The fight for full equality has been a long and winding journey. It has taken us from the Stonewall Riots and the AIDS pandemic to this moment in time, this place, an America when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans have the right to marry in every state in the union. I am proud to have stood with so many on the right side of history, aligned with those who believe that all Americans deserve the dignity of equal treatment.
But our journey is nowhere near over. Because for millions of Americans, you can finally wed the person whose love sustains you, but that marriage could cost you your job, your home, and your basic rights. Because transgender Americans must still battle everyday discrimination in places that most people access without blinking an eye, and no one should be humiliated at the grocery store or dentist. Because for so many, true and lasting equality is still so far away.
Every American has the right to build their lives on the bedrock principles of hard work and determination, with the full knowledge that if they can get a fair chance, they can earn a living, provide for their families, and protect the ones they love. But for LGBT people living in 31 states, those rights could be denied because of who they are or whom they love. They are judged, not on their performance, but on their personhood.
While same-sex couples may now have the right to marry, those same Americans could be at risk of being fired from their jobs or denied services. There are no federal protections to safeguard LGBT Americans in public places. There are no explicit federal laws to protect LGBT Americans at work or in schools.
That matters. That matters to people like Crystal Moore, fired from her position as police chief for the town of Latta, S.C., despite more than 20 years of service to the community because the mayor thought that her “lifestyle” was “questionable.” That matters to couples like Charles Anderson and Brandon Morehouse, who experienced persistent and repeated harassment at their own apartment complex in Iowa because of their relationship. That matters to Jodielynn Wiley, a transgender woman who fled from the small town of Paris, Texas, because of persistent discrimination, only to be denied long-term shelter because of her gender identity. And that matters to the millions of LGBT Americans who report experiencing discrimination in their personal lives, the more than half of LGBT Americans who report experiencing discrimination in the workplace, and the majority of LGBT Americans who describe discrimination as a major problem in this country.
It’s time to take action to end this discrimination. It’s time to add concrete protections for LGBT people to existing civil rights law, ensuring that sexual orientation and gender identity enjoy similar treatment as religion, national origin, and race; and guaranteeing nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, public spaces and services, education, federal funding, and other areas. It’s time for true federal equality: nothing more, nothing less.
There’s nothing unusual about guaranteeing these sorts of protections, nor are they “special rights.” A significant number of states already have nondiscrimination laws — laws passed with support, in many instances, from both sides of the aisle, and the same laws that safeguard people of faith, people of color, and those from countries both near and far.
There is no burden that wears on an individual like discrimination. And for millions of Americans, that burden limits their potential and stifles their possibilities. We can do far better. And there’s no better time than the present.
JULIAN BOND is a civil rights leader and former member of the Georgia legislature. He is the founder and president emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center and served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010. He is now chairman emeritus of the NAACP.