Column: Joe Biden’s election came not a second too soon for the LGBTQ community
Not many days go by when I don’t think about when I first heard the name Matthew Shepard. This was the night of Oct. 6, 1998, when I was a reporter at the Grand Rapids Press in southwestern Michigan. There was a television in the middle of the newsroom sandwiched between the metro reporters and editors. As newscasters began reporting the details of a hate crime that had taken place in Laramie, Wyo., there was a race of tears, my heart breaking with each word.
Left for dead.
Two decades later — after countless more hate crimes, attempts to change the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, lawsuits, and hateful rhetoric from elected officials — it felt as if the LGBTQ community could finally stop looking anxiously back, but rather confidently forward.
Public sentiment had changed, opening the door for a presence in pop culture for celebrities like the once-vilified Ellen DeGeneres and sitcoms like “Modern Family.” Gays and lesbians were finally able to get married and enjoy the government benefits that came with their newly recognized union. Transgender people — a group too often overlooked by even gays and lesbians — were being elected to public office.
Then came Donald Trump.
When Harris takes the oath of office in January, expect it to be unapologetically Black. I’m talking about Black Lives Matter flags and T-shirts up and down the National Mall.
Many of you probably weren’t aware of what his administration was doing in the shadows because so many of those moves that chipped, and occasionally hacked, at those gains barely penetrated the news cycle. The anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric, however, definitely caught the attention of LGBTQ watchdogs like the Human Rights Campaign, which kept a running tab of all the ways Trump was trying to undermine the progress made since Shepard’s murder.
The Trump administration, and a complicit Senate, saturated our legal system with anti-LGBTQ judges — from the district courts to the appeals courts to the Supreme Court. A number of LGBTQ leaders I spoke with over the years expressed the same concern about the future of marriage equality that reproductive rights advocates have expressed over for Roe vs. Wade.
Candidate Trump claimed support, but President Trump removed talk of LGBTQ rights from government websites the first day he took office.
2020 election: Celebrations break out across L.A. as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win.
The White House opposed the Equality Act, which would make it illegal to fire someone or deny them housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
To run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, President Trump selected Ben Carson, who championed a shelter’s right to deny homeless transgender people access.
President Trump chose Betsy Devos to be in charge of education, and she saw no problem with schools receiving federal funds to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
Trump’s White House was open to allowing foster care programs receiving federal funding to deny adoptions to same sex couples; prevented our embassies from flying the Pride flag during Pride Month; and tried to erase LGBTQ people from the Census.
Trump’s State Department denied visas for same-sex partners of diplomats if they were not married, though it knew some were coming from countries where marriage was not possible. He banned transgender people from serving in our military.
When President Trump initially revealed his “Make America Great Again” slogan, the most common follow-up question was “When was that?” As in, what period in this country’s history did Trump seek to return? Whichever epoch he was fetishizing, chances are it, like the man behind the slogan, did not champion inclusion. What made this country already great was the very diversity — Black, Brown, gay, trans, gay Black, trans Brown — that Trump was systemically attempting to negate.
Like any minority group voting bloc, the LGBTQ community — my community — is accustomed to being used as a negotiating chip by Republicans and Democrats alike. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the Defense of Marriage Act, those laws were acts of compromise and political expediency. It’s a humiliating reality that constantly reduces our dignity to a talking point and places our humanity on the ballot.
Some in my community are comfortable exchanging acceptance for a tax break or access to power, but most of us are not for sale. We just want to live our lives without persecution. And while the records of President elect- Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris aren’t above reproach in this space, the LGBTQ community can breathe easier knowing it has true allies in the White House and not a con man who holds a Pride flag in one hand while stabbing us in the back with the other.
The election result suggests the promise of a new day, but it doesn’t guarantee good weather. There is still much work to be done to rectify the harm caused by this administration, and the current construction of the Supreme Court, to say the least, is worrisome with regard to gay marriage, my marriage to my husband.
Trump is gone, soon to be exorcised from office, though not from the culture of hate he so aggressively sowed and doubtlessly will continue to post-Jan. 20. But we can hope the legislative attacks will, if not cease, diminish.
On Saturday night, in their first words as President- and Vice President-elect, Biden and Harris ditched the bully pulpit with a tone that was welcoming (and coherent), one that reminded America it already was great. One that left no doubt that it cannot remain great without the LGBTQ community.
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