Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines Name: Institutional Affiliation:
The oppression of the LGBT community, as well as their denial of civil rights, has become a commonplace fixture in today’s society. Many people see them as different, or abnormal. They see no reason to provide them with the same basic rights, such as marriage or parenting, that straight people are provided. Some feel so extremely about the LGBT community that they harm members, actions known as hate crimes, in order to instill fear, or set an example. The LGBT community is gaining progress in many separate states concerning their civil rights, but it appears that where progress is made in one place, it regresses in another. The battle for equal rights, as well as safety in the LGBT community, has emerged as a constantly shifting kaleidoscope for the past several decades.
While many states in the U.S. specify their own set of rules that LGBT individuals must adhere to, there is a basic set of rights granted to the community that are known countrywide. However, according to William Eskridge, author of “Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights” these rules are very few (2013). Nationwide, all LGBT individuals have the right to maintain employment, as long as they do not reveal their sexual orientation. On-the-job sexual harassment is illegal, even if the two parties are of the same sex, per the Onscale v. Sundowner Offshore Services case. Federal laws also recognized any violent act perpetrated on the member of the LGBT community because of his or membership of said community as a hate crime. Members of the LGBT community are protected federally by these hate crime laws (2013). Eskridge also mentions that, “in an iconic act of the law,” on June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court ruled the Section 3 of The Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, forcing the federal government to recognize marriages performed in states that legalize same-sex unions . While same-sex marriages are still only performed in certain states, they are recognized federally, which is the most monumentally universal right that encompasses the entire nation, as well as all LGBT individuals. In another nationally sweeping incident, 2010 saw the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, indoctrinated into the military in 1993. Prior to 1993, gays and lesbians were not permitted to serve but the policy permitted them to as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. The 2010 repeal allowed all members of the military to be open about their sexuality.
There are very few rights granted to the LGBT community that extend to every corner of America. Most rights are state mandated, and many of them are not rights so much as they are restrictions. Most prominently known for gay rights are the states that have granted the option of gay marriage. First to grant this right, was technically Vermont on July 1, 2000, as noted in Daniel C. Lewis’ article, “Direct Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage Bans in the U.S. States (2011). Banned the previous year, Vermont reassessed and granted same-sex couples the rights as married couples. Another state would not legalize same-sex marriage until 2004, when Massachusetts passed a bill simply because a legislature failed to take action . October 26, 2006 would see New Jersey legalize same-sex marriage while 2007 would see Washington, Oregon, and New Hampshire all sign a civil union and domestic partnership bills into law. California, Maryland, and New York all legalized unions in 2008. However, later that same year, a referendum to overturn the bill was approved, and the same-sex marriage bill was overturned, as noted in “Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Mogul, Ritchie, & Whitlock 2011).”
As the next three years passed, several more states voted “Yes” on same-sex marriage or signed civil union and domestic partnership bills into law, granting many rights to individuals of the LGBT community. According to the authors of “Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States”, the rights granted by a same-sex marriage bill equal the rights granted to heterosexual married couples. The LGBT couple can file joint taxes, adopt, own property together, or change their name. They are also eligible to act as executor of the other’s will, maintain power of attorney over the other, pension protection for widows, collect life insurance, remain under the other’s health insurance policy, and even divorce .
Civil unions, as described by Thomas Keck, author of “Beyond Backlash: Assessing the Impact of Judicial Decisions on LGBT Rights, ” possess slightly different rights than same-sex marriages. Couples may still own property jointly, and one partner may still make medical decisions for the other if they are unable to do so themselves (2009). The court will distribute a property during a breakup, much like a divorce, the couple maintains the right to share a nursing home room, as well as pension protection. Intestacy rights ensuring an individual’s partner will receive most or all of their belongings, should they die without a will, were also in place (2009). Civil unions, however, do not support immigration laws and are not recognized by the federal government. This means individuals in a civil union cannot file joint taxes or be eligible for traditional tax breaks afforded to typical married couples. Private employers in certain states can choose to provide partners with health insurance, but they are not obligated to do so .
