In the weeks since the election, the incoming administration has started to take on a very definite shape: a full-on assault on immigrants, Muslims, people of color in general, women, LGBT people—especially transgender people—and the poor. Whether or not we also belong to these other communities, LGBT people cannot afford to live in a country where anyone is under assault because of who they are.
So many people I’ve talked to across the country are teetering between despair and anger. Anger is the better response—resolute anger. Not just because despair can be deadly for queer and trans people, but because anger can be leveraged more effectively. With so much about the administration that’s unprecedented, there are many possibilities of how things could go, from bad to worse—and the biggest variable is how much of a fight we put up against rolling back our rights.
There’s a saying in Washington: personnel is policy. If we want to stop regressive policies, we must first recognize the cabinet for the potential horror show it is, and overwhelm the Senate with pressure to reject anti-LGBT extremists and longtime civil rights opponents. If the people he appoints to actually run things are extremely anti-LGBT, it’s no use talking about how Trump “isn’t that bad” on LGBT issues. We can’t duck and hope they’ll go after “someone else” instead of LGBT people—we know where that leads. Perhaps the most devastating attacks will be on America’s poor—trans people are twice as likely to live in poverty—and on immigrants, including LGBT asylum-seekers. So let’s get real: the U.S. Senate Republican leadership is trying to ram through:
• An attorney general who was rejected for a federal judgeship for being too racist, is a longtime opponent of LGBT civil rights, and seems to spend most of his time stoking fear of immigrants. (What a change from an AG who tells trans people “We see you, we support you.”)
• A Health and Human Services Secretary who calls protections for transgender people “absurd” and wants to eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid as well as Obamacare.
• A CIA director consumed by fear-mongering and conspiracy theories about Muslims, and with (of course) a perfect anti-LGBT record.
• A White House budget director who is proud of shutting down the government, spoke to the racist John Birch Society, and would “love to see” schools discriminate against transgender students.
Even though the confirmation hearings have started, none of this is a foregone conclusion. These extreme nominees can be stopped by moving just a few Senate votes, but it will take extraordinary pressure—and those who are not stopped can be politically chastened.
Together, a hostile Congress, president, and cabinet could put hundreds of federal policies protecting LGBT people, the poor, and everybody’s civil rights at risk.
What does fighting back look like? Every time Trump and his extreme team come after us—or after anyone else—we have to put up a big, loud fight. We have to bring the fight to every single member of Congress—we have to pressure our strongest allies to not to let anything go without a fight, and force our fiercest opponents to moderate their stances and pick their battles. We have to sue the administration when it does something illegal. We have to keep everyone talking about just how wrong it is to attack people’s dignity and rights. We have to lock arms with our allies when any community is under attack. And have to do it all while also fighting a raft of anti-LGBT state bills.
At the same time, we as LGBT people need to keep telling our stories and bringing every other institution in American life along with us. The president and Congress matter, but they’ve never been the only people that matter, or even the ones that matter most. We must also keep working for change through state and local government where we can (check out our state and local policy agendas), as well as engaging directly with local schools, health care providers, businesses, the courts, the media, faith groups, and our families and neighbors.
If we fight hard, we can minimize and mitigate the damage at the national level. And while we’re at it, we can keep finding ways to do good.
Mara Keisling is executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.