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
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT