When my husband and I got married two and half years ago, it was the happiest night of my life. Almost everyone we loved most was in one place, witnessing our commitment to be each other's person for the rest of our lives. We read our own vows, honored traditional Filipino and Hawaiian customs, and created some new ones. We kissed, we danced, we ate cake, and we posed for more pictures than we had ever in our lives. Having each grown up never believing we could have a wedding day, it felt both normalizing and revolutionary to finally have our moment.
For the next following weeks or months, life was bliss; problems didn't seem to matter much, and life felt easy. But eventually, reality began to manifest. First came bills; then came stress and other obstacles. Like any other couple, some fighting began (some mere spats, but some requiring some recovery time). The honeymoon period was over, and it was time to address our issues - most that existed even before we met. But this time, we could tackle them together.
In some ways, the movement for Marriage Equality in the US parallels this very process. For so long, same-sex couples never imagined that they could get married - or at least that it would be recognized by the government. In June 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to permit same-sex marriage across all 50 states, it may have felt like the wedding that some people never knew they could have. Many celebrated, many kissed, and many danced. Advocates who fought for marriage equality felt a collective sense of relief, and allies who witnessed the whole experience were elated to see their loved ones so happy.
But then the bills started to pile in, and reality began to sink in. Fighting began (some spats, but some requiring some recovery time). And the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community needed to evaluate if they wanted work together on issues that always existed, but that they denied for such a long time.
Because the first step to addressing any problem is to admit that there even is a problem, many within-group issues among LGBTQ people have remained unaddressed for so long. While some may view the LGBTQ umbrella as a united front, many people have attested that this has never been true. Throughout history, transgender people have been treated as second-class citizens by gay men and lesbian women, as exemplified by stories of trans heroines like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson being booed off stages (if they were even allowed on those stages at all). Similarly, LGBTQ people of color have been racially discriminated by White LGBTQ people who have excluded them, silenced them, or exoticized them. Issues of ableism, classism, misogyny, and transmysogny have also plagued LGBTQ communities, but LGBTQ people with privilege have either looked in the other direction or blatantly denied their existence.
For the past two decades, there have been many issues of concern for LGBTQ people, yet marriage equality was deemed the primary political platform by leaders of national LGBTQ organizations. Besides HIV/AIDS advocacy, no other issue has been fought for by national LGBTQ organizations in the same way that marriage has. So while we have long histories of anti-LGBTQ violence (particularly towards transgender women of color), unemployment and poverty (primarily affecting trans people and LGBTQ people of color), and homelessness (especially for LGBTQ youth), millions of dollars were spent on marriage.
Shortly after the SCOTUS decision, several organizations that advocated for marriage disbanded. Perhaps they felt they had completed their missions; perhaps they did not think there was anything left to fight for. Other national LGBTQ organizations turned their focus to combatting homophobia in Russia. And after the Pulse Massacre in Orlando this past June, some LGBTQ organizations decided to tackle gun control.
Through the years, I've learned that the LGBTQ people with money and power are the ones who continue to set the national platform. But whose needs are they fighting for most? Does money only get spent on issues affecting them personally, or can people consider donating to others who may need the support most? Should we continue to pour our money into fighting homophobia in Russia, when a trans woman of color in our own country is killed almost every other week?
I don't have the answers, but I do know that we need keep asking the questions. We need to talk to each other, learn from each other, and even advocate for each other. The honeymoon is officially over; the work must begin.