10 Ways LGBT People Saved Obamacare and Beat Trump
By Tyler Batson
10 Way LGBT People Saved Obamacare and Beat Trump
Last month, Ryancare threatened to suspend affordable healthcare for 24 million Americans, including myself. I was at risk of paying $900 per month for my monthly medications. This fight was a matter of life and death, not just for me, but for millions of Americans.
When I heard Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum was hosting a public forum at UCLA to discuss a path forward under a newly elected President Trump, I was there front and center. Lorri L. Jean was there representing the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which happened to be where I’d been getting my PrEP and my anti-seizure medication — filled for free thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I realized my community was already involved in this fight. I was in the fight whether I liked it or not.
Luckily, Jean said four words that no one else on that distinguished panel uttered: “We have a plan.” I got up from my seat right then and there, walked out to the lobby, and signed up for the Center’s “Month of Mobilization” Leadership Lab to help fight to protect the ACA. I walked back to my seat feeling more empowered than I had in years. Did I feel prepared? Hell, no. Did I think we would collectively take down an entire healthcare bill? I could only hope so.
Then, we did! With one more phone-banking session lined up, we defeated Ryancare ahead of schedule. So, like any good sport, I’ve taken stock of what worked and what didn’t. Turns out, everything that worked had to do with one very unexpected strength: My experience as a gay person.
Here are a list of lessons I learned of how we won — and how we will win going forward.
1. Our stories matter — so share them.
One of the many fellow volunteer healthcare compatriots that I met at the Los Angeles LGBT Center was 27-year-old activist Steven Martin. After we were asked what motivated us to show up and rally against the American Healthcare Act, Steven bravely took to the microphone. He told us that last year he was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). He made it very clear that he is not a cancer survivor — he is actively living with cancer. This is a disease that he’ll live with for the rest of his life. Not unlike HIV, to live with CML, one must remain in an undetectable status. “If it weren’t for The Affordable Care Act and the L.A. LGBT Center,” he said, fighting back tears, “I wouldn’t be alive today. Covered California covered it all.”
And he’s not alone. I depend on the ACA for my anti-seizure medication. We depend on the ACA for our survival and on facilities like the LGBT Center to provide us with the services and access to healthcare we deserve — not as gay people, but as human beings. Steven and I talked privately about what we would do if Ryancare was passed. We both had the same plan: Go to another country for our medication. So what motivated us to sacrificed time, money, and energy to fight back? Our lives as we knew them depended on it.
When we were asked at the end of the phone-banking session how we felt, I could come up with only one word: grateful. Grateful to be part of a healthcare system and wellness facility that doesn’t see me as a number, a price tag, or even as just another gay man — but as a human being that matters.
2. Talk — and listen to others from different backgrounds.
One of the things we learn early in our lives in the LGBT community is how to handle confrontation. We are thrown to the fire without choice or recourse, and we have to find a way to survive. We are criticized for our style of dress, our walk, and our mannerisms, and are forced to assess our place in society. At a very early age we learn how to observe and listen, skills that come in very handy when you’re cold-calling people across the country. In the words of H.H. the Dalai Lama, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
But what if you do both? Listening to what people have to say and repeating it back to them tells them that you care. It turns out, for many people this wasn’t about health care at all. This was much bigger than that. Maybe people feel peace is not possible until they can heard. Who better to empathize with people who are feeling marginalized, betrayed, neglected, and afraid than the LGBT community? By sharing our own stories and listening to theirs, we are creating bridges on which to join forces for a common cause. Today our common cause is health care, and tomorrow it might be something else. But little by little, we are laying the foundations for an America that is more united than before.
3. Remind yourself and others that they are part of a community.
The only facts that matter are the ones that support your message: lives are in danger. I spoke to one woman in Alaska and asked her if she supports the ACA. She said, “I’m healthy, I don’t need to worry about that.” Then I asked her if any of her loved ones depended on the ACA. A long pause, “I suppose — yes. I didn’t think of that.”
When it comes to politics, we are divided, we know that. When lines are drawn in the sand as deeply as they have been between the right and the left, it is our natural tendency to think of ourselves. Our world shrinks a little. As gay people, we know that we are not alone in our suffering. We know that we need each other. We are embedded in a community that extends beyond traditional nuclear families. We are a community that cares about protecting one another. All this woman needed was a little push to be reminded of her own community, and boom, she became one of thousands of people to put pressure on her senator to vote "no" on dismantling healthcare for myself and 24 million other Americans. Maybe the ACA didn’t affect her or anyone she knew, but now she was talking to someone whose life would be in danger if she didn’t do something.
Now, next time she goes to the polls or has a conversation about the issue, she will have a new fact in her back pocket: she helped save lives.
4. Appeal to empathy.
When we’re in the closet, we learn how to withhold our true feelings. We learn to say just enough to avoid confrontation. And in doing so, we develop the ears to know when someone isn’t being totally upfront with how they feel. When I asked people, “Have you benefited from the Affordable Care Act?” many responded with “That doesn’t affect me, I’m very fortunate. I have insurance through my work.” This told me that, though it didn’t affect them, they value insurance itself and know what it’s like not to have it.
