In November 2008, I sat cross-legged in my tiny attic room in upstate New York and watched the returns roll in for Proposition 8. Though I was attending college across the country, I’d kept my residency in California in part so I could vote against the measure to ban marriage equality there. In some small way, I thought, I could be a rock in the wall between the whims of the state citizenry and the basic civil rights of queer people.
Even as I thrilled at the election of Barack Obama, I kept refreshing those news sites, as if by sheer willpower alone I could shift the percentage in our favor. Somewhere, I knew, there was a pocket of California not yet counted, where the average individual didn’t feel the need to literally write anti-LGBTQ discrimination into the Constitution of the state where I’d spent my first two decades.
I caught myself in the same feeling at the beginning of this month. Again cross-legged, again at my computer, again with my fist in my mouth and my stomach under the bed, hoping on no grounds that everyone was just overlooking a crop of voters who could somehow save us from the subsequent, systematic dismantling of our dignity and humanity.
No dice. Just like with Prop 8, fear, hatred, and ignorance has won out in the ballot box over marginalized people’s very right to exist—on a much, much broader scale.
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The sentiment I’ve seen from some in the queer community that Donald Trump’s presidency will somehow not be “so bad” has echoes of that same baseless hope I felt on both Election Nights. After all, goes the reasoning, he said on 60 Minutes that marriage equality had been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, that it was an “already settled” issue. Doesn’t this mean that we might be safe? Can’t that be the fraying rope to cling to, even as the truth of the contrary stares us all in the face?
For a host of reasons, the answer is no. And we can’t afford to pretend for a second as if it were anything different.
First of all, the very foundation of Donald Trump’s platform was one of Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, nationalism, colonialism, classism, ableism, and misogyny. For some to duck behind the shield of marriage equality while other vulnerable groups—including the queer people who belong to them—suffer is the height of cowardice. It is particularly egregious given the fact that the modern push for LGBTQ rights began with the efforts of trans women of color, who themselves have been continuously erased. As Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & AIDS Project, told Slate, the punitive surveillance, deportation, and incarceration policies on their way will severely affect queer and trans people of color. We need to center the needs, concerns, and work of those who are likely to be first targeted under a Trump administration, which will not be the white, cis, married, nondisabled, middle-class gay men who frequently appear to represent our communities in mainstream media and certain advocacy organizations.
Trans people, particularly trans children, are among some of the most immediately vulnerable in the coming storm. As my Rewire colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo has noted, trans rights will likely remain on the Supreme Court’s docket this term. And with a Trump-appointed justice on the bench, the idea that trans people have the legal right to access bathrooms consistent with their gender identity in schools will probably be eradicated. So will their right to access medical care without discrimination. Their health and safety are at stake, and the outcome doesn’t look good.
Before that even takes place, though, Trump has said he plans to roll back the Obama administration’s executive orders. More likely than not, that means the steady movement on the federal government’s part to resist anti-trans discrimination in schools will be halted. The same thing goes for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Trans and nonbinary people can already be fired in 30 states, depending on their workplace, for the simple fact of their gender identity. Without the support of the EEOC extending Title VII’s protections to some trans employees, that’s not getting better anytime soon. This also includes Obama’s immigration policies—which means more queer and trans people in detention and the separation of more families—and his actions on open military service.
Not to mention the Department of Justice, which has yet to substantively address the murders of trans people, especially trans women of color. With Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at the helm, that’s undoubtedly not happening anytime soon.
And those among us who aren’t trans or nonbinary are by no means entitled to legal protections, let alone guaranteed the idea that an employer might not decide one day to fire us just because we made the mistake of gushing about our girlfriends in the break room. Currently, 28 states have no statutes prohibiting private employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—and that’s after eight years of a Democratic presidency. Three states have laws in place actively preventing the passage of anti-discrimination policies. In the majority of the country, if you are queer, you may have to hide your identity in order to keep your job; you may have to hide your identity so you can stay alive. Members of Congress have worked for years to introduce a federal law that would institute basic workplace protections for LGBTQ employees. We can probably kiss that goodbye too.
In 28 states, you can potentially be evicted for your sexual orientation, and in 30 for your gender identity. Based on state law, more than three quarters of the U.S. LGBTQ community might be told they’re too queer for credit or lending services. If you’re a parent, or want to be, all I can say is good luck.
This is to say nothing about the attack on queer existence that comes from the religious right. You may recall Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which riled advocates into a great rage last spring. The act effectively gave Indiana businesses the right to refuse services to LGBTQ people on the off chance we might face-kiss someone they disapprove of on religious (read: conservative Christian) grounds. Remember that? Everyone was all in a ruckus; sports teams, businesses, and city governments threatened boycotts; and finally Gov. Mike Pence had to sign a “fix” into place.
Now, why does the name Mike Pence sound so familiar?
Maybe I’m remembering the rest of his record in Indiana, where he gutted programs that helped to prevent HIV, effectively enabling a new outbreak. No, wait. Maybe it was the fact that he advocated for “conversion therapy,” that old “pray-away-the-gay” chestnut that both doesn’t work and has been shown to actively drive LGBTQ kids to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Oh, no, I’m just thinking of the fact that he’s just earned himself a spot in the White House at the right hand of a guy who appears to be willing to give him a healthy chunk of executive power. That Mike Pence.
And, by the way, even without Pence’s choice spot, Republicans will almost certainly use their majority in the Senate and the House to push an amendment to the federal RFRA to match Indiana’s version, or to try and pass some other legislation designed to protect “religious liberty” at the expense of civil rights. At the least, that would give florists the right to, say, refuse services to a couple who wants to hit them up for their nuptials. Or a county clerk the right to reject a marriage license application because she doesn’t like the gender of one or both signatories.
Let’s say that some justifiably angry couple takes them to court, or challenges a judge who decides to outlaw marriage equality in his district just for the giggles. Maybe their case makes it all the way up to the Supreme Court—the same Supreme Court on which Donald Trump will have worked to place an anti-choice justice, just like he’s vowed to do. Sure, it may not have been Trump’s intention to overturn marriage equality or to make it effectively inaccessible, but I’m sure the prospect of his judicial appointee doing so isn’t keeping him tossing and turning in the wee Manhattan hours.
Don’t get me wrong: Marriage is important. It’s not my intention to mask the fact that it gave hundreds of thousands of couples a security that had been previously and unconstitutionally denied in this country. It’s a necessity that everyone has the same right to marry their partner of choice as everyone else. But that right is not a guarantee. For the next four years at the minimum, it is in active danger.
I could go on—truth be told, I’ve barely scratched the surface. It seems like every day, there’s a new threat facing LGBTQ people, whether from the appointments to Trump’s cabinet; the coming policies that will make accessing health services, including reproductive care, even more difficult; or the daily grind of having to negotiate our own existence with those who’d rather eradicate us. We must keep ourselves and each other safe. When possible, it’s up to us to organize; to amplify; and to push our elected officials into standing up for us instead of using us as bargaining chips for their next campaign cycle. And in the end, we cannot delude ourselves into believing that lying in supplication at the feet of those in power will bring anything but suffering.