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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Not Out of the Woods Yet

With Pride approaching so quickly, it is easy to get caught up in the euphoria that has resulted from an unprecedented and unpredicted series of victories affecting the LGBT community.  The discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage is falling one state at a time like poorly mounted tiles off a wall.  Just this past week Oregon and Pennsylvania became the 18th and 19th states, respectively, to hop on the road to equality. Remember when there only five?  More states are in limbo because of legal challenges that are in process that may also add to the totals. 

Forty-four percent of Americans now live in a state that allows same-sex marriage. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in March show that nearly 3 out of 5 Americans support the right of gays and lesbians to tie the knot.  All in all, North Dakota remains as the sole state where no challenge to their ban has taken place. 
On top of that, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that legally married same-sex couples cannot be denied the federal benefits afforded heterosexual married couples.

Locally, the recent passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, derided by opponents as “the bathroom bill,” is another reason to celebrate after years of failure.  A signature drive is underway to petition the law to referendum in November, but my gut is telling me it will fail by either the inability to collect the requisite number of signatures or that it will likely lose at the ballot box.
This past year we’ve witnessed history in the world of sports whereby Jason Collins became the first openly gay man to play in a major North American sport league (pro basketball) while still active, and Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted in the National Football League. 

With the screening on HBO of Larry Kramer’s powerful drama The Normal Heart, we got a glimpse of how our government that is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people” based on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address turned a blind eye on the developing AIDS crisis that began in the 1980s.  In direct contrast, we now have a president that has moved heaven and earth to help achieve equality for LGBT folks.  If only he had a Congress he could work with.
All this welcome news masks one underlying bit of reality: we’re not out of the woods yet.

More states have legalized same-sex marriage than have non-discrimination protections in place for LGBT workers.  The federal law—Employment Nondiscrimination Act or ENDA—has “celebrated” its 40th anniversary of non-passage.  It’s been introduced in every Congress but the 109th without success.  Prospects are dim for the near future that the bill would become law given the Republicans’ staunch opposition to passage despite the fact nearly three-fourths of Americans support nondiscrimination in the workplace for LGBT folks.  The GOP stubbornly continues to trail behind the shifting, progressive public attitudes—a development that weakens the Party nationally.
Despite the progress, old habits don’t die.  There are still haters out there who would physically harm LGBT people if given the chance or deprive them of their rights.  Bullying in schools continues to cause problems for LGBT students, especially among the transgender kids.  And families who rely on a strict interpretation of Scripture still throw their LGBT children out of their homes or make it so uncomfortable for them, the kids become runaways or homeless.

These problems continue to exist but they are more acute outside the U.S. where there is widespread homophobia leading to serious consequences.  We know of the the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 (previously called the “Kill the Gays bill” in the western media).  Instead of the death penalty for being gay, life imprisonment is the penalty.  Whew!
Elsewhere in Africa, new anti-gay laws have been proposed in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.  Anti-gay violence has been increasing across the continent.

In 2013 Russia received international criticism for enacting an anti-LGBT propaganda law, which purportedly was to prevent distribution of “non-traditional sexual relationships” ideas among minors.  This, too, has led to anti-gay violence around the country.
China is cracking down on gay activists.  Brunei has a law that allows death by stoning for gay sex.  And then there are the stringent laws in other Middle Eastern countries.

All this means is that as things get better in the U.S. they seem to be getting worse elsewhere.  Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast opines that these nations are reflecting a backlash to the progress in the U.S. “Thanks to globalization, America’s current infatuation with all things gay has become more visible around the world,” he writes.  “As a result, many countries have become volatile mixtures of 1950s attitudes and 2010s media.  Children may watch Glee on their smartphones, but their parents still think gay people are pedophiles.”
And the AIDS crisis is far from over.  Though it’s no longer considered a “gay disease,” new infections from younger men who have sex with men are on the rise.

We can celebrate the steps we have taken as we move forward—as well we should—but we must understand that there is so much more work left to be done.  Clearly, we’re not out of the woods yet. 
Not by a long shot.

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