Growing up in conservative Alabama, I was taught that we had achieved complete equality for all Americans and that the final battles over basic civil rights were settled during the 1960’s Civil Rights era. Imagine being a gay teenager and trying to reconcile this vision of an equal America while Congress and state legislatures debated on whether I would have the right to marry the person I would one day fall in love with. I progressed through my formative years with a growing sense of uncertainty over this political discourse and truly believed my choices were to accept a life of hiding my true identity or embracing it and being regarded as a second class citizen. However, through the tireless efforts of LGBTQ+ advocates, civil rights leaders, and community activists, the world did begin to change. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010 and the Supreme Court rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (2020) opened the door for LGBTQ+ Americans to fully engage in parts of our society that had always been restricted. As impactful as these developments were, the fight is still far from over. LGBTQ+ Americans still face discrimination and a lack of protection in access to healthcare, education, public space and public accommodations, housing, finance, and many other institutions. We see current attacks on the Transgender community in denying access to a myriad of facilities, adequate healthcare, and equal opportunities. Gay and Lesbian couples are often denied by federally funded religious backed agencies in their efforts to adopt children from our foster care system leaving hundreds of children without loving homes. The effects of these discriminatory practices and inadequate legal protections can lead to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide, especially for communities of lower income, transgender individuals, and queer people of color. We must act now to ensure these communities have complete and secure legal rights.
The Democratic leadership has introduced the Equality Act to address this gap in legal protections and amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. I believe this is the correct path forward. I also believe we should remain hyper-vigilant on defending marriage equality because as we have witnessed with the attacks on Roe v. Wade, we cannot trust a conservative packed Supreme Court to uphold precedent.
Further, my stance on equality for all extends beyond the LGBTQ+ community. As a nation we must accept that most of our institutions, including education, finance, housing, and others, were initially established with provisions that restricted women and people of color from equal access to goods and services. For instance, redlining policies in cities across the country forced communities of color into segregated districts where banks would refuse to make investments based on the district’s racial makeup. This prevented black American families from 1) earning equity on their homes 2) prohibited more affluent black families from purchasing homes in valuable, white suburbs, and 3) perpetuated the growing wealth divide that we still see today.
Education is also under attack by those who wish to ignore the many injustices people of color have endured. This includes prohibition on classroom discussion involving race and racially motivated atrocities, like the Tulsa Race Riots, the Red Summer, and conditions of slavery. The history of indigenous Americans is also under attack as we prevent our educators from teaching the effects of the Indian Removal Act, forced assimilation through boarding schools, and the genocide of indigenous people that occurred during westward expansion. To allow our country to move forward in unity and equality, we must confront these historical realities and their role in the makeup of our society today.
Restorative justice must become a national priority to address the harm that our justice system has inflicted on families of color and its role in perpetuating cycles of poverty, incarceration, and disenfranchisement. This includes drug law reform, focusing on rehabilitation, reducing our incarcerated population, enforcing accountability for law enforcement, and much more.
We must recognize that our institutions, while reformed, may still perpetuate practices that are either explicitly or implicitly biased against specific groups of people and continue to cause immeasurable harm. We must address these practices when we see them and work together to make lasting, positive change. This requires that we listen to, respond, and include in solution building, women, Black, indigenous and other people of color, and LGBTQ+ persons when they declare that injustice exists. Only then will we progress closer to a truly equal America.