The logic behind Arizona’s recently vetoed Senate Bill 1062 was bad. So bad, in fact, that the bill’s release on Feb. 20 was immediately followed by opposition from the LGBT community and its supporters. If passed, the bill would provide legal protection to prevent businesses from being sued for refusing service to clientele in the name of religious freedom.
The bill reads like a giant contradiction. It claims to support religious freedom, but if passed, it would make forms of discrimination against a number of diverse identities legal. SB 1062 had the potential to label servicing a gay customer as an “unreasonable burden.” Said gay customer might have just been trying to buy a tuna sandwich or something equally as benign.
In two short pages, SB 1062 somehow managed to provide critics online and elsewhere with ample material to make even more jokes about Arizona’s politics.
The second I stepped out of my room to brush my teeth on the morning of Feb. 20, I bumped into a friend who, in a manic and frenzied fury, demanded that I explain to her “the Arizona Situation.”
“What situation?” I asked, feeling kind of idiotic still with my morning breath and penguin boxer shorts. I will admit that after the debacle that was 2010’s SB 1070, I thought that Arizona was content to fly under the radar of social consciousness for a few years.
As it turned out, I had missed something huge happening in my home state.
I’m from the suburbs of Phoenix, yes, but I’m at Barnard now, and up until recently I’ve been fine with being from a state that’s generally recognized as being vaguely (or not so vaguely) racist, sexist, and homophobic. When you’re from a place that tends to support such views, you have to do your research on social issues and not internalize the prejudice. And when things like Senate Bills 1062 and 1070 happen, you just have to acquire a rebellious streak, slap an “I Could Be An Illegal” bumper sticker on your car, and send an angry email to your city council members.
Which is why I was a bit concerned with the responses to the bill I got from my Columbia friends. Since the majority of the drama surrounding the bill ended as soon as it was vetoed, news coverage of the issue was fairly minimal. I was approached by confused people asking me how on earth something like SB 1062 could ever surface in the 21st century. People were turning to me, the “professional Arizona expert,” for the missing logic behind the bill. It seemed that for some of my East Coast friends, Arizona and Jan Brewer existed only in mythology, and I had somehow managed to cross the divide from the red state mythos to reality. As such, I was their only trustworthy source on the issue.
I completely oppose the contents of Senate Bill 1062 and recognize the severity of the injustice it serves to LGBT-identified people and other minority groups at risk. The rapid mobilization of my friends back home studying at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona, and the like was amazing. I’ve never seen my Arizonan peers so politically active, and I’ve never seen an online petition spread around so quickly on Facebook and Twitter. When the number of posts about SB 1062 on my Facebook newsfeed started creeping up on 100, I realized something obvious.
The divide between Arizona and New York is more than just geographical, and it’s more than just political. It’s not simply a West Coast versus East Coast issue, or a red state versus blue state affair. The reason for the divide is that somewhere along the line, Arizona became a joke for those who don’t actually live there. It turned into a stale political cartoon, and SB 1062 merely revived it. My friends here didn’t see Arizona as a state with the potential to change—they saw it as a way to vent some of their frustrations about social justice, or as a way to get a few laughs out of my quick explanation of the current state of affairs.
This liberal nature of the Columbia bubble can often force a kind of superiority onto us. When we disagree with things like SB 1062, our first instinct is to be momentarily outraged by the injustice of it all. Our second instinct is to crack a few jokes about how much better it is to be “here” than “over there.” Which is fine and even valid, in a sense—but I think that some of us may have taken it too far. To transform Arizona into a flat joke minimizes the experiences of those living there who actually want to make positive change happen. And even though the bill was vetoed by Jan Brewer last week, people are still laughing at the punchline: Arizona.
Paulina Mangubat is a Barnard College first-year with a prospective major in economics. Restroom Ruminations runs alternate Thursdays.
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