Where we are now: American queer rights in 2019

Pallas Gutierrez, Columnist

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This is the second column in “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series examining LGBTQ+ issues in the United States since 1969.

Since the 1969 Stonewall riots brought the queer liberation movement to national attention, queer activists have made large strides despite large obstacles. Homosexuality and “gender identity disorder” have been removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Several states have outlawed different forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Sodomy laws have been overturned, and same-sex marriage has been legalized. Stonewall was made into a national monument, and queer politicians have been elected to office nationwide.

After the Obergefell ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationally, many people, both inside and outside the gay marriage movement asked, “What now?” Despite the false sense of security given by these advances in queer liberation, there are still many forces threatening queer rights and people today. Homophobic hate groups protest Pride parades and the president attempts to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Obviously, there are many big issues facing the queer community, but there are a few represent a broad view of American queer rights in 2019.

One of the biggest threats to American queer rights in 2019 is President Trump’s administration. In the two years that Trump has had control of the White House, he has supported two policies banning transgender people from serving in the military (only a year after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the long-standing transgender service ban would be lifted.) The Supreme Court allowed the second policy attempt to go into effect on Jan. 22. The presence in the White House of such an openly transphobic president, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s rampant homophobia, normalizes and validates such hatred from a position of extreme power. This rhetoric of hatred cannot be allowed to pass our notice. Words create and allow violence.

Due in part to the president’s focus on removing transgender rights, trans issues have been increasingly studied and covered over the last several years. In 2018, at least 26 transgender people were killed, 25 of whom were trans women and 22 of whom were trans women of color. The Human Rights Campaign has been tracking violence against trans people since 2013, and 2018 is second only to 2017 for deadliest year for trans people in the United States. This statistic shows that the epidemic of hatred and violence against trans people is only growing, and we must actively combat transphobia in whatever form it takes.

A way to fight queerphobic — including transphobic — rhetoric is through increased visibility. Movies like “Moonlight”; “Love, Simon”; “Saturday Church” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” among others, have not only increased the visibility of queer people overall, but have raised specific issues that their characters deal with. “Moonlight” and “Saturday Church” deal with queerphobia within the black community, “Love, Simon” deals with coming out in high school and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” deals with conversion therapy from a lesbian point of view. While representation alone cannot solve queerphobia and other problems, it does allow for people inside the queer community to see their stories in media and for people outside the queer community to relate.

On Jan. 28, openly gay actor Jussie Smollett was hospitalized in Chicago after a racist and homophobic hate crime. Smollett is reportedly in good condition, but this attack demonstrates how rampant both homophobia and racism are, and how they intersect. Both forms of hatred are repeatedly associated solely with suburban and rural areas due to a variety of stereotypes, but the truth is that homophobia and racism are everywhere in this country. There are few spaces that are genuinely safe, and a combination of racism in the queer community and queerphobia in many communities of color makes life even more dangerous for those living at the intersection of both identities. We cannot allow ourselves to grow complacent that our city or our area is safe. Nowhere is safe until everywhere is safe.

Obviously, this short column cannot reflect every issue facing the queer community. 11 percent of queer youth have survived sexual violence due to their identity or perceived identity, and 73 percent have experienced verbal threats. Representation is on the rise, but so is transphobic violence and queerphobic rhetoric. This imbalance between positive representation and negative lived experience makes it all the more important to keep fighting for queer rights, in the hopes of creating a better, safer, more just world.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication first-year. They can be contacted at pallas2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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