The LGBT community is moving forward legally at a fast clip. We recently celebrated 10 years since marriage equality became legal in Massachusetts and are seeing judge’s rulings every few days from Arkansas to Utah striking down state prohibitions on marriage equality.
But even with this progress there is a long way to go until we are accepted as equals at all levels and every area of society. We aren’t alone and we know the struggle to gain acceptance continues for other minorities and women. It has been 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education was decided and there is still segregation in some school systems. Women still face a struggle to control their own healthcare and get equal pay for equal work.
We were reminded of how far we still have to go in a New York Times story by Claire Cain Miller, “Where are the Gay Chief Executives?” It shows clearly that there are still major strides to be made until we are accepted by society in many places. She writes, “When the National Football League last week drafted its first openly gay player, Michael Sam, he joined a roster of recent firsts — from the first out nightly news and morning-television anchors, United States senator and pro-basketball player. But one major realm of society lags behind: corporate America. There is not a single openly gay chief executive at the nation’s 1,000 biggest companies.”
The LGBT community makes up between five and 10 percent of the population by most estimates and there must be at least one of those 1,000 CEOs who is a member of the community. Miller writes that some may be out in private but that none of them has had the courage of a Michael Sam or an Anderson Cooper to come out in a very public way. People in many walks of life and many professions are displaying the courage to come out. We know how important that is and the impact it has on how people view us. It’s important for future generations to know they will be able to live their lives openly.
It was jarring to hear the negative reaction to Michael Sam when he kissed his boyfriend in celebration after being drafted. What struck home was knowing that while people could accept him as a black gay man who played football, so many of the same people couldn’t deal with his simple heartfelt display of affection. So many times we have seen straight sports heroes kiss their wives or girlfriends after winning a golf tournament or the Super Bowl and it has elicited no comment. Yet when Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend it seemed to shock so many people.
It is a stark reminder that acceptance of the LGBT community in concept is one thing, while acceptance in fact is another. We have a ways to go before we are included in the culture of society. Yet at the same time the story in the Times was troubling there was good news reported by Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE). It reported “that the Administration for Community Living (ACL) announced how it will implement last year’s historic Supreme Court decision, United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, 2013. Specifically, the ACL issued guidance to its grantees that they must now follow a “place of celebration rule” and consider the terms “spouse,” “family” and “relative” as being inclusive of same-sex married couples.” So while there are still many issues facing same-sex married couples in gaining rights to Social Security and other benefits this must be considered a big step forward. This new directive from the federal government impacts everything from accessing Meals on Wheels, homecare assistance, and who can be considered a family member able to direct care.
Because of the ongoing issues related to gaining our rights, but even more to ensure inclusion in the culture we will continue to need our major national organizations like HRC and the Task Force, among others. They are concerned about how they will raise money to continue when the issues they are fighting are no longer the ones that generate front-page headlines.
When these battles are won, the continued struggles will be less obvious ones. Members of the community and the organizations that represent us must strategize on how to move forward. The organizations will debate how to continue to raise money, while the rest of us are fighting to navigate the everyday battles of life we will continue to face.