Domestic partnerships also differ slightly from the previously mentioned arrangements. Domestic partnerships consist of two individuals, of the same or opposite sex, unmarried, but wishing to seek some of the same benefits enjoyed by their married peers . Benefits include health insurance, as well as vision and dental insurance. A partner is allowed bereavement leave in the event that the other dies. One may receive death benefits, as well as parental leave for children that are being co-parented. Property rights and tuition reduction also apply to domestic partnerships . Domestic partnerships are also not federally recognized, meaning that individuals in a domestic partnership do experience many benefits but are still unable to file taxes jointly or receive tax breaks.
As previously mentioned, the progression of gay marriage is the most publicized and possibly most important of all the state mandated rights experienced by the LGBT community today. There are still many other rights afforded to the community that are also state mandated. On the topic of same sex visitors, twenty states offer same-sex visitation when one individual is admitted to the hospital, according to Amy Becker, author of “Employment Discrimination, Local School Boards, and LGBT Civil Rights: Reviewing 25 Years of Public Opinion Data (2014).” The states participating are primarily in the Northeast, including Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, and New York, while a few other states such as Colorado, Oregon, and Wisconsin also chose to participate. No states in the Southeast have chosen to participate in this act yet . Many states also offer co-adoption or single adoption. Again most of them are located in the Northeast, with every Northeastern state participating except for Pennsylvania. Other states include Indiana, Hawaii, and Nevada. Once more, no Southeast states have chosen to grant this right, and some have even banned it; North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana, as well as Michigan, and Utah have voted to ban single or co-adoption to LGBT couples or individuals (Lewis, 2011). Employment is protected for an individual on a federal level as long as they do not discuss their sexual orientation. In many states, however, discrimination against one’s sexual orientation concerning employment is illegal. Previous trends continue, with most states participating being located in the Northeast, and none of the Southeast state participating. Many Southwest states also chose to give LGBT individuals the right to job protection, including New Mexico and California. Washington and Oregon also observe the law (2011).
Housing and the matter of property are also an important legal issue that is not federally recognized in states that do not grant same-sex marriage. Even after same-sex marriage was passed in several states, housing discrimination remained; discrimination against members of the LGBT community prevented many members from obtaining housing. Many states made this action illegal. Most of the Northeastern and Southwestern states, including Delaware, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Colorado, and Nevada have all made housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender an illegal act. Montana and Minnesota also followed suit. No Southeastern states did not make this act of discrimination illegal or grant this right to members of the LGBT community, according to “An Examination of Sexual Orientation and Transgender-Based Hate crimes in the Post-Matthew Shepard Era”, published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (2013). Schools have taken on a no-tolerance policy for bullying in recent years though many have neglected to specify the terms under which the bullying must take place. Nine out of 10 LGBT students say that they have experienced some form of harassment throughout their education, prompting many school officials to make clearer specifications about bullying based on gender or sexial orientation. School officials received further encouragement to do so after LGBT students began becoming depressed and suicidal over the amount of bullying they received based on their sexual orientation or gender. In the past decade, many states have specified that no student will be bullied based on gender or sexual orientation. Every Northeastern state but Pennsylvania has made it illegal for students to discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation. Iowa, Illinois, Washington, and Colorado also made this form of discrimination illegal. North Carolina and Arkansas are the only Southeastern states participating (2013). While hate crimes are recognized and enforced on a federal level, many states have written laws into their own legislature. Again, several Northeastern and Southwestern states have indoctrinated their own set of hate crime laws, as have a couple North and Midwestern states. No Southeastern states have written their own hate crime laws as of yet .
