June 28th marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The riots, which ensued after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, were not the first, nor were they the last. However, the Stonewall riots were a catalyst that marked the beginning of many important milestones in our Nation’s fight for LGBTQ-plus rights.
The Stonewall riots were born out of routine violence, discrimination and harassment, and they are emblematic of the movement of activism and action that has generated remarkable progress over the last 50 years. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas struck down laws that criminalized same-sex sexual conduct, in 2013, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and in 2015 the Court ruled that states could not ban same-sex marriage — guaranteeing all Americans the right to marry whomever they love. In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law to ensure that crimes motivated by actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability are considered hate crimes. And in 2010, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing all openly gay Americans to serve in the military.
In addition to these important legal victories, attitudes of Americans have also changed considerably. According to the General Social Survey, in 1973, 70 percent of people felt same-sex relations were ‘always wrong,’ and by 2010 that number fell to 43.5 percent. According to a Gallup poll conducted in May of 2018, 67 percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage.
Our Nation should celebrate this progress, and each step we take towards ensuring equality for all Americans, but there is still so much work to be done. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report, 73 percent of LGBTQ-plus youth have experienced verbal threats because of their actual or perceived LGBTQ-plus identity and 43 percent have been bullied on school property in the last 12 months.
Just as LGBTQ-plus youth are more likely to experience bullying and violence, LGBTQ-plus individuals are also the most likely targets of hate crimes in America, according to an analysis of data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by fatal violence. We must do more to stop hate crimes, enforce legislation to prosecute these crimes, prevent those convicted of hate crimes from purchasing guns and ensure that there is greater accuracy when anti-transgender violence is reported.
It is also time that we pass the Equality Act. This legislation would clarify that civil rights protections for discrimination on the basis of sex include sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act puts into law a simple yet vitally important principle: that no person should be discriminated against at work, in public education, in housing, in jury service, at restaurants or other places of public accommodation because they are LGBTQ-plus.
The road ahead is long. And shamefully this Administration has made countless attempts to roll back hard-fought victories, including rescinding guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, prohibiting transgender individuals from serving in the military, limiting protections for LGBTQ-plus asylum seekers and giving states license to discriminate in adoptions. Each of these actions is a devastating setback that has and will make the lives of Americans across this country and the world harder.
On the 50th anniversary, it is particularly important that we reflect on the Stonewall riots and the LGBTQ-plus rights movement that they sparked. Those demonstrations were the result of the frustration, drive and bravery of each individual who fought back. It is a story about discrimination, but perhaps more importantly, it is a story about the power of the LGBTQ-plus community to organize and to advance justice in remarkable ways. I am proud to be an ally in this community, and I believe in our power to continue moving our Nation towards equality. n