Complacency Could Mean Disaster for LGBTQ Rights in 2016 and Beyond

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Portrait of a happy gay couple outdoorsBy: Mike Givens*/TRT Assistant Editor—

June 26, 2015 was a historic day for LGBTQ people. That warm Friday was one that I will never forget. I distinctly remember standing outside of the Massachusetts State House in Boston listening to excited speeches from elected officials and LGBTQ advocates and allies about the groundbreaking United States Supreme Court decision.

Drivers honked their horns as they drove by. There was a palpable excitement electrifying the crowd of onlookers as ralliers held up signs, hugged one another and breathed a collective sigh of relief that same-sex couples will have equitable marriage rights across the nation.

And then the rally was over. The media pundits, both liberal and conservative, discussed the ramifications of the decision. Christian fundamentalists angrily declared their intent to ignore the law while LGBTQ people attended parties and ceremoniously updated their Facebook profile photos with the ubiquitous rainbow tint that six months later is still quite prevalent. [pullquote]The reason why the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are doing so well in their  polls is due to a very simple reason: their misinformed, regressive opinions represent what a significant swath of the American public thinks about minorities, immigrants, gun control, reproductive and LGBTQ rights.[/pullquote]

But there was an ominous question in the air: What’s next?

You’ve no doubt read the litany of articles, columns and blog posts about the issues that must be tackled in the wake of the game-changing national marriage equality decision. Transgender people need our help now more than ever; there’s still a lot of ignorance and discrimination facing those living with HIV/AIDS; several states still have regressive discriminatory laws on the books that allow for the firing of an LGBTQ person. And the list goes on and on.

It’s January 2016 and the LGBTQ community across the United States should be nervous. Why? Because lethargy breeds defeat. The moment we think the fight is over is the moment when regressive, backwards and ignorant people will swoop in and attack our rights.

Six Republican candidates for president vowed to fully back a dangerous “religious liberty” law that would allow businesses and individuals the right to openly deny services to LGBTQ people based on religious grounds (http://goo.gl/wtokIk).

Most LGBTQ people and progressives are either “feeling the Bern” or have started planning victory celebrations for when Hillary Clinton becomes the first female president. There’s no way a Republican could be sworn into office as the next president a year from now, right?

Democrats and progressives don’t have the presidential election locked down just yet. There’s still a dizzying amount of fear, ignorance and hatred in this world and the hysteria conservatives are able to stir will drive voters to the polls. [pullquote]It’s January 2016 and the LGBTQ community across the United States should be nervous. Why? Because lethargy breeds defeat. The moment we think the fight is over is the moment when regressive, backwards and ignorant people will swoop in and attack our rights.[/pullquote]

The tragic mass shooting in San Bernardino, California on December 2 by two reported radical Islamic extremists brought out a wave of Islamophobia and calls by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to close the borders and impose harsh surveillance and deportation practices on Muslim people in the country.

Robert Lewis Dear, the deranged murderer who gunned down three people and injured nine more at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado on November 27, sparked a national conversation about gun control and reproductive rights. The dialogue featured arguments for gun control and a woman’s right to choose, but equally ignited contentious conversations amongst conservatives around the need for more people to own guns and protect themselves. A Christian protester who regularly stands outside of the Planned Parenthood even had the gall to blame the victims for their deaths or injuries saying, “No one deserves to go through what they have gone through, even though they put themselves in harm’s way,” in an interview with The Guardian (http://goo.gl/A3AYNE).

Though not directly tied to issues of LGBTQ equality, what we can clearly see from the events in California and Colorado is that ignorance and hatred never take a holiday. And if we become complacent, if we delude ourselves into thinking that the likes of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or Donald Trump are too outlandish to be the next president, we need only remember that in the most heated of moments, people show their true colors.

The reason why the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are doing so well in the polls is due to a very simple reason: their misinformed, regressive opinions represent what a significant swath of the American public thinks about minorities, immigrants, gun control, reproductive and LGBTQ rights. [pullquote]Though not directly tied to issues of LGBTQ equality, what we can clearly see from the events in California and Colorado is that ignorance and hatred never take a holiday.[/pullquote]

Marriage equality was a titanic win, but it by no means signals the sunsetting of LGBTQ rights across the country. We still have a long fight ahead, from supporting LGBTQ youth to advocating for comprehensive sex education in our schools. Even if relatively progressive candidates like Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the presidency, we as a community will still need to hold them accountable and ensure that the right laws get passed in this country.

Politicians often pander to their constituencies to clinch (and keep) their seats. The rubber will hit the road when the dust has settled and it’s time to get the work done. That means holding them accountable to their campaign promises. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves languishing in our own misinformed sense of accomplishment.

*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than seven years. During that time he’s worked on a range of initiatives aimed at lifting up marginalized populations. An experienced media strategist and public relations professional, Michael currently devotes his spare time to a number of vital issues including racial justice and socioeconomic equity.

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