One Equal World

A photo of Vice President Mike Pence.

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President Trump stated that he would let President Obama’s 2014 executive order, which barred discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees by federal contractors, stand. This came as a surprise to many people in the LGBTQ+ community, who had been bracing for the law to be repealed. But what is even more surprising is that Vice President Mike Pence, notorious for the “religious freedom” law that all but tanked Indiana’s economy, has come out in support of this move.

Trump said that “discrimination would have no place in our administration” during his campaign trail. But he ran on a platform that promised to bar and deport immigrants, chose Mike Pence as his running mate, and less than two weeks into his administration issued an executive order that banned people from Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. The LGBTQ+ community, among others, can be excused for not believing anything Trump or Pence says about being anti-discrimination.

So while on the one hand it does seem like Trump and Pence will leave LGBTQ+ rights alone, it’s important to note that the executive order in question only bars discrimination by federal contractors. For businesses that don’t contract with the federal government, whether or not they’re legally allowed to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community is a matter for the state to decide.

“Religious liberty” laws have been trotted out in a number of states, to varying degrees of success, but they all hinge on the “right” of people religiously opposed to the community to discriminate against it. It’s a flimsy pretense but one that won’t go away, even in the face of increased acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community across the country. While it seems unlikely that Trump will be issuing any executive orders targeting the community in the near future, it is a safe bet that he, and his administration, will be supporting religious liberty laws wherever they crop up.

A protest held in support of LGBT individuals and others affected by the Trump administration.

Photo courtesy of mathiaswasik at Flickr Creative Commons.

According to Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Trump’s use of power in the White House is working to “galvanize the outrage” of people who voted against him, who will be harmed by his actions, or who have realized that they made a mistake in voting for him. “People are activated and ready to fight back,” he said, while meeting with New Jersey Senator Corey Booker in Philadelphia.

The two senators were meeting with LGBTQ+ activists in the city to make the point that the community needs to come together and stand against any anti-LGBTQ+ actions taken by Trump’s administration or by Congress. They were careful to remind listeners that 25 Senate seats, currently held by Democrats, are up for election in 2018.

If Democrats lose even eight of those seats, they won’t be able to stop the Republicans when they band together. They won’t even be able to filibuster.

The senators have some good advice. The LGBTQ+ community hasn’t been directly attacked yet, but it’s still very early in this administration, with it’s willingness to ignore the judicial branch and it’s nearly unchecked support from the legislative branch. Trump wasted no time on his “Muslim ban” or his wall on the Mexican border, so there’s no reason to think he won’t take action against the community as well, especially with a notoriously homophobic vice president and advisers who support neo-Nazis.

The community is sure to face threats from the current federal government, perhaps the most anti-LGBTQ+ government in American history, and the only way to face that is to stick together. But the senators made a point that the community is not alone, and has to work together with others. Women’s rights and immigrant rights are LGBTQ+ rights as well, and it is only through building a coalition, a unified front, that any marginalized people will come out of this okay.

A photo of a LGBT youth pride parade.

Photo courtesy of Peter O’Connor at Flickr Creative Commons.

Project10 is a Montreal-based nonprofit focused on helping LGBTQ+ youth cope with, well, everything. It started 25 years ago as an English hotline for gay and lesbian youth who needed someone to talk to.

At the time, the Quebec Charter protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the larger Canadian Charter of Rights did not. Many school districts were run by religious institutions, and it was the days of the AIDS crisis, so there was a lot of fear in the cultural zeitgeist. Those kids needed Project10.

These days, things are certainly getting better for LGBTQ+ youth in Canada. But it’s still far from perfect. While Project10 is still going strong, it’s still struggling.

While the group isn’t in danger of closing down, they do need more money, which is why they’re raising funds to hire more staff. They’re aiming to raise $25,000 by the end of March, because while the needs of LGBTQ+ youth have been increasing, funding hasn’t kept pace.

The organization currently operates with two part-time staff members along with a number of volunteers. But Project10 isn’t just a hotline anymore. For years, they’ve been sending people to go along with youth who need to go to the doctor’s, or find housing, or even go shopping for clothes during their transition, and need some support while doing so.

It’s those services that have allowed Project10 to help so many people. Hotlines are all well and good, and very helpful, but having somebody there in person is a lot better, which is why they’ve moved to a new headquarters that makes walk-ins easier.

Even the name is designed to help, because they didn’t want to make kids coming to meetings have to ask for “the gay youth group” at a YMCA. They settled on Project10 because of the estimate that roughly 10% of people are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Two signs leading in opposite directions. One reads, "Republicans" the other reads, "Democrats."

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The phrase “religious freedom” makes the LGBTQ+ community cringe. But that’s understandable given that religious freedom is often used as an excuse to freely discriminate against queer people.

While conservatives normally take the flak for this, it’s important to note that not all conservatives agree with religious freedom laws. Conservatives are often unfairly cast as “extreme right-wingers” when not all of them fit this bill. Surely, this is a concept that liberals can sympathize with, considering that Democrats face their own stereotypes.

That’s why Robin Fretwell Wilson, Director of the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois College of Law, organized a meeting to try and bridge the divide between the left and the right. The meeting, hosted at Yale University, was meant to get the dialogue started around how to approach religious freedom laws.

