Mississippi's anti-LGBT 'religious freedom' law spurs civil rights organizations into action

Published 9:17 am Friday, November 3, 2017

By Alexis T. Rhoden
Originally published by Oxford Stories

LGBTQ (left) and transgender (right) flags at Delta State University in honor of Pride month. Photo by Alexis T. Rhoden.

On Oct. 10, House Bill 1523, also known as the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, was passed in Mississippi, and some fear it may give businesses and the government freedom to discriminate against the community.
Mississippi has many organizations that tackle social injustices, such as LGBTQ community rights violations. In Mississippi, the Human Rights Campaign is one of the largest civil rights organizations working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
HRC’s main purpose is to explore “research, communications, marketing and public relations” for LGBTQ people. Recently, the challenges of this group have made headlines.
Rob Hill, Human Rights Campaign state director, explained the frustration of the newly enacted laws.

“Mississippi has no statewide protections, as it relates to housing, employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ people. You can literally be fired, kicked out of your apartment and denied service simply because of who you are and who you love, and there is no legal resource.”

Hill said he spends a lot of time meeting with state and city officials. He works to pass pro-LGBTQ legislation and fight against anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“Human Rights Campaign envisions and works for a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community,” Hill said.
He said younger people are more receptive than their parents and grandparents of LGBTQ people. Hill also travels to different college campuses to help advance the community.
October was LGBTQ month. Hill spoke at Delta State University and the University of Mississippi during their Pride events. Hill gives advice to students and educates others.


Rob Hill, right, passes out informational pamphlets to inform students about the purpose of the Human Rights Campaign. (Alexis T. Rhoden)

“We’ve seen HIV rates increase in Mississippi, especially among African American males,” Hill said. “Much of this has to do with lack of access to healthcare and to medical providers who are not competent as it relates to the LGBTQ lived experience. Also, the stigma around being LGBTQ is still high in our state so, often, LGBTQ people are reluctant to talking to healthcare providers.”
Although Hill enjoys his time traveling to colleges, the protections the community needs consume his time. House Bill 1523 has made some wonder if we are regressing instead of progressing as a state.
Kristen Walker, deputy director of Queer People of Color at the University of Mississippi, said “HB 1523 is scary.”
“What’s the most frightening to me about it is that, like most hateful things, people who stand by this bill use God and how he ‘intended’ things to justify it,” she said. “And that’s just senseless, because if you really know God, then you know that he sat with everybody. God made room for everybody. God is love.”


Pride network of Delta State University hosting their first Pride Day for the community. (Alexis T. Rhoden)

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Human Rights Campaign continues to spread love and hope among the communities in every state, working toward equal rights for all. However, it will take time for our generation to accept that many people are coming out, and they are comfortable with their sexuality.
Although the risk of being denied services is at an all-time high, many who identify as LGBTQ are are open about their sexuality.
“They don’t understand us for how we love,” Walker said, “but I don’t understand them for how they choose to not understand, to not even try, and still have the audacity to call that way of thinking Christlike.”
HRC is a statewide organization, but many cities and college campus are creating safe environments for those who identify as LGBTQ to share their thoughts or reach out for help. Hill said he came back to Mississippi to positively change the state, and HRC is his outlet.