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Marriage Equality Is Great And All, But... 

Cleveland's LGBT Community Is Focused On More Important Things Right Now

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"This is one of the things I feel is very important to change. Health care cannot be uncaring," he says. "But all this work in queer health and LGBT health was not completely planned."

He points to a Grand Rounds conversation on LGBT health care in 2005 as a sort of fulcrum pivoting toward the Pride Clinic's genesis. "After I talked about it once, other people started talking about it. This is one of the things I feel is natural about advocacy."

Talking about it matters, Ng says, because there's still a vast gulf between the public perception of "queer health" and the realities of the work of Ng and his colleagues.

And though the Pride Clinic's existence and successes travel fairly well by word-of-mouth, the work is still mostly under-the-radar. The face of LGBT health needs—HIV and STD testing—obscures the simple fact that there's a plethora of day-to-day treatments, conversations and needs that exist for gay and transgender people of all ages.

"Queer people also have other health and wellness needs. What are we going to do about that?" Harris says. She invokes an illustration of a female-to-male transition. Imagine: Reproductive health services become a convoluted question, given the person's male identity and female organs. The Pride Clinic opens the door for those very questions.

"One of my girls came by—and this is after a complete exam, including a private genital exam," Ng says. "They bare their bodies and their souls to me. She said, 'I come here because you make me feel comfortable.' We're able to create a safe place where some of our potentially most marginalized people in the LGBT communities can come and feel safe."

***

What's apparent in discussing gay and trans rights and, specifically, marriage equality is that the face of that movement has, perhaps unintentionally, become the picture of two gay white men. Among the LGBT community, the "gay, white male" identity absorbs a certain amount of privilege via the intersections of gender and race. But it does little to cover the entirety of the population.

Intersectionality, a term first coined by Canton-born Kimberle Crenshaw in the late 1980s, is the study of minority identities and the intersections among them—race, gender identity, sexual orientation and the like. It's also a term that demands, perhaps, a bit more mainstream understanding.

"Who marriage will benefit the most is sometimes talked about," Harris says. "And that is white, gay men, because of the privilege." She refers to varying points of access to public imagery, taxation, health care, employment and much more. Embedded within the marriage equality argument appears to be a red herring, a monolithic idea that purports that everything will be at peace once this matter gets approved. But access to all manners of social equality is a much broader and more important concept.

"It's not that people are disinterested in marriage equality, but these are all parts of the conversation," Harris says. "While some people are trying to figure out where they're going to pee, other people are trying to figure out if they have somewhere to sleep. [Marriage rights] matter, but there are some other things."

"If you really want to know what the community wants, you need to come to where they're at and you need to ask them," Nash says. "People are saying 'marriage, marriage, marriage' or even 'employment, employment, employment'—and those are very critical—but the number one thing I keep hearing from folks in the trans community is, 'We want our birth certificates corrected.' To our community, that is number one because with it there is validation of who we are."

Language matters. From anti-discrimination policy, to the media reporting of transgender hate crimes, to the identification on one's legal documents, language matters.

***

A brisk wind snapped off the lakeshore and whipped through a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside Cleveland City Hall on March 24. The informal group—drawing on all corners of the regional population—had come together to rally in support of equal marriage rights. The day's activities were conveniently parlayed, as well, as a complement to the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on the legality of 1996's Defense of Marriage Act. (Those hearings will resume later this month.)

The event mirrored something similar—a mock wedding rally during which gay couples exchanged vows—one year prior in downtown Cleveland. More than 250 same-sex couples said "I do" that day, though none of it was legally sanctioned by the state.

The image, the experience, the words: All of that is pure when citizens congregate publicly to flash glimpses of the faces of change at passersby. In more private arenas, those experiences transform into that very sense of change—little by little.

"As someone who's not heterosexual and someone who's not Caucasian, I'm generally reminded in big and small ways about being different. That's been my experience all my life," Ng says. "Discrimination does happen. And it does happen everywhere at varying degrees."

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