The Millennium March on Washington for Equality Agenda
April 30, 2000
One of the primary objectives of the Millennium March is to rally the GLBT community around a common political agenda. However, the process by which that agenda is established has been the subject of much controversy, and there is no single set of priorities about which all March participants agree. Here is a brief update on some of the issues most frequently proposed to be part of the March agenda:
Hate Crimes Legislation
Hate crimes laws provide harsher sentences for violent crimes motivated by bias based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or physical disability. In 22 states and Washington, D.C., sexual orientation is also a protected category. But the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act is stalled in Congress — partly because it includes protection for gay men and lesbians.
Right to Marry
It is not possible for gay or lesbian couples to get married legally anywhere in the United States. But there has been significant progress toward meaningful civil unions in recent months. Vermont’s House and Senate passed a law that would extend many of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples. And the rabbis of Reform Judaism voted in March to recognize and conduct same-sex unions in their synagogues. However, the U.S. Congress and 31 states have passed “Defense of Marriage” acts that attempt to permanently restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Although 11 states and many cities outlaw job discrimination based on sexual orientation, the vast majority of gay men and lesbians can be fired because of their sexuality. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act was voted down by the Senate in 1996 by a narrow 50-49 margin and never made it to the floor of the House. House Minority leader Dick Gephardt, D-MO, has promised to introduce it if Democrats retake control of the House, and Al Gore has pledged his support. George W. Bush opposes ENDA as “special treatment.”
Until the 1993 passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gay men and lesbians were officially banned from the U.S. Armed Forces. Now they are only excluded if they are open about their sexuality. Most reports have concluded that DADT has worsened harassment for gay and lesbian servicemembers. Al Gore, both Clintons, and many prominent Democrats now believe that DADT has failed and that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly and equally.
Lesbian Health Issues
Historically, the practice of medicine has been based on an understanding of male anatomy. Women’s health was an early, pressing concern of the feminist movement, and in the past decade, lesbians have organized to focus attention on their own specific health needs. Lesbians are less likely to seek health care (especially gynecological exams) than other women, and they are at higher risk for breast, cervical and ovarian cancers because they are less likely to have children by age 30. A 1999 study by the National Academy of Science concluded that extensive research into lesbian health is still desperately needed.
AIDS / HIV
HIV has not been receiving as much attention from the gay and lesbian community as it once did. Recently introduced drugs have greatly extended the life expectancies of HIV-positive people — at least those who can afford the medications. Funding for AIDS research continues to be approved each year by Congress, but many believe the money is insufficient. Outside the gay and lesbian community, the biggest area of concern is Africa, where HIV prevention and treatment are still woefully inadequate.
LGBT People of Color
Misunderstood by both those who share their skin color and those who share their sexual preference, LGBT people of color — while always judged first and foremost by race — often feel caught between two worlds. The controversy over lack of diversity surrounding this March on Washington proved that this double exclusion has not gone away.
In every state except Florida, it is legal for gay men or lesbians to adopt children. Until 1990, however, only one parent was typically recognized by the government. Now about half of the states allow “second parent adoptions” — the granting of joint parental responsibility to two unmarried people. There is no federal legislation on the issue, though some organizations are challenging gay adoption bans as unconstitutional.
LGBT Aging Issues
Gay culture has always privileged youth, but life goes on well past the hedonistic twenties and thirties. As the population in general is living longer, so are we. Senior gays and lesbians face unique challenges, both legal — such as rights of succession — and social, such as meeting people and growing older without the support of children.
LGBT Youth Issues
Gay and lesbian adolescents and teens have always been one of the most vulnerable groups to anti-gay prejudice. They are at a higher risk for suicide and are believed to have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse. However, an increasing number of gay teens are coming out early in life and are fighting to make their schools a safe place for their peers. Of particular note has been the increasing number of gay-straight alliances formed in high schools — a move that has received praise from many teachers’ organizations, but that has drawn criticism from “pro-family” groups. At least one school district has banned extracurricular student groups altogether, since barring gay-straight alliances alone would be considered discriminatory.
Overturning Anti-GLBT Laws
The passage of California’s anti-same-sex marriage Knight Initiative has galvanized the gay community to work against homophobic legislation across the country. The biggest priorities currently are similar “Defense of Marriage” laws in 31 states, as well as Florida and Utah’s laws that create obstacles for gay families.
Right to Privacy/Choice
Many gay men and lesbians see a connection between reproductive freedom and gay rights. Both are based on the principle that the government should not — and indeed cannot, because of the constitutional right to privacy — pass laws that interfere in personal sexual and reproductive choices.
Global GLBT Issues
The United States falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum with respect to gay rights. Many countries – most notably, western European nations and Australia — are considered more progressive socially and politically on gay issues. Gay and lesbian activists are working on strengthening connections among countries to move the agenda along on a global scale.
(Agenda provided by www.PlanetOut.com )