Well, congratulations! If for nothing else, congratulations on surviving one of the most tumultuous, confusing, disappointing and momentous years … ever.
We witnessed one of the most intense election cycles in U.S. history. Hillary Clinton was the first female candidate for president and went up against Donald J. Trump. She supported Obama’s transgender student-bathroom allowance, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and committed herself to protecting LGB and transgender rights. Had she won, this article and our psyches wouldn’t be so glum but, alas, in the end, she was short of the electoral victory.
While we are glad to leave 2016 behind, let us not forget the progress that we made as a community and realize how important it is to remain diligent in 2017. This year will be when everyone, if they didn’t already know, learns that the LGBT community is strong, resilient and united — not only those inside the community, but our allies as well.
Our resiliency and unity, locally and nationally, was demonstrated in the response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Cities all over the country held benefits for the victims, while the GoFundMe that was started by Equality Florida broke the site’s fundraising record, and right here in Philadelphia we raised more than $100,000 for the victims in one evening! On top of all that, the LGBT community now is more attentive to gun regulation and reform.
Again, locally, when the Democratic National Convention was in Philadelphia, we got word that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church was going to picket Mazzoni Center, our only LGBT clinic and safe place for our medical needs. Almost overnight, a response was mobilized and more than 2,000 people showed up with angel wings and “LOVE” signs to block any potential protestors.
LGBT rights made notable progress globally as well. In 2016, marriage was legalized in Portugal, Colombia, Greenland, the Isle of Man (would love to visit just so I can say I did!), and a civil-union bill was passed in Italy. In February, the Supreme Court of India decided to review the criminalization of homosexuality under its constitution and, as a result, Nauru, Seychelles, Belize and the British Antarctic Territory followed suit, making it safer to be gay in those countries. Some countries went even further: Malta banned sexual-orientation- and gender identity-conversion therapy on minors, and Northern Ireland lifted the lifetime ban on blood donation by gay men. Even the Conservative Party of Canada voted 1,036-462 to change the party’s political platform from defining marriage as “a union between one man and one woman” to a neutral stance — which the country did in its constitution almost 15 years ago.
So as we look forward, realistically it is useless to examine Trump’s stance on LGBT rights as it is confusing and, depending on the year, based on who was writing him a fundraising check at that moment. We will keep a close eye on Trump’s actions nonetheless, but it is the people he is appointing to his cabinet and his inner circle who should scare you most. In a time when we should be following Vermont and New York’s lead to ban conversion therapy, we just voted in a vice president who is notorious for advocating the removal of funding for HIV/AIDS research and diverting it to conversion-therapy research and the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which cost Indiana a reported $60 million in economic backlash. My favorite response to Indiana’s RFRA was when President Obama was asked about his friendship with Vice President Joe Biden and he responded that they are so close that they might not be served pizza in Indiana.
In my end-of-2015 review, I reiterated that “we must actively fight for the T in LGBT and not just in words — in money and in action,” and I think today it is as important as ever to make sure we stand unified. There were close to 50 bills introduced in state legislatures in 2016 that targeted transgender individuals. Before this influx of bills, the federal government had made a few attempts to discuss transgender equality, with stepping stones in 2014 that allowed sexual-reassignment surgery to be covered by Medicaid and then-Attorney General Holder stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to gender identity as well as biological sex.
Moreover, Defense Secretary Carter announced the immediate end of the ban on transgender military personnel. Transgender service members also now receive the same medical coverage as any other military member, including hormone therapy and gender-reassignment surgery if doctors determine that such procedures are medically necessary. The only barrier that a transgender person must overcome if they wish to enlist is they must be “stable” in gender identity for 18 months before joining the military. Unfortunately, there is a great likelihood that these advances will go away under the new administration.
Because all of the Obama administration’s executive orders and the decisions of agencies under the Obama administration, including its non-binding efforts, will likely be overturned, we must rely on the states. If you feel disenfranchised, my advice to you is: VOTE IN THE MID-TERM ELECTION. Let’s make Pennsylvania “blue” again! For example, in recent months, Montana, New York and West Virginia’s Lewisburg City Council moved to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in areas such as public employment and public access. The city of Charlotte did as well but then North Carolina responded with HB2, the “bathroom bill.”
We saw huge victories this past year with the current Department of Justice, Department of Education and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission showing their commitment to protect our transgender citizens by saying a bar on transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity is a form of sex discrimination and a student’s gender identity must be respected in public schools. With that said, those victories may be eviscerated. Since the election, 11 states have already sued the Obama administration, asserting that the transgender civil-rights legislation in schools is outside of the scope of federal anti-discrimination law.
There have been 254 anti-LGBT bills introduced across the nation since marriage equality — that is what began the backlash. It’s important to note that “introducing” is not the same as “passing” a law. Oklahoma introduced the most bills (24) and Virginia passed the most into law (four). Only nine states, including our now-red Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, have not introduced any.
We know the incoming administration is going to shake up the progress that has been made. The future of our equal protection under the law will temporarily be decided by the next administration but ultimately rests with who the next Supreme Court justice(s) will be and how many justices will be replaced by President-Elect Trump. It is within the Supreme Court that we have gained the most ground, so it will likely be the Supreme Court that determines our progress.
I know — it’s a lot to take in. But ultimately, our biggest assets as both individuals and as a community are continued unity and resilience. That is what we’ll need to get through the next four years and however long it will take to unwind the damage done as a result. The tumultuous year that just passed gave us plenty of chances to come together to support one another — and we did. With a new year beginning, we are definitively less optimistic than we were at the start of 2016, but that’s OK. We have fought in the past and won and this is no different. So please, don’t lose hope, don’t disengage and don’t forget about the awesome community of people we have right here in Philadelphia.