Watching same-sex couples wed at the Grammys while recording artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis sang the gay rights anthem “Same Love,” it is easy to see how many people think the battle for gay, lesbian bisexual, and transgender equality is over. In terms of the big picture, the trajectory towards equality is clear. However, a sizable backwater of intolerance remains, leaving much work to be done to drain this sickly swamp.
When the LGBT movement first organized, one of the goals was to pass an overarching federal gay rights bill. Over time, the larger bill was segmented into bite-sized issues thought to be more digestible in Congress and state legislatures: Employment discrimination, marriage equality, gays in the military, hate crime laws, and so on.
However, these issues really can’t be compartmentalized, because they all come back to the same idea. If one believes that LGBT people are truly equal and that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality – one usually supports full acceptance and inclusion. If one believes in the warped concept that LGBT people are inferior, than one usually opposes most, if not all, measures to treat gay people fairly.
On this topic we really do have two Americas. The first group has consciously decided to eradicate all barriers to full inclusion. The second group continues on the fool’s errand of trying to shame LGBT people, believing if they are just cruel enough, members of this group will disappear or magically decide to become heterosexual through prayer and therapy.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) has an illuminating new policy paper, The Momentum Report, which highlights the sad reality that “LGBT Americans see historic victories in securing marriage, yet most states fail to offer basic protections to LGBT Americans.”
In the past two years, 11 additional states allowed same-sex couples to marry, showing an astonishing leap toward equality. However, this enthusiasm must be tempered with the fact that there are many states where majorities view LGBT people as inferior and are still using the law to punish them. The MAP report observes:
There have been fewer advances in many other areas critical to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. For example, no new states passed laws explicitly protecting LGBT students from bullying. Similarly, over half of states still lack legislation protecting LGBT Americans from employment discrimination—and no new states passed such legislation in the last two years (though Delaware updated their law to include transgender workers).
It is absolutely shameful that we live in a nation where in half the states LGBT workers must fear losing their livelihoods because of their personal lives. Many of these hard working, decent everyday people quiver in fear each Friday when co-workers ask what their plans are for the weekend. Instead of telling the truth – that they will spend it with their partner or spouse – they feel compelled to lie and invent a cover story. This is not only dehumanizing, but psychologically damages the individual, as well as placing unnecessary strain on the relationship.
The MAP report notes that state employment nondiscrimination efforts stalled in Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming, leaving 29 states without laws protecting LGBT workers. Additionally, no new states passed safe schools laws; only 19 states and the District of Columbia have such laws protecting LGBT students.
“The Momentum Report provides an important reminder that LGBT Americans and their families still face many critical challenges,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “From passing nondiscrimination laws to creating safe schools, from accessing quality health care to ensuring legal protections for LGBT families, the legislatures in over half of the states have failed to secure even the most basic level of equality for their LGBT citizens—causing many cities and counties to take local action to help address these gaps.”
What I find interesting is that leaders on the Religious Right like to portray themselves as victims in a gay-embracing America. The harsh realities pointed out in The Momentum Report show how fictional the far right’s narrative is. Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center has studied FBI hate crime figures and found that homosexuals are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime attack than Jews; 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks; 4.4 times more likely than Muslims; 13.8 times more likely than Latinos; and 41.5 times more likely than whites.
America the bigoted has always competed with America the beautiful. Thankfully, the good in this nation usually makes great strides in overcoming evil. In the case of LGBT equality, there is still a long road to go until full legal equality is reached, and an even longer path to true acceptance in all 50 states.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”