The 2020 election cycle marks a pivotal moment for the LGBTQ+ community: With over 1,000 queer candidates running or having run for election in 2020, America has more queer representation on the ballot than ever before. But while we’re seeing LGBTQ+ politicians stepping up to lead the fight for equality, the rights of queer Americans are being threatened by the current — and possibly next — administration.
Since the beginning of his four-year term, President Trump and his administration have been attempting to strip away the rights of LGBTQ+ at all possible intersections. Less than 30 minutes after Trump’s inauguration, four major resources were taken down from the White House’s website, including the White House’s LGBTQ+ information page and the Department of Labor’s report on Advancing LGBT Workplace Rights. And one of the administration’s first actions in 2017 was to withdraw a request by the Justice Department to partially halt an order against an Obama-era directive for protecting trans students from discrimination in school — which ultimately allowed the protections to be rejected. That July, Trump also announced his directive to ban transgender people from serving in the armed forces, not only effectively erasing the ability to serve that was won in 2016 but asserting that trans people aren’t worthy of being recognized as well — even when they’re laying down their life for our country. In May of 2018, the Bureau of Prison rolled-back protections for trans prisoners, stating that it would “use biological sex as the initial determination” in determining where inmates will be housed, rather than their actual identity.
In the first year and a half alone, Trump created or rolled-back so many LGBTQ+ policies that we at GO wrote a whole piece detailing the timeline of anti-LGBTQ+ directives. And these decisions don’t even account for Trump’s non-LGBTQ+ specific policies that still affect our community because of intersectionality, like abolishing Title IX protections for sexual assault survivors and attempting to rescind the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.
While the Trump administration was busy rolling back legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community, the American public was beginning to get the impression that they, too, could be openly homophobic and transphobic without fear of retaliation. In January of 2018, a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) announced that 2017 saw the highest-ever LGBTQ+ murder rate, with an 86% increase from the year before. And in May, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported that queer youth felt more unsafe and unwelcome in their daily lives than ever before. While Trump’s political policies were hurting the queer population legally, his anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and blatant disregard for queer lives were trickling into the mainstream and hurting our personal lives, too. Over the course of his term, the state of the American LGBTQ+ community has only gotten worse, from a 2019 rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes during Pride month to trans women of color dying at an alarming rate.
With the 2020 Presidential election a week away, it’s time to get serious about the issues and how who you’re voting for affects them. Here’s what’s up in the air as we get ready to cast our ballots.
Section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned under President Obama — making gay marriage legally recognized across the country — and many consider that the final word. However, it is possible to overturn the 2014 decision, no matter how impossible or unlikely it may sound. In order for that to happen, Trump would need to have control of the courts and a case trying the original Obergefell v. Hodges decision would have to be brought in the Supreme Court. Though it is not easy to overturn a SCOTUS decision, the potential threat looms. Considering Trump already has one of these elements thanks to the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and considering just how many anti-LGBTQ+ cases have been heard in the last few years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the issue brought up in Trump’s second term. It would be upsetting, disgusting, and evil, sure — but not surprising.
Justice Barrett’s appointment is a major key in this equation. Barrett’s experience is deeply shrouded in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, from working with the ultraconservative late Justice Antonin Scalia to her own views. In 2017, Barrett signed a letter asserting that marriage was “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.” She also questioned the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that toppled DOMA, asking whether the court was allowed to make that decision for the country.
Barrett has said that she would not project her personal beliefs onto SCOTUS cases. In 2017, she stated under oath that a judge should never impose “personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.” In a 2019 speech to Hillsdale College, she doubled-down, saying “A judge is obligated to apply the law as it is, and not as she wishes it would be.” But it’s the job of a judge to interpret the law, and as a human being, it’s almost impossible to set aside deeply-held beliefs when they’re so integral to a case. So it’s not a reach to assume that Barrett, now a Supreme Court Justice, will bring these anti-LGBTQ+ ideals to her position. And if she does, that would be dangerous were we to get anywhere near overturning Obergefell v. Hodges.
Barrett isn’t the only Supreme Court Justice against the repeal of DOMA, either. Earlier this month, after an appeal by Kim Davis — who refused to grant wedding licenses for same-sex weddings in Kentucky — was thrown out, Justices Thomas and Alito used their statement to voice their opinions about Obergefell v. Hodges. Calling it a “cavalier treatment of religion,” the pair’s dissenting ruling said the landmark case “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss.”
It’s clear that there are at least a handful of Justices on the Supreme Court who wouldn’t be opposed to trying a case that could potentially overturn the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. That means there’s at least a handful of the most powerful judiciary bodies in the U.S. who would be willing to potentially revoke marriage equality across the nation. If Trump were to be elected for a second term, we could see the issue of marriage equality brought back to the courts, especially considering the obvious pattern of anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Many tote Trump as being a President who actually supports the queer community, and while he made half-hearted attempts to court LGBTQ+ voters during his candidacy in 2016, his policies while in office have only proven that his “pro gay” ideology was just for show.
While electing Biden instead won’t stop the court from being majority conservative, it does mean that a leader who supports the LGBTQ+ community will be in power. And if he has the power, the hope is that he would use it to protect the freedoms we already have while fighting to expand them.
Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. Created under the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a landmark piece of legislation that expanded access and protections for people across the country — specifically for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2016, the Obama administration fought to expand protections for the queer community even more by adopting a Health and Human Services (HHS) ruling pertaining to the Health Care Rights Law (HCRL), a section of the ACA that prohibits discrimination in terms of health coverage and care on the basis of race, national origin, sex, age, and disability. This pertains to programs and facilities that receive federal funding, like hospitals, doctors’ offices, and health insurance companies.
