To be LGBT, or an LGBT ally, under the Trump administration is to live under a perpetual sense of siege and sharp insecurity. At its most headline-generating, the anti-LGBT animus of the administration is presently centered around its attempts to stop trans people from serving in the military.
On another front, emboldened by the reception SCOTUS afforded the Masterpiece Bakery case, anti-LGBT activists are massing around the "religious liberty" flag, and the supposition that (Christian) religious "freedoms" are being imperiled by those practicing them having to treat LGBT people fairly and equally when it comes to supplying goods and services.
Many roads in 2019 could potentially lead to SCOTUS, and this at a time when LGBT representation in pop culture grows ever more diverse, and where past-voiced homophobia is seen as disqualifying when it comes to Oscars-hosting.
The Daily Beast's Tim Teeman, Samantha Allen, and Jay Michaelson discuss the LGBT year just gone, and the LGBT year to come.
Tim Teeman: Well done, fellow LGBT travelers, we have made it to the end of another year. Just. The Trump administration wishes to defy every court in the land thus far, and still pursue its ban on transgender troops. The trans murder rate, disproportionately affecting trans women of color, continues to rise. And somewhere out there, even without its figurehead, Jeff Sessions’ Religious Liberty Task Force is continuing its work, making sure that no one, particularly those pesky LGBT people seeking basic equality and equality of protection under the law, is causing Christians worry, concern, or offense.
How are you both feeling about the 2018 year in review, first here in America?
Samantha Allen: It’s December, and the sun is going down at 4 p.m. these days, so I have to try to look for the bright spots because otherwise I’ll just be left wallowing in the darkness. Overall, yes, I’m feeling quite gloomy about the state of LGBT rights in America. But I’m trying to look for the folks who are going to outlast the Trump administration and help pull us out of this challenging period.
For example, we now have an openly bisexual senator in the form of Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. And thanks to first-time candidates like Colorado’s Brianna Titone, the number of transgender state legislators quadrupled this year. I think getting more LGBT people into legislatures—both federal and state—is one way out of this mess.
I think if there’s one thing the last two years have taught us, it’s that the patchwork of executive orders and court decisions that we’ve used to establish LGBT rights at a federal level is woefully insufficient and all too easily unraveled. We need laws.
Jay: In size order, I think there is good news, bad news, and good news. First, on a micro-level, our courts and legal system are doing OK. I completely agree with Samantha: A lot of the rollbacks are a result of the patchwork, ad hoc, executive-branch approach of the Obama administration. (That wasn’t by choice, of course, it was because of congressional inaction.)
Now we’re seeing the fruits of that, and how unreliable that patchwork is. And yet, so far at least, the numbers of people actually affected by these changes is relatively small; the harm is mostly symbolic. Actually, queers are still safer, legally speaking, than at any time before 2010 or so. That’s the good-ish news. The mid-size bad news, though, is that symbolic harm leads to real harm. There’s an accurate perception that it’s now open season, especially on trans and GNC (gender non-conforming) people, but also on queers more generally.
Hate crimes of many kinds are up: anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Latinx, and anti-LGBTQ. These moronic, selfish, narcissistic, and ignorant gay men who think that we’re somehow immune from the Trumpist wave of hate—they really piss me off. So that’s the bad news. And yet, and yet, and yet, this is a temporary period. The numbers are still way in our favor, especially among younger people. Culture has changed and is changing. Young people’s conceptions of gender are astonishing. We just have to wait for these old, ignorant, prejudiced white people to die out, or at least get voted out of office. And we need to protect our most vulnerable until that happens.
Samantha: Just wanted to chime in here to say that old dogs can learn new tricks! Pew data shows that 41 percent of the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945, now supports same-sex marriage—which is nearly double what that figure was in 2001. Baby Boomers tipped over the majority threshold in 2017. Anecdotally, I’ve had conversations with Boomers over the last couple years—with everyone from Texas grandmas to Utah Mormons—who blew me away with how fluent they’ve become on LGBT issues even though it all feels very new to them. (And I can’t stress enough how much Trump’s transgender troop ban seems to have actually made the older folks in my circles more vocally supportive of transgender people than they otherwise would have been.)
To your point, though, Jay, I absolutely agree that there’s never been a greater disconnect between where the American heart is on LGBT issues and how some of our elected officials vote on them. That country-wide cultural change you’re talking about is rapidly outpacing change in D.C. It’s enough to make you wish more people had listened back in 2016 when LGBT people were warning everyone not to be duped by Trump hoisting an upside-down rainbow flag!
Tim: I‘m ruefully smiling, as this trend is ooooollld. LGBT people were saying exactly the same in the late 1980s when I came out. Cultural change is mostly always ahead of political, and never more so than now in the U.S. when the contrast between the two is at its starkest (particularly looking at the plethora of LGBT characters on our big and small screens). But the waiting game keeps extending itself, politically at least in the U.S.
Sure, we have important victories under our belts, but the political will and impetus to do the right thing is still lacking, and lacking at a particularly dangerous moment when the prevailing ideology at the White House is so geared against us. I am as heartened as you both by the social and cultural wind behind us, and also alarmed at the extreme animus against us at the seat of power (however long that power-base lasts).
Let’s get out the crystal balls for 2019. Trump and the trans military ban will obviously keep progressing through the courts. On the off-chance it does make it to SCOTUS, what then? Does Kavanaugh do Trump’s bidding? And what other cases, or stories, could be making waves in other states? And I know that all three of us have eyes peeled on international matters, for example, Bermuda’s same-sex marriage saga, the stop-start progress in African countries, and what next in Brazil, where LGBT people are fearful about what rights they could lose under Bolsonaro.
Samantha: My New Queer’s predictions: SCOTUS allows the transgender troop ban to go into effect, just like they upheld the travel ban earlier this year.
Thanks in part to the effects of the “blue wave” on state houses and governorships, we’ll see a fair bit of progress around the country: more conversion therapy bans, maybe an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination bill or two. The rise of nationalism globally will continue to have a devastating impact on LGBT people living in situations much worse than our own.
Overall, we’ll still feel like we’re caught in one of Zeno’s paradoxes: No matter how much progress we make, the endpoint will still be held off at a distance. But like so many in our community, I’ll remain hopeful and resilient. And come Dec. 31st, I’ll raise a glass of sparkling apple cider to the next generation of LGBT youth, who do not deserve—but will fight to correct—the world that they’re inheriting.
Jay: I think 2019 will be a tough year. Personally I’d ignore the trans military ban. I’d focus instead on the “trans does not exist” movement. That is pervasive throughout the Trump administration and is going to get worse, impacting health care, prisons, schools, and much more. Moreover, it resonates with millions of people who are either ignorant or willfully ignorant of reality, and it capitalizes on a lot of fear and uncertainty that’s out there. It has the capacity to do a ton of damage and inspire still more violence.
Beyond that, as Tim said, it’s good to look overseas where things are getting worse: China, Brazil, and many countries in the developing world. I’m also interested in whether the “religious exemptions” strategy will backfire, as I think it might—people don’t like it. Finally, I’m curious to see whether LGBTs rise to the occasion and see that our own struggles really are interlinked with those of immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color—not as a matter of ideology, but of factual reality.
I think those annoying pro-Trump gays are a tiny fringe, but I remain nervous about those who are exhausted or apathetic. I get it, but if you’re safe enough to be apathetic, you have a moral responsibility not to be.