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Seeking Freedom, Happiness, and Acceptance: Homosexuals in America
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “all men are created equal”, along with identifying three “unalienable rights” that included “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While these words have profound meaning and far-reaching ambitions, they also represent a hollow promise of a better life for all—because they only apply to certain types of “men”. Since the founding of the United States, African-Americans, women, and others have suffered injustices because they were not considered to have the same unalienable rights. As a result, this country has been through the Civil War, the Suffrage Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement to bring freedom and equality to all citizens. Despite these great efforts, discrimination continues to exist in the United States and in the cases of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals some inequalities are institutionally supported. As such, the homosexual community continues to seek acceptance and their right to live and be happy.
Out of the Closet
As early as 1924, homosexuals began seeking equal rights and were stopped by legislation and police actions (Gay Rights Timeline, 2010). The Stonewall Riots in 1969 are considered a turning point for the Gay Rights Movement because it inspired a new solidarity among the homosexual community (The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 2010). Since this time,
there have been numerous efforts to win civil rights protection based on sexual preference along with equal rights for same-sex partners as are offered to couples of opposite sexes. The advances made by this community, and those who support them, have been slow in coming to fruition but many states have included sexual preference in anti-discriminatory laws and as a criteria to be considered in hate crime legislation. In 1993, the ban on homosexuals in the military was replaced with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which meant that these individuals could serve their country, but only if they keep their sexual preference to themselves (Gay Rights Timeline, 2010).
Outside of the legal realm, homosexuals have increased their general acceptance within mainstream society. This change can be seen from the appearance and popularity of homosexual characters in movies and television. More importantly than shows such as “The L Word”, which showcases homosexuality, are cases where sexual preference is merely an aside, such as Robin Williams character in “The Night Listener”. This is a remarkable difference because it shows that the character’s sexual orientation is not as important as his actions and feelings. In other words, the message reinforces the idea that all people are human despite their differences.
Despite achieving greater acceptance, gay and lesbian couples are still facing obstacles in their pursuit of happiness and liberty. The most recent example of inequality is found in the controversy surrounding gay marriage. In this ongoing struggle, same-sex couples seek to achieve recognition of their commitments to each other along with the benefits currently granted to opposite-sex couples such as health benefits and tax breaks. Since 2003, several states have begun allowing same-sex marriages but opposition has continued to mount against them. One of the most grievous actions taken is the attempt to create a constitutional amendment barring same-sex unions at both the state and federal level (Cloud, 2004). If these amendments are made, discrimination will become part of the documents that were created to insure freedom and justice for all.
Overall, the Gay Civil Rights movement has made a significant impact on modern opinions in recent years. This change has allowed homosexuals to “come out of the closet” and be proud of who they are rather than hiding in the shadows. While there is still a long road ahead, the advances made in recent years have helped to pave it and make the road easier to travel for future generations.
A Future of Tolerance
If homosexuals are successful in earning global recognition and acceptance, the future will hold a brighter outlook for mankind. This monumental step has the ability to bridge the gap of human differences and promote the ideals of tolerance universally. Just as the Civil Rights movement set the course for individuals to no longer see race as a fundamental aspect of humanity, so too would these beliefs help to banish the same concepts about sexual orientation. In altering the “Us and Them” mentality, we eliminate the disparity within human rights and avoid the situation best described in the novel Animal Farm where the commandment was modified to read “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell, 1995). While this novel was written in reference to Socialism and Communism, the underlying lesson of shows that selectively applying equality is a detriment to society. Ultimately, the acceptance that all men—and women—are equal despite their differences will move human thought towards unification as a species rather than tearing apart our global community.
Cloud, J. (2004, February 8). The Battle Over Gay Marriage. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from Time.com: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101040216-588870,00.html
Lee-St. John, J. (2005, October 25). Viewpoint: Civil Rights and Gay Rights. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from Time: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1121811,00.html
Orwell, G. (1995). Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Rivers, E. F., & Johnson, K. D. (2006, June 4). Hijacking The Civil Rights Legacy. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from CBSNews.com: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/02/opinion/main1678979.shtml
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. (2010). Civil Rights 101. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from CivilRights.org: http://www.civilrights.org/resources/civilrights101/sexualorientation.html