Matt Foreman

Proud of the LGBT Movement? You Bet!

Filed By Matt Foreman | July 03, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay organizations, gay rights, LGBT movement, LGBT rights

In the days after California voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008, the measure that stripped away from gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry, gay-pride.jpgpeople began talking about how progress had stalled, and how the organizations that were supposed to be advancing the cause of LGBT rights had become ineffectual.

As we celebrate the New York marriage vote and the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it's time to take real pride in the LGBT organizations that do us proud every day of the year. Working together, this valiant group of underfunded, overwhelmed and scrappy organizations and their leaders, staff and volunteers has delivered (and continues to deliver) historic gains for LGBT people across the country.

Let's start with some facts. By any objective measure, the LGBT movement has made extraordinary progress in a short period of time. In just the last 10 years:

  • The number of states (including the District of Columbia) protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination almost doubled to 22, and these states cover 44% of the U.S. population.
  • The number of states (including the District of Columbia) extending marriage equality or "all-but-marriage" rights to same-sex couples grew from just one to 14 (including three more this year), and these states cover 36% of the U.S. population.
  • The number of states (including the District of Columbia) protecting transgender people from discrimination jumped from 1 to 16 (including three more this year), and these states cover 29% of the U.S. population.
  • Anti-gay policies going back hundreds of years have been repealed in four of the five leading mainline Protestant denominations (including the Presbyterian Church USA in May).

These broad gains don't begin to tell the whole story. If you look at what's been happening in towns and cities and among American businesses on these issues over the past decade, you also see the LGBT-rights cause advancing by leaps and bounds. The number of gay student alliances in U.S. high schools has surged to nearly 5,000, we're seeing more and more LGBT-inclusive safe schools laws, and nine out of ten Fortune 500 companies have adopted nondiscrimination policies protecting their gay employees. The list of achievements goes on and on. And, we're not done yet: all polling data show that public support for LGBT equality is not leveling off but accelerating.

What makes this ongoing progress even more remarkable is that the LGBT-rights movement has been outnumbered and outfunded at virtually every turn and in every arena, even in comparison to other progressive movements. Opponents of LGBT rights operate hundreds of radio stations, they run huge (and hugely influential) national advocacy organizations, and they are enmeshed in enormous faith communities and able to deliver their anti-equality message to millions every weekend.

While opponents of LGBT rights have at least eight national advocacy organizations with budgets of more than $10 million, the LGBT movement has just one. In fact, the annual budget of just one of the biggest opponents of LGBT rights, Focus on the Family/CitizenLink, is greater than the budgets of the 39 largest LGBT advocacy, legal and research organizations, combined.

So what explains the continued traction that the LGBT movement has enjoyed in the face of such adversity? There are a lot of related factors. For example, more LGBT people are coming out and more non-LGBT people are getting to know them and are themselves becoming advocates for equal rights. There is also the influence of popular culture and celebrities, the high profile of LGBT issues in the media, and the vibrant presence of LGBT bloggers in social media.

But the legal and policy advances of the last decade did not spring miraculously from the results of a public opinion poll or a single heartfelt, pro-gay acceptance speech at the Oscars. Instead, they happened because LGBT organizations made them happen. Whether working for high-profile victories such as the marriage equality win in New York last week or defending an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance from being overturned by voters in Bowling Green, Ohio, these organizations provide focus, deploy volunteers, organize phone banks, and wrangle allies.

At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, we have been privileged to support a variety of LGBT organizations at the national, state and local levels. They range from the Palm Center at UCLA, whose research helped make the case for overturning the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, to Equality North Carolina, the driving force behind the first LGBT-inclusive safe schools law in the South. Organizations like these are working every day, often against considerable odds, to keep the cause of LGBT rights moving forward, and to prevent the movement's opponents from keeping our society and our communities mired in an unequal past.

Has the LGBT rights movement done everything it needs to do? Not by a long shot. Could it be doing certain things more effectively? Of course. But as Pride celebrations take place around the globe this summer, I encourage everyone who supports LGBT rights to take a stand for pride - in the organizations that drive our movement and the people behind them.


