The new Jim Crow targets LGBT Americans too

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Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The case has many LGBT Americans on pins and needles. It will decide a baker’s right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig wanted a bakery to make their wedding cake, but the bakery refused on the grounds of religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment. If the case is decided in favor of the baker, Jack Phillips, it will be a colossal blow to civil rights gains and state nondiscrimination laws. It will legalize denying services to LGBT Americans based on a business owner’s religious belief. Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, suggested these businesses should hang anti-LGBT placards like “No Gays Allowed” warning us to stay away. When Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to clarify the president’s position on the matter at a White House Press Conference, she responded: “The president certainly supports religious liberty… I believe that would include that.”

As a black lesbian, I now feel like I am moving into a new Jim Crow era re-establishing discriminatory laws targeting LGBT Americans. I grew up knowing about racist placards that said “Colored Water Fountain,” “Waiting Room For Colored Only, We Serve Whites Only,” and “No N-word Allowed,” to name a few.

Since Trump has taken office there has been an erosion of LGBT civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. For example, transgender Americans being denied access to public lavatories is eerily reminiscent of the country’s last century Jim Crow era denying African Americans access to lunch counters, water fountains, libraries, gas stations, theaters, and restrooms, to name a few.

Signs that read, “whites only” prohibited entry.

In Jim Crow America restrooms were a hot-button issue, and a battleground for equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on national origin, race, hue, gender, and religion. The law mandated desegregation of all public accommodations, including bathrooms. The Obama administration expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBT Americans. However, in February, Trump’s administration revoked federal guidelines permitting transgender students from using “gender-appropriate facilities” which aligned with their gender identity.

This June, Trump paid tribute to the 49 LGBT victims of last year’s Pulse Nightclub massacre, but failed to issue a proclamation for Pride Month. In July, LGBT Americans received a one-two punch from the Trump administration.

The first punch was President Trump’s ban on transgender service members, eerily reminiscent of when the military did not want to integrate its ranks racially. In his inimitable style of communicating to the American public, the order came in the form of a tweet. Ironically, Trump’s tweet came on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the U.S. military in 1948.

The second punch occurred on the same day of Trump’s ban. The Justice Department filed court papers citing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace but it does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While Trump’s ban caught the Pentagon and Capitol Hill off guard, numerous anti-LGBT hate groups enthusiastically applauded the announcement across the country who have long advocated for it, promulgating the fear that healthcare services to our transgender troops would gravely hurt defense spending. In an ad by the Family Research Council, for example, Chelsea Manning was pictured next to a military jet with the question, “Which one do you want our military to be spending your tax dollars on — transgender surgeries or equipment?”

On December 11, a federal judge denied the request of the Trump administration to delay enlistment deadline for transgender Americans into the military. They can enlist as early as today, January 2, 2018.

I am immensely thankful as a married lesbian that I reside in Massachusetts, especially if Trump tries to urge the courts to overturn “Obergefell v. Hodges,” the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

However, that may not be the case for many LGBT married couples outside of my state. For example, in a Trumped-up Supreme Court there is talk among Christian evangelicals of walking “Obergefell v. Hodges” back without disrupting other precedents on marriage,” Rebecca Buckwaler-Poza wrote in the article “The End of Gay Rights” in the June issue of Pacific Standard Magazine.

“The Supreme Court can significantly undermine LGBT rights even without reversing a single case,” Buckwaler-Poza wrote. “Right now, the federal prohibition against sex discrimination doesn’t bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; the Equal Protection Clause affords no specific protections for LGBT people, as it does for members of groups defined by race or nationality. The Court can strip the rights to intimacy and marriage of their meaning, carving away gradually and masking the magnitude of changes by phrasing them in arcane legal terms.”

A movement for, some time now, has been afoot in state legislatures across the country to disenfranchise LGBT Americans. These bills are called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA), and are a backlash to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. Some lawmakers use them to codify LGBT discrimination and justify denying us services on state and local levels. Trump is in lock-step with these discriminatory practices, Jim Crow is already here.