THE BLOG
05/10/2016 10:36 am ET Updated May 11, 2017

My Home State's Anti-LGBT Law Is Emblematic of a Much Larger Problem

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Almost every gay man has one. Gay women, too.

We all have someone who was our "first."

No! I'm not talking about that kind of first. I'm talking about a different first.

I'm talking about a more important kind of first. For many, it was the first person we truly trusted, the first person who made us feel comfortable, the first who made us feel truly safe.

I'm talking about the first person we came out to.

Kimberley Locke was my first.

Kim was a contestant with me on the second season of American Idol. The time in my life was both exciting and educational. I can see the irony now, but at that point in my life, while most of America watching at home believed they knew I was gay, I did not. I mean, I had thought about it. I had worried about it, but it wasn't until I was 24 that I admitted it to myself. The idea of admitting it to someone else seemed unfathomable and terrifying.

That fear -- often irrational fear -- can do some awful things to a young, closeted LGBT person's self esteem and mental health. We see far too many take their lives, in fact, largely because of the fear of being rejected when they come out. That's why "the first" plays such an immeasurably important role in our lives. The first time is the hardest. The first time is the scariest. And, the first time, is life-alteringly consequential. You see, how "the first" reacts and responds will set the course for how, when and even if we tell anyone else. If "the first" responds with understanding and warmth and acceptance, then it cracks a hard shell and makes it just that much easier to be oneself and hopefully open up to others. Fortunately, that's how my first was. Kimberley was a strong and opinionated black woman, a black woman from the South, even. The fact that she accepted me without the slightest moment of hesitation -- was even excited for me -- immediately shaped the way I was able to tell other friends and love ones in the coming months and years. Had she been angry or incredulous, or worse yet, had she shunned me in some way, the result would have been devastating.

For some of us, we don't really choose "the first." The moment may choose itself when that person is someone you trust so deeply and genuinely. For others, the choice of who to come out to first is a thoughtful process. Deciding who you can speak to totally openly and without fear of retribution nor shaming is daunting. Even more importantly, it must be someone who's not going to run and tell everyone else like a town gossip. For that reason alone, a lot of teenagers and adults first come out to their school counselor or psychologist or a therapist of some kind. Individuals in those professions are not only legally and honor-bound to keep all things said to them in confidence, they are also professionally trained to hear a student or patient's deepest secrets and struggles, to help them heal the fear and pain and self doubt that comes with that, and to guide them wisely through a processes that will hopefully result in them feeling more comfortable with who they are. School counselors, psychologists and therapists are a good choice for "the first."

Just... Not in Tennessee.

No. Not in Tennessee. If you're a young man or young woman struggling with their own sexual orientation or identity you no longer have the security of knowing that a school counselor or a therapist's office is a safe place for you.

After Gov. Bill Haslam signed HB 1840 (also known as the "Turn Away The Gays" bill) into law two weeks ago, now school counselors and therapists and psychologists all over Tennessee are legally allowed to worship and praise their Lord by rejecting His most vulnerable children. After all, that's what Jesus would do, right?

Every frightened teen or young adult in a Tennessee school must now feel just as worried about telling someone who was, before this ridiculous law, at least required to keep your secret and help you get past the first hurdle. Now, that school counselor can reject you and tell you they don't approve of you and you need to go talk to someone else. Man, that's gonna feel great to that frightened 14 year old. I'm sure that won't scar him for life -- insert sarcasm font.

Sane and reasonable people of the world: Don't worry. For now, any homophobic or closed minded counselors and psychologists are still required to keep these conversations in confidence.

Small-minded people of the world: Don't worry. At the rate these laws types of laws are passing in many states, it's only a matter of time before some backwoods genius introduces a bill requiring a school counselor to notify a student's parents if he/she comes out. (To be fair, Tennessee already tried this.)

I'm sure you're sitting there thinking that I am just trying to divert your attention away from the anti-LGBT law that's getting so much national attention from my state of North Carolina. No, not entirely. I mean, I fully confess that the lawmakers and the situation in NC are a trainwreck. I also admit that, if they were giving out awards for "the decade's most ridiculous example of legislated hate" we in NC would be the odds on favorite to win! But, yes, I'm doing a little bit of diversion here. I mean North Carolina isn't the only state coming up with creative and unique ways to dehumanize and discriminate against an entire segment of the population. There are a half a dozen other states who have passed or are working on passing laws that allow their citizens to praise Jesus by treating His children like "the least of these"... and I don't want North Carolina to get all of the credit for being the best "Christians."

We mentioned Tennessee and their "Turn Away The Gays" bill. It's now officially law. Well done, y'all.

