The recent spate of state legislatures to enact, or attempt to enact discriminatory laws (North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi) has me thinking about each of our differences and how it really effects others in your society. Mississippi voters want to be able to discriminate based on their perception of another person, but what if they are wrong? How do they know if someone is gay if that person does not specifically convey their sexual orientation?
Each of us has differences, and what can make those differences important is if the difference is visible or not, how deeply the difference effects you, and how deeply it can effects others (if visible or known). I have come to think of it as a simple (but important), three axis chart.
X-Axis: Is your difference visible to others? One of my ears is shaped slightly different than my other. This is a minor difference that has been noticed by a minuscule fraction of a percent of people I have interacted with. In fact it has never been mentioned to me, but I can see it in the mirror. But some people’s differences are massively noticeable; an amputee, someone with facial burns, someone who chooses to dress outlandishly (or conservatively), or a gay couple who choose to show their love with public displays of affection. This matters to the individual as it effects how others in society view each of us. And that, in turn, has an effect on how we view ourselves.
Y-Axis: How a difference effects ourself. My slightly and almost imperceptible difference in ear size effects me exactly zero. I can not think of any event in my life that has been effected by the fact that my ears do not perfectly match. But for someone who is gay, or of a certain religious belief, or someone who believes aliens reside on Earth…..their daily actions are effected by their difference. The gay couple may choose not to go to a certain restaurant (or straight people may choose not to go to a certain part of town), the Buddhist may need to take time during the day to pray, and the people who believe aliens walk among us, well, not sure how they are effected but that must effect your day-to-day decision making.
Z-Axis: How other treat you due to any visible difference. Maybe the alien-believer lives in a community in Northern Arizona where everybody believes aliens inhabit Earth. That makes life a lot easier for the believers. But what if the gay couple live in a small beach community in a state that just passed a pro-discrimination law? Do they now avoid certain stores? Will other citizens treat the gay couple differently now? Do they need to uproot their lives and family and move to a different state?
But this raises two important questions….1) How do we know what any person’s difference(s) are unless they purposefully tell others? If I showed you a picture of a conference I attended and stated that two people are gay and one transgender, I bet you could not pick those three out of the 28 people in the picture. So for those who support the pro-discrimination laws, how do you who to discriminate against? And what if you are wrong, are you opening yourself up to civil or legal complaints?
2) Why care what others’ differences are if you can not see them and they do not effect you? You probably do not see the differences in my ears, and even if you looked real close, would that difference effect how you view and treat me? What if I was a Buddhist? What if I had a massive scar on my back (that you can not see unless we are at the beach) because I donated a kidney? And for my fellow conference attendees who are either gay or transgender, if you can not see they are different than you, you could not purposefully discriminate against them, correct?
So what does it matter what one’s differences are so long as the person is not causing harm to you and your society? The pro-discrimination crowd will tell you it is about religious liberty. That their belief of something is so strong, that they can not accept it even in others. That it is not good enough to live by one’s own creed and beliefs, but that one has the right to force one’s own belief on others.
But can that be the case? Is that a valid way to view society? Or do they believe in that only when they are in the majority? Because those who are pro-discrimination and back laws to allow them to discriminate based on their beliefs are likely to change their tune if those they discriminate against were to gain the majority.