[Editor's note: This commentary first appeared on Bob Mann's website "Something Like the Truth." Check it out here.]
By now, much of the United States knows that our governor has formally sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians in Louisiana. Bobby Jindal is trying to put Louisiana on the map as nation’s most bigoted state, all under the guise of “religious freedom.”
I’ll let the business executives, tourism officials and others comment on the damage Jindal’s executive order will do to the state’s economy.
Today, however, I’m thinking about the pain that so many Louisiana gays and lesbians are enduring. Their governor, ostensibly on behalf of the people of Louisiana, has issued an executive order protecting any business that chooses to discriminate against gays and lesbians based on that business owner’s “religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Jindal, in effect, has issued a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
In December 2013, after Phil Robertson of the TV show “Duck Dynasty” made his abhorrent comments about gays and lesbians, I wrote a column about the pain that Robertson’s remarks likely inflicted on Louisiana’s young gay people, many of them still in the closet, not yet out to their family members or closest friends.
Jindal’s full embrace of bigotry on Tuesday made me think again of the pain that so many gays and lesbians are feeling across our state — all for the sake of Jindal’s hopeless presidential aspirations.
I commend this column to you again, because I think it is worth pausing for a few moments to consider the potential consequences of what Jindal has done and the repercussions among our state’s young gays and lesbians:
Somewhere in Ouachita Parish, just a few miles from the rural home of Phil Robertson of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” fame, lives a teenage girl. As she drives about town, she probably spots signs sprouting in neighbors’ yards. They proclaim, “Freedom of Speech. I support Phil Robertson.”
Of course, there are no signs that say, “I agree with Phil. Gays are evil” or “Phil’s right. Jesus can cure your homosexuality.”
The messages are clear, nonetheless. These people declare solidarity with a man who said, as recently as 2010, that gays are “ruthless,” “full of murder,” “arrogant” and tend to “invent ways of doing evil.”
In addition to his more-recent hurtful remarks about homosexuals in a GQ magazine interview, an unrepentant Robertson told members of his West Monroe church last Sunday, “Jesus will take sins away. If you’re a homosexual, he’ll take it away. If you’re an adulterer, if you’re a liar, what’s the difference?”
That young woman knows what Robertson has said. It’s the talk of the town. She also understands that thousands of people in her hometown support him and his views. Perhaps she’s heard her own pastor denounce homosexuality from the pulpit.
The episode has been painful and troubling to her in ways she cannot express. That’s because her parents, her siblings and her friends aren’t aware of something important about this lovely, lonely young woman.
She is a lesbian.
For years, she’s heard schoolmates snicker at tasteless jokes about people like her. She knows many of them believe homosexuality is a perversion.
When she experienced her first stirrings of attraction to girls, it scared her. She denied her feelings. At first, she dated a few boys to ensure that no one would suspect that she is anything but “straight.”
But she knows the truth about herself and cannot tell a soul. In her small town, she fears the consequences of coming out. She’s afraid friends might shun her. Worst of all, she worries her family may banish her.
So, she suffers in silence, trying to suppress her sexual feelings. Sometimes, late at night, she cries herself to sleep,begging God to make her “normal.” She doesn’t want to be gay, not in Ouachita Parish, now home to one of America’s most famous anti-gay activists.
But she is who she is. She knows that Jesus himself cannot change who she was born to be.
More than anything, she wants her family to know her – the real her. She wants them to accept her and love her for who she is.
She dreams of the day when she can escape Ouachita Parish for New Orleans or New York, or any place where she might find acceptance and tolerance. She longs to experience the joy of sharing her life with someone she loves deeply.