Backlash Against What?: RFRAs and Bathroom Bills

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Posted May 25, 2016 by Marg Herder

Bathroom Signs in Wood

The moment I heard about the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, I started bracing for it. I think many of us did. I knew the people who have spent decades discriminating against us would simply regroup and look for new ways to marginalize us.

Certainly those organizations that make huge sums of money by scaring people with dire warnings about the “homosexual agenda” (something they created themselves) would view the court decision as a fantastic fundraising opportunity.

Certainly those who are frantic to isolate themselves from us (to the point that they will even turn their backs on their own children or shame them into desperate and dangerous attempts to change who they are) would turn to legislation to codify their “right” to discriminate against us, and thus, ensure their isolation.

I knew what was coming. Many of us did.

Yet now that it’s happening, it’s taken on an interesting, surreal quality. Even though it’s obvious that RFRAs (Religious Freedom Restoration Acts) and bathroom bills are meant to be discriminatory against the LGBTQ community, the people behind them say over and over that is not their intent.

I’ve known a few people in my life who have lied to my face. It’s a strange thing when that happens. I knew they were lying. I assume they must have known they were lying. Yet they looked me in the eye and misrepresented the reality we both knew. If I called them on it, they would squirm a little, but still insist that they were telling the truth. It’s always the weirdest thing.

That’s pretty much what’s happening with the politicians and civil servants who are now trying to legislate discrimination. They are lying about the intent of the bills they are passing.  Just watch Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence squirm in this interview with George Stephanopoulos about Indiana’s RFRA. Surreal.

Cloaking discrimination in the guise of religious freedom doesn’t fool me. Cloaking discrimination in the guise of protecting little girls from sexual predators who cross-dress just to gain access to a public restroom doesn’t fool me, either. It’s clear to me that RFRAs and bathroom bills are simply legislative attempts to allow those who desire to discriminate against LGBT people a legal means to do so.

I guess it makes them feel better about their prejudicial actions to twist reality and pretend that these bills are really about protecting people, not discriminating against them.

But what I think is important to share with you today is my impression that this whole thing, this backlash, is not really about LGBT people at all. It’s not about me; it’s not about my wonderful Lisa or my treasured LGBTQ friends. It’s not about the way we live our lives, or our ability to be good citizens, or even good Christians. It’s certainly not about who we buy stuff from, or where we pee.

It’s not really about individual LGBTQ human beings at all.

It’s about the way in which our visible presence in society challenges certain concepts that some religious people cannot allow to be challenged.

We’ve all noticed how all but the hardest of hearts will soften over time when we live and work and worship together. It’s how we’ve gotten so far so fast, by coming out and presenting our simple humanity to the people we encounter. Basically, when confronted with an LGBTQ person, the lie of the “homosexual agenda” is exposed. We become people, not a dangerous issue. Plain, ordinary people. And as people, and not a cataclysmic force attempting to destroy society, we’re not so scary.

This backlash is not about us. It’s about some foundational but outdated concepts in fundamentalist/conservative Christian culture becoming less and less viable in this new world in which nearly everyone has access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of knowledge, and the possibility of instantaneous and direct peer-to-peer communication with billions of other human beings.

It’s about outdated concepts like spiritual superiority and exclusion, as in “this group is saved, but this group is damned.” Outdated concepts like a magical book in which every word is inerrant and completely applicable to the present time, even though it was written thousands of years ago in a very different cultural context. Outdated concepts like a hierarchy of sins, some to be overlooked, some to be unforgivable.  Outdated concepts like a strict gender binary in which people assigned to one gender at birth lead and make decisions, and all the other people exist to serve them.

This backlash is not what it looks like when the Christians who oppose our equality begin the process of taking our equality away.

This backlash is what it looks and feels like when scared people try to stop the erosion and marginalization of their outdated religious institutions and belief systems, things that mean life itself to them.

And this backlash is nothing less than a golden opportunity to show the patience and tolerance we have cultivated over all these years of knowing our love is real.

In saying this, I’m not calling for us to minimize our anger or our pain; we must use those emotions to fuel our resolve to fully embody our own unique and authentic divine image. I’m calling for us to present ourselves as compassionate human beings, especially to those who feel they are in a fight for their way of life.

They’re not fighting against us.  We’re just the people on the leading edge of change. They’re fighting something much bigger and more powerful than we are.  They’re fighting the inevitability of a diverse society, they’re fighting the truth of human equality, they’re fighting against the future.

It’s not a fight they can win.

Related:  Julia Stronks, J.D., Ph.D., has written a companion article, “Bathroom Legislation: Unconstitutionality Is Only Part of the Story,” which explains the legal issues involved in the “Bathroom Bills” now being passed by state legislatures in the United States. Highly recommended reading.

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Very well put, Marg. You are modeling compassion toward people whose fear is greater than their compassion or empathy.

    Now if we could just get these people to read this stuff on our website!

  2. Thank you, Marg, for your powerful, prophetic voice! You not only call out the discrimination in the guise of religious freedom, but give a cogent analysis of the root causes of this prejudice. Also, your compassionate, patient response to bigoted people is inspiring. LGBTQ people are indeed leading the transformation. You give me hope and encouragement for our work through CFT.

    • Thanks Jann. You and your work has been so encouraging! It’s hard to have to keep confronting this same thing for so long. But I guess it’s just the nature of people. Keep doing your good work! Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Marg, I love your honesty, your thoughtfulness, your ability to articulate what is at the heart of this issue: fear, control, the longing for old paradigms to hold true. I appreciate your willingness to be compassionate in the face of all the pain that others have caused you and those you love. You are on the leading edge of those who are on the leading edge, and I’m grateful to know you as a good friend.

  4. Marg,
    This is exactly why I love and connect so well with EEWC-CFT! As an African American, I must always be ready to prove through my love of God that I am not an ANGRY BLACK WOMAN! I am just an ordinary loving woman serving the Godde of Creation. If I am, as I proclaim, created in the image of God, the least I can do is behave in a manner which will bring people closer to the Creator so that they can see the loving Jesus who lives and dwells in me. It is important for the members of the LGBTQ community to “come out” so that the assumptions can be terminated as others see members as loving individuals rather than scary monsters.

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