A House committee of the Idaho State Legislature just struck down House Bill 2, popularly known as “Add the Words.” For three days they have heard testimony from 154 different people in the state house: over 100 in favor of the bill, and less than 50 against it. The bill proposes that the state add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s Human Rights Act, protecting LGBT Idahoans from discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas.
I am truly saddened that this bill was struck down, and by such a wide margin (13-4 in a straight party line vote).
I am not LGBT. And I am still wrestling with how non-normative sexuality intersects with some of my other values. But I keep coming back to a few things.
In the grand scheme of things the gender and sexuality of others is not a priority. I’m not saying it’s never an issue. But let it be an issue in real life, in people you actually know and situations which truly affect you, and don’t make it an issue for people wholly unconnected with you. There are much, MUCH bigger priorities than policing normative sexual behaviors: like poverty, infant mortality, the Nigerian massacre by Boko Haram. Even in our personal lives I suggest that values such as honesty, integrity, selflessness, self control, generosity, respect, dignity, all these things are infinitely more important. A person who has these qualities but happens to be LGBT is still an excellent person. And it is on these qualities that I choose my friends, not their gender identity or sexuality. And I would hope that it would be on these values that people choose employees and renters.
See, the real issue here was not about homosexuality or gender identity. It never was. The issue was recognizing the humanity of the other, even when we disagree with them. Christ himself excelled at recognizing the other. That recognition was one of the core themes of his ministry. He loved the others. He healed them, blessed them, saved them from persecution, honored them with his attention. Tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, foreigners, lepers, the lame, the blind. If we are to follow in the footsteps of the rabbi, these are the priorities we need to have. But before we can love the others, we need to first allow ourselves to see them and see ourselves in them.
We are judged, by others, by history, by posterity, most harshly on how we treat others. Particularly others who are, in a real sense “other,” different than we are, and perhaps to a degree beyond our understanding. I cannot claim to fully understand the LGBT community because I am not a member. Their lives are, in many ways, beyond my imagination. But they are undeniably, unequivocally, and irrevocably a part of the world in which I live. They are human. They are fellow citizens of my country. They are intelligent, caring, brave, selfish, idiotic, lazy, hard working, loving, and spiteful just like me and everyone I know. If we dare to exclude them from any list of “human rights” then we need to rename that list no longer pertain to “humans” but to a lesser subset. And I mean lesser in every possible way. In this case we have declared that we, our little subset, are human and these others are not. And in so doing we damn ourselves.
My question in this situation is not whether Idaho has the right to limit the application of our Human Rights Act, or whether being LGBT is a choice or not, or whether alternative sexuality is right or wrong. My question is what does it say about us, who are WE, when we deny the humanity of others of mankind? When we deny that others, like us, are loved by their Creator and endowed with inalienable rights? Have we not made ourselves less?
This clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my all time favorites, and another example of how Captain Picard is one of the best role models an eight year old could ask for. While the question at stake in the clip is the very person-hood of a clearly non-human character, is he person or property, the sentiment applies very well to the Add the Words scenario.