Speaking of Women's Rights: Free To Be You And Me

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Free To Be You And Me

In a conversation about gender the other day, a friend mentioned that she was glad we live in a time when, as women, we can do the things we want to do, dress the way we want to dress, and be the way we want to be.  I nodded in agreement, but later I started to question this idea. It seems pretty clear that we’re better off than we used to be, but are we indeed free to be who we are?  And what about other people who don’t fit the mold of the majority?  What if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?  What if you’re an immigrant?  What if you’re a straight girl who likes to drink beer and watch football?  What if you’re a straight guy who likes to bake cookies and sing broadway tunes at karaoke night?  I’ve decided to explore this question – are we free to be who we are - through a series of blog posts, beginning today with LGBT Americans.  

In January the US Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed new regulations that acknowledged that they “have a responsibility to make certain that public programs are open to all Americans,“ by including sexual orientation and gender identity among protected categories in housing discrimination.  Last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officially took issue with the proposed changes and, as they have many times before, lobbed threats around cutting services.   

“... the ultimate effect of a rule requiring organizations to choose between adherence to their religious beliefs, on the one hand, and accepting government funds to carry out needed services, on the other, may be that those organizations with the greatest expertise and success provide fewer services (there being less money to fund them) or cease providing them altogether (if no money remains to fund them).” 

In other words:  If you make us house gay people, we might just stop housing people all together.  In the face of an epidemic of homelessness in the LGBT youth community, this threat seems heartless at best, and downright hateful at worst.  

So the USCCB doesn’t think we should get to be who we are (or rather, we should make damn sure we don’t need housing first)… but what about everyone else?  

Equally Blessed, a coalition of pro-equality Catholics, put out a statement pointing out the hypocrisy of USCCB’s stance on the housing issue, including this choice statement:  “It appears that the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development manifests a deeper appreciation of the Gospel than do the bishops of our church.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

 Perhaps we’ll count this one as a tie:  depressing that we still have to hear from anti-equality groups like the USCCB, but encouraging that the federal government is starting to consider policies that forbid discrimination against LGBT folks, and more encouraging still that all religiously-affiliated groups aren’t working against equality.  

How about LGBT youth in general?  We’ve heard a lot of stories about bullying and suicide in the past year.  But as Entertainment Weekly pointed out in a feature article last month, depictions of gay teens on television are becoming more prevalent and more real.  We’ve come a long way from My So-Called Life’s Rickie (“Bi?! Do you hear these words she’s throwing around?  -Angela Chase’s mother), to our beloved Kurt Hummel of the Fox sensation Glee (“You think it’s ok to come in my house and say “faggy?..My family comes first and I can’t have that kind of poison around here” –Kurt Hummel’s dad.)  LGBT teenagers now have myriad television characters and situations that mirror their own lives.  Not only that, but perhaps Glee star Darren Criss is right when he claims that these characters are causing people to reevaluate the way they think.  

There are other baby steps happening all over the country, including pro-equality legislation in nearly every state.  Yet only 85 out of 7,382 state legislators are openly gay.  Are we there yet?  Definitely not.  Are we better off than we were ten years ago?  Twenty?  What do you think? 

Photo credit:  ABC Television