During his campaign, President Trump sounded like an atypical Republican on LGBTQ rights. He said Caitlyn Jenner was free to use whatever bathroom she wanted to in Trump Tower. He was the first Republican nominee to mention “LGBTQ” at a Republican National Convention. Heck, he even grabbed a rainbow flag during a campaign rally and traipsed around with it.
But since taking office his administration’s policies on the subject are deeply troubling. In nine months, President Trump wiped away several Obama-era rules protecting LGBTQ people. Regulations protecting transgender students and guaranteeing federal employment protections are gone. He tried banning transgender people from serving in the military, and is supporting a Colorado baker accused of discriminating against a gay couple.
Just eliminating rules is not enough for this administration – simply mentioning sexual identity is far too controversial. The Department of Health and Human Services scrubbed questions about it from surveys and the Census bureau is trying to eliminate us from the count. In this environment, it’s easy to feel marginalized and ignored. The question we need to answer is what can LGBTQ people do to challenge this administration’s discriminatory policies?
One is to research LGBTQ history. Know our past, because without it we are powerless to confront the future. Read books about LGBTQ history; watch documentaries; learn about inspiring figures from our community. LGBTQ people stood up to tyranny before. During the AIDS crisis, when there was no leadership from the federal government groups like ACT UP stepped up to the plate. They were on the front lines caring for the dying, changing drug approval processes at the FDA, and saving untold millions of lives. These weren’t politicians or officials. They were ordinary people, fighting for something they believed in and changing the course of the epidemic. Knowing our history can give us comfort and we can be inspired by it to act today.
The second thing we need to do is get angry. This administration’s policies on LGBTQ rights are not what the country wants. In 2016, 63 percent of Americans said homosexuality should be accepted by society. Fifty-one percent of Americans favor allowing transgender people to use public restrooms. It is clear today a majority of Americans favor LGBTQ rights. The actions of the Trump administration are responding to a minority of Americans. Have pride in that fact. Be angry about it. Register your discontent with your congresspersons, with your local officials, write letters, make phone calls, join LGBTQ groups, take to the street.
The third thing we need to do is be there for our friends and our community. LGBTQ people are almost three times more likely to experience a mental health condition compared with the non-LGBTQ population. Sexual minorities are also at a higher risk for substance abuse issues. We have to look out for one another.
The last, but certainly not least, thing we need to do is be the change that we seek. The world of state and local politics may not be as glamorous as presidential politics but these laboratories of democracy are where anti-LGBTQ politicians do most of their work. This year alone, the Human Rights Campaign tracked more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills in 29 states. Most will not become law but chances are that some of them will.
How can you stop that? By getting involved and paying attention to state and local politics. Find out who is running for lower-profile seats, like alderman, or school board because these officials hold real power over our communities. They’re often the ones you can count on to run the city library and the fire department; you might have more interactions with state and local officials than with federal ones.
If you don’t like your representation, consider running for office and replacing them, like Danica Roem. Her former state representative in Virginia wrote a discriminatory bathroom bill. Instead of waiting for someone to challenge him, Danica did it herself and in a hard-fought campaign won his seat. She took matters into her own hands, said enough is enough, and became the change she wanted to see. Each of us has that ability, too. So why not get started immediately, before it’s too late?
Tristan Fitzpatrick is a D.C.- based writer.