5 IS­SUES THE LGBT COM­MU­NITY MUST WORK ON NOW

Five LGBT is­sues we must con­tinue to work for af­ter the Supreme Court rules on our re­la­tion­ships

GA Voice - - Front Page - By Dyana Bagby dbagby@the­gavoice.com

Mary Anne Adams moved to At­lanta in 1988 and since that time she has seen At­lanta’s LGBT scene change dra­mat­i­cally.

“One of the big­gest changes that I have seen is the de­gree and level of out­ness from LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, both in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally. De­spite the overt ho­mo­pho­bia and ever-loom­ing threats of vi­o­lence, it’s been ex­hil­a­rat­ing to see young folks on MARTA and at pub­lic events show­ing their af­fec­tion for each other and just be­ing them­selves,” she said.

A pro­lif­er­a­tion of queer cam­pus groups and openly gay politi­cians serv­ing in the state leg­is­la­ture are also signs of Ge­or­gia’s progress, said Adams, who works in the School of Pub­lic Health at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity and as an or­ga­nizer with ZAMI NOBLA (National Or­gani- za­tion of Les­bians Ag­ing).

Adams, like ev­ery­one else, anx­iously awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s rul­ings on same-sex mar­riage. But like many oth­ers, she also knows how­ever SCO­TUS rules on Cal­i­for­nia’s Propo­si­tion 8 and the fed­eral De­fense of Mar­riage Act — win, lose or draw — the na­tion’s fight for LGBT equal­ity does not stop at the al­tar or in front of a judge.

The fight for equal­ity for all les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and queer peo­ple must con­tinue in our schools, our hos­pi­tals, our se­nior cen­ters, our youth cen­ters, among af­ford­able hous­ing of­fi­cials and em­ploy­ers.

“Un­ques­tion­ably, ev­ery­one in this coun­try should have hu­man rights, equal rights and be able to marry the per­son of their choice; but do we spend mil­lions of dollars and push leg­is­la­tion on this sin­gle is­sue to the ex­clu­sion of fight­ing for em­ploy­ment, hous­ing, im­mi­gra­tion, and med­i­cal ac­cess, to name a few? Can we strike a bal­ance?” she asked. It’s a good

ques­tion.

GA Voice asked sev­eral lo­cal LGBT ac­tivists about five is­sues be­sides same-sex mar­riage that are im­por­tant for our com­mu­nity: the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act; car­ing for our se­niors and youth; HIV; deal­ing with the “isms” and “pho­bias” within our com­mu­ni­ties (such as racism, sex­ism, clas­sism, ableism, trans­pho­bia); and why it is im­por­tant to align our­selves with other dis­en­fran­chised peo­ple.

So when we gather at 10th and Pied­mont for At­lanta’s “Day of De­ci­sion” rally, let’s not for­get that mar­riage equal­ity is only one bat­tle in the larger fight for the lib­er­a­tion of all LGBT peo­ple.

1. END­ING EM­PLOY­MENT DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION

The Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act has lin­gered in Congress since 1994 and does not seem likely to pass soon. The pro­posed law would pro­hibit busi­nesses with more than 15 em­ploy­ees from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against work­ers be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity.

The national grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion GetEqual put the is­sue back on the radar this month when a mem­ber heckled Michelle Obama dur­ing her speech at a Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee fundraiser. The heck­ler shouted at Obama to tell the pres­i­dent to sign an ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing fed­eral con­trac­tors from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against LGBT em­ploy­ees, an or­der he re­fused to sign more than a year ago.

Also, sev­eral GetEqual mem­bers were ar­rested when they camped out­side Speaker of the House John Boehner’s of­fices June 13 de­mand­ing he put ENDA to a vote.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sup­ports ENDA and men­tioned it dur­ing the June 13 Pride re­cep­tion at the White House. Af­ter the pres­i­dent’s com­ments, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Henry Reid (D-Nev.) signed on as an ENDA cospon­sor. There are now 51 co-spon­sors of ENDA in the Se­nate, not quite enough to de­feat a Repub­li­can-led fil­i­buster, which needs 60 votes.

Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, the state’s largest LGBT ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, said the grid­lock in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., means it will likely be eas­ier to pass a state law sim­i­lar to the fed­eral ENDA and help Ge­or­gia LGBT state em­ploy­ees sooner rather than later.

The Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­tion, named the Fair Em­ploy­ment Prac­tices Act, has been in­tro­duced by openly gay state Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates) for the last two leg­isla­tive ses­sions. Hear­ings on the bill were held dur­ing both ses­sions, but it never made it to the floor for a vote. If passed, it would be the first pos­i­tive statewide leg­is­la­tion that ad­dresses sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

“Frankly, we have a bet­ter chance pass­ing the state bill than the fed­eral ENDA bill,” Gra­ham said. “ENDA is an im­por­tant bill that en­sures work­place fair­ness, but Congress has proven there is so much grid­lock and it can’t come to­gether on much of any­thing. I’m not hope­ful we’ll have fed­eral ENDA any­time soon, so that’s why it’s im­por­tant to con­tinue to push at the state level.

“This is our great­est chance of vic­tory even in con­ser­va­tive Ge­or­gia,” he said.

2. RE­NEW­ING THE FIGHT AGAINST HIV

Gay and bi­sex­ual men make up about 2 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, yet ac-

count for 63 per­cent of all new HIV in­fec­tions with the largest group be­com­ing in­fected be­ing those ages 25 to 34, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol & Preven­tion.

Among African-Amer­i­can gay and bi­sex­ual men, the num­bers are even more trou­bling. Of that 63 per­cent of new in­fec­tions, black gay and bi­sex­ual men ac­count for 36 per­cent, the CDC re­ports. From 2008 to 2010, new HIV in­fec­tions among black gay and bi­sex­ual men ages 13 to 24 in­creased 22 per­cent.

At the end of 2010, of the es­ti­mated 872,990 peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, half are gay and bi­sex­ual men, ac­cord­ing to the CDC.

Gay men face nu­mer­ous preven­tion chal­lenges, the CDC states. Re­cep­tive anal sex with­out us­ing a con­dom is the sex­ual be­hav­ior where HIV is trans­mit­ted eas­i­est. There is also ho­mo­pho­bia, stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion gay men may face, which can lead to poor de­ci­sion mak­ing.

Not be­ing tested and know­ing one’s sta­tus, us­ing drugs and al­co­hol, home­less­ness, poverty — all play a role in gay men con­tract­ing HIV at higher rates than any­one else in the na­tion.

While the South ac­counted for 46 per­cent of new HIV in­fec­tions as of 2010, it only rep­re­sents 37 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern HIV/AIDS Strat­egy Ini­tia­tive.

HIV is strik­ing down a new gen­er­a­tion of gay and bi­sex­ual men, de­spite newer and bet­ter med­i­ca­tions to help them live longer, health­ier lives. The on­go­ing epi­demic sig­ni­fies a need for more ed­u­ca­tion, more con­ver­sa­tions, bet­ter fund­ing from the states and fed­eral govern­ment — and find­ing a way in which men who have sex with men are not stig­ma­tized and dis­crim­i­nated against.

“Cer­tainly HIV has to be some­thing the LGBT com­mu­nity puts back in the fore­front,” said Gra­ham of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, a long­time HIV/AIDS ac­tivist. Ge­or­gia Equal­ity helped found the Ge­or­gia AIDS Coali­tion.

“We know here in Ge­or­gia the No. 1 group of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and con­tract­ing HIV are gay and bi­sex­ual men. The data is not as solid, but trans­gen­der peo­ple are over­whelm­ingly dis­pro­por­tion­ally im­pacted,” he added.

“In South­ern states, we have way too many peo­ple who die of AIDS,” Gra­ham said.

Rea­sons in­clude not iden­ti­fy­ing HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple early enough to get them into treat­ment and gaps in ser­vices.