As most progressive states go, Vermont, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, California, and Washington have all established the maximum amount of security to protect individuals from discrimination against sexual orientation, as well as gender. This protects gays, lesbians and bisexuals, as well as transexuals. States that offer laws protecting against most forms of discrimination are Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maine, Maine, and Minnessota. These states protect the majority of issues. Southeastern states offer virtually no protection for the LGBT community while the only in the Midwest offering civil rights are Minnessota and Iowa . As shown in many of the diagrams offered in “An Examination of Sexual Orientation and Transgender-Based Hate Crimes in the Post-Matthew Shepard Era,” the southeast states presently offer the least amount of protection for individuals of the LGBT community (2013). Many of the southeastern states, however, do offer protection from discrimination based upon gender discrimination. Men and women are protected, just not couples of the same sex.
Many of these rights are a relatively new development that came after years of suffering. There have been many hate crimes throughout the history of LGBT culture, inflicted on members in communities, as well as in schools. These hate crimes were what made these civil rights necessary. Perhaps the most infamous, or best known hate crime perpetrated on an individual of the LGBT community was the incident involving young Matthew Shepard (Cramer, et al. 2013). A student at the University of Wyoming, Shepard met Aaron Mckinney and Russel Henderson near Laramie, Wyoming on October 6th, 1998. Throughout the course of the night, it was decided that the two men would give Shepard a ride home but instead they drive him to a rural area where they beat him, tortured him, pistol whipped him, and left Shepard tied naked to a fence to die. A cyclist later found him in such bad condition that Shepard was mistaken for a scarecrow. He had suffered multiple skull fractures, damage to his brainstem, and several lacerations all over his body. The brain damage proved so severe that his body was unable to regulate heartbeat or body temperature. He was removed from life support on October 12, 1998. Throughout the course of his killers’ trial, it was revealed that Shepard was severely tortured, and ultimately murdered, because of how McKinney felt toward gay men (Cramer, et al. 2013).
McKinney insisted that he had killed Shepard in self-defense, driven insane by Shepards homosexual advances. The truth was that McKinney and Henderson had pretended to be gay themselves in order to gain Shepards trust. Whether they intended to kill him or not is unknown but they did intend to beat him severely, rob him and later rob his house. Their motive was that he was a homosexual man; he was different from them, and he deserved to be punished. This case was a landmark in hate crime legislation because Neither Henderson nor McKinney was charged with a hate crime. The public could see, however, that hate was the motivation behind Shepard’s death. Most of the population believed that the beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard was motivated by McKinney’s hatred for homosexuals, which prompted lawmakers to take notice. At this time, no hate crimes existed that protected individuals from violence or discrimination based on their sexual orientation. For the next nine years, separate members of Congress, including Bill Clinton, attempted to extend hate crimes to protect homosexuals but it was not until the passing of the Matthew Shepard Act, on October 22, 2009 by President Obama. It extended the protection of hate crimes to the LGBT community.
As if it were something straight out of a parent’s worst nightmare, hate crimes have also begun taking place in schools since the murder of Matthew Shepard. On February 12, 2008, in Oxnard California, Lawrence King was assaulted at his school (Cramer, et al. 2013). King, 15, was doing school work in the computer lab of his junior high school when a classmate, Brandon McInerney shot him in the head two times. McInerney was only 14. King was known for his boisterous personality. He always acted sassy to students as well as teachers, laughing off the bullying he received for his flashy outfits and “girly” habits. He was openly gay and comfortable with himself; he was not going to let bullies take that way from him no matter how hard they tried. They tried very hard, calling him many names and throwing things at him on a daily basis. After the murder, detectives searched McInerney’s home and in his bedroom they found several books and drawings depicting white supremacy, decimating gay culture. McInerney was tried as an adult and found guilty (2013).
