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DAILY ILLINI GUEST POST: MAINERS NEED TO GET A GRIP!

I submitted this piece under a different title, but that is neither here nor there at this point.

READ MY DAILY ILLINI PIECE: MAINERS NEED TO GET A GRIP!

On Tuesday, voters in Maine approved a bill establishing second class citizenship for millions of American citizens by a slim margin. Despite the tireless work of organizers, fundraisers and the amazing turn-out by the supporters of equality, in the end, discrimination won over fairness. We see across the country voters choosing to create two types of citizenship: the folks we’re comfortable with get first tier, and those we aren’t comfortable with get second tier.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are often feared for religious reasons, but somehow this is justification for legal discrimination? And believe you me, it is discrimination. According to the New York Times just last month, a same-sex couple pays anywhere from $50,000-$400,000 more than the national average over their lifetime for health insurance alone, let alone double-taxing and other financial discrimination.

In addition, gay Americans are unable to sponsor their spouse for citizenship, are unable to visit one another in the hospital, unable to make end of life-decisions, unable to inherit their spouse’s estate without penalty, and unable to care for their spouse’s children if something happens to the biological parent — no matter how long the couple have raised children together.

The message this sends to LGBT youth is “you’re less than human.” LGBT teen suicide rates are four times higher than the national average, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20-40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. This feeling of social rejection and hopelessness is proven to lead to higher drug and alcohol abuse, and riskier behavior.

Its not right.

A nation with two types of citizenship is setting up a system of apartheid. In this age of Hope with a capital ‘H,’ we are taking hope away from some 30 million Americans. We tell them that their relationships are worth less, that they cannot serve honestly in the military, that they cannot be honest about themselves lest lose their job, be kicked out of their home, experience violence or even be killed.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are good citizens. I know several who are honorably serving their nation — despite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — in the armed forces and Peace Corps. They are ministers, teachers, community leaders, small-business owners and philanthropists. Despite their contributions, communities continue to tell LGBT Americans that they do not want them to experience being a full-fledged American.

It’s time for this to nation end its ‘acceptable apartheid.’ However, in order to prevail, we need allies, and we need them in spades. The progressive community failed in Maine big-time. Our progressive allies did not turn out in our support, despite the long-time presence of passionate LGBT people in progressive causes for decades. Even the Democratic National Committee failed us. In the hours leading to the election, they sent out several calls for action to Mainers to support New Jersey Governor John Corzine; without ever mentioning the ballot fight in Maine or encouraging Mainers on their lists to get out and vote for Equality.

I call on all progressives to make ending this American apartheid as urgent as climate change and health care. How can we bring America together while we ignore what is tearing it apart? Until we make all our citizens equal under the law, we cannot ask them to be concerned with anything but equality. Seek out ways that you can actively participate in ending LGBT discrimination now, and make lobbying your local, state and national leaders for equality a priority.

Phil Reese is a graduate student.

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