More than just marriage

A guide to covering other issues that affect the LGBT community

There’s been a diversity of gay news this month covered in the major media, from the rash of NYC hate crimes against gay men, to the story about a Texas lesbian couple forced apart because of a morality clause in one of the partner’s divorce papers, to yesterday’s Boy Scout vote to allow gay youths membership. But too often, the LGBT community is covered as if only one thing matters to them: marriage.

Gay marriage is, of course, vitally important for the gay community for a host of reasons, and the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Prop 8 and part of the Defense of Marriage Act understandably makes marriage a focus. But there are other issues that the community cares deeply about, and as reporters look around for stories, these are just five that are worth following.

1. Immigration. Yes, it was upsetting to LGBT leadership and media that the provision to extend citizenship to the foreign spouses of legally married gay Americans was dropped from the omnibus immigration bill. But there are other concerns LGBTs have, many of which are addressed by the bill.

Bil Browning at the Bilerico Projects points out that there are about 267,000 undocumented immigrants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Like other immigrants without papers, any of them “are often too fearful to report bias crimes, discrimination, wage theft, employer abuse or blackmail and are routinely too afraid to seek medical care for fear of deportation,” Browning writes. A good source for the LGBT take on immigration is the organization Immigration Equality.

2. International gay and transgender rights. Most American LGBTs care deeply about international human rights and how they affect gay and transgender people. This month, in the country of Georgia, 20,000 people attacked a small number of gay rights protesters, 14 of whom were sent to the hospital. In Uganda, the “Kill the Gays” bill, which would put to death anyone accuesed of “aggravated homosexuality,” was put back before the country’s Parliament. In South Africa, there has been a recent spate of “corrective rape” of lesbians. For more information about these and other stories, visit the website for the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

3. Transgender rights. Transgender rights are often forgotten in the rush to praise marriage equality, writes Emily Greenhouse in The New Yorker. As she says:

“No federal law offers protection to transgender people from discrimination in the workplace; the population sees double the usual rate of unemployment, and ninety per cent of transgender individuals report harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work. The great majority of states do not assure access to public accommodations, including hospitals, for transgender people. In 2011, the largest-ever study of transgender Americans showed that nineteen per cent of transgender or gender-nonconforming people had been denied health care. Similar rates have been refused a home or apartment because of their gender identity.”

Transgender people are at great risk of discrimination and harassment — if the government won’t help keep them safe, the press should help by speaking up. A good resource is The National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center.

4. Discrimination. From the military, which leaves its LGBT service members open to harassment and discrimination, since they are not explicitly protected, to Carla Hale, who was fired for being gay after 19 years at a Catholic high school in Ohio, lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals can be legally discriminated against in employment and public accommodations like restaurants and hotels in 29 states, and transgender people in 34 states. Here are two good primers on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently before Congress.

5. Healthcare and medical issues. An outbreak of bacterial meningitis seems to be mostly killing gay men, which makes communities wonder if this will be similar to the AIDS crisis. Gay men can’t give blood, though this ban has been partly lifted in Canada. Many transgender people can’t afford the surgery that would help their bodies align with their inborn gender identities. Sixty-three percent of new HIV infections in the US are from men who have sex with other men. Lesbians can struggle to find doctors who are knowledgeable about their health issues. And, until there’s marriage equality, gay people can’t be on their spouse’s health insurance, which means many families can’t afford full health care coverage. Family Equality has a great resource helping LGBTs figure out what will change - and what won’t - when the Affordable Care Act kicks into gear.

There are, of course, many other issues — being a gay or transgender person in the prison system or while homeless or while a student in an unfriendly school; the indignities of gender testing or the hazards of coming out for LGBT athletes; the struggles of LGBTs who are religious or part of a more conservative ethnic community. The gay press (like The Washington Blade, The Wisconsin Gazette, the Dallas Voice, the Bay Area Reporter, and The Advocate) runs many, many of these stories — the mainstream press often does not. But they should — because there’s a lot more to the LGBT community than marriage.

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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years. Tags: , , , ,