Queer people have seen enormous progress over the past decade. Between 2005 and 2015, support for same-sex marriage rose 21 points. In late 2010, President Barack Obama signed the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal into law. And last June, the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
That last victory was without a doubt the most significant for our community in recent memory. Tens of millions of dollars were thrown into it over the course of four years (when voter referendums first gained momentum), an incalculable effort by activists, organizations, and political leaders — or what I jokingly refer to as the all-powerful "LGBT Inc."
Shortly after the Supreme Court win, groups dedicated exclusively to marriage equality — Freedom to Marry, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Marriage Equality USA — ceased operations. So did New York's Empire State Pride Agenda, shocking LGBTQ activists gearing up for additional battles against inequality. The Empire State Pride Agenda claimed it had accomplished each and every one of its top policy goals, with the group's executive director telling the New York Times that the group's closure should be celebrated "because we've been incredibly successful." But many felt the shuttering was premature.
I spent five years working in the news department of SiriusXM's now-defunct LGBTQ channel, OutQ, where my responsibilities included researching, writing, and reporting on stories deemed culturally relevant to our national queer audience.
From where I'm sitting, the fight for equality is far from over.
In 2016 alone, we've seen headlines about a state legislature passing an anti-trans "bathroom bill," increased gay bashings in metropolitan areas like Dallas, Texas, politicians debating the importance of including religious exemptions in nondiscrimination ordinances, and Republican presidential candidates repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
As a "professional gay," I am critical of any LGBTQ leader who has softened his approach toward activism since last June's same-sex marriage ruling. But I too should hold myself accountable as a proud, out man for my complacency in the face of lingering inequities. Despite my frustrations with some members of LGBT Inc., I've never picked up a phone and called my representative to voice my concern about pending legislation. I've never canvassed and asked everyday Americans about their thoughts on enacting local LGBTQ protections. I've never donated money to help bring additional beds to homeless shelters catering to LGBTQ youth or told my friends to support a candidate specifically because of her stance on LGBTQ issues. I've never spoken up after overhearing someone make a disparaging remark about me and others who love like me. I've never assisted HIV patients or engaged in awareness campaigns designed to curb the number of infections.
I'm certainly not alone in my complacency. Personal struggles have seemingly trumped the need for an impassioned community-wide mobilization that drove previous generations. That lack of enthusiasm has ultimately affected our movement's progression and the tenacity of its leaders. But we can change that by jointly focusing on these 10 areas:
1) Increased anti-LGBTQ violence
Transgender people are persistently the subject of violence, more so than any other sector of the population. Trans people, specifically trans women of color who engage in sex work, disproportionately fall victim to homicide.
Just within the past two months, Maya Young, Monica Loera, Veronica Cano, Nino Jackson, Demarkis Stansberry, and Kayden Clarke were murdered. Each died under undetermined circumstances with the exception of Clarke, an Arizona native with Asperger's who was fatally shot by police.
They join the roughly 23 transgender women of color whose reported 2015 deaths further provoked a new wave of activism within the trans community demanding justice for this all-too-frequent occurrence.
Though these cases have become more visible lately, activists say that many remain unsolved partially because of perceived ignorance among law enforcement.
Meanwhile, gay bashings are continuing at alarming rates, even in areas deemed safe for the community. Dallas's Oak Lawn neighborhood has seen more than a dozen attacks since Pride Month last June. A gay Chicago resident said last month he was violently assaulted on the subway, while a 28-year-old Bay Area man was attacked for wearing white pants. The latter's video on Facebook recounting the incident was seen more than a million times. Just this past week, an Atlanta gay couple suffered second- and third-degree burns in a boiling water attack.
Queer people should definitely use social media, among other outlets, as a way of addressing these violent crimes against LGBTQ Americans. They should also consider joining their local neighborhood watch programs and working in tandem with their police department's LGBTQ liaison, if one exists. If not, they should fight for the creation of such a post so as to better educate authorities on the specific plight of our community.
2) LGBTQ youth homelessness
Roughly 40 percent of all American homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. In 2012 the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank, found that a vast majority of this population reports being disowned by their families, while half admitted to suffering abuse at home. New York City has a handful of shelters specifically designated for this group of runaways, including the widely known Ali Forney Center.
But Ali Forney, which is the largest US agency of its kind, can only help a fraction of distressed youth with its limited resources and beds. There are only 250 beds available for upward of 3,800 homeless youth in New York City. Because of this ongoing national epidemic, musician Cyndi Lauper established the True Colors Fund and its companion, Forty to None Network, which connects service providers, educators, and young people, among others, through an online community.
