Being Queer in the U.S.: Knowing Your Rights as They Currently Stand
The topic of LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States has generally been a matter of constant change and progression. Regionally, however, strides toward equality vary in size, considering that many states still allow and accept discrimination toward queer students.
The move toward equality for the LGBTQIA+ community in general has been steady throughout the past decade. Despite the neglect of queer rights in the twentieth century, many states began adopting the legality of gay marriage in the wake of the twenty-first century, with Massachusetts being the first in 2004. On June 26, 2015, gay marriage was legalized in all fifty states in the marginal 5-4 Supreme Court Decision titled “Obergefell v. Hodges.”
Despite the legality of gay marriage, such a slim vote in the Senate hints toward the fact that queer individuals in America still face severe inequity in several aspects of their lives. From the banning of trans individuals in the military to the blatant murders of queer folk, the inequities are obvious and deeply ingrained in American culture.
However, many youth likely remain unaware of just how regionally states are willing to condone and/or accept discrimination of queer folk.
Nonetheless, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (or the ACLU) are making huge strides toward achieving equality, with legal battles being fought everyday for LGBTQ+ youth. If you would like to donate to the ACLU to assist with their fights against discrimination toward queer youth, you may do so here: https://www.aclu.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/lgbtq-youth
That being said, below are a few issues which queer youth still face daily in the United States. The goal here is not simply to state the issues at hand, rather to educate and expose the extremity of these issues. In doing so, we hope to spark a conversation around the struggles of queer youth in hopes of generating real change, both at the individual and national level.
According to the State Equality Index of 2020, only seventeen states “expressly prohibit non-discrimination in education on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” and two states (New Mexico and Wisconsin) only prohibit discrimination only on the basis of sexual orientation. This means that thirty-one states have not banned educational discrimination on account of sexual orientation, and an astounding thirty-three states have not done so on account of gender identity.
Needless to say, the lack of support which queer youth receive from these states does more harm than good. For one, what a state government says (or does not say, for that matter) could set the tone for the people living in that area. It is thus important that states acknowledge the rights of queer folk in education, allowing them to live and advance their life to the fullest without fear of legalities getting in their way.
Despite such lack of support from these states, groups like the ACLU are fighting to ensure that all states explicitly voice and document their support for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Additionally, four states–Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania– are actively “accepting [housing] complaints on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” Queer youth who live in these states are thus more at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
Needless to say that such inequities make it more difficult for Queer individuals to get back on their feet and integrate into the workforce and/or educational settings. Furthermore, those who are able to obtain a job or go to school while facing a housing crisis could also experience working environments which are severely below those of their housed peers. Such environments could potentially create poor study habits, hectic sleeping schedules, and poor academic performance (amongst other things).
Again, groups like the ACLU believe that such type of discrimination are wrong, and are working hard to introduce legislation which makes the abovementioned discrimination illegal.
All public school students, as stated by the ACLU, are protected by the first amendment of the United States constitution, meaning that they are entitled to free speech. Despite their rights, many queer youth are still not hindered from voicing their opinions, writing, and statements due to censorship.
Many schools, for example, block websites which provide information on LGBTQ+ rights and resources. By blocking such information, schools restrict students from viewing websites that allow them to live a healthy and informed life.
According to the ACLU, school officials claim that any items that “make a statement about LGBT issues are often attacked by schools, usually by claiming that this rainbow T-shirt or that trans pride button is ‘disruptive.’” Despite the fact that many students go through harsh censorship daily, this silencing is illegal; public school students are allowed to proudly express themselves and their identities as they please, as stated in their rights.
Bullying On Account of Gender and/or Sexuality
Students face bullying by their own peers and instructors far too often on account of their gender expression and/or their sexuality. Too often does such bullying also go unnoticed and undealt with. Public school students, however, are given the right to be themselves regardless of how they choose to portray themselves.
As stated by the ACLU, “there are laws protecting your right to be yourself at school [and at school] events.” If, in any case, a student is a victim of bullying due to their identity, that student has the right to stand their ground and take action, whether legal or administrative, to ensure that such discrimination does not continue to happen.
Outing and Confidentiality
While queer youth have every right to be openly themselves at school, it is also important to note that who an individual is at school may not be exactly the same as who they are at home. This is because a student may feel comfortable sharing their gender identity and/or their sexuality at school, but may have a fear of doing so at home.
For this reason, the ACLU states that it is “against the law for school officials to disclose a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to parents or other school staff.” Telling someone about your identity does not give them the right to spread that information about you–only you have the power and right to do so.
For more information on where LGBTQ+ rights stand at the moment, please refer to ACLU’s website at https://www.aclu.org/. For more information on where each state stands on these issues, refer to the State Equality Index of 2020 at https://hrc-prod-requests.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/HRC-SEI20-report-Update-022321-FInal.pdf?mtime=20210322114741&focal=none
About The Author
Rafael Franco Flores (He/Him)
Rafael Franco was raised in the small farming town of Kerman, CA, where he resided until graduating from Kerman High School in 2016. Thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a double bachelor's in English and History at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating with Departmental Honors in English, Cum Laude Latin honors, and Phi Beta Kappa membership. While at UCLA, Rafael developed a passion for critical theory and Romantic literature and hopes to continue studying these fields at the graduate level. In the past, Rafael interned for UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin. He hopes to use his past experience in journalism as an editor for Central Valley Scholars in hopes of creating valuable resources for students in the Central Valley.