Often when I am presenting around the country, I bring up the issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) rights, and I get this response, “Jamie, I understand what you’re trying to say, but I don’t believe it is morally acceptable for someone to be Gay.”
Though I find this sentiment troubling and filled with heterosexism, I find it best not to respond to the question directly. Instead, I say, “Well, I am not going to engage you on that point. Instead, let me ask you a question. Should someone, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, feel safe to walk the streets and feel secure in their job, in their livelihood?”
Every time I have asked this question, I get the same answer: an enthusiastic YES!
Therein lies the problem. Our society treats Lesbian, Gy, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning folks as second-class citizens. How can we even begin a conversation about marriage equality when LGBTQ people cannot walk down the street, apply for a job, or express themselves openly in their workplace without fear?
This morning I was reading the news, and I came across an article describing the findings of Harvard researcher Andras Tilcsik. Tilcsik sent out the two counterfeit resumes to the same 1700 job openings around the country. The only real difference between the resumes is that half identified the applicant as having been the treasurer in a Gay college campus organization. Tilcsik found that those resumes that identified the candidate as Gay (or at minimum a Straight Ally) were 40% less likely to get a call back than the resumes that said nothing of Sexual Orientation. Notably, there was also tremendous regional differences, with those employers in the Midwest and South much more likely to discriminate than those in, say, the North East.
I suppose I wasn’t at all surprised by the findings of the study, but it did catch my eye because it simply adds to the patchwork of discrimination against LGBTQ people in this country.
In 29 states it is still considered legal to use Sexual Orientation as grounds for dismissal from employment (or at least it is not expressly prohibited). In 35 states, it is legal to fire someone for being Transgender. In short, in the VAST majority of states in the United States, an employer can walk into her or his workplace and say to someone, “You know what? You’re a FAGGOT! You’re fired!” and the terminated employee would have little legal recourse to do anything about it.
States that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (15 states and D.C.)
States that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation alone.
Image Courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign
According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Index, approximately 1700 hate crimes are committed each year because the victim is or is perceived as Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual. While atrocious, that number actually makes the problem seem relatively minimal. Perhaps we should celebrate that only 1700 people are violently attacked each year because of their Sexual Orientation. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center finds that the real level of hate crimes actually likely runs between 19 and 31 times higher than the numbers reported by the FBI. By that measure, somewhere between 32,400 and 52,700 people are attacked each year because of their real or perceived Sexual Orientation.
Now, I don’t want this blog to simply be a parade of studies and statistics. After all, there are bodies in those numbers, there are people behind that pain.
Thus, while I hope that folks that tell me that they think it is “morally wrong” to be Gay eventually realize that love is love, regardless of the gender of those loving, in the short term, I hope that we can wake to the reality of LGBTQ discrimination and violence in this country.
In this supposed “land of the free,” there are many ways in which we fall far short of our motto. Each of us have a responsibility to create the positive change that leads to true equality, an equality where everyone feels safe on our streets or secure to put a picture of their partner on their desk at work.