What is it like being LBTQ+ in America?

Photo Credit: ABC News

June 26, 2015 marked the most historic moment in LGBTQ+ history: the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States. Before, same sex couples struggled to find equality concerning their basic rights to love and marry, but the new legislation opened a world of doors for LGBTQ+ couples nationwide. Unfortunately, nearly two years later it is still a bold move to be out as LGBTQ+ in the U. S.

Despite nationwide legalization, there are still many states that have religious freedom laws, making it unsafe for LGBTQ+ people. Over the past six months, LGBTQ+ people have been the target of serious hate crimes, including the worst mass shooting in American history at Pulse nightclub. As well as the rise of the alt-right movement and the election of an anti-LGBTQ+ administration. By analyzing data from Gallup, Human Rights Campaign, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and others, this article works to illustrate what it is like to be LGBTQ+ in America today.

Rainbow flags flooded the streets in Washington D.C. as people paraded into the streets on the afternoon of June 26, 2015. The United States Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the legalization of same sex marriage by the narrow margin of 5–4. Justice Anthony Kennedy was seen as a pivotal swing vote, writing in the case that “They [same sex couples] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law, the Constitution grants them that right.”

For many LGBTQ+ people and their allies nationwide, this was the biggest moment of their lives. At the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the gay rights movement began in the 1960’s, LGBTQ+ people gathered to celebrate. Angelica Abalos never felt societal pressure after coming out as bisexual in her hometown of Torrence, California. However, she cites religious pressure as a source of stress for her, stating, “It is difficult to navigate that terrain just because the majority of Christians believe it [homosexuality] is a sin. It hasn’t exactly gotten easier and I’m not open about my sexuality in that community.” While the majority of the nation celebrated, proving that our country was ready to move forward, there were still individuals who did not support the decision, citing religion as their reason for not considering the decision a positive one. As time has progressed since the momentous occasion, people are realizing that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of advancing towards true and complete equality.

There are still many states where LGBTQ+ individuals can be harmed because of their sexual orientation. In an interview with The Atlantic, LGBTQ+ rights activist Julie Goodridge stated, “It’s actually sort of distorting to have marriage in states where you can be kicked out of your home, where you can be refused service, where you might be ejected from the bathroom of your choice, and where you could lose your state job.” Like Goodridge, there are many LGBTQ+ individuals who stand divided on the issue of gay marriage. Valerie Cason, a 50 year old gay woman from Gainesville, Florida feels that gay marriage is “meaningless until the tax code changes and my spouse would be equivalent to a straight person’s spouse. I see it as merely something to placate gay people with a morsel and nothing more.”

Many Southern states like Louisiana and Alabama still remain majority against LGBTQ+ equality, with 69% and 68% of their population opposing, with state legislation to match. In Louisiana, there are no laws protecting LGBTQ+ identifying people from discrimination within the workplace or during the adoption process. There are also no laws in place that protect children of LGBTQ+ identifying parents from bullying they may face on the average day.

However, states in the Western and Northeastern parts of the United States remain more open to LGBTQ+ policies. Andy Birkey, the Editor-in-Chief of the queer news site Advocate, says that it is easiest to be LGBTQ+ “in cities within progressive states like those in New England, the West Coast and of course Minnesota” specifically pointing out Minneapolis as particularly progressive, “the first city in the country to ban discrimination based on gender identity. In fact, Minneapolis was the birth place of a lot of LGBTQ+ movements and institutions.” Birkey’s statement on locations is correct, as studies show that states within the Pacific Northwest have the highest population of LGBTQ+ identifying people as well as the best legislation to protect them.

Photo Credit: CNN

The harsh reality that LGBTQ+ people nationwide must face is that regardless of whether their state protects them from LGBTQ+ hate crimes, that does not stop them from happening. On the evening June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire in Pulse night club, a popular gay bar in downtown Orlando, Florida killing 49 people and injuring many more. Majority of the victims were LGBTQ+ people of color as the shooting occurred on the nightclubs Latin Night.

