The fight for gay rights in the United States has come a long way since the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, when gay and trans patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City fought back against police trying to arrest them.
That night marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in the US, a decades-long fight that just a few years ago resulted in the momentous 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
But the ruling on June 26, 2015, didn’t end the struggle for equality and protection. Across the country, LGBTQ Americans still face legalized discrimination under the law when it comes to housing, jobs, parenting, and even prison.
This June, it’s important to celebrate how far the US has come in recognizing gay rights — and to be proud of that fact — but only if we also remember how far we still have to go to ensure that the equal rights and dignity of LGBTQ Americans are recognized under the law.
Here are some of the battles for equality that are still being fought across the country.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals are still shockingly prevalent across the country. In 2015, nearly one in five hate crimes committed in the US was due to sexual orientation, and another 2% of crimes were committed because of gender identity.
There has been an epidemic of violent crime against transgender individuals, particularly trans women of color, in recent years, including 13 who have been killed just this year. Trans women of color are among the most vulnerable minorities in the country, fighting against racism, sexism, transphobia, and, frequently, poverty, putting them at higher risk for violence. Still, 16 states across the country do not include gender or sexual identity under their hate crime laws, another 13 states only cover sexual orientation, and four states have no hate crime laws at all.
Only a handful of states have enshrined in law the right of gay couples to parent together. States that allow same-sex couples to have a second-parent adoption include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
Five states legally allow adoption agencies to deny adoption to a same sex couple because of their sexual orientation.
And only California prohibits discrimination for both sexual orientation and gender identity in adoptions.
3. Gay Conversion Therapy
In a vast majority of states, kids can still be sent to so-called “gay conversion therapy,” a harmful practice that the American Psychological Association has condemned. There are eight states that have banned the practice for minors, the most recent of which was Oregon, under the direction of new Gov. Kate Brown, who is openly bisexual.
4. Employment Discrimination
In most states, gay and trans individuals can be fired from their job on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that regardless of job performance or ability, a person can lose their job if their boss finds out about and disagrees with their identity. The lack of protections force individuals to remain in the closet, guarding the secrets of who they are, in order to earn a living.
While 20 states and Washington, D.C., have passed non-discrimination laws, more than half of the states across the country have not — making life not only difficult but dangerous for LGBTQ Americans in many parts of the US.
5. Housing Discrimination
When LGBTQ people can be fired for their jobs because of their identities, earning a living and supporting a decent life can be difficult; that problem is compounded when LGBTQ people can be also legally be denied housing based on their identities. But across America, that is the reality for many gay and trans citizens. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2013 that same sex couples experience unfavorable treatment in renting homes online, and there are still 28 states where housing discrimination is legal.
6. Bathrooms, Schools, & Other Public Accommodations
The fight over public school bathrooms has become a flashpoint—and a symbol—for the LGBTQ rights movement in recent years. At the heart of the issue is the right of all Americans to public accommodations—that is, safe access to goods, services, facilities, and privileges in the public sphere.
That’s a bit wonky, but the battle being fought over bathrooms is about whether trans and gay individuals have a right to use all of the facilities the rest of Americans use in a way that accommodates their needs. For trans kids in school, that means being able to use the bathroom that suits their gender identity—not the gender on their birth certificate, or the gender that the school thinks they are.
7. Unequal Healthcare
The LGBTQ community continues to fight for better access to healthcare, and for equal treatment by doctors and health insurance companies that can block individuals’ access to care they need. LGBTQ youth are more likely to have health issues because of substance abuse and mental health issues, and trans individuals can face discrimination from health insurers simply for identifying as trans. In 37 states, insurance companies can discriminate based on sexual and gender identity.
8. Criminal Justice
Queer individuals face high rates of discrimination in prison, where trans inmates have a particularly grueling history of abuse, including being put in solitary confinement allegedly for their own protection. The US prison population has twice the number of LGBTQ individuals as the non-incarcerated population (8% vs 4%), suggesting that LGBTQ individuals are overrepresented in jails, and the number is even higher for those in juvenile detention (20%).
There are some battles that can’t be won in the courtroom, though they can certainly be helped along by judicial decisions and laws crafted and passed to ensure equality. But outside of the US legal system, LGBTQ Americans still face discrimination, fear, and hate that results in physical, mental, and emotional harm.
About 40% of homeless youth in America identify as LGBTQ and often end up on the streets because they are rejected by their family members. There, young gay, lesbian, bi, and trans kids are more likely to face violence, end up in danger or participate in crime, and encounter trauma that can affect their entire lives. A stunning 41% of trans adults have reported attempting suicide, followed by 10% to 20% of LGB adults, according to The Williams Institute. The rate for the rest of the population hovers around 4%.
America has come a long way in protecting the rights of gay, bi, and trans citizens, but there’s still work to do. This June, let’s remember to start with acceptance.
People globally face many intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization every day, for many different reasons. Unjust social, political, and economic systems perpetuate this discrimination and keep people trapped in poverty.
This June, take our Equity Month Hero Challenge to learn how we can all be champions for equity and justice every day, and earn your Equity Month Hero badge to wear proudly on your Global Citizen profile. Take the Challenge now.