LGBT+ rights have been in the limelight of politics since the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Since then, they have somewhat improved. Gay marriage was legalized in 2015. Danica Roem is an open transgender woman in the Senate. There is no doubt things have improved. But there also is no doubt that there is still work to be done. The graphs below show the Hate Crime Laws in the U.S. and the Nondiscrimination Laws in the U.S. by state from the National LGBTQ Task Force.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Landon Brownfield from PrideSTL. We discussed the critical importance of accurate and abundant LGBT+ representation in popular media and the news. Movies tend to romanticize what it means to be LGBT+ and
gloss over the very real struggles that face LGBT+ people everyday. Brownfield mentioned that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT+ which clearly indicates at a greater issue. These kinds of problems do not get addressed in any sort of media. Furthermore, there are even more toxic stereotypes spread through personal prejudices formed for a variety of reasons. Some of these include the idea that homosexuality (or any other sexuality or gender identity that is not heterosexual or cisgendered) is a phase or a choice that can easily be reversed. Others include the mentality that lesbians are man-haters, that gay men are pedophiles, that trans people just want attention, that bisexuality is just an excuse to be promiscuous. All of these stereotypes have harmful consequences for the LGBT+ community and have to addressed. These stereotypes are often started in the home, then perpetuated through the media. Eventually, this contributes to the unsupportive legislation exampled above.
How can we work towards fixing this?
Historical Context and National Impact
Before discussing Missouri, it might be helpful to also discuss and expand on the state of LGBT+ rights around the country. As mentioned above, there are disparities in protective legislation for LGBT+ people throughout the United States.
- As of March 2018, 28 states have “no employment nondiscrimination [laws] covering sexual orientation or gender identity” (Movement Advancement Project).
- A tally of existing nondiscrimination laws in individual states shows that 28 states have a low to negative overall policy tally (Movement Advancement Project).
This lack of laws around the nation leaves countless LGBT+ people without protection from discrimination from state legislation. In an interview with Landon Brownfield from PrideSTL, they suggested that a predominant reason for this discrimination is a lack of representation in the media, including the news. Landon believes that “media [does not pay] necessarily as much attention [to LGBT+ people] as they should” (Brownfield). The importance of this might not be evident at first, but Landon spoke about a Missouri transgender teen, Ally Lee Steinfeld.
The remains of the 17-year-old transgender girl were also torched.
Her bones were stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a chicken coop near a dented trailer in Cabool, a small Ozarks town in southern Missouri.
Blood still stained the carpet in the living room when police searched the mobile home for clues to the disappearance of Ally Lee Steinfeld.Kyle Swenson
Clearly, Missouri has a along way to go in terms of supporting the LGBT+ community. There is a lack of protection in non discrimination laws for both sexual orientation and gender identity in things people deal with literally every day, like employment and housing.
What can Be Done?
Unfortunately, there is not one solution to this issue. The problems are so deeply rooted in this world’s history that the effects of many can be nearly impossible to reverse. Fortunately, there are ways to begin changing the established, antiquated narrative.
In a TEDTalk, author Chimamanda Adichie warns about the “danger of a single story” (Adichie). Essentially, she describes the pitfall many authors fall into when creating a story: telling only one narrative. To Adichie, multiple narratives mean representation and the importance of depicting diversity in literature to enhance one’s worldview:
Her experience with discovering another narrative about her own people helped her embrace her own identity. Similarly, more representation of LGBT+ people in movies, TV, and literature can help normalize those who are LGBT+, show the general public that LGBT+ people are more diverse than the common stereotypes imply, and reduce the stigmas that come with non-heteronormative and non-gender conforming identities.
As Adichie suggestes, if more creators in literature and the media showed more diversity like Queer Eye, and if they had Baldwin’s ability to tap into the emotional complexity of being LGBT+, if they constructed more than one narrative about what it is to be LGBT+ and not demonize their behavior, they could begin to weave a much healthier, much more accurate image of LGBT+ people and consequentially improve their quality of life.
Works like Love, Simon, Queer Eye (both the reboot and the original), RuPaul’s Drag Race, Call Me By Your Name, and even James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room include healthier portrayals of LGBT+ people that help break this narrative and destigmatize the LGBT+ community.
We can also express our own disapproval for the injustices done to the LGBT+ community. Missouri representatives and how to contact them are listed below:
|US Senate, Claire McCaskill (D): (202) 224-6154||US Senate, Roy Blunt (R): (202) 224-5721|
Contacting our legislators is the only way to make it clear that we do not and will not put up with ignorance in our state.
Brownfield, PrideSTL, Landon. Interview. By Sofia Carr. 22 Mar. 2018.
“Hate Crime Laws.” LGBT Movement Advancement Project, 29 Mar. 2018, www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/hate_crime_laws. Accessed 9 Apr. 2018.
Marzullo, Michelle, and Alyn Libman. Hate Crimes and Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People. Human Rights Campaign Foundation, May 2009. Human Rights Campaign, assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Hatecrimesandviolenceagainstlgbtpeople_2009.pdf?_ga=2.199609451.456283681.1523238405-159913288.1517709422. Accessed 9 Apr. 2018.
Movement Advancement Project. “Non-Discrimination Laws.” LGBT Movement Advancement Project, 29 Mar. 2018, www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/non_discrimination_laws. Accessed 8 Apr. 2018
Swenson, Kyle. “Missouri Prosecutors: Brutal Murder of Transgender Teen Is Not a Hate Crime.” Washington Post, 28 Sept. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/09/28/missouri-prosecutors-brutal-murder-of-transgender-teen-is-not-a-hate-crime/?utm_term=.5433fb24cf47.