Sometimes I feel like I envy the LGBTQ youth of today. They now live in a world where our visibility is far more common that it was twenty years ago. It is easier to talk about gender identities, in many ways, than it ever has been. They have idols to look up to that are just like they are, where we only knew of a few. It creates a feeling that things are moving in a good direction, but I would prefer them to questions if it is actually a better place than it was twenty years ago or is it simply more visible.
I use twenty years as an example on purpose because twenty-one years ago, October 12, 1998 Matthew Shepard lost his life. He was picked up by two straight men in his college town Wyoming bar and driven out to a field where they proceeded to beat him, torture him, strip him down and tie him to a fence post and left to die in the cold Wyoming night. Similarly, in March 9, 1995 Scott Amedure was shot twice in the chest with a shot gun by Jonathan Schmitz. Three days earlier Amedure had went for a taping of Jenny Jones (a talk show of the time) and was introduced as a secret crush to Schmitz. Schmitz, at the time, was embarrassed and tried to laugh it off. Upon Schmitz returning home he found a love note from Amedure. Schmitz left his house, purchased a shotgun, and proceeded to the residence of Amedure, in Michigan, where he shot him. He was later arrested, and his lawyer used the gay panic defense and that he was mentally unstable after being humiliated on national television by the surprise from Amedure. Schmitz was charged with second degree murder instead of the first degree that anyone else would have been given for premeditation.
I grew up in the era where AIDS was never mentioned on television until Hollywood started publicly bringing awareness to the spreading AIDS epidemic. Ronal Reagan even prevented Surgeon General Everett C. Coop from speaking out about the AIDS epidemic. This was the time in which It was still known by its demonizing moniker GRID, Gay Related Immune Disease. There were no protections for us, at this time. The thought of gay marriage wouldn’t have even been considered. Television had the most stereotypical versions of what it meant to be LGBTQ. Even Ellen DeGeneres was still in the closet. These were the realities we lived with.
The sad truth is that in the 24 years since these events, we haven’t progressed all that far. We still hear daily how we are pushing our sexuality down other’s throats. How we are asking for special privileges to simply exist. Today in a Lunch and Learn we hosted at my job, we discussed some of these things and how we can make others see that we are only talking about the same rights they take for granted. It’s hard to realize that twenty years ago if our husband or wife was in the hospital, we would not be allowed to see them because we are gay.
On February 27th, 2003, I had my boyfriend in my arms as he took his last breath in our house. He died due to complications of HIV and pneumonia, when the paramedics came to try to revive him and take his lifeless body away, I was not even told where they were taking him. They put him in the back of ambulance and took him from me leaving me in tears and no idea where his body was. A friend of mine who came over after I called her about his death, was the one that found out where he had been taken and took me to the hospital. I arrived and asked if I could see him, the admitting nurse said that I absolutely could not see him as we were not related or married. I sat in the waiting room distraught and not knowing what to do. Tears were streaming down my face and my friend sat beside me. At some point, after a shift change, a nurse took pity on me and took me to see his body, this was after two hours of sitting in the waiting room. His family would not be there for hours more.
While our youth see where we are and think we have all of these awesome freedoms, it would be better if they realized where we have come from and what we still face. Since 2013 there have been over 400 reported deaths of transgender people in the United States. When we look at the world figure those number sharply rise. These are only the reported ones, ones that have been properly classified as transgender deaths. Our world is far from safe for us. Our on country has not enacted federal protection rights for LGBTQ people, it is left to individual states to enact them. Only 23 have any form of protection rights and they can vary widely from city to city, county to county. We can’t rest until we have those protections, until we are fully respected as equal individuals to our heterosexual counterparts. Our youth needs to see how much further we have to go before we are actually safe.