In this country there are three primary fronts on which to advance the causes of freedom, justice, and equality for LGBT people: the courts, the legislatures, and the people. In some periods of our movement’s history, we’ve done better in the courts. Sometimes we’ve done better in legislatures. And we’ve always focused on our society at large, telling the truth about our lives and building public understanding and support.
We’ve made enormous progress since 1969, when the Center’s founders began providing services and the Stonewall Riots gave birth to our contemporary LGBT movement. In the years since, we’ve faced enormous challenges, occasionally even losing ground. Yet, we never gave up. Because we’ve been so adept at overcoming barriers and capitalizing upon opportunities, we’ve continued our inexorable push forward.
As a result of this hard-fought success, LGBT people have never had more rights and protections than we do today. But this also means that we have more to lose than ever before. Right-wing extremists are fighting hard to take away our rights and reverse our progress, both in the legislatures and in the courts.
There is no doubt in my mind that the near-term future of our people and our movement will be forged in the crucible of the November midterm elections. Because we’ve never had so much to lose, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been.
After the smoke clears, if anti-LGBT ideologues continue to control both houses of Congress, I fear for our future.
Already the past two years of the Trump Administration and a right-wing Congress have brought an unprecedented retrenchment in our rights and protections. Inspired by a synthesis in the Washington Blade, here are some of the most significant reversals–an ignominious “Top 10” list:
#10 ABANDONING LGBT PEOPLE BEING PERSECUTED AROUND THE WORLD.
Instead of advocating on behalf of LGBT rights in hostile countries, Trump hasn’t said a word about the detention and murder of gay men in Chechnya.
#9 PUSHING FEDERAL WORKERS BACK INTO THE CLOSET.
For the second year in a row, the Trump Administration refused to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month. This Administration has cast an anti-LGBT shadow of fear across the government, with federal workers who were proudly out and happy to talk to journalists about their Pride plans now afraid to talk on the record. For example, while the Justice Department hosted a Pride event in 2018, for the first time in 11 years, the ceremony wasn’t held in the building’s Great Hall. Instead, it was closed to media and attendees feared talking about it afterwards.
#8 GRANTING LEGITIMACY TO ANTI-LGBT ZEALOTS.
President Trump became the first president ever to speak at the annual conference of the notoriously anti-LGBT Family Research Council, long ago labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More recently, Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council president, was authorized to preside over a three-day “religious freedom” conference at the State Department. The event brought together some of the most radical homophobes of the far right.
#7 ALLOWING DISCRIMINATION BY FEDERAL CONTRACTORS.
Earlier this year Trump revoked key components of a previous executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This decision is part of the Administration’s dismantling of LGBT-friendly policies across government and impacts hundreds of thousands of LGBT people, as more than 3.7 million people work for federal contractors.
#6 HURTING LGBT FAMILIES.
Two million U.S. children are being raised by LGBT parents. Yet, in July, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement to LGBT families because of religious objections. These families live in every state and 96 percent of all U.S. counties, and if states or localities that protect LGBT people penalize agencies that engage in such discrimination, the feds could withhold 15 percent of federal funds from these jurisdictions.
#5 HURTING TRANSGENDER PEOPLE.
In a reversal of prior policy, the Trump Administration has asserted that transgender people aren’t covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace. The Administration also seeks to roll back a rule that bars healthcare providers from denying treatment to transgender people, including gender-confirming surgery.
#4 HURTING LGBT CHILDREN.
One of the Administration’s first actions (thank you, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) was to rescind protections for LGBT school kids. Attorney General Sessions also has rescinded guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identities.
#3 USING “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY” TO JUSTIFY DISCRIMINATION.
In July, Attorney General Sessions announced creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force,” which is little more than a figleaf for creation of policies that would allow wholesale discrimination against LGBT people. This despite the fact that similar religious freedom arguments were never given credence with other nondiscrimination laws, except in the narrowest of circumstances.
#2 SEEKING TO REINSTATE THE TRANS MILITARY BAN.
Warranting its own notorious mention, our President tweeted his plan to reinstate its ban against transgender people serving in the military. His desire to do so has been stalled by the courts, but sets up a potential showdown at the Supreme Court.
#1 ANTI-LGBT JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS.
The Supreme Court is the most visible court being populated with anti-LGBT judges. Equally if not more worrisome, however, is the Administration’s success in packing lower-level federal courts with judges who have disturbing anti-LGBT records. These efforts could inject anti-LGBT animus into the law for decades to come. Of course, I haven’t even mentioned how Trump is hurting all Americans by attacking the free press, repeatedly lying about things big and small, embracing murderous dictators, separating small children from their parents, retaliating against critics in the pettiest ways, adopting overtly racist ideology, and demeaning women. Obviously, the list of his outrageous, and perhaps illegal, behaviors is long. Whether it’s misbehavior or misguided policies, our community gets hurt. Every day, with thousands of clients seeking our help, the Center is picking up the pieces.
What can we do about it? Only one thing: we must VOTE our conscience in November, regardless of party. That is the only way to stop the assault on our people, our rights, and our nation. And we must encourage voters we know—especially millennials—to ensure they participate. Sadly, a recent poll suggests that only 28 percent of millennials plan to vote this year. That would be disastrous for anyone who cares about the issues I’ve been discussing. While posting innumerable objections on social media and marching every weekend can help to spread the word, that won’t make change in Washington.
Let me say it again: this isn’t about political party. This is about decency. This is about integrity. This is about truth and preserving the very foundations of our democracy. Everyone who believes in justice and freedom, everyone who is offended by the appalling behaviors of the current leaders in Washington, must vote in November and make our voices heard. We must send a resounding message, not only about how we expect our political leaders to behave, but about the values we expect them to advance: liberty and justice for all.