In re: Frank Myers on discrimination and state-level RFRA

I’m posting in response to this comment left under a Facebook status I shared regarding the death of Sen. Josh McKoon’s RFRA bill for the 2015 session.

Debbie: Name one case where a gay (or straight) person has been discriminated against under even a similar law (30[?] states and Federal law — either accepted).

Cite me the case. You and Don J Smith are on the clock. Just one.

Don’t come back with anything short of this. No excuses.

You’ve played the card. Repeatedly. Time to back it up.

Frank Myers

This was Muscogee County Board of Education member Frank Myers challenging local resident Debbie Ecklund on the relationship between RFRA-like bills and discrimination in public/private space. The thread is still going on with passion as I write this, and while I haven’t yet met Myers in person, I am willing to answer the question with a bit of history.

In Georgia

At present, Georgia does not have protections for the trait classes of sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, it is already legal fair game to drum out a consumer or employee based on the perception of a different sexual orientation or gender identity beside heterosexual or cisgender; in fact, such traits are described by detractors of a religious or otherwise essentialist bent (like, say, Erick Erickson) as “lifestyles”, “preferences” and “behaviors” which ought to be “discarded” before entering unwelcoming establishments.

Flint Dollar
Flint Dollar

So at present, despite Georgia not having a federal RFRA-like bill on the books, it is already legal under state law for a teacher like Flint Dollar of Macon to be fired from his job at Mt. deSales Academy due to announcing his engagement to his same-sex partner. He found no remedy in local or state government over this, even though the school knew that he was gay when signing him on in the first place. Thankfully, the federal EEOC has something different to say about that, apparently because the federal RFRA does not cover the behavior of Mt. deSales toward Dollar (he has since found employment in New York. Yay for Brain Drain!).

Apparently, under state law, it is fair game for Brenda Honeycutt of Duluth to experience gender discrimination from the owner-operator of her local Chick-fil-A franchise, including excluding her (the only female manager) from meetings with other managers and her termination by the same owner in 2011, all because the owner-operator “routinely made comments to [Honeycutt] suggesting that as a mother she should stay home with her children” and that by firing her, she could be a stay-at-home mother. Chick-fil-A, as is known in much of the Southeast, integrates religious edicts into their operations and would stand to benefit in pronouncement of religious edicts in workplace relations through a RFRA law.

Coincidences between RFRA and anti-LGBT discrimination

Let’s talk about:

Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all happen to have RFRAs on the books. All of the aforementioned cases, including those in Georgia, took place within the last 10 years. NONE of these states have statute non-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation and gender identity; Georgia does not have a state-level Equal Rights Amendment protecting sex alongside race, religious affiliation and national origin in the 1983 Georgia Constitution.

Sen. Josh McKoon
Sen. Josh McKoon (R-29, North Columbus/Harris County)

So there are states which have RFRAs in their books AND have had cases of discriminatory behavior toward workers which could not be resolved through the state-level legal process. Unfortunately, until there are successful movements to resolve such a glaring discrepancy, there is no recourse except to appeal to the federal EEOC like Flint Dollar did. And in such an absence, RFRAs like Sen. Josh McKoon’s bill will only add further complications and blockages to seeking legal remedy against discrimination on either side of the workplace desk.

Indiana, Arkansas and Beyond

It is simply unfortunate that RFRA bills are also being pushed forward in states of similar lopsided situation such as Texas, Arkansas and Michigan, let alone the recent approval of the even more lopsided Indiana RFRA. And yet, none of these states’s legislatures are working toward protecting sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace or consumer relations or public accommodations, and Arkansas’ Republican supermajority has even forcibly disabled local municipalities from filling that gap (so much for “small government” and “local control” when your legislators start to run the state more like the Dixiecrats of early-20th century Alabama).

The dog-whistle religious anxieties of post-Hobby Lobby, post-Windsor reactionary state politics now involves fighting both the federal government and proactive local governments against the boogeymen of LGBT people and their public image being integrated away from the social margins into the thick of the social contract. It involves fighting feminists, social justice activists, and other renegades. It involves fighting for an image of America which dates from the 1980s, when Reagan was president, men’s wars were justified, social blights were ignored or exploited, and people were dying left and right from AIDS/HIV because “they” – “the homosexual deviants” – deserved it.

But now the RFRA, a law crafted in response to judicial decisions which impugned against the practice of Native American religions in the early 1990s, is being revived at the state level since 2013 to protect the privilege of reactionary, non-Aboriginal religious leaders and monied parishioners to avoid the possibility of such nondiscrimination laws which make life easier for those minorities once despised, compartmentalized and marginalized under religious, medical and political edicts.

Well, Nuts to That, Frank Myers. Nuts to That.


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