The LGBTQ movement was dealt a difficult hand on November 8, 2016. After one of the longest and most divisive election cycles we have ever seen, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny not only won the day, it won the entirety of the federal government.
Like the more than 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton, we have gone through our stages of grief multiple times over the past few months. While it’s incredibly important in any healing process to move through and process your grief, it’s equally important to keep moving, because getting stuck is not only unhealthy, at this moment in time, it’s dangerous. There is no greater threat to our democracy and freedom than succumbing to the most dangerous of these steps: the belief that your voice no longer matters.
As we watch our media twist itself into knots, reporting on tweets as if they’re news, amplifying the idea that the American intelligence community can’t be trusted and referring to American protestors as thugs and troublemakers, it shakes us to our core. Democracy begins to decline when we lose trust and faith in our systems of government and don’t know where to turn to find the truth; but as the “troublemaker” Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed many decades ago, it’s time for us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
We won’t lie: The path forward seems dim and long at the moment, but we need to remind ourselves that our ancestors—all of our ancestors—dealt with worse. As one of our favorite T-shirts reads, “We are our ancestor’s wildest dreams.” The freedom our predecessors died for, the access their sacrifices have provided us with, were unimaginable in their lifetime—yet, here we sit. Their sacrifice is now our responsibility to mirror. It’s not enough anymore to just show up to vote, shrug if things don’t go well and go about our business. The fate of our democracy lies with all of us. With each act of apathy and disillusionment, we forfeit a piece of our freedom to the highest bidder. Members of the opposition bank on our despair, hoping it will lull us into a place of inaction.
If there is anything this election has taught us as a community, it’s that we are who we have been waiting for. No one is going to come in and save us from ourselves—that’s our job. We have seen this battle before. With great progress comes great obstruction from the opposition. The larger they see the table get, the more they work to hack it back down to size—even if that means they, too, might miss a meal.
The lessons we’ve learned from the quest for marriage equality have been many. First, creating an authentic narrative matters. While Merriam-Webster may have just included the term “post-factual” into the dictionary, authenticity—for better or worse—gives people a connection point, and it’s this connection that’s necessary to change hearts and minds and continue to push the needle in the right direction. We shared our love story with the public some six years ago because love is something every-one—whether they have it in their lives or not—understands. They know or can imagine what it might be like to be so in love with someone that you want to proclaim that love in front of your family and friends and bear the responsibility of caring for that person. Authentic narratives, told in a variety of ways on countless platforms, began to shift the public’s perspective on marriage equality. No infographic or crash course on the over 1500 rights granted by marriage was going to help change the public perception of why same-sex nuptials are no different than their opposite-sex counterparts. See, the facts of marriage equality only mattered when we entered into the courts the story of marriage and love. That and the tenets of our Constitution are what got us through those court doors.
Secondly, images matter. This most recent election and its fall-out would have us believe that only one group of people deserve the titles “hardworking Americans”—and that those people are white, straight and often, male. Reality check: Regardless of where we stand in our current political climate, demographics continue to shift, and thanks to courageous queer people sharing their stories in both red and blue states, more and more Americans know an LGBTQ person. We need to keep expanding the image of America and what it means to be an American. We are black, white, Latinx, Muslim, disabled, transgender, two-spirited, Christian, Atheist, male, female, etc. It’s more important than ever to envision and plant ourselves in all the spaces the opposition attempts to shrink with the intent of ensuring we won’t dare show up there. When you see it, you can achieve it. So, let’s not allow ourselves to fall for the rope-a-dope idea that if you look a certain way, speak with an accent or love a certain way, these images work in contrast to the American ideal, when in fact it’s this diversity that defines America.
Just recently we heard the saying, “You can’t break a stick in a bundle”—meaning, we are indeed stronger together. We as a community, no matter who occupies the White House, can’t be broken when we are united. The LGBTQ is one community that intersects with all others—we are America, and we stand together across issues, across religious barriers, across racial divides. And we have the numbers to ensure that we don’t get stuck, that we keep moving, pushing and working to perfect our union. From Selma to Stonewall to Ferguson and Orlando, as the proverb goes: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Our only enemy is our silence.
Danielle Moodie-Mills is a writer, producer and activist. She currently serves as a Vice President at SKDKnickerbocker, a PR and Communications firm in D.C., NYC and LA. Follow her on Twitter: @deetwocents
Aisha Moodie-Mills is the President and CEO of the Victory Fund and Institute, the only organization dedicated to electing OUT LGBT leaders to office at the state, local and federal levels. Follow her on Twitter: @aishamoodmills