Comment: The fight for LGBT equality is far from over, in fact it has only just begun

Anthony Watson November 27, 2013
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Member of the board at GLAAD, and Managing Director and CIO at Barclays Anthony Watson, marks the 35th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s assassination by reflecting on the passage of equal marriage, but says that is not the end of the fight for equality but the beginning.

I was briefly in Los Angeles last week for work, where I caught up with one of my oldest friends. Let’s call him ‘Tom’ to protect the not so innocent. Some might say that Tom has it all: he’s successful, owns a beautiful home in the Hollywood hills, has an amazing husband and three beautiful children. As the evening progressed, we got to talk about my recent appointment to the Board of GLAAD, and he asked me a question that shocked me: “Why, Anthony, do you want to join the Board of GLAAD now? We’ve won the fight – what really is there left to do?”

Tom’s complacency aside, on one level of course he has a point. If we look at the state of our society today, we have won some battles, including marriage equality in many countries like the United Kingdom. Indeed, if we look to the United States, marriage equality is a reality across 16 states and Washington DC there have been historic victories in the US Supreme Court and, for the first time ever, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has passed in the U.S. Senate.

To people like Tom who believe we have won the fight for LGBT equality, I simply quote Churchill: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

I joined GLAAD’s Board of Directors because GLAAD’s work to tell real and compelling stories of LGBT people and families has not only paved the way for recent legal victories, but will continue to bring our community forward, not just in the United States but globally.

Of course, it is important to reflect on where we’ve come and what we’ve achieved. And often, there is no time more poignant to do this than an anniversary.

Recently, the world turned its attention to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, a truly great man, who did so very much for equal rights in America.

But today marks the anniversary of another assassination, one which might not draw the same attention, but which is equally as significant to me and many other LGBT men and woman around the world. Wednesday 27 of November 2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk who became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California before he was assassinated in San Francisco.

Supervisor Milk dedicated his life to fighting for his beliefs and for the basic human rights of the LGBT community, even when they caused him great personal pain and, in the end, resulted in his brutal murder.

It is partly as a result of the work, which Milk and others did, including those involved in the Brixton Riots and the Stonewall riots that we have been able to achieve so very much.

For many, not just here in the United Kingdom, but also in the United States, in France, in South Africa, et al marriage equality is a reality.

Many have said that the battle has been won.

Well, let me tell you something: don’t think for one moment that marriage equality alone marks the end. In fact, it only marks the beginning. We might have won the opening battle, but the war to change not just the legal definition, but how we, as LGBT people are perceived and treated, will be a lifelong battle to change the hearts and minds of those around us.

To put it another way, whilst the battle lines have shifted, the war is still a long way from being won.

Today in America, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in grades 7 – 12 are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. Equally, recent research by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 25% of LGBT student and university employees in the United States have experienced harassment due to their sexual orientation.

And it remains shocking fact that 29 States in the United States still don’t make it illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation. Simply because someone is who they are, they can be fired.

All of this helps to highlight just why LGBT equality and advocacy organisations remain, not only relevant but of vital importance. They are as critical today as they’ve ever been, and why I think it’s so very important that we all give, both with our time and with our money, to help the remarkable work so many of these organisations do to dismantle oppression and build support for full equality.

It is a profound honour and privilege for me to be involved with GLAAD. In October 2013, I was the first ever-British Citizen to be appointed to the Board of Directors of GLAAD. GLAAD is the world’s largest LGBT media advocacy organisation and we know the power that media have in shaping culture around the world

For over 27 years, we at GLAAD have been holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, transcending national boundaries and helping grassroots organisations communicate more effectively.

On Monday 25th of November 2013, we appointed a new president & Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Kate Ellis, and we are excitedly looking forward to a new period in our history as we enter 2014.

Sarah Kate comes from outside the traditional “business as usual” LGBT world to take GLAAD, and the wider LGBT movement, to a new future: one that fights the good fight for the LGBT community, not only in terms of legal equality, but cultural equality as well, so that all LGBT people are fully welcomed and respected in the communities in which we live, work and serve. This work is not done in courtrooms, but rather in the court of public opinion and it is the media that has the power to change the hearts of minds of the public. Sarah Kate is an award-winning media executive and salient communications strategist who has led some of the United States largest media brands to their biggest successes, most notably growing Real Simple into one of Time Inc.’s most respected and successful magazines. In the United States she appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine as a symbol of the fight for equality for same-sex couples.

Of course, there are many other organisations and many, which work tirelessly behind the scenes and don’t often get the recognition they deserve. Diversity Role Models, an organisation for which I am an ambassador, is one such organisation. DRM is an LGBT anti-homophobic bullying and education charity based in London. DRM sends LGBT role models to visits schools in the UK to offer advice and guidance to both students and teachers, in challenging homophobic bullying and celebrating equality, diversity and difference.

What’s remarkable to see is that after only a couple of hours with young people, the initial squeamish faces and insults that get thrown around the classroom disappear and they start to realise that LGBT people are no different from their straight friends. Working in schools and with children in this way is a significant part of the battle to reduce LGBT bullying in schools and hopefully, as a result, reduce the disproportionately high rate of suicide for our LGBT youth.

Ultimately, the battle continues and there is so much more critical and important work ahead. The only way that we’re going to continue to make progress is to realise how much more we have to do and keep campaigning and financing the movement. We owe that much not only to ourselves, but also to Harvey Milk and all those who put their heads above the parapet and fought for our rights over the last 50 years.

I’d urge you now (yes YOU reading this): don’t be complacent – get out there, get involved and support with your time and with your money an organisation that helps promote LGBT rights.

I urge you to be, yes inspired by all we’ve accomplished and by all we’ve achieved, but don’t ever forget we still have a long way to go. Each of us needs to make those who went before us proud, and there is no better way to do that than by being an activist in your own way, whether it’s volunteering or by giving financial support. But let’s ensure the next generation is as proud of the work we’ve all done as we are of those who went before us.

Anthony Watson is the Managing Director & Chief Information Officer of Europe, Middle East & Global Operations at Barclays. His GLAAD bio is available here.

He tweets at @AnthonyWatson

Related topics: anthony watson, barclays, gay and lesbian alliance against defamation, GLAAD

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