Chicago, my hometown, is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Society for Human Rights (SHR). Founded in 1924, this was the earliest known gay rights organization in the U.S. It was shut down quickly after it started because many members were arrested. No court cases went through because the arrests were warrantless, and there was no real crime being committed. This article is not about the SHR itself, but the movement it recognized, and the confidence it gave people to demand their rights as human beings.
Since the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer (LGBTQ) movement started, there have been members of the community who have now been in leadership positions in politics, religious organizations, schools, families, media and more. Numerous gay communities have sprouted up all over the country, and the number of openly gay people, as well as allies has grown exponentially over the past century. The movement has picked up speed in more recent years in both awareness and political advancements. Illinois just recently became the 15th state to have legal same-sex marriage. Many great strides have been made in the gay rights movement.
Though I do believe the human rights movement involving gender and sexual minorities (GSM) has made progress, I still think there is a long way to go.
In my own experience, I have been to rallies, signed petitions, joined support groups, spread the word of awareness, researched the cause and the many terms under the grand spectrum of GSM and just been a friend. I have grown up with this issue in my life, and it is very important to me.
There are still 35 states that do not allow same-sex marriage. Many of those states even have laws against it. In certain states, where civil unions are legal, though it is a step in the right direction, it is still not completely equal rights. No marital benefits are given in these situations, which does not say “equal” to me.
Phillip Carlisle, Indianapolis, Ind., junior and President of Albion College’s LGBriTs, an umbrella group supporting and teaching about LGBTQ and GSM, agrees there is still much to be done. He noted that one of the problems with the progress is people think it is over, when it is really still beginning.
“In the minds of many Americans, same-sex marriage is a stand-alone marker of success,” Carlisle said. “If a state legalizes same-sex marriage, many believe that that’s the end of the story. But, while there’s certainly room for celebration, that’s not the case.”
Carlisle also says that same-sex marriage is only one step in the process to gaining equality. There are so many more problems the movement faces in gaining equal rights and respect as people.
Members of the GSM community are still greatly discriminated against. It is legal in many states to fire, not hire, and give no benefits to GSM employees. People are still excluded, beaten, assaulted and killed every day, simply because of how they identify. Often members of the LGBTQ community are seen as immoral, unnatural, promiscuous and so on. But these are people who have feelings they cannot change. These acts of taking away someone’s rights for an identity that was not chosen, but realized, is inhuman. The act of telling someone they are less of a person because they are not like most people is a sick way for people to behave.
Another point of view that is worthy of recognition is that of a past generation. Trisha Franzen, Gender Studies professor at Albion College, has seen the LGBTQ movement grow and change over her lifetime. She says while this human rights movement has a way to go, it has also made a lot of progress that is important to recognize.
“You cannot deny the work the people have done in the past, ” Franzen said. “It makes what we worked for seem not good enough. So much has changed since I’ve been involved, the terms have changed and so has many other things like who is involved and how to go about spreading awareness.”
Franzen believes change can happen, but it takes time. Movements will have leaps forward and drawbacks, but it is vital to realize the struggles of those in the past have gotten LGBTQ members and their allies to the present.
I believe there is much to learn about the meaning of true equality. Yes, it will take many years for any human rights movement to be recognized. It will take even longer for equality on a legal level to happen. As far as full equality from a cultural standing, America has a long way to go. Racism and sexism are still major issues America as a country and American culture still struggles with, but that is another story.
Photo by Hannah Litvan