Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Fight for gay rights must continue

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
Young LGBT people who live in an Atlanta shelter say the road to equality could be long.
Young LGBT people who live in an Atlanta shelter say the road to equality could be long.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules on two same-sex marriage cases
  • John Sutter: Fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality is far from over
  • He waits for news on court's rulings with a group of homeless LGBT people
  • A 24-year-old: "They expect people to lie down and take this and give up?"

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of Change the List. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

Atlanta (CNN) -- Like pretty much every gay American with an Internet connection, I'd gotten sick of staring at Tweetdeck and SCOTUSblog all month, waiting for the day the Supreme Court would rule on same-sex marriage.

"COME ON, SCOTUS. I GOT ESSAYS TO WRITE, MEN TO MARRY, HAVOC TO WREAK," one Twitter user, @theferocity, wrote Monday.

Amen, brother.

So on Wednesday morning, with the court sure to issue opinions on cases involving Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, and the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the federal law prohibiting married same-sex couples from collecting federal marriage benefits, I decided to find real-life people -- off the Internet -- to share the potentially historic moment. After making a few calls, I arranged to meet a group of five homeless LGBT young people at a coffee shop in Atlanta's gayborhood.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

I was hoping the court would send them a positive, affirming message -- that they matter, that they exist, and that they're fully equal under the law.

And I wondered what they thought about the national debate.

The news that the court struck down DOMA and balked on Prop 8 led teary-eyed crowds to cheer, hug and hold rainbow-colored flags in other parts of the country.

But the news rang hollow here.

Opinion: For gays, profess stunning, fast

"It doesn't really matter. It doesn't affect anything," Rob Pittman, 23, said of the court's decisions. Pittman left home at 12, he said, because his parents didn't accept the fact that he's gay. "Regardless, people are still going to hate us."

Kennedy's same-sex marriage legacy
Toobin: Prop 8 ruling 'puzzling'
Toobin: DOMA is gone
Same-sex marriage: Financial impact

"When same-sex marriage becomes legal, and we're able to get married, there's going to be a lot more people (coming) out of the closet, which means there's going to be a lot more hate crimes. That's how I look at it," said Kaylee Campbell, 20.

Rick Westbrook, the 50-year-old who manages the six-bedroom Atlanta shelter named Lost-n-Found Youth, read updates from SCOTUSblog (it's short for Supreme Court of the United States, for the uninitiated) from his iPhone.

"DOMA is unconstitutional ...," he told the group.

Hooray, right?

Layla Wright, 24, initially was the only person who clapped.

"Come on, clap!" she implored.

Most didn't. Instead, they left to go on a smoke break.

Maybe such indifference comes off as smug or ungrateful at a time when many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people -- and our supporters -- are celebrating. But it shouldn't -- not if you take a hard look at what it's like to be an openly LGBT young person in many parts of the country. According to one survey, 40% of homeless kids are LGBT. That's no coincidence. They live in societies and in families that discriminate against them.

Opinion: How youth led change in public attitudes

That's true whether or not DOMA exists.

Most states don't sanction same-sex marriage (can we start calling it simply "marriage," by the way?). Most allow people to be fired for being gay -- legally.

This is a fight that's far from over.

"Today's DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove," the @BarackObama Twitter feed posted.

It is a huge step forward. And that should be recognized and lauded. I'm thrilled for same-sex couples in California who likely will be able to marry in coming weeks because of the court's opinion. But I feel for the couples in many other states who still can't -- and for kids like those who live at Lost-n-Found in Atlanta, who have grown up being taught they are less than human.

Watch all the "Glee" you want. That's still the reality.

Campbell, a young woman with a bright smile and a red-sequined shirt, told me her parents kicked her out of her home at 15 because she's a lesbian.

"It wasn't good," she said. "They're really, really, really religious. Very religious."

That was in Alabama. She lived with friends or slept behind dumpsters before moving to Maine to try living with her grandmother, who also rejected her.

She landed at the homeless shelter in Atlanta a year and a half ago.

When people have treated her so poorly -- simply because of who she is -- how could you blame her for being less than enthusiastic about the state of gay America?

Wright, a transgender woman, the one who clapped when DOMA fell, took a sunnier point of view. "It's not going to end the fight," she said. "They expect people to lie down and take this and give up? Uh-uh, honey! You've got another thing coming!"

What's next for gay rights movement?

I could tell Westbrook, the shelter leader, was thrilled to hear this. Which was how I felt, too. Westbrook has been with his partner for 19 years. DOMA and Prop 8 matter to him very personally. And when he was the age of these young people, he said he never could have imagined a national conversation about same-sex marriage -- much less it being legal for some. "It's one step in the right direction," he said. "It'll happen."

But when? That's my question. And it's one that does matter. Legalizing marriage across the country not only would have immediate benefits for same-sex couples and their children -- but it also would help change the society these young people inhabit.

Slowly, it would make the world safer for them.

Their speaking up will help, too, of course.

As the conversation wound down, Wright proudly announced her latest Facebook status update.

"Illegalizing love should be illegal," she said, reading from her phone. She quoted Wanda Sykes and then wrote, "Haters need to get over their cheap selves now."

"Ten exclamation points!" she said.

Let's hope plenty of state legislators follow her on Facebook.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT