By Kyle Poulin
Remembering our past is an integral part of advancing our future; we need to see the good we’ve done and use it to inspire us to make unrelenting progress. How much has the LGBT community progressed since Harvey Milk was ardently advising all young people to come out for themselves, and in turn, each other? As of this year's Harvey Milk day, the shift in society’s focus would suggest the answer to that question is “a lot.”
[caption id="attachment_7672" align="alignright" width="300"] Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.[/caption]
We Virginians celebrated the arrival of marriage equality throughout the Old Dominion, crying out of happiness that we can now legally stand by our loved ones. Yet we must also shed a tear for those who fought to deliver our rights but didn’t live to see this day. Over this thunderous victory we still hear the tinny of detractors fighting against us and equality. We must continue to defend the belief that our rights we are granted are inalienable, echoing Harvey Milk’s words, “All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try they cannot erase those words. That is what America is about.”
While this rings true in our hearts and minds, we are still faced with the insult of discrimination on the basis of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Should we be satisfied with what we’ve gotten so far and sit silently as we are subjected to the fear of losing our jobs or housing? No. Shake off the mindset of being thankful when it comes to human rights and cry out for them. Seventy five percent of Virginians favor a state law that would protect LGBT people from employment discrimination, so it’s up to our community and allies to nurture it into reality. Thirty one percent of same-sex couples looking for rental housing online in the Richmond area face adverse, differential treatment. If you face discrimination in a part of life as essential as finding a home then you deserve better.
Inequality and discrimination affect LGBT people of all ages. Today, there are school age children in Virginia and nationwide identifying their gender fluidity and sexual orientation with a firm and unyielding presence of mind. While this is a step forward for society, bathrooms, locker rooms and other school related facilities have come under scrutiny for their use by these students. Fortunately some of our communities and institutions, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, recognize and validate the students’ needs. This fulfills Milk’s vision for our youth that, “All young people regardless of sexual orientation or identity deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
For those who haven’t received the support of their family, community, or government — cry for them. Cry out for them. Fight for them. Use your shared experiences as a community to empathize and endure, be your own best advocate. If Harvey Milk could stand alone and facilitate progress in equality, imagine what we can accomplish together.