Yes, we won marriage! It is a victory that I can thoroughly enjoy; one year ago, on August 1, I married my wife in Maryland. This doesn’t just mean I got to put a ring on it. There are now 1,138 federal legal protections afforded to us by marriage, including health coverage, joint tax filing, and social security.
This is a great start, but as a queer lady who firmly believes not just in gay rights but in trans* rights, immigrant rights, and justice of all kind, marriage equality is not the victory to end the fight.
I think it’s important that when we say “LGBT” we’re not just talking about gay people but a community that includes queer people, bisexuals, transwomen, genderqueer people, and the whole range of the rainbow. So let’s talk about how, despite being granted marriage equality, our whole community continues to suffer from a lack of many other legal rights in the United States.
One of the most critical outstanding issues is the lack of LGBT workers’ rights. In 29 states of the United States you can still be fired for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual. While other historically discriminated-against populations – racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, the young, the old – have legal protections at work, many LGB people do not.
The situation is far worse for our trans* family. In 33 states, gender identity is not protected in the workplace by law. That’s right, a transwoman can be legally fired for wearing a skirt suit to work.
For years, and even decades, there has been talk of ending discrimination in the workplace and hopes for ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) to be passed in Congress. But it hasn’t happened. Why? It’s partially our (LGBT groups’) fault. It just hasn’t been the number one priority for mainstream LGBT organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, famous for its blue and yellow equal sign and the millions of dollars they’ve invested in marriage equality.
It is time to realize that the right to work is fundamental for survival. This continued possibility for discrimination is one that needs to be eliminated if we are to progress along the path of removing fear from the everyday lives of LGBT people.
It is not enough to care only for American LGBT people. Small steps have been made in this direction. For instance, since the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), immigrants married to same-sex American spouses have been afforded the same rights as other married couples.
However, marriage shouldn’t be the only solution. There are plenty of LGBT people in countries such as Uganda, Sudan, and Jamaica, who face legal discrimination, imprisonment, and violence and come to the United States seeking freedom to be themselves. Their ordeals should legally allow them to enter the United States as refugees with fewer bureaucratic barriers. That isn’t the case. Many, like Marichuy, end up in ICE detention, becoming targets of violence and sexual assault.
A couple weeks ago, ICE agreed to detain people according to their gender identity, but United We Dream, an advocacy group for undocumented LGBT immigrants, have stated that this doesn’t go far enough, as LGBTQ immigrants “experience sexual assault and rape at much higher levels while in detention.”
The problems in immigration detention mirror the problems in U.S. prisons. Over and over again, LGBT people, and especially transwomen, have not been protected by our legal system; they have been victims of it.
One good example is that of CeCe McDonald, an African American transwoman. She was walking down the street one night near her home in Minneapolis when a group of people outside a bar yelled transphobic and racist slurs at her and her friends. The group then attacked them; CeCe had a pair of sewing scissors with her and defended herself against one of the men. He died, and she was convicted and sent to a men’s prison. Rolling Stone has called her a “folk hero,” but her advocacy status doesn’t erase her time spent as a homeless youth, suffering for defending herself, or being misgendered in prison. And she’s one of many.
It is time to realize that these issues are destroying people’s lives and punishing them in a cruel way.
Problems with housing extend to those outside of detention. Take for instance the Fair Housing Act that isn’t fair for everyone. It doesn’t specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity in its protections. Because the United States is still lacking a federal non-discrimination law protecting LGBT people, we can be legally denied housing or kicked out of our houses. For non-LGBT people this is probably unfathomable.
As the case was with same sex marriage, employment and housing non-discrimination ordinances run on a state-by-state basis. This is the current breakdown from MAP (Movement Advancement Project).
Moreover, there is a crisis amongst homeless LGBT youth who are are literally dying. That sounds more important than exchanging rings to me.
LGBT youth make up 40 percent of all homeless youth in this country. This is way out of proportion. Just this week, the U.S. Senate had a chance to save LGBT youth lives by protecting them from bullying. They (almost all Republicans) voted against protections. They voted to let LGBT youth die.
Congress is sacrificing the lives of our children, so many of whom face thoughts and attempts of suicide when constantly faced with school bullying, cyberbullying, and bullying in their own homes. That’s sick.
Bullying also stretches beyond peers. LGBT youth, along with people of color, are overwhelming victims of the school to prison pipeline. Unlike their straight classmates, LGBT youth can be suspended and expelled for offenses like PDA as innocent as holding hands in the hallway or giving a small kiss. The cycle of victimizing these youth, shaming them, and kicking them out of school can lead them to lost education opportunities, dropping out, homelessness, poverty, juvenile detention, depression, and even suicide.
So, yes, we have made progress with marriage equality, but there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done. We need to ensure that this is the first of many victories in securing rights for LGBT people, and not the last. It is a daunting task, but there is much that you can do to help. For instance you can:
- Find out how to be an ally - this requires a lot of listening.
- Get educated – there are many more issues, including healthcare, racial justice, and economic justice that affect LGBT people. See more resources listed below.
- Use your straight or cisgender privilege to speak up for LGBT people.
- Vote for LGBT rights.
- Donate to your local LGBT youth group or the groups working for legal equality listed below.
- Call those callous senators who voted against the lives of our youth, and tell them why they need to care about those kids, too. Here’s a list of them.
For more information, or to contribute to LGBT legal progress, check out these organizations:
- Lambda Legal
- Transgender Law Center
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project
- Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP)
- Center for American Progress
- Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)
- Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)