Friday, May 2, 2014

Can Anything Good Come Out of Mississippi?

What's Wrong with Mississippi

Mississippi has had a lot of problems since its inception, not the least of which was its sordid support of slavery. We've come quite a long way since the Civil Rights era but, due to conservative religious saturation and natural human bigotry (we like to call that "tradition"), we still have a whole lot of work to do. Since it is now a public death wish to be known to be a racist, people have taken refuge in the next brand of socially-accepted bigotry...anti-gay intolerance.

SB2681 and Its Real Meaning

This bill was hailed as a "religious freedom" bill but its real intent was to give Mississippi business owners the power to discriminate in their dealings. The bill was pretty much DOA but a quick slap by the Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention reminded our legislators that religion runs Mississippi - not the law.

The law takes place on July 1 and allows people to discriminate against anyone or anything for any "sincerely held" religious reason. When I say "any religious reason," I mean any:
"Exercise of religion" includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one's sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
So the reason doesn't have to pertain to a particular religious doctrine or belief. It can be any peripheral idea you've pulled out of your ass or any other non-religious belief you hold and slap a "religion" label on it.

Who is the arbiter of what belief is "sincerely held?" The court, by default, will become the decider of what is legitimate religious belief and what is not. So much for religious freedom. The law forces the state to define religion - not stay out of it.

What Is Mississippi's Response?

Many of us Mississippians did not support this bill and we are actively standing against it now, sometimes at great personal risk to our family, friendships, and business interests. 
The beginning of our campaign to fight back was to make this sticker available to those who were against the bill and let people see the very real opposition.

We want people to see that it's ok to fight against the radical, conservative religious agenda. It's ok to publicly say, "I'm not going to discriminate against anybody." We wanted to challenge people to stand up to the bigots in our state whether they are at home or at church. We are trying to be powerful agents for change in this state and this is our FIRST step, not our last. We are strongly encouraged by the fact that the AFA has called this sticker a "bullying campaign" because a) it's obviously untrue, and b) it shows we've got them scared.

Is It Good Enough?

I'd hope that people around the country would rally to our cause and encourage us in the fight but, sadly, that's not always the case. When the AFA's comment was covered on Pharyngula, a couple of commenters made the following statements:

1. @5: It’s worse than that. These stickers aren’t calling for a repeal of the “bigotry is allowed” law — they’re just saying that this store chooses not to avail themselves of their God-given right to be bigots. That the bigots take this as bullying of *them*…….defies all attempts at explanation, however desperate.

2. These non-discrimination signs aren’t even very welcoming. They’re basically saying, “Even though we’re not legally required to recognize your humanity, we’ll take your money.” Fuck that whole state off.

Because Mississippi has allowed the AFA and their ilk to define our state image and speak on our behalf for so long, I can understand why these people feel this way. I sympathize strongly with their weariness at our intolerance and willful ignorance. But I feel I must speak up on behalf of the many Mississippians who don't share those views and have been working tirelessly to try to change this state. Our work here is difficult and it's not always very rewarding. Often we see no personal benefit except to know that we are doing what is right.

We do want this law repealed but we can't start the big legal work on that until it takes effect. As for being welcoming, I suppose we could have made signs that said, "Get Your Cute Gay Ass in Here and Spend Some Money!" but that wouldn't have helped our cause much.

Friends, we need your support badly. Instead of looking for fault in what we do, encourage us and help us do it better. This whole state isn't just conservative, religious nutjobs. There are a lot of decent, caring folks here of all stripes and we're working to find our voice.

What Good Is Coming Out of Mississippi?

We are rising up slowly but surely. We are working to pull our state kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We are struggling to liberate our family and friends from the toxicity of the SBC's rule. We are working to change minds and open hearts (figuratively, mind you).

We successfully fought against the 2012 Personhood bill and we'll likely fight that again this year. The struggle is over once you're done reading the article but it continues daily for those of us who live in these trenches.

We're not going to stop until we accomplish our goals. Support us.