In most states, LGBTQ people remain vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces – and it's time for that to change. That’s why across the country, Americans are speaking out and sharing their stories.
Jeffery Edwards-Knight has been living with HIV for more than 30 years and is committed every day to making life easier for individuals who are newly diagnosed with HIV. He works in the testing outreach program for Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, coaching newly diagnosed people through the difficult early days of being positive, accompanying them to doctors’ offices, and serving as support during a time of serious change. He works largely with young Black men, and he knows that the combination of a lack of understanding around HIV, a lack of local nondiscrimination laws, and systemic anti-Black racism can make it especially challenging for folks to live freely and get the care they deserve.
“The fight for better understanding and treatment for people living with HIV in North Carolina is personal for me,” Jeffery wrote in an op-ed. “I know what it feels like to be treated differently because of my status. Many years ago, visiting my mother for her birthday, I suddenly became sick, requiring a trip to an emergency room. Over the course of the appointment the physician learned that I am gay and HIV-positive. Visibly uncomfortable, he left the room. When he returned, he stood at the back of the room and talked to me from there. His tone and approach changed the minute he learned of my status and put both physical and figurative distance between us.”
“Yes, that was a long time ago,” he continues. “But subtle experiences like that have shaped my approach to seeking standard health care, making me fear that if I go somewhere new, the provider could be judgmental or outright discriminatory because of my sexual orientation and HIV status. Together, we can — and must — build a nation where no one faces discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.”
No one should face discrimination because of who they are – but that’s what happened to Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek when she came out as transgender while working at Spring Arbor University. The University cut her pay by 20% and forbid her from discussing her transition with anyone connected to the University, which at the time included a brother, sister-in-law, and one of her kids. Julie and the University entered mediation, where she shared a powerful opening statement about her life, discrimination, and basic dignity.
“I fully support the SAU’s statement of faith, and I have no doubts that God has gone before us and is a sustaining power in the peace that Joanne and I have. The University has demonstrated an incredible ignorance and unwarranted transphobia. This is me, I am Julie. I do not have what you’ve called a ‘transgender personality.’ I am a transgender person and always have been, including all the time I worked with Spring Arbor University. After I began to understand my diagnosis, I lost the physical and emotional energy to keep living a lie and shortly after that voluntarily shared this information with Spring Arbor University. No matter how hard Spring Arbor University tries, there is simply no Christian justification for blatantly interfering with my prescribed treatment for my transgender identity.”
Ultimately, Julie needed to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to combat the mistreatment and stand up for herself.
Heather Green’s family made headlines in early 2019 when Heather posted photos from a fun, heart-warming photoshoot celebrating her son Adrian’s gender transition. When Adrian, who studies at the University of Louisville, came out as transgender to Heather and his brother, Lucas (also featured in the photos), Heather knew she wanted to do something special to celebrate and affirm her son. The result is a beautiful photoshoot, which features a play on hyper-traditional “gender reveal” parties, sometimes held with family and friends before children are born. “I wanted to prove to Adrian that there is support for him beyond what he saw,” Heather said.
“When your child comes out as trans, the best thing to do is create a photoshoot to celebrate the fact that he silently and bravely stepped out of the race that he never wanted to be in, found his own lane and proceeded to win,” Heather said on Facebook to mark the occasion of Adrian’s 20th birthday. “You are without a doubt the most fascinating human I know and I will always be your biggest fan! I love you, I honor who you are and I respect your courage to be unapologetically you.”
As a faith leader in his community, the Reverend Dr. Terence Leathers has been a long-time proponent of full equality for all people. He has preached inclusivity for LGBTQ people during his many years as a religious leader and was one of more than 1,300 clergy to sign on to a Faith Leaders Against Discrimination amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
“As a straight African-American minister who has lived in North Carolina for a significant portion of my life, I know my home state to be full of loving people,” he said. “I preach that there is a place for everybody at God’s table, no matter who you are or how you identify – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or straight. My mission as a faith leader is to bring together, not to tear apart – to heal a world filled with so much division.”
In the final days of 2018, the owner of a rental unit in Middleburg, Florida evicted her tenant Randal Coffman because of his sexual orientation. “You didn’t tell me you were gay until yesterday. Do you think I want homosexuals coming back and forth in my place like that? You have to leave this place,” she said. The apartment is located just a few minutes from Jacksonville, where LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination, including housing discrimination. But those protections stop at the city limits – and with no explicit LGBTQ protections at the state or federal levels, discrimination like this occurs all too frequently.
“You think you’re protected in one city – but then you’re not protected in the next one,” Randal said. “And it’s not fair to people all across the country. It’s not fair that we’re protected in one place and not protected in another. This isn’t even the first time I’ve faced harassment – you basically have to hide who you are unless you’re in the gay side of town. It’s just like that here.”
Even as he deals with the fallout from this experience, Randal has words of encouragement for other LGBTQ people dealing with similar discrimination. “Everything will work out,” he said. “It may not work out as it’s supposed to or as you think it will, but as time goes by, we’ll have more laws. And eventually we’ll all feel safe.