Now that a little time has passed after the midterm elections, it's time for us to pick ourselves up and figure out how to move forward in a very different political climate. There has been much talk about voter disillusionment with the Democrats, especially in the LGBT community, which voted for the GOP in much higher numbers than in previous cycles- even against their own interests and rights in many cases.
There is no doubt that proponents of equality are in a tough spot. We have the Democrats on one side, who constantly ask for our votes while also demanding our patience and to "wait" for our rights until it's a politically good time (which never comes despite controlling the Presidency, House, and Senate). On the other side are the Republicans, a political party with discrimination against LGBT people literally written into their platform and a history of not just blocking our rights, but using us as "wedge issues" to drive out bigoted voters in elections. We have supportive lip-service or outright hostility.
Not exactly the best choices, proven by the fact that even though LGBT rights are gaining broad support among the American public, politicians continue to lag generations behind.
Given this, it's no wonder our community has grown angry, disillusioned, tired, and feels betrayed on all sides as the basic American Dream continues to allude us for no other reason than outdated bigotry and personal bias. But how can we move beyond those feelings, or perhaps even use them, to push forward on the equality and basic rights we need to live full, complete lives especially given an at least two year period when the GOP is going to block any forward movement on civil rights in the House?
Be The Ally We Want
The LGBT community is a small minority group, with many of our number unable to live openly or identify as such. As such, we need to cultivate and engage our natural allies in the fight for minority rights, personal freedom, and basic civil rights so we can have the hard numbers to make the gains we need. But we can't simply demand our fair-minded allies be there for us when we need them and not do the same in return.
In short, we must be the allies for others that we want for our issues.
If we want our straight allies to go to bat for us, we need to do the same. Issues like fair pay for women and women's reproductive rights, anti-poverty initiatives, fair immigration reform, healthcare, education, and many other issues that touch our community should be part of our movement. Besides just being the right thing to do and being part of issues that directly affect members of the LGBT community, we become good allies and a group that others can count on when they need us.
Building bridges to other communities that are in fights for minority rights as well can only help our cause as we push forward in a hard political climate. We need all the help we can get.
Taking it to the Courts
Let's be honest- chances for equality are stalled for awhile in Congress now that the GOP has gained control of the house. We were told to wait and they would get to our rights later in the Obama administration, but that seems unlikely to happen. So we need to continue to stop the waiting and use the system our founding fathers set up to address issues exactly like the ones we face: the judiciary.
It's the job of the courts to make sure the constitution and our laws are applied equally and fairly. They are there to make sure the tyranny of the majority doesn't trample on the rights of the minority. And we need to continue to use it.
Seeing the movement on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the new challenges against the "Defense of Marriage Act", challenges to adoption bans, the challenge against Prop 8, and other chipping away of bigoted laws through the courts is where nearly all of our movement forward has been made. And it looks to be where we will continue to be able to make wins for equality even while the political route stalls.
Plus, the court cases often put politicians in tough spots and force their hands on issues, helping us see where we stand with them or making them take quicker action than they like.
Electing Our Own
Getting directly involved in politics and having a seat at the table is huge. I've seen first hand how having an openly LGBT person on a local city commission, for example, can change the complete dynamic of that region for equality. We need to run for office at every level. Visibility in the political process, whether it be at the national level down to local school boards, can have huge impacts.
According to the Victory Fund, this past election over 100 openly LGBT where elected to office- a record number. In fact, the LGBT community had a better election rate than Tea Party-backed candidates (although you'd be hard-pressed to see the media talk about the surge of equality-minded candidates like they do the Tea Party).
We can be voices of fairness and reason, putting a face on our community and making it harder for our opponents to blindly attack us as the "scary gays" when we're sitting right beside them in positions of public influence. We can also make huge pro-equality gains on the municipal and state level.
Continued Political Pressure & Public Education
While our political prospects for equality on the national level look grim, we can't simply withdraw and give up for the next two years. We've seen the consequences of disillusionment and how the shift in power can squash momentum for our cause. So while the fight just got harder, we have to continue.
We have to use everything in our toolbox, from insider access and lobbying to politicians and grassroots direct action and protests to keep our issues in the public debate. We also have to stay engaged to make sure we aren't the ones thrown under the bus in the name of political "compromise", as has been the case in the past with things like the creation of DADT and DOMA. History and shifting demographics that support equality are on our side, so we have to continue to build the political influence and structure that can make the political jumps forward we want when the opportunity presents itself and stop any regression in its tracks.
That means we have to support the individual candidates that support our issues, pressure those that are on the fence, hold our enemies accountable, and stay engaged at all levels. We can't just sit out of voting or stop pushing the legislation we want. We have to protest, engage, educate, and lobby.
Just Stay Involved
It's easy to give up, throw up our hands, and retreat to our everyday lives, especially when faced with an uphill battle like we have the next two years. But the fight for equality is never easy and never over.
The stakes are too high- our youth feel increasingly bullied as shame and bigotry trickle down through our anti-equality laws and the rhetoric around it. The forces for outdated homophobia are fighting harder and louder as they see the public opinion turn against them. We take steps forward, get pushed back, but have to keep moving.
Find a way to get involved and engaged. Make calls to your legislators, run for local boards, talk to your friends and family about our issues, and do what you can in your every day life.
It's a hard fight, but we have to keep at it and push that arc of history towards the justice we deserve.