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    Juggling the Gay (LGBTQQI) Agenda


    With the recent victory in the Supreme Court for marriage equality, many are taking a moment to assess where we are as a community and where we want to go. What is next on the Gay Agenda?

    Even with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, there is much remaining—LGBT immigration rights, employment non-discrimination, welcoming schools, the elimination of HIV and AIDS, transgender rights, LGBT youth homelessness, and senior health and welfare issues, to name a few.

    Declaring what is next is hard, since one person or group’s priorities are not necessarily another’s. We are not a homogenous community. We are all ages, all races and ethnicities, all over the world. Each of us has our own priorities based on who we are and where we live. A gay man living in Iran, a transgender woman of color in San Francisco, a young man with HIV in Salt Lake City, and a lesbian couple in rural Iowa would answer the question of “what’s next” differently.

    One of the challenges of LGBT organizations that represent our diverse community is prioritizing policy and resources. That is why at the national level, Human Rights Campaign, and at the state level, Equality California, have a real challenge juggling these competing needs. It is also why lawmakers look to them, as representatives of our community, to help set the community’s legislative priorities and agenda. Frankly, it is easier for them to hear from a single voice than to sort out the chorus of other, more narrowly focused groups. That can be frustrating for those smaller organizations, especially when the larger organizations don’t take on your issue, or take it on when it is hot and they can raise money off of it.

    I myself felt that frustration when HRC prioritized ENDA over marriage equality and DADT repeal in 2008–2009. It wasn’t until it was clear a trans-inclusive ENDA bill would not pass anytime soon that HRC finally turned to DADT repeal and put legitimate resources toward it. Both are needed to get there—the large umbrella LGBT organizations with significant reach, resources and access, as well as the issue-focused campaigns that have the experience, grassroots networks and personal stories to highlight the inequities.

    As a result of these competing forces, the answer to the question of “what is next” can be different from “what should be next.” So I offer my perspective not as a prognosticator on what will happen, but where I think we as a community should focus, and how.

    I was very inspired by this year’s SF Pride theme, “Equality without Exception.” I think it is a great visionary statement. It means we don’t leave our trans brothers and sisters behind. It means we don’t leave members of our community overseas facing persecution, discrimination and even jail or death behind, and it means we don’t leave those in communities of color behind. Racism comes from the same roots of hate as homophobia, and the solutions are inextricably intertwined. You can’t work on one community’s needs in isolation. We need to work together, and collaborate as a powerful united force to fight for truly Equality Without Exception. Urvashi Vaid wrote a very powerful essay in The Nation in 2013 following the Windsor SCOTUS decision that still holds very true today.

    In the essay, Urvashi writes that we as a community have been very focused on formal legal gay/lesbian equality, and that litigation and legislation continue to be important areas to address to carve out our legal rights. However, this alone does not address the economic, racial and gender-based inequities affecting transgender people, people of color, women, low-income LGBT folks and others in our community. We need to address these through programs that go beyond just the white, American, LGB community. We do this by allocating resources, both government and non-profit, toward building economic and racial justice. As Urvashi points out in her Nation essay, immigrant rights and trans organizing provide solutions for how to address the interaction of sexuality, gender, race and poverty.

    There are three areas I believe can create the greatest change for both our community and for “big E” Equality— Equality without Exception. These are not at the exclusion of other important needs, but I believe these three cross so many policy areas that they can make a difference across the board for many people.

    Transgender equality Too many of our victories—DADT repeal, marriage, and state non-discrimination laws, to name a few—don’t help our transgender brothers and sisters, yet they have been there on the front lines fighting for these milestones for the LGB community. We can’t fool ourselves into believing Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox are going to single-handedly change opinions, culture, policies and laws that harm the transgender community every day. Hate crimes continue at an alarming pace, especially attacks against transgender women of color. Whether it is housing, healthcare, identity papers, immigration or a host of other issues that impact the community, there is much work that is needed to ensure LGBT truly includes the T. We must allocate attention and resources to ensure safety, health, opportunity and dignity for all.

    Immigration Marriage equality does not solve our LGBT immigration inequalities. Comprehensive immigration reform is something desperately needed in the United States, and is an opportunity for the LGBT community to build coalitions with our allies in the Latino and Asian communities, as well as other international organizations. Although we have not achieved equality here in the United States, we have it better than many other countries, and can provide asylum and opportunity for those who fear for their well-being, physically or economically.

    Employment We will not achieve equality without the opportunity to earn a living. Here in San Francisco we can watch 8,000 Apple employees march in our Pride Parade, or the dozens of other employers celebrate Pride, and be lulled into a false sense of embrace by corporate America. The truth is that many Americans are not employed by large businesses—over half are employed by businesses with less than 500 employees. Eighteen states have no state-level protection for LGBT employees, and the remaining states are a patchwork of protections for sexual orientation, but not gender identity, or for state workers but no one else or a handful that do offer full protection from discrimination. This issue hits the transgender community particularly hard. We need to continue chipping away at state and local laws until we get a fully inclusive ENDA (without religious exemptions) passed by Congress.

    This leads to my conclusion—we have to get even more involved politically. As I’ve written before, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu. We have to identify, promote and vote for candidates that support equality without exception, and that will vote to pass ENDA and other state and local protections.

    No election is more critical than the next Presidential election. As we have witnessed with the SCOTUS marriage decision, the justices we have on the Supreme Court (and Circuit and District courts) greatly affect our opportunity for full equality. Not one of the declared Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential election is supportive of LGBT equality. That is why it is crucial for us, and for women and every minority group, to work hard to ensure a Democrat serves in the White House. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley would likely appoint judges that are more liberal on our issues.

    I am supporting Hillary Clinton because she is the most qualified and experienced, understands the rough and tumble of DC politics, and brings a much-needed woman’s perspective to the conversation. She also has the fundraising capability to run a very strong general election campaign against the GOP war chest, which is important. Voting for a Democratic nominee that makes us feel good, but can’t defeat the Republican opponent, does us no good. For these reasons, I believe in my heart that one of our community’s priorities should be getting Hillary elected in 2016.

    What are your priorities? Where can we build coalitions? How can you get involved? I hope you will ask yourself these questions. With marriage equality achieved, now is not the time to rest on our success. We need all hands on deck. I hope you will join the fight for Equality Without Exception.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as a San Francisco Library Commissioner, and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.