State Politics

LBGT community has few protections from discrimination


Kara Stanford thought she had the job. It was nothing special -- picking up trash in a supermarket parking lot, helping elderly customers with their groceries.

Like many veterans, she hadn't had much luck finding work, so it was a start.

"I nailed the phone interview," she said. "And I didn't have a problem until I started showing documents.

"(The interviewer) took one look at my license, which I look like my father there. She put 2 and 2 together, got this bug-eyed look on her face and cooked up something about Homeland Security."

Stanford has since gotten an updated driver's license with a new photo and has changed her name on Social Security records.

The company told her Homeland Security said it couldn't hire her. She's pretty sure she wasn't hired because she's transgender, but lawyers have advised her she has no recourse. So she took a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Jackson as a janitor.

Rob Hill, Mississippi director for the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign, said the organization has confirmed a number of instances of discrimination.

"Sadly, in Mississippi there are no laws that protect LGBT people," he said. "This old story of the concept of denying a cake from a baker for a same-sex couple -- that can already happen."

He said it's impossible to get accurate statistics on the extent of the problem because people are afraid to report them.

"Very often, the stories are left untold," he said. "People are afraid to tell because of the stigma or the fear of retribution or the fear of losing friends and family."

It was that stigma that kept Stanford living as a man for years. Only in the past few months has she begun her transformation into a woman.

Former 'door kicker'

She's 6-feet-7, a former "door kicker" with the Army National Guard who served two tours in Iraq conducting search-and-seizure missions in urban areas.

"I was pretty ripped," she said of her infantry days. Hormone therapy has softened her appearance but she is a very tall woman.

"Not a lot of people are willing to physically put their hands on me," she said. One did, though. "He was higher than a kite. Coked up. Iraqi-insurgent-level coked up. Let's just say he regretted."

In her case, it's the double-takes, the whispers, the people following her through the grocery aisles videoing her with their phones that trouble her.

As a man, she was teased about her height. How's the weather up there? was a familiar refrain. As a woman, the taunts are hostile.

In a way, she said, she's lucky. Most transgender people are physically attacked, she said.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a national organization that attempts to track violence against LGBT people found that although hate-motivated violence against all LGBT people declined 2014, the latest year studied, violence against transgender people increased.

Deadly year

And 2016 is starting out to be a deadly year for transgender people. On April 16, Keyonna Blakeney was found dead at a motel in Rockville, Md. -- the ninth transgender person slain this year, according to the NCAVP.

Still, a debate that has arisen out of Mississippi's "religious freedom" law continues. It's a law its supporters say is necessary to prevent Christians from being persecuted for their beliefs.

So far, though, none has been able to come up with an example as concrete as Stanford's story. They can't even cite a bakery being harassed by a same-sex couple, such as the famous case out of Oregon often cited by supporters of "religious freedom." No one can point to a minister who was sued for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

"I do not know of a situation where the provisions of this law would be applicable," said William Perkins, editor of The Baptist Record in Jackson. "Of course, the law hasn't yet taken effect. There may be some cases to talk about after it goes into effect, but I am not aware of any right now."

Annoyed by ban

Stanford said that's because there aren't any. She's clearly annoyed at laws in other states that would make it illegal for her to use the women's restroom. She said there are no basis to fears that would lead to attacks on women.

"There is no recorded case anywhere in the history of mankind of that happening," she said. But, she said, there are many cases of ministers, priests and other people working with churches using their positions to commit sex crimes, particularly against children.

"Those are the people," she said, "who say we're the problem.'

The American Family Association, which backed the law here and is pushing similar legislation in other states, didn't respond to questions about religious persecution.

Open Doors tracks Christian persecution worldwide. The United States is not on its list of 50 countries that persecute Christians. In fact, it cites the United States only as a place of refuge for Christians fleeing persecution.

The most notorious examples of crimes against Christians are shootings in churches. The Mississippi Legislature, spurred by the 2015 massacre at a church in Charleston, S.C., passed a law allowing churches to have armed security details.

The FBI reported 5,928 hate crimes in 2013. Of those, 2,871 were motivated by race, 1,233 by sexual orientation and 1,031 by religion. Of the crimes motivated by religion, 625 were against Jews, 135 against Muslims and 105 against Christians.