As in Every Reform

In support of Montevallo’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO), I delivered this brief speech on Monday, April 23, 2018 in front of the Montevallo City Council and other citizens who were both for and against the ordinance. On that evening, the Montevallo City Council voted and the Non-Discrimination Ordinance was passed. It protects LGBT people in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation, just as other people have already been protected similarly from discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At this meeting, citizens had the opportunity to speak, so I read a short prepared speech, less than three minutes in length, responding to criticisms of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Fittingly, two Christian men who opposed the NDO spoke right before me, claiming, in one way or another, that their Christian religious identities led them to oppose extending civil protections to LGBT people.

One of the speakers attempted to argue that, since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections for religion, it must mean that Christians, perhaps being superior to non-Christians in his mind, have the right to engage in selective discrimination as they please with no consequences whatsoever. In my relatively brief response, I address the issues which have, even since the passing of the NDO on that evening, remained in dialogue among Montevallo citizens.

Responding to the popular male supremacist interpretations of the Bible, Lucretia Mott, a feminist, an abolitionist, and an experienced Quaker minister, said in 1854: “The veneration of man has been misdirected, the pulpit has been prostituted, the Bible has been ill-used. It has been turned over and over as in every reform.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton likewise commented on the Church’s hostility toward women’s rights and toward progressive social reform. Reflecting upon the nineteenth century, Stanton writes in 1898 that, in responding to the feminists, “the clergy, as a body, [were] quite as hostile to their demands as the statesmen.” Historically, which can be seen vividly in America, religion, more specifically Christianity, has been used as the justification through which to maintain unquestioned inequality and stifle, if not altogether silence, social movements as a means of defending tradition and prejudice.

As a widely recognized, although criticized, piece of social reform legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections from discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion in public accommodations. It does not, however, include sexual identity and gender identity. To answer the issue of “free markets,” which was raised by the speakers at the forum in Montevallo on January 11, 2018, “free markets” are not truly free if selective discrimination is allowed; they are free to the privileged majority which can access the available public accommodations and services. But the group of “undesirables,” the unprotected minority of people, does not necessarily partake in a truly free market if certain goods and services can be denied on the basis of sexual identity and gender identity at the discretion of individual business owners.

America has been suffering from a disease of its body, but the problems did not start in recent years, in the past few decades, or even last century; they have existed since the beginning of this country. The affliction which has been ravaging America’s body, mind, and soul does not seem to be rooted in a lack of morality. Instead, this ongoing illness hurting our country seems to be related to an unapologetic rejection of what it is to compassionately and selflessly care for other human beings who are less privileged than and/or different from oneself.

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