Some of the most popular and most critically acclaimed authors in the country have become the latest group to oppose Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act.
Bestselling novelist John Grisham, Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt and National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward were among those who signed a statement today calling for the repeal of House Bill 1523.
The measure, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R) last week, protects “persons, religious organizations and private associations” from discrimination claims if they refuse to serve anyone based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. The law has been condemned by civil rights groups for encouraging state-sanctioned discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
In their statement released Monday morning, 95 Mississippi authors declared, “It is deeply disturbing to so many of us to see the rhetoric of hate, thinly veiled, once more poison our political discourse.”
They conclude: “Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislators who voted for this bill are not the sole voices of our state. There have always been people here battling injustice. That’s the version of Mississippi we believe in, and that’s the Mississippi we won’t stop fighting for.”
The statement was written and organized by Katy Simpson Smith, a novelist who was born and raised in Jackson, Miss.
“I was just getting more and more frustrated with this,” she said by phone, “and then I realized I do have a platform: all these Mississippi writers who have inspired me to write.” After composing the statement last week, she sent it to as many writers as she could contact. “It became this wonderful chain,” she said. “It was an amazing thing to see this outpouring of support from the writing community.”
What troubles Smith most about House Bill 1523 is its precedence.
“There’s this sense that Mississippi has gone down this path before,” she said. “I write a lot about race in my fiction, and to see the same kind of rhetoric start to be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians is like seeing this history repeating itself. It seemed so obvious to me and other writers that we had these demons that we’d confronted, and now they’re rearing their heads again.”
For her, the challenge is how to communicate effectively with people who feel very different about the issue of gay rights.
“In Mississippi, we have a very strong Christian community,” she says. “And I think this is the reaction: lashing out in an attempt to defend their vision of the world.” But she believes there are other people reading the same Bible and coming to very different conclusions. “It’s hard for the Christians in Mississippi on the other side to see that same text used for hate rather for love.”
The new law will go into effect July 1.