"Persecution of people because of their sexual orientation ... is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid."
--Desmond Tutu, 2004
LGBT discrimination is not simply a cultural or religious option as some maintain, because it causes serious harm to LGBT people who share this earth and deserve safe haven. This idea, that we all deserve to be safe and secure in our being, is the very foundation of the social compact by which we collectively form governments for self-rule. This is the same principle underpinning religious freedom and a universally accepted concept that mandates government protection from harm by others, particularly status-based. And make no mistake about it: homophobia kills and maims in horrific ways and the science is starting to show it.
Unfortunately, for too long and for complex reasons, the conversation about LGBT equality has failed to pointedly demonstrate the harm anti-gay social norms, laws and rhetoric cause. And in so doing, that advocacy has foregone the inescapable public policy argument that: because of the harm inflicted, it is the duty of the government to actively outlaw discrimination to protect roughly twenty million LGBT American children and adults from what is effectively societal abuse. Fortunately, Obama understands this, and has done amazing things already, but he needs your vote to further advance this urgent humanitarian mission.
The statistics on how discrimination affects LGBT people are still fledgling, but clear.
- LGBT people are six times more likely to have multiple mental health disorders due to discrimination such as depression, general anxiety, conduct disorder and alcohol/substance disorder, all at much higher rates.
- 41% of transgender people attempt suicide, and overall LGBT are roughly 4 times as likely, with 33% of all youth suicides being LGBT children.
- LGBT youth are still rejected by their families, some because their parents fear they will be pedophiles threatening their siblings, a terrible false stereotype, and are thus, roughly 40% of all homeless youth, 73% of those rejected by their own parents and 8 times as likely to attempt suicide.
- Violence directed against LGBT people is vicious and increasing. 61% of students feel unsafe at school, with almost 20% assaulted (punched, kicked or injured with a weapon), causing missed school and lower grades.
- In employment, studies show massive discrimination in federal, state and private sectors, with 44% of LGB and 66% of transgender people being fired or not hired, or enduring steady fear, harassment, lower earnings and unfair scrutiny.
- Gay people face housing discrimination at 30% in one study, though more information is needed.
- There is widespread police abuse, including profiling, selective enforcement, and physical, verbal and sexual abuse in detention.
- Elected officials are openly hostile in all 50 states; and the RNC 2012 platform calls for banning same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment. Correspondingly, in states with no discrimination protections, LGBT people are 5x more likely to have two or more mental disorders, and that increases by 1/3 in states with anti-gay referendum.
- Finally, same-sex couples are denied the benefits and rights of marriage in over 40 states and at the federal level, creating uncertainty at the very fabric of most people's lives: the family. And the list goes on.
These horrific facts, which still woefully fail to capture the true nature of the daily interpersonal and internal emotional difficulties, are increasingly the tool of advocacy, particularly in the bullying realm. But the total picture is still buried, because in part, it paints an unflattering picture of LGBT people and feeds a horrible chapter in the annals of gay stigmatization, which previously held that homosexuality itself was a mental illness. This long-revoked and reversed designation by the American Psychological Association nevertheless remains the basis of cultural oppression, a basis of homophobia itself, inescapable by its victims and obvious in the oppressors' sense of entitlement. And so the harm persists, with its perpetrators defiantly justifying their position, mostly on religious grounds, and the victims afraid to tell the truth of their suffering, even for their own liberation. This is the power of discrimination.
Hopefully, however, with the harm increasingly revealed, opponents will take note that their advocacy against LGBT equality is abuse in and of itself. And they will relinquish the flipside argument that religious people are somehow harmed, or their religious freedom somehow inappropriately infringed upon by LGBT equality. Yes, there may be some ways in which the current expanse of religion into the public sphere is affected, but this is inherent in the intersectional nature of freedom, which holds that one person's freedom ends where the other person's freedom begins. This idea is equally essential to our social compact because it carves out a realm of mutual respect - a sharing of space - by the accommodation of all parties to the freedom of one another. This is why governments are expressly secular, to avoid one religious group imposing on the free space of others, and why this social construct applies directly to non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the public sphere, the realm where we must respect all religions, and where religions must respect all of us, period.
Sadly, since too few groups tell the story of how discrimination impacts the communal and individual psychology, LGBT Americans themselves often do not realize that their life's struggle is due in large part to discrimination. They may be suffering individually, unable to form relationships or careers, hypervigilant as abused children are, or battling depression, barely warding off suicide. But because they don't understand how social oppression affects individuals, they do not think of themselves as oppressed and they do not seek to change the broader situation, like victims of a mass frontal attack might for example. So very few participate in their own political movement, either assuming their suffering is a character trait to be overcome, or simply aware there is very little they can actually do about it. Either way, in a recent Harris poll commissioned by LOGO only 9% of LGBT respondents felt "gay rights in general" was most important in the 2012 election, trumped by the economy, jobs and unemployment, like most Americans. And yet their suffering continues, unabated, most unaware of the cause, and those that are, too few to change it.
Fortunately, President Obama has arrived like a true knight in shining armor, a constitutional law professor, a black man, a product of civil rights, and an international human rights champion. He has boldly instituted a shift in federal policy that has finally acknowledged the human rights obligation to protect LGBT people across the globe and at home. His record is too long to restate, but there is one undeniable truth: Barack Obama understands the insidious nature of discrimination that denies the soul safe passage, and is fulfilling his duty to protect as President. From Pride events at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, to United Nations Resolutions, to repeal of DADT and the appointment of the first lesbian to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, he has laid the course.
But he cannot do this alone or in one term. He needs the support of compassionate Americans who understand our collective responsibility to protect LGBT Americans. He needs Republican fathers and Independent cousins with gay friends and family. He needs clergy and civil rights activists alike. And he needs support from every American who truly believes in the ideals of equality and justice for all, but has stood on the sidelines in this last great civil rights battle of our age not knowing how to help. Now you do.
As it stands, the LGBT community has mostly been left to fend for itself over the last century, though it has made a valiant go of it claiming control of its destiny. It has propelled itself into mainstream acceptance from the bowels of human rejection, and created a real opportunity for equality and liberation. Culturally, there is Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Ellen. And politically, there are new campaigns by Lady Gaga and Oprah, Cyndi Lauper, and hundreds of dedicated groups and activists.
But there is no concerted quest for full federal legal protection to guard them comprehensively from discrimination - nor a plan to secure it any time soon. LGBT people simply do not have the political power or engagement it takes to even hope for such a goal, particularly if they have to go it alone. So it is time for the conscientious among you with real power to take the reins, like Obama has, and the individuals out there to take a stand for those in need.
And at this critical moment, we need Obama and we need your vote. To help end our plight, vote for Equality 2012 by voting Democrat down the line, or just for Obama, just this once. This election is still about hope for LGBT Americans, and President Obama still offers that hope.
Amnesty International '05: "The US has fallen behind many other countries in the legal recognition of the basic human rights of LGBT people."
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