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EDITORIAL: Fifty years of progress — but fight for gay rights goes on

This Sunday’s Pride Parade comes at a time when the Trump administration is working to roll back LGBTQ protections, especially for transgender people.

A pedestrian crosses Christopher Street in New York on Thursday, where a Pride Parade will be held on Sunday.
A pedestrian crosses Christopher Street in New York on Thursday, where a Pride Parade will be held on Sunday.
AP Photos

On April 2, the voters of Chicago elected a gay woman, Lori Lightfoot, mayor.

Lightfoot’s victory was a historic day of progress for LGBTQ people in America, not in the least because her sexual orientation was not a dominating issue in the election. Chicago voters were more concerned about taxes, schools and crime.

For that reason alone, we’ve been in a celebratory mood this June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month.

Ten days after Lightfoot’s election, though, on April 12, President Donald Trump’s administration laid down an effective ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military. The Defense Department rule bars transgender individuals who have transitioned from enlisting in the military, and prohibits already enlisted troops from undergoing hormone therapy or gender transition surgeries.

That rule, a step backward for LGBTQ rights, reminds us of how far our nation has yet to go.

Gay Pride Month — once a single parade on a single day — has always been like that, a blending of celebration and protest, a good party and a recommitment to activism. In the last few years, this editorial page has probably leaned more toward emphasizing the progress, which was easy enough to do in the afterglow of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois in 2013 and across the nation in 2015.

This Sunday’s Pride Parade, though, comes as the Trump administration is working to roll back LGBTQ protections, especially for transgender people. It comes at a time when the courts and states are trying to do the same. And regular news stories about anti-gay discrimination, as well as public opinion polls, confirm the continued existence of deep cultural resistance.

Fifty years after Stonewall, the uprising outside a New York bar that galvanized the gay rights movement, the fight for equal treatment goes on.

Consider:

• Last month, the Trump administration announced it would allow homeless shelters to bar transgender persons from their premises.

• Two days after that, the administration proposed to scrap an Obama-era policy that prohibits health care providers from discriminating against transgender patients. The proposal also reaffirms the right of health care workers to deny care based on a religious or moral objection, meaning they could refuse to care for any LGBTQ person.

• One month after being elected president, Trump withdrew Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students in public schools to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Trump called it a state matter, not federal, and his Department of Education no longer investigates civil rights complaints based on this issue.

• In October 2017, the Trump administration — in another reversal of an Obama-era position — said a federal law banning gender-based workplace discrimination does not protect transgender employees.

• And in May 2018, the administration ruled that transgender prisoners should be housed according to their sex at birth, not their gender identity.

In 28 states — not including Illinois — there still are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment or housing. You can get married to a person of the same sex, a right in every state, but then get fired from your job for doing just that.

Underlying this legal resistance to full rights and liberties for LGBTQ people is the simple fact that an awful lot of Americans remain deeply opposed. We have seen progress but no magic transformation.

Not for nothing did Alabama Public Television last month decide not to run an episode of the children’s cartoon show “Arthur” because, in the episode, Arthur and his friends attend the wedding of a same-sex couple.

“It’s a brand new world,” one of Arthur’s friends says after the wedding.

Maybe not in Alabama.

In 1996, polls showed, only 27% of Americans supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Now, 63% of Americans do. Terrific progress, right? Maybe. But how does that square that with the fact that nearly one-third of Americans still view gay or lesbian relations as “morally wrong”?

For all the progress made, an openly gay man — Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana — still can’t run for president without one of the more prominent Christian leaders of our times — Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham — calling him out as a sinner.

“God’s word defines homosexuality as a sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized,” Graham scolded Buttigieg in April.

We don’t see much hope for Graham. He’s a bigot in a cleric’s collar. But 50 years after Stonewall, Buttigieg is shrugging off guys like him.

In Iowa in April, when confronted by anti-gay hecklers, Buttigieg said, “The good news is, the condition of my soul is in the hands of God but the Iowa caucuses are up to you.”

Maybe that’s the best progress, and reason enough to celebrate.

A lesbian was elected mayor of Chicago. A gay man is running for president — and stands a chance of winning.

And when the bigots bark, proud gay people are not cowering.

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