Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mississippi memo: You don't love your neighbor by discriminating against them

Mississippi / From Hospitality State to Hostility State, thanks to H.B. 1523.

Dear Mississippi,

In case you missed it we've already had this conversation. You don't get to decide who sits at the lunch counter.

Love, America

The above letter that's making the rounds on Facebook sums up a lot of common-sense feelings in just a few words. In a matter of days, Mississippi went from being the "Hospitality State" to the "Hostility State," thanks to the recent passing of a hateful and discriminatory measure (House Bill 1523) by the State Legislature.

Memo to Republican Governor Phil Bryant: "You don't love your neighbors by discriminating against them." Shame on you.

Mississippi / "You're on my mind ... "
Indeed, I've been saddened by the appalling news that my former home state of Mississippi (where I graduated from high school in the Gulf Coast city of Ocean Springs) last week passed legislation and the governor signed into law "The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act," which directly targets the LGBT community throughout the state – from Tupelo to Biloxi, from the Delta to the Gulf Coast and everywhere in between.  The bill is so draconian that the state's largest daily newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson called it "an act of oppression."

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, H.B. 1523 "would allow individuals, religious organizations and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBT Mississippians in some of the most important aspects of their lives, including at work, at schools, and in their communities."

In an April 6 editorial, The Clarion-Ledger wrote: "Through the swish of  pen, (Governor Phil) Bryant signed away the rights of families, ignored the pleas of residents and businesses, and wrote another page in the state's history that future generations will be shocked – even embarrassed – to read. With a final stroke of that pen, Mississippi welcomed its latest Jim Crow law and displayed a sign for the world to see: Welcome to Mississippi. No gays allowed. Mississippi and its citizens deserve better than this unconscionable law."

In no time at all, Mississippi became the butt of jokes nationwide, as evidenced by a satirical Mississippi Anti-LGBT video released by the comedy website Funny or Die, which has already received 50,000 views on YouTube:

According to an article in the South Mississippi Sun-Herald newspaper over the weekend, Gulf Coast mayors seemed unanimous in their stance against H.B. 1523, saying it didn't reflect the residents of their respective South Mississippi cities. Each worries about the negative publicity and potential economic fallout that might hit the Coast. (On Monday, rock singer Bryan Adams pulled out of a concert scheduled for Thursday in Biloxi to protest the signing of H.B. 1523.)

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran told the Sun-Herald she thought H.B. 1523 was unnecessary and bad legislation. "It is nothing more than codified discrimination," she said. "This just set us back to the 1960s. We're just moving from a sense of bigotry from race to sexual identity.

"Freedom of religious expression is every individual's right, but it has no place in government."

Memo to the Mississippi State Legislature and other supporters of H.B. 1523:  Folks, it's 2016 not 1966! Have you not learned from your past?

Fortunately, there's at least one voice of reason in Mississippi, despite all of the shambles happening at the state capitol. It belongs to independent bookseller Square Books, located on the town square in Oxford, the city which is home to the University of Mississippi. In business since 1979 – and widely known among readers as the hub of William Faulkner's "postage stamp of native soil," Yoknapatawpha – Square Books in its infancy hosted a variety of racially and culturally diverse authors including Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and Alice Walker as well as Mississippians John Grisham, Richard Ford and Willie Morris.

Over the weekend on their Facebook page, the owners of Square Books posted a message that read: "In the wake of HB-1523, we at Square Books want to make sure you know that you are welcome here. Always. 'If you are anyone, from anywhere, we hope you will visit us, and we hope you may find something you would like to read.'"

Square Books gets it – that H.B. 1523 needs to be repealed. Now, let's hope that the state's governor and legislature get it, too. Sooner than later.

As Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest and activist from Pasadena, Calif., recently wrote on Huffington Post, "Let's get back to work making this a country where the pledge of 'liberty and justice for all' doesn't depend on your zip code. It's what we're all called to do."


No comments:

Post a Comment