Michelle Obama has waded into Mississippi’s religious freedom law row, slamming the state for marginalizing the LGBT community.
The First Lady told 35,000 people at Jackson State University to ‘stand side by side’ with people of all sexualities, not only on social media but also at the ballot box.
‘We see it right here in Mississippi – just two weeks ago – how swiftly progress can hurtle backward,’ Mrs Obama said in her commencement speech.
‘How easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love.’
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,’ she said.
In her passionate speech, the First Lady said she wanted to make America ‘more equal’ and ‘more free’ for future generations.
Mississippi laws have changed so businesses can refuse custom to those in the LGBT community on a religious basis.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, transsexual people are now only allowed to use public toilets that matched the gender on their birth certificates.
The laws have been condemned internationally and led the UK to issue a travel warning to LGBT tourists planning on visiting either Mississippi or North Carolina.
Mrs Obama’s comments echoed those of the president, who said the state laws were ‘wrong and should be overturned’.
‘In part they’re are some strong emotions generated by people, some of whom are good people, but I just disagree with when it comes to respecting the equal rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation,’ President Obama said.
Continuing her speech in Mississippi, Mrs Obama said if people fail to exercise their fundamental right to vote, rights will be under threat.
‘Congress will still be gridlocked. Statehouses will continue to roll back voting rights and write discrimination into the law,’ she said.
She said many young black people disenfranchised themselves in the 2014 midterm elections, when only about 20 percent of them voted.
‘You can hashtag all over Instagram and Twitter, but those social medial movements will disappear faster than a Snapchat if you’re not also registered to vote,’ the First Lady said.
Mrs Obama also user her speech to make a thinly-veiled swipe at Donald Trump, referencing his divisive manner and the birth certificate conspiracy that the Republican presidential candidate instigated in 2011.
‘We pay endless attention to folks who are blocking action, blocking judges, blocking immigration, blocking a raise in the minimum wage. Just blocking,’ she said.
‘We are consumed with the anger and vitriol that are bubbling up, with folks shouting at each other, using hateful and divisive language.
‘And then there’s the countless times when that language gets personal and is directed at my husband – charges that he doesn’t love our country.
‘The time he was called a liar in front of a joint session of Congress. The nonstop questions about his birth certificate and his belief in God.’
The university awarded her an honorary doctorate degree before her speech. Noting the school mascot, she won applause from the crowd as she said: ‘Hey, y’all. I’m a Tiger now.’