Monday, July 6, 2009

Stonewall's unfinished legacy

From the Guardian newspaper:
Post-Stonewall improvements in the lives of many LGBT people have been profound, though neither swift nor easy. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its handbook of mental disorders in 1973. The US supreme court finally invalidated all remaining laws that criminalised sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults in 2003. Millions of us have come out of the closet – in our workplace, to our families and in our neighbourhoods, proving that we are, indeed, everywhere. LGBT publications and organisations abound, including 4,000-plus Gay/Straight Alliances in the nation's schools.

Still, the trajectory of LGBT rights has not been one long, unbroken upward arc tending towards justice. A dozen years after Stonewall, the federal government wilfully ignored HIV/Aids for so long, as it thought it affected only men who had sex with men and other "undesirables". No federal law protects LGBT people in the areas of workplace discrimination, housing or hate crimes, while the (significant) handful of states that do have laws often omit transgender people and LGBT youth from their protections. Anti-gay bullying runs rampant in our schools, and a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth is LGBT. Over 16,000 service members have been ousted from the US armed forces under the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy – an average of two per day.

Last November, Proposition 8 in California overturned an earlier court decision granting marriage equality. Though five states now recognise same-sex marriage, the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) deprives legally married same-sex couples of the 1,381 privileges that federally recognised heterosexual couples enjoy, including rights regarding pensions, social security survivor benefits and immigration. It also bars us from filing a joint income tax return and levies a heavy "gay tax" on health insurance and inheritance. Small wonder a recent UCLA report on poverty in the LGBT community found that same-sex partners are more likely to be poor than our heterosexual counterparts.

You've come a long way, baby, but you aren't nearly done walking.

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