It seems that the mainstream media, whenever it talks about LGBT issues, focuses almost entirely on the fight for same-sex marriage rights. It also seems that the majority of straight LGBT allies do the same thing. And honestly, I can hardly blame them. It’s a very popular topic, there are entire organizations devoted solely to legalizing same-sex marriage, and certainly marriage equality is important for a great many people in same-sex partnerships.
However, the downside to focusing almost entirely on same-sex marriage is that it creates the impression that same-sex marriage is the only LGBT issue that people should care about. This is far from the truth. There are a number of important issues that affect LGBT individuals, and many of them are far more important than same-sex marriage.
For instance, in many states it is completely legal to fire people from jobs simply because they’re not straight. The numbers are very depressing. Around 12% of LGBT people are fired or denied a promotion because of their orientation or gender identity. About a third have experienced discrimination or harassment at their job, which is not prohibited under most employment discrimination laws. In addition, trans people face discrimination at even higher rates than LGB individuals.
This discrimination also takes place outside of the workplace. In many places, LGBT people face discrimination in the housing market, denying many a good place to live. Furthermore, Many businesses refuse service to LGBT individuals, regardless of whether that refusal is legal. Even if businesses don’t entirely refuse service, they may harass LGBT people enough to drive them away.
While in school, LGBT teens face extremely high levels of bullying. Almost every openly LGBT person in public school has been bullied. This bullying forces almost a third of LGBT students to drop out of school, and is responsible for suicide rates among LGBT students that are two to three times higher than for straight people. This bullying also often takes the form of physical harassment, and frequently takes the form of physical assaults and beatings.
Trans people, especially, face incredible amounts of discrimination that go far beyond what LGB individuals have to face. While HRT is considered a medically necessary procedure for many trans people, it can be very difficult to get access to the necessary medications, and there are a number of pointless hurdles that trans people have to jump.
Even something as simple as a name change or a change of gender on official documents can be extremely difficult. Usually, there are a number of pointless requirements that someone has to meet before they can ‘officially’ be considered someone of the opposite gender. These requirements can include “living as the desired gender” for an arbitrary amount of time, getting written statements from doctors, and getting a number of (very expensive, usually uninsured) surgeries.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Trans people are often disadvantaged in the job market, where they are frequently fired or never hired in the first place. As a result, trans people are far more likely to live below the poverty line. These people are often denied access to homeless shelters, and in many cases are denied access to domestic violence shelters as well. Nearly half of trans people have attempted or committed suicide. That number is over half for trans women of color.
And here’s where I get mad. Do you, straight reader, think you support LGBT people because you think same-sex marriage is a good idea? You don’t. You have picked the easiest, most popular, and arguably least important issue of the LGBT rights movement and focused on it to the exclusion of everything else. You have ignored many of the very real problems affecting the LGBT community in your fight to ensure that two people of the same gender can say “I do” in front of an altar.
Here’s the thing. Fighting for same-sex marriage is good. It’s important. There are over a thousand federal benefits reserved exclusively to married couples, and it’s vital that same-sex couples get access to them as well. However, if this fight comes at the expense of every other issue, when literally thousands of LGBT people are dying every year and nobody is paying attention, something has to change. So please, stop focusing so much on same-sex marriage, and start focusing on the other issues that matter to us.