Op-Ed LGBT Rights Move Forward One Day, Back The Next

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Damn, it’s an astounding and incongruous world on the issue of human rights for the international LGBT community.

A few years ago, Hillary Clinton gave an impassioned address on the importance of recognizing the rights of LGBT citizens across the globe. We published the entire text of her fantastic speech here in SFGN.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly selected Sam Kuesta, the Uganda minister to the U.N., as its new president. He is an avowed anti-gay extremist whose presence at that high post is offensive. Official Uganda policy allows for lifetime imprisonment of gay citizens.

At the same time that we are celebrating the World Cup tour in Brazil, its announcers are heralding the state of Qatar, where the 2022 games will be played. Beautiful pictures of the spectacularly oil-rich country are being displayed on televisions worldwide. They are not showing, talking or telling anyone about how its gay citizens face five years mandatory imprisonment for sodomy.

The experience with the World Cup evokes the memory of last year’s Russian Olympics. As the country and its church were drafting draconian laws and policies denying equal rights to its LGBT community, gay men and women were competing in Sochi. In eastern European countries, gay men and women are everyday facing persecution, prosecution, and physical attacks from emerging Neo-Nazi groups.

Last month, the U.S. Postal Service released the Harvey Milk stamp. The Milk Foundation, guided by his nephew, Wilton Manors resident Stuart Milk, was even invited to speak to the European Union. Meanwhile, some family groups in America publicly announce they will not accept mail from envelopes that have the Harvey Milk postal stamp on them. And I thought Fred Phelps had died.

This week, President Obama announced plans to sign an executive order forbidding companies that do business with the federal government from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, fulfilling a goal that gay rights organizations have sought for years.

Currently, no federal law bans discrimination against gay and transgender individuals. Twenty-one states, including California and Illinois, and the District of Columbia bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but in the remaining 29 states, employers are free to fire, demote or otherwise discriminate against workers solely on the basis of sexual orientation.

While the President moves forward, ENDA stalls in an immobilized and stagnating Congress, where hostility is the rule of the day. How can this be? How can it take so long?

The city of Fort Lauderdale commission headed to a debate last night on a simple resolution for marriage equality without the guaranteed votes in the bag. Some time after this column gets written the votes will have been cast. But how, here in South Florida, in the epicenter of gay life in America, can there even be a debate?

Walk down Wilton Drive in the Manors during the Stonewall celebration this weekend, and you will see men and women celebrating their lives as central figures in our community. We partake and participate in commerce and trade, play roles as legislators, commissioners, realtors, bankers, entrepreneurs, and so much more. How can a single city commissioner hesitate about supporting the right to marriage equality? You would think if it is good enough for over a half dozen federal court judges, it might be OK at city hall.

Last week, SFGN helped sponsor an ArtsUnited exhibit for marriage equality at the Main Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale. It runs all this month and celebrates same-sex marriages. Many of you do not realize this comes on the 30th anniversary of a Broward County Library mailroom clerk being fired from his job at that same library for having AIDS.

The 1984 ACLU lawsuit claimed Broward County officials discriminated against Donald Fanus by firing him for having AIDS. Officials said they were concerned for the health of other employees and the public.

According to the lawsuit, those officials had been clearly told that AIDS could not be transmitted from one person to another through casual office contact. We lived in a world where those fears were so real the county would ignore facts and live a lie. Those same kind of fears still cause citizens and city commissioners to battle marriage equality.

By the way, the estate of Donald Fanus collected a settlement from the county, as did another county employee, management intern Todd Shuttlesworth, who was also wrongly and unjustly fired solely because he had AIDS.

Gay couples living on 6th Street won’t stop straight couples from raising their kids on 8th street. Get over it, people. Get over the religion, the righteousness, and your indignation. Live and let live.

This weekend, walk with pride up and down Wilton Drive. Walk with your shirt off, your vuvuzelas blaring, and your pride showing. Just don’t forget that while our road is smoother, our progress greater, our advances many, there are still potholes which need paving, people who need persuading.

By the way, there was an African American gay man from Miami, Darryl Gales, confirmed as a federal judge this weekend by the U.S. Senate. Once, black men were slaves. Once, women could not vote. Forget for a moment that same-sex couples can still not marry everywhere. Once, black and white women could not marry.

Once, gay men could go to jail in America for sodomy. Once, gay men could not serve in the military. Once, people with HIV could be thrown out of schools and their jobs. Once, a transgender person would never appear on the cover of TIME Magazine. Once, we lived in the shadows. Not anymore. Nevermore.

Be who you are, and be proud of it.

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