We Are on the Right Side of History
By now the fact of a Trump Presidency has had time to sink in. Since the election, the Center has experienced an influx of scared and worried people. And, as the inauguration approaches, I’ve received an increasing number of calls and emails from people who genuinely fear for their rights and their country. Just a few of the questions have included:
• If they take away our freedom to marry, what will happen to my marriage?
• Should I go home and propose to my partner and get married immediately or risk never being able to?
• I’m an openly gay man who has adopted children; am I at risk of losing them?
• I have insurance through the Affordable Care Act; what am I going to do when it is repealed?
• Should I and my trans* partner, and our kids, plan to go to a country that accepts families like mine?
• Is the Center going to be okay?
There is definitely cause to be concerned about what is going to happen to the landscape of LGBT rights. After all, the President-elect has been a consistent opponent of the freedom to marry. During his campaign, he spoke out of both sides of his mouth regarding LGBT people. Out of one side, he said he would be “a better friend” to the “LBGT” community and out of the other he threatened to do what he could to turn back our progress, including appointing Supreme Court justices who would repeal our freedom to marry. (The weekend after the election, Trump said that his opposition to our freedom to marry is “irrelevant because it was already settled” by the Supreme Court and that he’s “fine with that.”) He also has said he would sign the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would permit people to discriminate against LGBT people because of their religious or moral objections to us. And he has even supported North Carolina’s notorious HB2.
So what can we expect? How worried should we be? The truth is, no one really knows. Trump has contradicted himself repeatedly and lied constantly and since the election, he has already retreated from some positions. It’s hard to know what he really believes or plans to do. But I have no doubt that there are going to be serious consequences for the LGBT community and for organizations like the Center, as well as for the other people who were targeted or demeaned during the Trump campaign (Muslims, people with disabilities, immigrants, etc.—many of whom are also members of our community).
In addition to the President-elect’s anti-LGBT statements during the campaign, we have other indications of his intent. Of course, one of the most worrisome indicators is his selection of Mike Pence as a running mate—the most extreme anti-LGBT ideologue ever to be on a Presidential ticket. And, within days after the election, he appointed another anti-LGBT extremist, Ken Blackwell, to be in charge of handling domestic policy issues in the Trump administration’s first hundred days. Blackwell currently works as a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, one of the world’s most notorious anti-LGBT lobbying organizations. When Blackwell ran for governor of Ohio in 2006 he declared that homosexuality was a “lifestyle” that “can be changed.” He said, “I think it is a transgression against God’s law, God’s will.” However, this kind of bigoted leadership gets translated into laws and policies, it can’t be good for our community.
But what about our right to marry? Is it at risk? I don’t believe so. At least, it would take a LONG time for it to be undone. The law strongly protects marriages that were valid when performed, from being invalidated by later changes in the law. Most important, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that we have a fundamental right to marry. The Congress cannot overturn that right. Certainly, if Trump has the opportunity to appoint enough anti-marriage justices to the Supreme Court to have a majority (one appointment won’t do it), our ability to marry in the future could be at risk. But, that would take years, especially given that the Court is loath to overturn prior decisions until much time has passed. Thus, I do not believe this is a threat that is immediately on the horizon. So, you needn’t rush into any marriage proposals. And, don’t forget that a majority of Americans support our freedom to marry.
I also think our parenting rights are relatively secure, at least in states like California. Family law matters are typically left up to the states. What worries me more is the consequences of a law like FADA. Such laws could, essentially, allow merchants, doctors, restaurateurs, or teachers to discriminate against us and our children without consequence. All they need to have is “a moral conviction” against us and our families. And, it’s difficult to predict what the consequences could or would be if President Trump repeals some of the executive orders that President Obama put in place protecting LGBT people and our families. Does this uncertainty mean we should be making plans to move to Canada or Denmark or Sweden? No. We need people to stay here and participate in the fight for the kind of values we want to predominate in our country.
Transgender folks might want to make sure their paperwork is in order before Trump is inaugurated on January 20th. This would mean updating birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports to reflect your identity. While birth certificates and driver licenses are state-controlled and should not be affected by the change in the administration, passports and Social Security cards are federally controlled.
For example, Obama’s executive orders have allowed easy access to passport changes without requiring proof of gender-confirming surgery, whereas Bush regulations required it. Moreover, recent bathroom bills have been based on the sex listed on one’s birth certificate so a preemptive change may be helpful. Center staff are already in the midst of an intensive effort to help our clients in this regard.
If you have insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I’m sorry to say that I believe your days of coverage are numbered. Once the new Congress and Trump’s administration are in place, I expect the ACA will be at the top of their agenda, perhaps to include immediate repeal. What exactly will happen afterward depends upon whether it is replaced with anything and what that “replacement” includes. If you renewed your ACA policy, you’re probably okay until the end of that policy term. But, if you’re getting coverage under the Medicaid (Medi-Cal in our state) expansion, it’s possible that such funding could cease immediately upon repeal. What California would do to fill that gap (if anything) is anyone’s guess.
As for the Center, I’ll be honest. I’m worried. We get a lot of federal money to deliver our programs and services, including reimbursement under the ACA. All of these funds could be at risk. Extremists like Pence and Blackwell could specifically work to defund organizations serving LGBT people. But even without such a malevolent effort, if huge tax cuts are passed and spending is diverted to defense and other areas, there might be little money left for the social services safety net upon which so many in our community rely. I presume that the Ryan White Care Act (which makes medical care and prescription drugs available to people with HIV/AIDS) is safe, as it has generally enjoyed bipartisan support. But we’re in a new age for at least the next two years, so I’m reluctant to predict anything when it comes to federal dollars.
Since the election, I’ve spent a lot of time reassuring people, many frightened and literally in tears. I’ve reminded them of the other challenges our community has faced and overcome. I’ve talked about my belief that there IS hope. I’ve repeated what U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff said at the gathering we held the day after the election about how he and others would fight to preserve the gains that really should be defining America. But I also have tried not to give anyone false hope. And I’ve become conscious about not downplaying what I believe is the reality. For people who don’t fit the Trump mainstream, for those who do share progressive values (and even many who don’t), what lies ahead is sobering.
Even if Trump himself isn’t really an anti-LGBT zealot, many in his transition team, who are building his administration, are. Moreover, many of the policies Trump espoused during the campaign present real and serious danger to our community, our allies, our nation, and our planet. None of us should delude ourselves that tough times don’t lie ahead. Rather, we must come together with like-minded people and organizations in ways we never have before.
We must prepare to fight efforts to rescind progress in human rights, peace, and the environment. We must find ways to care for the most vulnerable even if our government abandons them. We must resist policies that would return our country to what were, for many of us, the bad old days. We must keep our eyes on the prize of the kind of world we want for ourselves and for those who are coming next.
Such action and focus are the only pathways I can envision for surviving our likely future. If we do these things, while they can delay and even hurt us, I am confident that they cannot stop us. After all, we are on the right side of history, and that’s something that a single administration and even a Congress controlled by conservatives cannot change.
December 5, 2016