The movement towards full LGBT equality is moving so fast - now we even have The New Normal, a major TV show on NBC about a gay couple trying to start a family, that topped its Tuesday night ratings competition. Then there was the historic Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, last week, wherein marriage equality and other positions supporting LGBT equality were approved in the Party Platform - ironically in a state, North Carolina, that only recently voted to pass a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Now a collaboratively-produced new report by the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, the Movement Advancement Project, National Stonewall Democrats, and the Victory Fund - An Ally's Guide to Issues Facing LGBT Americans - serves as a primer on the unfair laws, burdens and stigma still faced by many LGBT Americans.
But I strongly urge you to check out wonderful North Carolina-based blogger Pam Spaulding's piece at Pam's House Blend at Firedoglake that illustrates what happens in the real world where anti-LGBT discrimination is as natural as the seasons. The Democrats got to leave their convention but with the passage of anti-gay Amendment One, LGBT people in NC are now worse off.
I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with straight allies that reveal just how little they know about the discrimination that still exists against their LGBT neighbors. Much of the high-profile conversations they know about relate to the right to marry, but they are, almost without exception, completely unaware that in 29 states, including North Carolina, where I live, you can be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity....
Many LGBT people experience discrimination when just going about their daily activities-whether eating at a restaurant with their families or friends, trying to obtain safe, clean housing or applying for a loan. Contrary to popular belief, federal legislation does not protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, credit or employment. LGBT people also lack such protections in most states. LGBT workers often cannot extend their health insurance coverage to their partners or children. Without family and marriage tax deductions, LGBT families pay additional taxes but have access to fewer benefits like Social Security survivor benefits. Due to these and myriad other inequalities, LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty and suffer from health disparities.
The bottom line is that in these states, the right to marry one's same-sex partner is not exactly the highest priority in the daily lives of LGBTs if the states have already passed anti-LGBT marriage amendments, and there are no employment protections in state law. Marriage is critical for our civil equality, but it's not going to happen in these states until the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates the marriage bans on the books.
But Pam makes personal the impact of the second class citizenship described in An Ally's Guide to Issues Facing LGBT Americans.
While I work for a private institution that extends employment protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity (and offers same-sex spousal equivalent benefits), my spouse, who works for the state, does not. My recent health crisis - it's likely that I will face spinal surgery in the near future - has brought it home just how cruel a burden this discrimination is to same-sex couples in states that do not recognize their legal marriages (we married in Canada) and therefore do not offer partner benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted. From the report:
"Federal and state laws make it possible for many employees to take time from work to care for a sick spouse, child or parent. Because the relationships of same-sex couples are not recognized by the federal government or by the majority of states, an LGBT employee cannot take job-protected leave from work to care for a same-sex spouse or partner under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A recent clarification of the law by the Department of Labor allows LGBT parents to take job-protected, unpaid time off from work to care for a child even if they are not recognized as the legal parent of that child.
Passage of relationship recognition at the state level and legislation such as the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act would ensure that LGBT couples can make medical decisions and take time off to take care of an ill family member."
That's right - my wife cannot take advantage of FMLA to care for me when I need to convalesce for an extended period of time after a surgery. We are strangers in the eyes of NC law. Many, many allies do not know this discrimination is legal. From NC state FMLA policy:
Spouse - A husband or wife recognized by the State of North Carolina.
Amendment One, passed in May of this year, ensures that our relationship will never be recognized by the state. I, and many people fought mightily to turn this hateful ballot initiative back at the polls, but we failed - and the fallout stains our great state, and now fails me in a time of need.
All of that LGBT celebration in Charlotte was muted here in the trenches of real life.
My state tax dollars fund institutionalized discrimination. The sad irony is that if the roles were reversed, I could take FMLA because my employer has chosen to extend the definition of spouse to include same-sex committed relationships/marriages.
Pam notes that Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin last year introduced a bill that would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act with new language "to permit leave to care for a same-sex spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent who has a serious health condition." And even if President Obama is re-elected and the Senate remains in the hands of Democrats - as long as Republicans retain control of the House and continue to obstruct anything Obama or the Democrats offer - this bill, which has no Republican co-sponsors - may just die on the vine - leaving LGBT people like Pam Spaulding to fend for themselves with their equally dis-empowered partners.
Meanwhile, to deal with the fear and the pent up frustrations, Pam has been writing about her medical condition and the prospect of surgery at her personal blog.