The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Marriage-equality advocates and allies rejoiced. Heartwarming photos of LGBT*Q couples exchanging vows were circulated through social media, blogs and traditional media outlets. There were triumphant stories of halted deportations and forgiven estate taxes. However, the stories of women and men like Jasmyne A. Cannick have been excluded from the conversation.
Cannick is a writer and former House of Representatives press secretary. She also identifies as a lesbian. Cannick is in a committed relationship with a woman and still can’t wed, even with the Supreme Court’s decision. She recounts her tale in an essay for the Advocate:
Even though we’re both natives of California and call the Golden State home, I am in Los Angeles while she lives 2,400 miles away in Whittier, Alaska after giving up all hope of ever finding a job here.
My girlfriend is of African-American and Latino descent and fluent in three languages—English, Spanish, and American Sign Language—but past criminal convictions make it practically impossible for her to find a job in California. For a time she would work sporadically after failing to check the box indicating that she’d been convicted of a felony crime, but in the end after companies completed their background check, she’d always be dismissed for failing to do so. I finally told her to just be truthful, but the job offers stopped altogether. No one was willing to give her a chance to prove that she had changed.
So when she received a call back from a seafood processing company in Whittier, Alaska eager to hire people for labor-intensive jobs that consist of 16 hour days at minimum wage during the state’s busy salmon season, for a woman whose pride is directly connected to her ability to provide for her family, the decision to leave was a no-brainer.
The day I dropped her off at the airport, neither one of us sure when we would see the other again, we could not have predicted how the Supreme Court would rule regarding Proposition 8. Even if we’d had a crystal ball and knew the outcome, it wouldn’t have stopped my girlfriend from leaving. Her ability to get married doesn’t outweigh her being able to pay her share of the rent and bills while putting food on the table — which is the same mentality for a lot of black and brown same-sex couples.
Sexuality is an intertwining oppression. It is compounded by race, gender and class, so while marriage equality is the ultimate goal for some members of the LGBT*Q communities, it isn’t prioritized in relationships like Cannick’s.
But those are the stories left untold and buried. The erasure of DOMA isn’t the end of seeking equality for lesbians, gays, transgenders and queers. The statistics prove it. More than 40 percent of the homeless population are LGBT*Q youth, according to National Coalition for the Homeless. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service found more than 2,500 hate and bias-crimes were committed against the LGBT*Q population in 2010. Statistics like these increase when considering lesbians, gays, transgenders and queers of color.
Marriage-equality doesn’t stop the heightened numbers of suicides, familial rejection, homelessness or sex-work as a final resort. Equal marriage access doesn’t make it easier to exist in a heteronormative culture that expects adherence to gender roles.
Cannick sees this obvious overlooking of issues as an attempt to whitewash the LGBT*Q community.
The white gay community fighting for same-sex marriage has been banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on them parity with heterosexuals, because in most other areas — employment, housing, access to education, health care, etc.—they are already equal with their heterosexual counterparts, at least at face value.
The same generalization cannot be made for black and brown people in same-sex relationships, who unlike their white counterparts, are much more affected by issues like unemployment and see the victory around marriage as being half the battle. The other half of that battle is having a home to live in, a job to pay the bills, affordable health care, and the access to the type of education to make all-of-the-above happen.
All of which are issues that traditionally the white gay community has snubbed because it doesn’t affect the majority of them who are working, own their own homes, and have health care for themselves and their spouses.
The end of DOMA should be celebrated. It’s an achievement. But it doesn’t keep Cannick and others in her shoes from facing the plight of interlocked oppressions.