Following the first piece of the series exploring racial disparities in American society, this penultimate article highlights omnipresent discrimination based on sexual orientation and expression within America.
The LGBTQ+ community’s fight for Civil Rights exposes another facet of the ‘American Dream’ perforated with injustice. The national ethos of unbounded opportunities documented through The Declaration of Independence suggesting “all men are created equal” is seemingly untrue for this community with discernible forms of inequality prevalent.
We need to recognise the daily injustices faced by the Black, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities in America by engaging in discussions to eradicate micro-aggressive behaviour stemming from inherent biases in society and proactively participating in movements of change.
The LGBTQ+ Community
The United States has an obtrusive history of sexual discrimination. The monumental legislation providing protections for many vulnerable groups – the Civil Rights Act 1964 – did not initially include discrimination on the basis of sex, and was only modified to include ‘sex’ in the later stages of the bill. Nonetheless, the interpretive scope of this legislation and others has been unclear in the meaning of ‘sex’ since. It should encompass sexual expression as well as orientation, and was interpreted to do so under Obama’s presidency; conversely, Trump has regressed through suggesting ‘sex’ only includes biological gender – a drastic insult to the LGBTQ+ community.
Under the Obama administration, the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals advanced. Through suggesting that the legal meaning of the word ‘sex’ should embrace gender identity, it altered certain legislative powers. This included the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcing anti- discriminatory laws to encompass gender identity and sexual orientation; the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve openly in the military; adding gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and efforts towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage, among numerous other social policies.
Currently, the Trump administration portrays a complete reversal of Obama’s efforts to emancipate the LGBTQ+ community by actively dismantling protections for these individuals. The military ban ended by Obama was reinstated when Trump used his infamous Twitter account to announce his intention to prohibit transgender individuals from military service. Trump’s personal and discriminatory biases materialise through voicing his intentions and views via social media in relation to a variety of social issues. He conveys a strong political message that in his opinion LGBTQ+ lives are of less value.
In June 2020, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalised rules to eliminate Obama-era protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in healthcare, by allowing organisations to deny healthcare services to LGBTQ+ individuals – in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act has reverted to interpreting non-discrimination protections regarding “sex as male or female as determined by biology” under “government interpretation”.
Beyond the legislation itself, it could lead to continued reluctance within the community in seeking medical healthcare. This could mean transgender men being denied treatment for ovarian cancer or LGBTQ+ individuals being denied access to health insurance. This is particularly worrying given that healthcare professionals are able to refuse to test transgender individuals for COVID-19.
The American Reality is a society where individuals with certain sexual orientations and expressions are unable to access basic healthcare, a fundamental human right, during a pandemic where over 3.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19. By stripping this community of healthcare during a pandemic, Trump’s transphobic, homophobic and sexist views manifest through legally binding actions to disadvantage LGBTQ+ individuals, contradicting the sense of equality declared through the American Dream ethos.
However, a glimmer of hope arose following the distressing HHS rule, when a landmark ruling was made in the Supreme Court. It held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, race, national origin and religion), should be interpreted to include gender identity and sexual orientation – meaning it is only now illegal to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace.
This exposed an outrageous history of harassment, unlawful termination of employment and discrimination in the workplace faced by this community due to personal expression. The three instances featured in the case followed the termination of a transgender woman for wearing women’s clothes to work and two men merely expressing their homosexuality.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative Trump appointee, unexpectedly wrote the majority opinion in the 6-3 decision. A strong believer in the “textualist” approach (the notion that the law should be read based on literal meaning rather than the intentions of the law’s drafters), Gorsuch also believes social change should not be driven through the Supreme Court. The strict textualist approach surpassed his own conservative political views, setting a respectable and correct standard of enforcing the law without the influence of personal biases – a concept Trump fails to acknowledge.
Trump’s egocentric persona continuously instils fear in the LGBTQ+ community by threatening access to basic opportunities including healthcare and employment. He wrongfully places his own conservative beliefs above the law. The contrast between the Supreme Court righteously congregating personal political views from legality and Trump’s personal efforts to deconstruct protections for minority groups based on his personal biases indicates the lack of uniformity and effective leadership prominent in America.
His 2016 campaign involved a vow to “protect LGBTQ+ citizens” while waving the rainbow flag. His presidential efforts of actively disadvantaging the LGBTQ+ community have proved a clear manipulation of Americans through false promises within his campaign. The number of anti- LGBTQ+ hate groups rose by 43% from 2018 to 2019 , with targeted violence increasing. A report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggests that anti-LGBTQ+ groups are the fastest growing sector of hate groups, possibly fuelled by policy emanating from government officials and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment attributed to the Trump administration.
Political ideologies have plagued a sense of morality within individuals, especially the government. The Republican party imposes anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs onto the public, with conversion therapy still being legal in a large number of states. The Trump administration is systemically impeding the access to fundamental rights for the LGBTQ+ community due to their own conservative views.
LGBTQ+ individuals face daily hardships in nearly every aspect of life. Black LGBTQ+ individuals are considered the most vulnerable groups in America, with hate crimes and murder especially on the rise. Following years of increased protections and progression towards achieving the American Dream, Trump has reversed these and worsened the struggle of being an LGBTQ+ individual in America.
The colourful illumination and celebration at the White House in 2015 after the legalisation of same-sex marriage incited hope in the LGBTQ+ community . Exactly 5 years later, Pride month at the White House was characterised by a complete blackout, with Trump hiding in his underground bunker. This is the American Reality
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