When I was a kid, my grandfather would write me these really amazing cards for birthdays, graduations and holidays filled with pieces of life advice. I stumbled upon one recently, and one piece of advice written in his signature purple ink stuck out to me: “Learning to forgive takes practice.”

For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, learning to forgive can be difficult, if not downright impossible. We’ve endured long-festering open wounds with our families. We’ve been misunderstood by our friends. We’ve been told by our churches that we’re sinners. And on top of all that pain, we’ve been discriminated against – legally – because of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

But learning to forgive doesn’t mean learning to bury our pain. Quite the opposite. We’ve channeled that pain into change for our community, and today more Americans are comfortable publicly identifying as LGBTQ+ than ever before. Before winning marriage equality at the ballot box, LGBTQ+ Mainers successfully made the state one of the first to include sexual orientation and gender identity in a statewide nondiscrimination law. Unfortunately, those protections aren’t a reality for every LGBTQ+ American.

That’s why it was particularly gut-wrenching this week when Sen. Susan Collins pulled her support for the Equality Act, comprehensive federal legislation that would provide basic legal protections for all LGBTQ+ Americans, regardless of where they live or work. After years of claiming to be an ally, pulling her support now is just the peak of Sen. Collins’ betrayal of Maine’s LGBTQ+ community – a betrayal that started by pandering to the far right for votes.

We had real reason to celebrate when Sen. Collins signed on as a co-sponsor of the Equality Act in 2019. With attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans coming from all corners of the Republican Party, she stood out for her willingness to buck her party’s hateful rhetoric and support legislation that would take away the uncertainty LGBTQ+ Americans face from potential discrimination in our day-to-day lives. Now, it feels her support was just an election year ploy.

It wouldn’t be the first politically opportunistic move she’s made.

After she lost a key endorsement in her 2020 re-election campaign from the Human Rights Campaign, a leading national LGBTQ+ rights group, the Christian Civic League of Maine, an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group, threw their full support behind Sen. Collins – an endorsement she told the group she was “truly grateful” for. The Christian Civic League led the opposition to the 2012 marriage campaign, opposed now-Speaker Ryan Fecteau’s bill banning “conversion therapy” for minors and, notably, fiercely opposes the Equality Act, calling the bill “an attempt to eradicate the divinely designed differences between men and women.”

I grew up in a small town in Tennessee. Like a lot of Southern boys, I attended church three times a week, where preachers taught that Christians are to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but also taught that God views LGBTQ+ people as abominations. As a depressed, anxious teenager who feared for my soul, “love for the sinner” felt quite a lot like hate. Fear of discrimination kept me from coming out to a single person until I was 23. And to this day, I don’t feel completely comfortable in my identity. For me, learning to forgive has meant learning how to reverse a childhood filled with self-hatred and to love myself instead.

That’s one reason why Sen. Collins’ reversal on the Equality Act is personal – because it’s beyond time for me to not have to worry about being legally discriminated against because I’m gay. This is the best chance we’ve ever had to strengthen civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans in key areas – from employment to education to public spaces and services. And frankly, we’re tired of being used as election year pawns.

Confirming dozens of Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ judges, embracing the support of an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group and refusing to back the Equality Act when it finally has a chance of becoming law aren’t the actions of an ally. She can’t have it both ways.

Either Sen. Collins supports LGBTQ+ Mainers or she doesn’t.


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