A few years ago, I wrote a Transgender Day of Remembrance post for Bilerico Project which connected the issues of employment rights and hate crimes. With today's economy and political situation being what they are, I think it's time to make that point again, but there's more to it than simply access to gainful employment and therefore economic sustainability. There's also the matter of what we're teaching those who come after us.
LGBT kids who grew up during the visibly and at times aggressively homophobic Bush administration are now reaching adulthood to face the reality that they're not going to be welcome or considered an equal in many places or by many people simply because of who they love or how they present themselves to the world. Unsurprisingly, many don't much like what they see ahead for themselves. Horrifically, too many are choosing not to face that future at all.
When we think of hate crimes, we appropriately think of crimes involving physical violence. Yet, what is the effect on a newly-out young person to know that his or her own government doesn't consider them worthy of picking up a gun and dying for their country, to be considered for a job on the basis of their qualifications, or even marry the person they love - basic civil rights all of their straight peers take for granted? And all for something about themselves which they can't change, even if they might decide they want to.
Is it any wonder we're seeing so many LGBT young people dying, not only from actual violent crimes committed against them, but also by their own hand when confronted with a culture and and a government which perceives them and their dreams for the future as second-class or even as an actual threat to America?
The message we as a nation are sending the next generation of LGBT Americans is that they, their lives, and their dreams are not valued as highly in this country as everyone else's are. Since the election of Barack Obama and strong Democratic majorities in Congress in 2008, that message has been cast in even sharper relief as leaders who are seen as basically progressive politically such as President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership, the people we're supposed to be able to depend on to stand up for us in government, can't even get it together enough come out and say that two loving people who want to share their lives together and have their government recognize that relationship should be able to do so and that LGBT Americans should have the same opportunities for success in our country as all other citizens - no matter what anyone else thinks.
So President Obama finally picked up the phone this week to advocate for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". That's great. Thing is, it's less than a drop in the bucket when compared with not only the agenda he promised to take on going in, but with the ongoing damage which must be undone that is destroying the hopes and dreams of our youth.
It's one thing to make supportive videos promising that things will get better, but it's quite another to put principle ahead of political convenience when it really counts and do what must be done to protect the futures of ourselves and our children, remembering that we are all Americans first and foremost.
I've said it in anger, now I'll say it in earnest: It's time for President Obama and Congress to put up or shut up on LGBT rights. This is no longer about politics or even religious values. Their cowardice and bigotry is costing lives - lives we cannot afford to lose. While there may be no crime in the legal sense being committed here, the negative social and cultural message being sent our youth through our laws and government is unquestionably powered by anti-LGBT hate and undeniably enhanced by the failure of those who claim to be our advocates in government to stand up to it.
When the loss of lives is factored in, those who might perhaps still be alive if their assailants or they themselves hadn't internalized the anti-LGBT hate and bigotry that's still far too much a part of our national culture, with still far too few in positions of power and influence willing to speak out against it much less actually take real and meaningful steps to combat it, it's nothing short of a political hate crime being committed against the American LGBT community as a whole, and against our youth in particular.
It's time for politicians and activists alike to start acting like serious adults when it comes to LGBT rights and to the greater issue of creating an America where every American truly is equal, in life, in law, and in their freedom to reach for their dreams.
This is a lesson adults need to learn from our kids. We're hurting their futures, and by extension, our national future as well. We're telling these kids with one side of our mouths that it gets better, but with the other we're demonstrating clearly that most of us have no interest in doing the hard work necessary to actually make it better - to make sure those encouraging words have the bite of truth, the credibility that comes with words and ideas which mesh with what one sees and hears every day.
We can no longer say we care about all of our kids if we're going continue to allow our legal system to pick and choose which kid's American Dream will be protected and which will be vilified on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We must confront the reality that while we ourselves grew up and came out into a cultural environment that didn't really allow us to expect much than what little we already had, LGBT youth now connect outside of their own communities and social circles in ways that weren't yet even dreamed of when we were their age. They have access to the resources of the Internet to learn more and understand themselves and those around them in ways that just weren't possible for us twenty or thirty years ago.
Today's American youth are better informed, better educated, better protected, and diversity is more accepted in general - and with that comes the consciousness of that much more to lose. Our youth are the harbingers of the change we seek, the change that must happen in this country if we are to offer these kids a future worthy of looking forward to, of a country which truly does value the content of one's character over the color of their skin, their sexuality, their gender identity, or any other equally irrelevant consideration. In the end, it's our youth who will truly usher that American Dream into reality. In the meantime, however, it's up to us as adults, regardless of our own personal social, cultural, and political niches, to start setting a much better example.
If we, as a nation, really want to be able to say we're doing everything possible to protect our youth, we simply have to get this done.