The last decade was a time of historic progress for our country. Now, as 2016 comes to a close, we have come upon an uncertain crossroads: whether to return to a time of even greater discrimination and inequality, or to declare with one clear voice that We Won’t Go Back.
Late in the night of November 8, as I stood beneath the Jacob Javits Center’s towering glass ceiling in Manhattan alongside my husband, Nate, that crossroads came into clear view.
A few steps away, a little girl was sobbing on the floor. She had spent hours coloring a map of the United States, atop which large, colorful crayon print read, “Hillary for President.”
By then, the map had more red than blue, and we realized that little girl’s wishes — and more than half of the country’s — were not to be.
As we exited the building amid fallen American flags and discarded “Clinton/Kaine” buttons, I unconsciously whispered, “It feels like we’re in an alternate universe.”
That sentiment was certainly shared by millions of my fellow citizens November 8. But for me, the outcome of the electoral vote soon felt both very personal and real — that somehow the collective decision of more than 62 million strangers was a recalibration of everything I thought true about my country.
Perhaps this was because, like many other young people, I had volunteered and worked for Barack Obama even before he decided to run for president — holding a “Draft Obama” sign on the frozen streets of Manchester, N.H., working for his campaign in 2008 and 2012, and later in the White House.
Then, on New Year's Eve in 2012, I had asked my fiancé to marry me inside the historic Stonewall Inn, the site of the origin story for the modern LGBTQ movement.
And just over a year before walking inside the Javits Center, I married my husband in front of our friends and family — equal in their eyes, but also equal in the eyes of the country I love.
Suddenly, on November 8, 2016, the progress that I felt in my own life seemed to be reversed by 46 percent of the electorate — and many of the reasons why are well documented.
Donald Trump is assembling one of the most anti-LGBTQ Administrations in modern American history. Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, James Mattis, and many others filling his Cabinet (without even mentioning the abysmal record of Vice President-elect Mike Pence) have categorically opposed equality for years. And then there’s the troubling rise of hate crimes since the election; the disconcerting spike of calls to suicide hotlines, many of them LGBTQ; and the elevation of a candidate who has personally promoted bigotry, misogyny, and division throughout his entire pursuit of elective office.
Surely, these developments were more than enough to keep millions of my peers and me curled up in a fetal position for a few days in early November.
Yet in the thick of my vow never to leave my house again, I was reminded of the words of the legendary LGBTQ activist Sylvia Rivera: “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
Said differently: We Won’t Go Back.
Surely, those four words must have motivated great Americans like Sylvia, when she rioted for justice in front of Stonewall; they must have inspired Harvey Milk when he confronted likely death to tell us that we must “never be silent”; and they surely gave James Baldwin solace when he said, bravely, “Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?”
For me, We Won’t Go Back not only summed up the LGBTQ struggle to come — but the African-American, Latino, immigrant, American, and human struggle as well.
As soon as I said those four words out loud at the end of that long week in November, I again found hope. So I created a campaign with the same name — to give Americans of all backgrounds the opportunity to fight for the highest ideals of the country they love.
We Won’t Go Back is now a place to contact our elected officials; to support the causes we believe in; to organize, volunteer, and get registered to vote; and to build an inclusive, hopeful future.
Most importantly, I hope We Won’t Go Back enables new voices to be heard and stories to be told. Using #WeWontGoBack, you can tweet, write, or record a video telling the world why you won’t go back, what you’re fighting for, and what’s at stake for you, your family, and your community.
As one of our supporters said, “I won’t go back because I’ve fought so long to be here.”
Indeed, we all have — and we’ve come too far to turn back now.
Jared Milrad, JD, MS, is an award-winning actor, writer, lawyer, and entrepreneur and the founder of We Won’t Go Back. Featured in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign announcement, he is the coauthor of the new book So, You Want To Get (Gay) Married: Stuff You Need to Know Before Saying “I Do.” Jared lives in the Los Angeles area with his husband, Nate, and their adopted dog, Cooper.