Gaining marriage equality will go a long way toward creating equal rights for LGBT couples and families, but it certainly won’t fix all of the problems faced by the LGBT community. Some activists argue that many of the other issues faced by the LGBT community are more urgent than marriage equality.
For example, there’s the rarely-discussed fact that we still have no federal protections in place to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, 65% of Americans live in states with no employee protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity -- and 111 million of those people live in states where gay marriage is already allowed.
Without these protections, LGBT people can be legally denied jobs and promotions, discriminated against at work, or even fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In their responses to a 2013 PEW survey, 21% of LGBT respondents said an employer had treated them unfairly. A separate survey showed that 78% of transgender people had experienced at least one form of unfair treatment at work because of their gender identity.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), is proposed federal legislation that would prohibit hiring and workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at the national level, just like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, or gender. Since 1994 ENDA has been introduced in every congress except for one, and has never passed.
Might that story change if ENDA (or a better version of these protections) received as much public support as marriage equality does?
Other things that have been cited as being more urgent than marriage equality include high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth (40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT), rising rates of violence against LGBT individuals, lack of equal access to healthcare for LGBT people, and many other issues that affect the day to day safety and wellbeing of members of the LGBT community.
The Transgender Law Center launched the public education campaign #MoreThanMarriage nearly two years ago to “raise awareness of the critical issues we need to address in order to thrive - including marriage, immigration, bullying, health care access, family rights, employment, and more” on social media. The response continues to be impressive.
“The goal was to build on the freedom to marry [movement] and try to raise visibility for a wide range of issues that face our community,” Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center told MTV News. “We wanted to help give a voice to the needs and priorities of historically marginalized members of the LGBT community, like people of color, low income folks, immigrants, people with disability, and people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.”
"The number of people who have latched onto the hashtag shows that [the campaign] really captured the need in this moment to raise the visibility of a broad range of racial and economic justice needs facing the LGBT community," Hayashi said.
“Freedom to marry is definitely important,” he added. “Many people, including transgender and gender-nonconforming people, are impacted by the legal recognition of our relationships and families. ...At the Transgender Law Center, we are able to hold [awareness] both that freedom to marry is important for our community, and also that there are a broad range of day-to-day survival issues facing our communities.”
We recently wrote about the ways Millennials have helped to change the national conversation about marriage equality. Hayashi said one of the best ways for us to help do the same thing regarding some of the issues raised by the #MoreThanMarriage campaign, is raising awareness about the stories of transgender lives as told by the people living them.
“To hear trans people talk about our lives, about our families, about who we are in our communities,” Hayashi said, “That’s what’s really effective in terms of shifting people’s understanding of the trans community.”
Hayashi also pointed out that activists and organizations across the country have for decades been dedicated to working within LGBT communities on day-to-day survival issues like poverty, violence, racism, and incarceration within the LGBT community. He noted that the recent upswing in transgender visibility has helped to broaden the scope of these conversations, and he hopes that public education campaigns like #MoreThanMarriage can increase awareness of these issues even further.
"Whether it’s helping someone else in the community to get food for the day or find a place to stay for the night...that’s the kind of community-based work that trans and gender-nonconforming activists across the country have been doing for a really long time."
“There are groups around the country, in almost every state and every community, that are led by community volunteers with very little funding, and very few resources,” Hayashi said.
He said that we can best support these efforts by finding out what’s going on at the local level and reaching out to community organizations near us to ask what they need most. The Trans Justice Funding Project puts out a yearly list of effective transgender justice groups across that are run by and for trans people. You can also use Center Link to find LGBT organizations and Community Centers near you, and you can support the Transgender Law Center in their work for change at the legislative level.
Our support for marriage equality has been powerful. Let's lend that same support to all the members of the LGBT community who are fighting for survival every day.