On this eve of the most impactful election in our lifetimes, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people ― a group that has made enormous strides, but is facing brutal backlash and setbacks ― must take stock right now of what is a very critical moment in our own movement for full equality.
That’s even more important after we learned recently in reporting by Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden of a split among LGBTQ leaders, in which some groups are opting for going back to an “incremental” approach, fearing that the transgender bathroom issue puts us at an impasse with the GOP. The thinking goes that we should drop public accommodations in asking for civil rights laws in the states, and come back to it later ― basically accommodate the GOP, and its bigots, rather than challenge them and beat them at the ballot box, no matter how long it takes. This is a dangerous and flawed strategy, as veteran lesbian reporter Kerry Eleveld reminds us. It kept us from moving forward faster in the past, and I will be addressing it much more fully in future pieces.
I raise it now because it is a hint of the splits, divides, and fragmentation we are seeing after winning marriage equality. And yet, with a backlash in full force and with so many rights needing to be secured in the states and at the federal level ― where we have no protections in federal law ― it is the most precarious time for LGBTQ people to be divided. Our enemies will use the tried and true “divide and conquer” strategy.
In looking at the possible outcomes of tomorrow’s election ― and yes, both will provide challenges for attaining broader rights, just different ones ― let’s take the reality of a President Trump first.
I’ve discussed over and over again how Trump is publicly opposed to LGBTQ equality, has promised to overturn the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision and supports a bill in Congress that would allow for broader discrimination against queer people, the First Amendment Defense Act. He has surrounded himself with ardent homophobes, like Mike Pence and Ben Carson, who will no doubt be influential in his administration.
Even if marriage equality would be difficult to overturn, the list of 20 judges and politicians Trump has offered as Supreme Court justice appointees are so far right that they would likely try to overturn Roe v.Wade, abolish child labor laws, gut Medicare and block LGBTQ rights on a variety of fronts ― at a time when important transgender rights issues are headed to the Supreme Court. And Trump recently promised he will only appoint these judges he announced and no others.
The results of a Trump presidency could be catastrophic and the only way we’ll keep from the brink is to join together and fight, enduring setbacks and pain, and needing a will to survive.
But here’s perhaps the most important issue: Trump has made big promises to evangelical groups that engage in religious bigotry and have been labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, such as the Family Research Council, in return for their turning out the vote (and polls show that he’s getting just as many evangelicals backing him as any other GOP presidential candidate). Even if you think, “Oh, he really doesn’t hate gays since he’s not been very vocal about it and lives in New York” ― and thus that he’ll likely not do anything harmful ― you would be enormously foolish about the political allegiances Trump has and will need to maintain if he wants to be re-elected.
Ronald Reagan, too, had many gay friends and came out of Hollywood― he even spoke out against an anti-gay measure as governor of California –- but when the AIDS epidemic mushroomed in the ‘80s he knew his allegiances lie with the very same hate groups Donald Trump has courted, the religious right movement that was influential in electing him at the time. And that prevented Reagan from doing anything about AIDS or even uttering the word for years, letting thousands die, no matter what he might have “personally” believed.
On the larger front, of course, a Donald Trump presidency is unimaginable and something we’ve not wanted to think about. Many of the various groups that comprise the LGBTQ community ― including people of color, women, immigrants and more ― would be under direct threat from a man who has made horrific, bigoted statements and promised horrendous actions against them. And all the other grave concerns, like having this unstable individual making military and foreign policy decisions ―while he has business interests around the world –- and gutting federal programs that help so many people, including LGBTQ people, are concerns we share with millions of others.
We’ll need to be more unified than ever ― not fragmented and fighting over strategy in dealing with what will be an extreme right GOP on steroids. We will need to be unified not just among ourselves but with other groups, as we engage in protest and civil disobedience in a time of strife and persecution none of us have known before. The results of a Trump presidency could be catastrophic and the only way we’ll keep from the brink is to join together and fight, enduring setbacks and pain, and needing a will to survive.
If Hillary Clinton becomes our president, needless to say, the apocalyptic fears won’t apply, no matter the criticisms she’s received from some progressives, and it will be a history-making moment and allow for big sighs of relief. We’ll have a president who is stable, experienced and already committed to full civil rights on a number of fronts, including in promises she has made on the campaign trail.
With a President Hillary Clinton we must be unified going in, not split the way many had been throughout the campaign.
But our unity will be just as important. The Trump forces of the racist, white nationalist and homophobic alt-right and the religious extremists will be apoplectic and will try to do what they can to destroy a Clinton presidency― and us, the members of the “politically correct” crowd that Trump railed and fought against. We will have to be united in fighting them back, and it will be a very different kind of strife. They will take advantage of any splits among us ― including the one I discussed earlier in this piece ― to stop us from attaining rights.
And then there is Clinton herself. She must govern over what may be an even more angry and divided nation than that which President Obama governed ― which is hard to even imagine ― because of how emboldened far right, hateful forces will be after Trump legitimized them. She may deal with the GOP differently than Obama, either in a better way or a worse way ― that all remains to be seen.
But we would all do well, as we get nostalgic about President Obama, to remember that he was reluctant at first to push on LGBTQ rights. It took massive protest and pressure, on the president and on Democrats in Congress― including a march on Washington, civil disobedience at the White House and disruption of speeches and events ― to move on “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and marriage equality. President Obama became a champion on LGBTQ rights, an historic president who fought the anti-LGBTQ right-wing forces, and it all happened with our organization, working with him ― and with our unity.
Thus, with a President Hillary Clinton we must be unified going in, not split the way many had been throughout the campaign ― in the larger progressive movement and in the LGBTQ community― over her and Bernie Sanders. It is in fact time to harness the energy of the Sanders movement to keep Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire and make sure she follows through on promises, as with any new president ― including her promise to push for the LGBT Equality Act. And if we, as progressives, do it not as fragmented movements― LGBTQ activists, environmentalists, Dreamers, etc.― but as one united force, it will happen all the more quickly.
So, that is why unity is most essential moving past this election, no matter what happens. Any notion of “compromise” or “incrementalism” must be fiercely resisted, and we’ll have to talk a lot more about that after tomorrow.