On Monday, June 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that discrimination in the workplace against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is unconstitutional. Six justices agreed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes the ideas of sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to outlawing discrimination. Three justices opposed this ruling, citing ambiguity around the word “sex” in sex discrimination. This was a historic move in the right direction for members of the LGBTQ+ community; millions of workers can now rest assured that they cannot be fired because of who they love, saving many individuals the unnecessary worry, burden, and stress of having to hide who they are and the potential economic difficulties associated with this. While this legislation is definitely a landmark ruling and a reason to celebrate the progress that our country is making, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It is now our duty to carry this momentum forward in order to extinguish remaining forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in an effort to maintain a more sustainable and equitable future for all Americans. While tremendous progress has been made in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, individuals in this community still face harsh discrimination when it comes to housing and healthcare, two areas that are necessary for a fruitful life.
HISTORY OF PRO-LGBT LEGISLATION AND MILESTONES
Before delving into areas that still need improvement, it is important to examine the milestones of the fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ community that will help define the direction of the movement in the future. During the Eisenhower administration in 1950, homosexuals were deemed a “national security threat,” as homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association; this marked the bleak beginning for LGBTQ+ Americans. One of the first major milestones, however, came in 1958: the landmark Supreme Court Case “One, Inc. v. Oleson” protected the first amendment rights of the One magazine when discussing LGBT rights and the community, allowing LGBTQ+ individuals the ability to have confidence when expressing who they were. One of the most notable dates to consider is June 28, 1969; on this day, the Stonewall Uprising occurred, where police attempted to storm a gay bar, resulting in 3 days of protests and riots after the event. While this instance received very little media coverage, it is widely considered to be a turning point in the fight for equality, as remembrances and memorials continue to occur on this date each year. Additionally, a pretty recent and extremely substantial Supreme Court Case, “Obergefell v. Hodges,” was decided on June 26, 2015: this Supreme Court Case legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level in the United States and was seen as one of the most groundbreaking LGBT pieces of legislation in history.
DISCRIMINATION IN HOUSING
Despite these amazing advancements for the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, they still face discrimination in many aspects of their lives. One of these facets is the problem of facing discrimination when looking for housing. A study found that housing providers were less likely to schedule appointments with gay men, and agents quoted gay men $272 more than heterosexual men. This data was found after individuals taking part in the study told the landlords that they were in a same-sex relationship. LGBTQ+ individuals need to rest assured that they will not be discriminated against when looking for a house solely based on their sexual orientation. This follows in the same vein as people of color (although less severe), as people of color are not told about additional housing units, and white individuals have more access to information surrounding housing units and which houses are “more desirable.” This further demonstrates the implicit biases that we all have, but housing providers and companies seem to have a specific view of who should be allowed to have which house based on their race and/or sexual orientation.
The study on LGBTQ+ discrimination in housing also looked at transgender individuals and their discrimination, and it found that the levels of discrimination were lower. The data concerning transgender people was deemed to be statistically insignificant, as the data was not striking enough for there to be a clear correlation. Of course this discrimination still persists, but it may not be as prevalent as people would like to believe, which is a wonderful thing. It is important that governments have access to these types of studies with these striking data points because we’d like to think that everyone is having fair chances when looking for housing, but that is not always true. This is not nearly the end of this debate, however; the Fair Housing Act of 1968 must be reexamined to include discrimination against sexual orientation as well. This would be an interesting debate because the recent Supreme Court involved a discussion between the justices over the meaning of the word “sex” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
LACKING ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE
In addition to facing discrimination in housing, LGBTQ+ Americans do not have the same healthcare rights as other Americans. The administration of Donald Trump rolled back a provision in the Affordable Care Act that protected individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity. This is a recent development that has occurred in the past week. Obama’s Affordable Care Act had previously protected LGBTQ+ people in their pursuit of quality and affordable healthcare; healthcare providers were not allowed to discriminate against these individuals, and if they did, they would be held accountable. Under Trump’s administration, however, nothing will stop healthcare workers from treating someone differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even though these individuals need better quality healthcare to begin with, as transgender people, for example, need coverage for their transition. It is time that our leaders recognize that healthcare is a human right, and everyone deserves to receive the same type and quality of care.
Additionally, a report found that 23% of transgender individuals did not seek help from a medical profession due to fear of the lack of quality care that they’d receive due to their identity, and around 55% of transgender people seeking coverage for surgery relating to their transition were denied. This is why we need to offer protections to the LGBTQ+ community. Nobody should fear the discrimination that they will face trying to get healthcare coverage enough to not feel inclined to get the help that they need. Being scared to go to the doctor out of fear of how you will be treated is antithetical to the values of liberty and equality that the country supposedly models. Straight and cisgender individuals have a privilege when it comes to this issue, as they do not have to fear that their doctor will deny them treatment based on that aspect of their identity. We are all human and deserve access to the same types of treatment; there is no need to politicize this issue.
IS THE USA IS TOLERANT ENOUGH ALREADY?
Some individuals would argue that the United States is completely fine where it is now in terms of social acceptance and tolerance, especially based on events that have occurred in the past decade. There were many LGBT individuals elected to office in the 2010s. Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin became the first openly gay U.S. Senator, and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona was the first openly bisexual person elected to the Senate. In May of 2019, the House of Representatives passed a major civil rights bill focused on LGBT equality: the Equality Act, providing protections for LGBT individuals against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and numerous other areas. Roy Moore and Pat McCrory, two prominent, anti-LGBT politicians, were defeated in their Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively. It is clear that public opinion is socially progressive because these public officials were directly elected by their constituents.
While these achievements listed here and many more are meritorious, the country is far from very socially tolerant. First, the Equality Act was passed by the House and sent to the Senate, but it has not progressed further. Additionally, a clear example that our country is not doing enough is how LGBTQ+ students are treated and the lack of support services that are available to them. 2016’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 42.8% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed considered suicide, compared to 14.8% of heterosexual respondents. It was also found that schools that offered support systems like gay-straight alliance organizations improved the mental health of their students. We need to make sure that LGBTQ+ students in this country do not experience mental health scarring and psychological abuse because of how they are treated based on their sexuality; this hostile school environment can lead to students not attending school, limiting the quality of their educational experience.
While astounding progress has been made and social tolerance has seen a tremendous shift in recent years, we have to keep this momentum going by donating our time and resources to educating ourselves and supporting outreach programs and activist organizations that are doing so much work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community in America. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Trevor Project: This organization, founded in 1998, provides LGBTQ+ youth with a 24/7 hotline focusing on crisis and suicide prevention. People can call their number at any time and talk to a trained professional for help.
- The Human Rights Campaign: One of the most popular organizations fighting for LGBTQ+ equality, HRC was founded in 1980 as a political action committee that quickly expanded way beyond lobbying in Washington.
- Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: Established in 2011, this organization is led by black transgender individuals that are committed to addressing the issues that trans people of color face on an everyday basis. They are always looking for fundraising opportunities and volunteers!
We are, arguably, living in the most accepting and open-minded time in the history of this country. We have grown leaps and bounds as a nation, and we are increasingly seeing LGBTQ+ Americans as valid individuals that deserve equal rights. We cannot stop the fight until this community has completely the same opportunities and is lifted up and celebrated for their differences, because diversity and inclusion is the hallmark of an open and democratic society.