By Sheryl McAlister
Sheryl McAlister is a former board member of SC Equality, a current board member of Sexual Trauma Services of the (SC) Midlands and a member of the USC Women’s & Gender Studies Partnership Council. She resides in Columbia, SC.
What, in the name of common sense, is wrong with some of South Carolina’s legislators?
Recent news reports regarding a so-called gay debate in this state seem to have some members of the South Carolina General Assembly reeling. A pending legal issue in Virginia which could overturn a marriage equality ban could potentially impact SC’s laws, and national headlines announced that a young, gay man made history by being drafted into the NFL. Our legislators must think it’s Armageddon.
It is difficult to know for sure what most terrifies them – the ones who would call acts of academic freedom pornography and seek to hold educational institutions hostage until they changed their ways. The ones who continue to try to marginalize members of our society with their divisive words.
Fear can drive people to say and do just about anything, and the aggressive behavior by some of our legislators toward LGBTQ people and those that support them is nothing short of bullying.
Are they scared to death the world as they know it is on the verge of changing forever? Or do they simply not like people they see as different?
What’s at stake is a great deal in the civil rights movement. What seems to also be at stake are budget dollars to state-supported institutions that don’t toe the party line. What is certainly at stake is the well-being of a group of people if the legislative bullying doesn’t stop.
Everything should be on the table with political debate; I get that. But what seems to be lost here – once again – is the toll the negative messages take on the LGBTQ kids and young adults in this state.
Do these elected officials want another generation of kids growing up in South Carolina feeling less than? Don’t they care at all about the welfare of the kids in this state? Do they want a generational brain drain in South Carolina?
Then, they should keep telling kids who may or may not be LGBTQ that they don’t count as much, don’t warrant equal protection and rights under the law, and don’t deserve protection from an abuser. Keep telling them there’s something wrong with them, that they’re less than good enough. And they will leave here and never come back.
The bullying starts with something like a teen-dating-violence bill that on its surface is a good bill. Until you read where some legislator in this state decided that it wouldn’t get passed unless it specifically stated that only the straight kids would be protected. Really? Let’s intentionally leave out a group of kids who have no voice and have no vote and make it okay for other people to beat them up.
That was several years ago. Do we really need to look at suicide or hate crime statistics again to know we can’t keep doing this?
God help us, we have got to treat each other better than this. If our legislators won’t do the right thing for all of South Carolina’s citizens because it’s the right thing to do, then they should do it in enlightened self-interest. Do it because it’s good for tourism or for business development. Pick a reason that suits their agenda. Just do it.
Our elected officials hold the future of South Carolina’s kids in their hands. If their minds can’t be changed for whatever reason — including political will – they should at least allow their hearts to understand the impact their vicious words have on those kids and college students.
Healthy debate is critical to a strong democracy. Using a position of power, a microphone and a budget to push others into a corner simply isn’t fair play.
Bullying is easy; leadership isn’t. If it were, everybody in public office would actually be good at it.
In the midst of all the bickering, those who continue to be marginalized need to know there are organizations in South Carolina who will fight for them; there are agencies that will help them, and leaders who will give voice where theirs have been silenced.
South Carolina’s legislators need to get with it for all our citizens or get out of the way.
Copyright 2014 Sheryl McAlister