Giving Equality New Meaning

Kaitlin Mahar

The state of New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize gay marriage on Oct. 21, which elicited many a tweet, Facebook status, blog post, etc. that declared that we are “one step closer to equality!”

While marriage equality is important, one has to ask: is marriage equality going to make that much of a difference? The answer is no. Undoubtedly, people deserve to have the same rights as everybody else, no matter what their race, religion, or sexual orientation may be. While the right to marry someone of the same sex is a right that should not be withheld, this is not the only right that prevents gay and straight people from being equal, and therefore, it deserves less attention from equal rights supporters.

According to’s article “11 Facts About Gay Rights,” 47 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws that prohibit hate crimes, but only 24 of those states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation as a target for hate crimes. While being able to marry is nice, it is more important for homosexuals to not have to live in fear of being abused physically or emotionally because of their sexual orientation, whether it is in the workplace, public, or at social gatherings.

Adults are not the only members of the LGBT community who are affected by unequal rights; the community’s younger members are seeing the negative effects as well.

According to, 75 percent of LGBT students in the U.S. are not legally protected from discrimination and bullying based on their sexual orientation while in school. In public high schools, 97 percent of LGBT students say they hear hateful remarks from their peers regarding their sexual orientation.

The forms of abuse faced by adults at work and other situations are the same as those experienced by younger members of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community.

Based on statistics gathered by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of New York City (PFLAG NYC), nearly 20 percent of LGBT high school students “are physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation,” and over 10 percent are physically assaulted “because of their gender expression.” This does not even begin to include the emotional and psychological abuses these adolescents face at the hands of bullies.

In most cases, this form of bullying is worse because school-age kids are significantly more vicious than ever before, thanks to the wealth of social media and technology at their hands. Today, bullying no longer remains in school—kids can be cyber bullied via text, Facebook, twitter, and other forms of social media.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that suicide rates of LGBT teens are particularly high. Statistics gathered by PFLAG NYC reports that LBGT teens are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide and 5.9 times more likely to have high levels of depression.

Even movements that have given equal rights to gay, lesbian, and transgender people have not always done so fully. For example, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, cited that gays and lesbians would face discharge from the military and forbidden from enlisting should they identify themselves as homosexuals. Although it was repealed in 2011, according to, transgender people continue to be discriminated from serving in the armed forces if they express that they are transgender.

While marriage equality is indeed important to the issue of overall equality among LGBT and straight people, there is much more progress to be made. When every state has legalized gay marriage, that will not mean the end of unequal rights for members of the LGBT community; there are many other social and legal areas that will need attention in order to one day say that we all are truly equal.