In three years, LGBT Americans have gone from triumph to backlash
The movement for LGBT rights has made stunning progress in recent years. But the latest results of an ongoing poll commissioned by the gay rights organization GLAAD, which is releasing the results at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, suggests that just because change has come swiftly doesn’t mean it’s durable. For the first time since the survey began in 2014, non-LGBT Americans told pollsters that they’re less comfortable with their LGBT neighbors.
And the number of LGBT survey respondents who told pollsters that they’d experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity jumped by 11 points.
“My first reaction to this was that there’s an unseen casualty of a tumultuous year,” said John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, which conducts the study. Gerzema says the results suggest that Americans are taking advantage of an environment in which it has become more permissible to express discomfort with marginalized groups, even as people don’t want to be thought of as bigots.
The number of non-LGBT Americans who gave what Gerzema called “the PC response,” telling pollsters that they support equal rights for LGBT people, held steady at 79 percent. But the number of respondents who said they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable having LGBT members of their faith communities, learning that a family member was LGBT,
having their child taught by an LGBT teacher or study LGBT history in school, finding out that their doctor was LGBT, or even seeing same-sex couples holding hands all ticked upward. “When it comes to walking the walk of LGBTQ acceptance,” Gerzema warned, “it seems like Americans are pulling back.”
President Trump’s most venomous public statements haven’t targeted LGBT Americans. But his policies have, from his selection of Mike Pence as his running mate and Neil Gorsuch as his first Supreme Court nominee to his attempts to ban transgender people from the military. The rollback of LGBT rights may be quiet, but it’s still consequential. Even the White House’s silence on gay rights — in 2017,
Trump declined to continue President Barack Obama’s tradition of recognizing June as National LGBT Pride Month — can matter, especially when it means failing to respond to rising homophobia and anti-LGBT violence in countries such as Chechnya, Egypt and Indonesia.
Yet facing off against procedural changes when other Americans have to contend with the president’s undisguised animosity “is actually more of a challenge for us, because it keeps it out of the headlines more so than immigration,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
Ellis pointed to the fact that LGBT people and issues made up just 2 percent of the coverage of the 2016 presidential election: “We’ve been erased from news media coverage because its turned into Trump TV 24/7.”
In response, GLAAD is trying to find a way to tell stories that the media can’t find bandwidth for. The organization is working on expanding a documentary short about transgender service members into a feature. Ellis hopes to find more opportunities for GLAAD to fund new projects. Philanthropist Ari Getty is supporting some of that work via a $15 million grant to GLAAD that she sees as an investment in the future for her children,
August and Natalia, both of whom are LGBT, and their friends. She hopes in particular that storytelling can focus as much on the achievements of LGBT youth as on their struggles.
The results also raise challenging questions about one of the LGBT movement’s long-term strategies. Part of the argument for individual LGBT people to come out, and for the power of television shows such as “Will & Grace” and “Glee,” is the idea that familiarity breeds acceptance.
It’s easier, the theory goes, to reject a hypothetical gay person than your own child. And even if some Americans don’t personally know anyone gay or transgender, pop culture gives them plenty of surrogate sassy gay friends and sympathetic bullied gay kids.
But now, Gerzema noted, 80 percent of non-LGBT Americans say they know someone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 20 percent of Americans know someone transgender. If they know LGBT people and are getting less comfortable with them anyway, we may have reached the end of exposure therapy as a political tactic.
It’s not a revelation that progress isn’t always permanent. The Supreme Court struck down elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, and efforts ranging from voter ID laws to attempted purges of voter rolls have made it harder for many Americans to cast their ballots.
The Americans who integrated city buses, public schools and lunch counters are held up as heroes even as the country has become increasingly segregated once again.
But these reversals represent slow declines after major victories. This rising discomfort with LGBT Americans comes just eight years after Obama signed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that kept members of the military closeted and a mere 2½ years after a Supreme Court ruling made marriage equality the law of the land.
