By: Michael Givens*/TRT Assistant Editor—
Only four months into a new year, 2016 is shaping up to be a pivotal turning point for LGBTQ rights in the United States.
The presidential race, particularly on the Republican side, has devolved into a circus complete with sideshows featuring muckraking, questionable statements of fact, and plenty of pandering. Between Ted Cruz’s alleged extramarital liaisons, to Donald Trump’s contentious rallies, to Hillary Clinton’s startlingly ignorant comments about the “legacy” of the Reagans as pioneers for the those living with HIV/AIDS, to the social media craze over a bird perching on a podium Bernie sanders was speaking at during an event, all of the leading candidates for office are making sensational headlines.
Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, faced a severe backlash from Senate Republicans, who initially refused to hold a hearing to move forward the nomination process and stall the appointment of the country’s next Supreme Court justice. It was recently reported that nearly 25 percent of Senate Republicans support holding a hearing for Garland, but this process will, more than likely, drag on for months.
The next U.S. president and U.S. Supreme Court justice will play pivotal roles in politics both on an executive and judicial level, respectively. The next president will be in a prime position to advance LGBTQ rights in this country by establishing national precedents and policies that will reverberate from Alaska to Rhode Island (or not). The supreme court justice filling Antonin Scalia’s vacancy could potentially influence American jurisprudence in a way that could nudge more Supreme Court rulings onto a more progressive path (or not).
And then there’s North Carolina. House Bill 2, a notoriously broad law allowing for wide-ranging discrimination against LGBTQ people, was recently deemed “a national embarrassment” by the state’s attorney general. The law, according to North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory, “protects” the safety of men, women and children in restrooms. Thankfully, the law is being challenged by the state’s LGBTQ equality organization, the ACLU and Lambda Legal and will land the case before a federal court.
Two states south, in Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal acquiesced to big business and Hollywood pressure and vetoed House Bill 757, a regressive “religious liberty” bill allowing wedding vendors the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. Using the incredibly trite platform of “it’s not an issue here,” Deal saw the writing on the wall as the media and social media blew up with calls to boycott the state if the law was passed.
For those of you who thought June 26, 2015 was the last day in the war for LGBTQ rights, think again. That Friday last year was a much-needed, but small, victory for LGBTQ people; there’s still work to be done. If anything that victory was a clarion call for every single one of us, LGBTQ and ally alike, to be on guard.
Because marriage equality is now the law of the land, conservatives and regressive politicians will try to attack us in other ways. North Carolina and Georgia are just the beginning. Depending on who our next president is, we could see LGBTQ rights take tremendous steps forward, or we could easily fall back. It’s not the time to be comfortable or rest on our laurels.
Personally, I often struggle with using the term “community” when describing LGBTQ people collectively. There exists a lot of transphobia, misogyny, transmisogyny, homophobia, racism, biphobia, and many other phobias and “isms” within this collective group of people. However, during times like this, we need to view ourselves as a community. If we don’t stand with each other, we will fall victim to the attacks of conservatives.
I’ve no idea how North Carolina’s disastrous “bathroom bill” law will fare when brought before a federal court, though I hope that it will be defeated. And, to be frank, we dodged a bullet in Georgia thanks to several big businesses and Hollywood heavy hitters who threatened to stop doing business there.
However, there are still ignorant and hostile people in this world; people who spend their time (and money) figuring out ways to pass “bathroom bills” in southern and western states and who will try to halt progress in more left-leaning states like Massachusetts, Colorado, and California.
The political landscape in this country should be a wake-up call for each and every one of us. And if it isn’t, the sweet lull of complacency that has us revelling in our marriage rights and a few other small victories will be the very weapon used to set LGBTQ rights back decades.
*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than eight 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.