Same-sex Marriage Isn't Equality for All LGBT people: Our Movement Can't End
It wasn’t that long ago – 4 November 2008 – that the US had an election that galvanized a generation of activists to change policies in this country that would have enshrined into law the continued marginalization of a large group of people. I’m not talking about who was elected president, or which political party took the most seats in Congress: rather, a ballot initiative in the state of California, called Proposition 8, passed by a four-point margin that night and successfully amended the state’s constitution by adding language that defined marriage as being between “one man and one woman”.
Now, not fully eight years later, the US supreme court ruled in favor of full marriage equality across America. And while on that night back in 2008, as I considered the long term consequences of California’s newly enshrined discrimination against same-sex couples – including the possibility that the thousands of couples who married in the months prior might have effectively been “divorced” by a voting majority of their neighbors, coworkers and families – I felt faint and ran to the bathroom to throw up, today I am happy for that part of my LGBT community which has gained a well-deserved measure of equality.
But I worry that, with full marriage equality, much of the queer community will be left wondering how else to engage with a society that still wants to define who we are – and who in our community will be left to push for full equality for all transgender and queer people, now that this one fight has been won. I fear that our precious movements for social justice and all the remarkable advancements we have made are now vulnerable to being taken over by monied people and institutions, and that those of us for whom same-sex marriage rights brings no equality will be slowly erased from our movement and our history.
The unexpected shock of a marriage equality loss in California in 2008 – a state that I, like many others, ignorantly deemed “too liberal” to actually pass such a measure – brought millions of people together to focus on marriage equality – crystallizing a previously fractured LGBT rights movement that had seemed to have lost its way politically. The purpose of the movement was to educate and promote the equality of all people.
Transgender folks have been part of the push for LGBT equality from the beginning, and we’ve spoken with loud and intelligent voices, and have found political and personal success and advancement all over the world. We fought police discrimination during the riots of Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, the Stonewall Inn in 1963 and the White Night in San Francisco in 1979. We have been inspired by leaders from Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major, and from Janet Mock to Laverne Cox. We have created political organizations for ourselves, like the Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (Star) to Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Black & Pink.
But despite our successes and our participation in the struggle for LGBT equality, there are still queer and trans folks who struggle every single day for the right to define themselves, to access gender-appropriate healthcare and to live without harassment by other people, the police or the government. Many queer and trans people live – and lived – in our prison and jails, in our homeless shelters, in run-down houses and apartment buildings, and on the corners of every major city. Marriage equality doesn’t help them; and the potential loss of momentum for trans/queer rights after this win could well hurt them.
I had the extraordinary honor to come out a trans woman on 22 August 2013, the day after a military judge sentenced me to 35 years in prison. Though not present myself, my attorney at the time, David Coombs – without giving the Today show staff any notice until several minutes beforehand – read a statement from me in which I asked that they announce to the world that I am a trans woman, refer to me with female pronouns and use my name, Chelsea. I also announced my intent to seek gender-confirming healthcare treatment while in prison.
For me, this was an incredibly empowering moment: nobody can control or define our identities unless we let them, and so I chose to come out and to define myself – nothing more. In the two years since, I am always awestruck and inspired by the queer and trans kids out there all over the world who reach out to me and send letters from very real places like Noblesville, Indiana, Arklow, Ireland and Abeokuta, Nigeria.
We do have to, as a movement, give hope to these kids, and especially young trans youth like Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide last year after leaving a devastating indictment of the world that she experienced, or Islan Nettles, who was murdered on the streets of New York in 2013. It’s hope that my younger self, who, like many trans/queer kids, struggled to survive while living homeless in Chicago in 2006, could’ve used.
We need to send a powerful message to the world in a unified voice: that we can fight for social justice for everyone, everywhere and change the world, not just get married. We can continue to build our communities and address the root causes of queer and trans poverty and deaths. We can work to get queer and trans people out of the prisons and jails and off the streets, and to improve our access to housing, education, employment and gender-confirming healthcare.
As Harvey Milk – the first openly gay politician in America who was assassinated in 1978 – said after getting letters from kid: “We gotta give ’em hope.”We can do all of these things, but only if today is just the first of many victories for LGBT rights.
My name is Chelsea Manning, I am trans woman and I am here to recruit you to the next stage in the equality movement. Join me.
Heroic WikiLeaks military whistle-blower and democracy advocate Chelsea Manning (known as Bradley Manning until her Aug 22, 2013 announcement) was tried and convicted at her trial ending August 21st. After a prosecution which starkly showcased US government officials’ misplaced priorities when it comes to human rights, Army whistleblower PVT Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. This case sets a dangerous precedent for the first amendment, opening whistle-blowers and those who help them to extreme prosecution. However, fighting through the appeals process, Chelsea Manning’s story is far from over.