Southern Discomfort

As I finally catch the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, the more I watch the more I understand why Margaret Atwood refers to it as “speculative fiction”. Portraying an ultra-evangelist republic within America, parallels have been drawn since Trump’s election, and haven’t stopped cropping up.

LGBTQ+ rights have come along way in the U.S but social acceptance varies from state to state, with wholehearted support in some (reinforced with progressive legislation), and mere tolerance in others. Religious conservatism in America is nothing new, however this tolerance seems to be waning as evangelist rhetoric from the Trump Administration has legitimised orientationism. Unleashing a new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation under the guise of exercising “religious liberty”.

Religious Liberty cases have been put forward before for private businesses to deny LGBTQ+ individuals goods and services on religious grounds. This, though distressing, can be circumvented by taking your business elsewhere; who would want a wedding cake with the bitter taste of bigotry baked in anyway, right? But a series of Senate and House Bills introduced this past legislative session takes the premise a step further.

SB17

Passed by the Texas State Senate in early April, Senate Bill 17 would allow state-licensed workers, i.e doctors, teachers and counsellors, to deny treatment, care or service to LGBTQ+ individuals on religious grounds. This bill prevents such denial if an individual is in danger of immediate bodily harm or death, but the potential to facilitate mental and physical harm otherwise cannot be understated. Advocates worry that this bill would give free reign to openly discriminate. For instance, LGBTQ+ parents seeking healthcare for their child or even assisted conception treatments could be denied. Trans people seeking gender reassignment surgery, or any other surgery deemed non-life-threatening or ‘non-essential’ can be denied.

It would also give way for school counsellors to put their faith before the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students. Suicide amongst LGBTQ+ youth is disproportionately high in the U.S when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, risking a significant impact if discrimination against them were enshrined into law.

Though it worryingly gained traction through the State Senate, SB17 still has a chance to be voted down in the Texas House of Representatives. However, the wave continues just two states over.

The “Slate of Hate”

Around the same time 12 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in Tennessee, several of which go to committee vote this week. Comprised of 6 House Bills and 6 Senate Bills, this legislative block was quickly dubbed a “Slate of Hate” by LGBTQ+ activists.

Among these, the ‘Locker Room Bill’ (SB1297 & HB1151) was called out as it specifically seeks to stifle and criminalise Transgender people. A calculated extension of the current indecent exposure law, if passed would include; restrooms, locker rooms, showers and dressing rooms. Exposure in any of which “...designated for single-sex, multi-person use, and the person is a member of the opposite sex than the sex designated for use”, they can be prosecuted. This puts Trans folk in an impossible position as Tennessee citizens cannot legally change their designated birth sex, meaning they are at risk of prosecution as soon as they use any of these spaces that match their identified gender.

This Bill further extends its prejudice by disregarding the validity of transgenderism entirely, while continuing to consider it as a mental illness/disorder despite the World Health Organisation’s reclassification:

“...a medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis of gender dysphoria, gender confusion, or similar conditions, in the absence of untreated mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, will not serve as a defense to the offense of indecent exposure.”

Also among these 12 bills is the “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defence Act” aiming to supercede the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which legalised same-sex marriage across the country. It would outlaw any recognition and/or facilitation of such unions within State jurisdiction, while also protecting those who disavow them, an otherwise Federal offence.   

Many advocates regard these bills as the persistent hardlining of conservative Christian values. For a constitutionally secular nation, proclaiming liberty and justice for all, disguising discrimination as religious liberty is fundamentally unconstitutional in and of itself.

Perhaps one saving grace to all this, whether these bills are enshrined into law or (hopefully) blocked, is that as bigots openly reveal themselves and their goals they become easier to fight and resist.  

Article by Thomas Phillips