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On Oct. 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. The reason was because Shepard was gay. Although it has been more than 11 years since this horrific murder happened, not much change has occurred to stop the hate and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in America.
The Matthew Shepard Act was signed into law on Oct. 28, 2009, expanding the definition of hate crime to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. This is great news, but it took the U.S. 11 years to pass the act, which represents the most progress made since Sheppard’s death. More progress is needed to end discrimination and strengthen the rights of GLBT people in America. Following are some examples.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is still in force in the military, and we are losing hardworking and dedicated members of our armed forces. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 9,000 members of our armed services have been discharged due to this policy. President Obama has promised to remove “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from military policy and let the GLBT community serve its country without prejudice. If he were to accomplish this, it would be a huge step in recognizing the GLBT people who have fought for others’ rights.
In 16 states including Missouri, a person can be fired simply for being gay. Although sexual orientation may be protected in most companies’ policies and in many state policies, it is still not a part of the federal non-discrimination laws. Progress will not be made until all states have policies that protect members of society from judgment based only on sexual orientation.
Despite the many children in the foster care system, many states have denied homosexual couples the right to adopt. Why are these caring people denied the right to adopt children who need loving homes? The reason is that people are afraid that homosexual couples will supposedly affect the kids and turn them gay. I am a gay man, and my parents are straight. So, if heterosexual couples do not make their children straight, then what makes homosexual couples more likely to turn their children gay?
Five states recognize same-sex marriages and unions. This means 45 states still discriminate. Two of these states have given the right for gay unions and marriage once, but then removed that right as a result of very close election votes. The marriages that become legal are not being recognized in many other states. GLBT people just want to live their lives with their partners and have the same rights as any other legal couple.
Laws and policies that do nothing but prevent productive members of society from living their lives to the fullest are still being enacted today. Each day, workers are fired, students are harassed, and committed couples are denied happiness because of the ignorance and discrimination pushed by intolerant people. People hate what they do not understand and do not want to try to understand what they hate. I am not saying that nothing has changed, but look around you.