Out­side of metro At­lanta, there is spotty care for peo­ple with HIV. Some peo­ple wait weeks and even months for ap­point­ments. There are also wait­ing lists in At­lanta, Gra­ham said.

“Be­cause we are so over­whelmed, peo­ple are fall­ing out of care — and this leads to new HIV in­fec­tions and AIDS,” he said.

3. CAR­ING FOR OUR SE­NIORS AND YOUTH

Linda El­lis serves as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Health Ini­tia­tive, which pro­vides health care re­sources to LGBT peo­ple as well as man­ages SAGE, an or­ga­ni­za­tion for LGBT se­niors. There is now an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of LGBT se­niors fac­ing chal­lenges when it comes to ac­cess­ing ba­sic ser­vices and care, El­lis said.

Last year, a ground­break­ing Gallup poll showed 3.4 per­cent of U.S. adults iden­tify as LGBT, with younger peo­ple more read­ily iden­ti­fy­ing as be­ing openly gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual or trans­gen­der. The poll showed many les­bians were rais­ing chil­dren and that the myth of gay peo­ple be­ing rich is largely un­true.

The Health Ini­tia­tive now has a re­la­tion­ship with the At­lanta Re­gional Com­mis­sion and its 25,000 ser­vices providers, giv­ing the LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tion a di­rect line to th­ese providers to ed­u­cate them on the spe­cial needs of LGBT se­niors as well as those need­ing ba­sic health care.

“We’re past the point where we need to rein­vent LGBT spe­cific ser­vices and, in my opin­ion, cre­ate an LGBT health cen­ter. We just have to make sure the main­stream cen­ters are ready for us. The same is true for se­niors and youth ser­vices,” El­lis said.

Af­ford­able hous­ing is also a key con­cern for older LGBT peo­ple. Brad Ploeger is vice pres­i­dent of the board of Lutheran Tow­ers on Ju­niper Street, one of the more pop­u­lar low­in­come se­nior hous­ing sites that re­ceives fed­eral Depart­ment of Hous­ing & Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment (HUD) fi­nanc­ing.

“There are great se­nior hous­ing op­tions for those who have money. But our aver­age res­i­dent lives on $15,000 a year,” Ploeger said.

Any­one ap­ply­ing for HUD hous­ing can­not be dis­crim­i­nated against be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity thanks to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s 2012 equal ac­cess hous­ing rule. But the Tow­ers, lo­cated in the gay­bor­hood of Mid­town, has been ac­cept­ing LGBT res­i­dents for years.

That is why The Health Ini­tia­tive is con­duct­ing out­reach to health care and se­nior ser­vice providers in other coun­ties as much as it can, speak­ing to groups who want to help LGBT peo­ple and un­der­stand their spe­cial needs.

“I think our job more and more th­ese days is help­ing main­stream folks where lo­cal low­cost clin­ics and sim­i­lar ser­vices are pro­vided un­der­stand our needs,” El­lis said.

When it comes to youth, At­lanta seems less or­ga­nized in of­fer­ing safe spa­ces for them to go. YouthPride, once a shiny gem serv­ing LGBT young peo­ple, has been mired in con­tro­versy in re­cent years. How­ever, it still op­er­ates a fa­cil­ity in the West End and seems to hold reg­u­lar dis­cus­sion groups.

Jus­tUs ATL, cre­ated by for­mer YouthPride mem­bers, is mak­ing its pres­ence well-known in the com­mu­nity and holds dis­cus­sion groups for young peo­ple ev­ery week at bor­rowed space at Pos­i­tive Im­pact, an HIV/AIDS or­ga­ni­za­tion in Mid­town. Jus­tUs ATL is cur­rently seek­ing to se­cure its own space.

AID At­lanta’s Evo­lu­tion Pro­ject has its own cen­ter lo­cated on Ju­niper Street where young black gay and bi­sex­ual men can meet for so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties as well as dis­cus­sion groups, book read­ings and movie screen­ings. LostN-Found Youth helps home­less LGBT young peo­ple find jobs or get back in school and puts them on a road to per­ma­nent hous­ing.

