“Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public”

It is not easy living in a heteronormative society, where heterosexual individuals render privilege and all those who deviate from the norm encounter oppression as a result. Because the laws and policies that are meant to protect individuals are created within a heterosexist framework, the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer) community often go ignored or undermined.

This systemic and structural marginalization occurs at the everyday level, possibly in your own doctor’s office, and was experienced by a lesbian couple in Vermont. Dr. Roi, the physician Krista and Jami Contreras initially entrusted with their daughter’s health, refused to provide them with her services on the basis of religious and moral confliction. She claimed that she would never judge the couple’s choices in terms of the expression of their sexual identities, however this statement is intrinsically false. In reality, Dr. Roi’s judgments of the couple were homophobic, and institutional discrimination of homosexuals and other LGBTQ individuals within the realm of religion is not uncommon in the world we inhabit. Since humans with heteronormative perspectives founded religious institutions, it is arguable that some of their axioms perpetuate the privilege and power imbalances that persist in our society. Consequently, there is an undefined grey area between what is moral and what is not.

Homosexuality, when one is attracted to the same sex that they identify with, has historically been deemed as unnatural because of heterosexist social constructions revolving around rigid sexual scripts that dictate how people must behave according to the gender binary, which separates sex and gender into two distinct classes, male and female, masculine and feminine.

This raises a controversial question: Do people use God as a scapegoat to maintain social hierarchies that privilege few and oppress many? Because particular religious institutions render homosexual relationships sinful, it creates an environment where it is justifiable to dominate others, dehumanize them, and thus have easier access to resources and job security, among other things. It induces the notion that it is unnecessary to critically consider the ways in which their convictions affect the physical, mental and socioeconomic prosperity of the ones they marginalize.

Furthermore, although there has been a substantial activism and legislation reform surrounding the rights of the LGBTQ community, governments of the West and the general public are not genuinely invested in them. The American Medical Association forbids the refusal of care based on sexual orientation, which is who one is attracted to, yet Dr. Roi’s practice was not subject to penalty by the AMA because caring for an infant with homosexual parents did not agree with her morals. Her personal and religious beliefs were given priority, despite their discriminatory, oppressive nature. Clearly, Krista and Jami Contreras did not win that battle, so who decides which party’s rights are respected and on what premises?

For most people, witnessing discrimination or becoming aware that they contribute to it systemically does not ignite a fire in them. If the problem does not hinder their invisible, unacknowledged privilege, they remain indifferent, apathetic and unconcerned. Why? In a culture where cisgendered heterosexuals have advantages over those of the sexual minority, surrendering these benefits is an enormous sacrifice. Though the public claims that they are sympathetic toward the needs of the LGBTQ community and women, sincere affinity for equality would involve dismantling the supremacy and immunities that inherently accompany privilege. It would mean relinquishing power and taking responsibility for the injustices that generate oppression.

Beyond doubt, the lesbian couple has endured obstacles that do not exist for heterosexuals, however the privileges that Krista and Jami Contreras do have cannot be disregarded. Because the couple is white, they did not experience apprehension about their race convoluting their message, or whether it would prevent their story from reaching a large audience. When broadcasting the prejudices they endured, their race granted them unquestioned credibility. When asking other doctors whether they would accept their child as a patient, they would not have to worry about race as a determining factor. The child the Contreras are raising does not have to learn methods of survival within racist structures, and she will grow up in a world where her race is widely represented in all aspects of everyday life. A lesbian couple of colour would face more institutional challenges when consulting adoption agencies or seeking employment, fuelling the lack of healthcare and poverty that plagues many Americans.

“Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like public.” We, as individuals of society, as parts to a whole, possess the capacity to be agents of change, yet fail to generate it. Until our love for others is genuine enough to end indifference and shift the power dynamic toward equality, there will be no justice.

Works Cited:

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

“Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby.” My Fox Detroit. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Amptoon. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

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8 thoughts on ““Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public”

  1. Jac

    Hey Ash, I think this is a really thought provoking piece!

    I really like how you boiled this down to a main question of whether or not God is being used as a scapegoat for homophobia. Marx once said that religion was the opiate of the masses meaning that religion often deluded people into being subservient to their existing system of oppression; typically because religion offered a better life in the after world. While his comment was really referring to why people don’t rise and cause a communist revolution, I think it is also applicable here, in the sense that people often simply use God as an excuse. Rather than questioning their own privileges, and realizing their own inherent positions in systems of power, they choose to make excuses. This is probably because challenging privilege requires those in positions of power to feel uncomfortable. I think the harm principle definitely comes into play here, where you can do what you like as long as it does not harm others. In this instance, while I am not sure about the access the couple may have had to other medical practitioners (which are also structural inequalities that say a couple who was poor or people of colour may face), I definitely believe they caused harm to the couple and the child. I also really like how you deconstruct the couples own privileges. I also love how you point out it would be inherently racist to ask for the couple’s race and choose not to help them based off their race, but it seems to be more socially acceptable to do so if the couple is lesbian.

