I’ve many times discussed “victory blindness,” brought on by the seduction of big wins for civil rights and which has had many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people believing they’ve “arrived” ― that LGBTQ rights are secured ― while not seeing the perils ahead.
From as far back as 2014, watching the way that anti-LGBTQ forces were organizing for the future, I was worried about how the LGBTQ community would get too caught up in the anticipated win at the Supreme Court on marriage equality that was coming down the pike in 2015.
The onset of the Trump administration has certainly been a clarion call to snap out of it. And so many queer people have seen the threat and joined the Resistance.
But some recent exchanges and interactions I’ve had lead me to believe that many people, queer and straight, still believe that LGBTQ rights are secure and advancing. They point to public opinion polls, to cultural changes and to progress even in the most conservative corners of the country.
One person, educated in the history of the LGBTQ movement, told me that he couldn’t believe that the Supreme Court would undo something that the majority of Americans now supported ― marriage equality ― and implied a lot of the sounding of the alarm was for the conspiracy-minded.
I find this thinking to be naive and enormously dangerous.
It often doesn’t matter what the majority of Americans believe ― over 90 percent support universal background checks on gun purchases, after all, but we can’t get the legislation passed. The Supreme Court has handed down ruling after ruling that reversed precedents and defied the majority of Americans’ beliefs on voting rights, corporate money in politics, immigration and so many other issues. What is happening in our country right now is clear: a powerful minority is in control and is trying to get the fix in so that it can rule from the minority for a long time to come.
Let’s look at the facts:
Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion two weeks ago regarding Arkansas and birth certificates for children of same-sex couples, defining himself as the new hardline leader on the court for religious conservatives and inviting lower courts to view the Obergefell marriage equality decision not as settled law, but as open to interpretation, possibly allowing for religious or other exemptions for those opposed to marriage equality.
Days later the Texas Supreme Court refused to see Obergefell as settled, sending a case back to a trial court. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in a piece headlined, “Marriage Equality Could be in Peril,” laid out the case last week for the how marriage equality, with Gorsuch in the lead and Justice Kennedy perhaps retiring at any time and replaced by another anti-LGBTQ conservative, could be overturned.
Mississippi last year passed the most far-reaching anti-LGBTQ law we have seen and just a few weeks ago a federal appeals court ruled that the law should be allowed to take effect. The law allows for businesses and government employees to decline service to LGBTQ people, and that includes bakers, florists, county clerks and and other government employees, based on religious beliefs. It allows for discrimination in housing and employment against same-sex couples or any individual within a same-sex couple. Businesses and government, under the law, can regulate where transgender people go to the bathroom. The law allows mental health professionals and doctors, nurses and clinics to turn away LGBTQ individuals. It also allows state-funded adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ couples. With several of the Supreme Court’s conservatives seeming to welcome these exemptions, expect other states to move in the same direction and, again, with Gorsuch on the court and Kennedy perhaps retiring at any time soon, it’s frightening to think what the court might decide about such exemptions.
Texas joined Michigan, South Dakota and Mississippi in allowing bans on adoption to same-sex couples by state-funded adoption agencies. In the cases of both Texas and South Dakota, the laws were passed this year and seemed to fly under the radar of all the attention on Donald Trump. But they, too, get at that same issue of allowing exemptions to same sex-marriage, turning same-sex marriage into second-class marriage. Again, look for more states to follow this lead.
Opposition to North Carolina’s odious HB2, which banned local anti-discrimination ordinances statewide that protected LGBT people and regulated what rest rooms transgender people use, helped to narrowly defeat GOP governor Pat McCrory in 2016. But the new Democratic governor Roy Cooper, rather than holding out for stopping this kind of law entirely, worked with GOP lawmakers on a “compromise” that does nothing of the kind: The new law still bans local LGBT rights ordinances statewide and regulates transgender people until some time in the future ― when it will surely be extended. But it was enough to get important collegiate sports programs and companies to come back to the state after previously boycotting.
The Trump administration has thrown transgender students overboard, withdrawing guidelines on protecting trans students that were put in place by the Obama administration for schools nationwide. And the Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, sees no problem with giving federal dollars to schools that discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students.
Trump’s cabinet and undersecretaries include some of the most ardent foes of LGBT rights, from Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price and his director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS, Roger Severino, an anti-LGBTQ advocate who last year accused the Obama administration of attempting to “coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.” Already, we’re seeing important programs that affect LGBT people in jeopardy. Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned in recent weeks, calling Trump a “president who simply does not care.”
Trump has essentially made LGBTQ people invisible. There was no presidential Pride proclamation in June, let alone a White House reception. Two surveys by HHS about older Americans and disabled people have removed questions about sexual orientation, refusing to collect vital data. And the Census Bureau dumped plans to finally include information about sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2020 census.
Some Democratic strategists are advising that the party move away from “identify politics,” and that means steering clear of LGBTQ rights. Since the election, we’ve seen this stupid idea promoted over and over again, most recently by former Clinton pollster Mark Penn, co-writing an op-ed in the New York Times, where he worried that voters saw the Democrats as “mired” in “transgender bathroom issues,” among other things. This is always bad advice for the party, as the base ― which includes every group under the umbrella of “identify politics” ― must be energized to vote, not demoralized or angered while the party seeks votes it will never get. And it’s terrible advice on LGBTQ rights, which, if followed, leads to “compromise” on civil rights― as we saw in North Carolina.
These are just a few examples of a list that is only growing. This is a vigorous attempt at a full-scale rollback by religious conservatives who’ve been part of Trump’s and the GOP’s base, and it’s already had some success. There is no denying it. Many are woke to it. But I’m afraid far too many LGBTQ people are not, still wanting to revel in victories, pointing to polls and to progress globally.
The United States, however, is right now led by an authoritarian whose party ― always hostile to LGBTQ rights ― has so far given him free rein to engage in destructive behavior against anyone and everyone.
None of us can believe any of the rights we’ve fought for are safe. But more importantly, we need to wake up and see that they are already being stripped away right before our eyes.