Each of these entities accepts year-round donations, as does the National Coalition for the Homeless, which frequently seeks members and volunteers. That group has outlined steps you can take to help advocate for homeless LGBTQ youth, especially if they are housed in shelters that are not LGBTQ-specific.
3) Disproportionate infection rates
Men who have sex with men continue to be the group most severely affected by HIV in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even claimed that half of all black gay and bisexual men, along with about a quarter of Latinos, are projected to contract the virus within their lifetimes. Despite that, half of gay men have said they aren't even personally concerned with HIV/AIDS anymore.
The trouble is no one's getting tested nowadays. The Kaiser Family Foundation found in 2014 that fewer than 20 percent of gay and bisexual men were tested for HIV within the recommended span of six months. Worse was that a third of the study's respondents had never been tested.
HIV-negative gay and bisexual men, though, are taking advantage of a new treatment called PrEP, which is upward of 90 percent effective in preventing transmission. All PrEP requires is a daily antiretroviral pill called Truvada taken alongside ongoing condom use. But condomless sex is becoming increasingly popular among men who have sex with men, despite the health risks.
It should be noted that PrEP does not protect users from other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. The CDC says that syphilis outbreaks among gay men are still increasing at "an alarming rate," with that specific demographic accounting for 83 percent of overall male cases.
So gay and bisexual men should routinely get tested for all sexually transmitted infections, especially if they are in non-monogamous relationships. They should also consult their physicians about whether PrEP is right for them. For more information about HIV testing, you can visit the CDC website.
4) Poz shaming
HIV-positive gay and bisexual men constantly fight back against the assertion that overt promiscuity led to their diagnosis. Most upsetting to them is that a lot of that judgment comes from other men who have sex with men and who are HIV-negative. A common refrain I hear among negative guys is that it's tough to sympathize with poz-identified men when there are various methods to avoid contracting the virus altogether in a post-1980s AIDS crisis world.
This mentality has found itself on dating and hookup apps where users ask that prospective mates also be "clean," a term adopted by gay men (and despised by poz guys) to indicate that they're disease-free. As evidenced by a UK-based stigma campaign last year, the dialogue can become incredibly offensive, with some negative guys saying positive men "deserve" the virus.
Though there will always be some levels of hesitance among HIV-negative gay men with regards to becoming sexual with poz guys, it's important that they understand terms like "undetectable" and "viral load." They should also talk to their doctors about ways to remain safe themselves.
But above all, they should stay educated. When high numbers of negative men who have sex with men aren't getting tested or don't even know their status, it can be seen as quite hypocritical to engage in poz shaming.
That's why more people should become aware of resources like the website Poz and Plus Magazine, which just this week posted an article titled "30 Things You Should Know About HIV But Were Afraid to Ask." They should also read up on and consider donating to outlets like the Stigma Project.
5) Legislation protecting religious freedoms
Last year, Indiana's Republican governor, Mike Pence, considered signing a bill that would have barred the government from impeding on a person's religious liberties unless it proved to have a compelling interest. Gay rights advocates argued that the broadly worded legislation would have given people of faith license to discriminate against LGBTQ patrons.
Proponents, though, say these types of bills are their best way to combat the effects of marriage equality, especially when it comes to commerce and exerting business owners' rights.
Now various state legislatures, including those in New Mexico, Virginia, and West Virginia, are debating enacting "religious freedom" laws. If you live in any of these jurisdictions, reach out to your local representatives to voice your concerns over the implications of these proposed measures.
Also, the gay media watchdog GLAAD is asking people to sign its petition urging Georgia's governor to veto his state's newly passed bill, which would reverse locally enacted protections.
6) Anti-trans "bathroom bills"
This February, South Dakota's legislature approved a first-of-its-kind measure that would have forced transgender students in the state's public schools to use the restrooms and locker rooms that corresponded with their birth sex, regardless of their gender identity.
That means a student who identifies as female (and who likely has been unable to change her birth certificate to reflect that identification) would've been told to use male facilities despite any reservations, further stunting her transition.
The bill's advocates, ironically, argued that its implementation was necessary to protect the "bodily privacy rights" of "biological boys and girls" who expected to be surrounded by anatomically similar individuals.
Unfortunately, "bathroom bills" and their corresponding arguments are nothing new. They were most recently used in Houston, Texas, when advocates there defeated the city's LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance by saying the law would give predators access to children.
Tennessee lawmakers are now moving to pass similar legislation that would apply to school districts statewide, since each municipality currently creates its own policies. The bill's sponsor says it's necessary in order to avoid litigation.
