My name is Reverend Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear. I am a plaintiff in the case against HB 1523, a student at The University of Southern Mississippi and a lesbian. My wife and I, along with our church, Joshua Generation MCC, joined with The Mississippi Center for Justice and Lambda Legal to fight this unconstitutional bill. HB 1523 legalizes discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in the name of religion. This bill, officially known as The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, protects homophobia, transphobia and allows businesses and government officials to refuse services based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This bill, in practice, would make it entirely legal to terminate the employment of an LGBTQ+ person, deny housing to an LGBTQ+ person, and even deny life-saving healthcare to somebody who identifies as LGBTQ+ simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant, is the defendant in this case. He signed this bill in April of last year. We immediately filed suit against it. The case went before U.S District Judge Carlton Reeves who struck it down, stating that through HB 1523 the state grants privileges to people who hold certain moral convictions which “violate both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.” This law is immoral and certainly unconstitutional.
Bryant, determined to legalize hate, continued to fight for HB 1523 to become law. He fought despite Attorney General Jim Hood’s refusal to appeal the decision to strike it down. AG Hood stated that, “all HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state’s financial mess.” After Hood’s refusal to appeal judge Reeves’ decision, Bryant filed on his own. This action solidified his, now certain, disregard for US citizens’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I won’t go into all the legal details of this case. I’m not an attorney, I’m just a queer Mississippian fighting for equality and trying to further my education. I have been fighting for many years to just be an equal Mississippian and to be treated with the same “hospitality” as my straight neighbors. We started fighting this bill over a year ago and Monday, it was announced that the 5th Circuit denied our en banc hearing. This is horrifying for LGBTQ+ Mississippians.
The fear of legal discrimination is now our reality. Because of Phil Bryant, this bill will go into effect on Friday, October 6. We can be refused services that most people take for granted. We are desperately searching for our allies and safe spaces and believed USM to be one of those spaces. However, on the very day that the news of HB 1523’s impending implementation was announced we saw a Facebook post celebrating Gov. Phil Bryant, the MAIN supporter of this horrifying bill, as the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication and Journalism’s “#MCM” (which stands for “man crush Monday”). What message is the University trying to send? This post, on this day, makes me and those who saw it question the safety and support we believed we had from our university, the place where we study and where many of us live.
We pay attention.
We pay attention because our lives, very often, depend on it.
We search for our allies because, very often, our lives and our livelihoods depend on them. On you.
Not only was this post noticed by students, but by faculty and staff as well. These individuals came to me asking for help because the precarity of their employment has been solidified by HB 1523. Again, we pay attention because our lives and our livelihoods depend on it.
The 5th circuit court’s decision also came in the wake of the US failing to support a United Nations resolution condemning the death penalty for “same-sex relations.” We are failing to support our kin across the globe. AGAIN, we pay attention because our lives literally depend upon it.
When a governor not only authors and signs a law that ensures that certain groups of people can be denied services and be publicly humiliated for using the ‘wrong water fountain,’ but also fights tooth and nail for its enactment, he should not be celebrated. We, as a community, simply want to feel safe. We want to be able to walk freely into the establishment of our choice, with dignity and without fear of being degraded and discriminated against. This Facebook post was like a slap in the face to the LGBTQ+ community.
Phil Bryant is not only homophobic and transphobic; he’s also racist. In April 2016, Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523. One year later, he declared April to be “Confederate Heritage Month,” holding up an archaic entity that was literally built on the legality of slavery. These actions show how Bryant uses his position to oppress people that he, in his privilege, believes to be beneath him. Phil Bryant is not a man that Mississippi should be proud to call governor and he’s certainly not someone that I am proud to say has graduated from my alma mater.
This post was harmful. It came from one of the few places where my community felt safe. HB 1523 puts LGBTQ+ Mississippians in danger of not only discrimination, but also violence. We have no laws that will protect us from hate crimes. We have no assurance that we won’t be turned away at our local circuit clerk’s office. We have no guarantee that we will be able to access life-saving healthcare. We need our university to stand with us.
As Desmond Tutu noted, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
We pay attention.
With all due respect and appreciation,