Every so often, we get reminders that despite the gains made over the decades by activists in the LGBTQ community, we still have a long, long way to go until we have anything resembling true equality in this country. We have a long way to go because homophobia is not going away, not tomorrow, not next year, and not anytime soon.
Here at PGN, we get a very specific reminder every couple months of the lasting, entrenched homophobia in this country and around the world. The story usually goes like this.
“Sam” is a member of the LGBTQ community in Philly. He participates in community organizations, goes to events, and has friends, acquaintances, and maybe even a relationship here in the city. One day, he gets featured in PGN, either for the work he did in the community or for simply being a good community citizen. He is happy to be featured in the newspaper as an open LGBTQ person. He puts the article on his social media.
Five years later, Sam has moved away from Philly. He now lives somewhere else. Let’s say Alabama. The reason behind the move is irrelevant; all that matters is that Alabama is now the place that Sam has to make his life.
Sam finds, as he searches for jobs, that none of the places of employment he’s looking at has other openly LGBTQ employees. They don’t have protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace. They don’t even have a statement saying they welcome applications from all who are qualified. In fact, Sam believes that his prospective employers would not welcome him if they found out he were LGBTQ.
Unfortunately, in our internet age, it takes mere seconds to search someone’s name and find out all manner of public (and sometimes private details) about them. Sam understands this.
The problem is that, when you google Sam’s name, the article of him in PGN, in which his sexuality is apparent, is one of the first results. The article which was once a source of pride for Sam has now become a liability.
So, unfortunately, Sam writes to us at PGN and asks us to take down the article, or omit his name from it, due to a legitimate fear that prospective employers will not hire him because of his sexuality or because of his mere association with a newspaper called Philadephia Gay News.
None of this is Sam’s fault. It is the fault of historic and systemic homophobia.
Sam’s ordeal happens often enough at PGN that it’s never a surprise. And it’s not just limited to people who move to the deep south or a homophobic part of this country or another country. Even people who still live in LGBTQ-friendly cities still find that certain employers are uncomfortable with hiring, recognizing, or promoting an openly LGBTQ person.
The sad reality is that no matter who is in the White House, Congress, state houses, or city halls, stories like Sam’s will continue to happen. Moving through the world as an out and proud LGBTQ person has never been easy, and even amid all the gains in civil rights, it’s still completely different than how a heterosexual person moves through the world.
It’s one thing to be judged about a learned behavior, such as a politician being called out for making a racist remark. It’s a completely different thing, and an unfortunate thing, to be judged about a core part of one’s being, something that is literally beyond a person’s control.
Will there ever come a time when being LGBTQ isn’t a liability for people in conservative areas? Maybe. But that time is certainly not now, and it won’t be until we can enact massive social change in education, culture and our legal system. Some of that change has already begun. But we’re nowhere near the finish line. We’ve still got hurdles to face. All we can do is find our stride, take a breath, and keep going.