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Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Kathy Padilla | July 3, 2011 10:41 AM

As history shows, remembrance is no bar to repetition. At least It leads to some nice recursive posts & comments. 3...2...1

Thank you, Matt. The trans community has made some major gains on their own, including being able to change their gender marker on passports, new non-discrimination policies in some departments of the federal government and the new directive in the VA for equal treatment for transgender veterans. Sometimes, we are lucky to be part of the overall advancements and sometimes we have to get things specific to us.

And part of that is, when we do screw up - as we will sometimes - that in the post-mortem where we confess to errors only completely obvious in hindsight, we don't form a circular firing-squad or go on a witch-hunt of blamestorming.

We learn, and never make that particular mistake again. We should at least be creative and original in our foul-ups. Only if we don't should we be criticised.

On another topic... trans people have had two reverses in the last 6 months. A Texas court decision means our marriages are invalid, no matter what sex is involved; and there was a Tennessee state law that anulled all GLBT protections at local level "to facilitate intrastate commerce" and also had a section that removed what little protection Trans and Intersex people used to have under state, not local, law.

Those two issues may turn out to be good things after all. The first because one of the main arguments against marriage equality was that GLBTs were still free to marry - just not someone of the same sex - thereby "complying" with the SCOTUS ruling that everyone has a right to marry. But now, not in Texas, not if they're Trans or Intersex, they can't marry anybody. So if it gets to the SCOTUS, not just it, but a lot of anti-GLBT legislation in Texas is done for.

There is no conceivable rational connection between the stated purpose of the Tennessee law - to "promote intrastate commerce" - and removing state-level civil rights protections. Not only was this bill passed out of anti-GLBT animus, but section 2 proves that. So they've over-egged the pudding, gone one step too far, and this bill too will likely be found unconstitutional.

Of course it may take ten years for these issues to work their way through the courts.

Who knows, we might have equal rights for Trans people in Mass. and NY by then, just as Gays have had for many years. But I'm not holding my breath.

with all respect, i think you may have failed to consider one other major reason why the lbgt community is seeing political success where other political communities are not: the lbgt community is not willing to accept the status quo.

in contrast, look at the labor community. over the past decade the labor movement has lost political battle after political battle - and until very recently, you would never see labor groups marching to demand change, or pursuing the kind of legal rulings and legislation that would make things better with the enthusiasm that is shown by the lbgt community.

simply saying, as a community, that "we're not going to accept this, and we're going to do something about it, and we are not going to quit, no matter what, until we have achieved the change we want" is huge, and it is an advantage that many political movements are never able to bring to bear.

laurieyoung | July 4, 2011 7:57 AM

Thank you, Matt. You said it so well. I am so proud to have become a fighter for LGBT rights along with all the other progressive issues I care for deeply. I am lucky to work for the Task Force and stand proudly with my colleagues in working as hard and as long as we need to, to win equality and have lives hallmarked by dignity and grace all the way to the end of life.
Thank you so much,


As Monica points out, we trans folk have made some wonderful gains. My Florida DL and US Passport carry my true gender designator "F". However, my medicare card, in quite large letters states MALE.

Now I have lived as the woman I am, fully accepted by the community for 14 yrs. Unfortunately, towards the middle of my RLT time 14 yrs ago, my heart failed and I nearly died. My surgery was not postponed, it was necessarily cancelled. Even though, over time, my heart is stronger, an hour or so of general anesthesia will take me out, never to return.

Medically, owing to the effects of my hormonal regimin, my gender changes are basically irreversible and during a week in a hospital for radiologic diagnosis not long ago, the last exam was a CAT scan and only then did any of the MD's realize that I had a couple of parts missing and a couple of extra ones present.

Now where I live, this Gender designation of M doesn't really matter. Gainesville is basically quite liberal but 30 mi. in any direction, it could get me killed, certainly mistreated. Yet, Social Security refuses to change that marker except post surgery.

I recount this to underline that there are battles yet to be won and hidden problems to be ferreted out. (Sort of like that game Minesweeper). Yes we should be proud and yes we must continue.