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A Black Lesbian's View on the Trump Years: Jim Crow Is Back

We Don’t Serve You Here Signage

A backlash to recent progress has sent us back 60 years, writes Rev. Irene Monroe.

Last week the U. S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments inMasterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case -- which has many of us LGBTQ Americans on pins and needles -- will litigate a baker's rights to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, on the grounds of religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment.

If the case is decided in favor of the baker, Jack Phillips, it will be a colossal blow to civil rights gains and state nondiscrimination laws, legalizing denying services to LGBTQ Americans based on business owners' religious beliefs. Donald Trump's solicitor general, Noel Francisco, suggested these businesses should hang anti-LGBTQ placards like "No Gays Allowed" warning us to stay away. When press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to clarify the president's position on the matter at a White House press conference, she responded, "The president certainly supports religious liberty...I believe that would include that."

As a black lesbian, I now feel like I am moving into a new Jim Crow era reestablishing discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ Americans. I grew up knowing about racist placards that said "Colored Water Fountain," "Waiting Room for Colored Only," "We Serve Whites Only, and "No [N word] Allowed," to name a few.

Since Trump has taken office there has been an erosion of LGBTQ civil rights under the guise of religious liberty. For example, transgender Americans being denied access to public lavatories is eerily reminiscent of the country's last century Jim Crow era denying African-Americans access to lunch counters, water fountains, libraries, gas stations, theaters, and restrooms. Signs that read "Whites Only" prohibited entry.

In Jim Crow America, restrooms were a hot-button issue, as today, and a battleground for equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on national origin, race, gender, and religion. The law mandated desegregation of all public accommodations, including bathrooms. The Obama administration interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as protection inclusive of LGBTQ Americans. However, in February, Trump's administration revoked federal guidelines encouraging that transgender students be allowed use of facilities which aligned with their gender identity.

This June, Trump failed to issue a proclamation for Pride Month. And, in July, LGBTQ Americans received a one-two punch from the Trump administration. The first punch was President Trump's ban on transgender service members, eerily reminiscent of when the military did not want to integrate its ranks racially. In his inimitable style of communicating to the American public, the order came in the form of a tweet. Ironically, Trump's tweet came on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman's executive order desegregating the U.S. military.

The second punch occurred the same day. The Justice Department filed court papers contending that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in the workplace based on gender, does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While Trump's military ban caught the Pentagon and Capitol Hill off guard, the announcement was enthusiastically applauded by numerous anti-LGBTQ hate groups across the country that have long advocated for it, promulgating the fear that health care services to our transgender troops would gravely hurt defense spending. In an ad by the Family Research Council, for example, Chelsea Manning was pictured next to a military jet with the question, "Which one do you want our military to be spending your tax dollars on -- transgender surgeries or equipment?"

I am immensely thankful as a married lesbian that I reside in Massachusetts, especially if Trump tries to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

However, that may not be the case for many married same-sex couples outside of my state. For example, in a Trumped-up Supreme Court there is talk among Christian evangelicals of walking Obergefell v. Hodges back without "disrupting other precedents on marriage," Rebecca Buckwaler-Poza wrote in the article "The End of Gay Rights" in the June issue of Pacific Standard.

"The Supreme Court can significantly undermine LGBT rights even without reversing a single case," Buckwaler-Poza wrote. "Right now, the federal prohibition against sex discrimination doesn't bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; the Equal Protection Clause affords no specific protections for LGBT people, as it does for members of groups defined by race or nationality. The Court can strip the rights to intimacy and marriage of their meaning, carving away gradually and masking the magnitude of changes by phrasing them in arcane legal terms."

A movement has been afoot for some time now in state legislatures across the country to disenfranchise LGBTQ Americans. These bills are called "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" and are a backlash to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. Since lawmakers are using them to codify LGBTQ discrimination, to justify denying us services on state and local levels, and Trump is in lockstep with these discriminatory practices, Jim Crow is already here.

REV. IRENE MONROE does a weekly Monday segment, "All Revved Up!" on Boston Public Radio and is a weekly Friday TV commentator on New England Channel NEWS. She's a theologian and religion columnist.

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Reverend Irene Monroe