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Op-ed: 2015 Is for Bigger and Bolder Action for LGBT Equality

Op-ed: 2015 Is for Bigger and Bolder Action for LGBT Equality


It's time to kick things up a notch.

As memories of Election Night 2014 fade and the pomp and circumstance of New Year's Eve lies ahead, I hope the LGBT community sees the new year as an opportunity to think bigger and act bolder.

Given the political realities of a reshaped Washington, D.C., and newly reinvigorated anti-LGBT forces, on Capitol Hill and beyond, approaching 2015 with wary caution seems like the natural instinct. Undoubtedly, LGBT Americans and our allies will need to be on guard against efforts to undermine and erode our equality in the new year -- from proposals to misuse religion as a license to discriminate to efforts to enshrine discrimination in our Constitution.

That said, now is not the time to retreat into a defensive bunker for the next two years. Achieving the long-sought goal of formal legal equality for LGBT Americans will never happen if we adopt a bunker mentality. Part of this work will involve collaborations with "strange bedfellows" and outreach to leaders and organizations from across the political spectrum. As others have made clear, LGBT equality is not a partisan issue.

Thinking bigger and acting bolder also means prioritizing new and emerging issues, particularly those that impact individuals in our community who are the most marginalized and vulnerable. At a time when individuals from the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, are making the case for desperately needed reforms to our criminal justice system, this must become the LGBT priority that it so clearly needs to be. From discriminatory police profiling of transgender women as sex workers to laws that criminalize people living with HIV to inhumane conditions of confinement for LGBT prisoners and immigration detainees, these issues demand our attention and action.

The most important area to think bigger and act bolder is, ironically enough, in Congress. For decades now, advocates have pushed for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a less than ideal bill made far worse by a sweeping, unprecedented discriminatory exemption. This past summer, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court's shameful Hobby Lobby ruling and ever-increasing demands to misuse religious liberty as a license to discriminate against LGBT people; the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous partner organizations withdrew support for ENDA. In doing so, we made clear that we were prepared to redouble our efforts in the fight for explicit, effective and, above all, equal federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

Despite remarkable, previously unimaginable progress, in expanding the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in states throughout the country, the lack of explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT people is all the more striking. A mere 18 states, only half the number where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, explicitly protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace.

Increasingly, we are faced with the absurd reality that a same-sex couple could get legally married in a state, only to find themselves fired from their jobs and denied housing for doing so and left without recourse.

Such a scenario should be unacceptable. In 2015 it's time to begin the difficult work of making it so. In the entire history of our country, we've never seen a comprehensive LGBT nondiscrimination bill introduced in Congress. Cynics may be quick to point out that getting such a bill through a Congress where opponents of our equality have an even stronger hand is a laughable proposition.

Such thinking, however, is very limiting. It is a recipe for sail-trimming, not the boldness that this moment demands. We did not get from Stonewall to our current successes, however incomplete, with such small thinking.

Unquestionably, this is a goal that we will not achieve overnight or in the next two years. That, however, should not be the question. The real question is whether it is worth the fight. To me, the answer is clear. Let's make 2015 a year of boldness for our community.

IAN THOMPSON is a legislative representative on issues affecting the LGBT community and those living with HIV in the ACLU's Washington legislative office. Follow him on Twitter.

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