OPINION: The Struggle For Gay Rights Is A Work In Progress

A large hand pushes down against a group of people. One of them holds a long rainbow flag, which stretches across the bottom of the graphic.
Graphic by Molly Antell

CW: Anti-LGBTQIA+ violence

In 2003, I was five years old. In 14 states across the United States, it was illegal to engage in consensual homosexual relations. Until I was age 13, it was standard practice to discharge servicemembers who revealed that they were not heterosexual. When I was age 15, the Supreme Court struck down legislation prohibiting the federal recognition of same-sex marriages. It took another two years for the Court to declare marriage a right for same-sex couples. All this occurred in the span of 12 years.

The pace of inclusion and acceptance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals in American society has been staggering. (I purposefully exclude the nature of transgender inclusion as a matter of its own right deserving of ample evaluation.) Thrilling as it may be for members of the community, the rapid development of legal equality for gay and bisexual Americans has been met with vehement resistance and backlash.

Intolerance has skyrocketed in the United States and — in particular — against LGB people. Shockingly, GLAAD’s annual report on LGBT inclusion released this past week marks the first time in the report’s history that acceptance of gay people among American heterosexuals decreased over the course of the past year: 51 percent of heterosexual Americans are uncomfortable with gay people. The same study found that one in five heterosexual Americans do not believe that I, a gay American, deserve equal rights under the law. Additionally, 2017 saw a 400 percent increase in anti-gay motivated murder against gay and bisexual men.

While backlash against the rapid advancement of gay rights in the United States is one explanation for the continuing rise of anti-gay sentiment, the campaign for president run by the 2016 Republican candidate undoubtedly bolstered the legitimacy of anti-gay hostility nationwide.

Some LGBT individuals and allies claim to have been bamboozled by the 45th President. After all, this is a man who tweeted: “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

Just add this to his ever-growing list of lies — one of the young administration’s first priorities was to file an amicus brief arguing that current federal civil rights laws do not protect gay employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, reversing that Obama-era policy.

Of course, this unprecedented hostility toward LGB communities from the individuals currently holding office at the highest levels of federal government translates into consequential anti-gay policy extending far beyond the reaches of U.S. borders. In October, the United States voted against a resolution at the United Nations condemning the death penalty as punishment for same-sex relations. On the international stage, the American government turned its back on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lawfully murdered for being who they are.

Troublingly, many are so eager to see the man at the top removed from power that they don’t give a second thought to the detrimental impacts it would have on LGB Americans. When Democrats take to the House floor and demand our president’s impeachment, do they contemplate the resulting installation of an impassioned, fanatical, anti-gay zealot in his stead? The president has joked that the Vice President’s opinion on how to best deal with issues of gay inequality is to “hang them all.”

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights are not inevitable. The steady march of progress of the past decade and a half has devolved into a term of acute regression for our nation. Legalizing same-sex marriage, while a crucial aspect to complete social and political equality for LGB Americans, did not eradicate stigma or prejudice around non-heterosexuality; in fact, it may have contributed to its demonization. Moreover, what’s the point of gay Americans filing joint tax returns with their spouses on non-existent incomes? According to the laws on the books — gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can be fired in 28 states for being gay.  

Despite the turmoil plaguing the nation, it is so easy to be myself at the 5Cs. I am enormously privileged to attend an institution that values me and embraces who I am. Yet, one need not travel to the Deep South to come face-to-face with virulent anti-gay hatred propagating throughout the country. I use the term “anti-gay” purposefully. It is not a fear of LGB people, a “phobia,” that is responsible for violence against us. It is unadulterated hate.

In reality, the highest portion of hate crimes in Los Angeles are committed against LGBT targets. In our own backyard, a son can be murdered by his father for being gay.

The rights that LGB Americans have gained in the past decade are not set in stone. Fifteen years ago, it was illegal in swaths of the country to be gay, something that is still illegal in much of the world.

As quickly as things have progressed, they can regress. We must continue to press for full equality; it is essential that LGB Americans and our allies be laser-focused on demanding equal rights under the law.

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