In America, all citizens are free. Although that’s technically true, some Americans feel less welcome in their communities than others.
Is your city on the list?
A recent New York Times piece lists the states that have the best and worst laws concerning LGBT people. According to Human Rights Campaign, 20 states don’t have hate crime laws that protect LGBT people. And 29 states don’t have laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating against LGBT customers. Also: 28 states don’t have non-discrimination employment laws that specifically protect LGBT employees.
Although the Times piece points out that even though those numbers aren’t great, it’s certain zip codes — a person’s municipality — that truly dictates protections.
“In Waco, Tex., the lone justice of the peace who presides over weddings recently admitted that she won’t do so for same-sex couples no matter the federal law,” The Times reports.
“But Houston, just a three-hour drive away, has in instances been a pioneer: Annise Parker, its mayor from 2010 to 2016, is the only openly LGBT person ever elected to lead one of the nation’s 10 most populous cities.”
Why do these laws persist?
The short answer? People are scared and fear what they don’t know.
Donna Scaffidi, a 2017 Point Foundation scholar, explains that society has placed norms on society that make the issue of sexuality an unspeakable topic. “These norms create a system of oppression in which anything that is different than the norm is unacceptable,” Scaffidi says.
When allies understand bigotry is rooted in fear, they can help people move toward acceptance. “It is crucial to understand where people are coming from as it may or may not be rooted in fear,” Scaffidi adds.
“When we approach disagreements with empathy and a genuine desire to understand why people think a certain way, whether we think they are right or wrong, we are able to understand where they are coming from. [We can] meet them where they are, and help bring them toward acceptance.”
Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC and a licensed therapist based in NYC, adds that when people aren’t part of LGBTQIA+ communities, they tend to remain ignorant, which leads to fear. “Typically, when people are exposed to different people, you see those uninformed, prejudicial ideas melt away, or soften” Caraballo says.
But people who don’t take the opportunity to grow typically invest in the negative stereotypes.
How to help
Scaffidi presents multiple ways allies can help LGBT people feel safe: that true allies can work to make cities safer by getting legislation passed. Allies can help these people get political power jobs. They also can have conversations with privileged people and build up safe spaces.
Also: Allies must check-in to make sure they are on the same page as LGBTQIA+ citizens. “If someone is an ally but does not have an LGBTQIA+ person they can turn to for this advice,” Scaffidi says, “there are great resources one can visit to learn more, such as the Point Foundation.
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