LGBT Leaders: Gay Marriage Is Not Enough
Friday’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage officially legal nationwide. Great. What’s next?
The Court closed the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment does not allow states to ban same-sex marriage. But other critical issues facing LGBT Americans have been waiting for the same mix of funding and public interest that carried same-sex marriage over the threshold.
For decades, same-sex marriage has been something of an idée fixe for the LGBT political mainstream—no other issue reached the same level of awareness nor inspired quite so much spending. But to quote a song that was more popular back in 1970 when a Minnesota county clerk rejected the marriage license application of two gay men and put this judicial battle into motion: “It’s all over now, baby blue.” So, where to from here?
I asked the leaders of several LGBT organizations, big and small, to share their plans in light of today’s victory. LGBT leaders told The Daily Beast they celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict but hope that politicians and the public can turn their attention to a wide range of other cultural and legal problems facing their communities.
For many, it’s as simple as devoting more attention to letters in the acronym besides that capital “G,” starting with the “L.” Beth Shipp, executive director of LPAC, a lesbian political action committee, pointed out that gains for LGBT people are not felt equally along gender lines.
“We seem to be at an incredible point in our LGBT history, on the precipice of full equality; and yet, these discriminations [like RFRAs] threaten lesbian and queer women’s economic security, our political equality and our personal freedoms. All the while, the reproductive rights of women continue to erode,” Shipp told The Daily Beast.
Poverty, contraception, and abortion might not seem like inherently LGBT issues but they are certainly intertwined with them. According to the Center for American Progress, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women are more likely to live in poverty than their heterosexual and non-transgender counterparts. They are also at increased risk of sexual assault, as the National Center for Lesbian Rights notes, which makes abortion access essential for lesbians and bisexual women.
BiNet USA board members Aud Traher and Faith Cheltenham hope the public can now recognize that there are roughly as many bisexual people in the U.S. as there are lesbians and gay men combined, and further acknowledge the role bisexual people have played in the fight for an issue that has too often been referred to as “gay marriage.”
“Now that we’ve won marriage, we need immediate and concrete support for bisexual community issues like domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, poor health, poverty and suicidality,” they told The Daily Beast.
But highlighting the “T” seems exceptionally urgent after today’s ruling. Every LGBT leader who contacted The Daily Beast mentioned that issues facing transgender people, especially transgender people of color, should become a priority moving forward.
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center, told The Daily Beast that his organization will continue doing business as usual: “Our priorities remain unchanged by the marriage ruling: We are working toward a future where all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of gender identity or expression.”
In addition to pointing out the tragically frequent murders of transgender women of color, Hayashi wants the LGBT movement to address other social problems that acutely affect transgender people: education, unemployment, lack of access to health care, racism, and police violence.
Greta Gustava Martela, co-founder of Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline for transgender people, made it clear that high rates of anti-LGBT violence and suicide will not simply disappear now that same-sex marriage has been legalized.
“Transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, are overwhelmingly the people represented by LGBT violence and suicide statistics, and yet we have to struggle for simple representation in the LGBT movement,” Martela said.
In 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs found that, of 25 victims of anti-LGBT homicides that year, 73 percent were people of color and 53 percent were transgender women (PDF).
This level of anti-LGBT violence—as it occurs at the intersections of race, gender identity, and citizenship—was a central preoccupation for the organizations who spoke with The Daily Beast. Many seemed less concerned with LGBT people getting married than they were with simply keeping LGBT people safe and alive.
In light of today’s ruling, New York-based transgender advocacy organization Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) asked LGBT leaders “to prioritize racial and economic justice work to increase the health and wellness of our communities,” with specific attention to people in the LGBT community who are poor, incarcerated, non-white, or who are immigrants. Southerners on New Ground (SONG), a grassroots LGBT organization in the South, shares these priorities.
“Prioritizing our collective survival by centering on poor people, women, trans and gender non-conforming people, immigrants, and people of color, is the only strategy that doesn’t leave our people behind and gets us to the end of liberation,” SONG leaders said.
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, deputy managing director for United We Dream (UWD), a youth-led U.S. immigrant organization, called today’s ruling “bittersweet” for “the estimated 267,000 LGBTQ people who are also undocumented.”
