Does USA Still Say No to Same-Sex Marriage and LGBTQ Rights

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One of the most controversial subjects surrounding the new century seems to be the LGBTQ+ movement. On 26 June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. To most people unaffiliated with the LGBTQ+ movement, they may think that this signaled the end of the battle against the legislature, and while same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, this doesn’t mean that the LGBTQ+ movement is over or losing any momentum. LGBTQ+ rights are still lacking in places like the United States, even with the U.S. Supreme Court’s help, and internationally.

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One of the more popular “treatments” to counteract the LGBTQ+ movement was conversion therapy/reparative therapy. Conversion therapy is the “use of a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities” (“About Conversion Therapy”). Possible conversion therapy has been used since the 1920s and European physician Sigmund Freud is mentioned alongside some of the methods. Though he has stated that homosexuality is not a disease, he still used some form of conversion therapy, however, nothing as cruel as electroconvulsive therapy, where the patient is shown images of the same sex and is administered electric shocks as the “treatment” continues, or, like with Alan Turing, a mathematician who helped to solve the Enigma Code and possibly guaranteed a victory for the Allies in World War II, a forced sex change/chemical castration. Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is not a disease or something that can be cured with either prayer or medical treatments. The more laws that prohibit conversion therapy, the easier it will be to accept these differences in preferences without striving for a false cure, and yet, it is still legal in multiple states such as North Carolina and Georgia. Such discrimination and blatant disregard for LGBTQ+ rights have been an issue for centuries, which is why the LGBTQ+ movement will not be losing any of the momentum gained from the start of the Stonewall riots and will continue to strive for equality in search for a better future. When the Stonewall riots occurred in 1969, being a member of the LGBTQ+ was a shameful act and was even used as blackmail against bar patrons who frequented such places that were known to be hangouts for the LGBTQ+. Ever since the 1920s, with methods like conversion therapy, the LGBTQ+ rights movement has been silent, only something to be done behind locked doors and dim lights, but on the night of 28 June 1969, the years of discrimination and disregard for the LGBTQ+ caused bar patrons and protesters to erupt onto the streets of New York City. It is said that the Stonewall riots caused the LGBTQ+ movement to be “phoenix-ed nearly overnight” (Grudo). The fight for LGBTQ+ rights was now a vocal and physical movement and demanded to be heard. The Stonewall riots lasted about six days with multiple arrests and are said to have been led by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who were both transgender women of color, something that was seen as controversial and unacceptable even in the LGBTQ+ at the time. The Stonewall riots symbolized an entire generation becoming unafraid of who they were, about being unapologetically themselves and not stepping back when faced with hatred and disgust, with death threats and harassment, with murder and prejudice. The Stonewall riots symbolized something that society today could benefit from, and it’s standing up to oppressive forces who try to censor the minorities and demanding a change.

In the United States, there are often laws passed that nobody seems to know about, or that don’t seem to be talked about enough for it to be known. One of these laws is the Gay Panic/LGBTQ+ Panic law. According to the LGBT Bar, the LGBTQ+ Panic law is a “legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder” (“LGBTQ+ Panic Defense”). While using the defense strategy does not guarantee a “not-guilty” verdict, it can still be used in a court of law as self-defense or even an insanity plea. This means that the victim’s sexuality or gender identity was a threat to the defendant, or that being propositioned by the victim “triggered a nervous breakdown in the defendant, causing an LGBTQ+ panic” (“LGBTQ+ Panic Defense”). It is banned in at least nine states, but it has also been introduced, yet not passed, in another nine states. LGBTQ+ rights activists have been pushing for the dismemberment of such discriminating laws while also pushing for federal protection against laws making it legal to deny a customer, based solely on their sexuality or gender identity. It is much more difficult for those who identify as transgender to be included in such anti-discriminatory protection laws and is often seen by others as holding back the rest of the community. Even openly gay Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, the first lawmaker to include gender identity as well as sexual orientation in a bill to Congress, later “switched course and introduced another one covering only sexual orientation” (Steinmetz). He argued that it was better to have something, rather than nothing. Neither bills were passed into written law. Several efforts from the Trump administration have proven that the president himself would be hesitant to pass a country-wide ban on state-passed discriminatory laws. While, in 2008, a ban against open service of gays and lesbians in the military was repealed, it would seem that, once again, transgender identifying individuals have been left behind regarding equality. The Trump administration has pushed to reinstate a law to ban transgenders from ever serving in the military. The ban has not yet been passed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean the court is willing to hear the opposition, claiming that being transgender effected “military readiness and effectiveness” (Hennigan). This ban can cause capable and determined transgender service members to be discharged from service because of their gender identity. This completely counteracts Obama’s attempts to make the military all-encompassing. Obama had allowed transgender individuals to serve openly, even offering sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy in military hospitals to allow transgender troops the opportunity to “pass” as their selected gender. The military even “started preparing to enlist openly transgender people” (Hennigan). For a short time in 2016, with Obama as President of the United States, the LGBTQ+ movement finally saw a brief period of equality for every member of their community.

