Ensuring Equality for All

Posted on 06/29/2016 @ 12:45 AM

By: Alejandro Oms, LULAC National Policy and Legislation Intern

Since its founding 87 years ago, LULAC has fought to ensure that Latinos are not left behind as our nation progresses. As the Latino community continues to face obstacles, LULAC will continue to fight on our behalf, but some other communities are falling behind and are fighting the same fights that LULAC fought almost one hundred years ago. One of these communities is the LGBT community, and even today LGBT individuals can be fired from their jobs in twenty-eight states due to nonexistent employment non-discrimination laws. The ACLU is currently tracking legislation in twenty-five states that make it effectively legal to discriminate against the LGBT community and would even allow continual federal and state funding to organizations that discriminate against the community. Despite this, on June 26th, 2015, the LGBT community across the country celebrated the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges which expanded the right to marry to all United States citizens.

Celebration was followed by a disappointing streak of legislative backlashes. On March 23, 2016, the governor of North Carolina signed a bill that prevents individuals from using the bathroom of their gender identity. On April 5, 2016, the governor of Mississippi signed a bill that legalizes discrimination against the LGBT community by allowing businesses and individuals to discriminate against the community based on religious freedom. On May 19, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to allow federal contractors to continue discriminating against LGBT employees on the basis of religious freedom. Anti-LGBT sentiment culminated in the tragic events of June 12 when a gunman entered Pulse Nightclub’s Latin night and killed forty-nine members of the LGBT community and injured another fifty-three people, making it the worst mass shooting in the history of the country.

Justice Sotomayor described feelings that minorities have all experienced in one of her Supreme Court dissents:

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

Sotomayor's language can also apply to what the LGBT community faces: Sexuality matters to a young man’s view of society when he watches others sneer as he passes, while he holds the hand of his boyfriend. Gender matters to a young woman’s sense of self as she has to research each state she visits wondering if she will be arrested for using the women’s bathroom. Sexuality matters to a young person who cannot talk to her family about her crush without being thrown out of her home. Sexuality and gender matter because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

We cannot outlaw hatred, but we should not legalize it.

When I was young I used to watch Mr. Rogers. He once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” As a community, we can look at others fighting the same things we fought decades ago and decide if we are going to be the helpers or if we are going to be bystanders. LULAC stood with the LGBT community through Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the fight for marriage equality. We must continue to be allies to the LGBT community now and ensure that their rights continue to be protected.

Alejandro Oms is a Policy and Legislation Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a degree in political science and certificate in international relations.

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