As the leaves perform their leafy magic, and the October 1st tax increases loom here in the Constitution State, I’m commiserating with those eager to flee Connecticut because of high taxes and seemingly endless budget deficits. Another of Connecticut’s nicknames, the “tax you to death,” is no doubt well-earned.
However, unlike most of my compatriots who dream of or are actually planning a move to a more financially stable state, I know I won’t be leaving any time soon, for one, because I’ve already adapted to the $.10 plastic bag tax, never having been a fan of seeing them flap in the wind from bare tree branches in winter. But the reality is I can’t leave, not if I want to continue having the audacity to live as an out lesbian and be a public school teacher.
Currently, in nearly thirty states in this “free” country of ours, I can be fired from my job for living openly as a lesbian. All it would take is a complaint or two from parents, and suddenly, my livelihood is in jeopardy because, in certain parts of the US, I’m viewed as unfit to educate children. My lifestyle is immoral, and according to some serious right-wing extremism, I may be secretly pushing my gay agenda on impressionable youngsters—as if we could win free timeshare points for every kid we recruit. I wish.
Now this may sound like the plot of an old black and white movie about rampant bigotry in the pre-Civil Rights South, but it isn’t. This is 2019. And while, it’s long been illegal to fire African-Americans from their jobs simply because they’re black, it is still legal to dismiss members of the LGBTQ community if an employer feels that our lifestyles conflict with their religious sensibilities. This is because the LGBTQ community is not specifically listed as a protected minority in the Civil Rights Act pertaining to job discrimination.
But on October 8, 2019, our Supreme Court will issue a highly consequential ruling that will either change that or solidify it. And frankly, I’m terrified of the possibility of it being solidified, as it is a ruling that will likely stand for the rest of my life. (click link below for article)
What that means is I’m stuck here in Connecticut, the tax-you-to-death-state because it’s one of only about twenty that have legislated equal rights for its LGBTQ citizens in all aspects of our lives. In essence, the ridiculously high taxes most residents here view as an unjust burden, I view as “protection money” so to speak, like one would pay to mobsters or prison gangs—money that I shouldn’t have to part with, but if I want the dignity to live and work safely and in true freedom, money I must pay.
So to anyone who still thinks presidents and politicians have no say in Americans’ civil rights, let me remind you once again that they do. Had Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell not obstructed President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t be quite so riddled with anxiety right now awaiting my fate as it now rests in a majority of justices whose ideological beliefs mirror the conservative anti-LGBTQ values that continue to oppress us.
I have to admit that it requires more mental energy than I care to expend to process living in a country where my access to equal protection under the law has to be voted on every few years. The angst is worse than trying to choose the quickest checkout lane in a grocery store during the busiest time of day. But at least if I pick the wrong lane, the worst thing that can happen is my rotisserie chicken won’t be as warm as I’m hoping when I get it home.
If the Supreme Court chooses the wrong lane on this issue, I won’t ever bring home a warm rotisserie chicken again. As I count down to their decision on October 8th, I can’t help contemplating how I will feel should they rule in favor of discrimination instead of equality. How shitty will it be if I’m condemned to live the rest of my life in a state I may not choose to because in over half of all the other states, I’ll still be regarded as a second-class citizen?
So from now until October 8th, while you’re getting all curmudgeony that your trip to Shop-Rite now costs you $.30 more, be glad you’re not standing with me in the express lane to inequity. And if you decide that you’re fed up paying all these taxes and want to evacuate the state like a refugee of an economic disaster, be glad your main concern won’t be finding a state where something as insignificant as who you love can cost you your career.
Jean Copeland is a high school English teacher and award-winning lesfic novelist from Connecticut.