Hope and the Struggle for Equality

Capital Pride, the annual week-long celebration of the LGBT community in Washington, D.C. concluded this past Sunday. Capital Pride spokesperson Scott Lusk described the week’s events as a huge success; the nation’s third-largest Pride event drew hundreds of thousands, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Broadway star Jennifer Holiday, and corporate sponsors ranging from Saab to Macy’s.

Yet while this past week gives cause for hope, the fight for gay rights and equality is hardly over. Far too many continue to be viciously harassed, barred from serving their country, and unable to marry or start a family.

In September 2010, Dan Savage began the “It Gets Better” campaign to reassure LGBT youth that a better, happier future awaits them. But gay youth continue to be bullied at nearly three times the rate of their straight counterparts, and a string of gay suicides in September and October 2010 reminded us of what is at stake. In February 2011, Obama stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to between a man and a woman. But gay marriage is outlawed in over three-quarters of states and gay parents face significant hurdles when trying to adopt children, despite the growing number that seek adoption. In December 2010, Congress struck down “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” But this April, the Air Force discharged an airman because of his sexuality.

And in perhaps the latest and nearest setback, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has come under attack for flying a rainbow flag in honor of gay pride month. The New York Times reported that Bob Marshall, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote a letter to the bank’s president in opposition to the gesture. He wrote that gay and lesbian “behavior undermines the American economy, shortens lives, adds significantly to illness, increases health costs, [and] promotes venereal diseases.”

Aside from being obviously offensive and unethical, Marshall’s statement is factually incorrect. In fact, if gay marriage were legalized in all 50 states, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates an annual U.S. budget revenue increase of $1 billion each year for 10 years. On the whole, Marshall’s statement is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to generate fear among Americans, to “otherize” the gay community so that gay people appear to be societal menaces, somehow less than human. This tactic is not new. Recall those who argued that allowing interracial marriage would destroy the fabric of society, or those who believed that affording women the right to vote would lead to political chaos. We as a society should see past the ignorance in this mass hysteria. This is especially important as gay rights issues come to the fore for many states, with New York, for instance, poised to legalize gay marriage within the month.

On Saturday, I was proud to follow the Capital Pride parade from Dupont Circle to Thomas Circle. I marched for my friends, and for the countless others who have yet to experience full equality. And I envision a future in which we no longer talk about “gay” rights and “gay” marriage, in which we no longer classify or exclude others on the basis of their sexual orientation. Now is the time to act.

Nikita Lalwani is an Institute for Policy Studies intern, managing editor of The Yale Globalist, and a Yale Daily News staff writer.