A lot of progress has recently been made in support of the American LGBTQ community. A new poll shows that 62% of Americans support marriage equality, including 56% percent of Baby Boomers, up from 45% in 2015 — despite the threat that Trump’s ascendency poses to progress.
With many historic milestones reached, it might be tempting to rest on our laurels, satisfied with acceptance into the institutions of marriage and military (Trump’s recent vile ban on trans people in the military notwithstanding). But the birth of the movement that paved the way for these achievements prescribes a more comprehensive agenda of justice — one that weaves together a diverse and powerful coalition in the fight for equality of all marginalized people.
The Stonewall Inn and its counterparts were places of safe harbor for some of the most vulnerable people in the ’60s. And it wasn’t just that they were gay or dressed in drag. They were poor, black and Latinx, homeless, transgender, sex workers, and they needed safe places.
When the police showed up to enforce inane and unjust laws, it was all of these individuals who joined together to wield loose change, cans and bottles, cobblestones and even an uprooted parking meter against the cops, one of whom had threatened to “shoot the first motherfucker” that came through the door after they had ironically holed themselves up inside Stonewall for safety.
That night some of the most marginalized, scorned and disadvantaged members of society took back power for themselves. When we remember Stonewall, we must remember that many of those same destructive forces are at play today in new and different ways. We must remember that LGBTQ people are also poor, black, Latinx, Native American, Muslim, women and citizens of oppressive countries around the world, making each and every one of us connected to the other. And we must rally to fight alongside them across several important issues.
Here are five of those such issues:
1. Police and Criminal Justice Reform
Gay bars may be safe from police raids in the United States today, but our black, trans and HIV-positive brothers are sisters are victims of police violence and a criminal justice system deeply in need of reform. From the routine killings of black people by police to the deaths of trans people going ignored by police and media to outdated HIV criminalization laws ruining lives of those affected by the illness, members of our community are disproportionately killed, criminalized and incarcerated. We must stand with Black Lives Matter, show up and speak up to create a safer world for transgender Americans, and educate ourselves on the ways in which HIV criminalization laws are destroying innocent lives so we can fight against them.
2. Income Inequality and Homelessness
Poor and homeless people were welcome and protected at Stonewall, and they were on the frontline of the riots. And despite today’s powerful stereotype of gay affluence, they are fighting the same struggles as before. The poverty rate of American gay men 18-44 hovers around 20%, 28% of Latinx transgender people and 34% of black transgender people are in poverty, 55% of Native American LGBT people are food insecure, and 40% of the country’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. The authors of a study on low-income New Yorkers declared that low-income LGBT people are “at the margins of the legal services community because they are LGBT, and at the margins of the mainstream LGBT movement because they are poor.” They continued, “Poverty is an LGBT issue. It is incumbent on those who care about the fight for LGBT justice, and those who care about fighting poverty, to take action.” Add to that the gender pay gap that continues to keep women underpaid compared to men. We must fight for economic justice.
3. Health Care
HIV may no longer be a death sentence, and PrEP may be increasingly available, but LGBTQ people still suffer from disparities in care and coverage. In Tennessee and Mississippi, laws exist allowing medical professionals to deny care to an individual based on their conscience or religious beliefs. As religious liberty bills gain steam in the Trump era, more bills like this could advance throughout the South and Midwest. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act poses dangers to the LGBT community, but the ACA isn’t perfect; while it has gone a long way in making sure people have access to insurance, it still can be a financial burden for many. And for low-income LGBTQ people in the 19 states that don’t participate in the Medicaid expansion, they may still not have insurance. We cannot simply protest the Republican plan to repeal the ACA, we most demand Democrats commit to meaningful reform of the law.
4. Native Rights
Native Americans have long recognized the presence of LGBTQ people through their belief in the Two Spirit identity. In fact, unlike mainstream religions including Christianity, Two Spirit people are revered as spiritual leaders in many tribes. However, like much of American politics and culture, Native Americans — and their history of being mistreated and oppressed — are often left out of conversations about the LGBTQ community, and reports on their quality of life are upsetting. Native American gay men made up 71% of new HIV diagnoses amongst their community in 2013; more than half of Two Spirit people living on tribal land have attempted suicide; 78% of lesbian, bisexual, or Two Spirit women have experienced assault; and they suffer from some of the lowest employment rates. Any meaningful discussion of the future of the civil rights movement in the United States must address these disparities.
5. Foreign Policy and Immigration
The internet has made the world smaller and has allowed us to connect with people in other countries in ways previous generations could never have imagined. From seeing the devastation of war firsthand to developing friendships and romantic relationships across cultures and borders, the idea of a global society is more real than ever before. And it’s for that reason we now have fewer excuses for not being aware of what is happening internationally and seeing our connection to other people. Roughly a third of LGBTQ immigrants are undocumented, and they are often mistreated in detention centers. Women and children are overwhelmingly the innocent victims of war. What happened at Stonewall 48 years ago still happens today in countries around the world. Sadly, much worse happens in these same countries.
And of course, all of these issues can be connected to one single issue: the ongoing destruction of the planet through man-made climate change, oil drilling and gas fracking, and over-consumption leading to a waste disposal crisis.
Many of the world’s greatest leaders have said that freedom is indivisible. So too are the rights of the LGBTQ community and their allies, and the Stonewall Riots remind us of the power in uniting together to fight for one another. The last 50 years has seen our community gain not just rights, but power. In fact, just recently, one of the biggest tech companies in the world sent 20 of its top executives to Austin, Texas, to voice opposition to a North Carolina-style bathroom bill. Other major corporations like Apple, Facebook and Amazon are also speaking out. We must wield that power — much like our ancestors at Stonewall wielded their change and bottles and parking meters — in order to fight for justice for all.
Featured image by Nastco for iStock