A new grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion, QueerUp At­lanta, is a group of youth who want to en­sure pol­i­tics re­mains at the fore­front of young peo­ple’s minds as they be­come ac­tive in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Tay­lor Alexan­der, 20, of Grif­fin, Ga., moved to At­lanta two years ago to at­tend Ge­or­gia

State Univer­sity. As one of the founders of Queer Up At­lanta, Alexan­der is im­pressed with the re­sources and spa­ces for queer peo­ple now avail­able, es­pe­cially on col­lege cam­puses.

Alexan­der first came out as bi­sex­ual at 13, then as gay at 18. Last year, Alexan­der started iden­ti­fy­ing more un­der the “trans spec­trum.”

Young peo­ple are start­ing to mo­bi­lize for them­selves rather than wait­ing for the adults to lead the way, Alexan­der said, point­ing to Jus­tUs ATL, a com­pletely youth-led or­ga­ni­za­tion, as an ex­am­ple.

4. ERAS­ING ‘ISMS’ WITHIN OUR OWN COM­MU­NI­TIES

When it comes to racism, sex­ism or trans­pho­bia, LGBT peo­ple are just as guilty as our het­ero­sex­ual coun­ter­parts. But why? If we are dis­crim­i­nated against be­cause of who we are, why do we con­tinue to dis­crim­i­nate against oth­ers for be­ing who they are?

Paulina Helm-Her­nan­dez works as co-di­rec­tor of South­ern­ers on New Ground, which helps em­power LGBT peo­ple, es­pe­cially peo­ple of color, liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas on such is­sues as work­ers rights and im­mi­gra­tion. SONG is work­ing on a new cam­paign play­ing off the SCO­TUS mar­riage equal­ity rul­ings about how we can “marry the move­ment.”

Mar­riage equal­ity is “a kind of cul­mi­na­tion, if you will, of the LGBT move­ment. It is a re­ally im­por­tant and sym­bolic is­sue,” said Helm-Her­nan­dez, a Mex­i­can im­mi­grant.

When North Carolina vot­ers ap­proved a same-sex mar­riage ban last year, there was a back­lash against peo­ple of color by both pro­gres­sives and those op­posed to the LGBT move­ment, she said. But LGBT peo­ple can­not blame oth­ers for our losses, she said.

Peo­ple who are op­posed to anti-im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion, vi­o­lence, racial pro­fil­ing as well as LGBT is­sues grav­i­tate to SONG and its work. And SONG works to help peo­ple un­der­stand that we are all in­ter­con­nected in our strug­gles, she said.

A trans­gen­der woman who can­not get a job deserves as much at­ten­tion as a white man who wants to marry his part­ner. The bet­ter we un­der­stand that, the stronger we be­come as an al­liance for full equal­ity, she said.

Cheryl Court­ney-Evans, a trans­gen­der ac­tivist, said she wishes there weren’t so many let­ters in the label for our com­mu­nity — LGBTQIIA, for ex­am­ple, is too many let­ters and leads to a kind of seg­re­ga­tion it­self.

As a black trans woman, Court­ney-Evans has lived through racism and trans­pho­bia from peo­ple she thought were her al­lies.

“As a trans per­son and per­son of color, it’s like a dou­ble whammy,” she said. “We are in many ways dou­bly dis­crim­i­nated against.”

This week, Court­ney-Evans trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., as part of the National Cen­ter for Trans­gen­der Equal­ity to lobby for the pas­sage of ENDA, an is­sue she is pas­sion­ate about. Trans peo­ple con­tinue to be the most dis­crim­i­nated against in the work­force.

But the trans­pho­bia ex­ist­ing within the LGB com­mu­nity — as well as larger so­ci­ety — must be con­stantly ad­dressed and must stop, she said.

“The only way I see peo­ple get­ting be­yond or cor­rect­ing trans­pho­bia is a greater in­ter­ac­tion be­tween LGB and the trans com­mu­nity and for LGB peo­ple to get to know trans peo­ple,” she said.

