by Kris Hermanns -
Special to the SGN
As marriage equality continues to gain momentum across our region and the country, we are at a unique moment in LGBTQ history - a critical turning point that has the potential to fully transform the lives of everyone in our community.
We went from having marriage equality in 19 states - in addition to 10 Native American tribes, and Washington D.C. - to 32 states in a matter of weeks. As lawsuits across the country continue to play out, we can expect even more change soon.
Many of us never imagined we would live to see the day we could legally marry in our home communities. As more and more LGBTQ couples are able to publicly commit themselves to the one they love, my heart is filled with a joy and fulfillment that is hard to describe.
While things have moved quickly these past few months - indeed so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with it all - it is clear that this work did not happen in a vacuum. It has been a long uphill climb to build the community and public support needed to reach this moment.
When Pride Foundation was part of the marriage equality campaign in Washington in 2012, we knew that it was necessary to prioritize sharing people's stories. In order to change hearts and minds, it was important to make connections and support people on their journey to acceptance. This wasn't always easy, and it made for some tense and uncomfortable moments. But it worked - creating a framework that has led us from victory to victory across the country.
This same base building and infrastructure support is what is now needed to carry our movement forward. We have been working diligently on the ground in each of the states Pride Foundation works in - Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington - to do just that; with the goal of real, lived, lasting equality for everyone in our community.
I am constantly asked, 'What's next?' now that we've achieved marriage equality in many of the states we work in. The answer is simple. Too many LGBTQ people are still not able to live openly and safely. They face threats to their livelihood and well-being that represents a threat to all of us.
Until everyone is able to be who they are, where they are, Pride Foundation will continue to focus our work on the serious challenges currently facing LGBTQ people across the Northwest.
In 29 states across the country, it is still legal to fire someone for being Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual, and in 34 states it is legal to fire someone because they are Transgender or gender non-conforming. In three of the states where Pride Foundation works - Alaska, Idaho, and Montana - LGBTQ people do not have any statewide legal protections. In addition to facing workplace discrimination, LGBTQ people in those states are also open to discrimination in housing and public accommodations.
Lack of legal protections has left many LGBTQ people vulnerable to poverty and financial instability. According to a report recently released by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project, a greater number of same-sex couples are living in poverty, compared to married opposite-sex couples; 15 percent of Transgender people are making less than $10,000 per year, compared to just 4 percent of the general population; and single LGBTQ adults with children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line as their non-LGBTQ peers. LGBTQ people of color also face the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity.
In Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, advocates have been working diligently for decades to add the words 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' to the state's human rights law, without success. As a result, local non-discrimination ordinances are even more important - protecting LGBTQ residents at the city level from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
While that work continues to gain momentum - with local non-discrimination ordinances established in four cities and one county in Montana and nine cities in Idaho - we need to continue to work towards a more comprehensive, federal solution that ensures everyone in our community has access to legal protections, regardless of their zip code.
HIV/AIDS Prevention and Support Services
As federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and support services continues to decrease, many in our community are left without access to critical prevention resources. This shift in funding particularly impacts Gay men and Transgender women living in rural areas, many of whom already feel marginalized due to their HIV/AIDS status and often have nowhere to turn.
Across the country, Gay, Bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continue to be the most seriously affected by HIV. One in four new HIV infections is among youth ages 13-24, and African American men continue to face the highest risk of infection - representing 36 percent of new HIV infections among all Gay and Bisexual men.
Access to free and low-cost prevention services, as well as resources and education are critical for our community. Working to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS will allow individuals to engage in risk reduction strategies, positively impacting people's health and well-being.
In addition to focusing our efforts on prevention, we must also remove the isolation and fear that people living with HIV/AIDS face. Finding ways to empower individuals to talk about their HIV status and connect with others in similar situations will ultimately help us build stronger communities. Most importantly, educating providers and expanding the network of clinics that are able to provide culturally competent care to LGBTQ patients will bring much-needed support and relief to people living in rural and remote locations.
The majority of U.S. health insurance policies specifically exclude medically necessary healthcare coverage for Transgender people. Transgender-based exclusions are often written broadly and apply to both transition-related care - including hormones, mental health care, and surgery - as well as gender-specific care like cancer screenings and reproductive healthcare.
Discrimination and harassment are also large barriers to care for Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey:
? 50 percent of survey participants reported having to teach their medical providers about Transgender care, and;
? 28 percent postponed medical care when they were sick or injured due to discrimination.
Lack of healthcare coverage coupled with discrimination can lead to serious - even life-threatening conditions. A shocking 41 percent of Transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their life. With access to gender transition related care, medical research shows that the suicide attempt rate drops to roughly three to five percent, only slightly higher than the general public.