“The reality for them is that they face unrelenting discrimination for both sexual orientation and gender identity as well as their immigration status,” he said.
Carlos Padilla, the program coordinator of UWD’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), added that undocumented LGBT immigrants face high rates of violence and sexual assault in detention centers, a point most recently raised by Jennicet Gutiérrez during President Obama’s remarks at a White House Pride Month event on Wednesday.
“To make matters worse, the Department of Homeland Security often places these people into solitary confinement for ‘their own protection,’” Padilla added. “This is torture and we cannot stand for it as a country.”
Undocumented LGBT people are also overrepresented in statistics on LGBT violence, constituting 3 percent of the U.S. LGBT community but accounting for 8 percent of LGBT hate-violence survivors.
And Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth, told The Daily Beast that LGBT youth also face the fundamental problem of securing housing. The Center for American Progress estimates that between 20 to 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT—Siciliano calls 200,000 “a conservative estimate”—and yet most homeless shelters do not have space for youth, let alone resources for LGBT youth.
“Our movement is now called upon to pivot its focus from laws to resources,” Siciliano said. “Demanding housing for the hundreds of thousands of LGBT teens suffering homelessness in our nation’s streets is a great place to start.”
For LGBT people as a whole, a wide range of cultural problems are sure to persist even after same-sex marriages become a nationwide norm. A recent GLAAD poll found that, despite majority support for same-sex marriage in the U.S., many Americans still have a fundamental discomfort with LGBT people in their own social circles.
“More than 100 million Americans still say they’re uncomfortable just seeing a gay co-worker’s wedding photo, and staggering rates of hate violence continue to devastate the transgender community,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told The Daily Beast. “We must not only advance policy, we must also accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community—because laws alone don’t end discrimination, people do.”
The leaders of Believe Out Loud, an online community for LGBT Christians, told The Daily Beast that they have a unique role to play in promoting this acceptance in the context of U.S. churches, particularly within Christianity.
“As we look ahead to a movement beyond marriage equality, we know that the work of affirming Christians is not yet finished. It’s now time for churches to move beyond simply accepting what we understand, to affirming LGBTQ people as they are,” the organization said in a statement.
Alongside religious advocacy efforts, changing the internal culture of families and schools seems vital but similarly impossible to achieve through legislation and Supreme Court rulings alone.
“Legal rights are one critical piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, an LGBT-focused education network, told The Daily Beast. “Education is the glue that holds society together and transmits both opportunity and shared values from one generation to the next.”
GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey reveals that acceptance for LGBT middle and high schoolers seems to be lagging behind the legal victories for LGBT adults. In the most recent survey, 85 percent of LGBT students in the survey told GLSEN that they had been verbally harassed in the past year but only 50 percent had access to a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).
The leaders of PFLAG National, an organization for families and friends of LGBT people, also contend that homes and schools will prove to be just as critical for LGBT acceptance as courtrooms.
“Our education efforts are only increasing, and we find there is an even stronger need for our family and ally voices in rural towns, conservative locations, and in communities where reconciling faith with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is still an issue,” they said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
But although the LGBT leaders that contacted The Daily Beast pointed out sweeping social problems, they were uniformly optimistic about the renewed energy that a same-sex marriage win can bring to these fights.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell told The Daily Beast that the LGBT movement should prioritize homelessness, immigration reform, discrimination, and transgender issues, before saying: “This is a once-in-a-movement chance to alter the future of every successive generation. Let’s do this.”
And Kevin Cathcart, the executive director of Lambda Legal, calls today “a glorious day for equality, justice and love,” adding that treating HIV and addressing HIV stigma still require the attention of LGBT leaders.
“I have been doing this work long enough that I can predict the future,” he told The Daily Beast. “The victories will be sweet and some people will declare the movement over—but they will be wrong.”
The legalization of same-sex marriage today might seem monumental—and it is—but it’s only the start of the social and legal reforms LGBT leaders hope to enact in the coming decades. To quote another song that was on the radio when the Supreme Court first took up this question: “We’ve only just begun.”