With Pride Month over, it's important to remember that the struggle still continues for LGBT+ people all over the world. Kathleen Archambeau, author of We Make It Better shares that while we enjoy celebrating strides, we still have a long way to go to equality.
For those of us who live in the bubble of the Bay Area and will be attending San Francisco’s famed Pride Parade, it can feel like we’re in an era of breakthroughs for queer Americans.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for equal marriage. We have Emmy Award-winning television shows starring LGBTQ actors, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Modern Family.” Wanda Sykes is a comedy star on Netflix, and a transgender actress, Daniela Vega, starred in an Academy Award-winning film in 2017. So why do we still feel so much anxiety about our rights and visibility?
The answer is that we’re not as far away from the past as we should be. The San Francisco Pride Parade this Sunday will be the best party in town, but if you’re going, consider a drive through the Caldecott Tunnel down to Dublin. That’s where the City Council voted down the flying of the rainbow flag.
In 2013, gender-fluid Sasha Fleishman was brutally attacked on an AC Transit bus coming home to my neighborhood in Oakland. In 2018, violence against LGBTQ Californians was up 18.8 percent. Hate crimes were up 30.5 percent in San Francisco, representing a three-year upward trend.
These local incidents track with stalled progress at the national level. More than half the states have no protections for LGBTQ citizens against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Half the U.S. states allow the pseudoscience of conversion therapy, proved harmful, to be used against LGBTQ youth.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has implemented a ban on transgender soldiers.
Forty percent of transgender adults report attempting suicide and 92 percent of those before age 25. Sean Dorsey, a renowned transgender San Francisco choreographer, told me that he fears for his safety on the nights he gets on certain Muni bus routes and that he avoids gender-specific restrooms in airports.
This year’s Pride Parade celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Inn uprising against police in New York City. It’s almost hard for me to recognize those times now.
I’m a native San Franciscan, and I should have known about the first transgender police protest at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, but transgender was not even on my radar. At the time I did not have words for who I was in the world. Like most of the women I knew in college, I dated men and tried marijuana, but only knew of queers in the most pejorative sense — stone butch lesbians, gay sissies, drag queens and muddled bisexuals.
Even when a local classmate struggling with his sexual orientation jumped off a two-story building in 1973, I didn’t get his suicide and didn’t come out to myself until years later.
But not everything has changed. In a 2018 Human Rights Campaign study of 12,000 LGBTQ youth in America, the survey found that 92 percent heard negative messages about being LGBT. I thought about this when I was speaking at an LGBTQ youth center in the Bay Area last year.
A young, transgender Chinese youth gave me folded paper cranes and told me he was homeless after his parents kicked him out of the house when he came out at 16. He was trying to save money for his gender affirmation surgery by working minimum wage jobs and couch surfing. I keep those paper cranes, hoping he won’t kill himself before he can get the surgery.
As for my generation, half of today’s LGBTQ seniors live in states without protection against discrimination. Any beleaguered queer Bay Area renter who can no longer afford to live in California might need to move to one of these 30 states. The old fears remain — about not belonging, not finding community, not gaining access to employment and affirmation, not being able to afford housing or health services.
So when out celebrating Pride with your rainbow T-shirts and colorful outfits, remember that the hard work of equality has only just begun.
The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed the Equality Act in 2019, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but it’s unlikely that it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate before the 2020 election.
Until the Equality Act is passed, LGBTQ citizens of this country are considered less than their straight peers. We can be fired, discharged, denied housing, denied medical treatment, refused service, subjected to forced conversion therapy and refused the most basic public accommodations.
The past 50 years were just the beginning of the fight against LGBTQ discrimination. If we’re ever to be really equal, it’ll take more than a Pride Parade to make that happen.
Kathleen Archambeau is a longtime Bay Area LGBTQ activist and author of “Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons and Everyday Heroes” and, with Eric Rosswood, of “We Make It Better.” Visit her at www.kathleenarchambeau.com.
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