When “Deeply Held Religious Beliefs” Spell Discrimination

Mississippi’s state legislature is debating a bill that critics say would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people. Lex Rofes, a Southern Jewish activist, shares memories of his uncle’s struggles as a gay rights advocate in the 1970s on the Southern & Jewish blog.


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In the late 1970s, my Uncle Eric Rofes marched in a gay pride parade in the Boston area with a paper bag over his head.

Why would he do this? What reason did he have to hide his identity as he sought to make equal rights for LGBT individuals a reality?

His reasons were practical, and heartbreaking. He was a teacher, and at the time, it was completely within the realm of acceptable activity to fire teachers if they were “discovered” to be homosexual. Allowing his face to be seen could have consequences.

Later in the year, he decided that he no longer could hide this aspect of his identity. He decided he would inform the school that he was gay. He would no longer bring fake “girlfriends” to school functions, and, if asked by his students, he would talk with them honestly about the fact that he is attracted to men and not women.

Upon learning this, the school fired my Uncle Eric.


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