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What You Need to Know About the Current State of LGBTQ+ Rights in America

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

What is it about the word “queer” that elicits such a reaction from the American people? Is it the connotations of pain that have become laced into the word? Is it the fear of not being able to understand another’s lifestyle? Or is it just the lack of ability to control what one does not understand, all the while witnessing the purity of queer happiness?

The last one can’t truly be it, because if there is one thing that people are afraid of more than the queer community, it is the possibility of queer happiness that truly throws people for a loop. It isn’t that queer happiness does not exist, it is simply that it is beneficial for the straight agenda to portray being queer as an unhappy lifestyle. It is not. There are many conversations to be had about the LGBTQ+ community, but the most important point that must ring through for all generations is the reality that you can be gay and happy. Despite the fight for equal rights, despite the discovering yourself in a hetero-normative space, despite all the ways that the world has and will try to convince you otherwise, you can be gay and happy.

From Stonewall to Obergefell, the queer fight for equal rights has been a turbulent one that is far from being over despite the ever-changing climate of our society. With each new generation, there comes a new wave of acceptance and a general lack of care to give about someone else’s journey. This is, of course, a problem as much as it is a saving grace for underrepresented folk, but it has given the community the space to breathe for the first time in their lives. With the room to breathe, there is room to discover new layers of queerness and gender fluidity that has opened the door for each person to begin to question where they truly fall on these spectrums away from the pressures of a hetero-normative society.

The acceptance of queer folk in the past few generations has allowed for the rise of queer-centered spaces and events as well, and more widely recognized, a rise in drag shows. These shows spread from the basements of gay clubs across the nation to the middle of libraries and on the stages of festivals. These shows are ways for artists to express themselves away from their normal cisgender presenting selves, but they have also just become a source of joy for queer and non-queer people alike. They are one of the largest draws for the queer ally community and have been transformed into a space that is no longer strictly for LGBTQ+ people. But now, for the first time in a long time, these spaces are under attack by far-right politicians and constituents across the country.

Queer spaces have always been a bit of a target for hate crimes, from the mid-1900s when being gay was labeled a mental illness and spaces like Stonewall were being raided, to the 2010s where despite the passing of equal marriage rights nationally, fatal shootings like the Pulse tragedy still rang through the community. As being LGBTQ+ becomes more accepted than scorned, subtle attacks on the rights and well-being of the community are now being noticed more than ever. The biggest blow to the political protections of queer people started in the Florida State Senate with the passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year. This bill worked to not only force educators to out their students as they begin to discover their sexuality but prohibit the natural discussion of being LGBTQ+ with students in any form. This was the first of many steps Florida’s state government has taken to silence underrepresented people’s voices.

This change in the tides started after the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the spring of last year. The government’s ability to do this despite the years it has been in place brought forward the possibility of the reversal of Obergefell v. Hodges as well. This led to states taking queer rights back into their own hands and beginning to pass legislation that has greatly harmed the individual rights of queer people. Bills affecting the healthcare, protection, adoption rights, and equal rights of LGBTQ+ people have been proposed, and some have passed, consistently in conservative governments. States have also begun specifically targeting drag shows and drag queens, mislabeling them as “groomers” and attempting scare tactics to cause an uproar in their communities. Most notably, Tennessee has now passed a statewide ban on gender-affirming care for minors and on public drag shows. These aggressive pieces of legislation are partnered with the reality that trans and gender non-conforming people are already large targets for physical attacks and hate crimes. This means that overall, the state of LGBTQ+ rights, and more importantly the state of LGBTQ+ people’s safety, is currently at risk in ways it has not been before.

A lot of what was just shared was very scary, especially given that before now the overall acceptance of LGBTQ+ people has been on an uphill track. With much more than just equal rights for gay people, but a feeling of normalcy and comfort in society for the first time, the backtracking of the political climate has been a hard and scary adjustment. The fight for trans and gender non-conforming rights were just starting to take the reins as the rest of the community began to settle in the spaces that had been made for them, and now it feels as if that work is being undone. 

But this is not to say that all hope is lost for the community, or to even shine a dim light on the current state of being a queer youth in America. Though the fight for the political rights of the community is being picked up again, the fight for acceptance in society has already been fought and won. Happy, queer stories are becoming normalized in previously predominantly hetero spaces like Disney, Netflix, and YA literature. Politicians are openly and proudly gay in conservative states. More artists, actors, and celebrities are queer and/or gender non-conforming in casual and comfortable ways. The new generation is growing into spaces that have resources and representation to help them navigate through previously lonely and scary gender/sexual identity paths because of the wide-range acceptance and normalization of LGBTQ+ identities.

For the first time, the existence of queer people is not an issue. Most Americans either accept or just simply do not care enough to reject the LGBTQ+ community, and that is a win that simply cannot be taken away by the government during this scary time. In states like Florida where the reversal of LGBTQ+ rights is already underway, now is the time to begin paying attention to the next election cycle, finding out who your current legislators are, and researching what you as a constituent can do to prevent further damage in your community. Most importantly, remember and share that you CAN be queer and happy, no matter what they want you to think.

I am a news writer with an emphasis on political writing. Most of my free time is spent reading and cooking/baking, both of which I am incredibly passionate about. I am working on being more free-spirited and spontaneous so I solo travel as much as I can to anywhere I can find a deal for.