Your ‘freedom’ at the cost of ours

The Supreme Court strikes a blow against LGBTQ+ rights eight years after Obergefell. Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan on Wikimedia Commons


Today, June 30, on the last day of Pride month, the Supreme Court of the United States granted businesses the right to deny service to LGBTQ+ individuals based on the business owner’s religious beliefs. 

As such, rather than working on the research I am contractually obligated to complete this summer by the Butler Summer Institute, I find myself compelled to write this. I do not pretend to be an expert in constitutional law and therefore encourage you to read pieces by those who have explained this ruling far more eloquently than I could. However, I want to provide some perspective on what today’s ruling means to me. 

In 2015, then-Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with the stated intention of protecting religious liberty in the state. LGBTQ+ activists vehemently criticized this law, citing concerns that the new law would allow businesses to discriminate against them. 

Around this time in the angry throes of puberty, I began to realize that I was gay. I also came to the realization that this was going to make life in my conservative hometown difficult. At this point, I had already been the target of homophobic bullying — despite remaining in the closet — and I had become quite familiar with a range of homophobic slurs. The passage of RFRA reinforced what I had been hearing from my peers for years — it’s wrong to be gay. 

Later that year, in June, the Supreme Court decided in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, and Indiana’s legislature had already since changed RFRA to prohibit business owners from denying services to anyone, following backlash from across the nation. 

With RFRA still looming large in my mind, I had begun to censor myself to try to pass in an environment that felt increasingly hostile. At that point, I had already realized that any efforts to turn straight — or at least bisexual — were not going to work. So, I became more conscious of the clothes I wore, the things I said and the media I consumed, lest someone figure out my secret. 

Via Sarjent, a junior music industry studies and classics double major, was in middle school when RFRA was signed into law. Sarjent said the political discourse around RFRA made them realize that they were not safe to live authentically in Indiana. 

“I became very aware of the way I dressed and stuff like that, trying to make myself not stand out as much,” Sarjent said. “It changed my whole perspective [on Indiana].” 

Anyone who has experienced this will tell you that living a lie is misery. At the risk of adding my voice to the echo chamber, I hope it does not fall on deaf ears that the subsequent six years of my life were indeed miserable. 

Today’s ruling brought me back to a time in my life that I’ve tried to distance myself from. This is not to say that I was in any way surprised by the Court’s decision. In the last two years, my coverage of Indiana’s legislature and campus politics have shown me exactly where conservatives stand regarding my community, and six of our nine Supreme Court justices are no exception. 

Liam Moore, a junior critical communications and media studies and Spanish double major, also grew up in Indiana when Pence was governor. Moore said that Pence’s actions as governor set the precedent for new attacks against LGBTQ+ people in Indiana. 

“[Pence] was able to pass some pretty harmful legislation and really stand for hate [when he was governor],” Moore said. “Now I see everything that’s going on with the book bannings …  and the ‘don’t say gay laws’ [are] really an extension of everything that Mike Pence was doing back when he was governor.” 

I have been fortunate and privileged enough that none of the legislation in Indiana’s “Slate of Hate” has yet directly infringed upon my rights. Now, however, the action of the Supreme Court — in seeking to protect “religious freedom” — has come down against every LGBTQ+ person in the country. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end here. 

Fifth-year music education major Sam Hoke expressed apprehension for the future of LGBTQ+ issues in Indiana and around the country. 

“[The recent ruling] does make me uncomfortable for what is to come,” Hoke said. “It makes me angry that nine people — specifically those six — are the heavy hitters on choosing what is just and unjust for our entire country.” 

State lawmakers have introduced legislation across the country targeting LGBTQ+ youths. Though I’m no longer one of those queer kids — rather a queer adult — my heart breaks for them. I remember what it felt like to be one of them not long ago. 

But, as dreadful as today’s decision is, I don’t think it could have come at a more auspicious time. 

After a month of celebration of who we are and how far we’ve come, today’s ruling comes as an ironic reminder of where we came from. As the celebration comes to a disappointing end, we have to remember that until very recently our existence was criminal. We have to remember the Black and brown leaders in our community who fought to prove that we all have a right to exist. We have to remember that the first Pride was a riot against an oppressive police state that sought our annihilation. 

And as much as they tried to get rid of us, they failed. 

I remember being 12 years old and terrified of who I was. Today I reflect on how far I’ve come since then, and I look ahead to how much further I will go. I am emboldened by my own experience and by the resistance and resilience of the leaders who came before me, and I know that today’s ruling is only a temporary setback for us. 

It’s been said many times, but we cannot fight this fight alone. Mighty though we may be, we are still a minority. We need our allies to get serious — yes, Butler University, that does mean boycotting Chick-fil-A — and work with us toward a future where we can live authentically and without fear. 

After everything, I still have hope, and I’ll be damned if I let six bigoted gargoyles break my soul


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