Editor’s note – this guest post comes from Anna Aagenes, and was originally posted on her website. My thanks to Anna for allowing us to share her wise words here.
For many successful businesses, organizations, teams or individuals, the end of the year often marks a time for reflection and celebration of successes and also a time to think about changes we want to make in the upcoming year. For the LGBT community, 2013 has undoubtedly been a banner year: there were important legal victories for equality, movie stars, pro-athletes, and everyday people who “came out,” which resulted in an unprecedented amount of mainstream acceptance, discussion, and support of LGBT civil rights. In the last days of the month, 2013 went out with a bang as one Utah judge declared a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional and hours ago, Good Morning America co-host, Robin Roberts, publicly acknowledges that she has a girlfriend.
We are entering 2014 with great momentum. Nevertheless, we can (and should) strive to improve upon this progress rather than give in to complacency over the next twelve months. Here are 14 Resolutions we, as members of the LGBT community, can make in 2014 (listed in no particular order):
1. Don’t assume we’ve “fixed” LGBT rights now that your state has same-sex marriage
Marriage equality is an incredibly important symbolic, legal, and social victory that has improved the lives of many partners, future spouses, their children, and young people growing up who now know they can get married. In 2013, California, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, joined a total of eighteen states that have legalized same-sex marriage. But marriage recognition becomes complicated when couples cross state lines in states that do not have marriage equality: the jury is out, literally, on whether or not a same-sex union will be recognized as separate or equal compared to an opposite-sex marriage.
Furthermore, legalization of same-sex marriage impacts those of a certain age where marriage is a viable and desired option. For instance, what can be done to help older LGBT adults (single or partnered) who are in assisted living facilities that have discriminatory practices or attitudes toward LGBT residents? What about LGBT youth who are bullied at school or those LGBT youth who may be discriminated against in the foster care system? We need to be proud of our local, state, and national victories for marriage equality, but we need to be aware that this type of legal victory will benefit many households, but not everyone.
2. Discuss issues other than marriage
Since we know marriage equality is not necessarily going to benefit all LGBT people, we need to make sure we are addressing other issues that we face as an LGBT community. Protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, preventing bullying in schools, addressing youth homelessness, identifying LGBT health disparities, and preventing violence against trans people are very important issues that deserve our time and attention equal to (if not more than) marriage equality. I have the privilege of working for Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims (D-182nd district) who was asked to be the co-prime sponsor of the state marriage equality bill introduced shortly after the US Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8 this past summer. Although the PA marriage equality bill has gained the most media attention compared to other statewide LGBT legislation, Representative Sims has also introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy (the so called “pray the gay away”) practice that has devastating effects on young children who are told by their therapist that they can “become” heterosexual. In addition to conversion therapy still being legal in Pennsylvania, our state still lacks basic non-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens. Without these protections, if you are LGBT, you could be fired, kicked out of your house, or thrown out of a restaurant because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to fight for these legal victories and social change with the same vigor we saw rally for marriage equality in 2013.
(Note: Before we finish talking about marriage, I want to share something I learned about language for discussing marriage equality. There’s no such thing as gay marriage but there is “same-sex marriage.” I used to say gay marriage too, until a nice staff member at GLAAD educated me about my error: “There’s no such thing,” he enlightened me, “How can a marriage itself be gay?” Well, I guess if you had a lot of glitter and Donna Summer’s best hits playing, but this could apply to a non same-sex wedding too…)
3. Pressure media outlets and industry leaders to portray more (and better) characters of LGBT people
We know the importance of media in portraying a person, or group of people, in a positive or negative light. Historically, the LGBT community has been portrayed as deviant, pedophilic, outrageously flamboyant, dangerous, promiscuous, and a variety of other ignorant stereotypes that reinforced stigma and a negative perception of LGBT people. My freshman year in college, I took a class entitled “LGBT Representation in the Media” during a time when there were even fewer positive, complex depictions of LGBT people. This past year, trailblazers such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black, were highlights of 2013. Through her role on OITNB, Cox became the first trans woman of color in a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. Her story and celebrity status have already inspired generations of young people as she continues to use her fame and platform to raise awareness and advocate for the trans community. We need more Lavernes in our TV shows along with other multi-dimensional representation of LGBT people. As consumers of media, we have the power to ask for more complex LGBT characters that reflect the depth and diversity within our community.
