The importance of “Sexual Orientation”

“You people are not a protected class.” This was a statement made to me a few weeks ago while I was visiting with colleagues in Atlanta. He’s right. We’re not. As we continue our march for equality, this fundamental issue still remains. Over the last few years, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money to acquire marriage and other various rights in federal, state, and local governments.

However, as of this writing, less than a third of the population of the United States lives under the protection of a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Even fewer people enjoy protection as transgender. Illinois was one of the most recent states that passed a law that added ‘sexual orientation’ to their nondiscrimination policy. Naturally, Tennessee does not.

While I am highly supportive of the push for gay marriage and/or civil unions, I question whether it’s wise to pursue the right to marry when many of us are still denied the right to hold a job or enjoy equal access to housing. Sadly, gay marriage is a house of cards that will crumble if we continue to allow nondiscrimination policies in government and the workplace to slide.

I question the current “shoot-for-the-moon-and-land-among-the-stars” strategy that seems to be prevailing among the gay activist groups as it’s done little more than piss off the bigots. As a result, more than a dozen states have amended their constitution limiting marriage to that of one man and one woman. After all, we’re “not a protected class.” Why should we be treated as such?

Our struggle for equal rights rests on the foundation of whether or not we ARE equal. This is the discussion that must take place. The Religious Wrong will continue to deny us any semblance of equality under the guise of ‘morality.’ Their position is that sexuality is a moral and behavioral issue, not an issue of orientation.

They have based their entire movement to deny equality on their belief that a person’s sexuality is a choice. This is what is driving the current witch-hunt within Catholic seminaries, and it’s what drives the fundamentalists to preach hellfire and damnation to anyone that’s a “homuhseckshul.” Over and over, they scream, ‘it’s a choice! It’s a choice!” “It’s behavior!” “Repent!” “Turn or burn!” Ugh.

Yet we have been silent. Even though the American Psychiatric Association and over a dozen other professional and medical groups disagree with the religious right on the roots of a person’s sexuality, there has been little attention to the simple phrase, ‘sexual orientation.’ Perhaps there’s good reason for that. Any time we’ve tried, we were shot down.

When the Metro City Council attempted to add this phrase to the city’s nondiscrimination policies, the uproar was as loud as it was verbally violent. Lifeway and the Southern Baptist Convention threatened to pull out their convention if the change was passed. Even a more watered-down version was rejected as a result of similar bully tactics.

No, we’re “not a protected class.” Yes, we should be. Even if a person’s sexual orientation were a choice, we shouldn’t be forced to choose. After all, a person’s religion is undeniably a choice, yet freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. No one is expected to change their religion for a job or to gain housing. A Wiccan or a Buddhist should never be denied housing based on whether or not they converted to Christianity. Nor should a Baptist be denied a job at a Methodist publishing house.

Why should a gay person live a lie in order to appease a mortgage broker? Shouldn’t a person’s right to form relationships, sexual or not, be equally protected? Scientific research on the human genome continues to indicate that a person’s sexuality is indeed inherent. And it’s only a matter of time before the Reich Wing is forced to stop shouting and covering its ears as it screams in denial of this simple reality.

But why should we wait? Let’s focus on this tiny issue so that we can build on it. After all, how can we marry when most governments don’t even want us to exist? We simply can not afford to continue assuming that everyone understands that a person’s sexual orientation is a vital part of their life. The clear reality is that a person’s sexual orientation, whether perceived or actual, must be protected. It must be equal.

This is the strategy to which we as a community must commit. Everything we fight for depends on how we are perceived in society as well as on paper. I urge everyone to write their legislators at local, state and federal level to ask them to sponsor or support legislation to add sexual orientation to nondiscrimination clauses. Tell them why it’s important. This is the kind of grass-roots movement that we need. Tell them it’s the right thing to do. In fact, maybe we should tell that to ourselves.

David W. Shelton

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