Yes, we’re actually here…
Like the rest of you, I feel numb, sick, terrified, and angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. But, we’re here. Donald Trump is going to be president for the next 4 years. What’s more, he gets a Republican majority in Congress and now a vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill. All of this is frightening, and in this moment it’s hard to find anything but darkness ahead.
I’ve spent all day searching for hope. It hasn’t been easy, but I knew there had to be some somewhere. There must be a glimmer of light in all of this that, no matter how small, we can all hold to. As I meditated on it, I was able to find a perspective on all of this that’s, while not ideal, at least not an absolute Armageddon for our LGBT community. What I propose here won’t be easy. It’s going to take a great deal of struggle. But when faced with only one way forward, the only thing to do is suck it up and walk the path.
This is not the first time in my life the Republicans have held all the power. In the 2004 election, George W. Bush won re-election and was given the keys to a shiny new Republican majority in Congress. It was a very similar situation to today, but we’re not in the same America that existed in 2005. There is still racism, still homophobia and transphobia, but public opinion of homosexuality has come a long way. In the wake of such a vile, hateful man being elected to the White House, it’s easy to think that the country has regressed back to the days when homosexuality was majorly despised.
But it hasn’t.
To understand why Trump won, we have to get inside the head of the average Trump voter. Again, it can be very easy to think they all voted for him out of hate for minorities and the queer community, and it’s true that there are pockets of his base that did have such motivations. But they don’t represent most of them. Most of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do it because they hate gay people, or black people, or Hispanics, or Muslims. They did it because they hate Obamacare (which, sorry, will definitely be gone by the end of January; just go ahead and be ready for that because there’s no stopping it). They hated seeing jobs going overseas, they hated seeing small-town America get worse and worse.
Remember, Trump’s largest demographic by far was uneducated voters. These are people who may not fully understand economics, or foreign policy, or anything else that’s more “big picture”. Their concern was that the factory in their town has been closed for years and main street went with it. All Trump had to do was say “I’m going to get your job back from China,” and they were hooked. Can he actually do it? Of course not. But most of them don’t understand that and it’s going to be a sobering wake-up call later down the road. Trump’s supporters didn’t vote against our interests, but rather for their own. And while the end result of apathy is no different that that of hatred, they are not the same motivation and it’s important to keep that in perspective.
I work in a very rural part of North Carolina. Nearly all of my coworkers voted for Trump. The town was littered with Trump signs. People came into my store every day wearing Trump shirts. But here’s the thing about my store: all of my coworkers know I’m a transgender woman married to another woman and none of them have a problem with that. They treat me no differently. We work together, laugh together, and genuinely have a great relationship with each other. We have been in neighboring stalls in the same bathroom without a single problem. If they went into the voting booth to vote for Trump because they hated LGBT people, I wouldn’t be able to work there.
There are dark times ahead. Anti-LGBT legislation is likely on the horizon. An overturning of marriage equality is possible. Laws like HB2 here in North Carolina will likely keep popping up. We are currently powerless to stop the legislative machine ready to destroy us, but even those in Washington are still (at least in part) beholden to public opinion. They want to keep their jobs, and that means keeping their base happy. This is where we find our way forward. The only way we combat LGBT hate laws is by having public opinion on our side, and that means being visible in the community like never before. Trump’s base needs to know that we’re their neighbors, their coworkers, their teammates, their friends, and even their family. They didn’t vote for our interests because our interests don’t touch them. I know for a fact my coworkers wouldn’t support an overturning of gay marriage, and I still believe that this holds true for most of the country–even those on the right.
So what does this mean we do? What’s the next step? Well, this is where it gets tough. Step one is to forgive the people in your life who voted for Donald Trump. Yes, I know it’s hard. In my panic-fueled anger last night I lashed out at the Trump supporters in my life online and I shouldn’t have done that. Ever since Michelle Obama uttered the phrase, “when they go low, we go high,” I’ve tried to make that my motto to live by. Last night I didn’t do that, and I sent apologies to those I wronged.
I know what I’m asking for here seems incomprehensible. You feel betrayed, ignored, sacrificed, and all of those feelings are valid. But keeping public opinion of the LGBT community on an upward trend is the only hope we have right now. Burning bridges is not the answer. By all means demonstrate. We will hold rallies and protests, but we will not riot in the streets. We explain our fears to those who don’t understand and who voted against us, but we will not last out and cut people from our lives. We cannot lose those bonds, we cannot lose the community we’ve built nationwide.
There is still a lot of hatred out there for gay people and double that for transgender people, but trust me when I say it is far and above better than it was the last time Republicans controlled Washington. If we can keep that upward momentum, if we can manage not to lose the public favor we worked so hard to build, we might just be able to stem the tide of rights erosion before it starts.
So the first thing we need is forgiveness. After that we need visibility. This is true for the gay community but much more for the transgender community. Hate for LGBT comes from misinformation. It comes from pastors preaching about a God who isn’t about love. It comes from legislators looking for bogymen to make us afraid of so they can “save” us from them and keep their jobs. Opinions are formed by exposure to selective information, but they can be altered through personal experience.
Gay people, trans people, you’re going to have to let the world see you. They need to see you at the bank, at the grocery store, at the post office, at the school function. They need to know that they work with you, share your interests, and live next door.They need to see that we’re not freaks, not monsters, not pedophiles. LGBT is about community. It’s about celebrating diversity. We will stand together with our arms linked. We will not back down and we will not go away, but we will also not wall ourselves off. Our hands will remain reached out, even to those who either hate us or don’t understand us.
The depressing notion being shared by many today is that hate has won. That’s not true. Hate didn’t win. Divisiveness won. Misunderstanding won. LGBT activism will be needed now more than ever to make sure we build new bridges while keeping old ones from crumbling. It’s a hard road forward, but it’s the only road left.
“When they go low, we go high.” We have to live that, now more than ever, or everything will truly be lost.