Local LGBT leaders reflect on Election Night 2016 — and plan for the future
So, did any of us really expect this election catastrophe? I'm sorry...outcome.
While a large majority of the American electorate were not exactly thrilled by the choices available in the general election, I suspect most of us felt that very few would really choose the candidate openly favoured by Vladimir Putin and friends. But a new generation of “Reagan Democrats” voted for it and here we are. They want their version of working-class America back and it is doubtful that their fantasized nirvana includes The Tribe.
Yes, I have thought of Germany circa 1932 also. “Scared people will vote for anybody” and all that. Let's not go with this line of thinking for now. Even if we're just comparing the political parts of our last election against “Weimar 1932,” and leaving out the blatant Anti-Semitism that some of our adversaries may wish to emulate especially upon our Muslim friends, the circumstances for both outcomes are very different. America in 2017 may still be an economic mess, but Google the definition for the word “dystopia” and you get “Weimar Germany.”
Ok, I'm lying...but that should be the definition. Save for the avant-garde media and a taste of lesbigay liberation, everyday life in Weimar Germany left a lot to be desired. Our circumstances really cannot be compared to back then, except for the almost similar reaction by elements of both societies to recent progress in homosexual rights. Yes, that does make me go “hmmmm…” too, but...it's still early.
We are up against our own homemade brand of evil. There is no need to drag the Germans or their history into our mess (read: stop calling our own bigots “Nazis.”) The younger generations over there are not responsible for the Nazi crap of back then. When we bring these loaded terms up in relation to our own political situation, we often needlessly glorify the ultimate in murderous bigotry.
One of the newer Jewish sayings to hit the planet is “Never hand ‘he who shall never be named’ any free victories.” Today’s Germans and those who came from that heritage deserve a clean slate and our respect. When we label our nation’s mostly Caucasian bigots in this manner, we disrespect all from this heritage who stand with us either on the ground or in spirit. America’s “alt-right” neo-fascist wannabes and their more debonair spokespeople are very dangerous, but The Tribe knows how to defend herself and her allies when she has to. We need not gift our own thugs with these labels just quite yet.
The past few months have been a period of looking back and analyzing what went wrong. I suggest that it is now time to stop kicking ourselves and find a way to win this culture war once and for all. Where better to start than asking local LBGTQI changemakers on the front line their views?
Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project was startled by the election returns that evening. “I never thought Hillary Clinton could win Tennessee, but I did think she would pull through,” Chris said. “I was very much surprised. I knew by 9:30 the results were bad…suddenly eight years of effort was now at risk.”
Pastor Greg Bullard of The Covenant of the Cross Church was surprised too, but not especially shocked by the turn of events. “I knew there was a possibility,” Greg said. “I had thought through both (results) with my family.”
Dr. Marisa Richmond, MTSU professor and noted transgender political activist probably took the loss hardest: “I was optimistic going into that evening,” Marisa said. “I came home from work excited about 5:30 awaiting the first results...it soon became clear that the election wasn’t going the way I expected. I had to skip the local Davidson County Democratic Party victory celebration as a result.” The result lead to ten days of depression, according to Marisa. It took the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General to bring her back to the public arena.
I asked the three what they individually see coming down the pike over the next year that may affect LGBTQI people here and elsewhere?
Mr. Sanders was ready for that question:
“I don’t know what precisely will be changed, but you can bet that moves will be attempted since President Trump’s election campaign had been advised by the ‘Family’ organizations and the Heritage Foundation,” Chris said.
“The executive order concerning contractors has a good chance of being overturned. The Department of Education’s position on LGBTQI students could be reversed. Anti-discrimination rulings protecting transgender people in the workplace could be reversed with a reshuffling of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We should also remember that Tennessee does not have state-level protections for LGBTQI people, and that’s not going to improve in this new environment. We’re not entirely certain what’s going to happen yet, but we’re pretty sure that many of those who backed the Trump campaign because of our legal victories will demand payback for that support.”
What’s probably on the front burner? “Transgender rights are the most likely to be tinkered with,” Sanders said. “But the whole community is vulnerable right now,” he added. “If Senator Sessions becomes the new Attorney General, I can easily foresee scenarios in which LGBTQI-related cases go to court and do not get the Federal support we have seen from the Obama administration.”
“The nightmare scenario I’m thinking of concerning Gay/Lesbian marriage would be President Trump appointing conservative Supreme Court Justices over time,” Sanders said. “A state then attempts to nullify gay/lesbian marriages somehow, while the new Attorney General or newly conservative-leaning Supreme Court declines to intervene, seeing this as a state-level concern. We would probably win that speculative fight in the long run, but our marriages would be put in legal limbo as it traveled through the courts.”
In the state arena, the legislature went even further to the right, according to Sanders. “No progress in LGBTQI rights can currently be made in Tennessee...due to the current political composition of the state legislature,” he said.
