April 04, 2020

For 11 years, I was responsible for assuring compliance with state and federal nondiscrimination laws in a university setting. Over the course of those years, I heard of students fired from jobs in the community and evicted from apartments when employers or landlords alleged they were gay or lesbian. The students, or their friends, would come to my office falsely assuming legal rights: “They can’t do that!” “What do I do now?” “Which should I contact: the Maine Human Rights Commission or a federal agency?”

They left surprised and shaken when I had to tell them the actions were perfectly legal: There was no legal protection, based on sexual orientation (even if alleged and untrue) for the discrimination they suffered. Further, the agencies to which they referred had no jurisdiction over their cases, and there was none that did.

Other students reported beatings and death threats based on the assumption that they were gay. They were technically protected by criminal laws. However, they were afraid to press charges for these crimes because of the possible legal loss of jobs, residences, and worst of all, families if their sexual orientation became public.

Do not be fooled by false rhetoric and fear-mongering alleging “special rights” or “Christian values” that you do not recognize as reflecting your own religious beliefs. The law prohibits discrimination. It does not accord preferences. A job, a home, and the opportunity to pay taxes are not “special rights,” but basic ones. They also make good sense. Allowing a person to earn an income, pay taxes and patronize Maine businesses contributes to the public good, while denying a job may ultimately require public assistance at taxpayer expense.

On Feb. 10 go to the polls and vote “no” to discrimination. And remember that staying home will, by default, represent a “yes” vote for continuing legal discrimination. Sue Estler Old Town

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