Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Don't Have Your Rights

It happened again on election day.

My town has a relatively new business operating on Main Street near where the polling station is.  It looked like a place that provides services to old people, and since that's where I am, I stopped in on the way home to find out more.  It reminded me of what used to be called The Traveling Nurse Association...someone stops by to make sure you're OK, that you're taking your meds, and generally provide help.  Payment is involved, but why not?

As the co-owner and I talked, the topic of non-discrimination came up.  I think it started with a discussion of how do you choose what retirement facility you want to spend your remaining days in.  I told her that I'm gay, so obviously anyplace with a religious denomination's name would be ruled out; I wouldn't get in anyway, probably.  She looked like I made a joke and she didn't get the punchline.  I have a concern about the staff at such places, whether "religious" or not...there are reports of anti-LGBT harassment, so is staff training changing to include us?  She admitted not being an expert on "homes," but she assumed as much.  If any of her employees received complaints of such treatment, they would be immediately dismissed.

"And what would you say in court?" I asked.  She looked at me rather blankly, as in "she's fired, she's gone, case closed."  "Court?" she asked.  And I explained to her that she could not be dismissed on the grounds of harassing an LGBT resident because we have no such protections.  "No, that's not true," she responded.

I explained to her that Pennsylvania, the state in which we live, is one of about 30 "marry on Saturday, get fired Monday" states.  Blank stare.  "That means that non-discrimination laws don't apply to me."  She still looked like I was an old fart making this stuff up.  "It means Jack and I could have been married on a Saturday and I could have been fired Monday for putting our wedding picture on my desk at work."  No response.  "Yes, we can get married, we can be legally married in any state, and I can be fired legally...just because I'm gay...in 30 states.  I would have no grounds on which to object because there's no law against it.  So aside from maybe elder abuse, you would not have a case against your former employee."  She told me that the contracts the employees sign contain the standard non-discrimination clause.  I replied that it means nothing to LGBTs, we are not a protected class.  One's "sincerely held religious beliefs" supersedes "all people are created equal."

What it boiled down to was that she could not believe that in 21st century USA people are still being legally discriminated against.  Not just in the USA, but right here in Pennsylvania.  She excused herself for a moment and went back to a file and pulled out what turned out to be Pennsylvania's non-discrimination law.  "You're right.  There's nothing there."  She looked at me appalled.  She had no idea.  She just assumed....

And that's a major problem.  We can get married, but then the legal refusals come in.  No flowers because of the florist's "firmly held religious beliefs," thrown out of the marriage suite because the hotel doesn't serve LGBTs, thrown out of the apartment because the landlord didn't realize we were fags, and fired because I went to Human Resources to change my marital status and the company's CEO has expressed that homosexuality was an abomination...says so in the Bible...and is grounds for dismissal.  People don't understand that manners, treating everyone fairly in the marketplace, basic humanity has to be written into law.  This is a nation of laws, and if it isn't written down, nobody has to do it.  We're accused of seeking "special rights"; what we seek are the same rights assured to women, fundamentalists, people of color, original nationality, and, in Pennsylvania, people with a high school equivalency certificate.

Religious beliefs are good in the religious community, but we are not all religious, and we are certainly not all of the same sects and cults.  We have the freedom of religion and also have the freedom from religion.  We should not be punished by being what a religion deems as not to their liking.  A nation of laws goes by the laws in the books, not in one's religious instruction manual.  It should be illegal to discriminate against any citizen because of one's "firmly held religious beliefs."

We parted amicably.  She thanked me for telling her about the possibilities of discrimination.  I was glad to do it.  I asked for her business card because, well, you never know.

No comments:

Post a Comment