Unequal progress: the case of LGBT homeless youth

Taken from a Williams Institute study, 2012: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Durso-Gates-LGBT-Homeless-Youth-Survey-July-2012.pdf

September’s issue of Rolling Stone will include a magnificent feature on LGBT homeless youth. The personal stories are gripping; they may also be totally alien if your upbringing was not that religious. Above all, the key part of this story is how mainstream institutions misread LGBT progress. Carl Sicialiano, a former Benedictine monk turned homeless LGBT advocate, distills things:

“I feel like the LGBT movement has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this,” he says, running his hands through his closely cropped hair and sighing. “We’ve been so focused on laws – changing the laws around marriage equality, changing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ getting adoption rights – that we haven’t been fighting for economic resources. How many tax dollars do gay people contribute? What percentage of tax dollars comes back to our gay kids? We haven’t matured enough as a movement yet that we’re looking at the economics of things.”

Social movements tend toward an optimistic framing of their struggle. It’s empowering to talk about the slew of pro-marriage equality court decisions made in the past year. Although legal equality is making strides, the issue of gay youth being expelled from their homes is worse now than at any point in the past. The pro-equality environment for adults in loving relationships, who may also want children, does not transfer down to youth. As Alex Morris writes in the feature, openness about sexuality has driven average age of coming out into the high school years. When people come out as gay, lesbian, or trans* they are more economically and emotionally vulnerable than ever before. The social support system for the homeless is deficient, it’s even more deficient for youth (very little funding is earmarked for youth in particular), and a complete mess for LGBT youth.

As with many issues, solutions will come from two corners: lessening the spread of the problem and improving the structure to deal with it. Religious intolerance, activist Mitchell Gold says, is not addressed by major advocacy groups; he states “they don’t want to come across as anti-religion . . . But the number-one hurdle to LGBT equality is religious­-based bigotry.” The social system needs to pivot away from middle and upper-middle class gay politics to the survival struggle of hundreds of thousands at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Leaps forward do not benefit all members of a given social group or social movement. While one section of my friends rejoiced at the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, another mentioned that a large population of LGBT people do not aspire to be married, and may view marriage as rooted in patriarchal power relations. It is a mistake to neglect the economic inequity, both between the LGBT and straight, as well as within the LGBT community as a whole. Mainstream media outlets will, as they usually do, paint a very bourgeoise conflict. However, that misses the key conflict as it exists today.

Michael Sam, and what a LGBT milestone is

File:Michael Sam final Mizzou home game.jpg
Credit: Michael Qwertyus // License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

This weekend has been dominated by the coming out of Michael Sam, an elite college football defensive end, who helped lead the University of Missouri to an incredible season. Coming out as he looks towards the NFL draft and a promising pro career, he is an interesting landmark for American athletes.

I wrote an article last April about veteran NBA player Jason Collins, and his decision to come out. With each high-profile individual that discloses their status as an LGBT individual, the question of landmarks versus normalcy stick in my head. I ended the Collins article remarking:

So Collins is a member of another, more neglected front of the gay rights struggle. When he came out two days ago it was national news. Part of the goal is that one day an athlete will come out, and it’s not a media spectacle. It’s just someone living their life.

It’s clearly still a media spectacle, one managed for maximum effect, as a behind-the-scences feature by Outsports shows. It depends on the fame of someone and the nature of their fame. The last two years have seen several journalists announce their homosexuality, and in that area it’s certainly not headline news. Athletic competition is another world, and there is some sort of informal hierarchy of gay-friendly sports- in some one’s sexual orientation isn’t considered important, in others it can be.

American football is considered a hostile environment. Not without evidence- witness gay-friendly punter Chris Kluwe’s legal fight about homophobic coaches who may have kept him off the team. Strange, I feel, than an individual’s contribution to the fight for equality varies so much on unrelated traits. Race, religion, national origin- Mary Cheney gained much media attention and support because of who her father happened to be.

To some extent, this has always been true. While many Civil Rights icons were known for their organizing ability, their tenacity, their charisma, others are known for their odd place in history- the Little Rock Nine were courageous and some led impressive lives after the crisis, but their place in history is not about their qualities as people. They were not any nine, they were the nine.

