It’s been about a week since the Supreme Court’s momentous decision making same sex marriage legal in all fifty states. I’m ecstatic. I’ve been ecstatic since I heard the news. But reality is starting to settle in. It’s not quite time to spike the ball and go home. The struggle is just beginning.
Marriage has been the loudest and most visible fight. Right now, the fact is that same sex couples can marry on Sunday, and still be fired on Monday. That’s because only 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In most of the country it is still legal for members of the LGBT community to be harassed, fired or denied a job, simply for disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Right now, there is no federal legislation being proposed to combat this discrimination that has any chance of passing with this Congress.
Nor is there any legislation that has a chance of becoming law to prohibit conversion therapy, the practice of “reversing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been found by the broader medical establishment to have no proof of efficacy, and it can do a lot of psychological harm. California has banned it, but in much of the country, worried, sometimes well-meaning parents are still shipping their kids off to these centers to be “cured.”
Two other issues are still on the LGBT rights table and may have a much harder time getting attention, let alone broad public support: trans-phobia and racial discrimination of LGBTs.
For transgender people, it’s likely that protections against persecution and discrimination may have a more immediate impact on their lives than marriage equality. Ditto for LGBT youth on the streets. Recent studies have estimated that up to 40 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. are LGBT. In many cases, it’s due to parents kicking kids out for identifying as queer. For them, marriage is one of those nice things that other people are enjoying. Likely higher on their agenda is having a place to live and a community and family who can accept them and give them a leg up on finishing their education and making their way in the world.
If they’re LGBT homeless youth of color, they’re really in for a rough time. LGBT minorities, homeless or not, face a disproportionately high rate of unemployment than straight people of color or white LGBTs Americans.
Full equality isn’t here yet.
When I say marriage equality has been an easier lift than these issues, it is because marriage is a happy cause. It’s is a celebratory experience ingrained in our culture. It’s people having cake, walking down the aisle, being happy together. Many straight people have been persuaded that gays and lesbians deserve what they themselves have. And we do.
But homeless gay youth? They’re not getting face time on national media. They’re on the fringes of society, trying to survive. Transgender people got a boost in visibility with the very public transition of Bruce Jenner to Katlyn Jenner. But Jenner has, as my late grandmother used to say, more money than God, and has all the privileges that come with that status. Most transgender people are barely getting by. Some are getting murdered. Almost all are still marginalized in society.
Those issues are not front and center, and it will take some heavy lifting from the sometimes less-than-cohesive LGBT community.
Yes, we will see lots depictions of happy same-sex couples in advertising. The ruling and outpouring of support from straight allies gives brands permission to consider narratives that include LGBT consumers, families, products and services as part of integrated campaigns.
But you’re not going to see ads featuring transgender people (probably) and definitely not LGBT homeless youth or people who have been fired and kicked out of their apartments for being queer. It’s just not going to happen. Those issues are downers, and people don’t talk about them.
So, let us drink the champagne, dance, sing and celebrate the victory from last week. It’s huge. But let us not forget the other struggles. As we have seen recently with the ugly resurgence of racist violence in this country, the fight for justice and equality for all is never really over. At least not in the foreseeable future.