not in Primary anymore

dear elder rasband: on religious freedom, sexual orientation, and false analogies

by Hermia Lyly

Dear Elder Rasband,

Today you gave a BYU Devotional about religious freedom, in which you compared the hypothetical experiences of Ethan, a man fired for being gay, and Samantha, a woman who felt pressured to search for a new job because her coworkers were disturbed by her religious beliefs. My wife and I listened to your devotional from our home, hoping to hear words of comfort and love.

Within a few minutes, we had to turn off your devotional address–both my wife and I were sweating and nearly shaking because we were so disappointed by your message. While my response to you is regrettably incomplete because I did not finish listening to your devotional, I felt the need to protect my home from your words. After all, as a child I was taught that my home should be a place of love and understanding, free from discord and contention. I was told that I should only seek after virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy things; unfortunately, your address was none of these. I do hope that the rest of your address was better than its first few minutes–if that’s the case, I would gladly listen further.

Elder Rasband, I am not here to convince you to change your stance on the rights and freedoms that the Lord’s LGBTQIA+ children deserve. That can only come in the Lord’s time, and it is not my place to question how the Lord speaks to us. However, I hope that by reading my response to your devotional, you will understand a few of the differences between religious freedom and LGBTQIA+ rights, and that you will not fall into the mistake–as you did in your devotional–of making false analogies.

I would like to address the problems between your comparison of Ethan’s and Samantha’s experiences in the workplace. In your story, Ethan was fired for being gay, while Samantha decided to look elsewhere for work because her coworkers did not like her Mormon beliefs. In the study of rhetorical arguments, this comparison is known as a false analogy. While there are certainly some similarities between Ethan’s and Samantha’s experiences, it is false to say that Samantha and Ethan are experiencing equal levels of discrimination, as your devotional seemed to imply. (A more accurate analogy would be if Ethan was fired for being gay and Samantha was fired for being straight.)

You see, Elder Rasband, one major difference between being an LGBTQIA+ person in the workforce and being a religious person in the workforce is that a religious person is protected from being fired by Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to Title VII, a employer cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” So even though Samantha may feel uncomfortable at work and want to apply elsewhere, it is absolutely illegal for her boss to fire her for being LDS. In fact, even if her boss doesn’t fire her, if Samantha can prove that her boss is discriminating against her because of her religion she can sue her boss for religious discrimination.

Ethan, on the other hand, is at the mercy of geography. Regrettably, there are dozens of states and hundreds of cities in the USA that have not yet passed laws to prevent employees being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. So depending on where Ethan lives in the US, his boss could fire him for being gay. In fact, his boss wouldn’t have to give any other justification. Ethan could be an outstanding employee and a great coworker, and then the next minute be fired with no explanation other than that his boss doesn’t want to have a gay employee. (And this is just in the US. In many other countries, it gets far worse for LGBTQIA+ people.)

No matter how you try to spin it, workplace discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people and workplace discrimination against religious people are not similar enough to be a useful analogy.

Trust me, I know this because I’m currently in the workforce, and I’m both queer and religious.

As a queer Mormon woman, I admit that sometimes I’ve felt a little nervous at work when discussing religious matters. I know that many of my coworkers have had varied experiences with Mormon family, friends, neighbors, and missionaries, so I am aware that people may have negative emotions associated with the LDS Church (it doesn’t help that we send strangers knocking on their doors, either 😉 ). Yet even though I know that some of my coworkers may not like the Church, I also have never, ever been discriminated against at work for being Mormon. In fact, my bosses have never expressed any concern about my religious beliefs or practices–except, interestingly, at BYU, where a number of my bosses made me feel uncomfortable for not practicing my religion the way they thought best. Should I have sued them?

Again, as a queer Mormon woman, I have frequently feared that disclosing my sexual orientation will affect my employment negatively. When I worked at BYU, I desperately needed to tell someone about my sexual orientation and my struggles to understand what it meant for me. I nearly told one of my bosses (who was also my good friend) about my orientation, but I refrained because I knew that with just a few phone calls, she could not only fire me but also take away my schooling and housing. As a result, I suffered in silence. I worked with coworkers who made insensitive jokes about LGBTQIA+ people, who said slurs such as f*g and d*ke, and used “that’s so gay” as an insult. BYU was a very unsafe work environment, and the only reason I made it through was because I was judicious about who I told about my sexual orientation.

