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The Ongoing Struggle of LGBT Americans

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It has been an up-and-down couple of years for LGBT Americans.  In 2009, several states, including Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Iowa, voted on and legalized same-sex marriage,  Additionally, several states, including Hawaii, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and Wisconsin, introduced civil union protections for same-sex couples that include medical decisions and tax benefits.  However, also in 2009, an eleven-year-old boy was bullied into suicide in April, Proposition 8 was upheld by a 6-1 vote by the California Supreme Court, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons vetoed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and Maine voted to repeal the recently passed law legalizing same-sex marriage.

This year was no different.  In 2010, an Arkansas circuit court mandated that same-sex couples cannot be discriminated against in adoption cases, marriage licenses were issued in Washington DC, controversial sections of the Defense of Marriage act were ruled unconstitutional, DADT was struck down by District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, same-sex adoption was legalized in New York, and Proposition 8 wasruled unconstitutional by the district court.

But also in 2010, New Jersey Supreme Court refuses to hear the case of six complaints over discrepancies in the civil union law, an Arkansas School Board member named Clint McCance is found to be encouraging LGBT students to commit suicide, the ruling of Judge Phillips on DADT is appealed and the injunction lifted, and Senator John McCain asserts publicly that DADT should not be repealed.

Also this year, in September, six young men committed suicide over tremendous bullying, sometimes violent, that they had to endure over their sexual orientation. Notably amongst these suicides was an accomplished violinist, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge to his death after a video of him with another man was released on YouTube. A study released that same month by the advocacy group Campus Pride revealed that approximately 25% of all LGBT youth and faculty of American education institutions endure harassment by their peers for their lifestyle.  And today, it was announced on Science Daily that, according to a study conducted by researchers at Yale University and set to be published in January of 2011, LGBT youth are 40% more likely to receive punitive action than the complementary misbehavior of their straight counterparts. The study was careful to point out that there was no discrepancy in the measure of misbehavior, only in the exacted punishment.

While great strides have been taken in the legal system to combat LGBT discrimination, there still appears to be a sentiment of prejudice amongst Americans today. Whether it be at the hands of secular considerations surrounding marriage or the military, or religious assertions that homosexuality is a sin, the common conception is almost always that LGBT people are inherently different, and the gulf between understanding has not been shrinking at a satisfactory rate.

In the discussions of DADT, much has been made over the potential integration of LGBT people within fighting forces. Some have confusingly argued that LGBT people are incapable of the same measure of patriotism and mettle that straight soldiers exhibit. Even senators, the assumed representatives of the American populace, are contending that there will be difficulty assimilating LGBT people into the military, demonstrating a belief that LGBT people are fundamentally odd and require delicate consideration.

In debate over same-sex marriage, there has been significant opposition on the backs of an argument that same-sex marriage sullies the sanctity of the concept of marriage. This assertion, while common in religious debate, has even been made by secular groups, furthering the notion that LGBT love is unnatural, unclean and unworthy of the same reverent touch that heterosexual love is often regarded. This has certainly had a negative impact on young men and women, who are being pushed to confusion and a feeling of shame over who they are.

And now, it seems, our entire authoritarian system, from schools to police to the courts, has been unfairly tilted against LGBT youth, even when their misbehavior is complementary to that of a heterosexual youth. There is often even no solace for this repressed group in the home, which is crucial for the mental development of young men and women, according to a study recently released in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

I do believe that most rational adults have the right mindset, and this sanity has been making inroads in the political and judicial system, as identified in the successes  of the LGBT community during the past two years which are listed above. But there is still much more to be done, as exemplified in the senatorial hearings of recent days over DADT and the rash of terrifying studies that have been released outlining the tribulations of young LGBT Americans. I can only hope that this issue remains in the national consciousness on some level throughout the foreseeable future, even if it is not always at the forefront.

Equality should, by way of constitutional mandate, always be of principal concern to all who call themselves American.

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  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz/ Alan Kurtz

    Bryan, when you write, “Equality should, by way of constitutional mandate, always be of principal concern …,” are you referring to existing constitutional protections? If so, those are obviously inadequate, as your article elucidates.

    Or are you advocating a new constitutional amendment to guarantee the rights of LGBT citizens? I haven’t followed this issue closely enough to have heard of that approach. In practical terms, though, I can’t imagine how it could happen.

