A Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015 brought hope for many couples, a sentiment of equality, and - perhaps above all else - an expectation for a better tomorrow.
"A lot of LGBTQ people carry themselves differently in society today as a result because for the first time, many folks felt like we had been embraced by society as fully equal members of American life," said Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings. "It is absolutely impossible to overstate the significance of the Obergefell [v. Hodges] decision."
But despite the symbolic and legal strides, "there's still so much work that remains" on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, says David Johns, executive director for the National Black Justice Coalition.
Adoption and housing discrimination, hate crime laws and the murders of transgender people, especially women of color, remain grave concerns.
Black LGBTQ people are disproportionately concentrated in the states where they face racial discrimination and where it is "legally permissible to discriminate against us based on actual or perceived sexual identity, gender orientation or expression," Johns said.
Jennings, who is also the founder of GLSEN, an education organization working to end LGBTQ bullying, pointed to legislation restricting LGBTQ rights. Just in 2019, 240 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in state legislatures, according to the Equality Federation.
"There are still important aspects of American life where LGBTQ people do not have the protections that we deserve as full and equal American citizens," Jennings said. "There is no final victory, and there is no final defeat."
A step forward
Patrick Ladonis Sutton, who married his husband Robert McMillian in 2016 after 13 years together, decided not to get married until marriage was "legal everywhere."
"Love is love," Sutton said. "And here we are, even though we haven't been legally married [for the whole time], but after 18 years, we're still here, and I married my best friend."
He said that he will always commemorate June 26 as a second anniversary.
"It always has a symbolic meaning for the two of us," he said. "We've now been together 18 years, and we were not married for 14 years of them, and honestly we didn't think we would ever see it happen in our lifetime."
Transgender advocate Geena Rocero said she views the context of the Obergefell decision from a global standpoint - and that it gave her "a sense of hope."
Having grown up in the Philippines, which still doesn't legally recognize gay marriage, it changed her "perspective of what was possible."
Jennings, a longtime leader of the LGBTQ rights movement, the progress made over the past 60 years "is nothing short of a miracle."
"People made enormous sacrifices in terms of their career, their personal lives, sometimes their whole lives, so that the world would be better today than it was when I was born in 1963," he said. "And, boy, is it different for LGBTQ people compared to the year I was born. But it's not different enough yet."
Rocero said last Monday's Supreme Court decision, which held that civil rights law barring sex discrimination in the workplace applies to gay, lesbian and transgender workers, was "the most important civil rights case" outside of the 2015 landmark case.
But Rocero, who spoke in front of the Supreme Court October 2019, said that there is more work to be done to achieve full equality.
"This is a traumatic and stressful moment for particularly LGBTQ people, specifically trans people of color, that don't even have basic access to shelter, for basic health care," she said.
We said it Loud on Oct 8, 2019 in front of the Supreme Court, we celebrate this Historic Win with the soo many people who made this possible. Then, the work continues #BlackTransLivesMatter Donate to these Black Trans Led Orgs @theokraproject @mpjinstitute @forthegworls @glits_inc @btfacollective @emergency_release_fund
A post shared by Geena Rocero (@geenarocero) on Jun 15, 2020 at 8:32am PDT
Sutton added that in recent years, there has been "a struggle for same sex couples to adopt."
But with the congressional passage of the hate crimes bill in Georgia Tuesday, he feels that "we're finally moving into even more of a progressive place."
"Still, there is a ton of work still to be done. But I do feel like where slowly moving there just not as fast as I would like."
Looking to the future
Even with these decisions solidifying a few protections, Sarah Kate Ellis, who is the president of GLAAD, a media monitoring organization founded by LGBTQ people, said that "there's a constant struggle in being LGBTQ in this country."
"Our equality and our dignity are continually up for debate," she said. She pointed to the Equality Act as a "pretty urgent" part of the road ahead for equality.
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people in places such as public facilities, housing, and schools.
The Equality Act passed in the House of Representatives last May, and has remained in the Senate since then.
Last week: Supreme Court grants federal job protections to gay, lesbian, transgender workers
Another goal for advocates is making sure that equality is available to all LGBTQ people, and providing space for the LGBTQ people of color who led the movement.
Part of recognizing queer people of color is recognizing the history of racial exclusion within the LGBTQ community, advocates said.
While over the past few years, it has been recognized by a majority of the LGBTQ community that transgender people of color were on the front lines at Stonewall, Rocero said queer people of color, especially transgender people of color, have been "forgotten."
"It's time to let trans people of color take over and let us lead this movement. Because if we are not free, nobody's free," she added.
A 2017 Gallup poll found that 46% of U.S. adults said that civil rights laws are not needed to protect LGBTQ people.
Jennings said that work that he and many activists started must be continued "until every LGBTQ person has equal rights before the law in this nation."
"We are not in a state in which LGBTQ people can rest on our laurels. We both have to finish the work that has to be that has yet to be done, and we have to safeguard the protections that we have won."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LGBTQ activists: Same-sex marriage ruling was 'no final victory'