As word broke out, news sources flocked to cover it while LGBTQ+ people nationwide gathered together to mourn the loss within their community. According to a CBS News Poll conducted in the weeks following, the majority of Republicans polled viewed the mass shooting as an act of terrorism rather than a hate crime. In the weeks following the attack, gay pride parades nationwide held moments of silence for the lives lost before beginning their more subdued celebrations.

Pride marches, what are considered to be a time of joy and celebration, became a target of hate and violence. A pride march in College Station, Texas was canceled due to threats of violence. In Santa Monica, California a young man was arrested on his way to a pride march after weapons were discovered in the trunk of his car.

Just over one year after what is considered the biggest moment in LGBTQ+ history, many LGBTQ+ people began to fear for their lives in what is supposed to be one of the most accepting countries in the world. As the 2016 Presidential Election began to build momentum over the summer, the ultra conservative viewpoints of the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump and Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, began to overwhelm the LGBTQ+ community.

On November 9th 2016, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and for many LGBTQ+ individuals nationwide, this marked a fearful and dark time. From the beginning of his campaign run, Trump stated that if elected, one of his top priorities would be to appoint a staunchly conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ Supreme Court justice. Since being elected, Trump has nominated ultra conservative Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court Justice, and his position was just confirmed. Mark Stern, a writer at Slate and self-identifying gay man says “The federal government will be stacked with anti-LGBT bigots who implement their discriminatory agenda.” During many of his campaign speeches, Trump made his anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoint clear; stating that he would rescind the Obama Administration’s guidance that transgender students be treated with dignity and allowed to use restrooms that match their gender identity. Kate Ferraro, who identifies as a nonbinary demiboy says, “With the anti trans bathroom bills being passed, I’m now scared to go into the men’s room without being harassed/attacked.”

However, for many LGBTQ+ individuals, their real fear lies in the current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence. The self described “Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order,” has played an integral part in the fight against same sex marriage and equality over the last decade. Pence believes that the LGBTQ+ equality in America is a “societal collapse” and a war on freedom and religion. Pence also played a vocal role in one of the most hot button LGBTQ+ topics: transgender bathrooms. In May 2016, the federal government directed school districts nationwide to allow transgender individuals the right to use the bathroom that aligns with their preferred gender. However, conservative states like North Carolina and Mississippi have since passed laws banning transgender Americans from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.

In an interview with USA Today, Katherine Frank, Director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, states that “The anxiety isn’t men in women’s bathrooms, it’s about masculinity in the wrong place. It’s portrayed as a threat to women, but on a much deeper level, it’s about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.” Republican’s state women’s safety as being the crux of the issue, however the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union all say there is no statistical evidence of such violence from transgender people. For many individuals within the LGBTQ+ community, pushing back against this legislation is at the forefront of the fight, but things are becoming increasingly difficult as LGBTQ+ people nationwide are becoming more prone to hate crimes.

According to a recent New York Times article, “L.G.B.T. people are twice as likely to be targeted as African-Americans, and the rate of hate crimes against them has surpassed that of crimes against Jews.” In 2016, 230 total hate crimes were reported to the LAPD, including a 24.5% increase in crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals. In New York, not even a year later, 143 hate crimes were reported to the NYPD between November 9th 2016 and February 19th 2017, a 42% increase than in previous years.

Due to the spike in hate crimes, police departments nationwide are creating special units designated to exclusively investigate hate crimes, and state governments are cracking down on the repercussions for individuals convicted of committing hate crimes. Within the LGBTQ+ community, many individuals fear what the future looks like, but Abalos says “It may seem dark right now, but I honestly see a sliver of light off in the distance. If there’s one good thing that’s happened since Trump’s election, it’s that the community and our advocates are no longer willing to be silent”.

Since the first gay pride march in New York City in June of 1970, the fight for LGBTQ+ equality has been a long and bumpy road. Nationwide legalization of same sex marriage was one of the proudest prevailing moments in LGBTQ+ history but the devastating mass shooting that happened one year later, threw the community back into reality. The United States touts itself as being the most developed countries in the world, but the battles surrounding transgender equality and the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes happening within our nation’s borders prove that there is still a long way to go until we reach true equality. It is imperative that LGBTQ+ safe spaces and organizations remain present and welcoming of the community because the fight is far from over as long as being “out” in America is a bold choice instead of the norm.