Michelle Obama gave the commencement address at Jackson State University in Mississippi, urging students to fight discrimination, including the anti-LGBT law recently signed in the state. Mississippi is just one of the 22 states with laws deemed discriminatory against the LGBT community, causing concern even outside America’s borders.
The First Lady explained on Saturday that key to fighting discrimination starts at the voting booth.
“If we fail to exercise our fundamental right to vote, then I guarantee that so much of the progress we’ve fought for will be under threat. Congress will still be gridlocked. Statehouses will continue to roll back voting rights and write discrimination into the law. We see it right here in Mississippi – just two weeks ago – how swiftly progress can hurtle backward, how easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love.”
According to the Huffington Post, the law, known as Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, allows businesses to deny service to customers if they have a religious objection to doing so. It also provides protections against a number actions that would otherwise constitute discrimination, such as refusing to employ someone based on sexual orientation.
Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law early this month, despite large protests.
Michelle Obama told the 800 graduates about her and her husband’s struggles with critics who question his faith, patriotism and citizenship. Despite the frustration, they’ve always tried to take the high road, according to Obama. The graduates will face discrimination, and they too will be left with a choice of how to handle that anger.
Michelle Obama said it’s essential that the people stand together.
“So we’ve got to stand side by side with all our neighbors – straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu immigrant, Native American – because the march for civil rights isn’t just about African-Americans, it’s about all Americans.”
Mississippi is hardly the first place to pass anti-LGBT laws. After the Supreme Court decision allowing for gay marriage, a number of states fought back with laws designed to prevent protections against LGBT discrimination. Roughly 100 LGBT measures have been considered across 22 states according to the Huffington Post. The most famous might be North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, companies and entertainers from across the country have rallied together to fight the state’s law. Like the Mississippi measure, it’s designed to prevent local government’s from creating their own ordinances protecting the LGBT community from discrimination. A local law in Charlotte that would have prohibited local businesses from denying service or accommodations to transsexual people set off the debate.
Michelle and Barack Obama were quick to come out against the laws, which are also causing concern abroad. The U.K. issued a travel advisory warning LGBT travelers that their trips might be affected.
President Obama met with British Prime Minister David Cameron over the weekend, and said in a joint press conference that the people of North Carolina and Mississippi are wonderful and that British tourists should feel free to visit. He added though, that “the laws that have been passed there are wrong and should be overturned.”
Michelle Obama said in her speech that fighting discriminatory measures like Mississippi’s law is part of the story the students could write.
“It’s about making things more just, more equal, more free for all our kids and grandkids. That’s the story you all have the opportunity to write. That’s what this historic university has prepared you to do.”
The Mississippi’s commencement address will be one of Michelle Obama’s last as her tenure as First Lady comes to an end in November.
[Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images]