Friday June 26th 2015- a date forever imprinted on the minds of lesbian and gay individuals everywhere. It is the day of the US Supreme Court 5-4 ruling in favour of same-sex marriage, and thus the day that lesbian and gay people across the US finally received “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.” However, amidst the celebrations that erupted worldwide, from festivals to parades to the social media explosion, there could be heard a more uncertain, less jubilant cry. The wary message of several LGBT activists and individuals quickly gained the attention of a number of LGBT organizations, and rightfully so. There was one very important question being asked: Where to from here?
Although the decision taken by the Supreme Court is truly one worth applauding and commemorating, it cannot distract from the reality of the unpromising situations that a large number of LGBT individuals find themselves in. The desired end-result of advocating LGBT rights is the universal empowerment and emancipation of queer people, a goal that is unfortunately not concomitant with the legalization of same-sex marriage. What must be stressed is that the hardships facing the LGBT community were not erased when their right to marry was granted. Consequently, LGBT activists must now navigate the road ahead carefully but decisively, and more forcefully than ever before. In the words of Jessica Stern, (executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) on that fateful Friday: “Today is not an end but a new beginning.”
It is sadly not the end because social stigma is now the momentous obstacle that is pervading society and that the LGBT community must strive to overcome. A huge issue plaguing the world at large is homelessness, which acutely affects the lives of LGBT youth across the United States. 68% of all homeless LGBT youth were forced onto the streets by their families as a result of their homosexuality, or because they identified with the gender opposite to their sex. On the streets, these individuals are exceedingly vulnerable to violence, which is already very widespread against queer and trans people. This is illustrated by the example of Islan Nettles, a trans woman who was beaten to death in August 2013 in Harlem. The fact that two other trans women were accompanying her and that seven men assaulted the group is often unjustifiably overlooked. Another maddening case is that of Bri Golec from Ohio, a 22-year old trans woman who was fatally stabbed by her father in early 2015. Adding fuel to the fire, the media misgendered Bri, using male pronouns in their recount of the event. Indeed, the media often presents trans women who have been the victims of terrible attacks as sex workers, even when there is no solid proof that indicates this is the case. Consequently, the fight must now focus on justice for all individuals who consider themselves queer or trans. Moreover, significant effort must be taken to ensure racial justice, since unsurprisingly, the majority of hardships facing LGBT individuals are exacerbated when it comes to people of color.
One such hardship is demonstrated by the fact that a large percentage of the LGBT population suffers great poverty, a phenomenon that especially afflicts the lives of transgender individuals. Despite the existence of very wealthy trans celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, according to Buzzfeed News, many trans people “are almost four times more likely than heterosexual and LGB people to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year.” Although the efforts of the aforementioned women have been admirable, they distract from the dismal fact that 15% of the transgender population in the US are impoverished, as opposed to 4% of the rest of the population. Other injustices that hinder the lives of transgender people include the fact that it is legal in 33 states for an employer to fire an individual on the basis of gender expression, if for example cross-dressing makes them uncomfortable. It should come as no surprise then that 41% of trans people in the US have attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. Lesbian and bisexual women also face higher levels of sexual violence and assault, and so the growing backlash against abortion, even in developed countries, is increasingly worrisome.
Additionally, bisexual women face a wide range of uniquely stressful mental health issues. This is perhaps exemplified by the fact that the rates of cannabis use are significantly higher amongst bisexual women than lesbian or straight women. In 2000, the National Alcohol Survey released results showing that 38% of bisexual women revealed that they use marijuana, whilst only 5% of straight women and 20% of lesbians did. This is indicative of the lack of inclusion that bisexual women experience, since they cannot find full support amongst neither the straight nor the lesbian communities. There has however been very little further research done to investigate whether the correlation between cannabis use and bisexuality is significant. Anne-Pauline, one of the blog editors here at LSESU Amnesty, has even rightly pointed out that the correlation may be due to bisexual women having more liberalised mindsets. Whatever the case, there is still a widespread belief that bisexual people should just “pick a side,” a concept that leaves them feeling isolated and misunderstood, and so is obviously detrimental to their mental health. Studies prove that bisexual men don’t feel as isolated in the LGBT community as bisexual women, perhaps due to the added societal injustices that females face as opposed to males.
Evidently, these issues cannot simply be swept aside, and marriage equality has not solved them. On a global scale, the number of people who significantly and consistently invest their time and/or money in order to help promote LGBT advocacy groups is insufficient in comparison to the magnitude of the difficulties that remain to be tackled. The potential for transformative change thus largely lies in the overwhelming power of social media to galvanize the public, its ability to disseminate information to all four corners of the earth, and its proven capability to change the world.
Beyond the United States, serious injustices continue to impinge on the lives of the LGBT population, hindering their right to live full, self-actualized, and productive lives. Homosexuality is still illegal in 78 countries across the globe, including Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Nigeria, and can be punishable by death. The plights of African LGBT refugees are also heart wrenching. Many describe facing severe abuse from family members and being forced to flee their families and livelihoods. However, sadly, many do not find the refuge they seek, since they only escape to neighboring African countries and face continued discrimination and violence.
The problems that remain to be overcome are paramount. The granting of same-sex marriage in the United States is a step in the right direction, but it does not mean that the end of LGBT struggles is in visible sight. The troubles of millions of people worldwide cannot be ignored any longer. The beginning of a new year means new opportunity to implement effective and beneficial changes, which will hopefully improve the quality of life for many LGBT individuals. Now, it is important to keep moving forward, and to hopefully develop a clear and decisive plan of action, which transcends the borders of the United States, and effectively addresses where to go from here.
Malak Azer, Staff Writer