June’s Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage between two people of the same gender was a momentous day for the history books. You may recall the flurry of rainbow colors and jubilation that dominated social media as people celebrated the close ruling as a major victory for the gay rights movement. But now that the fanfare has died down, there is a growing concern among some gay rights activists that the amazing momentum that has been building for decades will dissipate. Much of the media attention in the past decade surrounding gay rights have been on the right to marry, so now that there is marriage equality, where do we go from here?
It’s true that our culture is filled with LGBTQ+ figures — Sam Smith, Adam Lambert, Ellen Page, and George Takei, just to name a few. American TV seems to be filled with queer characters in shows such as Orange Is the New Black, Faking It, The Fosters, and Sense8. Yet while representation is always a good thing, some of the realities of the LGBTQ+ community have yet to be discussed. Some of these realities include the fact that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. It’s also the case that you can still be fired in 37 states because of your gender identity and in 29 states for your sexual orientation. Although we have Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner represented in popular culture, as of this year, 21 transgender women of color have been murdered in the U.S. with almost complete silence from mainstream media. In response to the Supreme Court ruling, a crop of “religious freedom” laws have been introduced to permit discrimination on other fronts, one of which was even on the legislative agenda here in Maine.
For LGBTQ+ people in this country, it’s great that you can marry whomever you want. Getting fired from your job or kicked out of your home because of your sexual or gender identity is not so great. That is why it is of the utmost importance for all people to recognize the challenges that still lie ahead. This is why SPARQ was unveiled this year for Bates students who may be questioning their own identity to discuss these topics in a confidential setting. That is why OutFront hosted a plethora of events last week for Coming Out Week to raise awareness and discussions about the challenges that still exist for those coming to terms with their identity. And it is why we encourage everyone to look out for announcements about the Active Allies program to teach students and faculty how to properly support LGBTQ+ people.
We hope that it will be clear at this point that true equality is not only about marriage. It is about being able to work, live, and walk the streets without fear of being attacked, discriminated against, or ostracized. Just as was the case for women after the 19th Amendment, or African Americans after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, true equality is not automatically achieved after one significant victory. Until such equality is obtained, let’s keep the pride and the conversation flowing.