So, the election is over and like so many in our community I'm still not sure whether to be happy, sad, both, or neither.
Not only did our guy win, but the Democrats took virtually complete control of Congress, reducing the Republican influence of the political agenda of our federal government to its smallest in decades. In New York, Democrats took control of their state Senate for the first time in forty years, clearing the way for transgender rights and probably same-sex marriage as well.
Barney Frank told us we'd need at least a 15 seat Democratic pickup to make an inclusive ENDA passable, and latest estimates indicate that gain was at least 20. More openly LGBT and pro-LGBT officials were elected all over the country than ever before in our history. All great news to be sure, all reasons to hope.
And then, there's the other stuff. Three more states have now banned same-sex marriage, including California, which not only wrote a ban into its state constitution but defied its own high court ruling that banning such marriages was not constitutionally permissible, thus taking away rights gay and lesbian Californians already enjoyed. I guess what gets me most about this is that two of the three states that voted to discriminate against gay and lesbians also voted for Barack Obama.
It's not a coincidence that mailers that went out to Californians in support of Prop 8 included pictures of Obama and his statement that he did not support same-sex marriage. While of course the lion's share of responsibility here lies at the feet of those who supported this hateful legislation, there's also one thing we must not forget, no matter how happy we are to have Barack Obama instead of John McCain as our incoming President: They couldn't have used it if he hadn't said it in the first place.
No matter where the blame is to be properly cast, however, there's one thing that's undeniable: Voting for Obama (and his inclusive agenda) but against treating gay and lesbian people equally under the law is hypocrisy of the first order. At the same time, not only is it hypocritical and wrong, it's just plain mean.
As anyone who lives in a state where either same-sex marriage or civil unions are or have been legal knows well, the legal status of committed homosexual relationships has zero impact on those who are not in committed homosexual relationships. Zero, nil, nada, none whatsoever. Californians know this because they had same-sex marriage for six months before the election. California did not break off and fall into the Pacific Ocean during this time, nor did an angry divine being smite the west coast (or New England, for that matter). Children didn't begin being indoctrinated into homosexuality (as if such a thing were possible) in California schools. Preachers were not jailed for speaking against homosexuality. No church was forced to perform any marriage ceremonies they didn't wish to. While I'm certainly willing to be corrected should I be wrong, I'm also not aware of a single heterosexual marriage or family unit disintegrating as a result of gay people having the ability to get married during this time.
So, if we logically assume that the ability of gays and lesbians to get married has no real impact on the lives and families of those not inclined to enter into such relationships and that Californians know this because they have experienced it for themselves, we must also therefore assume that the true motivations for voters to strip this right from gay and lesbian Californians isn't about concern for their own families but rather nothing more valid than expressing their personal distaste for gays and lesbians in general and a desire to punish them for being different from themselves. You'd think racial and ethnic minority groups like African-Americans and Latinos which voted for Prop 8 in significant majorities would know better, wouldn't you? Apparently they don't, or at the very least, they don't care to.
I feel like I should have the right to be happy about what happened on Tuesday. Looking at the results strictly from a transgender perspective, I'd have to say we did pretty well. The prospects for an inclusive ENDA appear to be significantly improved, hate crimes is even more of a slam dunk then it was before, and it's reasonable to expect New York's legislature will move to protect its transgender citizens in fairly short order. If that was all I cared about I wouldn't be able to help but see Tuesday as a massive win for our community and the clearest indication yet that our futures as Americans are brighter than ever.
I just can't do it, though. I can't cheer with a full heart for myself and those like myself while others are being persecuted and excluded from fair and equal treatment under the law for no good reason at the same time. I can't take joy in victory when in order to do so I'd have to ignore the very real plight of others who are no less entitled to the full rights and benefits of American citizenship than I am.
And yet, despite it all, I cannot help but have hope. In just 74 days we'll have a Congress that can (hopefully) actually get something done on our issues and a President who will be a help instead of a hindrance in that effort. We can look forward to the appointment of US Supreme Court justices who will be more rather than less inclined to make decisions that help to guarantee equality and fairness for all Americans under our laws. We can also look forward to the issue of same-sex marriage eventually making it to the USSC (hopefully after Obama has had the chance to appoint at least one or two justices).
In the meantime, I know what I'm going to do. Like so many insisted on doing when gay rights used to be perceived as more politically palatable than transgender rights, I'm going to fight for what is possible, fully inclusive LGBT workplace protections and hate crimes laws, and prepare for the day when same-sex marriage is more politically palatable. I won't be a hypocrite and celebrate our victories in moving the cause of transgender rights forward when so many others have been forced to take a step backward, but I'm certainly not going to let the get in the way of getting what we can.
While I know it may sound to some like this rationale is something one would find in an HRC press release, there's one key difference: When an inclusive ENDA finally does pass, it will protect all of us. When the hate crimes bill becomes law, all LGBT Americans will be covered by it. When New York passes GENDA all LGBT New Yorkers will enjoy protection from discrimination. No one will be left behind. I can fight for these things with a full heart because I know it's fighting to protect all of us. Just as I and so many other transpeople demand inclusion for ourselves so too must we demand it for all of us or it isn't inclusion at all but rather the exclusion of those left behind.
Now is our time. We must take advantage of what is now possible because we don't know if we'll ever see such an opportunity again in our lifetimes. If there was ever a time for all of us to put aside our differences and work toward our common achievable goals, it's upon us now and we must rise to meet it, swiftly and enthusiastically.
There will be a day for same-sex marriage in America, a day when all loving and committed human relationships will be recognized as equal to those of heterosexuals across our nation. Sadly, we know, even if we are loathe to admit it, that day is still far in the future. Fully inclusive protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, hate crimes protections, the repeals of DOMA and DADT, these are the things we now have a real chance of seeing become reality soon, but only if we band together and work in concert to make it happen. In doing so, not only do we serve our own immediate goals, but we also continue the work of creating a country where same-sex marriage will be a reality nationwide someday, a country where discrimination against LGBT people will be as looked down upon by American society as discrimination based upon race and ethnicity is now.
Perhaps for the first time ever, I find myself offering a quote from an unexpected source, but one that hits the nail right on the head:
"...But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign--you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a "gay friend" when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights."
-HRC Executive Director Joe Solmonese on the passage of California's Proposition 8
That goes for all of us, Joe, in all of the ways we fight against hate and intolerance, in all of the ways we work toward a more fair and just America.
All of us, all the time, with no one ever left behind.