The Next Big Battles for the LGBT Movement

July 1st 2015

Aron Macarow

Last week's marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges represents a massive victory for the LGBT community, but it is only one facet of the many issues that still face gay and transgender Americans.

Thankfully, while most media have singularly attuned to same-sex marriage, advocates and community members have kept pushing to make change in other impactful areas. Here are three big stories that you may have missed in the circus around same-sex marriage legalization. Each shows us that there are still plenty of issues after marriage that need to be addressed -- and according to some, many that are more important than marriage equality in the first place.

1. Transgender military service

When the legislature repealed the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2010, it opened up military service for gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops — but not for transgender service members, who remain barred from serving openly in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces to this day. That could change soon.

On June 25, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) led a group of close to 20 House members to call on Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to do away with the discriminatory policy.

"People should be evaluated on performance, not gender," Honda said in a statement on the action.

Separately, Rep. Jackie Speier(D-Calif.) is drafting a bill to allow transgender military personnel to serve openly by including trans service members in anti-discrimination legislation. She plans to introduce the bill next month, according to The Hill.

Meanwhile Senior Airman Logan Ireland and his fiancee Army Cpl. Laila Villanueva were invited to attend the White House LGBT Pride event on June 24. The transgender couple - Ireland transitioned from female to male, while Villanueva transitioned from male to female - made history by attending the reception along with other out transgender troops. Particularly noteworthy was the Air Force's support of Ireland's recent decision to serve as an openly transgender airman. He was given permission to attend Wednesday's event in the male dress blue uniform, a groundbreaking step when transgender Americans are still banned from military service and are regularly subject to discharge.

2. Quality, competent, LGBT-sensitive healthcare for all

Significant healthcare disparities exist between heterosexual and LGBT Americans. As reported by the Center for American Progress, 82 percent of straight adults had health insurance in 2009 compared with only 77 percent of LGB adults, and slightly more than half (57 percent) of trans adults. Beyond the inequalities that exist in the care that LGBT people do receive, many transgender individuals are unable to get their basic health needs met at all.

While the Affordable Care Act took steps to bar discrimination against transgender Americans by health insurers for the first time, the law still allows healthcare companies to deny medically-necessary gender transition surgeries and other care. As of January 2015, only nine states and the District of Columbia protected the transgender community from such unequal treatment. Nevada quietly joined the list of states requiring insurance providers to care for transgender residents on June 25, with a bulletin notice from state Insurance Commissioner Scott Kipper clarifying that state law and administrative code "prohibit the denial, exclusion or limitation of benefits related to the coverage of medically necessary healthcare [...] on the basis of sex as it relates to gender identity or expression."

The same week, the federal government also took a step forward toward providing comprehensive healthcare for transgender Americans by ordering its insurance carriers to cover gender transition-related services for federal employees as of January 1, 2016.

3. Ending harassment and assault of LGBT immigrants

Did you only hear about the "heckler" at the White House Pride reception? The speaker was Jennicet Gutierrez of #Not1More, a campaign against LGBTQ deportation and detention. Gutierrez wanted President Barack Obama to know about the unimaginably high rates of violence that transgender immigrants face at the hands of both guards and other detainees. Congressional members spoke out on this issue as well on June 23, sending a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"The alarming rates of sexual assaults of non-heterosexual detainees should be a wakeup call for ICE, " said Rep. Honda in a statement from his office, along with 34 other Members of Congress. "Our letter calls on ICE to use the power they have to create a safer and more humane alternative that will treat LGBT individuals with respect and dignity."

According to a Government Accountability Office report from November 2013, there were 15 cases of reported sexual assault in ICE custody — three of those cases involved a transgender detainee. Following congressional calls to end the detainment of LGBT immigrants altogether, due to the alarmingly high prevalence of sexual abuse against transgender immigrants in ICE custody, ICE announced new guidelines for housing transgender detainees. The new rules, released in January, state that detention staff should consider a transgender detainee's gender identity when making decisions about clothing, pronouns, and housing.

In addition, "ICE will allow for the placement of a transgender woman consistent with their gender identity, meaning that a transgender woman could be with biological females," said Deputy Assistant Director of Custody Programs Andrew Lorenzen-Strait.

The new guidelines only scratch the surface of the abuses reported against LGBT people by ICE, but signals a hopeful change in policy.

So what's next after marriage?

Hopefully, tackling multiple diverse problems that affect LGB, queer, and transgender individuals with the same coordinated effort and resources that the LGBT movement put into marriage.

Lambda Legal's executive director Kevin Cathcart says that he is looking to anti-discrimination laws next.

"We now have marriage equality in all 50 states, what we don't have is employment protections," Cathcart told New York's PIX11. With so many different issues to choose from, there's no shortage of work to be done.