LGBT rights take one step forward, two steps back

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Photo by Taryn Allen

The fight for equal rights has been a long and difficult one for all minority groups in America, and in the case of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc.) community, the struggle only continues to grow. Despite recent moves forward in marriage equality and other issues, laws favoring discrimination still affect LGBT individuals every day, and the recent appointment of president-elect Donald Trump looks only toward a bleaker future.

Compared to many other countries, the United States has a decent amount of tolerance for the LGBT community, but an unacceptable level of inequality still exists. While much of the blame is put on the federal government, most of the recent hateful legislation has been passed at the state level.

According to The Fenway Health Institute, America today is in the midst of the third great wave of anti-LGBT legislation. The first occurred in 1974 with the repealing of non-discrimination laws, and the second happened in the 1990s, when same-sex marriages and unions were banned. This third wave largely involves further repealing of protective legislation for LGBT people, “religious exemption” bills and health care restrictions.

Many people are under the impression that discrimination laws are an issue of the past, when in fact, in 2015, state lawmakers introduced at least 125 anti-LGBT bills. By February of the next year, more than 175 had been filed in 32 different states.

One of the most well-known and controversial bills was passed in North Carolina. House Bill (HB) 2 reversed non-discrimination laws, making it legal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. To put this law to the test, journalists from Comedy Central created a fake business in North Carolina and refused to serve customers arbitrarily because they looked or seemed gay. Customers were appalled at the discrimination, but HB 2 made it all perfectly legal.

HB 2 also banned transgender people from using the bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The Department of Justice has filed suit against North Carolina, but transgender individuals meanwhile suffer harassment and hatred, leading to negative physical, mental, educational and employment effects.

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Photo by Taryn Allen

“It is unbelievable to me that a law like HB 2 would be passed, one that blatantly allows for discrimination against people at the business’s discretion. It’s embarrassing and seems outdated and obviously unconstitutional,” said Sydney Foster, a second-year ally at the University of Denver (DU).

Other laws, such as Mississippi’s HB 1523, are being passed to supposedly protect the religious freedom and moral convictions of conservatives. However, some see this law as unconstitutional based on the way so-called religious freedom negatively impacts a large community of people.

Furthermore, members of the LGBT community face major health crises with legal refusal of or abuse during health care. People who identify as LGBT already face greater health risks due to the lack of sex and the intense mental stress that being queer can sometimes prompt. These added restrictions to fair health care only exacerbate the health and safety status of the community.

Laws and rights vary across the country from state to state. While some states are enacting harmful discrimination laws, others are enacting change. Per the State Politics and Policy Quarterly journal, some states are passing progressive laws, but they fail to include transgender and gender-variant individuals. Other states are following the lead of the federal government and passing pro-equality laws that protect those of all different sexual orientations and genders.

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Infographic by Taryn Allen

The country celebrated the Marriage Equality ruling for same-sex couples by the Supreme Court in 2015, thanks largely to the work of President Barack Obama. According to Pew Research Center’s “A Survey of LGBT Americans,” Obama has been the most important public figure in advancing LGBT rights—with Ellen DeGeneres close behind, of course.

President Obama will soon leave the White House, and many members of the LGBT community foresee changes to their rights and protections, and not in a progressive way. President-elect Trump was rather anti-gay in his campaign, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence has a notorious reputation for pushing a discriminatory agenda. People young and old are now on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what the Trump-Pence White House will do for LGBT people.

“The Trump presidency terrifies me,” said Nick Udell, a third-year at DU and a member of the LGBT community. “Trump doesn’t really know how to navigate politics, but Pence has been in politics for a while, and his main push is to take away LGBT rights and women’s rights.”

While there are some protections and pro-equality rulings that cannot or are unlikely to be undone, much of the current legislation is subject to change.

Looking toward the future, Queen Wilkes, a second-year student and the president of the DU Queer Student Alliance (QSA), commented on the upcoming Trump presidency.

“[Trump’s] presidency has shown all those who are homophobic, racist, sexist and xenophobic that that’s okay, and that they are not alone, and that in itself is terrifying. I can’t say for sure what his presidency will mean for LGBT rights, but I know that our community is scared, and why wouldn’t they be?” she said.

It is hard not to be afraid when so much hate exists in the country in government and among average people. The recent mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. killed 49 people and wounded 53 others, most of them LGBT, and less-publicized actions of hate occur constantly over every day.

Nevertheless, action can be taken to challenge the loss of human rights that LGBT people have been and are facing, both at the domestic level and at the national level. Everyone can support equality and help to stop further discrimination from occurring.

Wilkes had some passionate suggestions for those wishing to be accepting allies and effect change for the LGBT community.

“Being an ally is as simple as just personally supporting the rights of queer individuals and their pursuit of happiness. However, it is not enough anymore to be accepting. It is not enough just to personally be an ally. You must spread the message to communities even when it is not necessarily comfortable for you. We need more accomplices; people who will attend protest but also help to organize them. People who don’t just donate to the cause but are on the fundraising committee. People who will come to the QSA meetings and join e-board and possibly take on officer position. You don’t have to be queer to be a part of the solution—just do it.”

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