Fight to Free Fellow Queer Folk

Marriage equality seems like the apex of civil rights recognition for LGBTQ+ communities, yet what remains to liberate us?

Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Activists and supporters sighed with relief when the SCOTUS announced its decision on June 26, 2015. Finally, the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case overturned past legal precedent. This directed states to legally allow the marriage of same-sex couples. Considered a win for the LGBTQ+ community, we could finally marry the ones we love!

Advocates and supporters consider marriage equality the most significant win. But we still have quite the journey remaining. First, it means the world to have the legal recognition of marriage. Now, you can visit your partner in the hospital, share caretaking, establish inheritance, and more.

LGBTQ+ folx remain concerned about a litany of issues. Many of which intersect with other vulnerable populations in our communities-at-large. Trans women of color continue to be the most at risk! When it comes to transgender issues, barbaric violence persists as a concern.

Pride in Our Fight to Thrive

We recall the many senseless and discriminatory legislative efforts across the country. We also witnessed attempts at erasure of trans protections — among other things pushed by the Trump administration and conservative legislators nationwide.

Transgender and queer individuals find ignorant opposition to even the simplest things. One example include others using their correct pronouns — particularly with legal documents. A friend informs me that xe views recognition of trans rights as “abysmal.”

Learn More: “2018 could match the deadliest year ever for transgender Americans

The HIV epidemic is another primary concern for queer people — 38,500 new cases in the United States are reported every year. Many people still don’t realize how far treatments have progressed, as well as their shortcomings.

We have yet to produce a cure, likely due to profit-driven healthcare. Furthermore, housing discrimination continues unchecked. A majority of youth experiencing homelessness are also LGBTQ+. While we discuss queer concerns, let us finish by mentioning a taproot of our ongoing movement —the Stonewall Riots .

Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

Concern for Trans Siblings

A couple years ago, I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) ceremony hosted in Nashville, TN. A friend invited us to show up, to be in solidarity. Trans folx fought on the frontlines for justice since Stonewall — like Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera.

We pay respect every November 20 to trans siblings lost to irrational and pointless violence because of who we are. They would not die like that in a just world, but this is not such a world yet. This world calls for educating, agitating, and organizing.

Additionally, think tanks, and corporate puppets continue to push right-wing, state-level legislation. They are some of the same ones that paint rainbows on their corporate logos for June.

These bills seek to focus on bathroom delegation, to turn back any semblance of progress — rather than focus on more pressing needs like universal healthcare. The motivation behind these efforts is seeded in hate and fear-mongering. Science speaks against these efforts.

Image by Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Respect a Person’s Identity

Beyond fears for safety and barbaric bathroom policies, others find respecting pronouns hard. These same people have no issue when others change their surnames for marriage. They fail to protest if someone wants to go by nickname.

Cisgender and heteronormative folks express their difficulty with using pronouns respecting gender identity. But it’s no different than asking someone’s name and then respecting them enough to call them that. You need not assume anything. People get married, and you call them a new name. Same difference.

What’s the big deal? It isn’t hard to respect someone’s title — regardless of how you feel about it. This is one concern affecting trans people. I know we sometimes disregard the trans perspective because it doesn’t seem to affect us personally. But, this affects us more than we realize, as an injury to one is an injury to all.

Image by Reshetnikov_art via Shutterstock
“Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People” via As/Is

Prejudice Within Power

Trans and queer people must abide by archaic government gender identifiers. The law fails to recognize gender confirmation or intersex. This understanding of gender has since been disproven by the spectrum model. Humans are so diverse.

Diversity is the advantage of sexual reproduction. Thankfully, we see infant “gender corrective” going out of vogue, but this trend only began recently. Research shows that using surgery to gender intersex infants causes trauma. This manifests particularly later in life.

When you go to the DMV, one is usually obligated to select male or female. Hell, we get sorted right from birth. Some babies are born intersex. In fact, you may be surprised at your sex chromosomes if you sequenced your DNA. Best not to judge.

States like Florida make discussion of human sexuality impossible with their “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. That is to say human sexuality beyond their narrow interpretation of scripture, which doesn’t pertain to education. Lack of full spectrum sex ed fosters uninformed decision-making.

Don’t you want the youth to make well-informed decisions? Rest assured young ones need help understanding changes in their bodies, informed guidance. Instead, they fear alienation and so self-censor. If the school reports pronoun changes or sexual orientation, not all parents are receptive.

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Bold Displays of Hate

What about systematic harm? The difficulty of having your gender recognized by law traumatizes some further. Many officials, allies, and loved ones fail to respect identity. For a moment, make an effort to empathize with a transgender/queer person.

Learn More: 100 Ways to Make the World Better for Non-Binary People

Imagine wherever you go, people hatefully call you the incorrect gender (misgendering). They jeer you with another gender. Because their life is so devoid of meaning they can only derive connection by perpetuating the pain they feel and seeing it play out in others.

