Patterson: Momentum required for LGBT movement to stay on course

Patterson looks back on the last year for the LGBT community.

Sara Patterson

Sara PattersonAs the semester, as well as my sophomore year, comes to a close, it seems fitting to look back at this past year. From President Barack Obama’s public support of same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court’s hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA, 2012-13 can only be described one way: the gayest year ever.

I knew the second Obama said he believed same-sex couples should be able to get married, the fight for marriage equality was going to shift. Suddenly, supporting same-sex marriage wasn’t a risky move for the ultra-liberal. One by one, Democratic politicians fell in line behind the president. As of today, all but three Democratic senators support same-sex marriage. Two high profile Republicans do, too.

The shift is evident among American citizens, as well. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans believe that gay people should be able to get married. According to a Washington Post poll taken in March, 58 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. That’s a complete 180-degree opposite of the same poll taken 10 years ago.

Among the major reasons for the shift in opinion are public figures who have come out as gay or as an ally in the last year – in some unexpected places, even. The hip-hop world, with its misogynistic lyrics and frequent use of slurs, has long been labeled homophobic. Frank Ocean not only released one of the best albums of 2012, but also turned the hip-hop world on its head when he came out as bisexual. Not long after, hip-hop icons such as Russell Simmons and Jay-Z praised Ocean for his bravery and posed the questions, “How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?” toward the hip-hop community.

After Ocean came out last summer, sports became the one major realm with no openly gay representatives. Sure, there have been a few who have come out after they’ve retired and there are plenty of open lesbians in women’s sports. But among the four major sports – men’s baseball, basketball, football and hockey – there are no out gay athletes. Yet. The NHL’s “You Can Play” program and outspoken straight allies like professional football players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have made it clear that despite the hyper-masculine locker room atmosphere, pro sports is ready to welcome openly gay players.

With all the progress made this last year, it is easy to forget that there is still a lot to be done. No matter how the Supreme Court decides to rule regarding Prop 8 and DOMA, it will not mean the end of the fight for marriage equality. There are still 41 states that do not allow same-sex marriage, Pennsylvania included. However, marriage equality isn’t the only issue on the so-called gay agenda. Yes, it’s the most high-profile, publicized issue, but being denied the right to get married isn’t the only discrimination we face. I’m sure most of you knew that only nine states allow same-sex marriage, but do you know how many offer employee protection? Only 21. That means that in 29 states, including Pennsylvania, employers can fire someone because of their sexual or gender identity and face no consequences. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban employee discrimination on sexual or gender identity throughout America, has been introduced to Congress nine times since 1994 and still hasn’t been passed.

Where are the Facebook profile pictures to bring attention to that? Or to bring attention to the fact that gay men are banned from donating blood because they are believed to be at a high risk for HIV/AIDS? This isn’t to take away from the efforts of the fight for marriage equality, but rather to shed light on the fact that there is much more to fight for.

And what better time to fight than now? Between Obama’s re-election along with Maine, Maryland and Washington’s legalization of same-sex marriage this past November, out entertainers like Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres being as popular as ever, and the fact that public support for LGBT rights is at an all-time high at the moment, it is so important for the LGBT movement to keep momentum. It’s been a month since the hullabaloo in Washington, D.C., over same-sex marriage. And since then, bigger stories have come and gone and Facebook is no longer covered in red. But the Supreme Court will be issuing its ruling sometime in June, also known as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month,” which should make for some exciting pride celebrations.

While gay equality seems to be in the not-so-distant future, it’s time to look toward the next phase of the LGBT movement. The transgender community has long been ignored and overlooked in favor of lesbians, gays and bisexuals. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group, has been widely criticized for excluding transgender people and even working against them.

The transgender community faces even more legal discrimination than the rest of the LGBT community and has to deal with even more widespread ignorance. In the way that the gay rights movement has progressed in the last 15 years, with legal rights, positive portrayals in the media and public figures coming out, I can only hope that the next 15 years can be the same for the transgender rights movement.

This is the time for the LGBT community to come together. We have a president who supports us. We have lawmakers who are on our side. We have public figures who are no longer afraid to come out and allies who are proud to stand with us. We are at the height of the gay rights movement and we need to take advantage of it.

Sara Patterson can be reached at

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