Like many reading this, I was elated over the Supreme Court's marriage ruling on June 26. Two days later, Jeff (my partner of 20 years) and I joined friends to celebrate New York's annual LGBT Pride March. And with the timing of the court's decision, you could feel the hope among the millions of participants marching down Fifth Avenue.
Our joy was colored, however, by the news coming out of Istanbul where activists had tried to celebrate LGBT Pride several hours before New York's march kicked off. And where attendees were met by riot police armed with water cannons, rubber bullets, and pepper spray. While we were toasting the marriage victory with our mimosas held high here in the U.S., our counterparts in Turkey were running for their very lives.
People who support and work at various points in our movement have been trying to anticipate how our movement should evolve after this historic milestone.
As we go forward, the movement's agenda in the U.S. includes a number of clear priorities, including employment nondiscrimination, still lacking in the 29 states where a person can be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. The number of states is even higher (32) for transgender people in search of a secure and stable job.
But we also have to be concerned about countering so-called "religious liberty" legislation being passed in states like Indiana, giving a free pass to those who want to undermine laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
These issues are familiar to anyone who has been reading the news headlines following the Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, support for LGBT activists abroad has not found its place on that agenda. It's almost as if our concern for the lives of LGBT people ends at our nation's shores.
So allow me to go on record by stating: We in the U.S. are not, in fact, the world. We need to cure our movement of its myopia and remember that justice for the LGBT community is a global cause, spreading far beyond our borders.
LGBT activists around the world have repeatedly asked us to support their work to improve such dire circumstances. We need to answer their call.
And yet, I have often heard the argument among LGBT activists here in the States that we already have enough on our plates. We can't afford to divert our attention elsewhere for fear the U.S. movement will lose its own momentum.
I call bull. And I don't think many of those asserting that argument fully understand the magnitude of the fatal consequences of inaction.
In more than 75 countries worldwide, you can be arrested simply on the basis of your sexual orientation. These countries have a collective population of over 3 billion -- nine times the number of people living in the U.S. and almost 43 percent of the world's population. In eight of those countries, it's perfectly legal to be sentenced to death for being gay or lesbian.
I would encourage you to take a moment to reflect on those numbers.
Do you remember the old American Express slogan "Membership has its privileges"? The catchy saying referred to an exclusive set of benefits not available to other credit cardholders. LGBT Americans are similarly entitled to a long list of benefits granted to us through citizenship -- usually obtained by the total accident of birth -- and increasingly recognized by the institutions that govern our lives.
But these privileges come with the moral obligation for us to help others who by no accident of birth and no fault of their own do not share our good fortune. The LGBT movement here in the States is part of a larger and, sadly, more difficult world for LGBT people. We must see justice in global terms and do our part to ensure others abroad are afforded the same kind of freedoms in their own communities that we here increasingly take for granted.
I recently accompanied Arcus' trustees on a trip to Africa where we were invited to meet some of the 300 LGBT activists from across the continent who had gathered at a regional conference in Kenya. We left deeply affected by the passionate leaders we met who are leading LGBT activism on a continent that remains both largely misunderstood and nearly completely unfunded. In a world as connected and integrated as ours, there's simply no excuse for either of those facts.
We cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the grim realities that affect so many LGBT people around the world.
All of us here in the States -- individuals, organizations, and funders -- can leverage our influence and connections so that LGBT activists abroad can benefit from a broader range of support to achieve their goals. The question is: Will we?
Learn more about Arcus' Social Justice program and how it works to ensure that individuals and families around the world of every sexual orientation and gender identity are able to live their lives with dignity and respect, and express their love and sense of self.
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