First, a history lesson:
In 1992 I was a terrified, confused, closeted 14 year old teenager who just learned what real discrimination was. The voters of Colorado had just approved what was known as Amendment 2 (in case law this is known as Romer v. Evans). Famously, this amendment (in it's essence) said that Homosexuals would be afforded no special rights. Essentially denying equal protection because the amendment didn't prevent rights from being taken away. This was pushed by some extremely fundamental Christian elements in Colorado Springs.
The amendment read:
Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the Constitution shall be in all respects self-executing.
Governor Roy Romer had to sue the state to get legal action started down the road toward changing the law. Step by excruciating step was followed and finally in 1996 the Law was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States for violating the equal protection clause of the U.S Constitution.
The immense pressure (and I do mean immense) that came down on Colorado contributed greatly to the active pursuit to change the Amendment. Well meaning people voted for it thinking "Oh, so no special rights for everyone. No one set above anyone else," rather than thinking of the amendment's actual intent (which was to constitutionalize discrimination). It was a scary time.
Fast forward nearly 23 years after the voters of Colorado approved the Amendment. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signs a bill that, while different in approach, accomplishes the same result. The scary thing about this particular bill is how reasonable it sounds to the average person. Religious liberty and freedom of and from religion are tenants of our structure as a republic. However, its intent to set certain religious principles and interpretations above others, sets a dangerous precedent. Make no mistake though, this law was designed to take advantage of a federal law already enacted (designed for Native American Tribes ability to smoke peyote) and extrapolate that into so called "private" businesses ability to deny service to elements that their religion deems sinful or against said religion.
Governor Pence announced today that he will seek "clarification" of the bill from the Indiana General Assembly. He says that he "abhors" discrimination.
When news of the Indiana law passage came out (followed by the likely passage of a nearly identical measure in Arkansas) I felt a twinge of something that I hadn't felt in a long time: Fear. Those who know me will undoubtedly tell you that I'm a fairly casual, go with the flow type of person. You know ... very much a Coloradoan. This law has consumed me. Filled me with dread, and it is for more factors than just buried memories from a time in Colorado we would like to forget.
A while back I was at a meeting with higher ups in the Denver Nuggets organization with some fellow reporters at a restaurant here in Denver. On the way out a very good friend of mine casually mentioned my sexuality to some Nuggets people. I froze, cringed, and continued walking away. Heart rate increased, and I started sweating. I hadn't felt that way for a very, very long time. You see, even though I'm out I haven't had a single discussion with people around the Nuggets about my sexuality. I haven't brought it up to the players. I haven't had frank and honest discussions with anyone in the organization about it.
Despite thinking many times that I should ask any number of the Nuggets players, particularly Kenneth Faried about LGBT related issues and causes ... I don't. Partly out of a feeling that it's superfluous to their basketball lives, partly because I am slightly fearful. Inappropriate, guilt-ridden fear.
I'm out, but I'm closeted.
Forget having a responsibility to objectively report on the Nuggets for a moment. Were this Indiana, could a sports organization located there legally deny me credentials if they had religious objections? (The Pacers released a statement last week saying that they are an inclusive organization and would not discriminate.) Think about that for a moment. Think about if the state of Colorado passed a law along those lines? Think about Amendment 2 were it made legal to stand all those years ago. Would I even be in the position I am now if that existed?
My own sense of being caught within a duty to "just cover sports" and caring deeply about the cause of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual individuals in the world has never been more muddled for me. There are those like Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski at our sister blog, Outsports, that do a great job in covering LGBT sports related issues that I felt, you know, just leave it to them. Yet this recent passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act and my own sense of dread when my sexuality was brought up have come together to put me at a crossroads.
Have I done enough? Is it my responsibility to write articles forwarding what I believe is right, or do I stay quiet and be the best blogger who writes about the Nuggets that I can be? Are those two things mutually exclusive? Am I violating my own personal beliefs for the sake of my own comfort in the Nuggets locker room?
These are the thoughts that have been tormenting me the last month. The Denver Nuggets are, in all honesty, one of the most open and dignified organizations I've ever dealt with, lead by Nuggets PR Director Tim Gelt. They have done nothing to make me feel bad, or ashamed. These thoughts and troubles come directly from me. I'm caught between duty, fear and a feeling like it's pointless to talk about issues not related to sports. In that way, I'm a work in progress bordering on a failure to myself and my community. This will change.
In the grand scheme of things, the forces behind the new law in Indiana will suffer the same fate as Amendment 2 did in Colorado. Using something as deeply personal as religion to discriminate against something as deeply personal as sexuality is something that our country, as a whole, can no longer stand behind. This isn't politics, this is humanity. I don't think anyone can disagree with that. Meanwhile, I will figure out my own crossroads, just like the our country will. I'll find my voice just like the country is finding its voice on the subject of the LGBT community.
Where we are should never lose sight of where we are going.