From the era of Ronald Reagan to the present day with Donald Trump, policy making regarding minorities, specifically the LGBTQ+ community, has had a rough history. Guest speakers Zane Carey and Lynne Alexander came to the Rainbow Center this Thursday to lay out the story of what has (and has not) been done to work towards equality for the community.
Carey and Alexander covered topics such as the HIV/AIDS crisis that devastated millions of people and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which protects against discrimination and harassment in the military for closeted LGBTQ+ people, while excluding people who are not closeted from serving. They also talked about marriage equality and its implications, as well as other policies that caused setbacks for the community.
Spanning across several of the issues discussed was the theme of inaction. The reluctance to implement policies that would have counteracted some of the primary struggles the LGBTQ+ community faced at the time was, at best, denying millions of people basic rights. At its worst, it was a matter of life and death.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic took countless lives over the course of many years, all while being ignored by Ronald Reagan and the Center for Disease Control. The delayed approval of treatments and rejection of policies to remedy the crisis caused more suffering.
“I hadn’t heard much about the HIV/AIDS crisis before, and its surprising that something that impacted so many people isn’t something I learned about in history class,” a student who wished to remain anonymous said. “Anything we heard about it made it seem removed from our lives, but seeing the effect it had really put it in perspective.”
Another demonstration of inaction is GENDA, an act that protects against workplace inequality that the federal government has yet to pass, although some states have adopted it into their laws. This act specifically targets discrimination based on gender expression.
Alexander and Carey stressed that the history of inaction needs to be stopped. When one goal is met, often communities stop fighting. “There is a tendency for activism pushing for policies to stop,” Alexander said. They cited marriage equality and the time after it was achieved.
An activist group, called “Love Makes a Family,” largely disbanded after the ruling for marriage equality in Connecticut was passed, despite the continuation of other problems that needed to be addressed.
In addition to inaction, there has also been a history of excluding the transgender community in the fight for rights. It is especially a problem within the military, which does not allow trans people to serve, although studies show that it would not negatively impact the finances or quality of the service in any way, contrary to arguments against trans inclusion in the military.
Human Rights Campaign also encouraged trans people to not protest or display their symbols at rallies in order to differentiate rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual people from that of trans rights. Discrimination and tension within the LGBTQ+ community in this manner has contributed to the lack of rights for trans people.
“I was not aware of the exclusion of the trans community form the Human Rights Campaign, and I am glad that this was brought to my attention because I have been a supporter in the past, and I won’t stand for transphobia. I’ll have to look into that more,” Katie Arpino, a second semester American Sign Language and Deaf studies major, said.
Despite the bleak-sounding history of policies pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community, the future seems brighter. “Go be involved in politics,” encouraged Alexander and Carey. They gave examples of how small actions can make a difference with a little persistence, including the addition of gender neutral bathrooms in the new UConn Rec Center and Homer Babbidge Library. With a better understanding of past mistakes in policy making, there is hope that we can move forward, and instead of putting up barriers, we can clear the path for the future of LGBTQ+ rights.
Meghan Shaw is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached cia email at firstname.lastname@example.org.