MADELINE BURNS ’16
This past Wednesday, Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii signed a bill that legalized same-sex marriage in Hawaii, starting December 2 of this year. This legislation comes in the wake of Illinois’ announcement last week of Governor Pat Quinn’s plans to sign a bill for marriage equality on November 20. Including Illinois, Hawaii marks the 16th state to legalize gay marriage. Considering that at this time last year gay marriage was only legal in 9 states, this is a drastic upswing in the rate at which states are taking legal action towards marriage equality.
Separate from state legislature, in the Senate, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was just approved this month. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now in effect, bans any form of discrimination in hiring or employment based on the employee’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Prior to the passing of this act, there was no federal law that protected the rights of LGBT individuals in the workplace. Similarly to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act now prohibits employers from taking sexual orientation or gender identity into account in the workplace, whether that be when considering applicants for jobs or employees for promotions.
While these legal actions are considered by many to be a sign of progressive movement forward, others argue that at this point in time we should have already addressed these issues of equality as so as a nation. In this way these actions are not something to applaud but rather something to condone because there is still much that needs to be done in terms of LBGT issues and marriage equality in this country. Though I agree that there is much to be done for LGBT rights, I still believe that progress is progress and that it should be recognized as something good that this country is doing. When you take a step back and look at the issue from a global perspective, the progress America is making serves as an example for LGBT rights throughout the world.
Across the world, in Vietnam, big steps toward marriage equality were made this past week. Gay wedding ceremonies were decriminalized and same-sex couples were given the right to live together. While there is still much progress to be made, same-sex partners still won’t be recognized as legally married, this decriminalization marks a big change in LGBT rights for Vietnam and for the world. So on a national scale the progress being made in terms of LGBT rights is not where it should be. However, on a global scale, we are setting a precedent for the rest of the world. If we continue to move forward in the direction we’ve been moving, the possibility of marriage equality in all 50 states is an attainable future.
What needs to be taken into consideration here is that while marriage equality is certainly a right no one should be denied, and as such is an integral part of LGBT issues in this country and world wide, there are also other LGBT related issues more pertinent at this time than marriage equality. Of paramount concern is the issue of violence and harassment among the queer and trans community, and its direct correlation to queer and trans homelessness and suicide rates. One of the intrinsic causes of this issue is the lack of understanding and visibility when it comes to trans people in our society. According to the Gender, Violence, and Resource Access Survey conducted by the Trans Student Equality Resources, 50 percent of transsexual Americans have been raped or sexually assaulted by a partner, and transsexual women have a one in 12 chance of being murdered.
Addressing the issue of violence against transsexual men and women means concentrating on where this issue begins – trans youth. Support for trans youth is among the most urgent matters that need to be addressed in the realm of LGBT issues. The abuse suffered by transsexual youth directly correlates to the dramatically high suicide rates among the trans population. According to a report of the national transgender discrimination survey conducted in 2011, 41 percent of the survey’s 6,450 participants had attempted suicide. At the core of this issue of spiking suicide rates among the trans population are phobia and sexism and discrimination against trans people, starting from a young age.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is coming up on November 20. This day serves as a day of memorialization for those that have been killed as a result of violence against the transgender community. Trinity held its own vigil in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance this past Sunday at the conclusion of the Eros Film Festival. The names of transgender victims who had been killed in 2013 as a result of transphobia and violence against trans people were read aloud at the vigil. The fact that in 2013 we are still reading these names of people killed as a result of this hatred of transgender and gender non-conforming people is alarming, and I think that just as much attention should be brought to this horrible injustice as to the issue of marriage equality in America.
While I do not mean to detract from the significance of marriage equality in this country and worldwide, I think that people who support gay rights, and consider themselves to be active in the fight for marriage equality, should also consider the ways in which they can address the issues the transgender and queer citizens of this nation are facing, and show just as much support for that as they do for marriage equality. In this way, the nation can move forward and continue this trend of progression in the name of LGBT rights.