Palm Springs Law Blog

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Good News - Bad News: Challenging the Culture of Discrimination

The LGBT community in the U.S. has made huge gains in human rights and equality in the past few years. This brief scorecard highlights some of the major victories:

  • The federal government and 35 states plus Washington DC now recognize same-sex marriage
  • The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in U.S. Military service was repealed
  • Laws against bullying and harassing students now exist in 49 states, with at least 18 states and DC specifically addressing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories
  • The federal 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act specifically protects LGBT persons from violence

This is great news - these advances are awesome, and we are keeping the momentum, pushing on the legal front for marriage equality in all the remaining states, inclusion of LGBT categories in all anti-bullying laws and additional protection from hate crimes.

So where does that leave us with tolerance and equality for our LGBT community? Clearly, there is a lot of hard work ahead. How is it that a person in 2015, in the United States of America, can lose his or her job, or be disqualified from renting or buying a home, because of sexual orientation or gender identity? How can it be that LGBTQ youth are discriminated against by school teachers and school boards simply because of their diversity? How can anyone justify continuing to criminalize HIV when we now understand the disease and how to prevent or minimize it?

Let’s take a look at these and other serious issues that still face us. They are the focus of individuals and organizations who hope to move us forward in this new year:

  • Two of the most basic human requirements – shelter and a job to earn a living - can be denied to people who aren’t straight. 29 states and many federal agencies have no laws giving equal rights in housing or employment to most LGBT persons.
  • Federal legislation to address employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity has been pending for years in Congress. The current version has been watered down, and may not be the best solution at this time. Its chances of passage are unknown for this coming year.
  • A majority of states who don’t specifically include LGBTQ youth in their anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws make it possible for a continuing culture of cruelty, intimidation and discrimination against this group. Such youth in schools are subject to verbal and physical abuse by other students, and sometimes by teachers and other officials as well. This leads to a high rate of truancy, dropping out of school, and a distressing suicide rate. Suicide is the leading cause of death among LGBTQ youth.
  • It is estimated that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Forced out of their homes, with no family, friends or community support, they may enter into a foster care system which often perpetuates the harassment and victimization they faced at home or in school. Or they are forced to rely on minor crimes or sex for survival, and eventually end up in the juvenile justice system, which again offers little but discrimination and abuse.
  • Domestic violence is, sadly, very common in the U.S., and most experts agree that it occurs just about equally in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. But not all states have laws or policies that provide equal protection and support for both straight and LGBT victims. And LGBT victims are much less likely to report abuse, call for assistance or receive help or support in the community. Fear of negative attitudes and discrimination by agencies and officials; fear of exposure or outing someone; and fear of making the LGBT community look bad are some of the reasons such victims fail to report abuse, and have a difficult time escaping violent relationships.
  • According to Lambda Legal, 39 states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges in the past 2 years. There were more than 80 prosecutions during that period. This organization and others are working to challenge convictions and reform existing HIV laws to reflect and support the current scientific knowledge of HIV, its prevention and treatment.

These serious issues, and many others, affect the daily lives of everyone in the LGBT community; and reflect faults in U.S. and state human rights policies that have no place in our country. Lack of tolerance and community support for any minority affects all of us. There is no positive value for our society when anyone perpetuates a culture of discrimination and harassment. It is our obligation to work toward equality in every part of our lives.

You can help by giving your voice, time and financial support to the many organizations that work hard for equality. Here are a few to consider:

Lambda Legal

Equality California

Human Rights Campaign

American Civil Liberties Union

Southern Poverty Law Center



The GLBT National Help Center

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