If one were to compare the United States’ discriminatory laws to Russia’s, it would seem that the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. has it relatively easy in terms of social and federal acceptance. In Russia, there is currently a “Gay Propaganda” law that prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors” (Feder). Even just posting an image of a same-sex couple is enough to get your website pulled down. In a case where two Russian LGBTQ+ websites were taken down, a judge ruled that the images were “rejecting family values, promoting non-traditional sexual relations and fostering disrespect for parents and/or other family members” (Knight). In Russia, it is currently illegal to portray same-sex relations as socially acceptable and Russia claims that the Gay Propaganda ban is used to protect the well-being of children, however, the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child claimed that it was a child’s right to the access and spread of information regarding the LGBTQ+. When brought to the European Court of Human Rights, “The ECHR ruled that the ban violates international law, and rejected all the Russian government's justifications for the provision” (Feder). The European Court wrote that the law only reinforced homophobia, stigma, and prejudice associated with the LGBTQ+, saying this was “incompatible with the values – of equality, pluralism and tolerance – of a democratic society” (Feder). The Russian government was fined €49,000 (53,055 U.S. dollars), but Russia adopted a legislature in 2015 stating that the European Court’s rulings “to be ignored when they contradict the Russian Constitution” (Feder). In a semi-recent poll regarding LGBTQ+ rights in Russia, 51% of Russians said they would not want a homosexual neighbor, 16% believed homosexuals should be isolated from society, and 5% even believed that homosexuals “should be physically destroyed” (“LGBT Rights in Russia”). While homosexuality is not illegal, the unchecked homophobia and hate crimes targeted at the LGBTQ+ community does not breed a welcoming society that is willing to change their mind about laws protecting the community, especially when election time rolls around and lawmakers want to stay in office. LGBTQ+ advocates and openly gay public figures in Russia face death threats and hate crimes every day, with LGBTQ+ related hate crimes rising and ethnic-based hate crimes declining. A Russian LGBTQ+ advocate named Yelena Grigoryeva was killed in 2019 after being black-listed by an LGBTQ+ hate group called Saws Against LGBT, but investigators and the police force as a whole did not label her death a hate crime. When Yelena Grigoryeva brought evidence of death threats to the police, she noted that 'there was no reaction.' (“Russian LGBT Supporters Injured”). To make things worse, conversion therapy is only criminalized in two places in Asia. With an oppressive government and hate-based LGBTQ+ groups running rampant in Russia, it is not unimaginable to think of the consequences of being openly gay in Russian society. Though Putin may argue that the LGBTQ+ community is not being unfairly targeted, it is impossible to ignore the same-sex couple forced to flee Russia after having a bounty be put on their lives by the Russian government.

The start of the Stonewall riots is said to have been started for multiple different reasons. Some say it was a brick, others say it was a butch lesbian getting thrown into a police car, but it doesn’t matter how it was started. What matters is the fact that you cannot suppress one’s true identity without consequences. If one was to compare the persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals in Russia compared to the U.S., there would be a pretty obvious contrast between the current legislature and freedom of speech amongst the ones persecuted. This does not mean that the LGBTQ+ movement will be satisfied in the United States or internationally. Seeing as the United States is such a dominating presence, it would make sense that smaller countries would follow in the footsteps of such a developed nation, including discrimination laws and equal rights. If the best the United States can put out is a ban against its very own troops, blaming the victims of a hate crime, and refusing to acknowledge certain branches of the LGBTQ+, then nothing is stopping developing nations from following such discriminatory footsteps. In a world where our actions will always speak louder than words, maybe it’s time we pick up our own brick.

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