It is unfortunate that an amendment to ban gay marriage was passed in North Carolina a day before the president of the United States announced his support for same-sex marriage. At a time that support for the LGBTQ community is at an all time high, we are still reminded that we haven’t advanced as much as we’d hoped.
This summer I have been presented with various opportunities to understand the struggle of the LGBTQ community. Most importantly, for the first time in my life I am inspired to think about the equal opportunities they are fighting for and whether or not I support their fight. I have since decided that I completely support not only the LGBTQ community, but I also support the fight of every individual facing inequalities and unfair discrimination. Personally, I have never been discriminated against based on my sexuality and I have not experienced the inequalities that many other groups face on a daily basis. However, as both an African American and a female I know all too well what it feels like to be discriminated against for just being myself.
I recently began an internship at Hollaback, a non-profit organization with a mission to end street harassment (unwanted advances and comments made toward women while in public spaces). Working at this organization has given me insight into the ways in which women’s organizations can provide a platform for other groups such as the LGBTQ community to have their voices heard. In less than a decade Hollaback has gained a massive following in 50 cities and 17 countries. Hollaback openly supports other groups that have faced oppression, which in turn allows these groups to gain a wide-range of supporters and brings attention to the issues they are facing. Due to this exposure, feminists and women who often advocate for female empowerment become inspired to think about others and the issues that these people struggle with.
A member of the LGBTQ community sat down with Hollaback to discuss the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a measure aimed at ensuring transgender New Yorkers are protected from discrimination in areas of everyday life. I listened as the representative and my supervisor came up with ideas that Hollaback could work with the LGBTQ community to ensure that it was widely recognized that legal protections based upon gender identity and expression are a basic civil right. I was unaware that individuals who identify as transgender were constantly discriminated against while seeking employment and housing. It did not seem fair and I realized that I would have never known about GENDA if I had not been interning at Hollaback. I finally began to understand the major role that organizations like Hollaback could have in bringing awareness to issues and ideas that most people are unfamiliar with. Now that I was aware of GENDA, I wouldn’t feel right advocating for women and the inequalities we face while ignoring these other victims of blatant discrimination. How can I expect people to support me and my fight for equality if I am not willing to acknowledge the struggles of others?
It was not long before I learned about GENDA that I witnessed another group requesting to work with Hollaback. A few weeks ago I was forwarded an email from my supervisor. The email was from a man who was a member of the deaf community. He was requesting that Hollaback support members of the deaf community to fight against the negative exploitation of sign language. After reading the email, I could not help but question how Hollaback and its mission to end street harassment would attract members of the deaf community. I eventually came to the realization that deaf individuals are no different than women who experience street harassment. Both groups of people face discrimination and judgment based on something we cannot change about ourselves, whether that is being deaf or being female.
There are several feminist and women’s rights organizations that are supported by millions of people who are fed up with gender based discrimination. It is not difficult for supporters of these organizations to take time and learn about other victims of discrimination: the LGBTQ community, the disabled, domestic workers, etc. It should become more commonplace that these successful organizations publicly admit their support for these people whose voices are not always heard. As President Obama said in the video “It Gets Better,” which addresses young victims of bullying, “I don’t know what it’s like to be picked on for being gay. But I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong.” We may not have personally experienced the inequalities of every other group but as women we have all been in situations where we were made to feel inferior because of our gender. Women should work with other groups and join them in their fight for equality because standing up for what’s right is the freedom that America’s all about. As citizens of this country we all deserve respect and fair treatment.