Even outside of BYU, I have experienced casual discrimination and micro-aggressions in the workplace as a result of my sexual orientation. I can’t count the times that coworkers and bosses have assumed I have a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend, a husband instead of a wife–do you know how awkward it is to correct them and hope that they’re approve of your personal relationships? (Which is none of their business, by the way.) I can’t count the times that coworkers have made my sexual orientation into a joke, which I try to laugh at, even though they are still hurtful. Luckily, I currently work at an institution that respects LGBTQIA+ people, but overall, I still find it more difficult to be queer in the workplace than it is for me to be religious.

Elder Rasband, the fact of the matter is that unless you are also queer, you simply cannot understand what it’s like to be queer in the workforce. Trust me, it’s not the same as being religious. And it’s insulting to both to make them seem more similar than they actually are. Just because I sprained my ankle doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to break an arm. So please don’t assume that just because your coworkers don’t like Mormon doctrine means that you are being discriminated against just as much as a person who is fired for their sexual orientation. This kind of reasoning makes it look like you have a persecution complex. It makes it look like you are seeking out ways to be offended, which we have been counseled against.

If we are to host a truly thoughtful and productive discussion on religious freedom and sexual orientation in the workplace, we need to stop relying on false analogies and misleading arguments. We need to realize that in the current US political and cultural climate, it is more dangerous at work to be LGBTQIA+ than it is to be religious. Instead of worrying about our own pretty secure religious rights, perhaps, like Christ, we should come to the aid of those who are in a worse situation than ourselves, to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”

(P.S. For those who believe I am treating the LDS Church’s attitude towards LGBTQIA+ people unfairly because of the anti-discrimination legislation in SLC and Utah that the Church supported, keep in mind that this legislation also had copious amounts of new and overreaching rights for religions. As a result, this legislation not only weakened the power of the clauses prohibiting discrimination because of sexual orientation, but also provided needless extra protection for religions–such as making it illegal for religions to be required to perform wedding ceremonies that go against their beliefs, when it has always been illegal in the USA to require a religious organization to perform wedding ceremonies against their beliefs. Taxpayer money was wasted on created a law that was already enforced and unchallenged. From a legislative standpoint, the bill seemed to throw some crumbs (much needed crumbs, yes, but still crumbs) to the LGBTQIA+ community, while adding to the banquet of Christian privilege and religious rights.)

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14 Responses to “dear elder rasband: on religious freedom, sexual orientation, and false analogies”

  1. Sally

    I commend you for your bravery and search for your own happiness. I don’t know how you overcame BYU.

    Reply
  2. vancebryce

    I think this article missed the point of Elder Rasband’s talk. His point was that we should live the golden rule by treating others like we would like to be treated. His message was that no child of God should be discriminated against. People should be allowed to live their authentic life. No matter your sexuality, spirituality, sex, color, ability, etc, you have the right to your own conscious. Religious Freedom and Non-descrimination are both words for the balance that we are being admonished to strike.

    Reply
    • Miriam

      I agree with this comment. Thank you for your article; it provided valuable perspective. I suggest you finish listening to the devotional to understand Elder Rasband’s intention and listen to his call to action. I think you’ll find that you disagree on less than you think.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    No offense, but you kind of missed some crucial context by deciding to stop listening to the devotional address less than 5 minutes in. That’s like walking out of a G-rated movie before the opening credits finish.

    Also, your definition of false analogy is a little off. If we called every comparison that wasn’t equivalent a false analogy, literally all of the analogies ever made would be false. You could just as easily have said that the analogy was false because Ethan and Samantha likely work at different places. After all, the point of the analogy is discrimination in the workplace, and neither the level of discrimination nor the nature of the workplace are identical. Or you could say that the analogy I made above is false because opening credits in a movie are less concerned about introducing the plot of that movie than opening remarks of a talk are about introducing the topic of that talk.

