Now that we have passed marriage equality in Illinois, many people wonder, "What's next?"
This was the Holy Grail sought by some Illinois residents going back to the 1970s, when two women were arrested trying to get a marriage certificate in Cook County.
Marriage equality is not just a very real need for some LGBT couples, but it is also a symbolic victory for the rest of society. While many whites never married people of color, and vice versa, the U.S. Supreme Court 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that banned anti-miscegenation laws was a critical ruling even for those who never felt the sting of those bans. The lifting of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" did not affect every gay person directly, but it did as a whole. And, of course, it changed things for their straight colleagues, too.
Not every law that impacts social change directly helps every person in those categories. Marriage is not for everyone, LGBT or straight. But you bet it is an important symbol of social progress and change. Straight people, even those who love us, don't always "get" us through our gay lens of pride parades and cultural diversity. But when it comes to the traditions of marriage, they really do have a better sense of us. I have witnessed the changes on the faces of relatives and friends attending same-gender weddings, and it is real.
That is why the right wing continues to fight marriage equality to the bitter end. They know our marriages will not cause one heterosexual divorce. But it will ease the heteronormative pressure placed on people who are different, as they grow up witnessing this inclusive social revolution. I can't imagine the impact it would have had on me to witness a gay wedding in 1976, as I entered high school. My nephew attended my ceremony with my partner of 18 years when he was 15, and he is the coolest straight boy around, participating in his school's gay/straight alliance, attending LGBT events and cheering me on in my work for equality.
But there are two major things about being LGBT that continue to dent our arc in its search for justice: internalized homophobia and familial homophobia. Sarah Schulman writes about this in Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. This is the damage that occurs in families, something that all of the societal acceptance in the world can't easily unpack. There are families who try to cure their LGBT youth, are violent toward them, kick them out and shun them. Yes, Virginia, even in 2013, our LGBT youth must face some of the same obstacles we did.
So a victory on marriage equality is important, but it is not the end. It is the beginning of a new era, perhaps, but one that still will be a particularly personal and difficult battle for some of our community's most vulnerable. And because we won marriage by a narrow margin, we know that our enemies are not fully defeated. They have children, sisters, brothers, grandparents and others in their families who are right now being ostracized, not fully accepted as human beings. Marriage will not solve this, but it has helped move society forward as they see the images of our more complete lives, as they attend those weddings, and as our families become more real.
So what is next for Illinois? We learned a lot of things during this march toward equality. We learned what works, and what does not, in seeking change. We confirmed that absolute power only concedes to pressure, not acting nice. We learned that the grassroots LGBT and allied communities have a lot of power, and that power will not be ignored either by our enemies or our alliesand also not by top-down organizations ( locally or nationally ) who think they know what is best for us.
Another important lesson to take away from this is how amazing our allies were on this issue. From unions to feminist leaders, civil-rights groups to churches, students to immigrant-rights workers, this was an amazing alliance of groups and people. Can we take this coalition and mold it into a permanent form? What would that look like? We would have to disagree at times, but come together on important coalition projects. We would show up for others as they showed up for us.
I am interested in continuing this dialogue. Perhaps there can be a Bayard Rustin Institute for Social Justice in Chicago, where individuals and groups can come together to learn from one another, network, and "show up" for causes, legislation and events. We don't need to create a huge institution to accomplish this work, with bloated budgets and salaries. The March on Springfield was done all-in for less than $50,000, with no staff and no permanent infrastructure. People who care about these issues can be creative and find ways to work together in a complementary way, and work separately when that is needed.
The LGBT community can bring great ideas to the overall work of social justice. We know this because LGBTs have always done so. Many were not as courageous as Bayard Rustin, so they did their work from the closet. But many more were out and proud as LGB or T, and fought for decades for the rights of others. Well, we need to now do this even more boldly, working across boundaries to find creative solutions. If we do this, perhaps we will continue to earn the respect and support of our allies.
So what is next on our "LGBT agenda" in Illinois? Let me end with my own Top 15 list:
1 ) AIDS and general LGBT healthcare issues; there is work toward an "AIDS-free generation" but we are not there yet, and there are many other healthcare needs of this community.
2 ) Homeless LGBTQ youth need food, shelter, education and jobs.
3 ) LGBT seniors have many needs, including housing. The new senior housing facility will be great, but it will house just a few dozen people.
4 ) Violence of all forms in our community, including domestic violence and anti-LGBT violence, needs to be continually addressed.
5 ) Transgender resources are needed, especially for those facing increased threats of violence, job loss, and homelessness.
6 ) Family valuesmaking sure the new marriage law is fully implemented and that all related laws are brought in line.
7 ) Poverty is a very real issue for LGBTs, just as it is for the overall society. As a community, we can provide resources to help our own, through grants, training and services. We also should back the $15 minimum wage movement, as it would transform this nation.
8 ) Immigration is an LGBT issue, because of the millions of LGBTs and their families who are living in limbo with current immigration laws.
9 ) Racial and geographic segregation in our communities is no better than it was in the 1970s, and we need to figure out how to better work across our differences.
10 ) Substance abuse has always been an issue in the LGBT community, in part because of internal and external homophobia. We need more resources.
11 ) Suicide is an issue facing all generations of LGBTs. Sometimes it is connected to harassment, but more often it is about making proper resources available, including mental health services.
12 ) Bullying itself is an issue, whether on an NFL team or in a high school. It can lead to many problems, including violence and murder.
13 ) Religion still has power in this country, including the power to damage people from the inside. The work our religious allies do on LGBT rights is admirable, and should be acknowledged and supported.
14 ) The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is needed, without religious compromise. It's not OK for someone to refuse to hire or serve a person based on their race or gender, and it should not be OK based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
15 ) Finally, history is important to me. I would not be where I am today without the work and support of thousands of people who came before me. We need to make sure we are supporting efforts to document our community, including The Legacy Project. In many cases, it is the only way the next generation will learn our stories.
There are ways to prioritize these concepts, but the bottom line is there is much more to do, and we must not rest on the victory of marriage equality. It is grand and it is great, but it is not the end.
What's on your agenda? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .