Frustration with President Trump was palpable at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual spring convention on Friday as speakers, including Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), criticized his administration for actions against the LGBT community.
The newly seated New Hampshire Democrat lambasted Trump in a keynote speech before an estimated 400 people at the convention for, among other things, his Cabinet choices, whom she said were “consistent opponents of LGBT equality.”
Hassan had particularly harsh words for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he’s already harmed LGBT people by revoking along with Trump the Obama-era guidance from the Justice and Education Departments assuring transgender kids have access to restrooms in schools consistent with their gender identity.
“So let’s be clear: Every student deserves the right to learn in an inclusive, safe environment, but there is clear evidence that transgender students are subjected to devastating levels of bullying and discrimination in schools,” Hassan said. “Our government should be focused on ensuring that all students are safe and it is unacceptable that the administration would prioritize rolling back protections for our most vulnerable students.”
Pledging to continue her work in the U.S. Senate as an LGBT rights supporter, Hassan touted her vote in 2009 as a state legislator in favor of marriage equality legislation, which made the Granite State among the first in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry.
One day after the Republican-controlled legislature in New Hampshire tabled legislation that would have expanded transgender rights, Hassan also expressed disappointment that her home state didn’t take the opportunity to expand rights for LGBT people.
“I’m disappointed that yesterday the New Hampshire House voted to table legislation designed to enact additional protections for transgender citizens in our state, but I know that legislators will continue fighting for transgender rights,” Hassan said.
Speakers addressed attendees of the Human Rights Campaign’s spring equality convention at the Renaissance Hotel in D.C. the day after the organization led a citizen lobby in which the estimated 400 supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in support of LGBT rights.
A member of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board, Michael Smithson, invoked the administration during his remarks, correcting his terminology to “regime” after being corrected by attendees. When he asked who’s angry, hands from nearly every attendee went up. Smithson got the same response from the audience when he asked who’s afraid, and, finally, who’s fired up.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told the audience the LGBT community is “under siege” under a president who’s “hell-bent on undoing all our progress” seen under President Obama.
“We have a temporary tenant in the White House, but he’s temporary, and our job is ultimately to evict that tenant down the street,” Griffin said.
Acknowledging just about everyone predicted LGBT people would be “in a far different place today” after the election, Griffin said he recently got a call from 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton thanking him for the LGBT community’s support during the campaign.
“She wanted you to know what it meant for her…to see such profound turnout, such energy from our community,” Griffin said. “She actually said, ‘Chad, I have to tell you, no matter what state I went to, I saw HRC stickers and hats and logos. They were on the front row, they were behind me on stage, they were on rope lines. I saw your folks everywhere and I’m grateful.'”
During the phone call, Griffin said he discussed with Clinton how LGBT people were one group that had increased turnout in the 2016 election and had increased support for the Democratic presidential nominee. According to exit polls, Clinton beat Trump among LGBT voters by a margin of 78 to 14 percent.
Griffin jokingly admitted he missed the initial call from Clinton because he mixed up the time zones for when he was supposed to receive it and said when they ultimately connected he was “horrified that she actually knew that I had screwed up” because he was hoping her assistant had taken the blame.
Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the “When We Rise” mini-series on ABC and won an Oscar for the screenplay for “Milk,” told the audience the Election Day loss was the result of lack of solidarity with other communities.
Recalling gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk’s work for other communities like seniors and the unions, Black said the LGBT community has lost its way after a stream of victories on issues like marriage equality.
“We’ve lost our connection to our brothers and sisters,” Black said. “It’s because we’ve become myopic, we’ve become so focused on our successes, on celebrating our success, and fighting for ourselves, and we were winning and that can be intoxicating, but it divided us and we were conquered. Make no mistake we were conquered because of our divisions.”
Despite the anti-Trump atmosphere and continued devastation over the Election Day loss, speakers at the convention also expressed confidence things could change as a result of hard work from LGBT people.
Maintaining the “road to inclusion and equality is not without significant challenges,” Hassan said the Founders of the United States enabled the process for change because they believed “those magic words that everybody counts,” even though they initially didn’t, in fact, count everyone at the time.
“They had confidence that every generation of Americans would do the work to tell their stories, to demand their position for who they are their intrinsic value,” Hassan said.
Black said despite the loss in the election, the history of the LGBT movement has shown its ability to come back after defeats, leading the audience at the end of his remarks in a chant of “Rise up! Resist! Lock arms! Fight back!”
“History can be a guide and history can be an inspiration, but it’s up to you to take those lessons and move forward,” Black said.