After three debates, including the one vice-presidential debate, there had not been a single question about LGBT people. Even with notoriously homophobic Indiana Gov. Mike Pence onstage, the topic never came up.
Then it happened again Wednesday. Or, more precisely, it didn’t happen again.
We’re left to wonder what this all means. Maybe LGBT Americans ought to move on, as if truly nothing took place. Or maybe with that unasked question, the nation silently crossed a threshold into the future, one in which LGBT people are no longer considered so contentious that we’re a topic of debate at the highest levels of politics. The next presidential debate won’t happen until 2020. My better half imagines how vastly the world could evolve by then.
The realist in me says, mockingly, that maybe in 2020 the Republican Party (or whatever party replaces it) won’t nominate a candidate like Donald Trump who opposes marriage equality, who is considering barring transgender people from the military, who is OK letting states ban transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, who wants to let business owners turn away LGBT customers by citing their religion. The official Republican Party platform of 2016 condones reparative therapy and a litany of other LGBT civil rights abuses.
From one angle, it seems we’re on the precipice of a Zen-like irrelevance. Then turn your head ever so slightly, and it seems nothing has changed and that not being asked about in a debate isn’t a happy sign of the changing times because the candidates and platforms are the same old, same old.
I’d like to believe that esteemed moderators Lester Holt, Elaine Quijano, Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz, and Chris Wallace never raised any of the myriad of issues we face because they’re nonissues.
Admittedly I’m skeptical. The candidates don’t agree, so it’s hard to believe the nation does. So what happened? Why were LGBT people overlooked?
We were asked about indirectly. There were questions on the Supreme Court, which for LGBT people is inherently about reversing marriage equality. And there were questions about gun control, which sometimes meant answers invoking the Pulse shooting. There was a lot of talk about Vladimir Putin, who has the distinction of being named The Advocate’s Person of the Year in 2014, because he lent a worldwide platform to homophobia.
Maybe Trump neutralized us with his strategy of ostensibly courting LGBT voters. He regularly claims to be the true ally to LGBT people, but he does it by using some backward logic about hating Muslims equating to loving LGBT people.
And that tactic is what’s got me thinking there were actually a lot of LGBT questions this election season. There’s been a lot of demagoguing, after all.
Not having an LGBT question doesn’t mean the country has moved on or that our issues are over, but that Trump and his ilk have substituted one minority for another, hoping Muslims are easier to bully, with fewer allies. The haters will return the moment LGBT people show any sign of weakness.
Sexism instead of homophobia seems more the rage in the GOP these days. The mainstream thought that had been over and done with too.
While I’m relieved to finally watch a presidential election without feeling that LGBT people are being dragged into the fight, it’s also felt like a test. Do we relate to the question about police brutality against people of color because we were brutalized for so long?
Isn’t a question about immigration an LGBT question? It’s about who is “normal” and who is “other.” It’s about who gets included. The arguments against immigrants come with the kind of fearmongering that LGBT people have been subjected to for years.
Trump says “we won’t have a country anymore” if we don’t have tough borders. Our marriages, don’t forget, were also supposedly going to bring about the end of our country.
Whether it’s Muslims, Jews, the disabled, immigrants, women, or another group, we’re all victim to what Clinton described as “a pattern of divisiveness.” If Trump were elected, it would mean the success of what Clinton calls “a very dark and in many ways dangerous vision of our country.” And it’s time we woke up, even if there’s no question at the debates with our name in it.
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. Contact him @lucasgrindley.