Forum gives LGBT activists a voice

The equal rights march in Washington D.C. earlier this month inspired many local LGBT activists and supporters to speak out for the issues effecting their daily lives. They shared these ideas at a public forum Tuesday night hosted by the RSO, eQuality-CU.

Urbana resident, and eQuality-CU member, Elliot Long, says some of the issues that need to be addressed are the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, gay marriage rights, and employment discrimination. He says in many states in the U.S., employers can fire employees that reveal themselves to be gay.

“I am transgender and whenever I apply for jobs I usually have to disclose my legal sex because it shows up on all the IRS paper work, so it does become an issue, even just applying for jobs let alone what happens afterward,” Long said.

One act that is preventing marriage equality among LGBT members is the federal defensive of marriage act, said LGBT Resource center director, Leslie Morrow.

She said this act denies LGBT members many of the rights given to heterosexual married couples and does not require states to recognize gay marriages legitimized outside of state boundaries.

“It’s all of those stupid legal things that shouldn’t be an issue because you’re in a very strong relationship that the government should appreciate as much as any other” said eQuality-CU member and senior in LAS, Lena Reynolds. “It’s also just a respect thing. In the eyes of the government you’re not equal, and that’s really depressing.”

Reynolds said repealing the federal defense of marriage act as well as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” would help change people.

However, Morrow believes there are more pressing and deeper problems than gay marriage rights effecting the LGBT community.

She said homophobia still exists, even in less overt forms, and that can be very discouraging to students.

“There’s still a stigma attached to (being a homosexual),” Morrow said. “So the real issue is that they’re afraid to talk; they are worried about the implications, or consequences of speaking out.”

Long said it is time to stop waiting for change to happen on a state level and to work on making changes on a national level.

One of the goals of eQuality-CU is to help spread awareness about these problems by developing a grass roots movement. “It’s about being informed, educated and aware of what’s going on and how to address those issues. I think that without education, it’s a disservice to who we are and who we are as a community” Morrow said.

However, Reynolds said the U.S. has been making some strides to change these problems.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was approved by congress last Thursday and President Obama is expected to sign the legislation on Wednesday, Long said. This bill would create harsher punishment for hate crimes against LGBT people.

“There are so many things that impact us as a community,” Morrow said. “The first thing we need is a recognition of who we are, not as a second class citizen.”