Beyond marriage equality

Two young people holding up signs reading "#LoveWins" and "Say 'I DO' to Non-Discrimination"

Two young people celebrate marriage equality in Center City on June 26, the day of the Supreme Court announcement. Photo credit: GALAEI.

Where were you when you found out that marriage equality was now the law of the land in the United States? Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way LGBT Community Center, was helping to plan the city of Philadelphia’s celebration of the historic announcement. “We were in very good spirits,” he recalled. “As in any great moment, to feel like you’re living in the midst of history is very inspiring.” Spontaneous celebrations filled the streets on that June afternoon.

The landmark Supreme Court ruling marked a huge victory for the LGBT rights movement. “The marriage equality win relied on decades of hard work in LGBT civil rights and liberation,” Bartlett noted. “Movements are made up of their earlier manifestations building momentum for the future.” Today, 60% of Americans support same-sex marriage, according to the most recent Gallup poll. As recently as 2001, only 35% of Americans supported same-sex marriage.

Elicia Gonzales, executive director of GALAEI, a queer Latino/a social justice organization, also reflected on how this victory was accomplished. “There was a nationwide push with this fairly single-issue focus for many years, plus seemingly endless resources,” she said. “It was really just a matter of time until the nation caught up with individual states that had been pushing for some time.”

Now that same-sex marriage is legal everywhere, many same-sex couples are getting married and enjoying additional legal and social benefits that had been previously unattainable. “Marriage equality was important,” said Gonzales, who is getting married in September, “and hopefully it will open more doors for other LGBT issues to go front and center.”

The fight for full LGBT equality is far from over. In Pennsylvania, there is no law protecting people from employment or housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. You can still be fired for being gay. In addition to facing discrimination in housing, workplaces, and health care facilities, LGBT people experience high levels of homelessness and violence. A report released in August by Valley Youth House found that 54% of homeless youth in Philadelphia identify as LGBTQ. The federal Office for Victims of Crime reported in 2014 that 50% of transgender people are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.

According to Bartlett, trans liberation, economic justice, and discrimination protection are top priorities in the pursuit of LGBT equality, along with school reform. “Without good school systems, we end up with homophobia and racism,” he said. “I see LGBT equality as a piece of the puzzle in many liberation movements. It intersects with racial justice and economic justice. It’s important to recognize it in that context.”

Now that marriage equality has been achieved, there’s been a blossoming of cross-issue organizing, Gonzales said: “I want all of our issues to be funded in the way that they need to be. There is no justice until there’s justice for all of us. ”