Allan Acevedo | Political Spectrum
It was heart warming to see so many of my friends, gay and straight, change their Facebook profile to the red and pink Human Rights Campaign logo.
The social media solidarity that was established this week underscores how salient of an issue this campaign for full marriage equality has become. We must remember that much like the wedding rings we are aspiring to call our own, marriage is a symbol.
It is an aspirational right, yet there are also so many more tangible and pressing needs that are not being met for the LGBT community. The media has been inundated with stories of the woman challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, sued the U.S. government in part because she did not believe she should have to pay $363,000 in federal taxes after the death of her wife.
Windsor’s case is unique in that it involves well over a quarter million dollars in taxes she would not otherwise have to pay if her same-sex marriage were legal under federal law. It is telling that this is the case that may bring down DOMA, as it involves more money than most same-sex couples may ever see in their lives.
The fight for marriage equality, while significant, is incomplete if we do not recognize it as a piece of a much larger puzzle for equality. We must continue to look for places where LGBT Americans are treated unequally, whether through the institutional oppressions such as marriage rights or through a culture we promote that continues to ignore the needs of the LGBT community, such as the needs of homeless LGBT youth.
A study conducted by the web-based LGBT Homeless Youth Provider survey – a collaboration between The Palette Fund, True Colors Fund and the Williams Institute – found that 40 percent of LGBT youth are homeless. The study indicated that LGBT youth make up no more than 10 percent of the population, so making up 40 percent of the homeless youth population should be striking to anyone. They are disproportionately represented among youth, without access to shelter and food.
The study found 68 percent of respondents cited family rejection as a major factor contributing to their homelessness. This is clearly where work needs to be done, and where we must fight to ensure that our LGBT youth are not left in the streets because of the rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Information from Lambda Legal regarding LGBT youth stated that gay youth are four times more likely than their non-gay peers to have attempted suicide. Almost a third had stated they had missed a day of school in the last month through fear of bullying or harassment because of their sexual orientation.
These figures are alarming and impactful to the lives of many more LGBT Americans than how much one has to pay in taxes, yet it is the egalitarian fight for equality that usually gets prioritized.
I am reminded of civil rights leader Anne Moody. Moody wrote her biography “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” describing growing up poor and African-American in the South. She went on to be the first in her family to go to college, where she became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
She fought for voting rights for African-Americans, and subsequently had her life threatened many times. Reading her biography was moving because she talked about a sense of guilt she felt in fighting for voting rights when she realized that there were children going to school hungry and without adequate clothes. Moody recognized the need to get basic needs met for underserved communities before more egalitarian issues could be confronted.
When there is a part of our community that is disproportionately suffering, we must look to see what factors are contributing to that and combat them. Before homeless LGBT youth, who are likely to drop out of high school, can begin to think about marriage, they must have their basic needs met.
This is our community and we must be fighting to protect all of them. Marriage may be the right that we’re fighting for today, but we must remember that there are portions of our community who are poor, young and unable to pursue their education. What are we doing to fight for them?
—Allan Acevedo is co-founder and president emeritus of Stonewall Young Democrats of San Diego. He has worked on multiple political campaigns and served on numerous boards including the San Diego Democratic Club, California Young Democrats, Gay-Straight Alliant Network and Equality California PAC. Follow @allanacevedo on Twitter.