Embrace the difference

The United States Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges last Friday, which has now become known as the gay marriage ruling that has been sought after by LGBT supporters for decades.

The ruling comes 12 years after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage and allows for same-sex couples to get married in all 50 states, including the 13 where it had previously been banned.

As with any major issue, there are some who disagreed with the decision, and as with most disagreements, people turned to social media to vent.

Many expressed their disagreement with the Supreme Court decision citing, for the most part, religious beliefs – and that’s okay. We are a beautiful, diverse country that grants the right to free speech and expression of religion.

What is more concerning is the hate and intention behind social media posts meant for no one in specific, but felt by those who should be strengthened and empowered by the court’s decision.

Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are least likely to publicly identify as such in Huntington and other areas across the Midwest and South. In such a historic time in our country when they’ve never been more free, some still can’t find the freedom to be who they are.

It’s not a freedom they’ll find in the Constitution or at the county clerk’s office, either. It’s one that can only be found in the way they are treated by their neighbors, classmates, co-workers, friends and family.

A Columbia University study found that sexual minorities who live in highly prejudicial areas has a life expectancy of 12 years less than those who live in accepting communities. How is anyone expected to chase their version of the American Dream if they’re living a nightmare?

Crimes because of sexual identification or gender accounted for 21 percent of the hate crimes reported in 2013. A stat that Huntingtonians should be familiar with after two men were allegedly assaulted downtown simply for showing affection for one another.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study also found that 21 percent of LGBT adults surveyed had been treated unfairly by their employer. Bullying by co-workers and classmates are just as prevalent.

These are all issues that the LGBT community faces following last Friday’s ruling. The legalization of marriage seemed so important because it is, but it’s not the end of a decades-long battle – it’s just the beginning.

The LGBT community will likely now focus its efforts on fixing some of these issues it faces. Laws and community outreach events can help some of these issues, but they can’t be fixed with a stamp of approval from Congress or a Pride week. All of the lobbying and outreach in the world can only do so much, but if it’s coming from the same source, change won’t happen.

That’s because workplace discrimination, hate crimes and bullying aren’t LGBT or minority issues. They are American issues. Instead of letting the differences that make this country so unique divide us, we should embrace them.

That’s when that 21 percent can feel comfortable being who they really are without fear of getting judged, discriminated against or attacked. That’s when those who can’t get out of their current communities can feel comfortable living in them and subsequently have a better quality of life. That’s when that nice, quiet kid you went to high school with won’t log in to Facebook and feel like the same people he or she sat amongst for four years hates them for who they love.

That’s when real change happens.