Gay Rights Are Women's Rights

As predicted, when the Democratic National Convention rolled out its platform today, we learned that one of the planks calls for marriage equality, along with a call for federal protection from being fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The marriage-equality plank signals a significant shift in the Democratic Party, a decision to work on behalf of me and my gal, for which I am deeply grateful. (Cue a gleeful Tigger, remembering how this would have sounded like science fiction to the Ohio 15-year-old with my name who was terrified when she realized that she was falling in love with another girl—terrified that she might be, you know, like the gym teacher.)

Marriage equality won't exactly solve the problems of Darnell “Dynasty” Young, the Indianapolis teen who was kicked out of high school for carrying a stun gun after he discovered, painfully, that the masculinity patrol is still alive and well. Dynasty’s mother bought him the stun gun when his high school did nothing about bullies who were harassing and throwing rocks at him for looking—in their minds—more like a girl than a boy. (The National Center for Lesbian Rights is helping him sue his school.) But every change in the national climate helps change microclimates, even in Indianapolis.

Reading those two stories—about the Democratic platform and Dynasty’s travails—made me think of another marriage dilemma, a world away: Indian women who still don’t have the freedom not to marry, as recently explained by Nilanjana S. Roy in The New York Times, in a country where 47 percent of women were married by the age of 18, according to a 2009 surveyAs Roy writes:

What does young India want? At the launch of his sixth book, on just this subject, the popular author Chetan Bhagat offered an inadvertently revealing comment: “Naukri aur chokri” — jobs and girls.

“Today’s youth,” he said, “wants a good, well-paying job and a nice girlfriend in a decent urban city.”

… his statement — like most of the essays in his new book, a collection of his journalism and nonfiction — reflected how easily the aspirations of young women are rendered invisible, not just by Mr. Bhagat, but by mainstream Indian culture. There was no reference in his speech to what the girls might want for themselves.

As I’ve written here before, women’s rights and LGBT rights—gender and sexuality—are profoundly linked. If women are treated poorly, men will always be punished for behaving “like women” and women for behaving “like men.” (It’s hard to imagine living an openly lesbian life if you aren’t allowed to hold a job or live without male supervision.) Which means that the status of gay men and lesbians tracks the status of women. So long as there are bride-burnings or mandatory burkahs or laws that don’t permit women to vote or testify in a court of law, so long as there are laws against contraception or mandating contraception, there will also be vicious beatings of Ugandan trans women and bullied fey boys in Indianapolis. The Bush administration’s “gag rule” and opposition to funding family planning around the world—which they said was about abortion but was equally about contraception and sex outside marriage, and which will almost certainly return under a Romney administration—led to just as much disaster whether you were an African woman or an African gay man. Reproductive rights are gay rights. Gay rights are women’s rights.

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