By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor, New Jersey Urban News
Celebrations of LGBTQ Pride 2020 have for the most part ended for the year with the bulk of the nation’s activities taking place during the month of June. Pride celebrations have grown in number and support since the first efforts were successfully launched to bring national attention to the lives and challenges of those who either openly or secretly identity as members of the LGBTQ community.
The first Pride march occurred in New York City on the heels of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, also occurring in the Big Apple. In the 50 years that have followed, the Gay Rights Movement has slowly, but surely, brought about significant realignments in public opinion of and in legal rights for those who live under the colorful rainbow flag.
In an historic decision, just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. The ruling was 6-3, with Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first appointee to the court, writing the majority opinion. The opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.
“Today,” Gorsuch said, “we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.”
He found such discrimination is barred by the language in the 1964 law that bans discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex.
The decision served as a major victory for the LGBTQ community and a major loss for the Trump administration, which had sided with employers in three cases before the court. Two involved employees who sued after contending they had been fired because they were gay. The third case was brought by Aimee Stephens, who had worked for six years as a male funeral director in Livonia, Mich., but was fired two weeks after she told her boss that she was transgender and would be coming to work as a woman. She died earlier this year, but her case lived on.
Several years earlier, in June 2015, the movement realized another hard-fought victory when the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
Marriage is a “keystone of our social order,” Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, launched widespread celebration across the U.S., the first same-sex marriages in several states, and resistance – or at least stalling – in others.
Certainly, America has changed in many regards when it comes to its brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and friends – all of whom once had to recourse but to live in the closet – hidden and disenfranchised members of society.
But there remains one subset of the formulaic “LGBTQ” that still lingers on the fringes of society – all but invisible – even facing routine discrimination by others within the “gay community” – transgender.
For many Americans, the 2017 debut on the FX channel of “Pose” served as their first introduction to the transgender community. The drama, which aired for two seasons, spotlights New York’s underground ball culture which first gained notice in the 1980s. The show features the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles including Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross.
One episode during season one illustrates the all-too-real possibilities which transgender face when one of the ballroom favorites is found murdered, presumably after picking up a stranger in her role as an infrequent prostitute. As the story unfolds, we learn that discrimination in the work force often results in transgender having little recourse but to seek illegal means in order to provide for themselves.
This, in effect, was part of the backdrop that supported efforts for protection under the law on which the Supreme Court recently ruled.
Consider the following based on data from the Williams Institute, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey: 0.6 percent of U.S. adults are transgender – equating to 1.4 million trans people; 52 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017 were committed against trans and gender non-conforming people with 40 percent of those homicides against trans women of color; 61 percent of Black trans people have endured police mistreatment, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault; nearly 30 percent of trans people live in poverty and are four times more likely than the general population to have an annual income of less than $10,000; 30 percent of trans people have experienced homelessness, yet 21 percent of homeless shelters refuse to admit trans women; and 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide – 25 times higher than the general population.
Clearly, life for trans people remains lonely, isolating and in many instances, extremely dangerous.
It’s time that America lived up to its principles . . . “and justice for all.”
And in addition, but no less important, it high time that the LGBTQ community remember that part of their namesake — their tagline if you will – includes the letter “T.”