Photo: Steve Rainwater
We’ve been here before, and we know what to do.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) community has made incredible cultural and legislative strides in the last few years, from national marriage equality in countries like the United States, Ireland, and Colombia to the passage of legal protections for sexual and gender minorities’ in Nepal’s new constitution.
But with the Trump as U.S. president-elect, the Brexit Vote, and the global rising of the “alt-right,” it still feels like we’re facing an uphill battle. Discrimination isn’t new, though, and neither are the LGBTQ community’s efforts to fight against it.
We come from a line of outspoken activists and artists, from Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, trans women of color who led the way at Stonewall, to AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer, to self-described “Black lesbian feminist mother warrior poet” Audre Lorde. During the height of the AIDS epidemic, our community leaders formed radical activist groups that pressured the public and government to pay attention to the public health crisis. When it still wasn’t safe to be out, gay politicians like Harvey Milk ran pro-equality political campaigns that put names and faces to the gay community. And while Jim Crow laws still ruled the American South, activists like Bayard Rustin advocated for racial and economic justice and organized the now-famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
These and other heroes worked unwaveringly for equality and justice and paved the way for this current generation, and we can look to them for inspiration and ideas for how to continue the fight for social justice.
We’re more visible than ever.
Our stories are finally getting told, and we’re the ones telling them. In the past few years alone, we’ve seen better developed, more nuanced LGBTQ characters in film, television, and other media. Take, for instance, the acclaimed web series hit Her Story, which was written, directed and performed by trans and queer women. Or Moonlight, a new film about growing up gay and black in America and adapted from a play written by gay American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Or Margarita with a Straw, a beautiful Indian film about a romance between two bisexual characters who both happen to have disabilities.
There’s even been a rise of the queer gaming scene.
Thanks to the internet and social media, creating and sharing our stories is now easier and more accessible than ever, and we have to continue to harvest that resource in the new year.
We’re a global movement.
Let’s face it: in much of the world, being trans or in a same-gender relationship is not easy, and in some cases, it’s quite dangerous.
Still, perhaps because of our visibility, we’re increasingly seeing both legislative and cultural victories for our community. Since 2012, Korean media gave us the first lesbian kiss in a K-Drama, the United Nations appointed its first expert to monitor global LGBTQ rights and abuses, activists in Latin America succeeded in advocating for some of the most progressive gender identity laws in the world. At the same time, Taiwan is poised to be the first country in Asia to legalize same-gender marriage.
And while there has been a backlash to this progress, we’ve also seen increasingly global efforts to promote LGBTQ stories, speak out against injustice, and protect the rights of sexual and gender minorities in countries around the world.
We’re getting intersectional.
Did you know that the Black Lives Matter movement was started by three women of color, two of whom identify as queer? As co-founder Opal Tometi states, “We live intersectional lives and so I think that this movement has to reflect that. All of who we are, all of our dignity, and all of our brilliance.”
In other words, we can’t separate out our identities and expect to make any kind of change happen in our world. The LGBTQ rights movement is realizing that an injustice for one is an injustice for all and we’ve begun partnering with disability justice, immigrant rights, and other racial justice efforts. Because of that, we’re seeing more allies of all stripes in our corner, speaking out against discrimination, violence, and injustice in queer and trans communities.
We’re more powerful than we realize.
In 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2 — HB2 or the so-called “Bathroom Bill” — which legalized discrimination against a wide range of people and made it illegal for trans people to use the restroom that matches their identity. The bill has been devastating to many, but it caused such an uproar that ending this kind of discrimination became the cornerstone of gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper’s campaign as he challenged (and won against) McCrory last November.
The thing is, our voices matter, and as more allies join with us to speak out against injustice, we’re making change happen together, from corporate America to a small town in South Carolina.
We still have a long way to go, and for each step forward, we’ll get pushed half a step back. But as we continue to follow in our advocate-ancestors’ footsteps, speaking out, telling our stories, and working intersectionally, we’ll continue to bend the arc of time toward justice for LGBTQ people this year and beyond.