We have recently made important strides in Washington and Oregon to remove outdated exclusions that deny Transgender people healthcare coverage, yet it will be important to monitor implementation and ensure that insurance companies are held accountable. In Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, Transgender people can still be denied healthcare coverage simply because of who they are.
In addition to ensuring access to healthcare, there is still significant work that must be done to ensure that high quality, culturally-proficient care is being provided to Transgender and gender non-confirming patients.
Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying
Despite the progress our community has made, the day-to-day experiences of many LGBTQ people throughout our region are often marked with fear and uncertainty.
Youth who identify as LGBTQ continue to face harassment and bullying at school. The 2013 National School Climate Survey found that 85 percent of LGBTQ students were verbally harassed in the past year. In addition, 56 percent of LGBTQ students experienced discriminatory school policies and practices. The survey also found that many schools lack the necessary resources and support to help LGBTQ students feel more welcomed and safe at school.
Many LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination and harassment well into adulthood, with the lack of employment protections exacerbating the problem. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 21% of LGBTQ respondents had been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay, or promotions.
Ninety percent of Transgender people reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job, or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it (National Transgender Discrimination Survey). And 47% of Transgender people reported having been discriminated against in hiring, promotion, or job retention because of their gender identity.
In recent years, we've also seen an increase in the amount of hate crimes targeted at LGBTQ people - despite the fact that other bias-motivated crimes are generally decreasing in frequency. A recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that reports of violence against LGBTQ people increased in severity in 2013, with a 21% increase in reports of physical hate violence. The 2013 report continues to document multi-year trends revealing that anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected hate violence disproportionately impacts Transgender women, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities of color, Transgender people, and Transgender people of color.
Just this year, Seattle was listed as having the third highest rate of anti-LGBT hate crimes in the country.
As we continue to gain legal rights, we still have much work to do to combat homophobia and transphobia, and ensure that everyone is able to live openly in their communities without fear.
LGBTQ youth continue to be disproportionately represented throughout the child welfare and juvenile justice systems - severely impacting the opportunities available to queer youth, as well as their ability to reach their full potential.
A recent national report by The Palette Fund, True Colors Fund, and the Williams Institute found that approximately 40% of all homeless youth or youth at-risk of becoming homeless identify as LGBTQ. According to the survey, the top five reasons that youth who identify as LGBTQ were homeless are (in order of prevalence):
1. Ran away because of family rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity
2. Forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity
3. Physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home
4. Aged out of the foster care system
5. Financial or emotional neglect at home
To make matters more complicated, many youth providers, child welfare workers, and foster parents have little knowledge about how to best support LGBTQ youth. This absence of information combined with LGBTQ bias leads to a lack of safety and permanency for LGBTQ youth in the system. Youth are often moved from placement to placement, never making permanent connections to any support system.
By advocating for stronger policies, training providers, compiling best practices, and amassing resources for LGBTQ youth at different points throughout the system, we can help create a streamlined process that puts queer youth back in loving and caring homes, instead of out on the streets.
According to a recent research report from Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), three million LGBT people in the United States are age 55 and older, and the population is rapidly growing.
Many LGBTQ seniors report anxiety about safety and support - both emotional and financial - as they age. Few long-term care facilities and healthcare providers deliver trainings on how to meet the needs of LGBTQ seniors, leading to a lack of resources and supports for LGBTQ seniors.
Nearly 50 percent of LGBTQ older adults report discrimination from care providers and 40 percent of LGBTQ people in their 60s and 70s say they have not shared their sexual orientation with their healthcare providers, due to fear that they will be harassed or mistreated. In addition, two thirds of Transgender adults fear limited access to healthcare as they get older.
Supporting training and education for care providers can help create a more compassionate system that allows all LGBTQ seniors to age with dignity and respect. Continued advocacy efforts focused on increasing the quality of care and support that is provided to LGBTQ elders will go a long way in ensuring that all seniors feel safe and secure as they age.
The Path Forward
When you think about the wide array of challenges currently facing our community - workplace discrimination, HIV/AIDS prevention and support services, healthcare access, bullying, youth homelessness, and elder care - it paints a much clearer picture of the work that must be done to ensure that all LGBTQ youth, adults, and families are able to live safely and openly in their communities.
While we continue to advocate for legal changes and protections, it's critical that we simultaneously build the broad-based support that's needed to change hearts and minds.
We've shown what our community is capable of with the incredible progress we've made around the freedom to marry. Public support and momentum is on our side and it is now time to turn our efforts to the entrenched and long-standing barriers that keep LGBTQ people from thriving and being their full selves.
We have an opportunity to create lasting equality for everyone in our community - let's seize it.
Kris Hermanns is the Executive Director of Pride Foundation, a regional community foundation that inspires giving to expand opportunities and advance full equality for LGBTQ people across the Northwest.
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