A Decade of 'Progress' for LGBT Rights

Today, the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank funded by major LGBT donors, released a progress report that tracks various indicators of LGBT rights over the last decade. As one might expect, the results are mixed. Since 2000, 26 states have banned marriage through a statewide vote; two more states have banned gay adoptions (bringing the total to 6); murders against LGB people have about doubled; more LGB students report being harassed at school; and HIV infection rates for gay men are up 10 percent. But it's not all grim -- gay-rights issues continue to gain public support:


The numbers, of course, are not where we progressives would like them to be (marriage and adoption rights for gay couples are far from having majority support), but they're trending in the right direction. And while the Obama administration has dragged its feet on openly gay military service, workplace protections for LGBT folk have kept pace with changing attitudes:


A few observations:

There is an obvious disconnect between the amount of violence and harassment faced by the gay community and overall public attitudes. It seems that anti-gay sentiment isn't more widespread, but rather more fervent. This is no surprise given the incendiary tactics of the anti-marriage campaigns in the last few years, in which opponents of marriage equality like Prop. 8 campaigner Hak-Shing William Tam have stoked the homophobic fire.

In the run-up to the Prop. 8 vote, Tam told supporters that if the measure didn't pass, "Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex" and that the "gay agenda" included "legaliz[ing] sex with children." He also warned about each state falling one by one into the hands of Satan. Thankfully, this ridiculous rhetoric hasn't diminished support for gay rights. It may make homophobic people more homophobic, but to the average citizen, it does little but underscore how irrational and prejudiced the opposition is.

The focus on other issues has led the LGBT community to table HIV prevention, which has predictably led to an increase in infections. More frightening, the proportion of those with HIV who are gay has increased, albeit modestly, from 51 to 53 percent. Part of this is due to "condom fatigue" and advancements in care, but LGBT rights groups are also at fault for putting it on the back burner. A 10 percent jump in HIV infections should sound the same kind of alarm it did in the early '90s.

The one sticking point, however, is marriage. As much as I hate to admit it, when anti-marriage people claim the public's on their side, they're right. This may not be the case in individual states (it is not the case in, say, New York), but nationwide it will be some time before the scale tips in favor of gay marriage rights. In the short term, I doubt too many more individual states will be legalizing marriage on their own. The constitutional bans have put giant roadblocks in place for either the courts, legislatures, or citizens to legalize gay marriage. New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Maine are most likely to come next, but none of these states has a constitutional marriage ban. For the broad swaths of the country that do, it will probably require another decade or so of "progress" for their citizens to enjoy the same rights as those in Massachusetts (and soon, Washington, D.C.) do.

--Gabriel Arana

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