We Need More Than Laws to Get Us Out of the Dark Ages
It seems that for every advance made for LGBTQ Americans, there is a counteraction from the opposition. And every bill to further gay and transgender rights has its flaws. Although equal marriage is picking up speed, there are still areas where LGBTQ people struggle to be themselves.
The Supreme Court definitely helped pave the way toward true equality by ruling against DOMA last week. Americans have made great progress in the fight towards equal rights for LGBTQ people, with equal marriage being achieved in 13 states. Public approval for gay marriage is higher than ever, and the attitude toward LGBTQ people has certainly seemed to shift. Compared to even five years ago, life for many LGBTQ Americans is quite different in a positive way. Gay people openly run in elections (and win), serve in the military, appear favorably in the media and play professional sports, and more transgender people are opening up about who they are.
In my journey as a gay woman, I have been so lucky to receive support and love from the people around me. But for so many others like me, life isn’t all that great. Despite the seemingly overwhelming changes in opinion and increasing rights, LGBTQ people continue to face blatant discrimination and ill will every day. Opposition is real and strong, and we still have a very long journey ahead of us.
Here are some issues that could still use some fine-tuning and rethinking in order to step out of the dark ages:
Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study showing same-sex couples face significant discrimination when it comes to buying a house together. In the study, straight couples were favored over gay men in 15.9 percent of the tests and over lesbian couples in 15.6 percent. Testers sent emails to landlords inquiring about housing, and the “straight couple” got a favorable response, while the same-sex sender didn’t. The only difference between the interested couples was sexual orientation. Despite the fact that some states have legal protections for LGBTQ people against housing discrimination, the federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recent studies have shown that gay parents are just as competent as straight ones, but they are often discriminated against when trying to adopt. Anti-gay activists are tireless in their efforts to bar gay parents from raising children, and transgender parents face an even more difficult battle because of the lack of established legal precedents.
Surveys show that workplace protections are the highest priority for LGBTQ Americans. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, has been reintroduced to Congress to include gender identity. ENDA would make it illegal to discriminate against anyone the workplace based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. However, there are still many flaws in the act itself, such as the various religious and membership-only club exemptions, and members of Congress are still arguing about it. Instances of discrimination still occur, and some lawmakers still think it should be legal to fire a person for their sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, 90 percent of transgender workers have faced employment discrimination.
Even things we might think are resolved continue to cause anxiety in the lives of some LGBTQ people. For example, gay couples still struggle to visit each other in hospitals, and anti-gay and transgender violence continues to be a problem. Transgender people often find themselves in sticky situations with something as simple as using a bathroom.
So What Can We Do to Get Closer to Equality?
It is a fundamental change in ideology that needs to happen. A certificate alone isn’t going to solve the problem. Laws aren’t going to change the way people treat each other. It’s a change that needs to come from within everyone. Binary gender is so ingrained into each and every person’s head, it’s difficult to look at someone and not automatically sort them into a category of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ or not assume heterosexuality. It takes deliberate and conscious thought to get away from those categories and assumptions. It isn’t that people who automatically think that way are bad, because I still catch myself doing the same thing, as I’m sure we all do. It is just something that takes work to change, and I don’t think that many average Americans have the awareness, education or time to make that conscious mind-shift.
Even though I live in an area where people are considerably more accepting of LGBTQ people, I still get weird looks from people when I hold hands with my partner at the grocery store or movie theater. I find myself gauging what a person’s reaction might be like when I tell them I’m a lesbian. It is something that I think about every day, and I am very aware of the way people’s attitudes change when they’re around my partner and me or figure out my orientation.
Gay and transgender people are still very different in people’s minds, and that needs to change before we ever reach full equality. It’s not that we’re always looked at badly, but I do often feel singled out for my sexual identity. Stigmas and stereotypes still run rampant in our culture, and I think that is one of the underlying reasons for the inequality we face.
Fear of the unknown and unconventional is to blame for anti-LGBTQ sentiments, and I think a lot of it also has to do with people’s inability to accept or understand gender differences and queerness. It can even be difficult for those of us who do identify as lesbian, gay, queer or trans, so I can imagine the mental struggle for someone who does not support gay or trans rights. Being queer or gender non-conforming isn’t black and white, and it doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It is scary, but so what? Each and every person in this world is different, and that is something that should be embraced.
That shift in thinking, getting away from traditional modes of thought like gender binaries and stereotypes, is so essential to achieving equal rights for everybody, regardless of race, gender, orientation or identity. Open-mindedness toward people who are different from the norm or yourself is the only way to progress from here because laws are just laws.
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