Imagine using the restroom to feel life-threatening. You don’t know if you might encounter a bigot who decides to bully you for existing, or murder you. That remains a reality of daily life for trans and queer people across the country.

This is why we have Pride and consider each other family. In case you didn’t know, sex is biological and gender is something humans made up. And we continue to revise our definitions of gender, variable by culture.

It is impossible to realize the entire perspective of another person. Still, most of us live day to day without considering the implications of gender in society. Most benefit from playing along. Gender identity and sexual orientation play prominent roles in our daily lives, and our next topic of health.

Image by Melanie Lemahieu via Shutterstock

An Ongoing Epidemic Long Before COVID-19

The HIV epidemic remains another epic concern for our communities (at a glance) — as well as other STIs. Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 7 who live with HIV do not know their status (straight/cis people included). Let’s release the stigmas around sex. We are human.

The ongoing HIV pandemic plus a waning COVID-19 both highlight the need for some universal standard of healthcare in the United States, purported as the wealthiest nation in history. 1.3 million people live with this managed chronic disease.

Furthermore, the sticker shock of medication is astounding. The latest drugs go for $100 a pill, or over $3000 for a month’s supply. Since our government won’t negotiate drug prices, folks in the US pay up to ten times what those in Mexico and Canada pay for all medicines.

However, there exist 20-minute rapid tests often freely available now (as with Hepatitis C). You may find comfort in bringing a trusted friend with you to get tested. All sexually active people should get tested regularly, twice a year or sooner if symptomatic. (*not a licensed medical professional)

Indeed, practitioners saw a decrease in new infection rates from 2010–2015. Though to be frank, 38,500 new diagnoses a year is still too many. Find deeper statistics at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. There are many programs which can help with treatment costs.

I say this not to be harsh or punitive, but to inform you that low or no-cost social services exist to help at-risk groups remain negative or untransmittable. The most at risk groups are men who have sex with men and trans women. We are one another’s responsibility.

By ethnic group from highest prevalence is Native-American, African-American, blended heritage, and Latin-American. These are historically oppressed, thus underserved communities. Since reparations come due, solid healthcare would be a great start.

Today if you stay adherent as prescribed, you will not transmit HIV through sex. Health care is a human right.

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Pillow Talk for Safer Play

Regular testing is key, on top of prevention. It behooves me to point out that elders of all backgrounds should also get tested if sexually active. Just because you may not get pregnant doesn’t mean you can’t catch Hepatitis C. Sure there’s a cure for that now, but it costs at least $54,000 for the full treatment.

Another example, PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a once-a-day pill with a drug combo similar to that which treats HIV. Truvada is a popular (monopolized) choice. PrEP reduces the risk of transmission by 100% when one remains adherent to their prescription.

PrEP and anti-retroviral therapies provide the most effective protection against HIV transmission, regardless of condom use. Although, condoms are pretty effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases in general. Condoms help protect from other infectious diseases, as PrEP does not.

While we are at it, we should also mention that using lubricant reduces STD/STI transmission. Lubrication reduces wear and tears caused by the friction and vigor of rubbing mucous membranes together. Apply liberally.

Especially important is that receptive partners lubricate. Spit does not suffice, and I recommend against using saliva as a lubricant alone — apologies for being momentarily explicit. Get smart and take measures to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

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Get Smart & Prevent the Spread

Vaccines exemplify preventative medicine, and they cost far less than treating illness. There was once a time when rampant small pox would leave you disfigured if you even survived. Paralysis from polio relegated many folks to living their remaining days in iron lungs. We now keep viral outbreaks at bay in part due to vaccines.

Get tested and seek treatment if at risk. Health departments, for example, will treat you regardless of your ability to pay. Many resources exist to ease long-term treatment of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. These include services like co-pay cards, case management, and other programs.

A good start is a simple Google search for a local CARES or community health clinic near you; services tend to cluster in metro areas. These fall short of a single-payer, national healthcare program. Yet, they provide some measure of care for specific populations until healthcare becomes guaranteed as a human right.

On the subject of sexually transmitted diseases within the LGBTQ+ sphere, let us examine a few more facts and figures. First, it turns out that sharing sex toys is not the best idea; it causes women who have sex with women to be at a higher risk of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Additionally, while we have seen a decrease in new HIV rates, we see an uptick in chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.

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Spread of Disease on the Rise

Infectious disease does not limit itself to queer communities. Syphilis can show up on the body as sores and rashes. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can lurk with no symptoms.

They’re all generally easy to cure with a timely antibiotics prescription. But when left untreated, they can lead to infertility or life-threatening health complications. Yet another reason why regular screening and affordable health care are so important.

This affects everyone, and HPV is another lurking threat. In general, 1 in 4 sexually active people carries the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) . This may or may not be symptomatic.

Rates of HPV are incredibly high with men who have sex with men (3 in 4), and many times people show no sign of being carriers. You may not notice HPV infection, but it can lead to certain cancers. Consider vaccinating yourself to safeguard from its many variants.

