Feature » Queer

It's Not Just about Marriage!

Other LGBT Battles to Fight

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YOU MIGHT HAVE heard that there's going to be a big push for marriage equality in next year's election. So if Oregon voters decide to grant same-sex couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, then we can pretty much declare victory and go wallow in our own self-satisfaction, right? Well, no. Although marriage is the big one, there is still no shortage of other barriers that prevent LGBT individuals from having the same rights as straights. Here's a handful of them:

Many transgendered individuals are denied medically necessary treatments, or are categorically excluded from getting health care, despite calls from the leading medical and mental health organizations for insurers to end these practices.

"Overwhelmingly, transgendered people are denied insurance coverage and even office visits for basic health care that is provided to everyone else," says Aubrey Harrison, program director at Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).

Transgendered individuals might also be denied coverage for claims for complications associated with medical treatment for gender transition, as well as related treatment, such as hormone therapy. Additionally, transgendered individuals might be denied claims for conditions they may still have from their previous gender. For instance, a male-to-female person might be denied treatment for prostate cancer.

The good news is that late last year, the Oregon Insurance Division issued a bulletin directing insurance companies operating in the state to stop denying medically necessary health care to transgendered individuals. The bad news, Harrison says, is that companies based out of state that offer health care to their workers aren't required to comply.

"There are also issues, frankly, with health-care providers that know as much about transgender communities as the general public—which is not a lot," she says.

In response to a wave of bullied gay youth committing suicide a few years ago, lawmakers across the country passed bills aimed at creating safer environments in schools. Oregon followed suit, passing laws in 2009 and 2012 requiring anti-bullying trainings for school employees who would also be required to report any bullying incidents.

However, the second annual report from the Oregon Safe Schools & Communities Coalition evaluating the implementation of these laws suggests there is still some work to do. The report found that only 34 percent of all school districts in the state have policies that are in full compliance with anti-bullying laws. The remainder of the schools haven't fully updated their policies or researchers couldn't find them.

The report, citing numbers from the LGBTQ Health Coalition of the Columbia-Willamette, states that 53 percent of gay and lesbian youth in Oregon were harassed, compared to 28 percent for straight youth. Fifteen percent of gay and lesbian youth missed school because they felt it was unsafe, and 20 percent attempted suicide in the last year.

Aaron Ridings, the report's author, says that it sends a clear message when a district's leadership adopts anti-bullying policies and makes them easily accessible.

"I think all of us are on the same page that there is a lot more work to do," says Ridings.

Joy Wallace, head of the board of the coalition, says that determining the exact effectiveness of the law would require much more extensive research. She also says that the anti-bullying law is an "unfunded mandate" and it would make a big difference if schools had money for training.

Even though an increasing number of states are passing gay marriage laws and Congress is working on overhauling the nation's immigration laws, US citizens with a same-sex foreign partner are unlikely to have the law on their side any time soon.

"People don't realize that immigration laws are built around straight folks," says BRO's Harrison. "Functionally, you're strangers under the law because there's no federal way of recognizing [same-sex relationships]."

An amendment to immigration reform legislation, which would have allowed gay and lesbian citizens to bring their partners they married in other countries into the US, was being considered by Congress, but was withdrawn due to (you guessed it) Republican opposition.

Amy Ruiz, spokesperson for BRO, explains that even if Oregon passes same-sex marriage next year, gay and lesbian Oregonians wanting to bring their foreign partner into the US won't be able to because the federal government still does not recognize same-sex marriages.

"We certainly hear stories, not infrequently, of partners being deported and families being broken up," she says of the effects of US immigration laws.

Being homeless is rough, but being a LGBT youth who is homeless doesn't make things any easier.

Kathy Oliver—executive director of Outside In, a local nonprofit organization that works with homeless youth—says that about 30 to 40 percent of youth on the street identify as LGBT. She says that many youth leave home to escape abusive households, and another big reason they take to the streets is because they are rejected by their families.

Homeless LGBT youth are at a higher risk for using drugs and alcohol, experiencing depression, and considering suicide, among other issues. They are also more likely to experience violence on the streets or in shelters.

"Youth need a connection with one caring adult in their life to really have positive change," she says.

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