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Beyond Stonewall: 6 Challenges Ahead in the Struggle for LGBT Rights

Stonewall Uprising protesters

Police confront gay protesters in New York’s 1969 Stonewall Uprising.

By Efua Andoh (PI Communications Staff) and Ron Schlittler, MIPP (Program Coordinator, APA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office)

Forty five years ago on June 28, 1969, the gay community in Greenwich Village in New York City spontaneously protested against routine police harassment and intimidation in what became known as the Stonewall Uprising. Their actions ignited the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement in the United States. As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we honor the movement’s rich history. The incredible progress we see today is almost hard to believe. In just a few short years:

In 2014, the Obama Administration announced it will move to extend employment protections to LGBT employees of federal contractors, building on previous efforts to ensure equality within the federal workforce.

In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court (U.S. v. Windsor) struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allowing the federal government to provide the same rights to all marriages. The Obama Administration is making regulatory changes extending a wide range of federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples. For instance, the Department of Labor this past week proposed regulations to expand federal family medical leave to same-sex families.

Encouraged by the Court’s decision, advocacy for same-sex marriage has expanded marriage equality to 19 states and DC. The Windsor decision is being used to challenge state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. As of today, there are 15 states where judges have overturned bans on same-sex marriage, though many of those await the outcome of appeals that will eventually go to the Supreme Court. Internationally, marriage equality is now the law of the land in 15 countries, and there are two nations where it is legal in some places (i.e., the United States and Mexico).

  1. In December 2010, the President signed into law the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) allowing gays and lesbians in the military to serve openly. The Department of Defense fully implemented the legislation and the Windsor decision in 2013 providing new benefits to same-sex service members and their families.

  2. The Affordable Care Act passed in March, 2010 prohibits health insurers from denying coverage in the health insurance exchanges on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. HHS has moved to ensure non-discrimination for LGBT individuals, such as ensuring that same-sex spouses are entitled to spousal insurance coverage. In 2014 Medicare announced it will cover transition surgery for transgender individuals.

These recent efforts build on years of struggle to reduce discrimination and increase equality, such as preventing discrimination in adoption and custody cases by debunking stereotypes about lesbian and gay parents, and repealing sodomy laws, and other forms of discrimination. It has been a long journey of progress and setbacks to arrive at this point. In many places globally, things are getting much worse. Even with gains made, there is much more to be done at home and abroad.

Psychology’s critical role in supporting LGBT rights and equality:

In 1956 at the annual APA Convention, Dr. Evelyn Hooker introduced her groundbreaking research on “normal homosexuals,” debunking the popular myth that homosexual people are inherently less mentally healthy than heterosexual people. Hooker’s work led to significant changes in how psychology views and treats people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Her research and that of many others helped to explode the myth of homosexuality as pathology and ultimately led to its removal as a disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.

APA is proud to have been a leader in advancing psychological science to:

  1. improve the health and well-being of LGBT people,

  2. increase understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as aspects of human diversity, and

  3. reduce stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence toward LGBT people.

As part of our social justice mission, APA’s LGBT Concerns Office works to better the lives of LGBT individuals through creation of amicus briefs, APA policy statements, and professional and public education resources on topics as diverse as lesbian and gay parenting, marriage equality, transgender identity, sexual orientation change efforts, and the bullying of LGBT youth. This is just the tip of the iceberg; the office offers a wealth of resources.

Advocacy is another critical activity undertaken by Public Interest’s Government Relations Office, which works to address a range of issues such as stigma, discrimination and prejudice, health disparities, and workplace rights. For instance, APA supports Every Child Deserves a Family Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status against families seeking to adopt or youth seeking families.

Yet many challenges lie ahead. Here are six that we need to tackle:

  1. In the U.S., we still need to push for a federal ban on anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and schools. Congress can do this by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Students should also be immune from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which is why APA also supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

  2. Section 2 of DOMA still stands allowing states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Efforts are underway in Congress to repeal this law in its entirety.

  3. LGBT human rights must be protected overseas. The state-sponsored assaults on LGBT rights in Nigeria, Uganda and Russia, are cause for extreme concern. In Uganda in particular, psychological science has even been twisted to support discriminatory policy. APA signed onto a coalition letter of international psychological associations to encourage the President of Uganda not to sign that country’s bill into law. We continue to work with international partners to improve global understanding of human sexual and gender diversity, the health and wellbeing of LGBT people, and the rights of people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, gender identities, and sex characteristics. APA also supports the recently introduced International Human Rights Defense Act, which if enacted would direct the Department of State to make international LGBT human rights a foreign policy priority and to establish a Special Envoy for coordinating that effort.

  4. We must not forget the T in LGBT. While members of the transgender community are gaining greater visibility in our society, their needs remain misunderstood by the public and by healthcare professionals. APA is committed to fostering a better public understanding of gender identity issues and is developing practice guidelines for psychologists working with transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) clients. Psychologists may also take APA’s continuing education course on the topic.

  5. LGBT health disparities persist and must continue to be addressed. LGBT individuals are disproportionately uninsured and stigma and discrimination has adverse impacts on their physical and mental health. Each distinct population under the LGBT umbrella has unique health concerns that intersect with age, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, etc. APA continues to work with government agencies and the nonprofit health care community to address these issues. For instance, APA advocates for quality research on LGBT health to better understand these disparities.

  6. Improving mental health treatment for LGBT individuals here and internationally. Based on decades of research, same-sex attraction is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation. APA has long worked to ensure that LGBT individuals receive affirmative behavioral health treatment. However, sexual orientation change efforts that mischaracterize homosexuality as a mental illness are provided here and abroad. APA recommends that patients and families avoid these efforts due to insufficient evidence to support the use of these interventions.

We want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments.

  1. What LGBT rights milestone are you most proud of?

  2. What do you see as the most pressing challenges ahead to LGBT equality and human rights?

  3. What policy changes would you like to see enacted domestically and internationally?

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