By Elizabeth Hajkowski, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School Class of 2019
Illustrated by Reid Sandlund, Haldane High School Class of 2019
Nicole Maines has an identical twin brother, but as far back as she can remember, she never identified herself as a boy like her brother did. Nicole was always drawn to female possessions like Disney princess movies and Barbies instead of things like action figures. Nicole explains in an interview with Terry Gross that she had always felt like her body was not right. It was difficult for her parents at first to understand, but now they have become her biggest supporters.
In 2014, Nicole won a discrimination lawsuit—the first transsexual youth to do so. Stories like Nicole’s show us that gender identity is not a choice but rather an inborn trait. Although some may disagree and say that transgender people are just experimenting with another gender identity, rather than truly identifying as the opposite sex, this does not give them the right to discriminate against them.
Everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity, yet those who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community are often discriminated against. LGBT rights has been an issue as far back as people can remember. This issue affects not only the LGBT community, but also their families.
This is a global problem, and more laws are needed to protect the rights of LGBT people who face chronic discrimination. Such discrimination can affect individuals’ self-worth and may lead to health problems like depression or even suicide.
People all around the world are trying to make a difference and take a stand for equal rights and access for the LGBT community. Though there have been some changes, a lot still needs to be fixed. People of the LGBT community deserve to be treated as equals.
Just like everyone else, the LGBT community should have full and equal access to marriage and adoption without complications. Some people may disagree with this because they have a more traditional mind-set that marriage should be between a man and a woman. This also goes along with some people’s thinking that having a family and adopting should only occur between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples are just as capable as heterosexual couples of having a loving marriage and supporting a perfectly functional family. Everyone is entitled to marry and have a family with the person they fall in love with.
In the article “A Florist Caught Between Faith and Discrimination,” author Warren Richey discusses a situation where a gay couple was discriminated against. Florist Barronelle Stutzman was brought to court for refusing to serve Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, because they are a gay couple. Barronelle believed that because of her religion she could deny service to Robert and Curt for their sexual orientation. Barronelle explains that she did not deny her service to Robert, but to his marriage. “What she objected to was the possibility of a job requiring her personal involvement in the celebration of a same-sex marriage. She felt that would be a renunciation of her faith.” 1
But you can still serve someone and have your own beliefs. You do not have to agree with same-sex marriage; however, you cannot discriminate against these couples. No one should be treated differently because of whom they choose to marry.
Additionally, same-sex couples should have full and equal access to adoption, just as heterosexual couples do. In the article “Same-Sex Couples Navigate Adoption,” author Beth Walton talks with same-sex couples and discusses their struggles with adoption.
Lesbian couple Marilyn Benson and Debbie Pittman have been together for 31 years. When a same-sex couple wants to adopt a child, only one person is allowed to be the adoptive parent. Marilyn was the adoptive parent of their daughter, Katie. Debbie was not legally her mother until 30 years later. When this finally happened, Katie was overjoyed. “It’s great to have that new birth certificate with the names of both parents on it, and it is very special to say that they are both legally my moms….” 2
Some places to this day do not allow same-sex couples and people of the LGBT community to adopt children or have both individuals as the adoptive parents of the child. But these couples should not be treated differently than straight couples because of their relationship status. No one is exactly the same, and being different should not determine the rights you are given. Marriage and being able to have a loving family is a right that should be available to everyone.
Unfortunately, members of the LGBT community face a lot of harassment for just being themselves. LGBT people can be verbally, physically and sexually abused. This is a horrible ordeal that no one should have to go through.
In high school they may be shoved into lockers, insulted, ridiculed and embarrassed. Exclusion from group activities is common among LGBT students. Problems such as these can drive people to harm themselves or even commit suicide.
The authors of “Same-Sex Marriage Legalization Linked to Reduction in Suicide Attempts Among High School Students” explain that studies show the rate of suicide attempts among high school students have decreased significantly with the legalization of same-sex marriage, even more so among homosexual students. This article goes on to say, “There may be something about having equal rights—even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them—that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.” 3
Having equal rights can make people feel like they have more freedom to be themselves, which positively affects their self-esteem. Legalizing same-sex marriage has made homosexual individuals feel more hopeful and less like outcasts. The article “LGBTQ” by the publication National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains how people of the LGBTQ community are at higher risk of having mental health issues. According to the article, “An estimated 20 to 30 percent of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population,” and also, “LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population,” 4 very likely because LGBTQ people face a great deal of discrimination from those who disagree with their lifestyle. LGBTQ individuals are also at a higher risk of developing anxiety from the constant fear of others who may not approve of who they are.
Another area of concern is that LGBT people should not be denied full access to gender-identity restrooms. Being able to use the bathroom associated with someone’s gender is an ongoing problem in today’s society. The LGBT community has fought hard for many years to improve their rights. But in 2017, President Trump rescinded the right of transgender individuals to access the bathroom most comfortable to them. When this right was taken away, it felt like a step backwards for them.
On NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross interviewed Nicole Maines, a transsexual teen in the documentary The Trans List. During the interview, she explained that she was the first transsexual teen to win a lawsuit for discrimination. When Gross brought up what events led to her lawsuit against her school, Maines said, “So they pulled me out of the girls’ room, and they decided that it’d be much less trouble if I just used the private staff bathroom away from all the other girls.”
Maines continued, “I basically ended up getting a specially assigned adult to follow 10 feet behind me at all times, make sure that I use the isolation-chamber bathroom, and they said it was for my own protection. It was to make sure I was using the bathroom.” 5
Being forced to use a private bathroom can cause someone to feel lonely and displaced.
Transgender individuals may feel like they are being punished, and Nicole is a great example of that from all this “special” treatment. Being followed around just to make sure she used the bathroom the school wanted her to not only made her feel like she was being punished but also made her feel trapped and embarrassed. No other students were being followed. With President Trump rescinding the law that gave transsexuals equal access to bathrooms, equality for bathroom access does not exist. Being told you cannot use the bathroom that associates with the gender you identify as is discrimination and should not be allowed.
Some issues the LGBT community encounters have improved over time. One in particular is the legalization of same-sex marriage. LGBT people still face discrimination for this, but legalizing same-sex marriage has certainly been a step forward.
There is so much more that needs to be done to improve the lives of LGBT individuals and to make the world a better place for everyone. Laws need to be made to give LGBT individuals equality and protect the LGBT community because they are humans and deserve equal human rights. And not only does the government need to step up in this way, but society needs to take a stand and be more accepting of those in the LGBT community.
What if it was your child being harassed for simply being him- or herself? Would you take a stand to make the world a better place for those like your child? Acceptance goes a long way, and it can show we value all lives. So let’s eliminate discrimination and accept people for who they are. █
2. Walton, Beth. “Same-Sex Couples Navigate Adoption.” Asheville Citizen-Times, November 12, 2015, p. 1, SIRS Issues Researcher, www.sks.irs.com.
3. Desmon, Stephanie and Benham, Barbara. “Same-Sex Marriage Legalization Linked to Reduction in Suicide.” Targeted News Service, 2017, SIRS Issues Researcher, www.sks.irs.com.
4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. “LGBTQ.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ. Accessed April 26, 2017.
5. Gross, Terry. “11 Transgender Americans Share Their Stories in HBO’s The Trans List.” NPR, December 5, 2016.