It is absurd to continue debating these things when a universal healthcare model could secure this human right. Yet, we still have millions without even insurance. In the United States, we are #1 at having the most medical bankruptcies among highly industrialized nations.

Still, when discussing meeting needs, one must also consider access to safe and secure housing for LGBTQ+.

Image by Jacob Lund via Shutterstock

We Need a Home to Be Happy

Two early radicals in the fight for queer liberation were friends and transgender women of color — Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. They both frequented Stonewall and rioted that fateful night. Because of people like these two, our rights today come with the force of law.

Marsha threw the mirror-shattering brick that set off the course of history. Sylvia first organized with the Gay Liberation Front. They both founded STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which offered services like housing to queer youth. The term “transgender” wasn’t coined until later. We need to learn about those who paved the way for our freedoms today.

Tragically, they found Marsha’s body floating in a river in July of 1992, and Rivera passed of liver cancer in 2002 after years lacking steady shelter. Worth repeating is that violence remains high for our community whether physical, lack of housing, or through neglect.

Housing, as with healthcare, should be recognized as a human right rather than commodified. When the absence of a resource causes your death, a civilized society should guarantee it as a human right.

One cannot survive without food, water, housing, etc. — so why would a just and equitable society erect a price barrier and thereby restrict access? We should mention the sorry state LGBTQ+ housing.

40% of homeless youth are queer! Many find it appropriate to discard their unwanted youth. Children are not some garbage or old furniture you throw outside when they no longer suit you.

Despite this, many caretakers cannot love and nurture their young ones without condition. The condition required for their love is conformity and obedience to some ill-conceived norm. Some of us have to choose our families - a practice which defines our community resilience and intimacy.

Antagonists reserve their harshest aggressions for trans women of color. So, we must stand in solidarity as they catalyze these movements. From Stonewall to Pride, we remember those who forged the paths we tread, and the fight continues until we all achieve justice, equity, and freedom.

Left is Johnson, Right is Rivera. Source

Keep the Flame of Pride Alive

The Modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement grew from seeds planted at the Stonewall Riots. We commemorate that night of June 28, 1969, by marching through the streets and harken back to the days of old. On this date, our elder siblings did so during that hallowed summer night at the sacred New York City Inn.

Police subjected Stonewall Inn patrons to regular raids because they dared to be different. The law at that time made public displays of homosexuality illegal, so they enforced injustice. This practice was commonplace at that time, unfortunately.

Even so, patrons fought back against police and oppression that fateful night of ’69. The bricks of that memorable night sparked the flames of the movement, and we must always remember the legends upon whose shoulders we stand.

“Stonewall: The Story of Resistance” by Tyler Oakley

Police oppression affects everyone; they are enforcers for capital not democracy. Police raids sparked the movement that led to the progress many queer people in my generation now take for granted. Know your history and know your roots — lest you be doomed to repeat yourself and find yourself without bearings or context. Take note.

Image by Dev Chatterjee via Shutterstock

We, Too, Just Want to Be Free

Our forebears lit the fire of this movement, so may we now prepare to take that mantle. Our fates intertwine, and we fall short when we misperceive that reality.

So say it with me: Trans Rights are Human Rights! Gay Rights are Black Rights are Women’s Rights are Native Rights are Migrant Rights are Human Rights! There is no getting yours and dipping. We must follow those blazed paths as we forge our own.

Our elders say to show up for one another, to help when and how you are asked. This system was not made for us, and discrimination remains pervasive. Seeing the Supreme Court eye Roe v. Wade sends chills down spines, as it suggests a trajectory reversal in progress.

But, now more than ever, we need concerted, grassroots efforts to push the bar further. Electing people into office and passing landmark legislation is just the start, and that comes after we sow the grassroots and grow them . Circumstances change only when we do the inner work required first.

As we now see, much work lies ahead to liberate the LGBTQIAP+ community. Yet we have come so far and must hold the gains made. How can we expect to achieve a just and fair world without first recognizing the humanity in one another? We must be there for our trans and queer kin, particularly black, indigenous, and people of color in general.

We demand a national healthcare system. This consists of preventative healthcare, improving outcomes, costs of transition therapy, mental health, dental, vision, removing barriers, and more — for everyone. We demand guaranteed housing, because we are human and alive. There is no excuse.

No one should die without shelter, and no one deserves death for being different. Show up for one another, stand firm in your resolve, and for the love of god(s), respect people enough to use the correct pronouns. Honor human rights! Together, we will win this fight for our lives. 🌈

Image by Antwon McMullen via Shutterstock
Photo by Laury Jaugey

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(He/They) Hospitality pro, writer, gardener, musician and humanist from Tennessee (Tanasi). Finding gems to polish for you. https://linktr.ee/jonmheatherly

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JM Heatherly

JM Heatherly

(He/They) Hospitality pro, writer, gardener, musician and humanist from Tennessee (Tanasi). Finding gems to polish for you. https://linktr.ee/jonmheatherly

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