Charlie Craig and David Mullins went into Masterpiece Cakeshop in preparation for their wedding — as most couples are bound to do at some point in the wedding planning process. But Craig and Mullins were turned away as soon as the owner Jack Phillips found out the cake would be used for a gay ceremony. This week, the internet was abuzz with a flurry of news and think pieces on the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission SCOTUS 7-2 ruling in favor of the cakeshop not having to make a cake for Craig and Mullins wedding.
Opinions from the LGBTQ community have been coming in all over the place. Some are devastated, some see this decision as a Handmaid’s Tale-type dystopian reality. Other people seem to think this isn’t a big deal, saying people should just go to a different and more accepting bakery/business. And some even think this decision is a good thing because people don’t have to make cakes for Nazi’s. (The real tea is that no one has ever had to make cakes for Nazi’s in America. Business owners have always been allowed to turn away Nazi’s for being Nazi’s — we’ll get more into that later.)
When this decision came out, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by my fellow queer and lesbian employees. We were able to commiserate. We were able to hold space for our varied opinions of the court ruling. We were lucky to be able to process the news together, but also aware that not all LGBTQ people have the privilege of community support and love. Not only do queer people living in rural America not have peers to commiserate with, they are at higher risk for experiencing violence, depression and isolation. There simply aren’t as many resources or community centers or even peers to connect with.
As someone who came out as queer in a rural setting, I’ve experienced this discrimination and isolation first hand. I remember walking down the street of my lauded liberal arts hippie-dippie town holding hands with my girlfriend and hearing someone yell “FAGGOTS” at us. When I told my straight friends about this, they were shocked. They couldn’t believe that anyone in this liberal – but rural – town would have homophobic views. But homophobia and transphobia are alive and well — and since #45 has taken office, it appears as if these increasingly hateful views are thriving on the coattails of our administration’s virulently anti-LGBTQ standings.
The reality of this SCOTUS decision for rural queers is about way more than a cake.
It’s about the fact that this Supreme Court decision gives people who argue for “religious freedom” a newfound boldness in their hateful views. It’s about the next LGBTQ person who goes into a hotel, hospital, restaurant, or coffee shop and is told to leave because their business is not welcome there. It’s about the rural LGBTQ communities that don’t have another bakery down the street to take their business to and are left without a wedding cake for their ceremony. It’s about every LGBTQ person who doesn’t have the funds to go to court when they experience homophobic violence. It’s about young LGBTQ people who have teachers or administrators who say homophobic or transphobic things in class, increasing their feelings of fear around coming out.
This is about setting a precedent that our lives don’t matter to the court. As for people who compare this to a business being able to refuse a Nazi as a customer, I hear you. However, the reality is that business owners already had that right even before this ruling. Business owners have the legal right to decline anyone as a consumer as long as it’s not because of that person’s holding in a protected class. You can refuse business if someone is being violent because they are being violent. You can refuse business if someone has a Nazi symbol on their clothes because they are a Nazi. Nazi’s are not a protected class for nondiscrimination laws anywhere in this country – but you can’t refuse business from someone because they are Black or blind or from Iraq. Refusing service to a customer based on their race, religion, national origin or disability is illegal on a federal level. Masterpiece v. Colorado could have assisted in adding sexual orientation to that list but it fell short.
What comes after this ruling that made a decision based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”? Who gets to decide whose religious beliefs are “sincere” or not? Will they next try to use this as a right to not hire LGBTQ people? To make it unsafe to be out at work? To make it unsafe to be out when applying for a mortgage or renting an apartment? To make it even more unsafe for undocumented LGBTQ people to be out about their sexuality or gender identity?
On the state level, there are some protections for citizens based on gender/sex — but those don’t extend to cover sexuality and they don’t exist on the federal level. The reality is, marginalized people need more protection than ever before with our current administration. Civil rights laws are at risk under the current pursuit of religious freedom — and with #45 filing federal courts with his far-right appointments, this kind of interpretation of the law will continue to be a precedent.
As Justice Ginsburg says of this ruling, which she voted in opposition to, “Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others. […] The offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it.”
And while there was not much riding on this case, other than the direct impacts of the bakery’s rights to discriminate — a precedent was set that could have far-reaching implications in our country going forward. We coastal city queers simply cannot fathom some of the realities that the rural LGBTQ community still face today. While we still deal with our own experiences of homophobia and transphobia, we can easily find not only an LGBTQ affirming bakery, but likely one owned by a fellow queer person. We have options to find and cultivate safer spaces with one another that simply don’t exist elsewhere in this country.
When I was an out queer in rural America, I remember working with a young gay man who was the first LGBTQ person to ever come out in his school district. The administration and his teachers were outwardly homophobic toward him. He would call me crying from the trauma he experienced some days. After decisions like these come down from the Supreme Court, I remember his story. I remind myself that we deserve to be out and proud without fear of discrimination or worse. I fear that coastal city communities are allowing their LGBTQ accepting bubble blind them from the stark reality much of our community faces.
This SCOTUS decision coming down in the first week of Pride (which #45 refused to acknowledge last year) made the impact feel even more intense. It also serves as a constant reminder of how Pride began — with a Black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson, throwing a brick at violently homophobic and transphobic police officers. Pride started as a resistance, as a revolt against violent power structures. While we all get excited to wear rainbow and glitter, let us remember that our fight must continue. As tired as we may get in this world that was not created for our safety — we must continue to stand up for one another. Hate against our community is still very much alive and while we take to the streets to celebrate love, let us continue to center on those most vulnerable. If you can, pack a car filled with city folx to drive out to a rural Pride celebration where they might need more support.
The best thing we can do for our community this Pride season is show up for one another. Show up with your full, badass queer, gay, lez, bi, non-binary, trans selves. Our existence continues to be resistance.
What Do You Think?