Although president-elect Donald Trump fancies himself an LGBT-rights advocate (despite opposing same-sex marriage), picking notoriously homophobic Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his VP says otherwise. Pence has a long history of anti-LGBT work, and putting him at America’s helm with a flip-flopping reality star with zero political experience—compounded by a Republican House, Senate, and possibly Supreme Court—leaves many Americans fearful for the future of LGBT rights. Will years of progress be undone?
It’s been more than a year since the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling, and the impact of that victory can be seen in pop culture to everyday interactions. A 2016 study found that less than 50 percent of teens identify as straight, and with stars like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock advocating for trans rights, out community has made some strides in representation.
Despite these accomplishments, 2016 has seen numerous blows to LGBT rights, from "Religious Freedom" bills allowing discrimination against LGBT people to anti-trans bathroom bills. In 2016 alone, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked "at least 21 deaths of transgender people due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded." Pence has publicly opposed the U.S. Department of Education's guidelines supporting trans students and even proposed redirecting funds for HIV prevention to conversation therapy—an archaic practice banned in five states and the District of Columbia.
As many live in fear of a Trump/Pence rule (and with the LGBT community no longer galvanized behind the fight for marriage equality—which wasn't actually everyone's fight), our identities and their intersections become more difficult and dangerous to navigate each day.
every day trump nominates a new homophobic, racist, misogynistic white man to his cabinet. i don't even know what to say anymore— Alexis Isabel (@lexi4prez) November 18, 2016
Within our community, racism, misogyny, and cissexism are still alive—and may thrive under Trump/Pence’s regime that has literal Nazi/KKK white supremacist followers. Prominent LGBT publication Out Magazine's September cover featured Trump's LGBT lackey Milo Yiannopoulos, who was famously banned from Twitter for leading the racist social media harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones. After the Pulse massacre at an Orlando gay bar left 50 people dead (including the shooter) in June, conversations about terrorism and national security were sparked, revealing Islamophobia within the LGBT community.
Some politicians are capitalizing on the divides that racism, xenophobia, and cissexism have caused in our community by introducing hateful legislation to keep us vulnerable. One proposed bill in Texas would actually make teachers out their LGBT students to parents, with or without the student's consent. The San Antonio Current reported:
This bill comes on the heels of Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick announcing his interest in a bill that will block all trans Texans from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity under the guise of protecting women's privacy. Paired with Patrick's bill, Burton’s “right to know” measure may just be the kick-off to an aggressively anti-LGBT legislative session.
This kind of legislation puts American youth at extreme risk. As if being a young person isn't difficult enough, those acutely endangered by Trump's hateful rhetoric can feel isolated to the point of suicide.
According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, and young people simply questioning their sexuality are twice as likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts, and LGBT youth with families who reject them/their sexual orientations are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth who have accepting families. Nearly half of the country's homeless population under the age of 18 identify as LGBT, and "nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt."
After Trump's win, LGBT suicide hotlines saw a spike in calls, with one receiving five times its usual call volume.
American youth are arguably the most vulnerable to being shaped by Trump and much of the Republican Party's anti-human rights rhetoric. A 2016 study from the Southern Poverty Law Center called "The Trump Effect" found that more than one-third of teachers saw an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment among their students since the billionaire's campaign. But with exit polls showing that young adults preferred Clinton over Trump by a wide margin, it's clear that young people are our best hope for a brighter American future—one where people of all orientations, genders, religions, and races share equal civil liberties. That's why initiatives to empower American youth and their identities are so important.
LGBT youth nonprofit It Gets Better works to do just that, and after the Pulse massacre in June, the organization partnered with anonymous messaging app Whisper to send messages of hope and support to victims of the Orlando shooting. After turning those messages into postcards and posters, the Orlando Police Department and the City of Orlando disseminated the materials to the Orlando LGBT Center and the Pulse Nightclub site through the Orlando Pride festival on Nov. 12, and continues to do so.
It is so important for all of us to be reminded of the good in this world.
“When confronted by unthinkable acts of violence and despair, the human spirit finds ways to lift and heal itself,” Executive Director of the It Gets Better Project Brian Wenke told Complex in a statement. “We hope the Whispers shared by concerned people from around the world will touch the hearts of every survivor and the loved ones of those we lost. It is so important for all of us to be reminded of the good in this world.”
Joe Berg, Whisper's Director of Communications added, "We hope that these postcards serve as a reminder that love always trumps hate, and that compassion and support can always be found." Orlando Police Department Chief John Mina said, "June 12 was a dark day for the City of Orlando; nothing can erase the pain we all feel at such a senseless and brutal loss of life. But these messages of love and support prove what we already know: No act of terror can defeat kindness, compassion and love."
To send your own message of hope to LGBT youth and those affected by the Pulse Massacre, please visit www.itgetsbetter.org/orlando. You can also donate to Trans Lifeline, a hotline staffed by trans people for trans people.