One Equal World

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A mass gathering of protestors in Taiwan who are holding signs in favor of marriage equality.

Protestors gather in Taiwan to voice their support for marriage equality.
Photo credit: weniliou / Shutterstock

Chi Chia-Wei spent more than five months in jail in 1986 for publicly being out as a gay man. That was when Taiwan was under martial law, and he secured a pardon before the year was out, but that was only the beginning of his fight for actual justice. In the 30 years since then, Chia-Wei has campaigned for gay rights in Taiwan, leading petitions and lawsuits against the island nation’s evolving government.

His work has finally borne fruit. In a ruling that may set a brand new precedent for Asia, Taiwan’s constitutional court announced on Wednesday, May 24th, that laws against same-sex marriage have been found unconstitutional. The legislature has two years to amend their Civil Code to reflect the decision or to pass laws specifically regarding same-sex marriages. If they fail to do so, those marriages will be legalized by default.

The justice’s wording called sexual orientation an “immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” and therefore laws against same-sex relationships violate the personal freedom and protections of everybody.

While Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, has shown only lukewarm support for the cause and there have been outspoken rallies against it, the general atmosphere around this decision is not one of surprise. In 2013, the marriage of two transgender women was upheld. In 2015, the most recent year Chi applied for permission to marry his committed partner, the legislature was already considering changing Taiwan’s Civil Code, which they are now obligated to do.

Chi and many others are going to remain active in the legislative process surrounding the new decision. They are adamant that it is the Civil Code which must be amended, rather than a separate marriage law for same-sex couples.

“In Asia, every country’s situation is different,” Chi said after the announcement. “But this should certainly offer some encouragement to different societies to consider following in Taiwan’s footsteps and giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.”

A photo of the outside of a Target store.

Photo credit: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock

This decade has seen a long parade of businesses publicly wearing the rainbow. It’s difficult to tell, in most cases, whether they’re honestly supporting their LGBT customers, or just courting an emergent customer base from an angle historically denied.

On May 12th, 2017, Target announced a new line of products to feature LGBT imagery, for the fifth year in a row. Their “Take Pride” products are mostly bold, rainbow-printed clothing, and each purchase will see half of the proceeds donated to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Optimistically, Target doesn’t seem to be only talking the talk. The Minnesota-based mega-corporation has also fiercely defended their policy allowing trans people to use their correct restrooms, and have made a point to be a good employer for trans and LGBT people as well. Many Target locations require gender inclusivity training of their management team members.

Furthermore, they coordinate volunteer opportunities for their employees at both the store and corporate levels to work with LGBT initiatives and charities, most of that volunteer labor matched by corporate contributions. They even used their commercials in 2014 to campaign for same-sex marriage, effectively putting their money where their mouth is.

The commercial with which they launched their newest line is a good one. It hints at the wealth and struggles of LGBT history with archival footage of major milestones, indicating a real recognition of the cause they are supporting, not merely a lip-service token.

The products themselves are summer-themed, whimsical, and fun. T-shirts featuring a dinosaur, unicorn, or pocket-cat waving a Pride flag. There’s even one with a rainbow spread like butter on toast. Shawls, pins, badges, and bumper stickers. A beach towel. Children’s tees declaring their love for moms or dads. Everything a person could want to let the world know on which side of LGBT history they intend to stand on.

A businessman dressed in a suit and tie rips open his shirt, revealing a rainbow shirt underneath.

Image credit: Shutterstock

In all fifty states, same-sex marriage has been made legal. But in 28 of those states, mentioning your fiance’s name when asking for time off for your honeymoon can get you fired, because in more than half the country it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace. And in the midst of the current conservative backlash against gay rights, it’s important to take grassroots stands in the workplace.

Here are a few suggestions for what you, your coworkers, and your boss can do to make acceptance one of your core values.

1. The big one: benefits. This is your employer putting their money where their mouth is. Make sure your coworkers with same-sex partners and non-traditional families have the same access to health care that you do, including gender-blind parental options, allowances for adoption and surrogacy, and gender-affirmation and transition-related care.

2. Help support resource groups for LGBT employees, particularly if you are in a state that still supports discrimination. They need a place where they can discuss the weight of those issues.

3. Ask what your company is doing to support LGBT people outside their walls. Do they give preference to relationships with other inclusive companies? Devote any resources to outreach? Does your leadership do any communicating on this issue, or is it just a line for show in the company’s values posters?

4. Track what’s actually happening. Does the data indicate that your goals for diversity are being met? This doesn’t mean hiring to a quota–if you’re truly inclusive, that should be entirely unnecessary. If you can’t have this data, ask your HR why.

5. Speak up when you hear ugly speech at work. It only takes one bigot to make LGBT employees feel unwelcome and under fire if everyone else lets their behavior go unremarked. Report what you hear, and hold your employer responsible for responding.

There are many, many more tactics to take to make your job a shelter for those who still need it. Most of these tactics can be applied to any under-served population, and will make you a role model for other employers in your community.

A road sign that reads, "Silicon Valley."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

More than two thousand adults in the United States responded to the “Tech Leavers Study,” a survey issued and analyzed by the Kapor Center for Social Justice, an Oakland-based organization. Respondents were selected for having left a job in the tech sector since 2013.

One of the primary aims of the study was to research what kept LGBT workers in or out of tech industries. The results were depressingly predictable.

