A few weeks ago, two public officials in Tennessee unleashed crude anti-LGBTQ remarks, one even suggesting that LGBTQ people deserve to be imprisoned and killed. Apparently feeling left out, an official in Alabama has also made headlines for spewing blatantly anti-LGBTQ sentiments – and backing them up by pointing to the Bible.
Mobile County Treasurer Phil Benson recently asserted that “freaking queers have gotten too much sympathy.” Benson made the public comment on the Mobile County Republican Party Facebook page, a Mobile TV station reports. He posted it in response to an article profiling Jack Phillips, the Colorado bakery owner who denied service to LGBTQ individuals, using his claim of religious freedom as a license to discriminate. This time around, Phillips refused to bake a cake for the celebration of a transgender person’s gender transition.
Although the Republican Party page eventually removed the comment, when asked by WPMI-TV’s Andrea Ramey to justify his derogatory words, Benson responded, “Gay people are offensive to me.” He also insisted that Ramey join him in reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Book of Genesis, a passage that some fundamentalists use to buttress their attacks on LGBTQ rights.
Doubling down on the remarks, Benson further stated, “Their lifestyle offends me … Do they offend me? Do I think that they have gotten too much power over you and I? Yes. I think too many sub-groups have gotten too much control over us through the government.”
The story hit the internet and social media hard, but Benson isn’t backing down one bit. He even told AL.com, a statewide news site, that he hopes the flap will give him increased name recognition.
The uproar over Benson’s comment led the director of Public Affairs and Community Services for the Mobile County Commission Katherine Eddy to respond, “The Mobile County Treasurer is elected by voters and is not an employee of the County Commission.” Eddy added that anyone who’s unhappy with what Benson said should contact his office.
GOP officials haven’t exactly slammed Benson either. Alabama Republican Chairman Terry Lathan rather tepidly rebuked his comments as “unnecessary” and “divisive.”
Alabama is one of 30 states and three U.S. territories in which LGBTQ people lack explicit legal protections that leave them vulnerable to discrimination, which impacts their safety, job security and everyday lives. In fact, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that tracks equality issues in the states, Alabama affords fewer protections to LGBTQ people than almost any other state in the country.
In part due to the sentiment of public officials such as Benson, Americans United is proud to support the Equality Act (H.R.5), which passed the House of Representatives last month with bipartisan support, and the Do No Harm Act, which will amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to make it clear that the legislation can’t be used to harm others or take away their rights. (Tomorrow morning, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser will testify in favor of the Do No Harm Act before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and Labor Committee.)
Passing the Equality Act and the Do No Harm Act won’t stop people like Benson from spewing hateful comments, of course, but it will do something more important: provide the targets of Benson’s ugly diatribe with much-needed and crucial legal protections in Alabama and elsewhere.
(Photo: Screenshot via WPMI-TV, NBC 15, Mobile)