What Have We Learned and Where Are We Going From Here?

It’s July 6th. We’ve had a week now to decompress from the excitement, alcohol, and endorphins of Pride. For the Americans reading this, you may still be nursing a hangover from Independence Day. Maybe you need a few more days. If not, this has been a pretty monumental year in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. We had a lot more to celebrate this year than we have ever had before.

Marriage equality has spread across this world like a virus—or a wildfire, I’m not sure which is the best metaphor to use here—this year. The United States now recognizes and performs same-gender marriage in all fifty states. Our marriage equality was won in the court system. In Ireland, this year, marriage equality was won by referendum—the first nation on earth to legalize same-gender marriage by popular vote. In various parts of Mexico, regional appeals courts have ruled same-gender marriage bans unconstitutional. In Slovenia, a same-gender marriage bill was passed by that country’s parliament, it is being appealed by the courts, but may soon be legal there as well.

Lest we forget how far we have come, we must recognize the governments of Mozambique and Lebanon.  No, these two nations did not legalize same-gender marriage, nor civil unions, nor domestic partnerships. These countries have not come that far, not yet. In 2015, Mozambique and Lebanon have decriminalized gay sex. That may be a bigger win for our community than even the legalization of marriage, for if we are not jailed, we have won.

At the time that the United States has reopened diplomatic relations with the island nation of Cuba, the regional arm of the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, has designated Cuba the first country to effectively eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. New York State has recently begun a budget proposal to end epidemic-level HIV incidence.

Six states in the U.S. require insurance companies doing business within the state to cover transgender health care. Those states are California, Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York. That’s awesome. Four countries on Earth allow transgender people to self-designate their gender on legal documents. Ireland became the fourth and newest addition to that list this year, a few weeks after passing marriage equality. They join Argentina, Malta, and Denmark. New York City allows trans people to self-designate their gender on the recently launched NYC municipal ID cards, but this does not translate onto birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or passports, which is limiting.

There are more transgender individuals in the media than ever before. The United States state of Oregon has its first bisexual mayor. The city of Palermo in Sicily has its first gay mayor. US Soccer star Abby Wambach, who just helped the United States win the World Cup, kissed her wife immediately after the game. Our visibility is higher than it has ever been, and that’s a wonderful thing. However, I think we all know we have a hell of a long way to go.

Engaging in gay sex in large swaths of the world can land one in prison, or worse, the grave. In the “developed” world, a person can be fired, evicted, or denied opportunities because of their gender or sexual identity.

Queer people face harassment, sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence, and verbal harassment on a daily basis. Transgender women of color are the demographic most likely to be murdered in the United States. Five trans women of color were killed in the United States in the first five weeks of 2015. Trans suicides, especially those committed by youths are woefully underreported, and still dominate the progressive media. Queer people in rural places, even in the most developed of countries, are murdered without anyone knowing their names.

Forty percent of all homeless youth under the age of eighteen are queer. Many of them turn to sex work, one of the most unforgiving and dangerous pursuits on the planet. Living on the street also puts these children at risk for falling through the cracks in terms of education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. Being shoved through the foster care system can do more harm for these children than good.

Gay and bisexual men, as well as trans women, are contracting HIV at rates close to the infection rate at the height of the AIDS pandemic. America’s healthcare paradigm systematically fails at-risk individuals, allowing so many of them to fall through the cracks and miss key aspects of care. There is enough information and prevention mechanisms in place to eradicate HIV, and yet the infection rate is still astronomical.

Gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate blood unless they remain entirely celibate for twelve months. Gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate organs, even if they are HIV-negative and the person who needs an organ is their sibling or partner. HIV-positive individuals are not allowed to receive organ donations, even by other HIV-positive individuals. It’s impossible to know how many people have died because of these draconian laws.

The state of the queer nation is not strong. It is weaker than our rainbows and parades would make us think.

But how do we go about fixing such major problems when the heterosexual world believes its work is done? How do we, as a collective community made up of very diverse parts, choose which major issue to throw our full support behind, after so many years of fighting for marriage?

Queer people face myriad incredibly strenuous problems all over the world. Each of them will be an uphill battle to solve. If we follow the patterns our community forged in the twenty-first century with the overwhelming present of lobbying force for marriage equality, how would we go about choosing which issue to elevate to the level of full-court press? Whose lives are we supposed to deem more important? We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot change hearts and minds any more than we can change law overnight. Nor can we change them on all issues with equal speed.

Our marriage equality infrastructure will be dismantled within weeks as the vestigial lawsuits and attempted stops on marriage are dissolved. Why? Would it not make sense to transfer those resources toward further needs of the queer community? Would it not make sense to rebrand Freedom to Marry as Freedom to Work, or Freedom to Live? This fight is not over.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no shortage of organizations out there fighting the good fight. In New York City, which is where I am based, there are such organizations as: the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which has been fighting for the rights of HIV-positive individuals and queer healthcare rights more broadly since its inception in 1987, the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), which has been teaching queer and HIV-positive people how to counter the violence perpetrated against them, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), which has been fighting for the rights of trans people and was named for the transgender activist Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the riots at Stonewall. These organizations are good at what they do. They need help. Help them. Help them all if you can.

Where we must go from here, even after a long year full of wins and losses, is forward. We must honor those who don’t make it to next year’s Pride because of the rampant violence and discrimination against us. We must never forget their struggles and sacrifices in the face of a world that cannot accept diversity. We must fight tooth and nail for each and every one of our next victories. They will come slowly, but they will come if we keep up the fight.

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