Mark Wilson carries a rainbow flag during San Francisco’s 42nd annual gay pride parade, June 24, 2012. Noah Berger/AP

LGBTQ Rights: The Quest for Equality

The recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage throughout the United States is a victory for equality that resonates with the African-American experience in this country. It is not only vitally important to the 4.6 percent of African-Americans who identify as LGBTQ — a higher percentage than any other race or ethnicity — but also to the millions who work towards black liberation and equality. Indeed, the methods utilized by activists to attain marriage equality are very reminiscent of those that achieved the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other vital legislation in the 1960s.

Through civil disobedience, grassroots activism, and, eventually, organized legal battles, both movements were able to accomplish seemingly lofty goals. Similarly, by mobilizing every faction of the country into supportive coalitions, they ensured that their causes quickly became exponentially more integrated mainstream discourse. In fact, the NAACP has solidified the connection between LGBT and African-American civil rights activism for years through its resolution in support of marriage equality. In the resolution, the NAACP affirms that it strives to attain equal rights for all people, and argues that much like black civil rights, the right to “marriage equality is deeply rooted in the 14th Amendment”. The unwavering support of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization was not only vital in ending the harmful stereotype that LGBT rights are not supported within the African-American community, but also necessary in the marriage equality movement achieving its widespread success. However, while both movements should celebrate their accomplishments, they must also understand that there is vital work still to be done.

Although last week’s landmark ruling on marriage equality represents a once unfathomable accomplishment to many who have devoted their lives to LGBT activism, there are still substantial obstacles blocking the path to true equality. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. In 32 states, it is legal to do the same to people who are queer or transgender. Likewise, while many African-Americans fought hard for integrated schools, equal protection under the law, and secure voting rights, the struggle continues for those same liberties and equalities. Today racial gaps in education are at the highest levels ever recorded, black men are six times more likely than white men to be incarcerated, and the Supreme Court has rolled back key protections in the Voting Rights Act.

The lesson that LGBT activists should learn from the Supreme Court decision is one that black activists learned long ago: don’t give up the fight. Continue pushing for true equality in every facet of life; marriage equality is very significant, but don’t rest until equality is also achieved in the boardroom, the voting booth, the classroom, and the housing market. Furthermore, work to ensure that the gains that have already been made are in fact executed. Despite the Court’s ruling, some states are still refusing to issue marriage licenses, and that cannot be tolerated. It was likely inconceivable to a civil rights activist in 1965 that s/he would have to fight for voting rights again in 2015, yet now the struggle must continue. It is vital to keep the pressure on our elected officials to ensure that true equality is granted, preserved, and protected for all.

Reuben Adolf | NAACP WEB Dubois Public Policy Fellow

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