The epic quest for queer equality
Recent wins & setbacks
Amy Gray-Schlink, Sarah Scott, Jordana Sardo
volume 35
issue 3
June 2014

Hundreds gather in South Africa at the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village for the 9th annual Soweto Pride march in September, 2013. Elizabeth Sejake / City Press

Important successes and improved publicity on some fronts is refreshing to the long-lived LGBT movement and its many allies. But as the roundup below shows, it’s far too soon to rest on any laurels. Internationally and in the U.S. crucial battles still need to be fought.

Global state of affairs

There is scarcely a spot on the planet where LGBT rights are not front and center. From marriage equality victories to violence and criminalization, the status of queers internationally runs the gamut.

Queers suffer in countries where religious conservatism reigns. In Iran, same-sex relationships are punishable by death, lesbians endure forced marriages to men, and rape within marriage is legal. Russian Orthodox Church members, alongside supporters of Vladimir Putin, engage in anti-gay violence and threats, while draconian homophobic laws are enacted. India recently criminalized same-sex relationships. In Peru, where the murder of gays and transpeople goes ignored, recent hate crime legislation omitted queers.

Where things look bad for queers, women face a similar fate. Despite some legislative gains since apartheid fell in South Africa, rape is common there, and “corrective rapes” of lesbians are a startling development, propelling activists there to link the queer struggle to feminism. In Nigeria, the new law imposing a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex unions and the recent kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram (whose name means “western education is sin”) demonstrate the dominance of patriarchy over sexual or gender freedom.

Before expressing disapproval of other countries, the U.S. should look in the mirror. Obama ignores bigotry in places considered friendly to American interests. And much of the recent rabid anti-gay legislation in Africa is supported — even co-written — by U.S. evangelicals. Obscure, vehemently homophobic church leaders seek recruits by spreading hate in the name of Christian love. Not to be outdone, England rejects the vast majority of queer asylum seekers, and Australia sends them first to Papua New Guinea, where homosexuality is illegal.

Naturally, queers are demanding better. Since 2009, same-sex marriage has been won in 14 countries, from Argentina to Malta. While marriage alone is not liberation, other victories include better HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the right to adopt children, and the right of transpeople to have birth certificates that reflect their chosen gender. Activists are also pushing to overturn laws criminalizing homosexuality, to define anti-gay violence as a hate crime, and for equal employment rights. LGBT fighters are on the move internationally and they deserve international solidarity!

Transpeople face harrowing challenges

In Connecticut this year, Jessica, a 16-year-old transgender runaway, was placed in a juvenile boys’ detention center. She was repeatedly raped by the staff and inmates. After she defended herself, the Department of Children and Families commissioner labeled her “violent” and “dangerous.” As a result, she was transferred to an adult men’s prison — and exposed to even worse abuse. There is no federal law requiring transgender inmates to be housed according to their self-identified gender.

This is just one chilling example of the harsh realities for transpeople in this country. The bigotry permeates many levels of society.

The pay gap for transwomen is roughly the same as for cisgendered (birth designated) women. But it’s doubly hard for transwomen to find a job in the first place. Fifty-five percent have been denied employment due to gender identity. On March 27, Maryland became the 18th state to make discrimination against transpeople illegal. The Federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act has been in the works since August 2013, though it contains vague wording that would give some “religious employers” an opportunity to discriminate.

Ending employment discrimination is vital, and civil rights measures and laws would improve many transpeople’s lives. But unstable and abusive job conditions would remain unchanged for undocumented transpeople, most of whom have come to the U.S. after fleeing persecution and poverty in their home countries. Obama’s immigration reform bill, which requires E-Verify for all employers, will make it nearly impossible for undocumented transpeople to find jobs in the U.S.

Work laws do not address the physical, psychological, and sexual abuses that undocumented transwomen suffer at ICE detention centers. The Department of Human Services has refused to implement simple policies that would put a stop to these cruelties, like banning retaliation against an inmate for complaining of abuse by prison staff. Transgender inmates file 20 percent of sexual abuse complaints — even though they make up only 0.3 percent of the total population.

The exploitation of transpeople as workers, prisoners and immigrants can be fought with federal, multi-faceted transgender rights bills, and a growing militant trans community movement that links with all the exploited. Whistleblower Pvt. Chelsea Manning still fights bravely against U.S. war crimes and for her freedom and transfer to a women’s military prison. To help, see

Housing crisis hits LGBT seniors hard

Queer elders in California can’t find affordable housing. Like the growing number of elders across the country, they are being driven from longtime residences by exploding prices in rent and housing. Many cannot access their partners’ benefits because they couldn’t marry or get domestic partnership status.

Homophobia heightens the hardship of getting a roof over their heads. Some gay seniors in traditional elder housing facilities are forced back into the closet because of discrimination. When seeking rooms at senior centers they are rejected or get higher price quotes than straight seniors. It’s worse for elder African American and Latino queers who face the double jeopardy of racism and homophobia.

An estimated 65,000 LGBT people over 65 live in Los Angeles, according to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Triangle Square, built by Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing in 2007, was the only affordable housing complex for gay seniors in the nation and remains one of only a handful. It is the only affordable housing complex in Los Angeles that caters to LGBT seniors; 70 percent of the residents live at the poverty level and the waiting list is three to five years.

A new multi-generational complex, the Argyle, L.A.’s second affordable housing complex catering to LGBT seniors, is expected to open this spring, and future plans include a residential complex for LGBT senior and youth. Not all the units will be occupied by gay seniors because under federal fair housing rules, low-income housing facilities catering to gay seniors cannot exclude straight people and still qualify for federal subsidies.

But corporate landlords and bureaucratic lawmakers BEWARE! The exploding number of angry elders in our society far outnumber the billionaire bigots. And they possess the politics of the Stonewall Rebellion and the militant ’60s to fight back.

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