    Reply
  4. dalrip

    Having grown up Lesbian and Mormon, I completely agree that there is a big difference between what LGBT have gone through, and continue to go through with regard to discrimination, compared to what people of faith have gone through more recently (although there is far too much of that in history, including that of the early Latter-day Saints). However, ALL analogies break down sooner or later. Consider the crowd he was speaking to. There were, no doubt, more who could relate to the religious discrimination and not the discrimination against gays. He is trying to help them gain more compassion toward everyone. I wasn’t offended by his remarks. I was impressed by them. Fairness to all was his message, not “We as Latter-day Saints have it just as bad as LGBT.” Also, to say that it isn’t necessary to secure religious rights, such as making certain it is illegal to force religions to perform marriage ceremonies that go against their beliefs–regardless of what may already exist in the law–is a bit short-sighted. Of course that is the direction we are being taken as a society. He is a religious man speaking at a religious university and his emphasis of religious rights and freedoms should be expected, not criticized. If he were speaking to a group of LGBT, even though there were some in the BYU audience, his message would have been different.

    Reply
  5. Katherine

    An employer wants the best person for the job. Gay, straight, male, female, black, white. We cannot tell someone how to conduct his/her business. There should be no law prohibiting someone from firing me because I am Mormon. Once again, free markets dictate that the best person gets the job. If an employer fires someone simply because he/she is gay (which would be near impossible to prove) and that person is a good worker who brings business, the employer will suffer.

    The problem with anti discrimination laws is that is lessens the likelihood of employers hiring certain kinds of people. If I have a business and I’m afraid that if I ever fire a gay person I will be accused of “discrimination,” I’m going to be very wary of hiring a gay person at all. Let’s let the market dictate what happens; not the government.

    Reply
  6. Maria

    Are all these comments for real? Yes, the audience consisted of mostly Mormons, but why are we even equating discrimination of LGBT individuals with religious persecution? Regardless of how hard-working or qualified the individual is, there’s a far higher likelihood of a gay person being fired and discriminated against than a religious person.

    Let’s also be honest and say that when we mention “religious freedom” we’re mostly talking about the Christian religion. If we’re talking about fairness, why aren’t church members or other religious folk up in arms about Muslims being negatively profiled/ discriminated against? Oh wait, because you have to be the “right” religion.

    Reply
    • Nate

      I disagree with this comment. So is all the church is doing to SUPPORT Muslims who are struggling to much in the Middle East and Europe not anything? I have not seen the Church this much “up in arms” about anything for many years. Especially in the last General Conference many talks were devoted to or mentioned doing all we can to help the refugees, in addition to the entire theme of the RS session being helping the Muslim refugees? Or when Donald Trump said that Muslims should be temporarily banned and the church came out and said that they disagreed and that they support the right for all to worship as they please.

      So yes, I completely disagree with the second half of your

      Reply
  7. Emily

    So…you didn’t like his talk because you are gay and living each day full of sin and you know his beliefs and those of the entire church are are not in support of the choices you’ve made. And so you turned it off because it made you feel guilty and mad. You don’t like being told you’re wrong or doing something wrong. So you decided to try and devalue his words and chastise him…when you didn’t even finish his address…wow.

    Reply
  8. Lester Lauritzen

    I think that personal letters to Elder Rasband would be more appropriate than public articles. You even addressed it to him. So why not give it directly to him? There are many people who struggle with their testimony and these articles do not help any of those people. Nor does it show that we sustain our leaders. Outside onlookers to the church gobble up any evidence of dis-unity, and publicize it more. I only see harm coming from such articles. Please think of the effects of what you’re saying when you post something to the whole world.

    Reply
    • Nate

      I agree. I also think that Elder Rasband is trying to promote Christlike love and treating everyone as Christ would. I do also agree that I think you missed the point of his talk. I do think that he was trying to show that we (the church) and the LGBT+ community are both disliked (one more than the other perhaps). However, he was not in any way condemning the LGBT+ community. In fact, I see him as trying to support them as an apostle of God.

      Reply

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