4. Really, let’s “focus on the family” and think about LGBT children.
LGBT young people are at risk for a variety of health and social outcomes due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It is estimated that up to 40% of all youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT according to a study conduced by the Williams Institute from 2011-2012. In addition to those who don’t feel safe at home, many LGBT youth do not feel safe in their schools: 8 in 10 LGBT middle and high school students say they have been verbally harassed and 1 in 5 LGBT students admit to being physically assaulted. If a child cannot feel safe either in school or in his or her own house, then where else can this young person go? It seems that if we as Americans want to focus on strengthening families, the best place to start would be to help LGBT youth who are some of our most vulnerable.
5. Raise visibility and support for the trans community.
I cannot stress how much I believe this action item should be on EVERYONE’S list of 2014 resolutions. While some L, G, and B individuals have reaped the many benefits of greater acceptance from the non-LGBT community, there is still lagging progress for acceptance those who identify as trans. The T of LGBT is often neglected in the discussion of LGBT rights, both intentionally and unintentionally by members of our community. In 2014, let’s continue to remind ourselves that, trans activists and leaders will continue to be vital for the progress of the LGBT movement as a whole.
6. Acknowledge and address that sexism prevents women from progressing the same as GBT men.
Unfortunately, not all progress is created equal. In the sports world, for instance, we saw an outpouring of support, acknowledgement, and visibility after NBA center Jason Collins came out this past April and was referred to as the first openly gay professional athlete. Only weeks before, however, Brittney Griner, a so called “legend-in-the-making” WNBA basketball player, came out and, according the New York Times “the sports world shrugged.” The lack of visibility surrounding Griner’s coming out relates directly to her being a female athlete, not based on her incredible talent. Many other women, in various sports and levels of professional or amateur status, have come out over the years as LGBT, and we hope hope to celebrate their stories along with those from all types ofathletes coming out to a mainstream audience.
7. Talk more about how racism prevents people of color from progressing the same way white LGBT people have.
In terms of representation, white LGBT people are much more prevalent in media, organizational leadership roles, and in other aspects of society that traditionally privilege white people over people of color. Despite the progress of 2013, this year we also saw too many devastating stories of trans women of color who were violently murdered. In my city of Philadelphia, members of our community were particularly devastated by the brutal death of Diamond Williams this past July. The National Coaltion of Anti-Violence programs found that NCAVP, “53 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women, while 73 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color.”
One way to address racism in our communities and organizations is to ask ourselves “who are your leaders and who is speaking for our community?” Are the LGBT leaders you work with a reflection of a real rainbow of people or are they mostly white? Are the local media reporters cultural competent and aware of racial injustices that impact the LGBT community? If you lack racial diversity in your leadership, media representation, or organizational programming and services, you as an individual can advocate for greater attention to racial disparities within our LGBT community.
8. Consider the ways class impacts quality of life and access to resources for both poor LGBT people and those who are more affluent in our community
Many businesses now realize that the so-called “pink dollar” is extremely profitable and more smart company executives have realized how importance diversity is for the future success of their companies. Unfortunately, those with limited resources don’t have access to some of the LGBT-friendly health services, legal representation, career options, safe housing, or more luxury items such as gay cruises that wealthier LGBT Americans can afford. While some LGBT people can afford expensive items and themed vacations, those with less money and resources are more likely to fall victim to violence, health disparities, domestic violence, legal and financial difficulties, and homelessness, compared to their more affluent counterparts.
9. Understand that other isms (racism, sexism, classism) as well as intra-community bias like biphobia, transphobia, CAN and DO exist within our community.
Those on the outside may look idealistically toward the LGBT community and think, “wow, they are such a tolerant group” without realizing that oppressed groups of people still can oppress others. A few months ago, I wrote an article on the topic of bisexuality and the ways I have felt misunderstood by members of my own community. Though it may be hard for non-LGBT people to believe, some of our worst criticism and backlash can come from members of the LGBT community. We all carry biases that we must address, and LGBT people cannot think that just because they have experienced discrimination that this makes them immune from becoming those who discriminate against other groups.
Listening to feedback from members of our LGBT community who have disproportionately been left out of the mainstream conversation is critical. We have an opportunity to strengthen our efforts when we unify and include more diversity of voices in our fight for full equality.
10. Respect the labels and pronouns with which people chose to identify.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when we judge others despite the fact that we don’t want others to label or judge us. Every person is entitled to his/her/zer own labels for sexual orientation and gender identity. Resolution 10 strikes a personal nerve, since as I alluded to regarding my bisexuality, I am often labeled as a lesbian, or my identity itself is dismissed as “just a phase.” Just as you have the right to label yourself as gay, straight, trisexual, bi-curious, gay-for-a-day, or otherwise, we all have the right to label ourselves, for ourselves.