“Many don’t know more about trans peo­ple than what they see on the street or on stage and make no at­tempt to go any fur­ther, so they don’t know the day-to-day ex­is­tence of trans­gen­der peo­ple,” she said.

Peo­ple who travel in the same gay cir­cles and go to the same gay clubs with­out ven­tur­ing out­side their com­fort zones will not learn of the ex­pe­ri­ences and strug­gles of those who are not as for­tu­nate as they are, she ex­plained.

“You ex­pect het­ero­sex­ual peo­ple to re­spect your life [as a gay per­son], to re­spect your same-gen­der loving re­la­tion­ships and right to marry, then be open enough to re­spect how some­one iden­ti­fies even if it is dif­fer­ent than you. Let’s all be mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful,” she said.

Alexan­der of GSU, who is black and Na­tive Amer­i­can, said he be­lieves for a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple, “There’s a cer­tain level of dis­sat­is­fac­tion of in­clu­sion in At­lanta.”

“It’s hard to find a per­son of color in queer­minded pub­li­ca­tions. We are in the hub of the civil rights move­ment, but there is al­ways that racial ten­sion, es­pe­cially in the [LGBT] com­mu­nity. All our own strug­gles are in­ter­con­nected,” he said.

5. ALIGN­ING OUR­SELVES WITH OTHER GROUPS

Mary Anne Adams quotes the late Au­dre Lorde, the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind ZAMI NOBLA, when she dis­cusses the rea­sons why LGBT peo­ple must team up with oth­ers to de­feat dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“The late Au­dre Lorde, who de­scribed her­self as a black-les­bian fem­i­nist mother lover poet, once said, ‘There is no such thing as a sin­gle is­sue strug­gle be­cause we don’t live sin­gle is­sue lives.’ I think this speaks vol­umes re­gard­ing the mar­riage equal­ity is­sue in the con­text of all the sys­tem­atic vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion that neg­a­tively im­pacts our com­mu­ni­ties,” Adams said.

Adams serves as an ex­am­ple of how she be­lieves all of us should lead our lives. She has made a con­scious de­ci­sion to live and do work in mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties: ag­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, can­cer and HIV/AIDS.

“All of th­ese is­sues im­pact queer peo­ple, all of th­ese is­sues im­pact me,” she said.

Adams said it’s im­por­tant that queer peo­ple are gath­er­ing in At­lanta and across the coun­try for “Day of De­ci­sion” ral­lies when SCO­TUS hands down its rul­ings on Prop 8 and DOMA. But there are other im­por­tant rul­ings to come as well.

“The court is ex­pected to is­sue a rul­ing in Fisher v. Univer­sity of Texas, chal­leng­ing the school’s Af­fir­ma­tive Ac­tion Pol­icy, and Shelby County v. Holder, chal­leng­ing Sec­tion 5 of the Vot­ing Rights Act. Shouldn’t we also gather to of­fer sup­port for th­ese rul­ings, and to stand in sol­i­dar­ity with th­ese groups?” she asked.

“If we are to con­duct our work us­ing a so­cial jus­tice frame­work, we have to se­ri­ously align our­selves with pro­gres­sive groups, marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties, peo­ple of color, women/ youth or­ga­ni­za­tions, and stand up and show up for them, as we ex­pect them to sup­port us,” she added.

“We are all in this to­gether as col­lab­o­ra­tors and part­ners.”

Tay­lor Alexan­der, 20, a founder of Queer Up At­lanta, said young LGBT peo­ple are mo­bi­liz­ing on their own rather than wait­ing for adults and other or­ga­ni­za­tions to help them. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

‘We’re past the point where we need to rein­vent LGBT spe­cific ser­vices,’ says Linda El­lis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Health Ini­tia­tive. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

Paulina Helm-Her­nan­dez, co-di­rec­tor of South­ern­ers on New Ground, says it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand we all share many of the same strug­gles for equal­ity. (Photo by Bo Shell)

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