Mississippi woman urges lawmakers: ‘Please don’t legislate against my family’

Editors' Note:This post is a guest column by Kristen Welch, from Mississippi. She has worked with the Campaign for Southern Equality to increase support for marriage in her state, and now, she's speaking out against MS Senate Bill 2681, the bill currently being debated by the Mississippi legislature that would grant Mississippians a "License to Discriminate" against people just because they are LGBT. 

I think at times, it's easy for legislators to assume no one is paying attention to the bills that they pass so quickly, without much fanfare - and that's undoubtedly what occurred when the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," (SB 2681) passed the Mississippi state Senate on January 31, 2014 with a unanimous 48-0 vote. Parliamentary procedure seems like a different language altogether and impenetrable legalese can make even the most educated pause. Sometimes, it feels like our elected officials think they are legislating to a void.

This week, the Mississippi legislature is certainly not legislating into a void: Across the state, Mississippians are standing up and urging the legislature to Stop SB 2681 and explaining that this dangerous bill will do nothing but hurt proud folks from our state.

As a Mississippi resident for almost all of my life (I grew up in and around Hattiesburg and currently work in Pensacola, Florida), I have always tried to pay particular attention to our legislature. I have always been interested in politics and have had a soft spot for all things historical (I don't know many other 12-year-olds who asked their mom if they could get married in the State Capitol). As I've gotten older, it has become apparent to me that the state I love does not hold me in such high esteem.

My mother would always tell me that Mississippi is the nation's best-kept secret: All of the state's bad publicity keeps out all riff-raff, she would often say. But her well-intentioned statements never curbed the heartache I would feel when someone would hurl another, "Do you even own shoes??" my way. I didn't feel hurt for myself; I hurt for my state. Mississippi and I have spent hot, sticky summers and less hot, balmy "winters" together. I love its terrain, and sometimes lack thereof. I love the eclectic, melting pot culture of Mississippi - ethnically diverse and sometimes horribly over-simplified. I love everything about Mississippi that has made it more than the place that I fill in on forms as my "state of residence."

When I came out as a lesbian, I never thought my life was over. I did not have a terrible time; my family continued to love and support me and any relationship I chose to embark on.

"Please don't legislate against me. Please don't legislate against my family. I urge you to vote against SB-2681."

But I was not oblivious to the fact that my revelation had repercussions. Like many queer people, I was (and still am) at a place in my life where I know that family is what you choose - and that sometimes, your biological family is lucky enough to be a part of that. My biological family is a very wonderful part of my life, as well as other folks that I also consider family. I have surrounded myself with a support system I wouldn't trade for anything. 

I recognize that my coming-out experience is not what most people would consider typical of a lesbian from the Deep South; I also recognize the converse: That there are others who have not been so lucky.

Still - the South of 2014 is not the same place it was fifty years ago. In the past year, I have had the privilege of working with an outstanding organization, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and taking part in several marriage equality actions across the Deep South (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia). During my travels I have met hundreds of people who are warm, welcoming and supportive. Since then, I have seen state after state recognize marriage equality and city after city pass diversity resolutions (Starkville, MS and Hattiesburg, MS, included). There is undeniable forward momentum.

Most scholars of history and social movements recognize a period of regress before important social change. I can only hope that these bills currently sweeping the nation are that final death rattle of social conservatism. I truly cannot fathom how passing legislation like SB 2681 would improve my beloved state in any way. It has so far only served to be divisive and fuel the fire of hate.

I can say from personal experience that the vast majority of the people of Mississippi do not support blatant discrimination. Tolerant of homosexuality or not, the citizenry are first and foremost kind. Turning someone away, legal or not, would be beneath them and against the very essence of their beliefs.

So while these legislators may think they are passing laws that are falling on deaf ears or working in a legislature where no one pays attention, I can assure you that is not the case. As a young person who walked the Capitol many times with my father, I hold those offices in high esteem. I respect their authority and understand the power of a singular vote.

Please don't legislate against me. Please don't legislate against my family.

I urge you to vote against SB-2681.