There is a great inequality in our innate importance in struggles for equality and justice, what we carry by virtue of who we are. It’s more than that, however. Even with the rise of a Michael Sam- an elite-level athletes entering the prime of his career- in the long run those gay athletes and their allies who will make the difference do so by their long-term commitment to organizing and fighting for change. Athletes, gay and straight, who support the You Can Play project that fights casual homophobia, march in LGBT pride parades, and use whatever fame they have to speak out can do great things even if their own stories aren’t groundbreaking.

A big name coming out as gay is symbolic. But it’s progress is also symbolic, and must be underscored by action to mean something years from now.

 

 

 

Without equality, we have nothing: gay marriage as a first step

Gay Marriage Utah
A gay couple displays their marriage license, Salt Lake City, UT. Kim Raff/AP

So the reddest state in America now has gays and lesbians marrying. With Utah, a standard is set for the 32 states yet to gain marriage equality. All I can do at this moment is express my thanks: I am so incredibly proud of the activists, families, lawyers, judges, and politicians that have been able to change public opinion, make courageous stands, and put their political futures on the line in order to do the right thing.

To the members on the Iowa Supreme Court whose courage cost them their jobs, you have my respect.

To those that grilled legislators, used their votes and their wallets to compel bills through political obstinacy and social conservatism, you are an example of what activism can do given time and sheer determination.

To the voters of Minnesota, who last year were the first to reject a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, I admire the long and difficult campaign you endured. The outside money from places like the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The demonization from talk radio and “family” groups. You fought through it all and did it with grace and civility.

To the people who organized and led successful votes in Washington, Maryland, and Maine to approve marriage equality, you have done great work in promoting equal protection and preventing reactionary groups from taking it from you.

To those still laboring in states full of fundamentalism, hatred, and backwards sexual politics, I am sure you will achieve what you seek.

And to those in the LGBT community that know marriage is only one step of many towards true equality, I salute you. Only in a society where transgendered people are not viewed as somehow lesser people; where the workplace is a place where discrimination knows no place; where gays can donate blood without the ignominy that they are somehow the only group that can contract HIV- then justice has scored a full victory. You are already working on the next fight, and the fight after that.

This fight is not over. I am glad that people have not waited passively for a grand court decision to make marriage equality the law of the land. For a state-by-state struggle makes everyone stronger, forges the trust and bonds needed for future fights. There is no moral cover in waiting. The time is now, for all people to cross borders and ideologies and move in collective purpose.

I am glad to identify with the Unitarian Universalist church, who started on this road before anyone else thought same-sex marriage a possibility. They dream, because all justice was once a dream. Let us realize that without equality, we are all not free. The right to marry only achieves real meaning when it applies to all other people. Otherwise it is not a right, it is a privilege.

So today, with New Mexico and Utah moving in the right direction, it is time to move forward with a momentum never before seen in this country.

Andrew J. Mackay

What is equality really about?

What is equality really about?

As you likely know even if you don’t follow professional sports, veteran NBA center Jason Collins has come out as gay. He’s the first active member of a major sport to do so.

I’ve linked to the Sports Illustrated editorial he wrote to explain his decision. My favorite section comes near the end:

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road.

 
Mainstream society currently views gay rights and gay marriage as synonymous, and focuses more on marriage than any other aspect of gay life. As some of my queer friends have pointed out, the march to equality moves far beyond marriage. Not all gay people want to get married, or think that marriage is a good institution to promote. Society is slowly pivoting to gays being part of the norm rather than an error, an aberration. Even in a society used to the concept of rights, things aren’t moving quickly enough.
 
What is Collins’ action part of? The idea that gay people are woven into the fabric of this nation. There are gay athletes, teachers, ministers, and soldiers. Gay athletes like Collins, straight allies like NFL punter Chris Kluwe, and organizations like You Can Play attempt to make coming out a personal choice. Heteronormativity leads people to assume that certain groups of people are always straight, or that it seems natural for them to be. There are pervasive stereotypes about LGBT individuals being deviant, hypersexual, or insufficiently masculine (or feminine). When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was being reviewed en route to its repeal, gays were portrayed as unable to keep their professionalism, and couldn’t keep it in their pants. It’s insulting.
 
So Collins is a member of another, more neglected front of the gay rights struggle. When he came out two days ago it was national news. Part of the goal is that one day an athlete will come out, and it’s not a media spectacle. It’s just someone living their life.