On June 26th, 2015, the LGBTQ community and allys alike rejoiced when the Supreme Court struck down all of the states’ bans on same sex marriage, marking a milestone in this country’s history. Myself and the community at large all knew that, while this was a win, we still had work to do. However, as time has gone on many have forgotten about what still needs to be done. Easily accessible media such as movies, commercials, and magazines showed us images of “equality” in the form of thin, white, cis bodies as they profited off their new progressive image and painted a pretty picture of acceptance. Upon reaching this point, people across the political spectrum, even those who considered themselves allies, felt comfortable with where gay rights and representation stood.
Even today, you could walk into countless break rooms across the country and find Ellen playing on TV or hear co-workers chatting about a bachelorette party at a gay bar that their friend attended. Yet, only 20 states having full LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. In 28 states, it is entirely legal to be fired for being gay, bi, or transgender. As a result, people of all ages live in fear of being outed at work or in their community. In those same 28 states, their landlord can kick them out or they can be denied housing to start with. “Married on Sunday, fired on Monday,” is a very real possibility for LGBTQ individuals all over the country. They can be also be denied public services from a business or a government office and it is perfectly legal to do so.
The ongoing, institutionalized LGBTQ discrimation often starts in the homes of an already vulnerable demographic – LGBTQ children. Barriers are out in place before they even get to the starting line of adulthood. In the US there is an estimated 1.6 – 2.8 million homeless young people. Out of that population, an estimated 20-40% are part of the LGBTQ community according to The Center for American Progress. A staggering amount of homeless LGBTQ children leave their homes to escape conflict or to flee from explicit discrimination and abuse from their family.
While schools are expected to be the safest place for all children and teens, the opposite is often true for LGBTQ school children. Those who don’t face this discrimination at home are often subjected to it in schools from their peers, teachers, or administration. Many counties in the 28 states with no statewide anti-discrimination laws have their own LGBTQ protections set to protect students, but the culture of living in a state without protections permeates through. Even then, the protections are often lacking. This includes things such as not having gender-inclusive bathrooms, a complete lack of inclusion in sex education curriculum, and lax follow-up procedures on reported incidents of bullying.
In 2017, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the University of Colorado surveyed 12,000 LGBTQ teens across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. the results revealed upsetting numbers, particularly from transgender teens and teens of color. Out of this group, 50% of transgender and gender expansive teens said they could never use bathrooms that match their identity in school. Out of the polled group, only 11% of LGBTQ teens of color said they think they are regarded positively in the U.S. A total of 73% of LGBTQ teens said they could not be their full selves in school. It should be expected that every school helps its students grow personally and academically to their fullest potential, students cannot realize their potential if they are unable to safely explore and affirm their identity.
Students living in fear at school are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities and be involved in the community, which lowers their likelihood of going to college and receiving extra financial aid such as grants and scholarships that help students overcome the financial hurdle. A survey conducted by GLSEN in 2016 found that 13.4% of LGBTQ students who faced harassment at school said they had no intentions of going to college after highschool to begin with due to the treatment they received. While colleges and universities often offer more support options for LGBTQ students, they still face a disproportionate amount of sexual violence. Additionally, their graduation rate is lower than students who are straight.
Whether attempting to find work post-college, post-trade school, or directly after high school the amount of barriers surrounding entry to a career path is high. For example, resumes that indicate the applicant is part of the LGBTQ community receive fewer callbacks than those who have no such history. This is the start of a pattern of discrimation that trans people and LGBTQ people of color more will often experience throughout their lives. This shows another level of prejudice even in communities that are more accepting of LGBTQ members.
Once they begin a job, LGBTQ workers face a higher amount of passive and direct harassment. This creates a hostile work environment in which that individual can not thrive. Additionally, the cost of living continues to rise, which makes it more difficult to make ends meet, especially when harassment and discrimination cause someone to be restricted in their career trajectory. LGBTQ workers often find themselves stuck in jobs that pay less than the area’s livable wage or are forced to leave jobs due to discrimination leading them into a financial crisis.The consequences of this could mean living in poverty or becoming homeless which makes it even more difficult to find employment.
Being denied access to equal education, job safety and security, and assistance from government or nonprofit organizations creates a pattern in which LGBTQ people are left behind, both by the community as a whole and oftentimes by their own community. This frequently culminates in an increase in health risks due to lack of insurance through employment as well as discrimination in the healthcare system itself, particularly for trans people who are often denied care altogether even when they are insured.
Access to full medical care is a human right that is disproportionately denied to the LGBTQ community and more so to certain subcommunities within itself. In a country where our health insurance is tied to our employment, not having LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections in every state is a direct attack on the vulnerable community.
Accepting discrimination as a part of the status quo opens the door to violent attacks on the community and individuals therein alike, resulting in a staggering amount of trans people killed every year. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign tracked 24 deaths of trans and gender non conforming people. In 2018, the is number sat at 26. With the percentage of trans people in the U.S. being only 0.6%, the equivalent of those rates for cis-gender Americans would be 4,000 killed a year. Overall, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community has risen since 2016 and currently make up about 17% of total hate crimes according the LGBTQ Bar Organization.
As recently as April in 2018, a murder charge was mitigated by an “LGBTQ Panic Defense,” in which the defendant asks the jury to take into consideration the victims sexual or gender identity as a reason for the attack. Instead of being convicted of murder in that case, the charge was for negligent homicide which carries a lighter punishment. As long as there are systems in place to protect those who commit these atrocities, we will see them happen time and time again.
Those in office who are not making this a priority are failing the very people they claim to represent. Using the excuse of religious freedom to allow ongoing discrimination of and violence towards the LGBTQ community is a shallow and cowardly tactic. We cannot let the static, quaint, and often whitewashed projection of the LGBTQ community that is used by companies and media alike convince us that the fight is over or almost done. It is the responsibility of everyone, member of the LGBTQ community or not, to demand these protections and for action to be taken beyond that to protect the basic rights of LGBTQ and call on those in office to do so. Facing the social, political, and legal dedicits that tout equality over equity will help end the discrimination and violence that is too often glossed over or ignored outright.