From the time I was a very young child, it was made clear to me – despite the teachings I encountered in my Catholic elementary and middle school educations – that to exist as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender was to exist as any other human being. Those who strayed from typical definitions of heterosexuality and gender might face greater challenges than those who didn’t, but those challenges stemmed from a flawed and ignorant society, not the individual. Being gay or transgender was normal, and would always be accepted without question in the house my parents made for my sister and I: this was the refrain from our corner of the world.
If you were a Clinton supporter – which, if you have not already gathered, I was and continue to be – you may have noticed that many articles published in the week following the election highlighted the conciliatory tone President-elect Trump used in his post-election speeches – a tone which has, up until this point in America’s history, been considered necessary, rather than extraordinary. The LGBTQ community, in particular, was instructed to not panic. Trump, after all, attacked them less on the campaign trail than he did other minority groups, and expressed a lack of interest in repealing marriage equality.
Enter Mike Pence.
Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and our future vice president, is not an ally of the LGBTQ community. He is, in fact, openly antagonistic toward them, and has been for his entire career in the public service of the United States. He signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in his home state, claiming that it would protect the First Amendment religious freedom rights of the citizens of Indiana. In practice, it allowed business owners to refuse goods and services to their gay and lesbian neighbors and granted them protection from being prosecuted for discrimination. Pence is also a supporter of the use of conversion therapy on minors – a practice which was shockingly condoned in his party’s platform at the Republican National Convention this past July.
Conversion therapy – condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association – puts into practice the belief that same-sex attraction and gender identity are choices made as a result of a damaged psyche, and as such, can be changed. Methods utilized by these so-called therapists range from forcing the patient into practicing more “typical” male or female behavior, to hypnosis, to the use of electric shocks and other forms of physical abuse. Since no major American psychiatric organization considers homosexuality to be a disorder, conversion therapy – also known as reparative therapy – is largely considered to be a particularly harmful pseudoscience, and one that, when inflicted on minors, can increase the already too-high rate of depression and suicide among LGBTQ youth.
Mike Pence advocated for diverting taxpayer dollars toward
s the funding of conversion therapy. The platform of his party calls for allowing parents to put their minors into any medical treatment they deem necessary, without interference from the state: an implicit approval of conversion therapy. Donald Trump has been married three times and has demonstrated repeatedly that he is not here to model Republican “family values,” a term that has far too often been manipulated to tell people that their families, that their type of family, are not welcome in our country. I fear and resist him for many reasons, but it is his running mate and now Vice President – chosen to reassure the conservative base and soothe the alt-right press – who feels like a personal insult against my own family values.
When I attended a summer camp for young writers in June of 2015, one of the counselors announced the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage during our last morning meeting. All of us, dull in the early morning Iowa heat, exploded upwards: screaming, jumping, laughing, clapping, crying. We embraced friends we would part ways with later that day, friends who had revealed to us, bit by bit, through poetry and prose and performance, that maybe their hometowns were not so accepting as the ones we knew; that maybe, their two weeks at camp was the first time they had ever peeked out of whatever closet they were forced to cloister themselves in. I don’t think any one of us contemplated facing so heavy a defeat as we did on November 8th. It felt, in that moment, that there was no losing.
That glimmer of hope has not entirely disappeared: five states and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy for minors. The same-sex marriage ruling, for now, seems safe. But in today’s America – and in every America, in fact – complacency is as dangerous as antagonism. The suicide rate among middle school aged children just reached an all-time high, and anyone who might be struggling now will probably be denied the triumphant feeling we experienced at summer camp that day: that reassurance that, even if we were too weak and too inconsequential to change anything, there were people out there – people in every branch of government – fighting for us until we were ready to fight for ourselves. I ache for the young person who saw the White House lit up in the colors of the rainbow pride flag, and now must see that light extinguished. I don’t want to deny anyone their comfort in what is and should be a national grieving process, but I hope no one disillusions themselves into thinking that Donald Trump and Mike Pence will be fighting for them for the next four years: our young people deserve better, and as a young person, I demand it.
Additional Note: I’m older now, and ready to fight. If you aren’t or can’t, here are some resources that might help you out.
The GBLT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-488-7386