Fighting for justice—and winning—is what the LGBT community knows how to do. With critical midterm elections looming, it’s more vital than ever that you Remember in November.
ONE NIGHT IN NOVEMBER
On a cool November night, a few hundred people gathered at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, coming together as a community still reeling in the fear and uncertainty of what a Trump presidency would mean for the LGBT community, our country, and our world.
“I remember it vividly,” recalled U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents California’s 28th district which includes the Center and who spoke at the gathering the day after Trump’s election. “It was very powerful to be there. I wanted to be with the people who were gathered there to try to come to grips with what had just happened in the country. We were not going to take this lying down. We were going to fight to take back our country and the direction of the country.”
Within a few months of his inauguration, Trump and his Administration had begun to pursue policies that targeted some of society’s most vulnerable people, actions that confirmed many of the fears people felt on that November evening a few months earlier.
“We see this in other societies that are trending towards authoritarianism—the most vulnerable populations are attacked first.” Schiff said. “It’s as bad as we feared in many respects, and it’s worse than we might have imagined in many others. And we’ve seen how the Administration has tried in so many ways to roll back hard-fought victories for the entire LGBT community.”
Those anti-LGBT actions included attempting to ban transgender people from serving in the military, dropping federal guidelines protecting transgender students in schools, rolling back protections for incarcerated transgender people, and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected an estimated 800,000 young undocumented immigrants including 36,000 LGBTQ DREAMers from detention and deportation.
“I know people have often heard an elected official say, ‘This is the most important midterm in a generation or in a lifetime.’ Today, it is inarguably true for so many reasons,” Schiff warned. “If we’re successful in November, we can hold the Administration accountable. We can stop a lot of the damage that the President is doing. We can mitigate other damage that he is inflicting until we are no longer forced to suffer his presence in the White House.”
“The stakes are phenomenally high, with so much riding on a single day in November,” he added. “We just need to make sure we get every voter out to the polls. This is a time when everyone is required to be at their post. We have a job to do. We need to stay focused on it and realize that we have the power to really take back the country.”
BE THE STORM
The days and weeks following the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election saw an uprising by an unprecedented coalition of people concerned about their collective fate, fearful of what these new policies and actions would mean for families, their neighbors, and the nation atlarge. All of them were looking for something to do.
“In times when we feel dispirited, we need to find strength in each other, said Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “We need to remember that we are among those still working hard to build a more inclusive, kinder, and better future, regardless of who may temporarily stand in our way. I’ve said it many times over the last year-and-a-half, and I will keep on saying it: It’s our obligation, our duty, to do much more than simply hunker down and weather the storm. We must BE the storm!”
Taking shape in early 2017, the Center’s “storm” focused on two priorities: continuing to care for our clients in an increasingly hostile world and working to educate and mobilize people of all parties to help create a future of inclusion and kindness.
“The Center is the nation’s largest social safety net for LGBT people, receiving more than 42,000 visits a month from some of the most vulnerable in our community, including homeless youth and seniors,” said Jean. “We knew that the stakes for our community were incredibly high because of the anti-LGBT ideologues in the new Administration and Congress. Not only was funding at risk for many of our health and social services (and others like them around the country), but roll-backs began almost immediately of our basic civil rights and protections. We needed a way for people to stay informed and respond.”
In January 2017, the Center launched 100 Days and Me, a community engagement campaign to protect the well-being of LGBT people. Visitors to the campaign website got information about federal legislative and policy threats to LGBT people during the first 100 days of the Trump Administration. They could also register to receive updates and take advantage of resources and tools to take action.
Looking to build on the momentum from the first 100 days of activism, the Center’s March Mobilization, held in March 2017, mobilized hundreds of staff, clients, and volunteers to help stem the tide of anti-LGBT legislation. Trained by the Center’s Policy & Community Building team, the group’s first action was making phone calls to voters in key states to help protect the Affordable Care Act.
“The response was amazing, with so many people putting their hearts, energy, and time into helping our community,” recalled Joey Hernández, the Center’s policy and mobilization manager. “The passion and response we experienced in the early days of this mobilization effort made it feel like the end stages of a major campaign instead of something that just started. We knew we had to keep it going.”
RESIST. PERSIST. REPEAT.
