An Open Letter to Gov. Jan Brewer
Dear Governor Brewer:
I grew up in Arizona. I was one of the only girls of color I knew who wasn’t born either in Arizona or the U.S. I was adopted, when my family lived in another state–Washington of all places. Moving from a community accustomed to international adoption to Arizona brought with it some very hurtful experiences, hurt compounded by the passing of Senate Bill 1070 a few years ago. (My brown skin still smarts from that, Governor.) I currently reside in Oregon, and have lived in the U.K. multiple times. And while you will probably be able to discern from the following sentiments that I am more culturally attuned to the Pacific Northwest, I still think of Arizona as home in many senses. Sunday afternoon I was boutique browsing with a friend–candle smelling, as Oregonian yuppies sometimes do–and I smelled a candled scented as prickly pear blossom and mesquite. Oh, Governor, it was the most lovely thing. I was transported to the desert in the evening, when the cacti bloom. I passed the candle to my friend, stating, “This. This smells like home.” She asked me, “Kohleun, how did you ever leave?” “Well,” I said, “the current legistration just legalized private fireworks use, so the entire state might go up in flames at any moment.”
You see, Governor, I did leave. I have left Arizona several times, and unless there are some big changes in the near future, I will keep leaving. There are a couple verses in the bible that say homosexuality is a sin, and others people use to support this belief. A big problem with that is, and there are many problems with that, I grew up believing that to be a “sin” a certain act or thought had to be a choice, a desire one could will away. A lot of folks, specifically Christians but others, too, would like to tell you that being gay or lesbian–having sexual and emotional attractions to a person of the same sex–is a choice. But let’s shoot straight here, Governor Brewer. You’re an educated woman. You’ve been a lot of places, and have met people different from yourself. Do you honestly think that a person would choose, in this century or any preceding, an orientation that almost guarantees they will be bullied, told they are going to burn in eternal torment, that their sex life is like having sex with an animal, that somehow God and all the rest of us have to learn how to love them despite their sexuality?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying being gay in America is unlivable. That’s like saying being a woman of color in America is unlivable, and I know that it’s not. But I am saying that being queer in America is safer and more humanized than it used to be, but it could stand to be so much better. Until all humans are treated as equals, it’s not good enough. LGBTQ persons should be free to express themselves, to embrace who they are and to foster supportive communities, outwardly. Because they choose to like themselves. I have faced many reasons not to like myself, not to like being Asian or a girl. Anyone who has experienced childhood knows what I’m talking about. Now I enjoy being a woman, whatever that means, though it brought me heartache as a young adult growing up in ConservAmerica. I do this because I identify with a long history of pain and second-class citizenship, but also with talented writers and politicians, activists and artists, who I admire, and who help me be more okay with being me. Queer people, just like any other people, have made those contributions, too, and no matter how they identify, they have a right to living into that history, even if that means exchanging stories at the Historically Disenfranchised Table. That’s where I’ll be sitting, because I want to share those stories.
I know that you are contemplating approving the recently passed Senate Bill 1062, which states that governing authorities cannot interfere with an individual’s exercise of religion. I’m grateful for religious freedom, freedom to put what I believe (or don’t believe) into action. But I challenge you, and others, to look at the implications of this definition: “Exercise of religion” means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
Governor, when I was a kid, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey. Maybe you’re familiar with it? It’s a children’s radio series that Focus on the Family puts out. And while I bristle a little at many of the organization’s values, one line from an episode has stuck with me for over twenty years now. “We don’t serve your kind here.” That was something a white cafe owner said to a black would-be-patron, who wanted to get lunch with his friend. Has anyone ever said that to you? Has anyone ever called you a certain “kind”? Like a breed of dog? It is more degrading than if they just came out and called you a monster or freak. Have you ever been considered a monster in your own community? Has someone ever refused you service or kindness based on the most personal aspects of yourself? If they have, you might be able to understand the implications this has on minorities and queer folk in Arizona.
If the government can’t even serve as a buffer to the “ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief,” how can we be saved from Jim Crow 2.0? Because, did you know? Racism had many religious arguments backing it. How can we be saved from religion-inspired hate crimes? And, Governor Brewer–Jan–how can we stop the death, and the fear, and the hurt, and the loss?
Being refused building your own Fro Yo on McClintock & Elliot isn’t that big of a deal if we’re just talking Fro Yo. But the burrowing sense of self-hatred and dehumanization that accompanies those discriminations is a big deal, the biggest. Frankly, I don’t care if a shop owner is uncomfortable doing business with a queer person or a person that messes with their dreams of ethnic cleansing and a New Jerusalem. Because they would enjoy the money, and people are dying, Jan. They’re still beaten to death in dark streets or driven so far to a feeling of worthlessness and despair that they kill themselves. And I just want that to be done now. I’m tired of losing friends and friends of friends. I’m weary of losing people I’ve never met to causes other than the powers of aging.
I am not a begging woman, Jan. I am a spitfire with Quaker leanings, who does not bow or doff her metaphorical hat to titles and offices, because we are all human. We’re both human, you and I. And I beg you, I beg you as one human to another, please don’t sign SB1062. My religious conviction, the deepest conviction I have running through my veins, compels me to plead for the rights of my fellow human being.