Moving Forward for LGBTQ Rights, Not Just Fighting Back

With a barrage of discriminatory laws around the nation, it's time for a bolder vision based on the fact that none of us live single-issue lives.

To truly make positive changes at every level of society requires raising awareness about the gender binary that limits us all and results in discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. At the same time, it demands working to dismantle white supremacy. Lindsay Williams

There is no justice when many lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender people fear for their lives. With recent legislative attacks nationwide, many Americans see safety and dignity being pushed even further out of reach.

To advance true equality, activists need to do more than just fight back. We need to have a more proactive vision for what equality even looks like. That vision encompasses the broad spectrum of human rights abuses, and it centers those whose voices are often left out and who are harmed most by anti-LGBTQ laws and inequality: young people, people of color, and the transgender community.

There is much to be done—and that work has to happen across states, throughout movements, and in our laws and our culture.

The recent anti-LGBTQ bills—in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee—are cause for concern. But discriminatory laws are not new and are not happening only in the South.

People must be able to express their true selves as they see fit and without judgment or limitation. They must be empowered to tell their own stories.

Those stories must include the epidemic of homelessness affecting LGBTQ young people who are turned away by loved ones or who leave home out of fear of rejection. A recent study found that 40 percent of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ. When people do seek services, they are often treated disrespectfully.

Allies must fight for appropriate funding and resources for agencies that serve homeless youth and ensure that all youth have a safe place to go to at the end of the day.

Equally important is the need to continually look at how structural racism plays into and exacerbates inequality. Many of the issues facing the general LGBTQ population are even worse for people of color in the community. LGBTQ people of color are more likely to live in poverty and to experience physical violence. Transgender women of color face incredible harassment and life-threatening violence, while lawmakers talk about safety in bathrooms. True justice for LGBTQ people can’t be achieved if some of us are not liberated or safe.

Fighting for our communities—and not just against bad policies—means quality education should be accessible to people of all ages, free of violence, and provide useful information. Well-intentioned anti-bullying policies can hurt more than help by feeding young people into the school-to-prison pipeline. We must adopt school curricula that include a full range of voices and experiences. Young people must get the information they need to make healthy, informed decisions about sex and relationships.

Furthermore, lack of economic and job security impacts LGBTQ well-being. We should all be able to make ends meet by ensuring that we are hired and promoted based on our skills and experiences without fear of discrimination. It is still legal to fire lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people for their sexuality or gender identity in more than 25 states. Transgender people experience twice the rate of unemployment, and 90 percent have experienced mistreatment or discrimination on the job. We need safe workplaces with fair policies, a living wage, and benefits such as paid sick leave and affordable health insurance.

Without stable employment, too many struggle to pay for critical health services. We should be able to afford to see a health professional when we need care and to not have our age, geography, income, or immigration status be an issue. Whether those services are related to gender confirmation, sexual health, or other essential primary and preventive care, we all need to be able to seek culturally competent, affordable, and nonjudgmental care without barriers.

The trouble is that lawmakers who could be working to address many of these issues are making the lives of their LGBTQ constituents and neighbors worse. Laws and policies are not the only answer, and yet this is an area where the entire country can begin to address the obstacles that LGBTQ people continually face.

LGBTQ families should be respected and treated equally under the law, regardless of where we live. We should be able to form relationships, build families, and find love and community without stigma.

We should each be able to move freely through public spaces: to be able to access public facilities without disrespect or discrimination, to use the bathrooms or locker rooms that are appropriate for each of us without harassment, and to have the same rights and access as anyone else.

Each person should be able to shape the policies that impact our lives. Voting is our chance to have a say in who makes key decisions about our health, our families, and our lives. It’s important to eliminate unnecessary, unjust barriers such as felony disenfranchisement or voter identification requirements, and we must expand the opportunities to register and exercise the right to vote.

We must push back against our so-called justice system, which criminalizes poverty and addiction; profiles and brutalizes people of color; and fuels mass incarceration. It is essential that we reform our country’s broken immigration system, which tears families apart and denies the humanity of undocumented people. LGBTQ people experience significant abuse in the detention and deportation process. Transgender people are placed in facilities that do not respect their gender identity, and LGBTQ people are often outed and placed in prolonged solitary confinement, supposedly for their own safety.

In the face of profound violence, claims of religious liberty are now being used to deny people equal protection. So-called religious freedom laws use some people’s personal beliefs to withhold legal protection. Faith should not be used as a weapon against LGBTQ people, and to do is insulting to the many people of faith who support equality. The proliferation of these laws presses us to strive for not just for legal change, but also cultural change.

To truly make positive changes at every level of society requires raising awareness about the gender binary that limits us all and results in discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. At the same time, it demands working to dismantle white supremacy.

Let’s think outside our “single-issue” movement boxes and work to build broader coalitions. If we want to find a place for ourselves, make lives for ourselves, and be ourselves, we have to commit not just to a vision, but to action and new thinking. Now is the time to think about change in a bigger way—as something that happens through one-on-one conversations, in the workplace, around the dinner table, and in the halls of Congress.