By Denzel McCampbell
In the last few weeks, there has been a national uproar in response to the “religious freedom” bill that was signed into law in Indiana. Answering to the controversy over the legislation that many said would be a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that he would not sign a similar bill until changes were made. When asked last week about his reaction to the discrimination LGBTQ Americans may potentially face under the rejected legislation, freshman Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton compared the climate towards LGBT in America to that in Iran, saying, “…It’s important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
The Senator is right: in the United States we do not have a law on the books that says being gay is a crime punishable by the death penalty, for now (more on that later).
Yet it is baffling that an elected federal official would be complacent with going tit-for-tat with a country that has a history riddled with many human rights violations. It also seems that Sen. Cotton needs to take a closer look into the lives of LGBTQ Americans. He would see that violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community is alive and well here in the United States. LGBTQ people are fighting to get basic protections from being fired because of their sexual orientation. They are fighting to prevent being denied housing because of their gender identity. And yes, Sen. Cotton, while LGBT people are fighting for these basic freedoms, they have to fight against proposals that would make it legal to kill those who engage in “same-sex sodomy.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. Hate crimes across the country continue to decrease except when it comes to crimes against LGBTQ citizens. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ 2013 National Report on Hate Violence Against, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Communities, physical hate violence continues to increase and findings show that anti-LGBTQ homicides “remain amongst the highest ever recorded by NCAVP.” Here in Michigan, similar to national trends, communities of color and transgender women face the highest rate of anti-LGBTQ crimes. And it is also still legal for a LGBTQ person to be fired and denied housing in Michigan.
Sen. Cotton’s comparison of the LGBT climate here in the U.S. to Iran’s was correct on face value. However, living as a gay black man here in America, I can definitely say that there is room for improvement. LGBTQ Americans deserve to be able to live their lives to the fullest without any threat from any individual or business. It is time that we expand all non-discrimination laws to include LGBTQ people and increase efforts to combat anti-LGBTQ violence. This is not a time to be complacent, it’s time for Sen. Cotton and all elected officials to embrace the LGBTQ community and provide the basic rights and freedoms we all deserve.