The Times, They are a Changin’
Doesn’t it seem a long time since last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court made its historic ruling that allowed same-sex marriage to become the law of the land? Don’t we live in a great nation that has now fully accepted same-sex marriage as the norm? Uhhh, not so fast. One does not have to have their nose buried in the newspaper to realize that for all the progress that we have made in the past few years, the struggle for equality continues. The title of this article could easily have been The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same. We should acknowledge the many positive changes that have been made, such as the Supreme Court ruling, states that have passed protection clauses for sexual orientation and gender identity, and insurance plans that now include gender reassignment surgery as a covered benefit.
But let’s not get all choked up over the advances that we have made in the last year or two. Let’s pay attention to some of the challenges that have presented themselves. Houston, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker, an openly gay Mayor, brought legislation to a vote that would have provided equal protections to the LGBT community there. This legislation, titled Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), was voted down in November. This legislation became known as the “Bathroom Ordinance,” as opponents focused on their fears that male pedophiles would begin invading women’s restrooms. After all, what parent in their right mind would risk their young daughter being in a ladies’ room with some male pedophile in the next stall waiting to pounce on this unwitting innocent?
Now granted, the bill itself was not worded in a manner that was easily deciphered. “Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination…[extensive list of classifications here].” What this boiled down to, aside from the legalese, is that a YES vote meant “no” to equal rights. A NO vote meant “yes” to equal rights. Who drafted this Ordinance? The resulting vote was overwhelmingly in favor of repeal—i.e., against equal rights. Fear of pedophiles ruled the conversation. After the vote concluded, however, and the repeal was secure, a transgender woman placed a billboard in Houston showing her attractive self with the tag line: “You want me in the bathroom with your husband?” Now, I have to admit, this was not only creative, it was amusing. But most of all, it was too late. This was after the vote resulted in defeat of equal rights legislation. One step forward, two steps back.
The other significant development that has transpired since the June Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is found in the Deep South—Alabama, to be precise. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, has ruled that, in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, probate judges in his state are not required to issue wedding licenses to same-sex couples. The audacity of this ruling defies logic. Moore’s action is not going unchallenged. Wayne Flynt, who was previously a history professor at Auburn University, claims that Moore’s strategy are reminiscent of resistance to desegregation that Southern States had undertaken many decades ago.
But take heart, my friends! All is not lost. While we still have many obstacles to overcome, the rays of hope shine brightly. There have been some significant advances along the way, and these are not to be overlooked. On July 24, 2015, the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) passed a resolution allowing gay men to serve as Scout leaders. The previous move to allow gay Scouts while continuing the ban on gay Scout leaders ultimately fell short of being a satisfactory compromise. Robert Gates, former Director of the CIA and now CEO of the BSA, was instrumental in leading the Boy Scout organization along this path. Kudos to Gates for his courage and vision for equal rights for the LGBT community!
It seems to me that the most significant advance in the LGBT coalition has come in the wider acceptance and establishment of protection rights for the transgender community. Those who claim their true gender identity have become more vocal and their transitions are more commonplace across the country. The public transition of Caitlyn Jenner has been the focus of our fascination and admiration. Her Vanity Fair cover photo and interview made an amazing splash in the headlines and in the workplace water cooler conversation. Staying in the entertainment field, the recent release of the film The Danish Girl provided an incredible historical perspective on the development of transgender understanding in the 1930s. This film, the true story of Einar Wegener, a Dutch landscape artist, transitioning to become Lili Elbe, was an incredible portrayal of her life. This film brought the story of the transgender world to many who never knew this side of the human sexuality continuum before.
The Times—They Are a Changin’. While many challenges still loom before us, we cannot overlook the small victories taking place each day across the country, when those in the trans-community are able to use a rest room of their choosing, when Gay-Straight Alliance chapters are established in more public schools, and when a gay couple is able to walk the streets holding hands without being verbally assaulted. These are simple things, yet so critical to a world where we are all equals.