After the March campaign, the Center launched the Resistance Squad, a volunteer-based rapid response team also led by the Center’s Policy & Community Building team. To date, more than 1,000 volunteers have participated in the squad’s various actions and activities, which have grown from simply responding to attacks to working to expand the rights of the LGBT community.
“They are all types of people and they come from all different walks of life. They are scraping and grabbing the bits of time that they have to volunteer for us,” said Hernández.
The Resistance Squad has held eight phone banks, resulting in conversations with voters from across the country on issues related to immigration, health care, education, and foster care. The group has also held letter-writing campaigns to office-holders and policymakers, participated in several resistance-related rallies through coalition partnerships, and made 10 visits to California legislators.
“We have created a scenario where folks can just come in and make the calls, write the letters, work a table for a couple of hours,” Hernández said. “We really just want to have them be able to engage in the work in the most direct ways possible.”
About 20 members of the Resistance Squad’s Leadership Council—formed from what Hernández describes as “some of our rock-star volunteers”—have participated in a series of leadership development trainings and action planning. Jason Black, a television development executive was looking for “a good way to manifest all the anxiety and frustration people like me are feeling about the current political climate.”
“You can do a small amount and be impactful because a lot of small amounts from a lot of people add up to something big,” said Black, a Resistance Squad Leadership Council member.
Also getting in on the action are members of the Center’s Senior MOB (Mobilization) Squad, comprised of nearly 50 seniors volunteering to protect and expand the rights of the LGBT community.
“We owe it to the next generation to say, ‘Look, this is an ongoing battle. This is something that we can’t give up on,’” said member Dixie Devoe, who is undergoing training to become a lobbyist. “We have to be able to resist, stand up for what you believe. Our little group, despite the fact that most of us are quite old, we can still do something—and we are. We are making our little contribution.”
In their monthly actions the squad has written letters to elected officials to expand the rights of LGBT immigrants in California, joined marches and rallies, and advocated for services and programs for LGBT older adults.
“Just because we’ve gotten older doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to contribute,” pointed out squad member Ed De Hay. “We’re still alive and vibrant. I tell young people to never give up and to keep fighting. If you’re knocked down, get up and do it all over again because I firmly believe that the younger generation is going to be the savior for the LGBT community.”
The Center’s Leadership LAB (Learn Act Build) has been working to personally connect with voters—literally at their front doors. During the summer, Leadership LAB volunteers focused on neighborhoods in Orange County by knocking on the doors of infrequent voters and persuading them to vote in November.
“Our goal is to talk to at least 2,000 of those infrequent voters and get more than 1,000 of them to actually vote,” said Leadership LAB Director Dave Fleischer. “We are going to talk to many other voters. They might live with someone who is unregistered, whom we will also try to register.”
Since 2009, Leadership LAB staff and more than 1,500 volunteers have canvassed regularly in Los Angeles County and around the country in neighborhoods where most people remain unsupportive of LGBT rights. They engage voters in personal conversations to reduce transphobia and homophobia.
“You certainly come across people who don’t align with your views and values, but I think our presence is really important whether or not they change their minds,” said volunteer Patrick Sullivan after canvassing a Costa Mesa neighborhood in August. “You do have people who say, ‘Oh wow, you really made me want to vote and you helped me realize the urgency—especially coming up in the midterms.’”
Fellow volunteer Cass Vitacco was drawn in by Leadership LAB’s “caring approach” about everything from volunteer training to canvassing.
“When talking to voters, it’s about really taking time to have a meaningful conversation that will actually change their minds,” Vitacco said. “We don’t just give them a flier and say, ‘Peace out.’”
REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER
Difficult as it was to predict the results of the U.S. presidential election two years ago, it will be just as challenging to predict what will happen in the midterm elections. The biggest threat to voter turnout this November may be the “shock-and-awe” syndrome that has fatigued so many, including the LGBT community.
“It’s pretty clear we all have a job to do as long as the values of this country are not reflected in the White House,” said Schiff. “We must fight for what we believe in order to make sure that people throughout the country and the rest of the world understand what America is all about even if they don’t see it in evidence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“What we dream, we can do,” Jean added. “But, the process of realizing our dreams almost always includes victories and setbacks, and a lot of hard work. Change doesn’t happen on its own. We must seek to extinguish fear and inspire hope.”