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After Orlando, The Fight For Equality Goes On

By |2016-06-30T09:00:00-04:00June 30th, 2016|Opinions, Viewpoints|

By Senator Gary Peters

In the same month – and more significantly during Pride Month – when we are celebrating the one-year anniversary of marriage equality, we are also mourning the loss of 49 Americans who were killed and 53 others who were wounded in not just the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history, but a clearly targeted attack against the LGBT community.
Our country has made great strides towards equality for all Americans. In recent years, public polling has shown that hearts and minds across the country are becoming increasingly supportive of LGBT rights. LGBT members of our armed forces can now serve their country openly. And in every state across our country, LGBT people are guaranteed the freedom to marry the person they love. These are important triumphs in the fight for equality, and we should take time to celebrate these hard-won achievements.
But as we come to the end of this year’s Pride Month, the events in Orlando serve as a stark reminder that the fight for equality in this nation for LGBT Americans must not end with marriage equality. We still live in a nation where Americans face discrimination – and can be bullied, fired, evicted, denied credit or services and even killed – simply because of their sexuality or gender identity.
For too many LGBT Americans, violence and discrimination are serious and relentless problems. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, LGBT Americans face an extremely high risk of being targeted by hate crimes. Transgender people, especially transgender women of color, face even higher rates of violence. In 2015 alone, 21 transgender people were the victims of deadly violence, many as the direct result of anti-transgender bias, including two transgender people in Detroit.
Although some communities have taken steps to promote the equal treatment of every individual, the vast majority of states have fallen woefully short of ensuring legal protections against discrimination regularly experienced by the LGBT community. In 37 states, including Michigan, LGBT Americans seeking a loan to start a business or buy a home can be denied credit. In 32 states, including Michigan, LGBT people can be barred from purchasing goods in a shop, keeping a job where they earn a decent living, finding housing in a safe neighborhood or even using a public bathroom. We cannot ignore the fact that in many places, LGBT Americans not only lack legal protections, they face active campaigns targeting their access to basic rights.
This kind of bigotry harms LGBT people who are trying to do what many other Americans take for granted — find opportunity, strive for success and lead fulfilling lives. This bigotry directly contributed to the violence that not only ended lives in Orlando, but shattered a symbol of safety for the LGBT community – a gathering place to enjoy music, dancing and the space to just be themselves.
Our country was founded on the principles of equality, freedom and justice, but we cannot live up to the full promise of these ideals until LGBT Americans are afforded the same legal rights as other Americans. I was proud to help introduce the Equality Act to expand non-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity and finally ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and other areas for LGBT Americans in every state across the country. Our Constitution guarantees equal protection under law, and I will keep working with my colleagues in Congress to defend the rights of all Americans.
Though our hearts are heavy in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, over the last few weeks we have seen many communities come together and lift up the message that love overcomes hate. It’s not always easy to do what is right. It takes tremendous courage to rise up in the face of discrimination, hatred and outright violence to stand for justice and equal rights. I am honored to stand with Michigan’s LGBT community to champion equal rights and celebrate the diversity and unity that makes our nation so uniquely strong.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters-(D) is the junior senator from Michigan.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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