Wilson organized the meeting because he believes that “reasonable people in the middle” get drowned out by the constant bickering between the left and the right. He figured if he could bring both Democrats and Republicans together, they could find some common ground.

But Wilson was wrong.

Wilson is a leader in what has been deemed the “Fairness for All” camp. In short, he works alongside lawmakers and politicians to try and reach compromises. But what he found was that even when he proposed a law that was catered to both parties’ interests, someone always objected. Either a conservative didn’t find it to be protective enough of their religious beliefs, or a liberal didn’t find it to be protective enough of their civil liberties.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

But Wilson is going to keep trying, especially because he knows that conflict is inevitable. He fully realizes that he won’t be able to please everyone, he only hopes to please the majority of the people who find themselves caught in the middle of the political divide.

An image that reads, "stop sexual assault."

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Dr. Candice Bridge is a chemistry professor at the University of Central Florida who was recently awarded a $324,000 grant to research alternative methods of investigating sexual assault. Sexual assault has been a huge focal point in the media lately. Reports have shown that a vast number of rape kits remain untested due to lack of DNA evidence.

Unfortunately, lack of DNA is precisely why lots of rapists and sexual assailants walk free. But Dr. Bridge is trying to change that. Dr. Bridge is researching ways to investigate sexual assault and prove the guilt of perpetrators without relying on DNA samples from semen or blood.

But sexual assault is a far more complex crime than the stereotypical image of a violent rapist hiding in an alleyway. It is a pervasive problem, and one that is routinely ignored, covered up, or simply forgotten by universities, municipalities, and voters.

As we move into a presidential administration that obviously doesn’t see sexual assault as a crime, Dr. Bridge’s work will be essential to helping women get the justice they deserve. It’s going to be a struggle, but it is one that Dr. Bridge is fully equipped to handle.

You see, Dr. Bridge was the first black woman to teach chemistry at the University of Central Florida, and was one of the first people to receive a PhD in forensics here in the United States. The STEM fields, despite a lot of talk about opening doors to women and people of color, haven’t exactly deconstructed their racial or gender biases.

In 2002, only eight black women received PhDs in computer sciences, and by 2012, that number had risen to only 16. Almost half of all black or Latina women in the STEM field have been mistaken for custodial or support staff. Dr. Bridge is someone that a lot of people can and should look up to, and she’s using what access she has to power to make the world a better place.

The state of California in rainbow colors.

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The state of California has made it quite clear over the last few years that they will not tolerate bigotry or discrimination. The Golden State is working to push equality past their own borders. California recently issued travel bans for states that write anti-LGBT+ discrimination into law.

So to clarify: Assembly Bill 1887 makes it so that one cannot travel to North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, or Kansas on tax payer money. That means that state funded or state sponsored travel to those state has now been banned. Those states in particular are banned because each has passed laws that directly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

For example, Tennessee recently passed a law that allows counselors to turn away LGBTQ+ people with mental health illnesses. Mississippi allows individuals, companies, or religious organizations to deny services to anyone (not just LGBTQ+ people) who offend their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” And Kansas? Well, Governor Sam Brownback just recently signed a bill into law that allows campus religious groups to deny membership to LGBTQ+ students and faculty.

But California won’t have any of it. While the ban on state sponsored travel to those states probably won’t pummel their economies into submission, it’s likely to at least have an impact. But regardless, it’s more about the intent. California is literally doing everything in its power to create a more just and equal society.

When North Carolina passed HB 2 (which the state’s new Democratic governor is doing everything he can to repeal) a number of states, sports organizations, and businesses withdrew their support by deciding not to host events or expand business there. The American people, as well as a number of state and local governments, have made it abundantly clear that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people will no longer be tolerated. The future is definitely looking brighter for LGBTQ+ people.

A close-up photo of an older African American male.

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On the lower end of the economic spectrum, especially those with less than a high school education, the earnings gap between black and white men has returned to the rate it was at in 1950. The job market for less educated individuals has all but collapsed, which has dragged down the median income for black men because, even among the most economically disadvantaged, black men are in the worst position.

While that gap narrowed between 1950 and the Civil Rights Movement, by 1970 it was beginning to open up again as more and more jobs required college degrees. In 1940, not having a high school diploma wasn’t much of a problem. But by 2014, it essentially kept people from working, or at least making enough to get by.

The Civil Rights Movement did help open up access to universities and to higher paying jobs, and top black salaries have continued to go up since the 1960s, but that is true of top salaries across the board. But as working class jobs have declined and mass incarceration policies have unfairly targeted black men, it has become increasingly difficult for some to land worthwhile jobs.

This, of course, highlights the very real racial inequalities that plague the United States. Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of these racial inequalities are finally being openly talked about.

Ironically, the racially-charged presidential campaign of Donald Trump also highlighted these inequalities, as we saw the campaign pin the loss of working class jobs on minorities and immigrants. But now that he’s officially been elected, it’s up to us, the people, to hold public demonstrations that bring this issue to light. We need to let the government know that we will not tolerate discrimination in any form. We are moving forward, not backwards, and so we cannot let the income gap further dismantle our progress.