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Editorial: Is The Advocate Still Relevant?

Editorial: Is The Advocate Still Relevant?


Our editorial board on the future of The Advocate in a post-marriage world.


The landscape for American LGBT activists changed forever on Friday. Now that we have marriage equality secured nationwide, some organizations carrying that banner are closing up shop.

"Freedom to Marry was created as a campaign to drive a needed strategy to attain a specific big goal. And today we achieved our goal," Freedom to Marry president and founder Evan Wolfson told The Advocate Friday. Over the next several months, the campaign he's helmed for more than a decade will "have a smart, strategic wind-down, to capture the lessons learned" and apply them moving forward.

"The work of this campaign is over," adds Wolfson, an out attorney who argued one of the country's first same-sex marriage cases, out of Hawaii in the 1990s. "But the work of this movement is far from over."

While the closure of some organizations with a singular focus seems a happy inevitability in our new reality, some of us inside the movement are facing more existential questions. As part of a movement that has been laser-focused on marriage equality for so long, what is the role of the nation's longest-running LGBT publication once that hard-fought victory is won?

To answer that question, we'll need to go back in time, to the very first issue of what was then The Los Angeles Advocate.

In that September 1967 issue, editors of the fledgling publication acknowledged that their new product faced "a precarious existence."

"With few staff members and even fewer dollars, The Los Angeles Advocate's chances of survival would be rated by experienced journalists as somewhere around zero," read the publication's first editorial. The all-male editorial staff were members of PRIDE, which stood for Personal Rights in Defense and Education, an activist group that had been publishing the early newsletter that ultimately became The Advocate.

"The Advocate can perform a very important service as the newspaper of the homophile community -- a service that should be delayed no longer," the editorial continued. "Homosexuals, more than ever, are out to win their legal rights, to end the injustices against them, to experience their share of happiness in their own way."

How does that saying go -- the more things change, the more they stay the same?


Here we are, 48 years later, reporting what those early editors could likely never have fathomed: Same-sex couples have just seen their constitutional right to marry the person they love validated by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a matter of months (mere moments in the broader historical arc of the fight for LGBT equality), same-sex couples will be legally marrying in all 50 states.

But our community -- now much broader than the homophile movement mentioned by those early editors -- is still far from equal. No longer just homosexuals, but transgender people, lesbians, bisexuals, genderqueer individuals, asexual people, and our allies are still "out to win their legal rights." And those rights don't end with marriage. In fact, that's only the beginning.

As marriage equality sweeps the nation, we're already seeing our old adversaries gearing up for their next fight, brought to our gates in the Trojan Horse called "religious freedom." Indiana and Arkansas could look like petty name-calling if any of the current Republican candidates find their way to the White House. (Yes, we're looking at you, Bobby Jindal.)

Beyond Washington, same-sex couples in 29 states who exercise their newly affirmed right to marry can legally see themselves fired for putting a wedding photo on their desk. Anyone who doesn't believe that gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees are being terminated for who they are needs to click here. Transgender Americans can find themselves without a job if they come to work as their authentic selves in 32 states. This perfectly legal discrimination is a cloud looming over a broad swath of our community fortunate enough to have a job.

And that doesn't even begin to address the critical levels of unemployment or underemployment, especially among transgender Americans. For far too many of our own, being true to themselves means losing their job, home, and all too often, their families. A study released in February found that transgender Americans are five times more likely to live in poverty than their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts.

Marriage won't mean an end to violence, either. Already this year, nine transgender women have been murdered in the U.S. -- a number that certainly grows when we account for those whose deaths go unreported or who are misgendered by police and media. Homicides of LGBT and HIV-impacted people in the U.S. increased 11 percent from 2013 to 2014.

The reality for LGBT citizens of nations like Jamaica, Iran, Russia, and Uganda, where the government often supports or condones violence against us, is even more frightening. ISIS is throwing gay people off of roofs in the Middle East and then videotaping as crowds stone them to death to finish the deed. Just this weekend, Turkish police attacked Pride revelers in Istanbul with tear gas and water cannons. We as Americans can't be so insular as to not pay attention.

When President Obama marked the Supreme Court ruling in a speech Friday, he made a point about how to truly improve life here, and that point will guide The Advocate in coverage outside of explicitly LGBT issues. "When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free," he said. But that's all the more powerful a principle when viewed globally. The realized freedom of LGBT people everywhere is greater freedom for LGBT people within our borders.

Despite incredible advances in the fight against HIV and AIDS since the first deaths in 1980, infection rates among gay and bi men and transgender women continue to rise. HIV-positive people continue to see their relationships criminalized with laws in 34 states that make exposing another person to HIV a crime. In 29 of those states, it's a felony -- but in none of them does transmission actually have to occur for a person to be convicted. And there's no shortage of baggage we carry around pre-exposure prophylaxis, which when used as directed, is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV transmission. We consider it so important, we spent 31 days straight talking about PrEP last year.

So yes, we need omnibus LGBT civil rights legislation that protects our entire community's right to work, live, and love in peace. But with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act perpetually stalled for the past 20 years, and Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, we're unlikely to see substantial progress on that front in the coming years.

And as the heartbreaking and unrelenting deaths of our friends, partners, and family members to suicide demonstrate, we cannot wait for Washington to find a place for us at the table. We cannot afford to wait for it to get better.

Right now, our people are being mistreated in prisons around the country, but even that pales in comparison to the staggering rates of sexual abuse transgender immigrants face while in detention. But when members of our community call out leaders for their deafening silence on these literal life-or-death issues, they are scolded and told to politely wait their turn.

But here's the thing: As out feminist revolutionary Audre Lorde so poignantly noted, "There is so such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives." Marriage is one thing, but walking down the street holding your spouse's hand without trepidation is another.

And as we've learned from the fight for marriage, our most effective tools to change hearts and minds are our stories. And that's where we come in. As that first editorial implored, "we exist to serve you, but we cannot do it without your help."

Freedom to Marry's Wolfson agrees: "Our movement needs to set its sights on important goals, to sharpen and make clear the strategy to achieve them, and then drive that strategy with the right resources and the right mix of voices and tenacity to get the job done -- just as we did in winning the freedom to marry."

In this brave new nation, we at The Advocate will strive to live this mantra, delving into the intersections of identity and oppression, and continuing to push ourselves to represent more of our community in better and more diverse ways.

We trust you, dear readers, will hold us to that.

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