40 years after Stonewall, still a long way to go

June 28th, 2009

Mary Shaw

I am writing this on June 28, 2009 -- the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York's Greenwich Village in 1969, which marked the beginning of the LGBT rights movement here in the U.S.

While some progress has certainly been made, we as a society still have a long way to go in this newest civil rights movement.

First, the good news:

Today, same-sex couples in several states are receiving domestic partnership benefits. And President Obama recently signed an executive order granting some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Better still, same-sex marriage has been legalized in a handful of states, hopefully with others soon to follow.

And same-sex couples are permitted to adopt children in several states.

In addition, we've elected several LGBT members of Congress.

But it is disappointing to note that the nation, and our laws, are still so divided after four decades of fighting for LGBT rights. After all, it is not about special treatment for LGBT persons. It is about their right be treated the same as any other human being, with the same human rights.

And there have been some notable setbacks to consider.

There was the passage last November of Proposition 8, which enacted a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage in California, of all places.

There is the Defense of Marriage Act, which Bill Clinton shamefully signed into law, and which Barack Obama shamefully moved to uphold in recent weeks, even after promising its repeal while on the presidential campaign trail.

And there is "Don't ask, don't tell", which has led to the dismissal of thousands of good and valuable military men and women through the years simply because they could not, or would not, indefinitely remain in the closet.

So the movement still has a long way to go.

But I will not give up hope.

Because young people today are much more in favor of gay rights than were their ancestors, just as the younger people of the 1960s were much more in favor of civil rights for African Americans.

I believe that someday, hopefully in my lifetime, homophobia will go the way of racism in this country and become an anomaly that is neither legitimized nor tolerated except in the most extremist pockets of society.

Because this nation was founded on the written principle that "all men are created equal" -- not just the straight ones.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com

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