applies to the LGBTQ community. Now, as the month prepares to pass by, what’s important to realize is that though the concept and definitions of freedom may vary, ultimately, freedom for LGBTQ people means the ability to live openly and participate in public life with the same opportunities as everyone else — in short, free from discrimination in all arenas.

Take a look at our previous looks at what #FreedomMeans:

One of the largest hurdles cleared by the LGBTQ community in terms of discrimination has been marriage for same sex couples, which has been the law of the land since 2015.

Adoption for same-sex couples is also legal in all fifty states; however, several have attempted to make it more difficult for LGBTQ people when it comes to placement of adoptive or foster children in their homes: Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia; five of those bills were passed in 2017 or 2018. However, similar bills in Georgia and Colorado were defeated in their respective state legislatures in 2018. In the judiciary, Michigan’s District Court has taken up the case of Dumont v. Lyon, involving a lesbian couple who were denied service at two separate adoption agencies, and in Pennsylvania, a federal judge recently ruled that the city of Philadelphia had the right to terminate a contract with a religiously-affiliated adoption agency, as they were discriminatory against LGBTQ people.

When it comes to the treatment of LGBTQ people by businesses, the majority of small business owners agree that LGBTQ people should not be turned away on account of a business owner’s religious beliefs — 65%. Additionally, 68% are in favor of state or federal nondiscrimination laws that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in public accommodations. The issue hit particularly close to home this year, as the Supreme Court took up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, involving a Colorado bakery that turned away a same-sex couple, refusing service due to the owner’s personal religious beliefs. Although thousands of small business owners and faith leaders signed on to briefs supporting the couple, in the end, the Justices decided in a case-specific decision that the state’s civil rights commission had demonstrated disproportionate hostility to religious people, remanding the case to the Washington Supreme Court for reconsideration; however, in the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that discrimination against LGBTQ people is unlawful, making sure the Court stopped short of issuing a broad “license to discriminate.” A similar case involving a flower shop, Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, was also remanded by the high Court back to Washington state’s Supreme Court.

In housing and employment, LGBTQ people have seen largely positive movement over the past year. Two key court victories upheld the right of LGBTQ people to be protected from discrimination in employment — Zarda v. Altitude Express and Aimee Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes. In both cases, the plaintiffs were fired after disclosing their sexual orientation and gender identity, respectively, and were subsequently terminated by their employer. Both sued, claiming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. The judiciary agreed with this argument, delivering both plaintiffs a victory earlier this year. However, lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ extremist group representing both pairs of defendants, have filed petition before the U.S. Supreme Court asking them to review the respective cases.

Currently, 19 states have statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination laws on the books, the most recent being New Hampshire, which passed earlier this year. This November, anti-LGBTQ opponents have forced a repeal effort to the ballot in Massachusetts, which would remove public accommodations protections for transgender people in the Bay State, signed into law by Republican Governor Charlie Baker in 2016. Therefore, Massachusetts has become the first state in the nation forced to defend the dignity of transgender people at the ballot by voting YES on 3.

However, the YES on 3 campaign can take heart from a campaign waged in Anchorage, Alaska earlier this year. There, anti-LGBTQ opponents also sought to undo existing protections in public accommodations for transgender people. However, through the work of Fair Anchorage, the campaign to keep the law in place, voters rejected the attempted repeal in early April.

While many gains have been made and battles won on freedom for LGBTQ Americans, the fight is far from over. Another Masterpiece Cakeshop-type case may make its way to the Supreme Court, whose composition may change drastically following the nomination and possible confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. However, cities and school districts continue to pass LGBTQ-friendly nondiscrimination ordinances, including those in states such as Alabama and Wyoming.

Freedom for LGBTQ people will truly be achieved the day that discrimination is no longer an issue for the community to contend with. In the same way that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” LGBTQ people need to live in a society where they are not disproportionately subject to discriminate. Until that time, we at Freedom for All Americans will continue to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ people across the country to be afforded their dignity and the ability to have both public and private lives free of the fear of being singled out simply for being who they are or who they love.

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