Are Gay Rights Civil Rights? It May Depend on Where You Live
How is the rights movement progressing for LGBTQ people? Initial progress was made more quickly than anyone imagined, but lingering inequalities continue to stunt that rapid growth.
Bennett Singer is the editor of Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian (a Lambda Literary Award finalist) and 42 UP, both published by The New Press. He co-directed Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a feature-length documentary that premiered at Sundance and won more than 20 international awards, including the GLAAD Media Award. Singer served for eight years as executive editor of the education program at Time magazine and has written curriculum materials for WGBH, HBO, and Teaching Tolerance. His latest book, co-authored with his husband David Deschamps, is LGBTQ Stats.
BENNETT SINGER: I think the question of acceptance of LGBT folks really does depend on geography. In some places on Earth I would say, when it comes to legal equality and cultural acceptance, absolutely there’s been this revolution, and progress has occurred at a pace that even in our own lifetimes was almost inconceivable in terms of how quickly things had evolved.
At the same time, just today, 2.8 billion people live in countries around the globe where being gay is a crime. And in some places like India, progress toward equality has actually been reversed. So back in 2013 India’s supreme court re-criminalized sodomy and same sex activity, which had become legal. So there are examples of countries where progress has actually been reversed.
When we talk about how have things changed in terms of equality or the movement toward equality for LGBTQ folks I think the biggest and most dramatic example is marriage equality which somewhat miraculously I think—and not inevitably—did become the law of the land, and all 50 states, thanks to the Supreme Court and the Obergefell decision, are now required to recognize same sex marriage.
But I think it’s important to remember that marriage equality does not mean or is not synonymous with full equality in terms of constitutional protections. And it is in fact true that a couple could get married on a Sunday and then one of the partners goes to work on Monday, puts a picture of his husband or her wife on the desk and gets fired, because in the majority of U.S. states it is still completely legal for people to be fired on the basis of sexual orientation.
And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity. There’s a movement among activists and gay rights organizations to expand the scope of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to go beyond race and gender and color and national origin, which are covered categories. But at this point sexual orientation is not covered by the 1964 legislation.
I guess the context is, it wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association came to the conclusion that homosexuality in general is not a mental illness, and that was the year when the APA voted to take homosexuality out of its diagnostic manual. Until that point every gay person, no matter how well adjusted or healthy or functioning, was considered mentally ill.
So that’s the background, and really that wasn’t so long ago that our most progressive doctors were under the assumption or were working on this theory that homosexuality was, in fact, a mental disease.
So I think conversion therapy is kind of the contemporary cousin to that belief that gay people are sick, and that they can be cured or that they need to be cured.
And certainly, you know, dozens of medical establishment organizations ranging from the AMA to youth organizations have condemned conversion therapy.
But this idea that people who are gay can be converted into not being gay is indeed still alive.
My sense is that at this point seven states have outlawed conversion therapy among minors, meaning that in the other 43 states it’s still allowed for parents to send their children, their minor children into this kind of therapy and to require that kids under 18 go through this process.
There have been studies of people who have undergone the therapy and consistently there’s this sense of finding that therapy not only doesn’t change people from being gay to straight but inflicts its own harm and trauma. And there is federal legislation being considered where there would be an national ban, which again I think is common sense.
And I hope that as we see a new generation of young people becoming more open and more accepting, and the sense of allies among teenagers and young people, I think that’s the key to ultimately ending conversion therapy.
It wasn't that long ago, says Bennett Singer, that our nation's most progressive doctors considered homosexuality a psychological disease. That goes to show how far we have come—in areas like gay marriage—to guaranteeing equal rights regardless of one's sexual preferences. But some rights initiatives have started to backslide in the United States and elsewhere. Conversion therapy is still met with approval by some government officials, and sexual orientation and gender identity remain excluded from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbid discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Singer brings to light a fascinating and essential array of knowledge in his new book LGBTQ Stats.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
The future of education and work will rely on teaching students deeper problem-solving skills.
- Asking kids 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is a question that used to make sense, says Jaime Casap. But it not longer does; the nature of automation and artificial intelligence means future jobs are likely to shift and reform many times over.
- Instead, educators should foster a culture of problem solving. Ask children: What problem do you want to solve? And what talents or passions do you have that can be the avenues by which you solve it?
- "[T]he future of education starts on Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday and it's constant and consistent and it's always growing, always improving, and if we create that culture I think that would bring us a long way," Casap says.
These Jurassic predators resorted to cannibalism when hit with hard times, according to a deliciously rare discovery.
- Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism among the Allosaurus has been discovered.
- Scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado, paying special attention to bite marks that were present on 2,368 of the bones.
- It's likely that the predatory carnivore only ate their already-dead peers during times when resources were scarce.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.