In the wake of November’s election, and the passage of anti-gay marriage initiatives in 11 states, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community finds itself at a crossroads.
We face the most hostile political and judicial environment in the past 20 years. We are losing at the ballot box and the legislature due to an undeveloped and underdeveloped grassroots structure at the local and state level.
Not unlike other civil rights struggles in our nation’s history, our rights will not be won overnight. We will win our rights through careful planning, hard work, building alliances, applying pressure, using finesse, creating and seizing opportunities and being smart.
What we need now is a strategic vision that binds all of our efforts at the national, state and local levels to a common and coordinated purpose. There are those who suggest that our community is too diverse to have one plan; that we have a multiplicity of organizations that speak with distinct voices.
We owe it to our community to be very specific and clear what the specific goals for equality are.
I would suggest that our goals are the same as all Americans. We want national security. We want jobs. We want good health. We want a good education. We want a strong family. We want to feel safe. We want to share in the same rights and responsibilities enjoyed by all Americans and protected by our Constitution.
We should set forth a plan that resonates with America. Each goal should stand upon specific objectives. Each objective should be won through concrete action at the local, state and federal levels.
We must achieve economic security. We must pass the employment non-discrimination act, as well as win state, local and private efforts to ensure equal opportunity in employment, public accommodations and other areas. We must work with leaders in Congress and the Treasury Department on tax reform to repeal more than 100 tax laws that disadvantage our families. Welfare, social security and other economic policies must empower—not disenfranchise—LGBT families.
We must eradicate HIV/AIDS and support LGBT health programs. We must continue to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We must reduce LGBT teen suicide and fight breast, prostate and other cancers. We must ensure that our community is represented in health studies and support mental health programs that address the specific needs of our community.
We must build strong families and strong relationships. We cannot abandon our work for LGBT marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships based on one election cycle. “The arc of the universe is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “but it bends towards justice.” We can build support for our families by ensuring we are counted in census data, included in adoption, foster parent and custody programs, recognized in retirement communities and respected in matters of inheritance. We should fight for fair-minded immigration policies to ensure our families are not torn asunder.
We must reduce crime and violence against our community. Americans of every walk of life overwhelmingly support strong criminal laws against hate crimes. We should extend America’s promise to those who seek asylum from persecution in their home countries because of their sexual orientation. We need to remain vigilant to police entrapment and encourage education programs about our community for our law enforcement officials.
We must strengthen our national security. None of us are equal until we all have equal opportunity. We must repeal the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, end the military’s antiquated sodomy statute and obtain better anti-harassment training and accountability in the military. Our men and women in uniform should not be fired for being honest with health care providers, chaplains, their families and friends. We must fight to repeal medical and uniform regulations which limit service by transgendered patriots.
We must support strong education. We must ensure that school curricula are LGBT-inclusive, ban attempts to exclude our lives and experiences from academic literature, support gay / straight alliances and lobby for anti-bullying measures.
We must build strong LGBT communities—in the red states and the blue. We must strengthen our local community centers and local and state political organizations. We must support LGBT efforts to exercise freedom of religion without fear of exclusion, support LGBT visibility in the Boy Scouts and other community organizations and be visible in every corner of every community in our country.
We must stand with those who stand with us. We cannot do this alone. We need our friends. By supporting a woman’s right to choose, affirmative action and diversity programs, laws to end gender discrimination and sexual harassment and laws that end racial discrimination and harassment, we make our own chances of success that much greater.
Our best days are ahead of us. The many talented organizations, leaders, volunteers and philanthropists in our community bring enormous potential to the table. Our friends and allies—who have already won historic struggles of their own—stand ready and willing to fight with us.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Imagine the change you want to become.”
When we rely on these committed men and women—at the local, state and federal levels—there is nothing we cannot achieve.
Justice is just around the bend.
C. Dixon Osburn, an attorney, is executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian and transgendered members of the Armed Forces, based in Washington, D.C. (sldn.org).