How about Mississippi? Here's a state that, with the nation's highest unemployment rate, the lowest graduation rate and the lowest median family income, realized that the best use of their legislative time was to pass and sign into law HB 1523, a law that not only protects school counselors from having to listen to those pesky "coming out" stories like in Tennessee, but it also ensures that any church or pastor has the legal right to refuse to marry a same sex couple or host a same sex wedding. It also gives all employers the religious freedom to fire any employee for being gay, and gives any landlord the right to evict you if you love someone of the same gender.

Of course, Mississippi already had laws that allowed churches and pastors to reject loving same sex couples. I guess the legislature and the governor just wanted to make another law about it to remind God that they were serving Him. The good news is, Mississippi's law doesn't go into effect until July 1, so if you've always wanted to be the kingpin over an all-heterosexual real estate empire, there's still time to go buy up property in Mississippi. I'm sure that's the type of economic development they were hoping for.

Of course, let's not forget Kentucky, America's crown jewel of enlightenment. Kentucky may have the lowest percentage of high school graduates in the country, but there's no lack of creativity in this state. This is, after all, where a state senator has proposed a law that would pay any student $2,500 if they reported a transgender student using the "wrong" bathroom in school. It's not really clear whether this was just an incredibly stupid and hateful law or just a smart economic development initiative, but for a Republican to promote that type of government handout, he must really want to show God how much he is serving Him and His people.

There's more. Oh, there's more. I won't go into them now, but as a North Carolinian, I feel sort of guilty that our state and Governor Pat McCrory has taken all of the attention and spotlight for the "bathroom bill" in NC when so many other states and governors and legislators deserve "praise" too. And that's sort of my point.

You see, that's what they want anyway. Attention and praise. I don't really even believe that many of these states have enough legislators and governors who believe in such hateful lawmaking to pass such discriminatory laws based on their beliefs alone. I know that the citizens and voters of these states are consistently polled and report that they disagree with such stupid legislation. In fact, a poll held in my state right after the passing of HB2 showed that only 38% of North Carolinians approve of it and 57% believe that all or most of it should be repealed.

Yet, good ol' guv McCrory seems content to fight on to keep it in place.

How is it that so many voters are against these laws, yet so many legislators are for them? It's because voters don't choose their politicians anymore. Politicians choose their voters.

In NC, in each of the last two elections over 50% of voters voted for the Democratic candidates on the ballot. Yet, somehow, the 13 member NC congressional delegation is only 23% Democrat, the NC Senate is only 32% Democrat and the NC House is only 38% Democrat. If the General Assembly thinks this is appropriate, maybe they should be spending a bit more on education funding.

They love it though. They've drawn their districts in NC and in Tennessee and in Mississippi, and Kentucky and dozens of other states to make sure that their party stays in power, they they keep their seats safe in an election... and, in turn, that they only have to pander to the most extreme of their voter base. That's why they aren't listening to the majority of voter opinion.

Plus, these gay-hating laws work, right? I mean, it worked for Bush in 2004. When Karl Rove and dozens of states made same sex marriage the issue du jour for that election, the staunch religious conservatives poured to the polls, en masse, and praised and gave honor to Jesus with their votes for the Republicans.

They made it an issue in 2014, as well. As U.S. Circuit Courts were striking down same-sex marriage bans left and right, the GOP made hay of it and rallied their supporters to the polls to stop Satan from stealing the soul of America. And it worked then too.

But, oh no! What now? The Supreme Court came down on the right side of history and they can't make political hay out of same-sex marriage anymore. What's a good political operative to do?

Well, North Carolina isn't the only state coming up with great ideas in an attempt to get their voter base to the polls. Mississippi is going to protect them from having to live next to homos.

Tennessee is going to protect them from having to dishonor God by being caring and empathetic to a scared and vulnerable child. Kentucky has decided it might work to get voters to turn out in November if they just promise kids they'll give them money to buy a car if they'll just stake out the toilets in their schools all day. And North Carolina just wants to make you afraid that someone more fabulous than you might be taking a shit nearby.

Don't be fooled. They are all just political ploys. Desperate attempts to save their jobs by political theatre rather than by actually legislating anything that will really improve the lives of their constituents. When you're not really good at your job, it's a lot easier to rally people around a common group to hate.

But don't worry. Just like the Supreme Court shot down and took away their last bit of currency when it legalized marriage equality, the Courts will rule all of these pieces of crap unconstitutional, as well.

Until then, though, if you are a school counselor or therapist in Tennessee who can't bear to help a vulnerable LGBT teenager as they take the first step in one of the hardest and scariest journeys of their life.... Please get a different f*cking job.