    How do you think the law should come down on actions like these? Obviously this is a case in the states, which may be a little different from what we understand, but do you think that the doctor should be charged for sexual orientation discrimination?

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    1. Ash Post author

      Jac, thanks for your comments! Nothing is ever black and white; there’s always a grey area and this is definitely one of those cases. While I definitely respect everyone’s right to freely practice and abide by their religious views, , it can be difficult to tell where to draw the line when they become discriminatory and oppressive. At its core, religion teaches people to love one another unconditionally, so I believe that there should be laws passed that stop the discrimination of LGBTQ communities on the basis of something like sexual orientation. In my opinion, Dr. Roi’s practice should have received penalty by the AMA.

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  2. aba

    Hey Ash! Loved your review. (: I love that you mentioned the religious side of Dr. Roi’s decision. I think it is ridiculous that her religious values were taken as a priority with the AMA. I am not saying that her religious values are wrong and I would never tell anyone to believe something just because I believe it. I also know and respect that all people in professional work fields are given the right to religious practices and opinions, etc… I 100% believe that is how it should be, so this is a very sticky situation. But at what point does it become acceptable to indirectly or directly enforce your personal beliefs on patients, being the cause of oppression and a contributor to the ongoing homophobia that society still carries? This is a clash between two types of freedom to express.

    What do you think the AMA’s decision on the case says to the Contreras family and to other families in the same or similar situation?

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    1. Ash Post author

      Hey, Aba! ☺ For sure, this was a sticky situation and not unique to people like the Contreras. It’s necessary to analyze the intersections of power when we ask ourselves whose are freedoms are respected and whose aren’t. I totally agree that people’s religious views should be respected, however I believe the AMA’s decision reinforces heteronormative values and perpetuates the oppression LGBTQ communities face.

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  3. rau

    Hey Ash,
    I think you have written up a very in-depth piece about this topic. I’m glad we were able to do the same one because I have enjoyed seeing the different approach you and I have taken. One aspect that you talked about in great detail, one that I neglected to touch upon very much, is the aspect of race. I like how you explained the importance of the Contreras’ whiteness as a benefit for their situation. For example, how Krista and Jami do not have to worry about the colour of their skin AND their sexual orientation when dealing with the harsh realities of everyday life. However, you mentioned how Bay would not have to grow up in a world where her race is underrepresented. This is a very valid point, however, I believe that despite Bay’s “acceptable” skin colour, she may very well be degraded for having gay parents. Krista and Jami mentioned that they hope by the time Bay grows up, society will have accepted LGBTQ individuals more than from what they have experienced. However, the unfortunate reality that Bay will most likely have to face hatred from her peers because of her mothers’ sexual orientation. Although this is not as historically, or presently, as severe a problem as racism, do you think Bay will face discrimination by the way her parents chose to live their life?

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    1. Ash Post author

      Hey, rau, I really appreciate your critique of my analysis! Most people experience privilege and oppression to varying degrees in our culture, which does not exclude Bay. I apologize if I was unclear about the fact that Bay will likely face discrimination because of the sexual orientation of her mothers. Yes, she will face challenges that those whose parents are heterosexual will not have to endure, however she has intersectional identities that must be considered when attempting to analyze this piece from each angle. Whiteness comes with a long history of colonial and oppressive narratives, and because of this, I don’t believe the sexual orientation Jami and Krista will strip Bay of the privileges she was born with.

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  4. mac2121

    Hey Ash, great topic choice! I believe that this story is extremely important and should be addressed worldwide. The fact that a doctor refused treatment and was not subject to penalty is astonishing to me. Perhaps defining some of your key terms could be beneficial for your readers as not all may have a background in gender studies. I really enjoyed your analysis and strongly agree that until our love for others is genuine to end indifference, there will be no justice. A possible solution on how to shift the power dynamic towards equality would be interesting to read. Thanks so much for your work!

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    1. Ash Post author

      Thanks so much for your critique! I agree, this is definitely an important issue that needs to be addressed in heteronormative and oppressive societies like ours. While there’s a lot of great social justice movements happening that are pushing for equality, it’s slow and comes with many challenges. It’s hard to dismantle a system that operates on privilege and power imbalances, especially in a society where people have many intersecting identities, which inherently comes with differing wants and needs. Possible solutions that would create the most profound impact would be at the policy making level. The provincial government of Ontario has recently passed a new change in the sex education curriculum, which makes efforts to dissolve gender socialization and binary thinking. Hopefully this will pave the way for new ways of thinking for generations of the future.

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