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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Reducing legal discrimination neccesary to eliminate extra burdens to already hard coming out process

    Gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people face stigmatization, potential disapproval from friends and family, an increased likelihood of bullying, physical abuse, substance abuse, suicidal behaviors, depression and homelessness and higher poverty rates than their heterosexual peers.

    Coming out, to say the least, can be stressful even without laws barring equal rights. It does not happen just once, it’s a process that goes on and on.

    It happens when starting a new job, when making new friends and when walking down the street with a significant other.

    In the case of Kyle Goble, the salutatorian for his graduating class at Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and current pre-physiology and pre-visual communication sophomore at the UA, it happened behind a lectern addressing everyone at his graduation.

    “I saw an opportunity to present the not-so-progressive people of our school with the idea that sexuality has nothing to do with someone’s self-worth as a society member,” Goble said.

    Even if someone has come out a thousand times or in Goble’s case, to hundreds of people all at once, and is accepted by any or all of them, discrimination still exists in our laws, meaning that it can and must be changed.

    The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate on Nov. 7. If passed by the House, ENDA prevents employers from refusing to hire, firing or segregating employees or applicants based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

    For Arizona, it would be the first such law to take effect statewide, though discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation only is prohibited and public employees are entitled to domestic partner benefits. One of the benefits of ENDA is its ability to alleviate some of the stress of coming out by recognizing the commonness of doing so.

    Yet over the past few years, Arizona has become a figurehead for passing or presenting laws that support the idea that heterosexuality, cisgender and gender alignment are the norm and that other sexualities and gender identities should not be guaranteed equal treatment.

    Proposition 102 passed in 2008, amending the Arizona Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, forbidding same-sex marriage. To change it, Arizona would have to pass an amendment, which is more difficult than passing a regular law.

    Because civil unions and other domestic partnerships lack basic rights, they are denied hospital visitations and huge tax breaks, though Tucson and Bisbee grant more rights than the rest of the state.

    In 2009, an Arizona law was passed that denied healthcare coverage benefits to domestic partners of government employees, though there is an ongoing case seeking to overturn it. However, the intent to restrict LGBT rights was still enforced.

    This year, a bill was proposed that would have made it a crime to use a bathroom that does not match a person’s biological sex, but it was subsequently shelved until next year after the backlash it received from Democrats and groups like Equality Arizona for its discrimination toward transgender people.

    Laws like these, and the lack of laws like workplace non-discrimination, create a difficult, often ostracizing and economically challenging culture.

    Diana Perry, a Tucson resident who graduated from the UA with degrees in chemical engineering in 2004 and pre-medicine in 2011, and her wife, Heather Lo, have had a wedding, yet they’re still not legally married in the eyes of the state.

    “Because we are Arizona residents, we cannot get married and take advantage of the DOMA overturn,” Perry said. “We can’t get married in California to get the federal benefits because we are not California residents.”

    Despite the difficulties with her wife’s family and atrocious national rhetoric, Perry said she still finds economics and laws to be the worst discrimination she has to deal with on a regular basis. There was a time when she stayed in the closet for customers when she was teaching children at a private taekwondo studio. Perry said she was worried about being accused of child molestation because of her sexuality.

    Fortunately, though she still notices institutional problems, she no longer has any problems being out.

    “I didn’t change overnight but now I talk about my wife, I talk about my life and I correct people if they use ‘gay’ to mean bad and if they have stereotypes,” she said.

    There are people who do not care about making life easier for LGBT people, putting laws into place that make it hard to come out or be out. They are citizens and elected officials.

    They are Arizona legislators, Gov. Jan Brewer and the 32 senators who voted against ENDA. To make a more welcoming space in Arizona and the country, recognizing LGBT issues like legal discrimination beyond the right to marry is necessary.

    David W. Mariotte is a sophomore studying journalism and gender and women’s studies. Follow him @DW_davidwallace.

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