Register Dr. Richmond too as alarmed over what the state legislature may try soon. “We already have seen the first bill submitted, a new counseling discrimination bill,” Marisa said. “There’s another bill in the State Senate coming that we’re still trying to wrap our heads around...it’s going to be a long year.”
Pastor Bullard prefers to look at our current dilemma primarily through the lens of a person of faith who is shepherding a Christian community. “I reminded (my congregation) that we were a church,” he said about the election result. “I used examples of bad rulers from scripture and reminded them that our task was to be a light to the world and that had not changed.” He continued: “I strongly believe that (our) Bible is true, we learn from it every day and we should use what we have been taught in response.”
In reply to the original question, the pastor took what may seem a contrarian view at face value: “My opinion is that we are too worried about the rollback of LGBTQI rights,” he said. “There will be attempts to limit our rights and force transgender people back into the closet, but even if they were to succeed in doing all that it just takes us back no further than the 1980’s”
Explaining his reasoning, he felt there were already different degrees of threat to the LGBTQI community. While we are facing some danger, he feels that the current threat and end-game scenario would most likely be of the same type that occurred during the recent Bush presidency.
“I think there will be a short-term impact (currently), but it’s all been tried before and never succeeds,” said the pastor.
“The response from most of those outside our community back then was a complete repudiation of what our opponents wanted to do. We took a step back in those days and then went three steps forward as a result. I think our community will come out for the better in the long run.”
Considering the changed political climate, I asked Mr. Sanders if TEP had ever received help from the Republican side on local LGBTQI issues.
“Fiscal Conservatives have (always) quietly reached out to us, and they can be very helpful,” he said. “For example, State Senator Steve Dickerson spoke against the counseling bill on the floor of the Senate, while Governor Bill Haslam went to bat for us over the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. What we really need are (more) Republican officials to openly step up to the plate.”
While not his brief, I also asked Sanders if he could foresee a scenario where either President Trump or his appointees stay out of LGBTQI affairs.
“President Trump may stay out of social politics and concentrate exclusively on economic matters,” he replied. “But you can bet the Republican-controlled Congress will not. Trump is the current standard bearer for social conservatives, which is odd considering many of the religious right leaders do not like him. Their ground troops, on the other hand, like him alot and he may have to attempt to please them. Vice President Pence (on the other hand) is very much liked by most on the Religious Right and he is no friend of our community.”
The bottom line? “It's going to be a long four years.”
Since we were in the political zone, I asked Dr. Richmond, “While tough for both of us to contemplate, do you feel the recent progress in transgender rights over the past few years may have cost the Democrats this election?”
“No. They voted against all of us in the LGBTQI community,” she replied thoughtfully and firmly. “There is lots of transphobia out there, but bigots are bigots. They really don’t pick and choose who to hate more. They acted against all of us.”
This led me to ask Richmond, who grew up during the original Civil Rights movement, whether she could see similarities between our fight, past and present, and the struggle of African-Americans for full freedom.
“I do see parallels, but our community has unique challenges,” she replied...while adding a friendly caveat. “The discriminations experienced by both communities are different in nature and our community needs to be careful with comparisons and especially by what we say... You really do not hear African-Americans in the LGBTQI community making (direct) comparisons or assuming our community’s problems are just like theirs. These are two different battles, but lessons can be applied from the original Civil Rights movement and respectful working friendships can be made.”
I asked all three what steps their organizations were taking and what the community could do to help.
“Come to the meetings!” was Dr. Richmond’s spirited reply. Working with the National Center for Transgender Equality and our local Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, she explained that most community organizations were attempting to look ahead and are still early in the planning process. But we can safely bet they would be very aggressive in defense of LGBTQI freedom.
“Those who oppose LGBTQI rights are coming after us now, especially the transgender community,” she said. “We plan to keep a close watch on events and fight back.”
TEP’s Chris Sanders went further. “The LGBTQI community has been thrown back upon themselves for mutual support...we now need to openly come out in support of our community in greater numbers than ever before,” he answered.
TEP has been quite successful in countering harmful state legislation, rallying clergy of multiple faiths to our side and forming new county committees, Chris acknowledged. But any progress our community has made can now be touched in this politically-shifted environment.
“We have to rescue ourselves from this turn of political events, I’m afraid. We have far more allies now, but that took a lot of work and was developed in a more politically friendly era. We have had a taste of freedom and legal rights. Now we need to fight to maintain was has been achieved and lay down a strategy to continue forward.”
Pastor Bullard reminded me that his church and congregants have been rising to the challenge of serving the LGBTQI community and beyond in multiple ways for some time now, and they do not plan to change that no matter who’s president. But he did have a special request for all in our community.
“Please do not ever lose hope,” he said. “The loss we feel as LGBTQI people due to the election is understandable. But it is the people who do the everyday things in this country that make the real difference, not whomever is currently sitting in the White House. How you respond and share as individuals is what will truly make a difference in the future to come.”
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local 40-something trans woman. A graduate of The University of the South at Sewanee, she loves butterflies, strong women and the Austrian School of Economics. Photo via France24