Why the Kim Davis story needs to be told

By : Jamie Hyman
Comments: 7

JamieHymanHeadshottAs a dedicated LGBT ally, the most powerful tool I have at my disposal is what you are reading right now – my access to the readership as a writer for Watermark. Last week, like many other members of the media, I used this access to illuminate some reprehensible discrimination unfolding in Kentucky, where Kim Davis, a county clerk of courts, refused to issue legally entitled marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her (non-existent) religious freedom to do so.

Many times the equality black holes go beyond the story itself, although Davis can certainly use all the enlightenment we can throw at her. No, many times it’s only after the story is released, when the LGBT community members react, do we find that, while we attempt to educate America about equality, internally, we still have a lot of work to do.

The Davis story was a great illustration of that, because her story sparked two themes that commonly emerge in the reaction to stories about LGBT discrimination.

The first theme is: WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO SOMEWHERE ELSE?

Why don’t gay people who encounter bakers who don’t want to bake them a wedding cake just go to another baker? If a photographer doesn’t want to take engagement photos of a gay couple, why not just hire another photographer? This theme is usually expanded to suggest defiance through economy, as in, why would a gay person WANT to give their business and hard-earned money to a business owner who doesn’t like gays and doesn’t want to work with them?

The first reason is the myth of access. I, like many of Watermark‘s readers, live in Orlando, a major metropolitan area with dozens, if not hundreds, of vendor options. It is very easy for us big-city folk to forget that in countless communities across the United States, it is very realistic to encounter just one wedding photographer, just one baker. Even in Orlando, the perfect venue is the perfect venue, and if a gay couple finds it, the venue owner should not be allowed to turn that couple away while allowing straight couples to marry there.

So many times, anti-discrimination laws focus on wedding-related vendors, but let’s think for a moment about housing. Even in major metropolitan areas, there is generally one realtor representing a home on the market. If a gay person finds an ideal home in a good location for the right price, but the realtor doesn’t work with LGBTs, it isn’t an option to just find another realtor. That couple has to give up their dream home in the name of supporting discrimination, and that isn’t fair or right.

The theme of “go somewhere else” is even more disturbing when applied to government entities. Some readers actually suggested that gay couples turned away by Davis should simply go to another county to get their marriage licenses. Not only is that an appalling suggestion in the face of discrimination, but once again, we run into the myth of access. Government offices are generally only open during business hours, so many people have to take time off of work to go. Many other people don’t have access to reliable transportation. And it doesn’t matter, because the county clerk’s office is a freaking government office and gay people, as American citizens with equal rights, shouldn’t have to go another county, because it’s their hard-earned, deserved, LEGAL right to walk into their hometown county clerk’s office and get a marriage license, just like hetero couples do.

Which brings us to our second reason why “go somewhere else” isn’t a good argument – it’s not always about that particular baker’s delicious cupcakes, that specific photographer’s beautiful photos or even that particular county clerk’s name appearing on a marriage license. It’s the principle of the thing. Gay people shouldn’t have to go somewhere else because this is America, the 14th Amendment of the constitution exists, and, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” That is really and truly enough of a reason to insist that paid government employees don’t discriminate. Because it’s unconstitutional and illegal, and the burden of dealing with that should not be placed on the people being discriminated against.

Some readers seemed willing to put the principles aside, however, to suggest that avoiding Davis is a strategy – just go to another county and you rob her of her ability to discriminate. That’s a nice segue into our second theme, which is: BY GIVING ATTENTION, YOU ARE GIVING THE BIGOTS WHAT THEY WANT.

There were a number of exasperated sighs that we were offering Davis any media coverage at all, with people suggesting that such attention gives Davis the attention she craves will providing an avenue for her to become a Christian hero, a martyr for her bigoted cause. Much like a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum, maybe if we ignore Davis, she will fade into the shadows.

The problem is, she won’t. If we ignore her, she’ll continue not to give gay couples marriage licenses, just without scrutiny. Ignoring works for a tantrum-throwing 4-year-old because the 4-year-old is powerless. Davis, as an agent of the court, has power. And right now, she’s using that power to illegally, immorally discriminate. I hope the whole world knows what she is.

As a journalist, when I cover bigots, I am not “giving them attention.” It is false to say if we ignore them, they will go away. I am doing my duty, using the power of the press to shine light on discrimination. Bigotry thrives in the shadows. Discrimination feeds on fear and silence and intimidation. If we don’t tell these stories, hate will fester and multiply. Exposing bigots and their unfair acts is a key tool in the fight against discrimination, and it would be irresponsible to muffle the stories of bigots and their victims.

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