When undocumented transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez raised her voice at an LGBTQ reception at the White House in June, expressing frustration over treatment of transgender people in detention centers, she expected at least some people in the room of fellow advocates to raise their voices in support. Instead, her continued shouting was drowned out by boos and people chanting the president’s name, and she was escorted from the audience.
“To see my community react the way they did as I demanded President Obama hear my urgent message was heartbreaking,” Gutiérrez says. “I think they forgot how our movement got started.”
Gutiérrez hasn’t been the only one trying to shed light on disparities within the LGBTQ community. At this year’s Chicago Pride Parade, a group of protestors wearing “Black Out Pride” T-shirts brought the proceedings to a halt as they demanded attention be paid to the police brutality facing black people both within and outside the LGBTQ community. Eight were arrested for their involvement, which drew a mixed reaction from the parade crowd.
For many in the LGBTQ community, the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide represented a culminating moment for the gay rights movement. The timing of the court’s decision, just days before cities around the world would hold parades celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that began the modern gay rights movement in 1969, ensured that celebrations like the one in Chicago would be joyous affairs.
But, as these protests demonstrate, the benefits associated with the gay rights movement’s increased visibility have been unevenly dispersed, leaving people of color, transgender people, and undocumented people like Gutiérrez feeling like they still aren’t being seen.
“Pride should be about those who are still marginalized within our own communities,” says Gutiérrez.
As movements like Black Lives Matter have drawn attention to institutionalized racism in America, discussions about fair and equal representation of marginalized groups have recently resumed. While the gay community would seem a natural setting for debates about privilege and oppression, many LGBTQ people have been critical of the voices shaping the mainstream dialogue about queer rights.
“The self-identity of the movement has assumed an element of whiteness and maleness,” said Urvashi Vaid, a prominent LGBTQ lawyer and author. “It’s not like every gay organization is saying they only represent gay white men, but by virtue of the issues we’re taking up and championing, it’s clear that we’re not representing the full community.”
To Vaid, marriage represented a complicated issue within the LGBTQ community. While the decision to embrace the familiar institution was instrumental in normalizing the concept of homosexuality to straight people, it has also alienated many in the community with different concerns.
“It’s not necessarily what parts of our community want, because it requires submission into a form of hetero-patriarchal relationship that many of us are critical of,” Vaid said. “But marriage made us comprehensible to straight people and allowed them to champion us.”
Despite enjoying the right to marry, gay, lesbian, and transgender people continue to face discrimination in other areas. According to the ACLU, 28 states currently have no laws protecting against sexual or gender identity, leaving millions vulnerable to sudden unemployment. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed, and nearly one in five have experienced homelessness in their lives.
For Los Angeles-based trans activist Bea Fonseca, issues like employment discrimination and youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community are most pressing, yet have been largely ignored by mainstream gay rights groups.
“You can’t get married if you can’t live,” Fonseca says. “You can’t get married if you’re murdered, and you can’t get married if you’re living on the street.”
As the struggle for gay rights moves beyond the marriage debate, focusing on the intersectional issues of race, class, legal status, and gender identity is the goal of many activists. While the largely positive reaction to marriage equality suggests that awareness of LGBTQ issues has grown in the U.S., the LGBTQ community’s mixed reactions to protests like the ones at Chicago’s Pride Parade have given activists motivation to continue their work.
“I am thankful that the Supreme Court made the right decision for our mainstream LGBTQ community,” says Gutiérrez. “We have to take this victory, but also look at other segments of the community and understand their main issues and concerns.”