by Sabrina Holcomb
Discrimination has been signed into law.
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When North Carolina’s General Assembly passed House Bill 2 in an emergency session week before last, it was widely condemned as the nation’s worst anti-LGBT rights bill. Wholesale legislation that eliminated protections for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens had civil rights advocates wondering what century they were in.
Not to be outdone, Mississippi has approved even more sweeping legislation, prompting critics to call House Bill 1523 the most hateful anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill to date. Civil rights advocates hoping HB 1523 would die on the governor’s desk were horrified when he signed the bill into law this week.
“Governor Bryant has set us back 60 years,” declared high school teacher and NEA Board member Darein Spann, a black Mississippian who is no stranger to fighting for civil rights. “When will the word discriminate not be in the same sentence as Mississippi? It’s a sad day for our state. People once used religion to justify legalized discrimination against black people. Now they’re using it to discriminate against another group.”
Mississippi’s new law permits schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, denies children in need of loving homes placement with LGBT families, and allows foster families to subject LGBTQ children to the dangerous and discredited practice of “conversion therapy.” It gives businesses, public employees, and taxpayer-funded religious groups the right to refuse a wide range of services to LGBT citizens; fire LGBT workers; deny access to bathrooms, spas, and locker rooms; and enforce sex-specific dress and grooming rules.
Mississippi and North Carolina are just the tip of the iceberg. More than 115 bills legalizing discrimination against LGBT citizens were introduced nationwide in 2015, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and many are still pending. A bill targeting transgender students in public schools and universities is currently moving through the Tennessee legislature.
As anxious LGBT-rights activists wonder where and when the next domino will fall, educators worry about the policy and financial impacts of discriminatory legislation on their LGBT students and colleagues.
Education experts say North Carolina alone stands to lose $4.5 billion in federal funding under Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions, a loss the state, 46th in the nation in per pupil funding, can ill afford.
To protest the high human price of North Carolina’s bill, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and partners are planning a week of action that includes pray-ins, walk-ins, teach-ins, and rallies statewide. They’re also supporting a repeal of HB 2 that will be filed on the opening day of the legislative session, according to NCAE president Rodney Ellis. “This bill goes against our core value of equality for every individual and dismantles decades of civil rights progress,” stated Ellis.
Tripp Jeffers, an NCAE and NEA Board member, says he’ll join the fight. “This particular legislature seems obsessed with removing rights rather than extending them,” noted the high school history and government teacher. “First it was suppression of voting rights. Now it’s LGBT rights. What’s next? That’s why it’s important for educators to stand up against discrimination, whatever form it takes. And it’s important for students to see us taking that stand.
“The generation we teach right now is much more accepting and open to differences,” added Jeffers, “and that gives me hope.”