Editorial: The Road Ahead

By Jesse LaVancher

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2015 was a banner year for LGBTQ rights in the United States. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage was a seminal moment in the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equality. Gay and lesbian parents can now legally adopt children and raise a family. Media coverage of LGBTQ issues reached an all-time high as popular culture and public opinion continued to increasingly accept transgender identities and same-sex relationships. Corporate advocacy curtailed state religious-freedom laws that would have provided a defense for discrimination. Transgender Americans can openly and authentically serve their country in the military. Over 450 openly gay elected officials currently serve across the country. Young people are having intelligent debates about intersectionality and coining new terms that they feel help define their personality and gender. More and more allies are speaking up on behalf of the LGBTQ community from Wall Street to Main Street and from professional sports leagues to classrooms. And the list goes on.

So, should the LGBTQ community celebrate their hard-fought successes and revel in the victories that for decades seemed impossible? Absolutely. Should the LGBTQ community rest on its laurels and declare that true equality has been achieved? To quote Deborah Cox, “Absolutely not!” To say that true equality has been achieved is nothing more than a myth.

The Road Ahead

Unfortunately, in our post-marriage equality world, many within the LGBTQ community feel that the fight is over. As we pat ourselves on the back, the opposition is running vile campaigns and attempting to abolish basic human rights protections for our community. LGBTQ people continue to endure workplace discrimination, hate crimes and homophobia. So-called “religious freedom laws” that various states are attempting to enact will, if passed, legally sanction blatant discriminatory practices in everyday life. Those who are marginalized the most, particularly the transgender community and LGBT people of color, continue to live in world where true equality is a dream, not a reality. The Williams Institute recently reported that 41% of trans people in America have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6% of the general population. Although the LGBTQ community has recently achieved tremendous victories, the fight is far from over.

In 2016, we need more state-level protections for the LGBTQ community, particularly as the religious freedom debate kicks into overdrive. We need to encourage more community conversations about LGBTQ issues and how they intersect with other community, economic and societal issues like poverty, disabilities, drug use, education and mental health. We need more celebrities to use their star power to raise awareness about the struggles the LGBTQ community continues to face. LGBTQ people need to vote and vote often. This might sound obvious, but it ensures that we have an impact on policies that affect us. We need to sign petitions, create gay spaces, hold vigils, protest when necessary, elect gay officials and support LGBTQ businesses, community centers and artists. We need to share our personal and professional stories through blog posts, tweets and articles in LGBTQ publications like Q Virginia. We need to express heartfelt gratitude, thanks and love for our straight allies—for without them, we would not be where we are today. The road ahead is bumpy, but we can make it . . . if we work together.