Two Americas: The New Reality for LGBTQ Americans

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Posted Date : November 25, 2013

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As I write this, my partner and I about to leave for Borough Hall to get our marriage license. The Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 went largely as expected, yet I still found myself shocked and overwhelmed with joy that, for the first time in my life, I am able to marry the man I love with the full recognition of the law. No more “skim milk” marriages — now we have the real thing.

This decision means that my partner can finally become a citizen and that we can at last be free of the stresses and worries that came with his “foreign” status despite living nearly a decade here in the U.S. It means we’ll get a slightly bigger tax refund in April of 2014. It means we have 1,000 or so other rights that come with marriage. And it means we have something intangible but just as important: the knowledge that our lives and our love are honored and respected by our country.

But with the sweetness of that knowledge, there has also come the bitter aftertaste that our country only provides that respect for same-sex couples in 13 states and Washington, DC.

For LGBTQ people, there are two Americas now. There is the America that I and millions of other gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans have been welcome into today, an America that fulfills its promise of freedom and liberty for all. And then there is another America, an America that doesn’t yet live up to its great aspirations. Sadly, that’s still the America of 37 states and Puerto Rico where people still do not have the freedom to marry the person they love. That’s the America of 29 states where people can still be fired simply because of their sexual orientation. That’s the America of 34 states where transgender people are not protected from discrimination.

The same Supreme Court that expanded freedom today also curtailed freedom yesterday by overturning a portion of the Voting Rights Act. Transgender people, people of color, immigrants, and low-income people have all been told that America’s most precious promise — the right to vote and be represented in our democracy — is fettered by caveats and stipulations.

In that context, so many of us today are filled with complex emotions that cannot be captured in a single word: joy and inspiration at how far we have come, determination and resolve for all we have yet to do.

The philanthropic community has an essential role in all that we have won and in all the work that lies ahead. I am so proud to work with an amazing network of funders in this continuing struggle for social change. I think of funders like theEvelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, which awarded the first grant for the freedom to marry and continues to lead the charge for marriage equality and immigrant rights. I think of the Gill Foundation and its brilliantly strategic work - both past and present - to win full legal equality for LGBTQ people in all 50 states. I think of the Arcus Foundation’s groundbreaking leadership for full justice for LGBTQ communities of color. I think of the Ford Foundation’s unprecedented $50 million commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights. I think of the way that several of these funders have come together to form the Civil Marriage Collaborative, coordinating their efforts on marriage equality to make the impact of their dollars go even further. I think of funders like the Paul Rapoport Foundation, who have led the fight against AIDS and worked to make sure that all LGBTQ people can live healthy lives. And I think of the crucial work of the Astraea Foundation and a dozen other LGBTQ public foundations supporting LGBTQ leaders and organizations working at the grassroots level for LGBTQ communities.

The funders in our network have pursued a range of different grantmaking strategies, but all have been essential in making sure that LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and advocates around the country have the resources they need to advance LGBTQ justice. As our work to advance legal equality spreads beyond the liberal bastions of the Northeast and West Coast, and as we expand our efforts to improve health and educational and economic opportunities for the most vulnerable of LGBTQ communities, our movement will need more resources and new funding partners. Funders for LGBTQ Issues will be here as leader and resource in that work, building relationships with new allies in the philanthropic world and helping to explore bold new strategies that address the coming challenges.

As President Obama has said, “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.” On this historic day, like so many LGBTQ Americans and our many allies, I am so moved and inspired at this great leap forward in the journey of perfecting this great country. And we are determined to continue our work until the day when there are not two Americas but only one America, an America that fulfills its great promise of freedom and liberty for all.

Ben Francisco Maulbeck is the president of Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

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