Gay rights seemed to arrive quickly, but the GLAAD survey results remind us not to become complacent. A 2015 GLAAD study found that 50 percent of Americans “said that we were done, that we had achieved full rights and acceptance,” even as “in 29 states, you can still be fired for being LGBT,”
Ellis said. “To have a big victory like marriage equality is amazing, but after you celebrate for a day, you have to get back to work and fight to make sure that we have full equality and that we’re fully protected. But the real protection comes from acceptance. You can’t legislate acceptance. People discriminate.”
Stigma Against Gay People Can Be Deadly
I’ve never been sure what to expect when meeting someone who’s just tried to take his own life. But I’ve learned to stop expecting anything. Sometimes, the person in front of me barely speaks, staring right through me, lost in a deep catatonic depression. Sometimes he or she can’t stop talking, breathlessly describing what happened as if we’re gossiping at brunch after an hour of SoulCycle. Yesterday, my patient, a 20-something graduate student, swallowed a jumble of unmarked pills, hoping to die, after his father told him never to come home again. Today, he greeted me with a soft smile, his delirium starting to clear, his heart beating normally again.“Whoops,” he said.
He’d been a happy kid who aimed to please. He once felt so bad for lying about having done his homework before playing video games, he told me, that he’d grounded himself. Sociable but square, he didn’t drink until he was 21, even though he’d gone to a college with a reputation for partying. Deeply religious, he was gay but desperately wanted not to be.
Now his father’s disavowal pushed him over the edge, capping a string of stigmatizing experiences at home, at school and at church. He’d had enough..
For decades, we’ve known that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals experience a range of social, economic and health disparities — often the result of a culture and of laws and policies that treat them as lesser human beings. They’re more likely to struggle with poverty and social isolation. .
They have a higher risk of mental health problems, substance use and smoking. Sexual minorities live, on average, shorter lives than heterosexuals, and L.G.B.T. youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide, and nearly five times as likely to attempt suicide.
Some of these disparities have interpersonal roots: social exclusion, harassment, internalized homophobia. But often they stem from an explicit denial of rights: same-sex marriage bans, employment discrimination, denial of federal benefits. Discrimination in any form can have serious health consequences: Sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of prejudice die more than a decade earlier than those in less prejudiced communities.
But civil rights advances and growing public acceptance of L.G.B.T. individuals in recent years are among the more transformative social changes in modern American history. And evidence increasingly suggests this shift has measurably improved health care access and health outcomes for L.G.B.T. populations.
The halting, patchwork nature of L.G.B.T. rights expansions across the country has allowed researchers to study the effects on health and well-being by comparing states that expanded rights to those that failed to introduce protections, or actively curtailed them.
Since Vermont became the first state to formally recognize same-sex partnerships in 2000, many other states either legalized same-sex marriage, or conversely, passed constitutional amendments banning it — until the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges required all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriage.
After Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, mental health visits dropped significantly for gay men across the state. Other states that followed suit saw a 7 percent reduction in suicide attempts among L.G.B.T. adolescents. Nationwide, legalization of same-sex marriage is linked to increases in the likelihood that gay men have health insurance and a regular doctor to see.
By contrast, in states that passed same-sex marriage bans in 2004 and 2006, L.G.B.T. individuals experienced a marked rise in mental health problems, including anxiety, alcohol use and mood disorders. (No such increase was found in neighboring states that did not pass bans.)
Sometimes health happens in the hospital room. Sometimes it happens in a courtroom.
But it’s more than just marriage. L.G.B.T. individuals who live in states where it’s legal for businesses to deny people service based on their sexual orientation have a higher risk for mental health problems. One study found a 46 percent increase in the proportion of sexual minorities reporting depression, anxiety and other emotional problems in states that passed denial-of-service laws. Again, no increase was observed in states without these laws.
