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  • Glenda Russell

“Smoking or Non-Smoking?”

Were you living in this state during the smoking- between-times? You know, those times after everyone could smoke anywhere they wanted but before you pretty much couldn't smoke inside of any public buildings? Restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections. As soon as you entered the business, you were asked, "Smoking or non-smoking?"  You'd answer and, if you weren't a smoker, you'd hope to get seated as far as possible from the non-smoking section.

Because, if you were a non-smoker, there actually wasn't anything far enough away from the smoking section. There was nothing other than a futile wish to keep the smoke away. You smelled it; it impacted your eating experience; you carried the smell out of the restaurant in your nostrils and on your clothes. As a friend of mine used to say, “Having a non-smoking section in a restaurant makes about as much sense as having a non-peeing section in a swimming pool.”

In the absence of a federal law granting full protection against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ Americans rely on a patchwork of state and municipal laws to protect us in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Thankfully, even with the recent US Supreme Court decision in the 303 Creative case, LGBTQ+ Coloradans still cannot be refused most goods and services based on these characteristics.  That's a good thing.

In terms of legal protections, there are some important advantages for queer and trans people living in Colorado these days.  It is up to us to keep it that way. We do that by being registered to vote and by voting, by being as out as it is safe to be, by building community and culture, and by insisting on being treated fairly in every institution with which we're involved.If you live in Colorado, and especially along most of the Front Range, you're in the non-smoking section of the country.  Breathe in that great mountain air!

But what's that other smell? That smoky smell?

We are in the non-smoking section right now. In this section of the country, almost all the laws are working to protect LGBTQ+ and most other marginalized groups from discrimination. However, there is still a disturbing smell around. It's the smell of vitriolic rhetoric. It's rhetoric—some very direct, some more subtle—that singles us out, blows stereotypes and misinformation in our direction, and disturbs our equilibrium with outright lies about our lives. It may start deep in the smoking section—say, in Texas, or Florida, or Tennessee, but the smoke eventually gets to us.

It's important for us to do what we can to reduce the consequences of this smoke that circulates around the country. Call it what it is: transphobia, homophobia/ heterosexism, binegativity, gender and sexual prejudice. Use whatever language you like, but label it for what it is—a smelly toxin that isn't really a part of LGBTQ+ lives but comes from elsewhere and swirls around us.

Expect the smoke to be around for a while. Elections tend to give rise to smoke. (I guess that's why politics has so often been associated with smoke-filled rooms.) As it has so many times in the past, the smoke is a great tool for the right to raise money, organize people, and get them to vote.  They can keep spreading their toxic smoke, but we have tools to neutralize it.

Be careful with this smoke. Don't get any closer to it than you have to. Keep an eye on it. Help others in our community keep an eye on it. Watch out: Its toxicity spreads easily when you're doom scrolling. (GLAAD says to be especially careful if you still use Twitter.) Take time out to breathe the fresh air of being with other LGBTQ+ people and allies. Get out in green spaces where the air tends to be cleaner and clearer. Create trans and queer culture which gives rise to better air as well as more fun.  It takes some work but we are still in the non-smoking section.

Be inspired. Colorado and the country in general went from people smoking everywhere to having to tolerate smoky non-smoking sections to being able to avoid smoke in most places. That happened because we used science and political persuasion and personal appeals.  It’s amazing what we can do when we work together.


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