Guest post by Rick Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California
The balloons have deflated, the risers and sound systems from celebrations across the country have been taken down, but I hope you’re still feeling a little of the euphoria left over from the day that the U.S. Supreme Court announced its historic marriage ruling.
Sadly, our work is not over, but we can harness this momentum to continue working for fairness.
Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that Americans are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, and they have previously ruled similarly on gender identity and expression. While these rulings are a step in the right direction when it comes to protecting LGBT employees from employment discrimination, they do not provide full protections for LGBT Americans in areas such as housing, public accommodations, education and finance. It is still important to pass state-wide nondiscrimination laws because states often offer other resources to those who have faced discrimination such as hearings in front of state human rights commissions.
Many people are shocked to realize that 31 states do not have statewide laws protecting LGBT workers from being fired, simply for being who they are. California’s transgender community is facing another vicious attack at the ballot box. LGBT teens are far more likely than the general population to suffer from verbal abuse, harassment and violence in schools and are up to three times more likely to attempt suicide. We still face disparities in healthcare settings compared to the general population; no one more so than California’s estimated 250,000 undocumented immigrants. Gay and bisexual men are still barred by federal law from donating blood unless they’re for all intents and purposes celibate, no matter how long they’ve been in a monogamous relationship. And racism pervades the lives of LGBT people of color.
For Equality California, the road ahead is clear and starts here at home. As I write this, the same right-wing extremists who supported Proposition 8 are collecting signatures to qualify a horrendous initiative for the 2016 ballot. The bathroom policing initiative would allow anyone to monitor bathrooms in public buildings and to single out people – transgender or not – who don’t appear sufficiently masculine or feminine. Those who don’t answer invasive questions or undergo examination would be prohibited from using the bathroom and could even be sued. EQCA and other LGBT and allied groups have formed a coalition to fight the initiative.
Just a day before the Supreme Court struck down marriage restrictions in the remaining 13 states that still had them, millions celebrated nationwide as the Court upheld key portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet the ACA left a considerable part of California’s LGBT community still without access to healthcare: the up to a quarter-million undocumented immigrants in California who are LGBT. For many, the dual stigma of being LGBT and undocumented translates to enormous disparities in mental, physical, economic and social well being compared to the general population. California’s undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $3.2 billion in state and local taxes, and yet are unable to access many of the public services for which they already pay. EQCA is joining forces with health clinics, LGBT organizations and immigration advocates to launch a major statewide education initiative to educate the LGBT community about the healthcare needs of undocumented LGBT immigrants and to spread the word about the importance of access to quality healthcare for all Californians, regardless of immigration status. Bringing LGBT undocumented immigrants into the full social, economic, and civic life of our communities is not only just and fair, it simply makes economic sense.
Beyond California, the work is even more daunting. EQCA and allied organizations have worked for two decades to give California the nation’s most comprehensive body of laws protecting LGBT people. California is one of 18 states (and the District of Columbia) that have state laws protecting us from being fired, evicted or denied service in a business on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. More limited protections are available in a handful of others; most offer nothing at all. Getting a federal nondiscrimination bill passed is a top priority for each of the major LGBT organizations, and EQCA is working with federal lawmakers to enact a law that will keep all Americans on the job and in their homes regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
We’re also working to bring federal blood donation policy out of the early 1980s. Until a few months ago, gay and bisexual men faced a lifetime ban on giving blood due to fears of HIV transmission through the blood supply. A much-heralded change a few months ago from the federal Food and Drug Administration was equally discriminatory; it merely shortened the ban to one year from the last time a potential male donor had had sex with another man. Heterosexual donors are held to no such requirement of celibacy.
Accomplishing all these goals will require allies in every level of government, from the top down. For that reason, Equality California became the first major LGBT organization to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton for president, to ensure that the rapid pace of civil rights advances that we’ve achieved during the eight years of the Obama Administration does not diminish.
Marriage was not the end, but because of its symbolic value and central place in society, our struggle for equal recognition of our relationships and families forced millions of Americans to confront their own prejudices and get to know us. It’s hard to demonize your friend, neighbor or co-worker. And that simple fact will prepare the field for the battles we have yet to fight.
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