No Matter What the Supreme Court Decides, the Fight for LGBT Equality Isn’t Over
Tremendous strides have been made over the last decade when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. Same-sex couples can now marry in 37 states, a landmark federal case in California ordered the state to pay for a transgender inmate’s gender reassignment surgery, and President Obama issued an executive order barring companies that contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT workers.
So, Why Should You Care? Before the week is over, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the lawsuit that will determine whether same-sex couples have a fundamental federal right to marriage. As we await what many predict will be a win for same-sex marriage advocates, it’s worth considering the work that remains ahead in achieving equality for LGBT Americans. While a positive ruling for same-sex marriage would be a huge step forward, it’s important to look past the altar at the other ways LGBT people still endure disparate treatment.
1. LGBT people of color lack economic security.
Discrimination affects LGBT people across racial lines, but people of color bear the brunt of discriminatory policies and practices, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a progressive LGBT think tank. This leads to increased economic insecurity and higher rates of poverty among LGBT people of color, which plays itself out in several ways. This subset of the LGBT community is more likely to experience housing discrimination, is more likely to have higher rates of unemployment, and is less likely to have health insurance. LGBT people of color also report higher rates of bullying and harassment in school.
2. Behind bars, LGBT people are disproportionately kept in solitary confinement.
In spite of gains made by transgender inmates like Michelle-Lael Norsworthy and Ashley Diamond this year, LGBT prisoners, as well as LGBT immigrant detainees, remain highly vulnerable. Incarcerated LGBT people are routinely placed in solitary confinement. While corrections officials often resort to this “protective” tactic to prevent the rape and harassment of LGBT inmates, it often comes with a whole new set of health risks. Prisoners kept in solitary confinement endure near-total isolation, sometimes for extended periods, which experts say is tantamount to torture.
Transgender inmates are often placed in housing that doesn’t match the gender they identify with. This can also lead to increased risk of rape, sexual assault, and involuntary segregation.
3. LGBT youth and adults face barriers to housing.
LGBT people are more likely to experience discrimination when buying, selling, and renting homes. Seventeen states and 240 local jurisdictions prohibit this kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Older LGBT couples and transgender people are especially likely to encounter housing instability. This can take the form of differential treatment when applying to buy or rent a home, higher fees, or preference for heterosexual couples when applying for placement in a senior living facility.
4. Access to health care still poses challenges for LGBT people.
The Affordable Care Act extended health care coverage to millions of people who were previously uninsured. This was good news for the LGBT community, which has a disproportionately high rate of uninsured people. It also gave same-sex couples a more affordable way to extend health care policies to their partners.
But the ACA was not a cure-all: People in the LGBT community often experience stigmatization from health care providers because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. This can take the form of outwardly negative treatment from nurses and doctors, but it also includes the subtler problem of seeking care from providers who lack expertise in handling health issues specific to the LGBT community.
5. Employment discrimination is still rampant.
States that have employment nondiscrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity are currently in the minority, and a few state laws only cover sexual orientation. This means that many LGBT employees nationwide are forced to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace and are at increased risk of harassment and job loss simply for being who they are. This lack of equality in the workplace also limits access to promotions for some LGBT employees, which perpetuates income inequality.
6. Changing your gender on a government-issued identification is a bureaucratic nightmare.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of State adjusted the gender change policy for passports, permitting applicants to simply present certification from a physician that the applicant had undergone clinical treatment for gender transition. The certification criteria meant that sexual reassignment surgery would no longer be required for gender changes on IDs. The Social Security Administration followed suit in 2013, amending its policy to remove the surgical requirement for gender changes.
But the policies for driver’s licenses and birth certificates still vary state by state. According to the Transgender Law Center, only seven states and Washington, D.C., issue new birth certificates without requiring sex reassignment surgery or court orders. Without accurate identification, transgender people are sometimes forced to reveal their previous gender and are often harassed and discriminated for the change.
7. Same-sex couples who want to adopt aren’t always able to do so.
LGBT community members who want to become parents face countless challenges, thanks to the patchwork of inconsistent state laws that govern adoption. Joint same-sex couple adoptions are explicitly legal in only 16 states. Many states allow legal adoption to same-sex couples only after they have appeared in front of a judge. LGBT parents also have the option of pursuing second-parent adoptions, where they can petition to adopt their partner’s child. Still, some states wholly oppose gay adoption. In Mississippi, for example, same-sex couples are prohibited from legally adopting.