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How to Make Life Better for LGBT People in 2016

Take up more space, care for each other, and keep breaking through to the people who need it most.
January 7, 2016, 4:00pm

Photo by Lily Rose Thomas

It's sometimes difficult to figure out how best to actively challenge negative attitudes toward the LGBT community. I suggested locking a bigot in a room and electrocuting him while straight porn plays in the background, but gay rights groups weren't into that idea. They suggest more subtle approaches, like correcting people who use the term "gay" pejoratively, sharing well-written articles about LGBT issues, and attending a protest or march. These are, granted, small steps, but they make a difference, especially in terms of visibility. They take on the thin end of the wedge that is discrimination, and are things that we can all do quite easily.

And yet, the question of what else we can do to make life better for LGBT people remains a big ask.


Especially as we now understand—arguably better than ever before—that no two LGBT people are the same, nor do they face the same struggles, or have the same needs. Of course, some things are going right for LGBT people as a community. When I look to those around me, I see young LGBT people having smart debates about intersectionality, coining new terms that they feel help to define their sexuality and gender, and looking back at queer history to understand how we got where we are today.

Sometimes, however—and we saw this a lot in 2015—these acts can breed infighting, unnecessary subdivisions between LGBT groups or a tension between those with more radical and those with more assimilationist politics. Hence Amrou Al-Kadhi, founder of drag troupe Denim, offering this New Year's resolution for LGBT people: "Let's remember that being queer is not so much about sexual orientation but rather rejecting dominant pressures for all of us. We need to rebuild the safe collectivity of a gay community without judgement or hierarchy." I agree with Amrou—in 2016, we all need to try to get along a bit better so we can establish a few shared goals.

I asked a handful of people I respect what these goals or resolutions should be. But first, mine is that we need to abolish the myth that equality has been achieved. As of 2014 in the UK and 2015 in the US, it is now legal for same-sex couples to marry one another. LGBT people can now, theoretically, adopt, and raise children in these countries while everyone remains safe in the knowledge that our kids might not grow up to be LGBT themselves. Transgender people can technically serve in the army should they so desire. In these respects, the law recognizes us as equal, creating an illusion that "Equality" with a capital E has been met.

Being queer is about rejecting dominant pressures for all of us.

In actuality, these sanctified, state-level recognitions of equality are far from the legalization we so desperately need to protect those who are marginalized the most, particularly trans people and LGBT people of color. Matthew Horwood, a representative from LGBT rights charity Stonewall, sums it up: "There's sometimes a misconception, with same-sex marriage now legalized, that equality has been won for lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people. But there is still so much left to do. We cannot be complacent."

Matthew is talking about how equality in law does not mean equality in practice. In 2015, LGBT people endured workplace discrimination, everyday microaggressions, and endless homophobic abuse. Rates for homophobic hate crimes rose dramatically in parts of the UK. They might have dropped off in America, but trans people took the brunt instead. A terrifying 23 American trans women were killed in 2015—a crisis. The hate is so all-encompassing that many LGBT people internalize it, too. A recent study in the States revealed that 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.


We need to remind people we're not there yet, that we only need more state-level provisions of care. Fewer LGBT people would face discrimination or be fired from their jobs if there were better workplace policies to protect us. Fewer transgender people would die in prison cells in the UK if they weren't put in a gendered prison that doesn't correspond to their lived gender. Fewer transgender people would kill themselves if they could afford the healthcare to have transitional surgery in America, where you have to pay for it.

Legal equality will trickle down into a better, general treatment of LGBT people, in the same way that having important conversations about LGBT issues in the public sphere will too. We need more celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, Miley Cyrus, and Laverne Cox to keep using their statuses to raise awareness for various problems threatening LGBT communities. We need more films like Tangerine and TV shows like Orange Is the New Black to tell stories about LGBT lives. But—and there is a but—if 2015 taught us anything, it's that these things are not enough and can, in certain cases, even misrepresent the true experiences of LGBT people.

Ray Filar edits the Transformation section of Open Democracy (which you should really check out here). Ray has a couple of goals for the LGBT community in 2016. One is that we need to find a way to stop violence against trans women of color, and another is that we need everybody to stop worrying so much about what genitals everybody else has. 2015 was the biggest year on record for coverage of trans issues in the media—from Caitlyn Jenner's somewhat problematic "coming out moment" to Germaine Greer's transphobic remarks. But, says Ray, why don't we make 2016 the year we refocus the conversation on how being transgender intersects with other types of marginalization, like poverty, disabilities, or drug use?


And what else can we do if we're not a policymaker or in the extended cast of Orange Is the New Black? Well, says Ben Walters, who campaigns to save gay spaces, we can put money behind the bar in our favorite queer spaces, a nd "look out for new sites we can fill with queer community and culture." Green Party activist and editor of blog The Queerness, Lee Williscroft-Ferris, reminds us that us LGBT people need to make sure we vote. "That might sound obvious," he says, "but it ensures we have an impact on policies that affect us." Charlie Craggs of Nail Transphobia says: "Talk to a trans person and make yourself an ally." And another good one: Dan Glass of ACT UP London suggests that marginalized groups team up and stand in solidarity for one another, like the excellent activist organization Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants.

This article is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to make life better for LGBT people in 2016 (that would be an impossible task), but in researching and writing this piece, it became apparent that there are fucking tons of things we can focus on to make our lives better. We need to blog about our lives, we need to tweet, we need to sign petitions, we need to be seen protesting in public spaces, we need to create gay spaces, we need to hold vigils for LGBT suicides and murders, we need to demand equality, we need to stage interventions, we need to elect gay officials, we need to self-publish, we need to support LGBT art and cinema and literature, and we need to correct people when they say something harmful toward our community whenever it is safe to do so.

In 2016, we need to take up more space, be more caring for one another, and continue to attempt to break through to those who need to hear it most—or as Matthew from Stonewall puts it, "change hearts and minds." Because, while we might be harming ourselves, I'm almost 100 percent sure it's not LGBT people murdering each other. (If we were, who would we lip sync along to Cher with?) The people who are doing the killing are—as we all are—part of a larger system of structural discrimination predicated upon misinformation. In 2016 let's stop arguing and picking fights with one another where it's unnecessary and focus on better educating these people—the people who couldn't care less.

And that is, I think, quite a lot to get on with.

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