2021: Continue to Fight for What Is Right

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I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I’m glad 2020 is drawing to a close. Like many of you, no doubt, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a year as stressful as this one, both professionally and personally. At times, it has seemed almost unbearable: anxiety about Covid and its impact on my loved ones, rage about continued incidents of racist violence and brutal attacks against transgender people, grief at the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and worry about the Supreme Court and the Presidential election. On top of all that, I have had sleepless nights about what could befall the Center and our staff and clients if Covid isn’t controlled before too long. Put simply, this has been a really tough year.

The good news is that 2021 will be better. First and foremost, we’ll have a new President who is not a pathological liar, who believes in science when it comes to fighting Covid, and who has promised that his Administration will work to reverse much of the damage done to LGBTQ people by Donald Trump. (We’ll have to stay on top of them to make sure they do.) Over the years, I’ve been an equal opportunity critic of Presidents, both Republican and Democrat. If they supported actions that harmed my community, or failed to support us in crucial battles, I took them to task. But Trump was in a league of his own. No President in history has taken as many actions to actively harm LGBTQ people as he did. Now those actions must be reversed.

The bad news is that Biden can’t fix everything that Trump did to harm us. The federal judiciary is now filled with anti-LGBTQ ideologues. My greatest concern is the Supreme Court, which now has a majority of justices who are anti-LGBTQ. I suspect we’ll see the damaging impact of this very soon. The day after the election, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, where right wing forces are seeking to establish a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and others (Jews, Muslims, Mormons), on the basis of religion. If the Court sides with them, as seems apparent from the Justices’ questions during the hearing, it will eviscerate the protections we’ve worked so hard to gain over the past decades, creating a constitutional right that could be used to discriminate against us in every aspect of our lives.

I remember what it was like to lose the much narrower Bowers v. Hardwick case, which upheld laws that criminalized sex between consenting same-sex adults. I saw how many people were hurt by this decision until it was overruled 17 years later. And, from a policy standpoint, its impact pales in comparison to what a loss in Fulton would mean. But the most important lesson of the Hardwick case is that we didn’t give up. We picked ourselves up and persisted in the fight for our rights and freedom. And ultimately, many years later, we prevailed. We can and will do the same again. I believe that the religious political extremists and the Republicans who are beholden to them will one day be relegated to the fringes. Until then, it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to continue to fight for what is right.

All that said, the election did have lots of good news for our community beyond electing Biden and Harris. Just a few examples include:

  • The voters in Nevada enshrined our freedom to marry in the state constitution, repealing a 2002 amendment that limited marriage to heterosexual couples.
  • Lesbian sheriffs were elected in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Two BIPOC gay men (one Black, one Afro-Latino) were elected to Congress from New York.
  • Openly gay Republican Dan Zwonitzer was elected to his ninth term in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
  • Tennessee elected its first two openly gay people to the State House, one Republican and one Democrat.
  • San Diego—the eighth-largest U.S. city—elected a gay mayor and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors elected a genderqueer-nonbinary-pansexual supervisor.
  • Holly Mitchell was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, arguably the most powerful local government body in the nation, meaning the board will now be ALL FEMALE.
  • Just three years after the nation’s first openly transgender person was elected to a state legislature (Virginia), transgender candidates were elected to the legislatures of Kansas, Delaware, and Vermont.

What’s most clear about 2021 is that it will require patience from all of us. We not only must continue to deal with Covid, we will face a nation that seems divided as never before. I struggle with identifying possible answers to bridging this chasm. Honestly, many days, the oppressive and anti-democratic behaviors of those across the divide make it difficult for me to want to try. But I know that doesn’t feel right either.

If we’ve learned anything in the 70 years since our movement first began with the founding of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, it’s that when people know us, they’re far less likely to deny our humanity or support discrimination against us. That’s why coming out has been the single most powerful individual and collective action we’ve ever taken as people and as a community. Millions of people changed the dialogue and the resulting movement changed the world. Maybe there’s an analogue here. Maybe those of us who often find ourselves on different sides of the issues have to take the time to get to know each other, to talk and to listen; to reason and understand and hopefully dissipate the vitriol. Honestly, I wouldn’t say I relish the prospect. I didn’t relish coming out to my folks, either. But I did it anyway. It was the right thing to do and it was powerful.

As Michelle Obama admirably says, “When they go low, we go high.” For 2021, I’ll be contemplating the high road.

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