Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality
SOURCE: Lambda Legal/Leslie Von Pless
While some states and the federal government continue to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, more than half of all states still deny them basic civil rights. Such systemic inequities render people of color who are also gay and transgender among the most vulnerable in our society.
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Liberty and justice for all is not yet a reality in America. Despite the election of our nation’s first African American president, black Americans continue to trail behind their white counterparts in education, employment, and overall health and wellbeing. And while some states and the federal government continue to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, more than half of all states still deny them basic civil rights. Such systemic inequities render people of color who are also gay and transgender among the most vulnerable in our society.
Black gay and transgender Americans in particular experience stark social, economic, and health disparities compared to the general population and their straight black and white gay counterparts. According to the data we currently have, families headed by black same-sex couples are more likely to raise their children in poverty, black lesbians are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, and black gay and transgender youth are more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets.
These issues, along with the others laid out in this report, can and should be addressed through a policy agenda that seeks to understand and tackle the structural barriers—discriminatory systems, conditions, and institutions around socioeconomic status, race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity—that perpetuate negative economic, health, and other life outcomes among this population. The strength of our society depends on the resilience, health, and wellbeing of all Americans, especially marginalized groups such as black gay and transgender people. They too deserve to be counted and to have their needs met, so we must work to bridge these gaps.
Doing so will require fresh thinking about the root causes of these problems as well as the political will needed to employ new strategies to address them. As this report highlights, the quality of life of many black gay and transgender people remained relatively unchanged over the last decade despite the significant gains the gay and transgender movement achieved. This suggests that some of the gay headline policy priorities that garnered the most research, analysis, and advocacy—such as marriage equality—underserve this population when taken alone even though they are important for overall progress. This also applies to broad racial justice priorities that overlook gay and transgender people within their constituencies.
In short, black gay and transgender people fall through the cracks when lumped under either a gay or black umbrella. Such categorical thinking ignores the fact that black gay and transgender people are at once both gay and transgender and black. As a result they experience complex vulnerabilities that stem from the combination of racial bias and discrimination due to their sexual orientation and/ or gender identity. So advocacy agendas that prioritize the eradication of one bias over the other do not fully respond to the needs of the population—nor will they eliminate the inequities discussed in this report.