One of my favorite truths about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is our ability to find opportunities to triumph in the face of adversity. For those who have been panicking about this month’s election returns, take a deep breath. Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.
There were losses, to be sure, the effects of which will be felt for quite some time. There were also great wins, many of which have opened up new opportunities for significant and meaningful gains for LGBT people in the next 12 months: over a dozen new and returning pro-equality governors in critically important states, legislative heroes like Iowa Democrat Mike Gronstal and New York Republican Janet Duprey, and over 100 openly LGBT elected officials from city councils to the U.S. Congress.
And when we review the oft-maligned mood of the electorate, it is worth fully understanding that the political culprits of this year’s electoral upheaval were government spending, health care reform, and a feckless response to the economic crisis, not the country’s hostility or ambivalence toward equal rights for LGBT people. On the contrary, survey after survey has shown the American people are on a steady trek toward fully equality for gays and lesbians.
So here’s how we can make the most of the time before the 2012 election and ensure we keep moving forward:
First, we should focus our collective energy where we can win in the next six to 12 months. The opportunity to win the freedom to marry is closer than ever in Rhode Island, Maryland, and New York, along with opportunities to win civil unions in Illinois, Hawaii, and Colorado. Overlooked wins on inclusive city nondiscrimination ordinances, as in Bowling Green, Ohio, and Kalamazoo, Mich., can be replicated in cities and states where we have strong allies in place. While sweeping moves on the national chessboard for equality are a rare and gratifying experience, we must not forget that every win in every state or city has an impact on actual LGBT people, not just numbers on a graph. And when you look at the broader picture, winning almost always begets more winning and moves the American people closer to understanding the inevitability of our cause.
Even though some of the newly elected in Washington aren’t yet ready to hear it, we must be bold and unapologetic in creating a national conversation about the freedom to marry. The country is moving with us at an impressive clip, including Republicans, Democrats, independents, and yes, even some Tea Party people. While nobody expects positive congressional action on marriage in the next two years, there are several solid legal challenges making their way through the courts. A California federal judge struck down the discriminatory Proposition 8, and federal cases in New York and New England are challenging the odious Defense of Marriage Act’s denial of federal benefits to legally married gay and lesbian couples. The clock is ticking, and we must turn up the volume on this conversation. Survey after survey confirms Americans are ready to listen.
Although it’s been said before, it bears repeating — we must get out of
the partisan ghetto and insist that LGBT rights are human rights, not
partisan positions. When we allow ourselves to be seen simply as agents
of the Democratic Party, we’re building barriers that impede progress
with thoughtful Republicans, who we will almost always need to win. We
also need thoughtful LGBT Republicans, who do the hard work of having
difficult conversations with other Republicans without being apologists
for antigay voices. Our freedom to marry, to serve our country, and to
work to support our families transcends politics, and we must
confidently and positively make our case with equal vigor to Democrats,
Republicans, and independents alike.
It’s past time to rethink
our federal presence in Washington. It’s broken and it has to be fixed
before another two years go by. It’s time to model our federal campaigns
after successful organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the National Rifle Association that understand
building and using political capital while insisting on results. There
is no legitimate reason we shouldn’t have the ability to be successful
on multiple issues simultaneously while not allowing ourselves to be
pushed off the agenda by fickle or shell-shocked allies.
be serious about holding elected officials’ feet to the fire and avoid
wallowing in victimhood when they don’t deliver. We must communicate
clearly with our friends about what we expect, push them harder than
we’re comfortable with until they deliver results, and thank them
appropriately when we win. And when they betray our trust or vote
against us, fight like hell to beat them. LGBT New Yorkers didn’t accept
the results of last December’s awful vote against marriage equality,
they got organized. Through Fight Back New York and other organizations,
they defeated three antimarriage senators (of both parties) and
replaced them with three strong allies. Steadily using this formula will
build both respect and a healthy dose of fear for the perils of
crossing LGBT voters.
Yes, there were significant losses, and
unfortunately another truth about the LGBT community is that we sometimes
wallow in our defeats. We have the opportunity now to use the wins of Election Day to triumph over the adversity of the losses. To do that we
must make the all too familiar choice: Get busy winning or spend time
wallowing. I for one am ready to get busy winning.