A Minority Among Minorities

Essay by looneytick1000University, Bachelor'sA+, May 2004

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A minority among minorities, a group of people misunderstood by their families and even often by themselves, homosexuals are the most openly discriminated against group in recent history. After the civil rights movements of women and racial minorities have come to an end, homosexuals are just beginning their battle for equality. Homosexuals deserve the same rights and protections under US law as all other US citizens, so why does the government condone this continued discrimination and violation of civil liberties? Homosexuals see discrimination in all points of their lives. They are stereotyped by the people around them; they experience violence at the hands of those who hate them. They are denied housing, and jobs. They are not allowed to marry, many places don't allow them to adopt, and in some cases they can even have their children taken from them because of their sexuality. They are forced to hide who they are if they wish to serve in the US military.

Homosexual youths face discrimination not only from peers but also from the authorities around them. Only in the most recent years have homosexuals found the ability to have pride in themselves and make the public truly aware of their existence.

The gay rights movement in the US has not had a long-lived history, even though it is based on a discrimination that has existed since America was formed. The gay rights can be seen in its earliest form with the formation of two groups, a group for women called the Daughters of Bilitis, started in San Francisco in 1955, and a group for men called the Mattachine Society, started in Los Angeles in 1951 (Newton, 3). The earliest organizations that were created had do deal with the high levels of discrimination and suspicion that were present during the McCarthy era (Newton, 3), in which, everyone was suspect of something.

After a slow start in the 1950s and 60s, the national gay rights movement was given a rather violent shove to get it going in June of 1969 with the Stonewall riot. The stonewall riot started out as a police raid on a New York city gay bar named Stonewall, the patrons of the bar fought back against the police, and then took to the streets, openly and proudly announcing who they were, and demanding an end to the discrimination and oppression that they suffered (Newton, 3-4). After the Stonewall riot Gay rights organizations sprouted up in cities across the nation. One of the things that bogged down the gay rights movement in the past was the lack of unification; different groups sought different things, and went about getting them in different ways. There was also the division between gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people. These divisions made progress difficult, many people didn't even know what the gay rights movement sought at the time. The goals of the early gay rights movement were best summarized by historian Barry D. Adam " gay liberation never thought of itself as a civil rights movement for a particular minority, but as a revolutionary struggle to free the homosexuality in everyone, challenging the conventional arrangements that confined sexuality to heterosexual, monogamous families. For the gay liberation there was no 'normal' or 'perverse' sexuality, only a world of sexual possibilities ranged against a repressive order of marriage, oedipal families, and compulsory heterosexuality"(Newton, 5). The beginning of the gay rights movement seemed to be centered around forcing people to acknowledge the existence of gays and trying to break the common theory that only one type of sexuality existed. In that aspect at least it seems that the early gay rights movement achieved some level of success, as it seems that many more people are aware that a gay population does exist, even to the point of some people overestimating the size, but with increased visibility also comes increasing discrimination. As people are forced to admit the existence of a gay population, they also must form an opinion on what they think of that population.

Some people are against homosexuality, and some people are for it, but very few people would ever go so far as to call homosexuality criminal, but that is exactly what some states have done. Sodomy laws prohibit "deviant sexual acts" which is pretty much anything other than missionary intercourse. Some states prohibit this for any two people, such as Idaho, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. In other states the law is for two people of the same sex such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri (Biskupic). No matter who the law is aimed at, it is used almost exclusively against homosexuals, and is as close to a ban on homosexuality as the governments can achieve. Many gay rights advocacy groups see sodomy laws as their biggest hurdle. The Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston has said that sodomy laws " legitimize discrimination, hatred, and even violence" against gays (Biskupic).

Recently a case in Texas has caused the Supreme Court to consider a challenge to Texas state sodomy laws (biskupic). In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy does not protect sexual relations between gays (Biskupic). The incident happened when the police received a false report that there was a man waving a gun, they went to an apartment and broke in to find two men having sex, the two men were arrested and jailed for the night. Ruth Harlow, lead counsel for the petitioner said of the Texas sodomy case, "this has nothing to do with giving gay people an affirmative right, it's about allowing gays to live their lives without being branded as criminals."(Gilgoff). In 1998 the Alabama Supreme Court refused a woman custody after the woman moved in with her lesbian girlfriend, saying that they felt that the relationship was "neither legal in this state, nor moral in the eyes of most of it's citizens" and giving custody to her ex-husband, citing the Alabama Sodomy law (Gilgoff).

In America most of a person's life is centered around finding for themselves a decent job and a place to live. People go to school through most of their young years in the hopes of getting a job that will make them enough money to live comfortably. In order to make getting a job and home more equal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, this act made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, a few years later that same protection was given to Americans with physical disabilities, homosexuals are the largest group of people who are denied that protection (Newton, 7-8). In the United States of America, it is perfectly legal to deny someone housing, or deny or fire them from a job, merely based on their sexuality, they do not even necessarily have to be gay or lesbian, someone merely has to believe that they are. Many of the people who are against laws preventing such discrimination say that homosexuals seek "special rights", yet these same people did not see these as "special" when it protected African Americans, or women, or Jewish people who faced discrimination. All homosexuals seek is that which everyone else already has.

