Dr. Strangelaw | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Dr. Strangelaw

Or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love SB296


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The continued existence of Neanderthals is why, in our enlightened society, we have laws.

Laws rein in and regulate the brute-force power of the ruling class, and give us Average Joes a fighting chance to achieve self-reliance and freedom, and to contribute our geeky talents to society. Without the Constitution, there never would have been a powerful middle class such as existed during the mid-20th century, which allowed the United States to accomplish so much—from helping win two world wars and landing men on the Moon to creating Hollywood movies and developing the Internet—and is why historians call the hundred years between 1900 and 1999 "The American Century."

In the 21st century, we have seen the middle class eroded to the point that now it's just about impossible for Average Joe to catch an even break.

The cavemen are winning.

That's why it's so remarkable that Senate Bill 296 "Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments" was signed into law. The bill, which passed March 12 amid much fanfare by LGBT activists and LDS Church authorities alike, codifies the rights of people to be secure in their jobs and their homes without fear of reprisal from anti-gay bosses and landlords.

There's just one problem: The bill also codifies the rights of religious organizations to fully discriminate against LGBT people if such organizations believe, for instance, that the gays are not only going to burn in hell for all eternity, but that society should also strive in this world, whenever legally possible, to go the extra mile to make gay people's lives a little bit more hellish.

Now, I'm not sure that, as a gay man, I've ever been subject to employment discrimination. Since I was 15, I've made my gay identity very clear. There was only one job at which I tried to remain in the closet.

And I soon learned that, if some homophobes are uncomfortable around gays, they're a million times more sketched-out around closeted gays. I don't think I've experienced any stress greater than that of living a double life. I had panic attacks. I made myself sick. The day I quit, I was relieved.

When subjected to stress, the human endocrine system releases a cascade of hormones that assist in the fight-or-flight response. It's a trait that has evolved genetically over aeons, and it has proved a valuable adaptation that allows us to escape or defend against attacks by meat-eating predators such as lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

But how well does this adaptation serve us in the modern world? In this day and age, in Salt Lake City, a relatively civilized and enlightened society far removed from the savage forest inhabited by our Paleolithic Era ancestors, it is a rare occurrence that one of us might have to fight a tiger or run from a lion.

Back in the good old days, we might occasionally be pursued by bears, but such situations had the tendency, one way or the other, to work themselves out quickly. Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes the bear eats you. That kind of stress resolves itself within moments.

But, in today's Information Age, we are subject to more long-term, chronic stressors. As late-night TV ads for cortisol-combating miracle supplements attest, it is stress hormones that cause weight-gain, inflammation, depression and all kinds of neurological disorders. This is the plight of modern humans. And few modern humans are more chronically stressed than humans who can be fired from their jobs or lose their homes at any moment for no other reason than that their employers or landlords believe that same-sex action is icky.

Today, it's heartbreaking to think that, all their lives, many LGBT people may have to put up with the BS I went through during my short time on that job where I had to remain closeted. SB296 provides a measure of sanity and protection on most jobs. OK, so gay Scoutmasters still can't come out of the closet. Neither can lesbians working in the Church Office Building.

But a young gay man working in the same position I was, doing PC support and stringing network cable in the IT department of a local heavy-equipment manufacturer, can now safely claim his full potential as a talented member of staff and not worry that some homophobic manager will take offense and fire him.

This is how I stopped worrying and learned to love SB296. It is a great step forward. But where does that one step really take us?

Until this issue came up, many people assumed employment and housing protections were already in place for all Americans. Lots of folks were surprised to learn it was legal to fire somebody for being gay.

It's not that these folks were willfully ignorant or blithely unaware of the plight of LGBT people. It's just that the thought that somebody could be fired for an inborn trait seems inconceivable. It's un-American. That's not how things are supposed to work in the country.

Now these job and housing protections are real, set down in black and white as the law of the land in Utah.

Some fear that the religious protections included in the bill will actually turn out to give homophobes carte blanche to bully LGBTs employees. Some people see a man who's too effeminate, or a woman who's too butch, and it messes with their Neanderthal monkey brains. Stress hormones go through the roof, and their first instinct is to grab a club and start swinging.

But SB296 is not that club. The religious protections are strictly limited to church organizations. For the vast majority of Utahns, these job and housing protections are real. We can finally breathe a sigh of relief. One big stressor has been eliminated, and cortisol levels are dropping.

It's an imperfect bill. It's a compromise. But it might work.