Over the weekend at the Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner at one point in the evening one of the speakers reminded the audience that for some in attendance from rural, backwater areas merely being able to walk into a large ball room full of LGBT individuals was an usual experience given that in their home areas many such individuals must remain in hiding or be very circumspect in who they allow to know their "secret." Living in the closet is exhausting not to mention soul killing. Yet even for those of us who are "out" many occasions occur regularly where in a split second one must decide whether it is safe to be authentic or better to allow others to assume that you are part of the straight world. A world where no one has to worry about hiding the gender of their spouse and who they really are in a most basic way. A column in the Washington Post picks up on this theme as the LGBT community waits to learn if the United States Supreme Court will find a right to religious based bigotry and discrimination towards others or uphold long standing public accommodation laws. Here are column excerpts:
Charlie Craig, one of the men that Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery, turned away because they are gay, said something about shopping for a wedding cake that stuck with me: “That day,” he said, “I really let my guard down.”
I knew exactly what Craig meant. Not just because he’s my client but because I keep my guard up most days, too — just like nearly every LGBT person I know.
Craig grew up in Wyoming and went to college in Laramie, the town where Matthew Shepard, a gay man, lived when he was killed. I grew up in a progressive New York City neighborhood. Those two places were worlds apart, yet Craig and I had something in common. I was 8 when I realized I was attracted to women. I didn’t have the vocabulary yet to name those feelings. What I did have was a sharp, painful sense that my feelings were wrong and had to be hidden.
I couldn’t have imagined that by 2015, the Supreme Court would rule that same-sex couples have the same freedom to marry as everyone else or that I’d be an LGBT rights lawyer. Those advances were simply unthinkable. But some things haven’t changed: While I’m out as a professional, in my day-to-day life it often remains possible — and feels safer — to stay hidden.
My spouse and I sometimes commute together. Do we kiss goodbye on a crowded subway car, risking a negative comment — or worse? Or do we wave goodbye as if we are just friends who happened to run into each other on the way?
Is it really necessary to correct all of these people, I wonder? If I don’t, what will my children think of my casually erasing our family? And each time I let faulty assumptions slide, am I making them more likely the next time?
These calculations — weighing the risk of censure or even violence against the personal and political costs of invisibility — happen in a split second. But they exact a toll — a mental burden that can’t be quantified.
The ability to stay out of sight can mean the ability to stay safe, and many in our community don’t have a choice about whether to be out. That’s partly why LGBT people, particularly transgender women of color, experience disproportionate rates of violence and murder. Juxtaposed against this gruesome reality, life in my Brooklyn enclave feels fortunate indeed.
We stay hidden because when we don’t — or can’t — we know there may be consequences, ranging from a disapproving look to being denied service, fired from a job, followed, harassed or even arrested.
Planning a wedding is one of those times we can’t hide who we are. Craig said that, before being turned away, it didn’t even occur to him to disclose that he and David Mullins were a same-sex couple.
This is part of what I think about as we wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether Masterpiece Cakeshop has a constitutional right to hang a sign in its storefront essentially saying, “Your kind not served here.”
Laws against discrimination can’t protect us from violence, but they can protect us from going about our daily lives in fear of being turned away from stores, banks and hotels simply because of who we are. I hope Craig will know that freedom.
I sincerely hope that the Court will uphold common sense public accommodation laws and not grant a special right to those who would use claimed religious belief to discriminate against and mistreat others.