Who really needs protecting?
Since the legislative session started, the House Committee on Community and Family Advancement has been clear in its solitary mission: to pass the redundant and insulting bill known as the Pastor Protection Act (House Bill 36).
I’m a pretty informed person, I watch the news, read the newspaper, and generally pay attention to what is going on in the world. Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m not exactly sure why we need to be “protecting” pastors with H.B. 36. Maybe I have missed the stories of record high numbers of pastors getting murdered in the streets across the US? Oh wait no, it is transgender women who are being murdered in record numbers, with seven murdered in just the first two months of 2017, and 26 murdered in 2016, an all-time high.
How about suicide rates? We must need to protect pastors from an awful level of discrimination that is causing them to attempt suicide at rates well above the national average, right? Nope, wrong again… According to the Trevor Project, the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for teens who identify as Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual, and is two times higher for questioning youth than it is for their straight peers. A national study found that 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, 92% of those reported having attempted suicide before age 24. Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to their Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual peers who reported low or no levels of family rejection.
I don’t know about you, but I remember the night I heard about Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old who ended her life on a stretch of Interstate-71 that I am very familiar with in Warren County Ohio. She left a note behind, saying that her family refused to acknowledge her gender and forbid her from officially transitioning. Even in her death, her family refused to acknowledge her gender, frequently being reported by news sources saying that “he was a good son.” I remember how Leelah’s story broke my heart, how I wished she had had someone to turn to for love and affirmation, how I wish someone had wrapped her up in their arms and told her she was loved, and that she had worth and value.
When our legislature sets out to protect a certain group of individuals, you would think that they would protect the ones actually facing discrimination, the ones who are dying in the streets, the ones who are attempting suicide at alarmingly high rates. But no, a bill to stop the REAL discrimination that LGBT Ohioans face has been stalled in the Ohio Legislature for years, and a bill to outlaw so called “conversion therapy” has also received no attention at all. In sharp contrast, the City of Columbus recently began the process to outlaw “conversion therapy” inside the city. At least some elected officials are willing to be leaders. Sadly Ohio legislators are choosing to instead fast-track House Bill 36, the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” which will redundantly state that pastors are not required to perform a marriage or use their sacred religious space for ceremonies for couples that they do not agree with.
Let me be clear: if pastors were facing discrimination, or there was any evidence or facts behind claims that they are, we could have a conversation about legislative protections. I am not anti-pastor, in fact several of my dear friends are ministers and I cherish their love and counsel. But this bill in unnecessary because pastors are already protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution marriage ceremonies against their will. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, it can be because they don’t support marriage equality for LGBT Ohioans, it can be because one of the people in the couple is not a member of their denomination, or it can be as simple as the pastor is just too busy that day.
Why again are we rushing through this bill when pastors are already protected?
The supporters of this legislation say they aren’t doing it from a place of hate, but the fact that they can’t empathize about how this bill is traumatic to thousands and thousands of Ohioans just shows how out of touch they are. I come from a loving home that accepted my coming out and never questioned my identity. I am a professional who works in a highly supportive environment, am in a long-term relationship and live in a welcome and supporting community. I am privileged, and even I am traumatized by the language and the speak coming out of this committee. If I feel that way, how would 17 year old Leelah have interpreted it?
The pastors who testified in support of the bill said they are scared, that they may be sued for refusing to perform a wedding. But you know what? There is no ACTUAL fact or evidence to back up those claims. But there are numerous facts and evidence that show that real harm is happening to LGBT Ohioans, especially our trans siblings and our youth. This bill is really all about making sure that the wishes of these pastors are fulfilled at the expense of people facing real discrimination and harm.
I am thankful for all the pastors who came out and testified against this bill. Over and over again they testified about how they are not the ones who need protection, that it was their members, their flock that should be the focus of legal protections.
I think one of those ministers said it best. So, I close this post with the conclusion of her testimony, and I challenge everyone to lead, not out of fear, but out of a place of compassion, and out of our unified need to feel protected in this world. I hope that another 17 year old out there who is scared and alone will hear these words, and they will know that they are loved and valued. That is all Leelah and thousands of other young people like her needed.
But the problem with fear is that often, it is not rooted in reality. Some of my fears were reasonable but many of them were not. In the scenario I referenced earlier, the best piece of advice I received was from a retired clergy woman, a long time mentor. She said simply, ‘whatever you do, don’t make the decision out of fear.’
So, I think you have a similar opportunity before you today. You have a piece of legislation that has been crafted and written and brought before you, and it is coming to you from a place of unfounded fear.
You can choose to advance that legislation further along – or take this extraordinary opportunity to be the voice of reason, to calm the voices that are marked by fear and to remind the wide range of people in our communities, those who fear the loss of their religious liberty and those LGBT couples who fear that they are being unnecessarily targeted that there is nothing to fear, and that the constitution of our country and our state, the laws of our land have created everything we need that we can live together, that our public life can be ordered in such a way that there is space for all people.
And so I urge you, to lead in this moment in a way that reminds us all that we do not need to be afraid.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or has attempted suicide the Trevor Project can be reached 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 or by text or chat here.
If you would like to read more of the testimony you can find it on the Community and Family Advancement Committee website.
For more information on HB 36, the so-called “Pastor Protection Act” you can check out Equality Ohio and ACLU Ohio.
TransOhio has great resources for members of the Transgender community and their allies.
Kaleidoscope Youth Center is an amazing organization serving LGBT youth in Central Ohio.
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