2013 and Beyond: LGBT Rights in America - Best of 2013 Week


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

Yesteryear involved a series of significant legal landmarks that made it widely regarded as a successful time for LGBT rights in the United States.

June 2013 marked the Supreme Court’s overturn of DOMA, a 5-4 vote that declared it unconstitutional to prevent married LGBT couples from accessing over 1,000 federal programs allotted to straight spouses, i.e. insurance benefits, tax filing, immigration, military, family leave, or medical leave. Regionally, same-sex marriage resumed in California, as ten new states across the country granted marriage equality to all couples.

Then in November, when the Senate passed ENDA, it became illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Summing the actions up, Human Rights Campaign declares 2013 “The Year of Greatest Accomplishments for the LGBT Movement.” A strong rank indeed – with several substantial reasons to support it – but is that too general a statement? Does calling 2013 a landmark year for civil rights underscore the progress yet to be achieved?

Jarrett Lucas, Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation in New York City, considers the qualification of 2013 as “The Greatest” to be subjective and dependent on goals.

“For many folks who have prioritized legal equality, in particular, marriage equality, this in fact was a really tremendous year,” Lucas tells BTR.

Considering the LGBT Americans “who maybe don’t prioritize marriage equality or see that as the primary or only issue that our movement can really aim for,” he acknowledges an appreciation for “the many conversations [from] the public and the internal community dialogue that have happened because of these legal victories.”

Lucas mentions another legal victory that was less discussed: The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Its signage in March entitled LGBT people suffering from partner and sexual violence access to the same abuse and trauma services provided to heterosexuals. He points out that while LGBT people are often victims of such violence, the issue is actually not as frequently discussed as hate crimes.

Laws are of course important, but apart from what goes throughout the levels of government, American society itself should also be gauged to determine the state of the LGBT movement.

When asked if 2013 marked a significant social shift against homophobia and transphobia, Lucas answers, “I would say the former, sure, conversations” have thus continued “for a few years now around anti-bullying and the consequences of harassment – whether it’s suicide or violence that culminates against people who are, or are perceived to be, LGBTQ.”

For the latter phobia, however, Lucas responds how it’s unfortunate that “the conversation solely around trans identities and the violence, persecution, suffering, and inequity that they face has not been nearly as common.”

Whatever local, national, or international level is examined, Lucas says that trans people are targeted at far higher rates. In New York City, for instance, transgender women of color are very often subject to attacks; he mentions that an upsetting number of discriminatory murders took place throughout 2013.

“I would love to see conversations about transphobia and movement against it rise to the top,” he tells BTR. He calls for the shift to be initiated not only by trans individuals or organizations themselves, but also by straight, lesbian, bi, and gay members of society.

Many are wondering what the next frontier of the American LGBT movement will be. Looking forth, Lucas says that “a more nuanced framework around economic justice and LGBT communities is rising.” While he does foresee additional states legalizing gay marriage, that doesn’t afford benefits for those who choose not (or do not have the ability) to wed. Greater spheres of economic stability, class mobility, and community support should be regarded, for instance, homelessness, immigration, and healthcare reform.

“I’m excited that the organization has focused on that and mobilizing to have those conversations, then look at what that looks like in the face of our legal system and government,” he says.

Thinking on a local level, Lucas mentions how in New York, three new elected City Council members are openly gay, as he considers visibility a paramount platform. Legal victories, he reasons, have limitations because they may only offer discouragement for discrimination and violence, or supply recourse for victims.

“I think the real change happens often in the organizing that leads up to those victories around affecting people’s cultural perceptions or their more individual constitutional views of the world and other people,” says Lucas. “So it’s exciting to see people step forward and be honest and open about who they are and have their identities and form their politics.”

The spectrum of the LGBT movement is diverse, thereby difficult to quantify what the most important issues are – whether someone prioritizes political visibility, marriage equality, anti-transphobia, public figures coming out, community resources for queer youth, or international homophobia compassion, there are a variety of situations to work with.

However, considering the stretch of laws that worked to provide resources and discourage discrimination throughout 2013, last year as whole was more progressive than not. While the passage and signing of these laws have limits, a shift in realizing what’s politically possible for LGBT rights in the United States has certainly been realized.