Islamophobia – a current growing US diversity issue

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

NC Council of Churches Governing Board and Staff are proud to stand with the banner showing us as united against racism and Islamophobia

As a diversity consultant, I strive to stay up to date on current trends and issues in the diversity and inclusion field. One of the tough issues growing within our country is Islamophobia. My definition of Islamophobia is, “an irrational fear or hatred of Muslim people based on unfamiliarity or stereotyping.” FYI, Webster’s Dictionary defines stereotyping as “forming a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion.” Unfortunately, many people are judging the world’s one billion Muslims based on the actions of a very small radical visible few.

I was actually starting to plan this blog over two weeks ago, before the horrific massacre at the Pulse Bar in Orlando, which makes this entry now even more timely.

Why is Islamophobia or any phobia or fear of a group of people problematic? When we cannot all respect each other and work together within our society, we cannot be as productive as a nation as we can, and at its worst, hate and violence occurs.

I am currently on the board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, which represents 17 denominations and several independent congregations. We work to build respect and understanding across denomination and religion lines to impact our state for the good of all our residents. At our quarterly board meeting on June 7, we had a guest presenter, Manzoor Cheema from MERI – the Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia.

Manzoor share several interesting (and some disturbing) information:

• Islam is not a new religion in the United States. Muslims have been present in our country since the 1830s, including Africans brought over in the slave trade (many forced to renounce their religion by their owners)
• Given that a large number of Muslim are “people of color,” racism and islamophobia are connected and intertwined.
• Myths about Islam, like that it is inherently violent, are widely propagated based on the actions of a very small minority.
• There has been a tripling of the attack rate on mosques and Muslims since Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim statements
• There are a disproportionate ratio Muslims incarcerated and expelled from school. And this statement does is not meant to imply that Muslim commit more crimes, but instead to point our the inherent bias in our justice system.
• Most Muslims do not hate women, Jews, Christians and LGBT people. For example, the MERI organization has partnered with the Jewish Voice for Peace as well as Methodist and Quaker organizations. Manzoor also mentioned addressing discrimination against LGBT people several times during his presentation.

I close with a three recommendations:Mosque photoI close with a three recommendations:

1. Visit a local mosque or attend a Muslim sponsored event.
2. Do research on Islam including viewing resources on the MERI website.
3. Connect with an actual Muslim person and ask them to tell you about their beliefs instead of listening to what other parties are saying about them.

Later this summer I hope to blog about Islam in the workplace, and the LGBT issue within Islam, but for now please do read this excellent and provocative piece reacting to the Orlando massacre by Salma Mirza, a queer-identified Muslim organizer of MERI.

Georgia “Religious Freedom Bill” discriminates against LGBT people and hurts businesses – Possible Scenarios

A hospital admittance clerk could claim "religious objections" and refuse to admit one of these women who is covered under her spouse's health insurance.

A hospital admittance clerk could claim “religious objections” and refuse to admit one of these women who is covered under her spouse’s health insurance.

This blog examines the discriminatory harm that can occur if Georgia if this bill becomes law with some possible real scenarios. And here is a link to use if you want to take some action after reading this blog.

NOTE: LGBT is the abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

On March 29, 2016, I have been invited to be a workshop presenter at the annual Atlanta SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) conference. My workshop title is “The Compelling Business Rationale for LGBT Diversity.” I have often presented this workshop throughout the southern USA, including in my home state of North Carolina, using the title, “LGBT Diversity – the New Diversity Initiative for the New South.” However, it seems some state legislatures don’t get this message and want to regress back to the “good old days” of discrimination and exclusion; and it is within this backdrop that I travel to Georgia later this month.

What started as Georgia House Bill 757 “Pastor Protection Act,” which would have enabled religious leaders to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, has been drastically modified and expanded by the Georgia State Senate in their recently passed Senate Bill 284. (Link to bill text.) It would now “prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.”

What does this new language now mean? Simply anybody in any capacity can refuse to serve or provide benefits to LGBT people without penalty. Here are some examples of what could happen – sure, they may seem a little extreme but they are certainly possible within the realm of this proposed law.

Scenario 1: A seriously ill woman is taken to the hospital and covered under her lesbian’s wife’s insurance policy. The admittance clerk could refuse to check her in, saying that admitting a person covered under her same-gender spouses’ insurance violates her religious belief. Meanwhile, while the hospital sorts this out or finds another admittance clerk, the ill woman languishes without needed medical services.

A policeman could claim "religious freedom" to refuse to assist a victim of "gay bashing."

A policeman could claim “religious freedom” to refuse to assist a victim of “gay bashing.”

Scenario 2: Two young men who just left a gay bar are attacked by a group of five thugs with baseball bats. The first policeman dispatched to the scene realizes that the two guys leaving the gay bar are more than likely a gay couple or boyfriends and believes they deserved to be beat up since they are violating “God’s law.” He lets the attack continue, and under this new law, he is protected.

Scenario 3: A manager in a large multi-national corporation with offices in Georgia has an employee with a same-gender spouse. Company policy states that a person can have up to an extra week of paid personal leave to be with their spouse or significant other during a catastrophic illness or serious operation. This manager with “sincerely held religious beliefs” refuses to provide the time off to his employee. The company cannot take action against this manager. Now the word of this episode has spread nationwide on social media, and the company is having a difficult time getting needed talent to transfer to open positions in Georgia.

Already several businesses in Georgia, including the huge multi-national corporation Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, AT&T, Home Depot and others have spoken out against this business-harming regressive bill. I urge all fair-minded and business-oriented people, companies and organizations to continue to oppose this discriminatory revised bill as it heads back to Georgia House for a re-vote.