But there’s reason to believe progress in L.G.B.T. health may be imperiled by a political and social environment that is growing less friendly toward sexual minorities. More states are trying to pass “religious liberty” laws that allow for discrimination based on gender and sexual identity. Several federal health surveys will no longer include questions about sexual orientation, making it more difficult for researchers to study disparities.
And the Trump administration recently established a new division in the Department of Health and Human Services to defend health professionals who refuse to provide care to people or in situations that conflict with their personal beliefs, which could include the right to treat L.G.B.T. individuals.
(L.G.B.T. patients already face discrimination at concerning rates: Nearly 10 percent of gays and lesbians — and 30 percent of transgender individuals — say they’ve been refused care because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.)
I think of my young patient in the hospital bed who had attempted to kill himself. I remember the pain that remained even as the toxins he ingested left his body. And I worry that a new wave of anti-L.G.B.T. rhetoric and policy will mean that he — and people who love like him — will end up feeling more stigmatized, in poorer health, or no longer with us at all.
Europe sees jump in violent homophobic attacks
France has seen a rise in homophobic physical attacks for the second consecutive year, a new report reveals with a gay rights charity saying it shows prejudice against the LGBT community is becoming "anchored" in French society.
The new report doesn't make for happy reading. The number of physical attacks due to homophobia jumped from 121 in 2016 up to 139 in 2017, according to the annual report by French gay rights charity SOS Homophobie. After several years of declining physical assaults, the figure jumped by 15 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the report.
On 11 November 2016, Marin, then a third-year university student studying law and political science, came to the defence of a gay couple who were being attacked by a gang of youths after kissing at a bus stop. Marin's alleged aggressor, a minor at the time of the incident, attacked him from behind, repeatedly clubbing him over the head with a crutch that left him with a coma.
Overall, SOS Homophobie collected 1,650 testimonials of homophobic acts, representing an overall increase of 4.8 percent on the figures from 2016 (1,575). The most frequently reported acts of homophobia were people openly showing their disapproval of homosexuality insults followed by discrimination, harassment and threats and blackmail.
Gay Life in Berlin Is Starting to Echo a Darker Era
BERLIN—The fetish cruising bar Bull is a place of pilgrimage in Berlin for more than one reason. To patrons, it is a 24-hour safe space that caters to every palate. To the British historian Brendan Nash, it is a symbol of “Babylon Berlin,” a golden decade of LGBT freedom in the city in the 1920s, when the bisexual Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich mixed with prostitutes and transgender dance-hall girls.
“There’s been a gay bar of some kind at this address for more than 100 years,” Nash, an energetic 54-year-old, explained to a walking tour he was leading as he gestured enthusiastically at a neon sign outside, which featured cattle with large nose rings. Chuckling, he told the group that an elderly woman nonchalantly wanders through Bull with a sandwich cart at 5 a.m. in case anyone is hungry.
“There is nothing that she has not seen,” he said. Germany has long been lauded for its liberal attitude toward sex. It recently passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, and just became the first European country to legalize a third gender. But LGBT-rights groups have warned of a parallel rise of violent homophobia in mainstream politics.
Since the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party stormed into the Bundestag last year, its politicians have called for homosexuals to be imprisoned, vowed to repeal gay marriage, and denounced those suffering from HIV. Such attacks not only symbolize yet another seismic, global shift to the right. They are also reminders of Germany’s fascist past and, rights groups worry, signs of dangerous future clamp-downs on vulnerable minorities.
Berlin is a powerfully queer place—gay culture, politics, activism, clubs, and sex reverberate through the city. Crowds here dance under confetti rain at annual Christopher Street Day, or gay pride, parades. A fierce campaign is under way to protect intersex children from surgery, and antiracism protesters regularly drown out far-right rallies.
But “Germany is not the shiny, progressive country it wishes to be portrayed as,” says Katrin Hugendubel, the advocacy director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe), which represents more than 1,000 LGBT organizations. In 1918, when Bull’s predecessor first opened, Weimar-era Germany was embarking on a scandalous decade.