It is extremely hurtful to address someone who is trans with an incorrect pronoun if you know their preferred gender pronoun (PGP). For instance, an easy way to be a better trans ally is to start a group discussion by asking for the PGP when doing introductions with a new group of people. (If former NFL playerTroy Vincent educates on using PGP during his speeches, you can too). That being said, if you make a mistake with someone’s PGP, acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and make it up to that person by using correct pronouns moving forward.
11. Continue to reach outside the USA to help international LGBT causes
Controversy continues over the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Russia, a country which has been condemned for its anti-gay policies. Unfortunately, many other countries like Russia have hostile policies toward LGBT citizens, meaning an LGBT person can face severe consequences, even life-threatening, if he or she comes out. Cameroon, for instance, is one of the 38 countries in Africa where homosexuality in illegal, sometimes punishable by death. In the Middle East, Iranian law states that a person found kissing a person of the same gender may receive 60 lashes in public. Even in countries where homosexuality is legal, social stigma keeps countless LGBT people in the closet and allows for anti-LGBT violence to go unchecked.
With the increased number of US celebrities and public figures coming out, 2014 could be an opportunity for our country’s most famous LGBT icons to use their cultural influence beyond the borders of the United States. Not only can powerful individuals help spread acceptance and educate on behalf of the LGBT community, pro-LGBT businesses and non-profits in the United States can leverage their power and influence to reach those LGBT people in other countries with limited access to resources, support, or safety.
12. Improve health disparities faced by the LGBT community
LBGT health disparities are striking: members of our community are more at risk for suicide, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, and other threatening diseases, yet due to stigma and discrimination, LGBT people are less likely to have insurance and visit the doctor for preventative screenings. The CDC also believes that increased health risks for LGBT people can be attributed, in part, to “social and structural inequities, such as the stigma and discrimination that LGBT populations experience. “ Fortunately the increased access to health insurance for all Americans under Affordable Care Act (ACA) means we have an incredible opportunity to provide insurance and help protect vulnerable LGBT people who are living without insurance and healthcare access.
13. Dedicate more research and resources toward the topics discussed above as well as substance abuse, sex-work, homelessness, and other complex topics impacting LGBT people
Many LGBT non-profits and support services that receive funding from government grants and charitable organizations are given based on research that shows a clear need for resources and funding. By conducting LGBT specific research and interventions, we can better understand the needs of our LGBT individuals and how best to allocate future resources to address health disparities within our community.
Fortunately, leaders such as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebellius, have enacted measures to not only addressing minority health disparities but also ensuring that national data records the person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. (Under Section 4302 of the Affordable Care Act, the Secretary of HHS is authorized to audit and enforce federally supported programs to ensure they adhere to the new data collection requirements. Accurate data is essential to addressing the disparities mentioned above: If we fail to capture data about L, G, B, and T people, we lack valuable information about health statistics and other relevant demographic data about our community.
14. Work together: Start with yourself to create change within our community.
The path to changing those around us begins with educating ourselves and thinking about ways we as individuals can become more inclusive. If you don’t want people to generalize or stereotype about YOU, be careful not to buy into generalizations made within the LGBT community itself that “gay men are like this, lesbians do that, trans people want this…etc.” We each have our own story and experience. We cannot be reduced to a one-dimensional description that trivializes our identity and challenges.
As an LGBT community, we had a great 2013 and it deserves a toast at midnight. Although we have achieved so much visible progress this year, we cannot forget that New Year’s resolutions are made each year for a reason. In 2014, when we are making our resolutions, let’s also say imagine a new year with more progress, more inclusion, and more achievement than we thought possible.
Anna Aagenes is the Executive Director of GO! (Generation Out) Athletes, the nation’s first outreach, support, educational, advocacy and leadership organization for LGBTQ student-athletes. As a middle distance runner at the University of Pennsylvania, Anna was the Captain of Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Team, a Division I NCAA Regional qualifier, and is a school record holder in three middle distance relays. In addition to her non-profit work and LGBTQA activism, Anna is the District Office Director for Representative Brian Sims: Representative Sims was elected last year to become Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state legislator. She previuously worked at an Adolescent HIV clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and continues to serve on the CHOP C2P (Connect to Protect) Housing Committee and is a vocal advocate for the HIV positive community. Originally from Bucks County, PA, Anna currently lives and works in downtown Philadelphia.
New Years Image: freedigitalphotos.net
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