The stunning result of Tuesday’s presidential election stands as a chilling reminder of the work ahead. After eight years of President Obama’s fierce advocacy, we grew complacent. We assumed that since a bare majority of straight Supreme Court justices voted our way on marriage that the fight was over. We were wrong.
The United States remains a deeply sexist, racist, homophobic culture and undoing and overcoming those prejudices will take more than filing a few well-timed lawsuits. Realizing those cultural changes takes generations and most of us won’t see the end of that road in our lifetimes. For those of us who remember when gay people were hated and persecuted during the onset of the AIDS epidemic — or those older still who remember the height of the Civil Rights Movement — Tuesday’s result hurts but also serves as a reminder that social change movements take time and are marked by setbacks.
It was only a few years ago that marriage equality was a dream; George W. Bush was president and cynically used our rights as a wedge issue to win swing states; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the law of the land. Obama brought change to the bully pulpit, but one person alone can’t change the culture.
Now the LGBT community is back on defense; the campaign is over and it’s time to dust ourselves off and prepare for the myriad fights ahead. They will include preserving President Obama’s executive actions related to LGBT rights, especially his 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. Also at risk is a rule prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in health care and insurance and a Department of Housing & Urban Development regulation prohibiting anti-LGBT bias in government-sponsored housing. Trump has said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of the anti-LGBT Antonin Scalia, potentially putting the marriage equality ruling in jeopardy. Trump has said he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination across the country. In an interview in May, he said he would rescind the joint guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education prohibiting schools from discriminating against transgender students and guaranteeing them access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
There’s more. Advocates have said they fear Trump could roll back administrative changes, such as those benefiting LGBT veterans or status of forces agreements allowing service members to bring a same-sex spouse with them overseas, or halting movement on lifting the ban on openly transgender service.
As painful as this result is for LGBT Americans, it’s worse for our allies among people of color, immigrants, Muslims and others so cruelly demonized and attacked by Trump during the campaign. There is real anxiety among immigrants who fear Trump’s oft-repeated threats of deportation forces and walls. The hopes of Syrian and other refugees fleeing civil war and ISIS attacks for a chance at freedom in America are dashed today. It’s my hope that LGBT movement leaders will stand in solidarity with other underrepresented groups in Trump’s crosshairs.
And as we mourn this outcome from the comfort of our homes and offices, the Blade is reporting on yet another murder of a transgender woman of color, this time in Richmond, Va. Noony Norwood was shot and killed on Sunday, marking the 23rd reported killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in the United States that the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has responded to in 2016. Yes, Trump is awful, but some in our community are fighting more urgent battles just to live and work free from violence.
So, yes, we are shocked and disheartened. But the road to equality is long. This is a detour, not a dead end. Take a day to mourn, then take comfort in how far the LGBT movement has come in eight quick years and get back to work.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.