Equality. Now.

Photo by Isabel Hope

Someone out there is afraid. Look around. They could be anyone you know. Someone is fearful that they will be rejected by their family, friends, and loved ones. Someone is afraid of being kicked out or even disowned. Someone is scared of coming out. I am here to fight for that person, and we must all join together to make sure that they know they are loved and important. This situation does not affect all of us, but I can assure you there is someone you know and care about that it is greatly affecting. This is dedicated to them, and the millions of people across the world who feel hopeless in the same situation.

The Equality Act is a bill introduced in the United States Congress that would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the “basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of the individual.” LGBTQ+ individuals have zero protections. If you are a member of the LGBT community you are currently have little to no protections in the United States from discrimination.

Think about this. How often in the halls of your school have you heard someone make fun of another solely based on the fact of what gender they are or who they are attracted to. Have you said something to them or stood by in silence to avoid conflict? We hear it all the time. People at my high school, at every high school, make fun of people everyday because of how they carry themselves or how they speak. Do not assume that this is just an Alabama problem, this is rampant. We are a country that still has a significant minority of people who are not accepting, that believe Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage should be overturned. Whether we like it or not LGBTQ+ rights are under attack. We must fight back. We are in a country, in a state, where conversion therapy is still legal for minors. This is absolutely outrageous and any leader who defends this practice should be taken out of office as quickly as possible. We need to stand up and fight to make sure no one has their basic civil rights denied. 

The Equality Act would attempt to change this. The Equality Act would illegalize conversion therapy (the discredited attempt of “changing” someone’s sexual orientation,) the Equality Act would form a mentality that when you discriminate, there are consequences. You can claim illegalizing conversion therapy is a violation of the First Amendment, when in reality it is actually strengthening First Amendment rights by making sure people have the right not to endure abuse. Whether you know it or not someone close to you has been affected by the absence of legislation to end this practice.

According to Public Policy Polling, Alabama is the only state in the United States to have a majority of their states residents opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage. We have to fight the hate in our state and embrace everyone no matter who they love or what their gender identity is. The main focus of this bill is to end LGBTQ+ discrimination when it comes to working, housing, service, adoption, or simply going out to eat at restaurant. It is currently legal to not serve or hire people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or even deny them housing if you base it on religious beliefs. This is wrong. Discriminating against people for being who they are. We should be humiliated that we accept this as normal. Everyone in this nation is equal to any other person regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, disability etc. We need to recognize that.

We still have a long way to go, but we keep taking steps back. Our very own state Chief Justice Roy Moore refused to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2016. The current governing party of the United States, the Republican Party, included in their 2016 party platform that “marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” The Trump Administration has attacked LGBTQ+ rights 125 times while in office including rescinding Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ students, directing the Department of Justice to enact an “religious exemption” rule to allow discrimination (yes government-sponsored discrimination) at federal and government agencies, eliminating the Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS which disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community, and the State Department announcing that same-sex partners and their children could not be granted visa’s to the United States, trangender service members being barred from the military and the list goes on. Our current leaders have made it their goal to set back LGBTQ+ rights and we have to stand up and tell them that’s not gonna happen on our watch.

Here in Alabama, we have a problem. We have Kay Ivey. One of her first acts when sworn into office was a bill to allow adoption agencies to refuse to let gay couples adopt children. She signed it. 6/7 of our elected representatives to the United States House of Representatives are opposed to same-sex marriage and they all believe that transgender students must use the bathroom that matches to their gender assigned at birth. We have Roy Moore, a failed and current Senate candidate, who has stated that he supports laws to make homosexuality illegal and that transgender people do not have rights. This is the guy who won with 48.3% of the vote in 2017. We should be ashamed as a state to even have let him get close. He received more than 650,000 votes. Do all of these people share his opinions? We should be ashamed to even have him as a symbol of bigotry in our state. This shouldn’t be a political issue, but a human issue. 

They may argue by enacting this we are violating religious liberty, but they do not know what religious liberty is. Religious liberty is the right to freedomly practice your religion and change your religion, not to discriminate and enforce your religious beliefs on other people. That is government-sponsored discrimination. The separation between church and state is being violated horribly. It is barely there anymore. We have leaders who believe that this country is a one-religion nation, when in fact we have a melting pot of religions. If you say your religion permits you to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, women, to be frank, anybody, I would like you to look at the Constitution because that is a clear violation of the First Amendment. You have no right to impose your beliefs on everyone else.

There are people in your classes everyday, who are struggling. Who have constant fears about what will happen to them. We need to try our best to make sure everyone who is going through a hard time has people who care about them. We can try to get some of the burden away by enacting this law. Look around. Someone next to you is scared. Someone in your class. You just don’t know it. If we enact common sense laws, we can help everyone who just needs a weight lifted off of their backs. While there are more steps that can be taken, this is a good first step to making sure all members of the LGBTQ+ community receive equality.

We, as Alabama students, have the power to make this change. We will call on our lawmakers to enact the Equality Act, to end government-sponsored discrimination, and abolish the horrendous discredited practice of conversion therapy. We will create a mentality, an environment where there will be laws; there will be consequences against discrimination and people will know that their actions will not go unnoticed. We must stand up and fight for the rights of all people in our country and around the world.

Austen Wyche, 14, Madison

Written by: Austen Wyche / @austen_wyche

Photo by: Isabel Hope / @isabama / @isabamahope

Edited by: Isabel Hope / @isabama / @isabamahope

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