WASHINGTON D.C.—In the recent study, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” routine and systematic prejudice, abuse and discrimination is chronicled in every part of the United States. This is a comprehensive report covering all ages, socioeconomic levels and transgender persuasions. It is a sweeping indictment of our nation for not working to eliminate damaging prejudice and bigotry against a substantial segment of the nation’s citizens.

When I think of the modern face of prejudice, I think of the lessons our evangelical missionaries have peddled to Uganda, where the people have been whipped into a frenzy of homophobia, making reckless charges of depravity and harm against frightened people. People who fall under suspicion are denounced and beaten, outed in newspapers, and forced from their homes, their business and their lives. Others are denounced and killed while the police can’t find any evidence. When the police do get involved, people are given draconian sentences amounting to decades of incarceration for levantine transgressions (being LGBTQ) that have been reinvented into the modern world by fundamentalist zealots who are just as misguided as the reported Islamic Imams who whip women for daring to ask for any measure of equality with men.

Forty years ago, I found the people of Uganda to be friendly, welcoming and very open to new ideas. I now feel ashamed of the deed my own countrymen have wrought on these people.

That’s the problem when religion is used politically. This is why our founding fathers wanted a separation of church and state. The alleged aims of the evangelicals who brought this poison to Uganda sound good. They’re full of Christian piety and reason. Some even denounce the cruelty of the new preaching as well meaning but excessive. And the worst part of this sordid affair is that it was intended as a trial run for what they want to do here.

Do you think it can’t happen? Think of Germany in 1920, which was at the apex of civilized culture, sophistication and artistic development. Artists flourished in Berlin and all types of experimental expressions were running wild among the young. Not until Greenwich Village of the late 1960s was there another blossoming of individual expression so vivid and varied. Yet, in only 10 years the capital went from the heights of civilized tolerance to extreme repressive barbarism under the Nazis. A single decade elapsed between freedom and slavery for tens of thousands of free thinkers and artists, most of whom did not survive.

So it is important to look beyond the rhetoric and see what effect those organizations and beliefs we support have upon the world, lest we be complicit in a world we do not believe in. When you look at an organization, a set of beliefs, a body of ideas, or a single opinion that sounds good at first glance, ask yourself some questions.

  • Does this give me reasons to include people or to exclude people?
  • Does this suggest that person’s problems matter or does it suggest that I ignore them?
  • Does this recommend I take action to help make another person’s life better or help make their life worse?
  • Does this ask me to understand and accept people different from myself or to judge and condemn them?
  • Does this help me find the good in people or require me to conclude that they are bad?
  • Does this idea lead me to embrace others as my brothers and sisters or fear them as my adversaries and enemies?
  • Does this urge me to applaud and support other people who are different from me or to condemn them for being different?
  • Does this confirm my own conscience or provide a way for me to do what I want to do, even though I know it is wrong?

We all make these choices every day. Seeing those choices for what they are is one of the ways we can learn from the mistakes we make. It doesn’t really matter how good the thing sounds, or how consistent it seems with your existing life and beliefs, if you are encouraged to pass judgment on people or to fear them, then this is a prejudice that will lead you to harm people.

Just say “no” to intolerance and bigotry. The ball’s in your court.