It’s a time to recognize and support the activism of the LGBTQ+ community as they stand against violent acts that harm their community.
LGBTQ+ people are proud of their heritage, their history, their strength, their individuality, their identities, and the continued ways they contribute to and enrich our society. Our agency stands with our employees and youth who are LGBTQ+, and we also recognize that we still have a long way to go to ensure that they feel safe and receive equitable treatment.
Much of our society is rooted in harmful assumptions that promote heterosexuality as the norm and the idea that male and female are the only two gender identities and they are fixed at birth. These are damaging beliefs that cause many to view LGBTQ+ people as somehow in need of being “fixed.”
I’ve talked a lot in the past year about how our society and our systems are built on white supremacy. Similarly, our LGBTQ+ neighbors, colleagues, and youth are also fighting for equality in a system based on the idea that they are somehow lesser than others or not the norm.
The criminal and juvenile justice systems are also based on these ideas. Historically, LGBTQ+ people’s identities and sexuality were criminalized in many states, and still are in some places. But this is not just a historical problem. Our employees and youth in custody who are LGBTQ+ still frequently feel unsafe and face discrimination.
On top of all that, even within the LGBTQ+ community, racism and differing ideas on who to prioritize in the fight for equality have made the path forward even harder for people of color and transgender people, whose intersecting identities make them the target of multiple forms of discrimination, hateful speech and actions, and often fatal violence.
It was gender non-conforming women of color in New York City — including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (the namesake for the Rivera House residential program) — who were integral to the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Johnson and Rivera were two of the most vocal early activists fighting for rights for transgender people. Together, they formed an organization called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), which provided housing and support to homeless transgender youth in Manhattan.
Their early activism was rooted in the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, the historic event that led to the creation of Pride Month. Police had been regularly raiding and arresting patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a lesbian and gay bar in Greenwich Village. The night the riots started, the local LGBTQ+ community — already subjected to a legal system that criminalized their sexualities and identities, and a society that sought to assimilate them into heteronormative culture — fought back. Many were arrested and assaulted by police. While the riots were not the first moments of LGBTQ+ activism, they did kick off the modern gay liberation movement.
Here are several videos we recommend that give more context to Pride history:
- The History of Pride (2017): https://youtu.be/nbWzRhLlheQ
- S.T.A.R., about Johnson and Rivera (2019): https://youtu.be/MhGf-ba5Syw
- What were the Stonewall Riots? (2019): https://youtu.be/CopCQq0Vuc0
Fight for Equality Today
The LGBTQ+ community has made much progress toward equality and acceptance since the 1960s. That said, we all still have a lot of work to do.
Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people isn’t just historical. Here are a few examples of laws and efforts today affecting their rights and safety:
- The federal government is currently considering the Equality Act, which would provide federal protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, half of Americans live in a state with no legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.
- So far in 2021, more than 250 have been introduced at the state level across the country that would limit rights for LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender youth.
- During the current Oregon legislative session, lawmakers just passed a bill banning the “gay panic defense”. Before, people accused of second-degree murder could argue that they killed someone while under an “extreme emotional disturbance” after learning the victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Prominent LGBTQ+ People
Here are several other prominent LGBTQ+ people who have made important contributions to our society:
- Bayard Rustin: Most people associate the 1960s March on Washington only with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, it was Rustin who actually organized the event. He also taught Dr. King about Gandhi’s belief in non-violence and civil disobedience and helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Rustin continued to actively fight for LGBTQ+ rights through the 1980s.
- Lori Lightfoot: Lightfoot is Chicago’s first-ever Black female mayor and its first openly LGBTQ+ mayor. Before winning the mayoral election in 2019, she was a prosecutor who served as assistant U.S. attorney in Illinois and was integral to the work in Chicago to hold police accountable for misconduct.
- Ben Barres: A pioneering neurobiologist at Stanford University, Barres’s work on a type of brain cell called glia revolutionized our understanding of the brain. In 2013, he became the first openly transgender member elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
LGBTQ+ Support at OYA
Providing more and better support for our LGBTQ+ employees and the youth in our system are important goals at OYA. I am proud of the fact that, in recent years, OYA was one of the first juvenile justice agencies in the country to adopt a policy and process for accommodations for transgender youth.
Additionally, with our partners at Janus Youth Programs, we helped create Rivera House, the first residential program dedicated to working with LGBTQ+ youth. More recently, we have also:
- Formed a community LGBTQ+ Advisory Group and an internal Gender Identity Committee. The latter is expanding its scope to become the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee (SOGIC) to provide accommodations and meet the needs of all LGBTQ+ youth.
- Created an online list of LGBTQ+ resources for LGBTQ+ people seeking help for themselves, or for our employees wanting to connect our youth with services. (On OYANet: https://oya.sharepoint.com/sites/oiir/SitePages/LGBTQ+.aspx)
- Partnered with Basic Rights Oregon to hold a two-day training in late June and early July, focused on transgender inclusion. (June 30 and July 7, 1-2:30 p.m. on Zoom. Check your Outlook calendar for the invitation.)
I know that this is not nearly enough, especially for our teammates at OYA who may not feel safe or supported due to their LGBTQ+ identities. As I continue moving forward with our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative, I will keep looking for more and better ways to provide services and support for our LGBTQ+ teammates and youth. If you have ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
In the meantime, I ask that you take the time to learn more about the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community both historically and today. Knowing, recognizing, and supporting the cultures and identities of those around us will go a long way toward making everyone feel safer and better supported in the places where we live and work.