When I first heard that same-sex marriage was legalized, I was shocked. I always imagined that I would have to wait until old age to see this ruling. Yet this is one small step on the path to gay rights.
Just a few decades ago, the LGBT community was heavily scrutinized and victim to homophobic violence. Perhaps one of the most painful memories was the beating and death of Matthew Shepard. Although it is debated if Shepard was targeted because of his sexual orientation, homophobia reared its heard when he was mocked in a Colorado State University homecoming parade by being depicted as a scarecrow with anti-gay labels.
We still see the lack of acceptance when children are kicked out of their homes after coming out. Yet today, homophobia and an ignorance of the LGBT community is increasingly present in subtle forms. Lesbians are asked how they have sex, people assume that someone who has come out is just going through a phase and the femme and butch stereotypes are often defaults in pop culture.
The same-sex marriage ruling is just one way society is making strides to become more understanding and accepting of homosexuality. The It Gets Better Project, Hillary Clinton’s message to a gay adolescent in distress and LGBT media outlets help normalize the community.
Yet it seems transphobia is the next hurdle for us to overcome. “Tranny” and “she-male” are the new versions of misusing “gay.” Most notable was the backlash to Caitlyn Jenner‘s debut.
I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me.
— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) June 1, 2015
When former child star Drake Bell tweeted, “Sorry…still calling you Bruce,” he communicated his inability to accept Jenner’s female identity. Others speculated about Jenner’s gender reassignment and made “tranny” jokes. Yet there was also a welcoming of Jenner’s new identity, as evidenced by her record-breaking one million Twitter followers in four hours.
Although I was proud to see Jenner show her true identity to all the world, I couldn’t help but realize that much of her acceptance was based on her gender identity. While the transgender community faces discrimination from the difficulties of birth certificate changes to gender-neutral bathroom accessibility, there is a heightened discrimination directed at transgenders with gender-ambiguous identities. Without the traditional male-female gender binary, people unfamiliar to the LGBT community are perplexed on how to address someone without a cisgender identity. Before Jenner’s transition, zhe (gender-neutral pronoun) was mocked for zher gender-ambiguous identity, yet once she made her transition into a female gender identity, Jenner was commended for her beautiful new appearance. If Jenner resided in the middle-ground of the gender identity spectrum, would zhe have been as accepted?
The first way to foster an LGBT-friendly community (emphasis on the T) is to first and foremost listen. The biggest mistake is to assume what another group wants or needs. By listening to the LGBT community’s needs, you can better advocate for their rights. Having an open ear also leads to an understanding of the LGBT community. Understanding is the gateway to defeating fear and homophobia, and it reduces the tendency to “other.” Someday, there will no longer be the distinction of same-sex marriage or gay rights – it will simply be marriage and human rights.
Collegian Managing Editor Katie Schmidt can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KatieDSchmidt.