    The last two amendments to the U.S. Constitution were both uncontroversial shoo-ins. In 1992, the 27th was a piece of populist housekeeping, preventing Congressional salary raises from taking effect until the beginning of the next session. In 1971, the 26th established 18 as the national voting age–adopted, incidentally, during wartime when 18-year-olds had been fighting and dying for their country in Vietnam for nearly a decade.

    To find anything truly comparable to a guarantee protecting LGBT lifestyles, we’d have to go all the way back to 1920, when the 19th Amendment established women’s suffrage. That was 90 years ago, Bryan. Constitutional amendments are exceedingly difficult to pull off under even the most favorable circumstances. But in the case of something so politically radioactive as LGBT lifestyles, the chance of success would be virtually nil.

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Alan, from a legislative perspective, the mandate is clearly inadequate, as is so often represented. But from a personal conviction, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” tells me quite clearly that the mandate is equality.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz/ Alan Kurtz

    Sorry, I don’t follow. You write that “from a legislative perspective, the mandate is clearly inadequate.” Yet instead of advocating new legislation or a constitutional amendment, you quote from existing federal law, as if that is sufficient to guarantee the rights of LGBT citizens.

    You can’t have it both ways, Bryan. If existing law is inadequate, why quote from it? In light of the events you describe in your article, those fancy words ring hollow. You ought to be advocating a positive move forward, some way to transform inadequate law into sufficient law.

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Alan, I don’t want it both ways. At the end of the piece, I say that it should be our mandate, arguing that equality is innately an American ideal. However, pragmatically I agree that it is insufficient when in the hands of those who do not hold the ideals and will do what they must to twist the words to fit their goals.

    Privately, I do advocate constitutional amendment (I am very much a progressive constitutionalist), but I won’t write about it until I have fleshed out the specifics of my spastic brain, as I try to always do before I set out to creating a piece.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz/ Alan Kurtz

    OK, I see what you mean. And I do admire these articles you’ve been writing about the predicament of the LGBT community. Please keep up the good work. We need your voice here at Blogcritics.

    It’s just that I’m frustrated when I see the gulf between what is and what should be. Public opinion polls show that ordinary Americans are increasingly sympathetic to LGBT equality. Even the military rank and file now seems mostly supportive. Yet two out of three of our branches of government are institutionally resistant to change. Neither the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives that will convene next month nor the U.S. Supreme Court shares the relatively enlightened attitudes of Americans at large. And these institutions hold the balance of power.

    One response might be to wait until 2012. Reelect Obama and restore the Democratic majority in Congress, and everything will be sunshine, lollipops and roses. But only two years ago we elected Obama and established a Democratic majority in Congress, and where did that get us? Your article paints the picture, Bryan, and it ain’t pretty. My sense is that Obama will lose in 2012, and down with him will go the Senate Democratic majority. Meaning all three branches of government will be controlled by conservatives for whom homosexuality is anathema.

    This is a bleak scenario for the LGBT community, which will be condemned to second-class citizenship for many years to come.

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Alan, I share your frustration. I wish I had ironclad solutions, as I’m sure you do, but all we have right now is to keep making noise, making the points, and voting where appropriate.

    We need a libertarian force in the legislature…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena Irene Athena

    Bryan (and Alan) thanks for answering me (on another thread) that concerns about DADT have eclipsed concern about the continuation of an aggressive foreign policy.

    Without belaboring the point about what priority the DADT issue should have, I’d like to say here that I don’t like to see anyone treated unfairly for any reason.

    Just as religious organizations should not be subjected to regulations by a secular government pertaining to their preaching or hiring practices, NEITHER should a person’s private, consensual activities be grounds for a secular government to put restrictions on whom he/she can marry, can identify as a primary beneficiary in his/her will or life insurance, or can arrange to have visit him/her in the hospital.

    This is something for “God and Country” Americans to put in their pipes and smoke. While there are passages in the Bible forbidding homosexual behavior (“IT is an abomination,” not homosexuals themselves, by the way) IT ALSO condemns divorce (“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,”–Malachi.)

    You are not likely to find a church pew without a divorced person in it, but there is no civil law prohibiting people who are divorced, even MULTIPLY divorced, from remarrying. And there shouldn’t be.