More than any other minority group, LGBT people are still likely to be bullied out of the tech sector.

“People may think of Silicon Valley as a generally progressive place, but unexamined bigotry can still be pervasive,” study lead author Allison Scott, Ph.D., the chief research officer at the Kapor Center, said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

The study found that bullying and hostile work environments were pervasive, but that LGBT employees were the most common target. One in four were the target of rude behavior, another quarter report being publicly humiliated. Nearly two thirds of the LGBT subjects of the survey reported that they had left their tech job because of bullying from coworkers or superiors. As many reported that they would have stayed, if the company had done anything to address the behavior.

Perhaps more broadly meaningful, the study’s results looked at average training and severance costs to estimate that this bully-driven turnover costs the industry around $16 billion every year, more when it’s taken into account how many victims leave the industry entirely, taking all of their lifelong potential for output with them.

“For many years, we were unable to get anyone’s attention to the issues of diversity. This report is incredibly timely and important because if we don’t accurately diagnose the problems, we won’t be able to craft effective solutions,” said Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D., a co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Justice. Companies can look to this study and others like it to provide focus to their own solutions.

The trans symbol painted on the palm of an unidentified individual.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Zeke Smith, a contestant on Survivor, was recently outed as a trans by another contestant. The intent behind this was malicious, as it was intended to paint him as dishonest and therefore get him kicked off the show. But it didn’t go that way, as the rest of the cast and the majority of the audience saw this as the disgusting act it was: an act of violence against a trans person.

Many trans people choose to keep their gender history a secret because it can be dangerous to come out. It has nothing to do with deception. Trans people face a high risk of being assaulted or even murdered due to their identity. All things considered, it’s pretty understandable that many choose to keep their transition hidden.

But there’s another reason that trans people choose not to come out; it’s because their current identity is the one they see as their authentic identity. A trans man is not a woman pretending to be a man, but a man. It’s not a hard concept to grasp.

This is in sharp contrast to coming out as gay, since many gay men and women view coming out as an opportunity to live their authentic lives. Being in the closet as a gay person means pretending to be something that you are not, but there isn’t a cultural stigma attached to coming out like there is to being trans. The narrative is one of celebrating the authentic life of a gay person, as opposed to feeling deceived by a trans person.

Outing a trans person is an act of violence in that it sets them up for brutality at that hands of other people and strips them of their own agency. Nobody has any right to the knowledge of another person’s gender history, and they sure as hell don’t have the right to announce that history to anyone else, least of all on national television.

A bathroom with a gender sign on it that says, "who cares?"

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Trans bathrooms are a hot button issue right now. Conservative pundits argue that if trans people are permitted to use the women’s restroom, there will be a massive increase in rapes, child molestation cases, and peeping Tom incidents. Even though experts have already proven this notion to be false, this “predator myth” still stubbornly persists despite zero evidence to support it.

What the latest research does show is that not allowing trans people to use the restroom of the gender they identify is incredibly harmful to our children. In other words, the future of society is at stake and it’s up to us to ensure that we create a more inclusive environment for our youth.

The study found that ensuring the safety of trans students in high school bathrooms is essential to providing them with educational equality. Based on surveys of five schools in Michigan conducted in 2014, researchers found that trans students who didn’t feel safe in the bathroom generally didn’t feel safe at school, which could impact their grades and self-esteem.

High school is already a notoriously difficult time, but for trans students trying to figure out their gender identity, it can be even more difficult. What’s more is that high school students have considerably less agency and mobility than adults, which means that when they’re subjected to unsafe conditions, it’s a lot harder for them to do anything about them.

This research comes at an important time, as several U.S. courts are currently dealing with cases related to bathroom access for trans students. This research suggest that even the relatively simple solution of including gender-neutral bathrooms in schools can go a long way towards making these students’ lives a lot easier. That may not address the underlying social problems that make trans students feel unsafe in school bathrooms, but it can help those students get by as we continue to fight for trans inclusion.

A photo of a mosque in Chechnya.

A mosque in Chechnya.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Russia is known for having regressive views towards homosexuality, but the republic of Chechnya (which is part of the Russian Federation) is taking things to another level.

Police there are suspected of having rounded up over 100 men “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” At least three have been killed, though specific details remain unclear.

The round-up began after a gay rights group in Russia applied for permits to march in a different part of the country. Although authorities aren’t releasing much information on the case yet, it’s very clear that Chechnya is not LGBT-friendly.

To give you a little background, Chechnya is a small region in Russia that has long been a thorn in the side to Russian leadership ever since Stalin. The region’s current leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is known for human rights violations, although until now, gay men were not targeted in large numbers.

Kadyrov’s spokesman, Ali Karimov, denied reports of the action, stating that there are no gay men in Chechnya, and that “it’s impossible to persecute those who are not in the republic.” But he went on to say that if there were gay men in Chechnya, “law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

It’s clear that the government of Chechnya is hiding something, and certainly has no love for its gay citizens. Outright denying these claims, which have been substantiated by several sources (including Russian federal law enforcement) is a weak smokescreen at best.

But claiming that there aren’t even any gay people to oppress, while dismissing them as some kind of pests who would have been killed by their own families, shows a complete lack of conscience on the part of Kadyrov. Unfortunately, the only thing that this proves is that it is still very, very dangerous to be gay in certain part of the world.