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LGBT activists occupy for equality!

November 23, 2011

Photo credit: Mardi Moore

By Sadie Vashti, lobby day coordinator, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

On September 17th, 2011, a small group of dedicated activists heeded a call to Occupy Wall Street by setting up a camp at Zuccotti Park (since renamed Liberty Square) in Manhattan. In a clear sign that many people are ready for bottom-up democratic change, similar occupations began popping up in hundreds of cities across the world. Since then, the “99% Movement” has grown exponentially and rapidly swept into the global spotlight by protesting economic inequality.

Yesterday, a contingent of people who left New York’s Liberty Square weeks ago arrived in Washington, DC. They are joining with OccupyDC to take their message to the U.S. Capitol. The Task Force joins many others in solidarity with these activists and their message of full equality for all. In the words of Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey:

LGBT people are more vulnerable to employment discrimination because there is no federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re still fired, denied promotions and harassed, just for being who we are. For us, the system is not only broken; it is purposely constructed to leave us out. And we know that is true for others in the United States, as well. Like Occupy Wall Street, we believe that fairness is not a privilege of power and wealth but a right of humanity. We know that too few have too much, and too many have too little.

While some commenters in the mainstream media have inaccurately described the Occupy movement as a group of white, privileged, straight college students, those of us on the ground in Occupy camps across the nation know otherwise. Women, people of color, queer folks and other marginalized groups have been integral to the movement since the beginning.

Although opponents have berated the Occupy protesters by telling them to ‘go get a job’, as LGBTQ people and allies, we know it’s not so simple. LGBTQ people still lack federal employment protections. And, with our allies at the National Center for Transgender Equality, we documented in our Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that transgender individuals report experiencing unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for transgender people of color up to four times the national rate. Clearly, LGBTQ communities are more likely to be part of the 99% — and we should all stand together to fight for a world in which all people are treated fairly.

Others in the media have speculated that the Occupy Wall Street movement is dwindling. But, as we saw on November 17 when over 30,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to support OWS, we know that this grassroots, nonviolent movement for democratic change is only just beginning.

If you, like us, are excited and ready for change in this country, we invite you to take part in the Occupy Movement. And, then, come to our 24th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in Baltimore, Md. where you will have even more opportunities to network with like-minded activists and push for real, tangible change. Like the marchers who came all the way from New York, you will even have the opportunity to tell your stories in front of the U.S. Capitol. If you are excited that people across our nation and the world are finally talking about economic justice, one step you can take is joining us for Lobby Day to advocate for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other legislation that will help us build a fairer economy for all.

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