June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Since we’re nearing the end of the month, and since we’re approaching the high season of summer LGBTQ+ Pride festivals, we might as well take stock in America’s recent progress… And in what we still need in order to have more confidence in the state of our equality.
WARNING: While there’s plenty to celebrate during LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we won’t be giving an honest assessment of the current state of LGBTQ+ Pride in America if we don’t address hate crimes, suicide, and other continuing threats against queer Americans. Reader discretion is advised.
First, a brief(-ish) summary of what the U.S. Supreme Court did last week
Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia. So what happened, and what does this mean for LGBTQ+ civil rights? The foster care agency had a contract with the City of Philadelphia, but the city terminated the contract in 2018 because the agency refused to comply with the city’s LGBTQ+ civil rights law by allowing LGBTQ+ foster parents to participate in their programs that operate on city tax dollars. The agency sued, and the case landed at the Supreme Court last fall.
Chief Justice John Roberts was willing to craft a relatively narrow ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that wouldn’t completely overturn last year’s landmark Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, ruling that for the first time recognized LGBTQ+ workers’ rights nationally, as well as the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith ruling that generally establishes the current parameters on how public tax dollars should interact with private religious activities. Seeing that the Republican-appointed Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh are already on record opposing the majority opinion in Bostock, and that Justices Thomas, Alito, and Neil Gorsuch indicated in this case that they want to overturn Smith, the Democratic-appointed Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan opted for Roberts’ ruling that essentially tells Philadelphia that the city can’t deny Catholic Social Services city contracts because of their “religious beliefs”.
Why did all three liberal justices side against Philadelphia in Fulton? Presumably because they viewed Chief Justice Roberts' approach as the least bad option. Roberts' opinion provides the narrowest grounds to rule against Philadelphia, which six justices were sure to do anyway.
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) June 17, 2021
Just to put a bow on this, look at Alito's concurrence (I haven't read it yet, cause it's 77 goddamn pages).
That's what Breyer, Soto, and Kagan were looking at if they didn't take Roberts's unanimous "deal."
— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) June 17, 2021
Ultimately Justices Roberts, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett issued the majority opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that admonishes the city for not exercising an exemption clause in its nondiscrimination law in order for Catholic Social Services to continue receiving city funding for its foster care programs without changing its stance on LGBTQ+ foster parents. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented, but only because they wanted a far broader ruling that would have allowed for more religious entities to receive public tax dollars without adhering to all federal, state, and local civil rights laws.
So how does this affect us? Basically, it’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado all over again. While that 2018 ruling and last week’s ruling don’t necessarily roll back the overall landscape of LGBTQ+ civil rights, they do remind us of how precarious our legal situation still is in this country.
So where do we stand?
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling against the criminalization of LGBTQ+ relationships, their 2013 Windsor v. United States and 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision on marriage equality, and last year’s Bostock ruling on workplace discrimination, we have some kind of national baseline on LGBTQ+ civil rights. But due to the Court’s 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, along with the above mentioned Masterpiece and Fulton decisions, we’re still looking at a muddled national legal landscape with open questions on how broad these “religious exemptions” will become in the future.
Because federal LGBTQ+ civil rights law is mostly being determined on a piecemeal basis in the courts, state and local civil rights laws remain highly determinative of what we can expect in our everyday lives. Fortunately for LGBTQ+ Nevadans, our state is one of 22 (plus D.C.) that broadly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenitity/expression. Yet while most of our fellow western states have also recently enacted and/or strengthened their own LGBTQ+ civil rights laws, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are among the 20 states with no LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws on the books.
In March, the U.S. House passed the Equality Act (H.R. 5) to expressly expand federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans. But like most other House-passed bills, the Equality Act remains stuck in the U.S. Senate. As we’ve been discussing since February, the Senate’s filibuster rules maintain a stranglehold on Congress’ ability to legislate beyond the narrow scope of spending bills that qualify under budget reconciliation procedure. Like nearly every other bill that Congressional Democratic leaders claim as a “priority”, the Equality Act remains stalled in the Senate where a handful of “moderates” claim “negotiations are happening”, while Republican leaders insist that a floor vote on any version of the Equality Act will not happen so long as they continue to have the power (through the current filibuster rules) to influence the floor agenda.
Why does any of this matter?
In recent years, major companies have come around to treat LGBTQ+ Pride Month as just another holiday marketing opportunity a la Valentine’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and the winter holiday season. As flattering as it might feel for these multinational and multi-billion-dollar corporations to court us and our wallets, we shouldn’t forget the reason why we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride in the first place: We’re still fighting for our community’s liberation.
After all, we shouldn’t forget that within many of our lifetimes, many of the same companies that now paint rainbow banners all over their storefronts (both physical and virtual) used to shy away from even recognizing the legitimacy of our existence out of fear of “tarnishing the family-friendly image”. Even now, some of these same companies continue to donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, enact their own discriminatory policies, and do business with anti-LGBTQ+ “content creators”.
Even as we’ve made progress on protecting LGBTQ+ youth, The Trevor Project’s 2020 LGBTQ+ Mental Health Survey revealed that 48% of LGBTQ+ youth engaged in self-harming activities in the past 12 months, 46% sought mental health resources but were denied, 40% have considered attempting suicide, 33% have experienced physical threats and/or violence, 29% have experienced homelessness, and 61% of transgender and nonbinary youth have been challenged over their attempts to simply use a restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
In case anyone still wonders why transphobic “bathroom bills” and efforts to ban trans youth from school sports are “such a big deal”, now you know. (And no, these efforts to mandate bigotry in school sports have no legitimate scientific justification.) Far-right politicians might view such bigoted legislation as easy ways to score political points. But for people in our queer communities, this may really make the difference between life and death.
Finally, we need to recognize that the only way to ensure LGBTQ+ Pride Month can be celebrated by our entire community is for us to recognize, accept, and celebrate our entire community.
Last weekend marked the first time in U.S. history when we officially celebrated Juneteenth as a national holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the day when a group of enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned that slavery was over and they were legally free – June 19, 1865. This final move to enact the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation in Texas was then marked by community leaders and historians as the end of legally sanctioned chattel slavery in America.
For Black and Brown LGBTQ+ Americans, they have to confront heightened levels of institutionalized discrimination. Sadly, some of the systemic racism emanates from the white cisgender gay cliques who have traditionally held the most power within our community. We’ve even witnessed attempts to whitewash the 1969 Stonewall Protests where Black and Brown and trans civil rights activists led the way, and we still see certain white cis gay “influencers” condemn efforts to become more inclusive, such as updating LGBTQ+ Pride Flags.
It was brought to my attention by @ReadySetFire123 that there is a version of the Philadelphia Pride flag that also incorporates the trans flag and honestly, it looks like the national flag of a country and I love that.
(Daniel Quasar designed this version.) pic.twitter.com/o5G5EX1wdq
— ✊🏾Vita is not here, leave a message🇵🇷🏳️🌈 (@definitelyvita) June 1, 2020
In summary, we have experienced major progress in the past 50+ years: The fact that we’re openly discussing our queer lives on the open internet shows how we’ve matured and become more accepting as a society. However, this progress hasn’t always been equal, equitable, timely, or secure. There’s plenty more work to do, and we should see the rest of this LGBTQ+ Pride Month as an opportunity to work towards building that more just, equitable, and accepting open society.
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. For LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
The cover photo was taken by me.