The United States appeared to be changing, and it looked like equal rights and protections were in the future for Generations Y and Z. However, it would not be easy. In 1993, the Department of Defense issued a directive prohibiting the U.S. Military from barring applicants from service based on their sexual orientation. “Applicants… shall not be asked or required to reveal whether they are homosexual,” stated the new policy. But it still forbade applicants from engaging in homosexual acts or making a statement that he or she was homosexual. This policy was known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Then in 1996, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. The law defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman and said no state was required to recognize a same-sex marriage from out of state. On November 4, 2008, California voters approved Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage in California illegal. The passing of the ballot garnered national attention from gay-rights supporters across the U.S. Prop 8 inspired the NOH8 campaign, a photo project using celebrities to promote marriage equality.
As these setbacks eventually have been overturned, Generations Y and Z have grown up in a time of immense change mainly for the better. In December 2010, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Military. On June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. These new freedoms and equality brought new challenges for the youngest members of the LGBTQ+ community. The “Alphabet Mafia,” so named for all the letters to support the sexual spectrum (LGBTQIA, etc.), has given rise to a backlash from religious conservatives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals largely have been protected by rulings only from the U.S. Supreme Court. Those rulings are now in jeopardy with the make-up of the current court. The Equality Act passed by the House of Representatives is unlikely to pass the Senate unless changes are made to the filibuster or the filibuster is abolished. Plus, there are bills advancing through state legislatures that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate.
The current anti-transgender bills target transgender and nonbinary people for discrimination by barring or criminalizing healthcare for transgender youth, stopping access to the use of appropriate facilities like restrooms, restricting transgender students’ ability to fully participate in school and sports, allowing religiously-motivated discrimination against trans people, or making it more difficult for trans people to get identification documents with their name and gender. Two of these bills, Alabama’s HB-1 and SB-10, companion bills filed by Rep. Wes Allen and Sen. Shay Shelnutt, would criminalize medical professionals who support transgender youths’ identity forcing them to choose between the possibility of government prosecution or adhering to the evidence-based clinical guidelines of their field. These bills would expressly prohibit the use of puberty-blockers and hormone therapies, and require school counselors to report instances of “gender dysphoria.” They also ban gender-affirmation surgeries or sex-reassignment surgeries on children although such procedures are not performed on minors. If passed through the House of Representatives and State Senate, these bills would make Alabama the first U.S. state to enact an official transgender medical ban. The ban is one of eight anti-trans pieces of legislation being considered by state legislatures across the country. Medical experts and transgender advocates warn criminalizing transgender medical care could lead to a spike in suicides and mental health problems among trans youth.
Since the 1970s, when gay rights began to be enacted in some parts of the country, there has been a conservative backlash. It has happened for every minority that has tried to gain equality. The fight is a long way from being over for the LGBTQ+ community just as it continues to be a struggle for racial and ethnic minorities. Until Congress enacts solid protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and the courts back up those protections, conservatives in the U.S. will continue to find new ways to attack our rights. They will continue to use hate and religion to find exemptions even for protections that already have been enacted. In 1988, only 11 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. National support for same-sex marriage’s legal recognition rose above 50 percent for the first time in 2011. Today, the percentage of Americans who support gay marriage is slightly above 70 percent. I believe the most significant roadblock to LGBTQ+ rights are, and will continue to be, religious exemptions. I think the current Supreme Court will uphold religious exemptions. Until that changes, we will not have equality. The only way to end religious discrimination is for religious organizations with tax-exempt status to lose that status because of their discriminatory practices.
As I said at the beginning of Wednesday’s post, every LGBTQ+ generation has faced the difficulty of: if my family finds out I am gay, will they reject me? or if I come out, will my family accept me? Sadly, until there is universal acceptance of the diversity of sexuality, this is unlikely to change. In the seven generations since 1900, each generation has faced its own unique problems with some of those being carried over to other generations. It is paramount that the living generations of the LGBTQ+ community have conversations about what is important to younger gay generations versus those who remember the Stonewall riots and lived through the AIDS crisis. Whether perceived or real, differences between generations have existed long before the term “generation gap” became popular in the 1960s.
Often, each generation has different views on social, political, cultural, and religious issues. LGBTQ+ generations before Millennials were mostly in the closet and afraid of being outed, losing their job and families, possibly their lives. Many of those generations tried to maintain an appearance of “respectability” by being married and having children. In many ways, Generation X was a transition generation between the old and the new. They were the first to experiment with the internet and begin creating a greater LGBTQ+ community. The gay generations since the Millennials can connect no matter where they live. They never knew a time without the internet and have made the most use of technology. They can be more integrated into the mainstream, and they find it easier to be open about their sexuality within society. They have role models and allies that did not exist for older generations. In my opinion, if we recognize our differences, realize what we have in common, understand our past, and embrace our future, we can come together and be a powerful unstoppable force.
This three-part series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the problems faced by generations of LGBTQ+ individuals. This final installment is focused on the latest generations growing up in a vastly different world from earlier LGBTQ+ generation, and thus the focus is on how much more still needs to be done.