Recently, a friend of mine in Ohio who has a transgender child was sent an angry, anonymous letter gloating about Trump’s victory, and the fact that, “There won’t be no more special rights for you people.” The missive was full of grammatical errors, misspellings, and used capital letters to emphasize how much she really hates the notion of being legally prevented from discriminating against transgender people.
This random screed would have been comical, except for the fact that Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former presidential candidate Ben Carson said almost the same thing during his congressional hearings when asked about protections for LGBT people: “I have mentioned in the past that no one gets extra rights. Extra rights means you get to redefine everything for everybody else.”
Carson said this without a trace of irony. His definition of “special rights” is basically legal protection from discrimination. This is funny, because he’s enjoyed more legal and employment protection than anyone I know. He’s protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a black person and as a man. He’s constitutionally protected at the highest legal level of scrutiny from discrimination on the basis of race or religion. At John’s Hopkins University, he was protected by “academic freedom,” meaning he couldn’t be fired for anything he said or did as long as it wasn’t blatantly criminal. He took full advantage of this while there under an administration with a long history of tolerance for bigotry and discrimination.
Nearly universally, the people decrying “special rights” for “those people” (whoever they may be) come from the Christian Right. The irony is the people decrying “special rights” have more special rights than anyone else in our society. These individuals want the freedom to discriminate against LGBT people based on their religion, but they would fight tooth and nail against LGBT people (or anyone else) being legally allowed to discriminate against them for being Christian in the first place. They seem unaware of the hypocrisy and privilege of this, We should have the right to discriminate against them but it is unconstitutional for them to discriminate against us attitude.
As it stands, at a federal level LGBT people have almost zero specifically enumerated legal protections, and religious people have the strongest possible ones under U.S. law. Even if LGBT people had explicit legal protections, they would be substantially weaker than those enjoyed by Christians (strict scrutiny vs. intermediate scrutiny).
They want the Trump administration and Congress to strike down the Johnson Amendment, which allows the IRS to strip tax exempt status from churches if they endorse candidates or give them money. This would effectively allow churches to become Super-Super PACs, able to collect and distribute unlimited amounts of dark money to candidates and parties without being subject to campaign finance law of any sort. Given the evidence of foreign interference in the 2016 election, it is not hard to imagine wealthy foreign powers exploiting this for political gain, and further eroding our democracy in the process.
Then there’s the “special rights” that they seem to think LGBT people have. The “special right” to marry who you love? The “special right” to use a bathroom consistent with your gender identity? The “special right” not to be refused service or fired arbitrarily or maliciously? The right to an education? These are already rights that Christians in the U.S. already have. However, these become “special rights” when LGBT gain even a legally pale version of the legal guarantees already enjoyed by the religious right.
Yet somehow the people who want a special right to discriminate become the victims in their own minds. Why? Because they’re expected to serve LGBT people the way they do everyone else. Or they might suffer the indignity of knowingly or unknowingly sharing a bathroom with a transgender person. Or maybe their employer is requiring them to use a transgender person’s legal name.
Oh, the horror. The indignity of it all! This is just like Nazi Germany, they exclaim.
Realistically, getting paid to bake a cake for a gay person is pretty far down the list of crimes against humanity. In truth, this is about a feeling that they have lost their privileged status, and anger because the government might not let them kick the dog anymore is just one of the ways they’re expressing this.
They still feel they should enjoy a privileged status; there’s more of us than there are of them, so let them eat cake. They feel unrepresented and put upon, despite comprising more than 80 percent of the U.S. population, controlling legislatures and governor’s offices in 2/3 of the states, and the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. They’re beginning to feel this governmental control grants them the right to do anything. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that there has been an upsurge in hate crimes since the election, and 20 percent of the perpetrators claimed a right to do it based on the election results.
The question I would ask of these Christians, is if LGBT people are getting so many special rights, would you like to switch places with them? Your gay boss could fire you for mentioning you go to church. Transgender people could insist that they don’t feel comfortable around Christians, and they should be required to use the bathroom at the gas station across the street. Restaurants can legally kick you out for showing up with your family. Switching religions would be a legal basis for getting fired.
I can definitively state LGBT people, on the other hand, would be more than happy to switch places with the people sending nasty letters. We’d get full control of most of the government, constitutionally enshrined protections, strict scrutiny, the Civil Rights Act, our own Sexual Freedom Restoration Act to replace the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?
In the end, people complaining that LGBT people have special rights are their own privileged brands of special snowflakes. They have more, and better “special rights” than any other class of people, and they’re about to get more via legislation and the courts.
Their position is intellectually untenable, however. You can’t claim that someone else is far better off than you, and also be unwilling to trade places. What they are really saying is LGBT people don’t deserve the same fundamental rights as them, because conservative Christianity has a special place in American history and culture.