When you walk through Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street's main encampment, you can't help but see our country. And it is a country that is angry and fed up, a country buckling under overwhelming economic disparity.
Occupy Wall Street is both a protest and a wake-up call. A wake-up call to those losing hope -- "Together we can make change!" And a protest that is giving voice to all those straining under a lopsided, stagnating economy where the rich get richer and everyone else is sinking or struggling to tread water.
And voices are now rising not only in places like New York and Boston, but everywhere, because people everywhere are hurting -- from our largest urban centers to America's heartland. They are the voices of fresh-faced college students standing up for the first time, and the voices of Granny Peace Brigaders standing up yet again. They are the voices of the underemployed, the unemployed and, at least for now, the still-employed. They are the voices of people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
It is a chorus giving voice to our common struggles, our shared disillusionment, our uncertainties and concerns for the future. People are standing up for themselves and for each other, and that includes those of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
LGBT people know what it's like to struggle. We know the damage done by systemic inequity and discrimination that make our families acutely vulnerable to economic hardship. For example:
- LGBT people are more vulnerable to employment discrimination because there is no federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We're still fired, denied promotions and harassed, just for being who we are.
- Our recent national survey on transgender discrimination found that many transgender people live in extreme poverty. Respondents reported experiencing unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national rate.
- The so-called Defense of Marriage Act blocks married same-sex couples from receiving more than 1,100 federal protections and responsibilities afforded to married opposite-sex couples. These protections are critical to the economic security of families, and include Social Security survivor benefits, joint tax filings, and family and medical leave.
For us, the system is not only broken; it is purposely constructed to leave us out. And we know that is true for others in the United States, as well.
Like Occupy Wall Street, we believe that fairness is not a privilege of power and wealth but a right of humanity.
We know that too few have too much, and too many have too little.
It's not fair, just or right, and it has put our nation's future and the preservation of the American Dream at risk.
This very moment, there are millions of children growing up in poverty; there are families fighting to make it from one day to the next; there are lines of unemployed people skilled and eager to work. And yet still we debate further shredding our social safety net, and politicians question whether or not we should put our country back to work rebuilding crumbling bridges and roads.
Against this truth, you'd expect the Occupy movement to be about despair, but it's not. Occupy Wall Street is about belief and hope in something better -- hope that our nation will do what it has done so often, what it did at its inception, what it did when it eliminated Jim Crow, what it did when it dismantled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": choose what is just and fight for what is right.
Occupy Wall Street is a struggle that can unite us at a time when unity has been a rare commodity.
Unity is a principle we embrace at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We know that when people come together, change is possible. That's why we hold our annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change and why we are part of the American Dream Movement. It's why we support comprehensive immigration reform; why we believe health care is a human right; and why we work for racial, reproductive and economic justice.
We believe, as one global family, that we have an obligation to stand for fairness and equality, to stand with the forgotten and marginalized, and to stand with each other for a better future.