Illinois has recently taken a progressive step toward granting equal rights to gays and lesbians. A Gay Rights Bill has finally advanced to the full chamber in the Illinois senate, by an 8-4 vote, even after it being killed at its two prior runs (Parsons). The highly controversial bill has finally received the ability to be looked at and debated on a higher level. Even opponents of the bill like Vince Demezio voted to send the bill to full senate, just to give everyone a chance to see it (parsons). Passing the measure would add sexual orientation to the list of things protected by the Illinois Human Rights Act. Opponents fear it may grant "special rights" or force religious organizations to hire homosexual employees, but supporters say that it should not be used for either of those purposes, there is also an exemption for small tenancies where there is a live in owner (parsons). Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, democrat, supports the passing of the bill.

Families are a large part of most people's lives. We are taught all of our young lives to grow up, get married and have a family. The thought is beaten into us so often that it is all many people can see as a path to happiness, and families are a great source of joy, but for some many gays and lesbians families are a very difficult thing. Homosexual marriages are not legal in any state in the United States of America, and the fact that some states do not allow single people to adopt, let alone homosexual people, this make starting a family very difficult for gays and lesbians. Until recently the children of homosexuals were almost always born during their parents earlier heterosexual marriages (Elias). And though no concrete numbers are available surveys suggest that anywhere between three to six million kids in the United States have homosexual parents (Elias). While many people may feel that it is harmful to the child to have homosexual parents, studies on how the children of homosexuals adjust show them to be very similar to the children of heterosexuals (Elias). There even seem to be some positive benefits to same-gander couples, at 4-6, children with lesbian mothers aspire to less gender typical occupations, and follow less gender stereotyping (Elias). Homosexual parents share childcare and chores more evenly than heterosexual couples (Elias). Teens seem to adjust better to lesbian "stepmothers" who join the family than either heterosexual stepmothers or stepfathers (Elias). And of course, parents who themselves are mentally and emotionally stable, being open about their sexual orientation, and providing a supportive environment will have the most well-adjusted children (Elias).

In 1985 a transgendered man and a woman got married, they conceived a son through artificial insemination in 1991, and were divorced in 1998, none of this was challenged (Rostow). That was until the custody case when an Illinois, Cook County judge told the father that, because of his gender at birth, the marriage had been void, and he had no right to seek custody of his son (Rostow). The judge Acknowledged that the man was a good father and had been close to his son, but seemed to ignore the law that stated that in custody battles the best interests of the child have the highest priority (Rostow). Even Patrick Murphy, the child's public guardian felt that the father was the better parent. He had recommended that the father be awarded custody, and is so disappointed by the ruling that he plans to appeal. Only two months prior to this case ruling a Florida judge ruled that such a marriage was legal, giving the transgender parent custody.

Gay and lesbian youths seem to have the most difficult time of things. Teenage years are a scary time for anyone; all most teens want is to be like everyone else. For the approximately one in twenty teens who realizes their sexuality, the realization that they are fundamentally different from pretty much everyone else can be a terrifying experience. Most gay and lesbian teens feel compelled to hide their sexuality at least until after they graduate from high school, and this hiding can come in many forms, some homosexual teens pursue homosexual relationships, hiding them from everyone but the one they date, and other homosexual teens, in order to "prove" that they are straight often have a highly over active heterosexual sex life, leading to very dangerous outcomes. Such as teen pregnancy, and STDs.

Many teens feel that they are completely alone in their sexuality. Jewelle Gomez, a gay man describes that loneliness "around the country each of us believed that we alone had been blessed, or cursed, with our desire to love someone of the same sex. John Donne's axiom 'no man is an island' was a taunting lie. (Deitcher)" these feelings of being alone can lead to alienation, depression, and substance abuse. One of the things that cause these feelings of alienation is a lack of role models with whom they can identify. In recent years there has been a higher number of visible homosexuals in the media than before, but many are still put into a negative light by conservatives. Probably the strongest role models for homosexual teens are the homosexual teachers who, because of the more comfortable atmosphere, have been able to be open about their sexuality and offer an outlet for teens who may be questioning their own sexuality, and allowing them to see that they can live in a way that most of society tells them is wrong.

With laws having been passed in many states banning the discrimination of homosexual teens in a school setting, schools have become safer. The U.S Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that schools ignoring or failing to protect students from harassment related to their sexual orientation could be violating federal laws (Lisotta). Still, even with the laws that are in place, many teens still feel the pain of discrimination. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network recently took a National School Climate survey; this survey showed that over 80% of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered students reported verbal, sexual, or physical harassment in their school (Bendersky). High school students can be very harsh, especially if they believe they will not be reprimanded for their actions

While most homosexual students experience discrimination at the hands of fellow students in some cases it is the administration that can't handle their sexuality. Ashly Massey, a 14 year old student at Coombs Middle School in Banning California was confronted by a student about her sexuality, another student said that she was a lesbian, the administration found out about this and pulled Ashly out of her PE class for more than a week, making her sit in the administrator's office with no explanation. Massey had been openly lesbian for a year, coming out to her family while living Palm Desert California, a city with a relatively large homosexual population. Ashly is pressing charges on the school, hoping that other homosexual students will see her standing up and take a stand as well (Lee, 13).

In one case in Crete Illinois two girls were voted as "cutest couple" for their yearbook, the schools administrators dragged their feet on the process of admitting the photo to the yearbook, in response many students staged a walkout. The administration claims it never planned on denying the entry. The parents of the two students, who had not known of the relationship beforehand, supported putting the picture into the yearbook, and the district superintendent wrote a letter praising the students for their acceptance. Many of the supported the couple, one senior saying, "I think people need to realize there are different people everywhere. If 15-and 17-year-olds are mature enough to handle this then the rest of the country can."(Bloch, 12)

"After a while you'll think no thought the others do not think. You'll know no word the others can't say. And you'll do things because the others do them. You'll feel the danger in any difference whatever, a danger to the crowd of like-thinking, like acting men... a thing so triumphantly illogical, so beautifully senseless as an army can't allow a question to weaken it (shilts, 1)" John Steinbecks words describe wonderfully the military's manner of thinking. With such a way of thinking it is no wonder that they are intolerant. Gays have always been in the military, and as such, the military has always fought against their being there. In America we claim to be free to pursue what we want, we claim tolerance and equality. How is it then, that the military, the largest organization that is funded by our equal and tolerant government is so intolerant, and unequal?

Before 1994 homosexuals were not allowed to serve in the military at all, if found they would be discharged immediately, there were inquiries into the lives of those suspected to be homosexual, and many people were discharged merely on suspicion of being homosexual. In 1994 the scene changed only minutely with the implementation of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which, allows homosexuals to serve in the military, just so long as they hid their sexual orientation, and didn't commit any homosexual acts (musbach). There were no more enquiries, but homosexuals were still forced to hide all that they were, and discovered, they were still discharged immediately. Every year over 800 service members are discharged based on sexual orientation, the lowest number being in 1996 when 870 gay and lesbians were discharged. In 2002 906 gays and lesbians were discharged, and that is low, in comparison to the 1,273 that were discharged in 2001 (Musbach). Those people who could be heroes, that one person who could mean so much, they throw them away, just based on sexual orientation. In 2002 we knew the need for Arabic linguists with the war on terrorism in full swing, yet still, 7 Arabic linguists were discharged just on the basis of their sexual orientation (Musbach). It seems even in this war time, people are not tolerant enough to accept differences, and work toward a common goal.

A rainbow flag hangs in a window, someone walking down the street wearing a Lambda necklace, t-shirts with two gender symbols, all are symbols of gay pride. A pride that the homosexual couple must find in itself, or else be crushed by the cruelty given them by the world. To combat traditionally negative beliefs that homosexuality was wrong, perverse, or unnatural, gays came up with the slogan "gay is good" very much like the civil rights movement slogan "black is beautiful" it was designed to eradicate stereotyping (Newton, 5). One of the most recognizable symbols of pride was the rainbow flag, which began to be used in 1978 when it appeared in San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. There are six colors, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, blue for harmony, and purple for spirit (OTRS). Another well-known gay pride symbol is the pink triangle, it was the symbol used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals in the concentration camps. It was turned into a symbol of identification and pride, forcing people to acknowledge and deal with the fact that homosexuals were also a part of the holocaust tragedy (OTRS). The Labrys is a widely used symbol specifically for lesbians; it is a double bladed axe, derived from the Greek goddess Artimes. It was used by the Amazon women, who were an all women tribe of warriors known for their skill in battle (OTRS). Lambda is also a prevalent symbol, though there are disagreements on its origins (OTRS). Another is he interlocking same gender symbol, whose point is seen easily enough (OTRS).

There are so many symbols for pride, yet still homosexuals continue to be ignored So many people ask, why do gays feel the need to parade their homosexuality around? So many people talk about gays shoving their homosexuality into their faces. These marches are designed to make the public aware of the existence of gays, and give politicians a view of at least a fraction of the people who they were harming by their noninvolvement in the gay rights movement. One such movement is the National Day of Silence held on April 9th on the 2003 day of silence an estimated 200,000 students at 2,000 participating schools will take a vow of silence in protest against discrimination of GLBT youth (Bendersky). This protest has gotten so large in recent years that the governors of three states, have issued proclamations openly recognizing April 9th as a day of silence in their state (Bendersky).

With growing acceptance of homosexuality by the general public, and growing numbers of states providing legislation that protects, homosexuals are moving toward equality. More Homosexuals are able to openly be themselves at work, and school. As we move closer though, we must also see that those who oppose gay rights in America are also becoming more adamant in their desire to prevent homosexuals from even being seen as people at all, indecisiveness and ignorance on the part of the government is what leads to the discrimination on the part of the general populace, once the government begins to realize homosexuals are people, and deserve equal rights, maybe the people beneath the government will as well.