Friday, April 28

Williams Institute to focus research on LGBTQ discrimination


Russell Robinson, a former UCLA law professor, spoke about marriage equality for same-sex couples Thursday at the UCLA School of Law. About 35 students attended. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Daily Bruin)

Russell Robinson, a former UCLA law professor, spoke about marriage equality for same-sex couples Thursday at the UCLA School of Law. About 35 students attended. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Daily Bruin)


The Williams Institute at UCLA is reorienting the scope of its research to investigate LGBTQ discrimination post-marriage equality.

On Thursday, former UCLA law professor Russell Robinson presented an article at the UCLA School of Law, in which he discussed perception of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights following marriage equality. Jody Herman, a researcher at the Williams Institute, which conducts research on LGBTQ public policy, said the organization is now investigating the personal and financial effects of LGBTQ discrimination in states in which no anti-discrimination laws exist.

“Celebration may be premature,” Robinson said. “The advent of marriage equality doesn’t signal the end of homophobia.”

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Williams Institute aimed to provide a scientific backing in support of marriage equality. For example, the Institute conducted research that dispelled the common misconception children raised by a same-sex couple fare worse than children raised by a heterosexual couple.

Herman said marriage equality is no longer the largest issue in consideration, and that the discussion is moving toward anti-discrimination protections, the impacts of discrimination and gender identity.

She said the Williams Institute reoriented itself to investigate the personal and financial effects of LGBTQ discrimination in states in which LGBTQ anti-discrimination legislation does not exist. For example, the Williams Institute has investigated the impact of preventing transgender individuals from using bathrooms meant for the gender they identify with.

Herman added she thinks negative sentiments toward LGBTQ individuals have become more vigorous since same-sex marriage was implemented. She said some state legislatures are trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

“State legislatures are more aggressively trying to carve out religious exemptions and reasons to not recognize and perform same-sex marriages,” Herman said.

She said in states like North Carolina and Texas, in which certain counties or cities attempted to pass anti-discrimination legislation, the state often overrode local government policies to prevent LGBTQ-oriented policy from being put into effect.

Robinson said he thinks the decision to validate same-sex marriage was partly based on the desexualization of gay and bisexual men. He said many of the same-sex couples that testified in court to convince judges and the public to legalize same-sex marriage were elderly lesbian women that made the prospect of LGBTQ relationships seem more palatable.

“Cases were often presented as ‘little old ladies’ in relationships that didn’t offend people with their sexuality,” Robinson said.

Robinson added he wanted to prevent society from settling into the binary view that the Obama presidency was a boon for LGBTQ rights and the Trump administration will be unfavorable.

“There’s an impulse to now believe that the Trump administration will be catastrophic for LGBT rights,” Robinson said. “But let’s remember the undercurrents of homophobia during the Obama administration and complicate that idealization (of the Obama presidency).”

Robinson said he thinks the blood donation ban for gay men that was amended during the Obama administration is a key example of a prejudiced approach to public health policy.

In 1985, the Food and Drug Administration banned gay men from donating blood in order to prevent HIV transmission. In December 2015, the FDA lifted the lifetime ban on blood donation, allowing gay men who have not engaged in sexual activity with another man for at least a year to donate blood.

[Related: Panel at Hammer Museum discusses LGBTQ rights in blood donation]

“Under the Obama administration, abandoning one’s sexuality for a year was understood as progress,” Robinson said. “It was still presumed as almost impossible that gay men can have non-risky sex.”

He added many gay men are encouraged to take daily doses of Truvada, a prophylactic drug that is meant to reduce risk of HIV infection, irrespective of their individual behavioral practices. He said heterosexual couples are rarely subject to the same scrutiny despite often engaging in sexual practices, such as condomless sex, that are riskier than those some gay couples participate in.

“The government and health care providers assume that the identities themselves are at risk, not their behavior, when there’s a lot of diversity in how gay men practice and manage their sexuality,” he said. “(These practices) just underline beliefs from the ’80s that HIV is a gay man’s disease.”

Jacob Deliz, a third-year English student, said he thinks more issues concerning LGBTQ rights are being addressed now that marriage equality has passed.

“At first marriage equality was the biggest issue being advanced,” Deliz said. “Now that it’s been legalized, a lot of other kinds of discrimination have been exposed, including issues with gender identity, political correctness and violence against LGBT community members.”

He added he does not think prejudice has become more aggressive, nor has it abated, since the implementation of marriage equality. But, he said he thinks the Trump presidency will usher in significant changes with regard to LGBTQ rights.

“There’s no real answer (to fixing prejudice against the LGBTQ community),” Deliz said. “In the future, we should listen to what people have to say, and not blow it off as a political attack or antagonization.”

Robinson said he thinks it’s important LGBTQ individuals speak for themselves.

“(LGBTQ individuals) should be able to define themselves, not let themselves be defined by others,” Robinson said.

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