But the introduction of the ACA was powerful for the queer community for more than just the HRCL. The new law also extended protections for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Before the law was passed, health insurance could be withheld from anyone attempting to transition, or anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria or HIV/AIDS.
Under the Trump administration, however, these LGBTQ+ protections are being rolled-back — or at least are under fire. In June of this year, an attempt was made by the administration to enforce a regulation that would take away the protections for trans individuals laid out in the HCRL. The decision garnered massive outcry, with over 20 state attorneys general suing Donald Trump in an effort to block the ruling that would enforce the HCRL “according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.”
In August, a U.S. District Court judge blocked the attempt after finding the new regulations violate a recent Supreme Court decision to extend civil rights laws to the LGBTQ+ community. And while the block didn’t completely end the administration’s attempted roll-back, it did stop it from being enforced until it can be tried again in court.
By attempting to roll-back protections for trans people, as well as those with pre-existing conditions, the President is making a clear statement that his mission is to allow discrimination in the healthcare sector. Voting for Trump for a second term all but guarantees this kind of behavior will continue — probably with stronger attacks. Plus, as the Supreme Court is now majority conservative, a second Trump term may mean that the courts support his anti-LGBTQ+ actions. Under a Biden administration, however, things may look different. On his website, it notes that Biden “opposes every effort to get rid of this historic law” and will stop efforts to roll it back. The former Vice President’s platform is robust on healthcare (in stark contrast to that of Trump’s) and includes expanding coverage for all Americans, making it more affordable, fighting against pharmaceutical companies, and ensuring that healthcare protections cover everyone. According to his website, “President Biden will defend the rights of all people – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity – to have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination.”
LGBTQ+ Military Service
Trump has been consistent with his stance on LGBTQ+ people in the military: He doesn’t think they should be there. In July of 2017, Trump began a tweetstorm about banning trans service members. “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” read the tweets. “Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” The tweetstorm caused controversy for its vagueness and general sweeping statements without any actual backing. However, a month after the initial tweets, Trump issued a formal memorandum outlining the ban and requesting the Secretary of Defense to implement the directive — which he did in March of that year. While many consider Trump’s tweeting to be unhinged ramblings, his policy decisions (even the ones made on social media) have real-life consequences. If one tweet could spark a directive against an entire group of people, it’s not a reach to assume he could be as blasé about the rights of others as well if given the chance.
Before the President’s announcement, transgender military members who were already serving were allowed to do so and couldn’t be discharged for their gender identity. Plus, any service member was able to gain access to all necessary healthcare for transitioning, both in terms of legal identity (such as a name change) and physical identity. In 2019, openly trans recruits were allowed to join the military for the first-time ever, thanks to a 2016 directive by the Obama administration. Despite controversy over the President’s anti-trans policy, it went into effect in April of 2019.
In July, the administration drove home the idea that trans people are not welcome in the military by banning all “divisive symbols” from being flown on military grounds; this included the Pride flag. The new directive meant the flag — which represents not only our community but the struggles we’ve gone through — could not be flown by any group ever, even if it was an LGBTQ+-focused one and during Pride month. It also banned flying the flag in workspaces, leaving individual rooms and dorms as the only places it is allowed to be flown.
While the choices Trump makes garners immense controversy and attempted court blocks each time, the policies still manage to go into effect. If given a second term, it would be no surprise to see the administration stand by the anti-trans service directive — even possibly escalating it further. A Biden term, however, promises a total reversal of the ban on transgender service members. “Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are,” Biden’s platform reads. “Biden will direct the U.S. Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination.”
From the President referring to specific nations as “shithole countries” to running on a platform of building a physical border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, it’s no secret that the Trump administration is starkly opposed to immigration. While these issues relate to the LGBTQ+ community on a broader scale, the Trump administration has also used immigration issues to support its staunchly anti-LGBTQ+ stance.
Just this year, Trump tried once again to completely dissolve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects children brought to the U.S. by an undocumented family member and grants them the same rights as an American citizen. In June, however, that termination was blocked by the Supreme Court, which ruled that ending DACA was illegal. Despite blocking the termination, the court’s response noted that it would be within the Trump administration’s power to attempt another termination.
While most immigration issues aren’t LGBTQ+-focused, it doesn’t mean they don’t affect the community. By limiting where people are allowed to come from and who exactly is allowed in, the administration is also able to stop LGBTQ+ people or those seeking asylum for gender or sexuality-based discrimination from entering the country.
It’s not preposterous to think, based on the Trump administration’s track record, that a second term would mean even more terminations of immigration policies. In fact, if given the chance, Trump may even attempt to repeal DACA once more — and the court may side with him this time, thanks to it now leaning conservative. Trump has made it clear since the days of campaigning for his first term that he does not care about immigrants, and a second term would serve to prove that even further. In contrast, Biden’s platform states that he will “forcefully pursue policies that safeguard our security, provide a fair and just system that helps to grow and enhance our economy, and secure our cherished values.” For Biden, immigration policy is a major point, and he even has a reform plan laid out for the first 100 days — one that boils down to “rescind every measure Trump has put into place and restore and protect the rights of immigrants already in the country.”
With the election looming just over the horizon, LGBTQ+ voting rights are front and center — even if you’re focused on border issues. Every law passed in this country affects every citizen, and voting Trump in for a second term means agreeing to more hate and discrimination for the next four years. With only 30% of LGBTQ+ women saying they’re committed to voting, it’s more imperative than ever to cast your ballot for the candidate who will support rights and protections for you, your community, and the greater good. In November, your vote could mean more than ticking off a box on a piece of paper; for the LGBTQ+ community, it could mean life or death.