- Race – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Color – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Religion – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- National origin – Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Age (40 and over) – Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
- Sex – Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- Citizenship – Immigration Reform and Control Act
- Familial status – Civil Rights Act of 1968 Title VIII: Housing cannot discriminate for having children, with an exception for senior housing
- Disability status – Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Veteran status – Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Genetic information – Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
At local and state levels, the list grows longer. I’ll take, as an example, the non-discrimination ordinance of Madison, Wisconsin, which was amended this week by their Common Council (city council):
- marital status
- source of income
- arrest record
- conviction record
- credit history
- military discharge status
- physical appearance
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- political beliefs
- student status
- domestic partner status
- receipt of rental assistance
- Social Security number disclosure
- nonreligion (as of this week)
That’s right, Madison added a new category of protected class, believed to be the first time that atheists, humanists, objectivists and other non-subscribers to theism or religion have been protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations under the law in the U.S.
Besides the weeks worth of news from Indiana and Arkansas, the changes in Madison have been met with applause by progressive and humanist groups while being derided and mocked by those raised on the meme that atheists are “fools” or “militants” or that Christians are being “persecuted” in America.
But perhaps the most insidious notion to come from the rhetoric against LGBT rights has also shown up against even this protection for atheists: “we don’t need protected classes, we just live and let live.”
I’ve opined in arguments against this logic that this viewpoint largely comes from those who live in rural or suburban areas and don’t often have to negotiate their space with people who are various shades of different background from themselves. In rural areas, they may not have to live within the vicinity of LGBT people, or atheists, or homeless veterans, of people of another religion than themselves, or what have you.
Instead, you can “live and let live” with folks who are usually just like you in some way. Nothing wrong with that, but that background would be hard to communicate to someone who has been exposed to much more diversity in an area with a greater population density and a greater diversity of population.
Columbus is one such area. We have the city itself in Muscogee County (population 189,885, density 861.4/sq mi), with a composition (as of the 2010 census) of “46.3% White, 45.5% African American, 2.2% Asian, 0.2% Native American, 0.14% Pacific Islander, and 1.90% from other races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.4% of the population.” In the metro area, things get more spread out between Phenix City, Auburn, Cusseta, Opelika, Tuskegee, Pine Mountain and maybe LaGrange, and people may live in less-but-still-compact quarters in those areas.
The LGBT population – closeted or out – is likely proportional to the population as a minority group. There’s an atheist meetup group in Columbus, a city which is dominated by large, expansive evangelical steeples, and there are likely many more closeted atheists in the area.
If we’re living in an area tight with shades of humanity which have to negotiate their lives with each other, why can’t such negotiations be reflected in our urban laws in a way which affirms those shades and makes it easier for us to negotiate our lives as residents of the same city?
Our laws in Columbus need to reflect our real, lived diversity by ensuring equality under the law across these boundaries, otherwise those shades are isolated and subject to stigma in real-life situations in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and other venues. That’s why we have laws which protect classes of our humanity, or “protected classes”.
Just because organized Abrahamic religions, by way of emphasizing ideological uniformity and ostracization of dissent, are slower to recognize such protected classes or their validity, doesn’t mean that the civic government which serves and affects us all should be just as slow.
Just because people who are not responsible over the needs of a large group of people are reluctant to protect “special snowflakes” doesn’t mean that elected officials govern best when they know how to negotiate and address those “snowflakes” in their individual situations.
In fact, you – yes you, THE READER OF THIS PIECE (thanks for reading, btw) – are a mixture of protected classes! Your race, your gender or sex, your religion (if you have such), your military or veteran status (or lack thereof), your relationship status (or lack thereof), your disability or handicap (or lack thereof): your equality despite all of those categories are protected under law here in Columbus in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
In other words, you are a mix of “special snowflakes”, and you probably didn’t even know it. You, no matter who you are, are a mix of “protected classes”. And you benefit GREATLY from that.
So next time you think about protected classes, think about those classes which aren’t protected in our laws or economics in many cities, counties, states, and even countries. Read on how they’re isolated. Read on how their needs aren’t being addressed by their government.
And think about ways to address those needs for the future. One such way is by ensuring equality under the law across these classes by protecting those classes from discrimination.