In the closet, LGBT people are the cat in Schrodinger’s great thought experiment. They are simultaneously loved and respected by their peers and family and protected by their government while also rejected, oppressed, and abused. Those who do choose to come out of the closet, and decide definitively how they are perceived by their loved ones are too often forced out of safe homes and bright, sure futures and onto the street to be prey for anyone who feels LGBT people should not exist. LGBT youth are often forced to choose between a stable, suffocating prison or a toxic, deadly freedom at increasingly younger ages. Jackie, the daughter of conservative catholic parents, worked her entire life to be an ideal daughter. Jackie was in every sport, lead of every club, and a devout catholic. Within her respectable Idaho household, Jackie’s family used slurs such as fag casually and often, and the only sex-ed she recieved taught her not to be gay above all else. For Jackie, being a lesbian was not an option up until her sophomore year of college. After being outed by her sorority sisters, Jackie went alone to stand in front of the executive board of her sorority and made history as the first sorority girl at the University of Idaho to come out as a lesbian. Out of fear, she called her mom in the middle of the night, hoping to avoid them learning about her sexuality from anyone but her. Jackie’s bravery was rewarded with rejection. Her parents, along with her brothers and sisters cut off all her financial support, and stopped talking to her. Determined to finish her degree, Jackie starved working 10 hours a week at $6 an hour, couch surfed, and drowned in debt. Homeless, Jackie was forced to date women for the sake of having food and a bed and later on, sleep in an unfurnished apartment because she couldn’t afford furniture. Despite her hardships, Jackie is lucky compared to the stories of Luke or James, gay men from deeply religous families. Luke’s family were strict Pentecostals who did not believe in school curriculums. Because of this, Luke had only a second grade education when he left the tiny backwoods town of Tennessee so his father wouldn’t kill him for his sexuality.
After making it to oregon on a train ticket sent to him by a friend, Luke lived on the streets for nearly a year, away from everyone he had ever known and without a strong support system. At the time of his interview, Luke said the year had been “ ‘the best year of my [his] life”. After being kicked out of his midwestern home, James had to hitchhike all the way to Florida before he felt safe enough to settle down. At the time of his interview, James was working to renovate a dilapidated Victorian for an LGBT friendly charity called Lost-n-Found that would someday be able to house 18 homeless youths. Both Luke and James spent time in LGBT friendly shelters, where they had a safe and accepting environment in which to live and get back on their feet. However, the vast majority of shelters in the US are not so accepting. In 2002, a presidential executive order allowed religious organizations to receive federal funding for shelters, food pantries, and other social services. This executive order did not, however, bar said religious organizations from discriminating or refusing to give aid to LGBT people. An overwhelming lack of acceptable housing from traditional shelters has driven activists to consider distributing information on how to find abandoned buildings to sleep in so that LGBT youth are at least protected from the elements. LGBT youth that cannot find refuge in a shelter die at a rate of roughly 1 teenager every 4 hours due to cold, hunger, illness, or violence from their fellow humans. Not every LGBT person ever spends time in shelters or on the street and those who do can work to support themselves and their families.
With the Supreme Court ruling in 2016, same sex mairrage was legalized, giving same sex couples a new set of rights and was step forward for LGBT equality and civil protections. The ruling however, did not include any real protections for these newly married couples, leaving them open to discrimination in the workplace, public spaces, and even housing. Senator Jeff Merkley has stated that, “ ‘ ..you [same sex couples] can get married in the morning and be fired from your[their] job or refused entry to a restaurant in the afternoon’ “. The lack of civil protections for LGBT people makes it so they must choose between being able to work at their jobs or accepting their identities. Patricia Dawson is a trans woman with over 15 years of experience as an industrial engineer. As Steven, she was a rising employee at H & H Electric who was well respected and did good quality work. Once she came out as transgender, however, she was considred “ ‘ ..a distraction…’ “ and fired purely becuase of her identity. The issue of workplace discrimination is not, however, a local problem. A new ban created by SCROTUS Donald Trump could efffect the lives of the estimated 15,000 transgender people currently serving in the military. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann is a transgender man and decorated logistician, and prior to his transition, Dremann was the first woman in the submariner corps. Despite his 11 deployments and impressive history, because of his transgender identity, Dremann is considered a burden by Trump’s administration and his job is put at risk because of the ban.
Even if LGBT people are able to maintain a job despite their identities, they still face difficulties finding housing. Lauren Horbal and Tiffany Cannon, a lesbian couple from Tenessee spent months finding the perfect apartment for them to share on their waitress salaries. They applied to rent what they thought was a perfect home for $550 a month. The application process went smoothly until the landlord asked about Ms. Horbal’s relationship to Ms. Cannon. Once he found out they were a couple, the application process ground to a halt, even a $150 bump in rent would not persuade the landlord to rent to the couple. Tennesee has no laws prohibiting housing discrimination to LGBT people and the few states that do rarely enforce said laws or harshly penalize those who do break them. For every step forward the LGBT community takes toward equality, a new way form of oppression arises. In recent years, LGBT youth have begun coming out to their parents at younger ages, 13.4 years on average. Teens who come out can save themselves years if not decades of depression and shame and many of the teens who do come out find support systems in their friends and family. The rest are thrown onto the street at younger and younger ages at the mercy of federally funded organizations with no obligation to aid them or will only aid them if they endure harassment or humiliation for their identities. Waiting to come out when you are more self sufficient still isn’t a safe bet, most states have no protections against discrimination in the workplace so despite qualifications, experiece, or work ethic LGBT workers can be fired, harassed, embarrassed, and otherwise discriminated against with little to no repurcussions for the abusers. Without a support system to let LGBT youths learn and grow in a safe environment or protections to allow LGBT adults to work or live without fear of discrimination, members of the LGBT community will always be at a greater risk for poverty than their straight peers. That lack of protections has and always will force members of the LGBT community to choose between their ability to live in safe, stable conditions and be able to be treated fairly in the workplace and their own personal identities and happiness.
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