Does the Equality Act promise religious persecution for some?

This past year was an epic one for queer progress. For starters, same-sex marriage was legalized. Among the year’s accolades, there was a landslide push for trans visibility, which included the milestone moment Laverne Cox rocked it as the first transgender woman to appear on the cover of Time magazine. I also watched, listening with a full heart, as my president spoke of transgender issues during his State of the Union address. And to everyone’s relief, that same president called for the end of conversion therapy in our great nation. 

All of it stacked together like that makes you want to say, “Watch out 2016, you have a lot to live up to.” Yet, as we look over the pages of a worn-out calendar, marveling at where our year has brought us and pondering where next we will go, we can’t help but note there are still wrinkles that need to be smoothed, unfinished business needing our attention if we believe 2016 to be the year it can be.

On Dec. 10, policymakers, activists and leaders in the media came together at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. They were hosted by The Atlantic to listen to conversations about LGBTQ issues in an inaugural summit titled Unfinished Business. There, topics ranged from queer-youth homelessness to the role of Congress in LGBTQ issues and the truth about athletes coming out in places like the locker room. The pinnacle of these conversations landed on a Side-A, Side-B conversation that gave conservative speaker Ryan Anderson the floor to talk about religious freedom and its relationship to the Equality Act.

While you and I are signing petitions in hopes of seeing the 1964 Equality Act amended in our favor, folks like Anderson are polling for the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). FADA would undo all of our hard work and make it legal for people like Anderson to refuse to serve, sell to or work with LGBTQ people based on the whim of a moral belief.

I didn’t know whom Anderson was until I watched him on the stage at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre but, in listening to him speak, I got the creeping cold feeling Harry Potter must have felt when he first encountered a Dementor in that tunnel with his cousin.

Anderson is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. To give the Heritage Foundation its rightful glory, know that it is openly endorsed by talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and our dear presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. Cruz is quoted as saying, “We need Heritage’s ideas to become the tools of battle.” 

Anderson spoke with thoughtful clarity and obvious intelligence when he confided in the audience about his Evangelical experience in secularized spaces. I can give him credit for being well-spoken, but the following statement was a bit off. He said, “If you’re a conservative Evangelical at a major law firm or at an Ivy League university, you have a much harder time coming out of the closet as Evangelical than coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.” I think several of us heard the thunderous crack of the world breaking in two when he defined his perceived suffering as some sort of “closet.”

If you watch the video of the conversation, it is clear that nobody in the audience realized Anderson wanted to play ball in the oppression Olympics either. We — black, Asian, Hispanic, queer, feminist, black feminist — have been playing in these games for decades, bare-footed and dressed in hand-me-downs. What do you do when the Bruce Jenner in the room wants to compete as well?

It’s not my favorite thing to admit but, when I was a kid, I was a bully. “You wanna fight?” was my favorite phrase in eighth grade. Take it from a reformed bully: We don’t enter fights with white flags unless it is clear we will never win without the approval of the very people we’ve been intimidating. Anderson’s statement reminds me of Cartman from “South Park,” deciding he wants to quit every time the situation gets out of his control. “Screw you guys,” he says, “I’m going home.” 

Right-wing conservatives have constantly been oppressive to women, waging war on reproductive rights and thwarting LGBTQ equality at every turn. They’ve done it all in the name of a Christ who openly commanded his followers to love the loveless. Evangelicals have been crying “persecution” since marriage equality. Host Mary Louise Kelly poignantly asked, “Do civil rights for some get in the way of liberties for others?” 

One could say yes, but only if you’re the one on the losing side of history. 

Let’s hope this mess is finally cleaned up in 2016. God knows we are ready for it.

Crystal Cheatham is a writer and activist in Philadelphia. She chairs the Spirituality & Religion steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign and volunteers with Equality Pennsylvania and William Way LGBT Community Center’s Out & Faithful Committee and has written for the Huffington Post. You can find out more about her at


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