LGBTQ people looking to raise awareness about the damaging nature of such discriminatory bills should learn about the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center, which has a legal information helpline for those seeking assistance.
7) Elder care
SAGE, the national organization that helps LGBTQ seniors, says there are roughly 1.5 million LGBTQ people ages 65 and older, a number that is expected to double within the next two decades. National reports show that this particular demographic is more likely to suffer from poverty, physical and mental illness, isolation, and discrimination than straight seniors. They're also more likely to live alone, be single, and be estranged from their biological families.
LGBTQ elders, a majority of whom don't have children, say their futures are bleak and are confined within the walls of nursing homes that (hopefully) support their lifestyles.
Younger LGBTQ people who have a few hours to spare each week should try visiting seniors, especially those living in SAGE housing facilities nationwide. They could also sign up to be SAGE volunteers tasked with event planning and clerical support, among other opportunities. SAGE's National Resource Center on LGBTQ Aging has even developed webinars for becoming education ambassadors.
8) Faith-based oppression
Late last year, leaders within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints adopted new guidelines that ban baptisms for minors living with gay parents and threaten excommunication for those in same-sex marriages.
At the time of the announcement, LDS leaders said in a statement that the rules were designed to protect children. Within weeks of the changes, nearly 30 young LGBTQ Mormons, most of them in Utah, committed suicide. Parents of gay church members argued that the deaths were a consequence of the hurtful revisions.
An LDS church spokesperson responded to the news by telling the Deseret News, "Those who are attracted to others of the same sex face particular challenges and pressures in this regard, both inside and outside the church. We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope. Each congregation should welcome everyone."
This past January, the Anglican Church imposed three-year sanctions on its American branch, the Episcopal Church, after the denomination decided to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages. This means Episcopal leaders are unable to represent the Anglican faith in ecumenical settings, and will not be allowed to participate in doctrinal decisions.
Pope Francis — who shocked LGBTQ people when he first asked the now-iconic question, "Who am I to judge?" — more recently angered the queer community when he issued a joint statement against same-sex marriage with a Russian Orthodox leader last month. It read: "We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this [traditional] union," adding that the distinct vocation of bearing children within marriage is "being banished from the public conscience."
As someone involved in his progressive parish's LGBTQ Catholic ministry, I think queer parishioners should push to be included in traditional parochial functions. They should also consider joining online forums or local meetup groups designed to bring faithful sexual minorities together. And if they're comfortable, they should start a dialogue with their faith leaders about the role of sexual identity within their particular denomination.
9) Lack of nondiscrimination protections
LGBTQ employees can still be fired in more than half of our states, and can be denied housing and the use of public accommodations. Matters are far worse for transgender prospective workers, who face record levels of unemployment.
The Equality Act of 2015, which would amend the Civil Rights Act and the Housing Act to protect LGBTQ people in areas such as housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and jury service, is currently before Congress. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has given no indication that he'll ever bring it up for a vote. That would mirror the fate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which was introduced repeatedly in both chambers for nearly two decades. That legislation, which consistently passed in the Senate, would have only protected queer employees.
Aside from calling their Congress members to ask them to vote for the Equality Act, LGBTQ people can also become trained in the kind of grassroots activism work needed to garner support for such legislation. The National LGBTQ Task Force offers an online program designed to help participants become better organizers.
Workers should refer to the Human Rights Campaign's annual Corporate Equality Index to see how their respective company rates on LGBTQ friendliness. They should also consider either creating or joining their office's LGBTQ affinity group if it's deemed safe.
10) Hate groups rising
The Southern Poverty Law Center said late last month that it added seven more organizations to its list of anti-LGBT hate groups, bringing the total number of these specific phobic entities to 48.
Though the number of extremists is always expected to rise once a maligned demographic sees progress, an SPLC representative told the New Civil Rights Movement that these opponents are "in a white-hot fury," adding, "These groups are really vile and nasty, but they're losing the battle, and ultimately they're going to lose the war."
Am I glad that tax-paying, law-abiding US citizens are now able to marry the people they love? Absolutely. Hell, I'm taking applications for "Spouse 2." But now that we've collectively thrown the bouquet, it's time for LGBTQ Americans to wed ourselves to a future desirable by all. That means uniting with our trans brothers and sisters who continue living in the shadows of oppression, visiting the very people who launched our revolution more than 40 years ago, protecting ourselves from bias and violence, and once again being unafraid to "Act Up" in the face of hate.
Xorje Olivares (@XorjeO) is a radio personality and producer based in New York City. He is also a contributing writer for Flama and Out Magazine.
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