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Op-ed: How to Get By When Your Community Betrays You

Op-ed: How to Get By When Your Community Betrays You


When your neighbors snatch your rights away it takes an emotional toll, but this writer refuses to be defeated.

On Tuesday, Springfield, Mo., had a very important vote. Sadly, the residents of Missouri's third-largest city decided that GLBTQ people no longer deserved the right to be protected by antidiscrimination laws.

I, however, had no idea that the vote was going to turn out that way. I was in shock; the news hit me like a brick right between the eyes. How was it possible for so many people to be so filled with hate and fear that they thought such a step backward would ever be a good thing?

Lots of information floating around made me angry, from blatant lies about restroom safety to local churches pressing their members to vote to rescind the recently enacted ordinance that protected LGBT people in matters of housing, employment, and public accomodations. There is a desolate feeling in my heart when my community turns its back on me, leaving me stranded and worried for my safety and livelihood, and it's unbearable.

At any point, my home could be taken away, my job could be lost, and there is nothing that can be done to help, because discrimination against me and my fellow GLBTQ people is now perfectly legal in Springfield.

There are a few reasons this vote went the way it did. One large group that raised its hand for discrimination was the libertarian movement, poised to remove as many government regulations as possible. It's truly disheartening to know that we GLBTQ individuals are being used as a stepping stone for their greater agenda. Their final goal is to get all LGBT antidiscrimination laws revoked.

It feels terrible being knocked down in a futile fight that will never be won, knowing full and well that when and if this ever comes up for any other minority, it will be shot down hard. The fact that LGBTs were the easy target is disheartening, but I do take solace in knowing there is little to no chance we can move even further back toward our dark past; the only place to go now is forward.

Another issue pushed by the anti-equality side was "safety" in women's restrooms, with men masquerading as transgender folks in an effort to harm women and children. I was never aware this was an issue, and I firmly believe you would be hard-pressed to find instances of this actually happening. The only people this hurts are transgender people who only want to use the restrooms they're comfortable in. This entire "issue" was a fear tactic meant to influence the easily scared and weak-minded into thinking they were voting on a security threat that never even existed.

Most of these anti-LGBT tactics stem from one thing -- our local churches. As a man raised in a Christian family, it hurts me to see so much hatred coming out of a place I used to call home.

I can't help but think this entire thing is a backlash at the LGBT community based on the Supreme Court's impending decision on marriage equality.

The Springfield vote was unquestionably swayed by churches pushing their congregations to vote yes on the repeal. How frustrating it is to know that tax-exempt organizations are allowed to direct members or employees on issues at the ballot box.

Having to live through something like this makes me understand what it was like for minorities in the past -- to have so many people fight so hard to remove your rights, to make you less of a human being.

It's exhausting to have to worry about whether you should try to hide your sexuality every place you go. Will employers now be emboldened to fire workers who are LGBT? What if you suddenly lose your residence and then have nowhere to go? This is made even more alarming since one of the largest apartment groups in Springfield, TLC Properties, strongly supported repeal of the LGBT protections. GLBTQ people are not equal in Springfield; we have to constantly be aware and more closeted than ever.

The good news is there are allies all around Springfield. It's unfortunate that protesters and door-to-door fliers scared so many people off of voting, but the good people are still there. The outcry on social media has been heard, and plenty of people are showing they're willing to stand up to the religious bullying. There are lists online that are easily available to find out who supported GLBTQ rights. While it doesn't make every decision easier, it helps to know who has your back. The best we can do is keep our eyes on the goal; one day America will be a country that stands behind all its people. Until then we have each other, so always stand by your brothers and sisters, especially when the rest of the world lets you down.

CHANCE HELTON, 26, is a culinary school graduate living in Springfield, Mo.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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