We knew President Trump was a threat to LGBT equality, and last week confirmed those fears. The administration's reckless decision to
reverse Obama-era guidance
protecting trans students is the devastating proof that our community is under attack. This administration will not protect transgender youth from discrimination, despite an alarming number who already feel unsafe in their schools.
With the guidance rescinded, the safety and well-being of our trans students is now largely in the hands of elected officials outside the federal government -- on school boards, on city councils, and in state legislatures. These are the officials who decide whether local schools continue protecting trans students as required under Title IX, or whether they embrace the Trump administration's interpretation and allow discrimination against trans kids.
And these local officials are facing tremendous pressure from anti-LGBT activists. In Fairfax, Va., just last year, flustered school board members considering protections for trans students faced outrageous outbursts from transphobic residents. "I have a little child and she's afraid of boys and now she has boys coming into the bathroom," said one enraged parent,
according to local media reports.
Outnumbered but determined, the Fairfax school board members bravely stood up to hate from the gathered crowd and passed the protections despite threats from many people who had elected them. It was courageous, but unfortunately, Fairfax is an outlier. Too often the rage of anti-LGBT activists lead to school boards tabling or voting against protections for trans students -- leaving them vulnerable and open to discrimination.
But we know LGBT elected officials never compromise on the rights of our community no matter what backlash they may face. Our people have the lived experience of being LGBT -- they understand the inherent struggle and challenges -- and breathe the righteousness of our cause. Now more than ever, we need to elect LGBT people to school boards and municipal bodies so they can push forward inclusive policies for trans students. LGBT elected leaders humanize our lives for their straight colleagues -- and significantly influence their decisions to vote in favor of equality.
Take Jay Irwin, who just won his race for the Ralston school board, becoming the first openly trans person elected in the entire state of Nebraska. Nebraska is not known for being a welcoming place for LGBT people -- and has no nondiscrimination protections. Yet Jay makes clear protecting LGBT and other vulnerable students will be a priority during his term. And with two board meetings under his belt, Jay said his colleagues have been extremely welcoming.
By simply being on the school board, Irwin is humanizing trans people for his straight colleagues. And when he proposes measures to advance equality for trans students, it will be much more difficult for them to vote against someone they know, rather than an abstract "trans" concept they don't fully understand. As Irwin told the
: "If you don't have diverse voices, you may see things in a certain light."
When you have a seat at the table, you're rarely on the menu. LGBT elected leaders are the antidote to the anti-equality efforts we see coming from the federal government -- and our task as a community is to elect more of them.
At Victory Fund, we are doing just that by implementing a two-year strategy aimed at recruiting and electing LGBT candidates who can run for and win seats in low-equality states. These states and municipalities are the new battlegrounds for equality -- and where elected officials can best mitigate the effects of anti-equality efforts from the federal government. Representation is power, and it is representation in state and local government that will protect trans students and the entire LGBT community in the years ahead. Run for office or encourage your friends. Then let's work together to get them elected.