Statewide LGBTQ protections needed

I enlisted at 18 to serve my country, and spent 32 years in the Army before retiring. Serving as a Warrant Officer, it was my job to work with soldiers who were struggling and on the verge of being reprimanded. We problem solved a variety of situations but the one that stands out and still influences my work today is the fear of being disciplined or fired just for being who you are.

I worked with a number of LGBTQ people who were navigating issues surrounding their sexuality. They were suffering because they couldn’t express themselves.

After retiring from the Army, I was ordained in a non-denominational Christian church. Now, I run a ministry offering spiritual and personal guidance to other military vets and their families, including LGBTQ people.

I see that people face the same struggles outside of the service, fear of being fired from a job or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It pains me to see people hurting because they are not treated with dignity and respect.

I’m hoping the upcoming Supreme Court decisions on three cases involving LGBTQ employment discrimination will be the right ones. The justices have a chance to affirm that all LGBTQ people should be able to work hard and support themselves without fear of harassment or discrmination.

This is a real and urgent problem that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of our communities, yet there are 30 states including Arizona that lack explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ residents.

The Golden Rule says we should treat others the way we want to be treated, yet I regularly see people who are mistreated. The discrimnation baffles me. People make judgements about those they don’t know, and create stories based on stereotypes. People experience discrimination in their everyday lives and on the job. They can get fired simply because of who they are.

I was born into a very strict and dysfunctional family. My father was a police chief and the rule of law applied at work as well as at home. I was never allowed to date or even socialize in my teens. As a result, I had no idea I was gay until I left and joined the military.

That experience helps me address some of the complex issues that people are dealing with. When I have an opportunity to meet people and hear stories similar to my own, I gain an even deeper understanding.

It bothers me to know that it is legal in Arizona to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The current patchwork of protections is unfair and unworkable.

When states struggle to do the right thing, we must turn to the federal government and the Supreme Court. We’ve relied on the Court over and over again to step in on social justice issues. Most recently, it was the right to marry. And here we are again. I hope the court does the right thing.

But no matter what the justices decide, we need to pass statewide protections in Arizona. And our federal legislators should pass the Equality Act, which would provide these same protections for people across the nation. Everyone deserves to be the best that they can be.

The Rev. Donna Smith lives in Sierra Vista

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