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The Most Important Thing You Can Do Right Now

Kimberleigh Joy Smith

Register to vote like your life depends on it. Oh, right, it does.

It is late September and our nation is fully engrossed in what is arguably the most contentious presidential election in recent history. Amid the noise and headlines, our LGBTQ communities must step back and remember why it is crucial for all of us to take the most important action necessary to impact this election. We must vote. The outcomes of each race, from school boards, to city councils, to state legislatures, to the highest office in the land, may have a profound impact on how we are treated under the law.

September 27 -- next Tuesday -- is National Voter Registration Day. As the senior director for community health planning and policy at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, I feel strongly about encouraging the LGBTQ communities we serve, along with our allies, to use this day as an opportunity to register to vote if you have not already done so, or volunteer your time and energy to help others register. The stakes have never been higher. Today's climate can be daunting for minority voters. Strict new unnecessary and burdensome voter ID laws and other voter suppression laws (which have led to decreased early voting and less polling places) in many states, often inordinately affect communities of color and transgender people. It's vital to be informed about exactly what you need to do to make sure your vote counts this November.

You can learn more about how to register or volunteer in your area, from the folks organizing National Voter Registration Day. Our movement partners at the National Center for Transgender Equality also have a wealth of resources to help you navigate your rights as voters. For instance, you can vote if you are homeless, or have changed your legal name or gender marker. In many cases you can also vote even if you have a criminal history. I strongly encourage you to read as much as you can about your options and not assume you cannot participate in the election process.

Although we have made significant strides as a movement in recent decades, the Equality Act is currently stalled in Congress. Anti-LGBTQ forces also continue to use the legislative process to thwart our progress, by attempting to enact laws that remove protections and leave us vulnerable to further discrimination. One need only look at what happened in North Carolina and Mississippi for the starkest examples of this trend. This year those states enacted the most oppressive anti-LGBTQ laws in history. Hundreds of other anti-LGBTQ measures were put forth in other states and that momentum won't soon diminish unless we all take a stand this November and work to elect those committed to furthering our equality, including LGBTQ candidates.

Thanks to the work of our friends at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund we can take some comfort in the fact that around 500 LGBTQ people are serving in various elected offices nationwide and nearly 200 are running in 2016. That is heartening news at a time when conservative forces continue to push so-called religious freedom bills as mechanisms to take away our rights. We all have a responsibility to do our part in stopping their efforts to put our communities in harm's way.

From my vantage point, my priorities this election will include LGBTQ health equity, ending the HIV epidemic and supporting those living with HIV, immigration reform, ending police brutality, and comprehensive support for trans* people in all facets of life. These issues will be top of mind when I step into the voting booth this fall. If we want to see our objectives furthered in the decades to follow, we have to make our voices heard. I urge you to register this September 27 and help others to do so. Then make your vote count on November 8. Our votes are the catalyst for positive change.

Kimberleigh-joy-smith-x200KIMBERLEIGH JOY SMITH, MPA, is senior director for community health planning and policy at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City. In a prior position, Kimberleigh led several successful voter registration drives. She has dedicated her diverse, 22-year career to improving health and promoting health equity and social justice for LGBTQ and communities of color.

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Kimberleigh Joy Smith