Marriage equality is on a roll, while at the same time our freedoms and economic well being are more at risk than ever. But how can we be at risk after such an amazing year? The Supreme Court struck down both DOMA and "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
We are at risk because in the very moment we were celebrating the Supreme Court decisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Partisan district gerrymandering ensued along racial and political lines. Disabling the Voting Rights Act is working hand-in-glove with the 2010 Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to fund campaigns. Bill Moyers documented this confluence of power in North Carolina where wealthy interests targeted districts to sweep power from the hands of citizens and into the hands of the wealthy.
This strategy is bi-partisan. The New York Times reported "Republicans or Democrats control both the legislature and the governor's office in 36 states, the most in 60 years." Both parties are working hard to control state legislatures and governorships. At the national level, economic safeguards are on the chopping block with unemployment benefits and early childhood education already reduced through the sequester and "compromise" budget efforts. More is coming, and it will impact you based on who you are.
Poverty is connected to whom you love, your gender, race and age. Half of Black children living with a parent who is Black and gay are living in poverty, according to data from updated Williams Institute research. Another survey of over 6,000 transgender and gender non-conforming people revealed they are four times as likely to live in a household with an income under $10,000 according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
With so many LGBT people suffering from income inequality, poverty is an LGBT concern. Marriage equality brings a landslide of privileges and economic benefits to a family -- but if the family is living on minimum wage, they probably cannot even afford a marriage license.
In my time as the head of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), with congregations around the globe that accept and affirm people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, I have seen so many people who suffer economically and spiritually from small-minded people.
I took in a seventeen-year-old foster kid when I was a very young pastor. He had been kicked out of his foster home because he was gay. He worked in a fast food restaurant because I really could not afford to feed him. In those days, there were few social workers or foster parents who could converse reasonably about kids who were LGBT, so I could not be his official placement. I could only offer a safe place to sleep on my couch as he worked hard to finish school and to support himself.
Those who do not have anyone to intervene can end up homeless. I have known many young people and adults in homeless shelters who were terrified that someone would harass or assault them if they found out they were LGBT.
Today, Sylvia's Place houses homeless teens in New York's Metropolitan Community Church, but we need such shelters in cities across this country. Churches and LGBT organizations must connect with LGBT young people and adults who are affected by poverty.
Employment discrimination is still legal in many states until the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is released from Congressman Boehner's committee in the House of Representatives. We need ENDA because we know that laws and government programs do work to protect vulnerable populations.
For example, the United States recently marked the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty. Cynics say the war was lost, but a closer look reveals that the programs kept millions of children, seniors and our most vulnerable citizens out of soul-grinding poverty. Success was in spite of constant political resistance from conservatives and wealthy people who make the rules.
We make a difference. Government policies make a difference.
- Minimum wage must be raised.
- Employment discrimination must end -- pass ENDA.
- Safe shelters and homes for LGBT youth must be founded.
- Immigration reform must move forward and include LGBT people.
- For-profit prisons (many have official guarantees to fill their beds) must be stopped.
This may seem like a long list. There are times when I look at the political and economic machinations of the powerful and wonder if there is hope. The disparities between rich and poor today are as bad as at any time in history. There have never been so few so rich and so many so poor.
As a person of faith and a Christian, I believe the teachings of Jesus unquestionably support the lives of the poor. Jesus was not a consultant to the bejeweled ruling class, he was a savior for the common person to whom he said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for you shall inherit the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20) He told his followers to feed and clothe those in need. He told them to visit them in prison as if each person was Jesus himself. (Matthew 25:31-46)
For those of you, who don't identify with Christianity, look to your own faith or spirituality or moral values; you need nothing more than a basic belief in fairness to begin your work. Stand up and fight for the poor. Why? Because many of them are working two or more jobs and don't have time to fight for themselves.