Another incident took place in Roy Mann Junior High School on June 5, 2012, according to “Gays Remain Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes”, by Mark Potock (2013). Two teenage boys were charged with a hate crime after bullying one of their gay classmates, Kardin Ulysse. The two students pounced on Ulysse, shouting anti-gay remarks at him. They punched him in the face until his glasses broke. The glass from the lens penetrated his right eyes, permanently blinding him. This was a unique case because, though tried as a hate crime, Ulysse did not identify as gay. His classmates only labeled him as such and assumed that he was homosexual. Protests came from the attacker’s family’s concerning whether or not the boys should face hate crime charges, but the victim’s lawyer was quick to demonstrate that once slurs and anti-gay are involved, it insinuates the motivation of hate and is, therefore, considered a hate crime (2013).
Ebony Whitaker, born as Rodney was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee while working as a prostitute. Only 20 at the time, Ebony had been picked up multiple times since the age of 16 for her work. The murder took place in 2006 and still no assailants have been found in connection to Ebony’s murder. It is thought, however, that one of Ebony’s attackers became angry when they realized that she was transgendered. It is common in many areas for transgendered individuals to hide their birth-gender and sometimes this makes clients angry. Many cases have documented the client getting violent, and even murdering the transgendered person. This is thought to be the case in Ebony’s murder since no other motive, nor the attacker could ever be located. As such, it has been labeled a hate crime (Cramer et al. 2013).
Workplace hate crimes do not only take place in “unofficial” conditions, such as prostitution, but also in extremely official cases, such as on a military base. The body of Seaman August Provost, a 29 year-old sailor, was found on June 30, 2009 on base at Camp Pendelton. He had been shot in the head, and his body had been partially burned. Though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in effect, Provost was open about his gay, or bisexual, orientation with his close friends in the military. Friends outside of the military know that he was open with people inside. Shortly before the murder Provost had alerted family members to a company member who had been harassing him in regards to his sexual orientation. The murderer later admitted to the act was motivated by the fact that Provost was gay. He committed suicide a week later. The incident was labeled a hate crime.
In another work related incident, Cameron Nelson was attacked in American Fork, Utah on September 8, 2011 . He was the third Utahn to be attacked in a span of 2 weeks. Three assaulters shouted gay slurs at Nelson and advanced on him sometime between 12: 30 and 1 am. He was attempting to take out the trash at the hair salon when the attack took place. The attackers continued to yell the word “faggot” as they beat and kicked him, leading nelson, as well as authorities to believe that the attack was motivated by Nelson’s sexual orientation. Hearing the commotion from inside, another employee called law enforcement and the attackers fled. Nelson escaped with minor injuries. The incident was labeled a hate crime.
In sum, most of the country is making great strides in civil rights for the LGBT community. Several rights are recognized on a federal level and many states, especially in the Northeast, are taking steps to creates their own laws that ensure LGBT individuals are protected and not discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation or their gender. Each state is trying to do what it believes is best; some have progressed further than others but perhaps they will all be on the same page one day. Unfortunately, even despite these anti-discrimination laws and efforts to equalize rights, hate crimes to persevere. The deaths of individuals like Ebony Whitaker, young Lawrence King, and Seaman August Provost serve as reminders that though the nation as made progress, there is still a long way to go.
Becker, A. B. (2014). Employment Discrimination, Local School Boards, and LGBT Civil Rights: Reviewing 25 Years of Public Opinion Data. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.
Cramer, R. J., Kehn, A., Pennington, C. R., Wechsler, H. J., Clark III, J. W., & Nagle, J. (2013). An Examination of Sexual Orientation and Transgender-Based Hate Crimes in the Post-Matthew Shepard Era . Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 355-368.
Eskridge, W. N. (2013). Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights. Abingdon: Routledge.
Keck, T. M. (2009). Beyond Backlash: Assessing the Impact of Judicial Decisions on LGBT Rights. Law and Society Review, 151-186.
Lewis, D. C. (2011). Direct Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage Bans in the U.S. States. Social Science Quarterly, 364-383.
Mogul, J. L., Ritchie, A. J., & Whitlock, K. (2011). Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Boston: Beacon Press.
Potock, M. (2013). Gays Remain Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes. Intelligence Report.