Pensèes Arrière, Arkansas — Ezekiel Mirabuenas is a gay, Mexican Muslim man living in the small town of Pensèes Arrière, Arkansas. According to recent Census data, he might be the only gay, Mexican Muslim man living in The Natural State. Mirabuenas was born in the small town of Guanojuato, Mexico in 1990 and his parents packed him up to live with his uncle and aunt in Pensèes Arrière when he was just four years old. Mirabuenas says he doesn’t remember much about his country of origin, but is still fond of the Mexican culture from which he came. He would later become a citizen in 2002.
Ezekiel is currently employed by a local grocery store. He is a cashier there during the days, and nights he takes classes at a community college 20 miles outside Pensèes Arrière. He plans to be a lawyer one day, when his schooling is complete. To say that Mirabuenas works hard would be an understatement, but after Arkansas’ Republican governor signed a new law onto the books this week, he’s going to have to work much harder.
Much like the similar law just signed by Indiana’s Republican governor, the new law in Arkansas would allow any corporation owned by religious people to claim a ruling or mandate handed down by the government violates their freedom of religion, and they can ignore it. This plays right into those on the anti-LGBT equality side of things, as it gives legal cover for businesses to discriminate against gay, lesbian, or transgender people and claim religious freedom if they are sued by the victim of their discrimination.
“What this law really means for me,” Mirabuenas told The Political Garbage Chute in a phone interview, “is that I’m going to have to do pretty much everything for myself for the rest of my life.” We asked Ezekiel what he meant. “Well, if I walk into a mechanic and they can see I’m gay, they could refuse to fix my brakes or change my oil. This is a small-ass town and we have one mechanic. If he refuses to serve me, I’ll have no one but myself to do the work on my car.”
Mirabuenas said he “understands that people have a right to believe whatever they want” and that he isn’t “part of some hidden gay agenda to subvert American freedom,” he just wants to buy his groceries, get a meal out and generally participate in the state’s economy without fear of discrimination. “The bottom line is that in small towns like I live in, giving bigots legal cover to treat me like shit is all they need to treat me like shit.”
“Not everyone in a small town is small-minded, don’t get me wrong,” Mirabuenas said. “But the simple fact is that when you’re hundreds of miles from the state capital and thousands of miles from D.C., it’s easy for bigoted assholes to feel empowered by some hate-spewing politician who swears up and down this law isn’t about making people like me feel like second class citizens,” he also told us.
Our reporter asked Mirabuenas why he doesn’t just leave his town and his state if the repression is so bad. “Because while that’s a brilliant conservative argument for this law not being so bad, the reality is that I’m already broke trying to work this low-paying job of mine while I go to college, that’s why. Also, no one can just pick their entire life up on a whim and move miles and miles away. Logistically it just doesn’t work.”
“The only thing I want is to live my life in the same freedom that every straight Arkansas man can. I just want to be able to know I can go about my life without being hassled for the way I was born. Their God made me this way,” Mirabuenas said during the interview, “so if their God can make me, like he made everything, why can’t they see that I’m just another one of His creations, and I’m worthy of the same love and respect they’d give any of His other creations.”
Mirabuenas says that even despite the nature of Arkansas’ new law, he still loves the American promise of freedom. “Look, I’m not dumb enough to presume all Arkansans, Americans or even Christians hate me because I’m gay, or a Muslim, or Mexican,” Ezekiel told us as he was getting ready to go, “but clearly there are many millions of Americans that for whatever reason truly believe that my personal sexual orientation is cause for their concern, and is something they need to regulate by law. So I take it for what it is, and just have to hope the Supreme Court gets a chance to rule on this law, and until then, I’ll just get really good at fixing my own car, making my own clothes and cutting my own hair, so I don’t have to worry about being kicked out of mechanics, clothing stores and barber shops for being who I am.”