Ruling seen as welcome first step, but universal equality remains elusive

Two days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s (or SCOTUS) ruling that transformed equality in America on June 26, I received hate mail from a known prolific, homophobic hate mail writer commenting on an article I’d written about the transgender community. The email I received included links to religious conversion groups promising to help individuals overcome their homosexuality “disease.” This returned me to 2005, in Calgary, when I first came out as a lesbian and the acceptance I sought and fought for from my family, friends and community. Although I wasn’t aware at the time, it was also the year same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.

 Ten years since I first came out, Canada and the United States are in different issue frames regarding public opinion on homosexuality; the largest liberal shift being in favour of the legalization of same-sex marriage. A recent article in The Atlantic suggested there is no denying that marriage equality is a transformative time for human rights and is one of the most successful issue campaigns of the 21st century. But the media and public’s treatment of marriage equality in its aftermath proves there is a long road ahead for equality.

Love wins for all couples regardless of gender. This couple shares the moment six hours after the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality in Washington, D.C.

The media reached the bottom of the rabbit-hole one week after the ruling with its focus on Facebook’s rainbow profile picture experiment, once again directing the attention away from civil rights, like it did mid-June when it exchanged discussion of racial violence after the Charleston, N.C. church shooting for an argument over the use of the Confederate flag. No wonder human rights activists have garnered a less than favourable reputation among the public because they have to be tenacious in order for their voice to be heard in the over-saturated media marketplace.

Even the online surge of disproving Americans hotly proclaiming that they now want to move north to Canada after the SCOTUS ruling displays the lack of education that exists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. Although the rest of the world perceives Canada as a liberal oasis compared to its southern neighbour, both countries have room for reform on social issues, like LGBT rights.

Homosexuality is increasingly more visible and accepted in urban centres, like Washington, D.C., which is its own bubble for a variety of reasons, politically, social and culturally, but acceptance is not absolute. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was passed by a mere 5-4 margin—an outcome that could have easily gone the other way—yet the United States has recognized LGBT rights in the political and legal spheres. This constitutional acceptance sets an example, but equal rights are much more complicated than this.

Gay and lesbian couples are minorities. The United States is only the 25th country and territory to legalize same-sex marriage out of the 196 countries in the world, and this doesn’t stop the conversation about discrimination. As a member of this group, I identify with the struggle, the emotions and the anger at the treatment of LGBT rights after June 26.

I am acutely aware that I am a minority despite the social and cultural transformations on feelings toward homosexuality. The coming out narrative is never fully over because while same-sex relationships are more accepted they are still not considered the norm. The world is a long way from universal recognition of LGBT rights.Colours of the rainbow flag envelope the White House, as President Barack Obama acknowledges the Supreme Court’s motion for marriage equality in all 50 states on the eve of June 26 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Ted Eytan Flickr

I asked to remain anonymous as the author of this article for safety concerns. I wish to work in countries where LGBT-identified people face state-sanctioned violence and persecution. As a member of this community and a human rights reporter, I have a responsibility to share my voice because of the unique vantage I have as a member of this group and a member of the media. My anonymity does not affect my opinions and perspectives on LGBT issues. It does allow me to share this voice in a responsible and realistic manner while mitigating the risk associated with being openly gay online and the impact this will have on my future as a journalist.

This reality is the point I want to make—although same-sex marriage has been passed in the United States, it is not a blanket ruling that echoes across the world to inform other policy decisions. The Washington Postrecently reported that even though homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, LGBT individuals have experienced increasing harassment because of President Vladimir Putin’s law against homosexual propaganda. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality, it is still legal to fire an employee because of his or her sexual orientation. There is not a non-discriminatory act to protect LGBT individuals from enduring oppression because of whom they love.

My sexuality has been a source of identity negotiation between acceptance, pride and assimilation. Today I am proud to say that I am a lesbian, but I am also more. I am a journalist, a woman, a human rights supporter and foreign affairs enthusiast. This is the image I wish to show the world. I believe in equality and I want to advance the conversation past our obsession with labels and acknowledge the different shades of complexities that comprise everyone’s various identities. I am not only my sexual orientation, but at the same time I am proud of that truth.An overjoyed crowd remains in front of the Supreme Court on June 26 bearing heart-shaped balloons and waving Human Rights Campaign equality flags as Washington, D.C., residents mark a new dawn for marriage and same-sex human rights with pride.

Living in Washington, D.C. at the same time marriage equality was enshrined was a defining moment. Like many people who remember exactly what they were doing the instant they heard about 9/11, I will also remember where I was and what I was doing at 10 a.m. on June 26 when same-sex marriage became legalized across all 50 states. I’ll remember seeing the news alert, the buzz of the news office, and the celebrations across the district as the city and country came together for a weekend celebration of the universal acceptance of homosexuality before the law. Marriage equality was coincidentally legalized across all 50 American states during Pride month of June, which will also be remembered as Barack Obama’s most monumental term as president.

The district erupted in celebration as my friends, both gay and straight, shared in the pride of believing that love wins. It was supreme love that day and left many LGBT individuals, like myself, moved to tears, buzzing with excitement and humility at what this means for their lives—our lives—while it gave some more courage to own who they are because marriage equality in the United States not only sets an example, but it also increases the visibility of LGBT issues.Two women share a passionate kiss, celebrating the Constitutional recognition of their love on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26 after the monumental SCOTUS ruling.

I remember what a decade ago looked like. Now there are more LGBT role models accessible for the next generation with a new modus operandi of “we’re here, we’re queer” and we are whole. This is the new image of a gay individual I look forward to sharing. That’s what “love wins” is about. It’s about this generation and the next generation of the LGBT community who are able to live their lives free from the struggles and impacts of a minority. That’s what the red, orange, yellow, blue, green, blue and purple cascading up the White House on the eve of marriage equality represents. It represents a new era of strength for LGBT rights where all the colours—the spectrum—defining gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual all blend together.

Editor’s note: The Calgary Journal granted the writer of this column anonymity because the writer hopes to work in parts of the world where LGBT-identified people face state-sanctioned persecution and violence.

To contact the editor responsible for this story; ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca