One of my early memories of feeling like I was fully and deeply me was during elementary school when my little tomboy self climbed up a tree in my Denver neighborhood and just hung out thinking about a girl I had a crush on. I felt strong in my body, climbing branch by branch; looking back on it, I realize I felt something that wasn’t what I knew girls to be or what I knew boys to be, rather something in between; and, of course, the freedom to think about the girl. And I was deeply happy in all of my identities. That’s how it feels to be fully you. To be all of you.
There’s an identity revolution going on in our nation right now. It’s a revolution that shows up in the way people share the many aspects of their identities through social media. It’s apparent when we challenge assumptions others have about us and what issues we care about — like white citizens working on immigration reform or gay men working on reproductive justice or LGBT people working on voting rights. It’s apparent when actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox appears on the cover of Time magazine. We have come a long way in making visible the many ways we live our lives and pursue our passions.
I am seeing a real palpable hunger in LGBTQ people’s hearts not just to be out, but to bring their entire selves to every aspect of their lives: to be you without fear, without persecution, without discrimination, whether you’re L, G, B, T, or Q. But there is also a deep hunger for more change with millions of us still facing formidable barriers in every aspect of our lives: at school, in housing, employment, in health care, in our faith congregations, in retirement and in basic human rights. And while we have yet to win full marriage equality — that fight isn’t over — we must also look beyond marriage to continue the work that speaks to the many things we are as LGBTQ people.
For these and many other reasons, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is changing its name and upping its game to tear down any remaining barriers to full freedom, justice, and equality for all LBGTQ people. We want to create a world where you can be you, without barriers. Our new name is the “National LGBTQ Task Force,” our tagline is “Be you,” and our vision is a society that values and respects the diversity of human expression and identity and achieves freedom and equity for all.
The barriers we face today are far-reaching and they impact LGBTQ lives from childhood to retirement.
At school, LGBTQ students are still being bullied and denied an education for simply being themselves.
At work, LGBTQ employees are being fired for who they are and love. And the likelihood of your being fired is much higher if you are an LGBTQ person of color and higher still if you are a transgender person of color.
At places of worship, welcoming people of faith are being defrocked, excluded, and shouted down by opponents of LGBTQ equality.
In our immigration system, more than 250,000 undocumented LGBTQ immigrants desperately want to stay here and pursue their dreams.
On the streets, thousands of homeless LGBTQ people need decent housing.
At medical centers, despite progress in the implementation of Obamacare, LGBTQ people aren’t getting access to the specialized care they need.
In retirement, LGBTQ seniors are going back into the closet in fear of being discriminated against.
But we imagine a different world. A world in which each person can be fully themselves. Be fully free.
Being you is to be able to walk down the street holding hands and not fear that you will be hit over the head with a bottle.
Being you is to be able to live in any state you want and be legally recognized and honored as your children’s parents.
Being you is to be able to enter a voting station as a black transgender woman and not worry that anyone will question you because of the color of your skin or because your ID card doesn’t match what they see.
Being you is about being able to claim and stand proudly in all of your identities, not having to choose one over another, or denying any part of yourself.
We live in an exciting time where we have the power to define the future we want — and so much of that future is connected to creating a world where every LGBTQ person can be themselves without any barriers. What would it feel like to be fully you?
Let’s seize this moment, let’s be ourselves fully, and let’s make a future together that’s worthy of our struggle.
REA CAREY is the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.