Gay communities in New York, Paris, and London faced the threat of imprisonment, financial ruin, murder, or even execution. Berlin’s reputation for wild immorality and its unusually liberal law enforcement, by contrast, helped turn the city into Europe’s undisputed gay mecca.
By the 1920s, Berlin was home to an estimated 85,000 lesbians, a thriving gay-media scene, and around 100 LGBT bars and clubs, where artists and writers mixed with cross-dressing call girls who supposedly inspired the Some Like It Hot director Billy Wilder. Magnus Hirschfeld’s revolutionary Institute for Sexual Science openly lobbied for the decriminalization of homosexuality and helped transgender men apply with government agencies to live legally under their new gender.
Audiences, straight and gay, queued up at Eldorado, a Jewish-owned nightclub where trans women and drag queens performed and gave paid dances to visitors. There, patrons watched the drug-addled, bisexual Anita Berber star in naked dances named after narcotics.
In 1929, the British writer Christopher Isherwood, whose pivotal years in Berlin were brought to life in the film Cabaret, wrote in his diary: “I’m looking for my homeland and I have come to find out if this is it.”
The British Media are still guilty of the same homophobia
Today marks 50 years since the first major gay rights reform in British history. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 decreed that, in England and Wales, it would no longer be illegal for two men over the age of 21 to have sex behind closed doors.
The intervening years have seen vast changes in the legal rights and cultural visibility of LGBT people in the UK, to the point that it might now seem like the British LGBT community is on an unstoppable ascent to acceptance and equality. Yet in the last year, there has been a rising tide of anti-LGBT sentiment.
History has shown that conservative attitudes towards sexuality and gender tend to flare up during periods of social and political uncertainty. Post-World War II, for example, there was a spike in arrests for homosexuality. It is no different now: following the 2016 EU referendum vote, homophobic hate crimes rose by 147%.
The media plays a central role in shaping public opinion: offering partial, selective and ideologically-loaded access points to the world beyond our everyday experiences. For many heterosexual people, it is through the media that they encounter LGBT identities. This is why media representation has been, and remains, such an important issue in the struggle for LGBT rights.
Whether national treasure or person on the street, in recent years these representations have become increasingly negative. In May this year, the Daily Express put the word “marry” in inverted commas when tweeting about the openly gay, Olympic medal-winning diver Tom Daley. The grammar breathed new life into the old, homophobic idea that “real” marriage can only take place between heterosexuals.
This was not an isolated incident, but the tip of a growing iceberg of thinly veiled homophobia since the EU referendum. The right-wing press in Britain has a well-deserved reputation for homophobia. In 1986, for example, The Sun “discovered” that a teachers’ resource library in the London borough of Islington held a copy of a children’s book called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin about a young girl and her two gay dads.
The paper branded the book “vile”, “perverted”, and a direct threat to the children of Britain. This homophobia did not spring out of nowhere, but was part of a joint effort, in the run up to the 1987 election, between the right-wing media and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to paint Labour as the “loony left”, who were apparently prioritising the needs of minority groups over “normal” – white, heterosexual – families.
Homophobia was central to this strategy, and throughout the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980s the press persistently associated gay people with danger, contagion and death.
Amid the current government’s drastic programme of austerity, and under the newer shadow of economic uncertainty posed by Brexit, the right-wing press has begun to repackage these old homophobic myths. Faced with increasing financial cuts, last year the NHS decided that it would not fund the newly developed HIV prevention medication Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
In clinical trials, PrEP has been shown to dramatically reduce rates of HIV transmission among gay men, and is publicly funded in France and Belgium. When the NHS’s decision was contested in the High Court by the National Aids Trust, the Daily Mail, MailOnline and The Sun were quick to denounce PrEP as a waste of scarce public resources – ignoring the fact that studies have found it is cheaper to prevent HIV than to treat it.
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