Personal Essay by Westchester County Board Legislator Nancy Barr
I am fortunate enough to be writing this just days after the Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 in support of protecting members of the LGBTQ+ community from employment discrimination. What a wonderful way to celebrate Pride Month and the ongoing quest for equal rights for all people.
While this decision would be considered great news on any day, the decision right now, in the middle of a devastating pandemic, a major protest movement to protect Black Lives, and an incredibly cruel and backward-looking presidential administration, is especially heartening. And perhaps even more amazingly, the majority opinion on the decision included two justices that have very conservative views, including one who was appointed by the current president.
I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but it is a true bright spot in what has otherwise been a dreary landscape of repeated setbacks.
Besides the obvious relief that this decision will bring to millions of people (the New York Times reports that over half the states have laws that allow employment discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity, which will now be illegal), the decision gives me great hope. And hope is essential if we are to believe that we can change the status quo.
There is still so much work to be done. There is a reason that people who identify as LGBTQ hesitate to “come out” while they are in their teens while living with their families and going to their local high schools.
There is a reason that the rate of mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide attempts are disproportionately high in the LGBTQ community, especially among youth. We need more places like The LOFT, where people can be comfortable being themselves.
Too many people still believe that being gay, lesbian, or transgender is something that can be “cured.” And as long as that belief exists, many individuals that identify or present as LGBTQ will be discriminated against, exploited and taken advantage of.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Last Friday I attended (virtually, of course) a Pride Shabbat Service. The guest speaker was a Rabbi from my district who identifies as a cisgender gay man.
He spoke candidly about his experience as a boy who believed that his desire to be a Rabbi and his attraction to other boys were incompatible. It was not until he met a gay Rabbi that he allowed himself to entertain the possibility that he could embrace both these parts of himself and live a happy and fulfilled life. He became a Rabbi and a few years ago, he married the man he loved.
He admitted that he still struggles a bit when meeting someone new, when they ask about his spouse, wondering what their reaction will be. He knows that for his married, heterosexual counterparts in the rabbinate, the answer is simple. But he always stops to wonder, if only for a moment, whether this is the right time or the right person to whom, to be honest. He pointed out that the process of coming out never ends.
I imagined being a teenager struggling with his or her or their identity and whether to come out, or having come out, struggling with the reactions from people around them. How different it would be for kids having a role model like this Rabbi, someone who is judged by his character and not by his choice of partner.
I know I cannot legislate tolerance or acceptance, but as a legislator, I can use my voice and my vote to bring about positive change. And I will always stand with my LGBTQ neighbors to fight discrimination and to ensure equal rights for all.
To contact Legislator Barr's office use this link.