Defining “Gay Rights”
Let’s begin by defining what we mean by “Gay Rights.” This particular word combination is bandied about quite freely by people on both the conservative and the progressive sides of the aisle, both in politics and in church; and we must therefore step back and look at the origin of the terms “human rights” and “civil rights”. These kinds of linguistic terms started to come into being around the time of the democratic revolutions in the United States and in France; and they intended a radical equality between all (sic) in a way that hadn’t been seen in human societies for hundreds of years, if ever. As is said in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
History of the Movement
For nearly 250 years, churchmen and politicians, philosophers and activists have debated not only on what all of these unalienable Rights should include, but also who is to be included in the definition of all “men”. When Jefferson penned these words, it did not include women or slaves or indentured servants. (Male slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person in order to determine ratios for states’ political representation.) Slowly, over the centuries, other non-male, non-white people were recognized as citizens and given the right to vote. At least in theory, black men became citizens with the 14th amendment and had the right to vote with the 15th amendment after the Civil War. Women did not obtain the right to vote until the 19th amendment in 1920.
“Human rights” began to take on a global dimension after the 1899 Hague Convention that implied all human beings have inborn rights independent of the government that seeks to control them. This movement was nourished both by the anti-colonialist movements in Africa and by the labor reform movements of Europe and the United States in the early part of the twentieth century.
Other groups of people have been denied their “human rights” (however we choose to understand that broader term) for reasons other than gender and skin color. During the ‘60’s and ‘70’s there was a broad flowering of many human rights movements, and during that time the seeds for “Gay Rights” were sown. Those who found themselves outside of the socially-constructed U.S. norm of “heterosexual, homoracial marriages” were often denied equal protection of the law in many arenas: law enforcement, random prosecution of homosexual acts, employment discrimination, and family law, to name a few.
In 1969 a police raid of the Stonewall Inn “gay” nightclub in Greenwich Village, NY, set off three days’ of riots which were the spark to unite a national public movement to gain equal rights for those who defined themselves as homosexual, or in any other way outside the narrow confines of “sexual normalcy”. In the last forty years of this movement, the accepted terminology has moved from “Gay” to “Gay and Lesbian”, to “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered” and most recently to LGBTQ, adding the category of Questioning for those who cannot fit themselves in any of the other four descriptions.
Hereafter this article will refer to “GLBTQ rights”
Who Said It?
The next thing to consider, in informing yourself how to understand this, is WHO used the term, “Gay Rights” or “Gay and Lesbian Rights” or “GLBTQ rights”.
If you heard it from a politician or a church person, you will probably have some idea of that person’s leanings, conservative or progressive. In general, conservative politicians – like conservative churchmen – have disparaged the concept of “Gay Rights” because they do not believe that any sexual behavior outside the “heterosexual” is natural and/or God-approved. In fact, many believe that any sexuality outside of “normalcy” between a man and a woman is a learned or conditioned behavior, rather than an inborn mostly genetic trait. For that reason, they are particularly concerned that it will be “learned” from an older “homosexual” who is also often wrongly assumed to be a pedophile.
In particular, conservative churchmen will often recommend to a family a “rehabilitation” program, which is supposed to help the “afflicted” family member to relearn “natural” sexual behavior by reconditioning. Not only do these programs have a very low “success” rate, but they also frequently lead to a precipitous lowering of self-esteem in the individuals who have been forced to undertake them and even led to a marked increase in suicidality. (reference)
If you heard it from a progressive politician or church person, you probably heard either “LBGTQ rights” or perhaps “Gay and Lesbian Rights” which usually indicates that they are supportive of obtaining civil rights for people who identify in this way.
If you heard it from your son or daughter, it might have been in the context of their “coming out” to you as someone who has discovered themselves to be in this category, and who may be trying to assert their civil rights to persuade you or some other person in authority that they, like all human beings, deserve their rights as a human being.
What are Civil Rights for LGBTQ people?
Nationally, they are the same as for any other citizen of the United States. The ACLU states “No LGBT person should experience discrimination in employment, housing, or in businesses and public places, or the suppression of their free expression or privacy rights.” https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights Additionally, the ACLU is proactively strengthening and seeking to create state and federal legislation protecting rights for those of any sexual preference and gender identity.
Which of the rights of U.S. citizens are most often violated by practice or by regressive legislation for LGBTQ people? Here is a partial list:
- The right to marry
The federal government accords 1,138 benefits and responsibilities based on marital status (online source). These include benefits like receiving unpaid leave to care for an ill spouse without losing one’s job; visitation rights in the hospital; social security survivor benefits; the right not to testify against one’s spouse, among many others. Up until this time, only nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized same sex marriage.
- The right to be safe from hate crimes
Anti-hate crime laws exist in the District of Columbia and 47 states. However, in only 24 states and D.C. is sexual orientation and gender preference included in the legislation. In the remaining states, adult or minor LGBTQ people are not protected from hate crimes directed against them because of their identity, whether such bullying be of a minor or major variety, by law.
- The right to be free from discrimination in finding employment
The federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act was passed by congress in 2007. During the hiring process, it is now illegal to exclude qualified workers on the basis of sexual orientation. This law has yet to impact many of the more conservative states in practice.
- The right to be protected from harassment and discrimination in school
75 percent of students have no state laws to protect them in the classroom. In public high schools, 97 percent of students report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers.
- The right to be cared for by a parent until the age of majority
Between 20 and 40% of 1.6 million homeless youth (estimated) identify as LGBTQ. In one study, 26 percent of gay teens who came out to their parents or guardians were told they must leave home.
The above-mentioned rights are only a sampling of the ways in which LGBTQ youth and adults do not receive the full protection of the law and its agencies in a uniform or protected manner. The list of violations to LGBTQ civil rights is very long.
What are the symbols associated with the movement?
In addition to the terminology of LGBTQ, the rainbow or the rainbow flag is widely recognized as a shorthand symbol for both the movement and its successful access to civil rights. In many places, “Pride Week” is celebrated with a parade or other public gathering in order to make publicly visible the existence of LGBTQ people and to affirm their hard-won civil rights.
Supportive Organizations (for members of LGBTQ communities, their families, and allies)
There are many excellent organizations helping to protect and legislate and heal those who have suffered from violation of human rights due to LGBTQ status. Here are links to the two oldest and most effective of organizations; do your own investigation online and if you have questions about any organization you discover, you can ask about it from these two sites
One of the earliest organizations was PFLAG, originally known as Parents and Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays. Now it chooses to use only the acronym PFLAG in order to be completely inclusive. It is the U.S.’s largest organization for family and allies of LGBTQ people, having more than 350 chapters throughout the country and more than 200,000 members and supporters and works not only for human rights but also to create support groups and resources.
The Human Rights Campaign ( http://www.hrc.org/the-hrc-story)
This organization has more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide. Its mission is to ensure LGBTQ people of their basic equal rights so they can be “open, honest, and safe at home, at work, and in the community.”
Status of LBGTQ rights globally
Many other countries have begun to create legislation to protect the rights of their LGBTQ citizens. However, other nations have an abysmal record in terms of such civil rights. In some countries, a homosexual act between two consulting adults is still an offense punishable by death.
In December 2010, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a landmark speech on LGBT equality in New York calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for other measures to tackle violence and discrimination against LGBT people. “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Where there is a tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, rights must carry the day,” said Moon.
Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently agreed international human rights treaties, the legal obligations of States to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQ people are well established. International human rights laws include the right to life, security of person and privacy, the right to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
Here is the mission of the United Nations with regard to this concern:
- Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence.
- Prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
- Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality.
- Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people.
Relationship of GLBTQ civil rights within faith-based organizations
Every faith-based organization has its own beliefs and practices with regard to GLBTQ rights and practices. Many traditional, conservative churches, synagogues, and mosques are opposed to allowing full participation by those who self-identify as LGBTQ. In contrast, many faith-based organizations are specifically supportive of LGBTQ people and permit them to be full members of the organization and even, in some cases, to be ordained. One denomination was actually created FOR LGBTQ members: it is called the Metropolitan Community Church http://mccchurch.org/ and was established in 1968 with the express purpose of promoting a primary, positive ministry to gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender persons. Other specifically gay-friendly Christian denominations include the Unitarian Universalist http://www.uua.org/ and the United Church of Christ http://www.ucc.org/. It is easy to determine the faith-based organization’s position on GLBTQ rights by examining their website.