Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Fight for gay rights must continue

By John D. Sutter, CNN
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
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
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT