June 17, 2020

Upset That Employers Can No Longer Punish LGBT Persons?

LGBTQ rainbow

As I am sure you are now well aware, the big news of the moment is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that the 1964 Civil Rights Act applies to LGBT employees, extending anti-discrimination protections in the workplace. Why is this such a big deal? It is a big deal because of how far behind we have been on this issue. Prior to Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, roughly half of all U.S. states offered no legal protection for LGBT employees; all have it now under federal law. Specifically, federal law now protects LGBT employees from being fired or facing other adverse employment-related measures due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. That is "yuge."

Almost all of the major secular organizations in the United States of which I am aware have issued statements expressing joy around the recent decision, although some have rightly urged caution that the fight against Christian extremism is far from over. I'm happy to echo their sentiments, but that is not what this post is about. Instead, I'd like to back up a few steps and pose at least one of the questions we should all be asking ourselves. Of course, I acknowledge that there are many questions we should all be asking ourselves that I don't plan to address here (e.g., Why the hell did it take us so long to do this?). My question is this: How did we ever get to the point of thinking it was a good idea for employers to be able to fire people just because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered? How could anybody ever have thought this was a good idea?

I know, I know. We never thought it was a good idea. Like so many other horrible ideas linked to discrimination, this one likely originated with evangelical fundamentalist Christians and persisted as long as it did because of the disproportionate power and privilege they hold in the U.S. But I find so curious about this is that it doesn't make any sense not to provide equal protection under the law even if we decided to ignore the science and treat the Christians' claims as if they were true.

For starters, set aside all the science suggesting that sexual orientation and gender identity probably have more to do with how someone is born than with conscious decisions they make later in life. Suppose that sexual orientation or gender identity were "lifestyle choices." Suppose they were things people had rather than aspects of their identity (i.e., "He has teh gay"). Suppose that they were treatable through prayer. How does any of this mean that employers should be able to punish LGBT persons?

Of course, it wouldn't make much sense to set aside all the science. It seems fairly clear that something like sexual orientation has more in common with race or country of origin than it does with how one chooses to dress. I didn't choose my sexual orientation, my race, or where I was born; I do choose how to dress. It seems clear that sexual orientation and gender identity are aspects of one's identity and not things people catch. It seems especially clear that prayer is thoroughly ineffective and making gay people straight or turning transgendered persons into cis-gendered persons.

Now let's take an even more radical step. Assume that Christians are right that their preferred god(s) exists, that hell is real, and that sin is a meaningful concept. It still isn't clear how we get from there to it being okay for employers to fire people for having "teh gay" or "teh trans." In fact, this almost seems to make less sense if we assume these things than if we don't. If the god in which many fundamentalist Christians claim to believe is real and the descriptions they have provided are reasonably accurate, this god is likely to judge all of us upon death and to dispense harsh and everlasting punishment to those it deems deserving. Nothing one living human can do to another living human can come close to the hell this god has at its disposal. Why would any believing Christian try to punish perceived offenses on behalf of their god(s)? Would doing so involve "playing god," and isn't that something Christians regularly condemn?

If everything Christians claim to believe is true, their god will sort out who deserves rewards and punishments in the afterlife. By trying to do it now, we are going to fail miserably at "playing god" and commit a number of sins in the process (e.g., the pride inherent in claiming to know what any gods want or the authority to act on their behalf). That fundamentalist Christians often seem so eager to punish people who do things they dislike suggests that they may not really believe much of what they claim to believe.