Paying a Price for Sexual Orientation

Editor's note: In light of today's announcement of the Supreme Court's decision affirming the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry, we thought our readers would find Christine Riddiough's article on the struggle for LGBT rights of interest.


By Christine Riddiough 

As this issue of Democratic Left goes to press, the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether state laws preventing same-sex marriage are constitutional. Whatever the ruling, events in Indiana, Arkansas, and other states reveal that the fight for LGBT rights is not over. There is still no federal legislation forbidding discrimination against people because of sexual orientation. Such legislation, at this point, needs to be won on a state-by-state basis.


“Religious freedom” laws may be the entry point for such campaigns. These laws allow employers, landlords, and business owners to claim that their religious freedom is being infringed if they have to provide service to people who do things that their religion forbids. When Indiana passed such a law in March, nationwide outcry caused the legislature to add a clause forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This was the opposite of what its supporters wanted and marked the first time that such anti-discrimination language had been put into state law. Activists hope to translate this victory into a broader anti-discrimination statute.


The need for anti-discrimination legislation is obvious, but even activists may not be aware of the full economic costs of discrimination, especially for women. A recent study by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project entitled “Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT Women in America finds that LGBT women of all races suffer financially compared to non-LGBT women of all races and all men. Nevertheless, African American and Latina women in same-sex couples are much more likely to be poor than white women in same-sex couples, and older women in same-sex couples have nearly twice the poverty rate of older married opposite-sex couples.


These cold facts translate into heart-rending detail. Take Stacey Schuett and Lesly Toboada-Hall, who were together for 30 years and legally married for part of that time. Tobaoada-Hall worked for Fed-Ex for 26 of those years, but upon her death the company refused to give survivor benefits to Schuett. Leyth Jamal, a transgender woman, worked for a department store where she faced harassment and was told to dress like a man and keep her “home life” separate from her “work life.” When she sued the company for discrimination, she was fired. Jacqueline Cote tried to enroll her wife, Dee, in the spousal health insurance benefits offered by Walmart, but was told repeatedly that Walmart didn’t offer health insurance coverage to the same-sex spouses of employees, even though the couple lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage. The couple has had to pay more than $100,000 in medical costs, including treatment for Dee’s cancer.

The Defense of Marriage Act has been struck down, but state laws and corporate policies are still a patchwork of protections–or lack thereof–for LGBT people. Thus, without comprehensive civil rights legislation, same-sex couples are still denied rights that opposite-sex couples take for granted, and, of course, individuals continue to be discriminated against.

The combination of gender and sexual orientation hits women harder because many of them have children and are more likely to be in low-paying jobs or receiving lower pay than men with comparable jobs.

Given the current Congress, there is little hope for passage of any law protecting the rights of LGBT people. At the state level, though, in battles against “religious freedom” laws, in the fights for equal pay for equal work, to raise the minimum wage, and in immigration reform, there are opportunities to strengthen the rights of LGBT people.


ChristineRiddioughAID_100w_copy.png Christine Riddiough is an honorary vice chair of DSA and has been an activist for women’s liberation and LGBT liberation for 45 years. The full report is available here.


This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left
blog post submission guidelines can be found here


DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.


Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.


Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.


DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.