A few days ago, I wrote about the dangers of downplaying all of the progress that we have made in the fifty year since Stonewall. As I noted, queer people now enjoy unprecedented legal, political, and cultural representation. Companies now court us openly, popular culture shows us ourselves (in some forms, at least), and politicians talk about us on national stages (and one of us is actually running for president!) While this is a mixed blessing, it is nevertheless a sign of just how far we have come, and how powerful the campaign for visibility has been.
Now, I’d like to talk about the flip side of that equation, about just how endangered we are, and how fragile are the gains that we have made. There is no question that now, in the era of men like Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that queer people are in increased danger. For many, it is literally a matter of life and death.
Since I wrote that earlier piece, I’ve come to NYC for the celebration of World Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. While wandering through the exhibitions of Stonewall at the New York Public Library and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, I was struck by the power of what I was seeing. These were the people who sacrificed a great deal, who fought tooth and nail for their equal rights, and I was sometimes moved to tears at the bravery that it took for them to do so.
What really stood out to me, however, was how very quickly the clock seems to be turning back, how the the hard work that those brave people put in is being jettisoned. For make no mistake, it is as bad as you’ve been to believe, if not worse.
We now live in a world where, according to recent polls, people are increasingly willing to express their distaste for queer people. A new Harris poll, for example, showed that even among millennials a startling number of people would be uncomfortable learning that a family member of teacher was LGBTQ. Another recent poll by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) revealed a staggering number of people were willing to accept that small business owners should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people if doing so was in accordance with their religious beliefs. If we thought that the arc of justice bends inexorably toward justice, and if we thought that we had won the war of public opinion, we were very much mistaken. There is much work that we have to do if we do not want to lose the progress that we have made in terms of public acceptance.
We now live in a world where a tragic number of LGBTQ+ youths seriously consider suicide. What kind of country are we building if so many of our young people no longer consider their lives worth living? How can we live with ourselves, if we know that our queer children see no place for them?
We now live in a world where trans women of color are murdered at a truly alarming rate. The fact that this isn’t cause for outrage, that we are not out in the streets every day demanding justice for these women, says something very depressing about how we, as a collective, devalue their lives. People are dying, and it is incumbent on each and every one of us to not only remember their names, but to fight for justice.
We now live in a world where the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted queer people the right to marry, is in control of the conservatives and where one of them has publicly hinted that he thinks that Obergefell should be overturned. Given the fact that the Trump administration–aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell–has radically reshaped the federal judiciary, and given the unrelenting assault that Republicans across the country have lodged in an attempt to undercut marriage equality (to say nothing of access to reproductive care), it is not hard to imagine a future in which same-sex marriage is once again a state issue. In fact, though it might be a bit alarmist, it’s not hard to imagine a resurgent far-right movement attempting to codify their anti-LGBTQ+ animus in law.
So, what’s to be done?
2020 is hurtling toward us like a freight train. If all of us–old and young, queer and straight, moderate and radical–join together to cast out this crop of Republicans who have done so much to turn back the clock. For make no mistake. If Donald Trump wins again in 2020, and if the Republicans maintain their control of the Senate (to say nothing of state legislatures and governorships and the House), we could very well see the complete and total unraveling of everything that we have worked so hard to gain. And if you are foolish enough to think that things can’t get any worse, let me assure you that they most definitely can. When Trumpers scream “Make America Great Again!” they mean nothing less than that they want to see us shoved in the closet. Or, in the darkest scenarios, obliterated entirely.
Fifty years after Stonewall, we have much to be proud of, but there is much that we have yet to do. The most vulnerable among us are daily battered by the awareness that the state and our culture are gradually turning against them, and it is up to those of us who occupy positions of privilege to continue speaking out on behalf of those who do not have that privilege.
However, as I stood outside the Stonewall Inn tonight, on the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous event, I was overcome with feelings: of hope, of joy, and of fierce pride in what we’ve done and what we can do. These are dark days, and we shouldn’t hide from that, but we can bring light back into the world. We must always remember that we are powerful, and we can do anything.