Many people tend to vote on matters as it affects them personally. When they are asked to think about someone else, in my experience, 90 percent of the time they will open their hearts to be more inclusive and compassionate to those they don’t know personally. Listening to people creates that safe space for them to be vulnerable, and it’s that vulnerability that is essential is creating empathy.
5. Say "we," not, "I."
Being sensitive to the use of pronouns — he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs — makes us more sensitive to inclusive words like us/we. One of the most poignant calls I had was the last transfer I made. The woman on the other end worked for the woman I intended to speak with. She answered the phone with a thick accent telling me she doesn’t speak English. Immediately I began speaking to her in Spanish. A bond was formed instantly. “¡Mi gente!” I exclaimed, and in that moment she went from a stranger to my Latina sister. Opportunities like this, though they may seem minute, are huge! Look for opportunities to dismantle the culture of "I, me, mine," and remind people that they are part of the bigger picture that is humanity. You never know, they may end up helping to save your healthcare.
6. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small.
Not every win is a big win, but we must remember that success can be measured in many ways. For us it wasn’t just holding a conversation. We also celebrated successful transfers to senators’ voicemails. We took stock of how many people we were able to get to commit to call their senator themselves. Each and every step we made, we measured and celebrated. For a total of 3 phone-banking mobilizations, we were able to recruit 448 volunteer callers, 85 of whom attended two or more phonebanks; we successfully transferred 1,332 callers to their senators and got 562 people to commit to call, speaking both Spanish and English. That’s 1,894 people across Alaska, Arizona, and Nevada who helped save the Affordable Care Act. Each and everyone person who participated in the process deserves to be celebrated.
7. Fight, regardless of the odds.
Ella Barrett, national field manager for the Leadership Lab, was integral in creating the Month of Mobilization, bringing together almost 500 of us volunteers to be part of a nationwide coalition of concerned constituents. Each of us had a hand in protecting the health care of 24 million Americans. After Paul Ryan abruptly pulled the American Healthcare Act before it could even go to a vote, we were in shock. Not only did we defeat Ryancare, but we defeated it ahead of schedule!
Our big break was with Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada. During our first phone-banking mobilization, we filled his voicemail box and jammed his phone lines. Two days later, he came out publicly to announce that he would be voting "no" on repealing the Affordable Care Act. I asked Ella what she thought our odds of success were at the onset of the Month of Mobilization. “Five percent,” she answered without hesitation. “I’d say I felt we had a 5 percent chance of successfully defeating Ryancare. But I had 100 percent faith that we would be able to put together a team to fight it.”
So what does she credit for our success? “Focus is one of the most important things,” Ella says. “Our number one value as a team lies in storytelling. We know that people are naturally motivated when it’s personal.” After almost 10 years of analyzing how to reduce prejudice on the electoral level, the Leadership Lab has proven that the best route to success is not only to be heard, but to offer the same level of respect to others, as well. That’s why we show up — because we know that even with a 5 percent chance of success, the fight cannot happen without us.
8. Learn from the lessons of LGBT pioneers.
The LGBT movement has been fighting the patriarchy and the political establishment since we realized we didn’t fit into it. In the process, we’ve learned that crying is a sign of strength, that trauma can be a path to empathy, and that hate can only be fought with love. Fighting for our right to just be is our bond and our offering to a world divided.
“The LGBT community emerged from oppression, fighting for the protections, representation, and rights straight people already enjoyed,” said Steven Martin, who, in addition to fighting to protect healthcare, is in the beginning stages of developing his own patient rights nonprofit organization. “Those who aren’t oppressed — straight people — are here today to train at the LGBT Center. They’re hear to learn from the strengths we’ve gained from our struggle.”
One of the most beautiful things about the LGBT community is its inclusivity — a passion and fierce determination to not just horde our strengths, but to share them. Isn’t that the future we all want to be part of?
9. Trust in LGBT youth, and be their mentors.
Young people are more involved in this fight than ever. I met someone at the LGBT Center who was 14 years old! She was admittedly nervous, but she was still on the phone trying to recruit more of her friends to be callers. Young people like her need to know that there are safe spaces and role models with whom to build their leadership skills. As Martin pointed out, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s largely robbed our generation of mentors. “We know what it’s like to be raised without mentors and we can’t let another generation go through that,” he poignantly articulated.
But we rainbow warriors of the LGBTQ community are not just here to serve one another. Our message of love has reached beyond our community and our pool of ally straight brothers and sisters continues to grow. As queer people who mentor queer youth, we aren't just giving gay, lesbian, and trans folks a safe space to grow and express their identities freely, we are creating models of love and tolerance for our straight allies, too. With every young LGBT person we connect with, we are multiplying our reach and uncovering the gratitude for who we truly are: pioneers of peace.
10. Embrace intersectionality.
A lot of people have been feeling that the country and the government itself has been stagnant. We have spent so much time focusing on what makes us different, wasting our time and energy just serve to validate our own opinions. It’s exhausting.
The LGBT movement represents all the spokes on the wheel — and that’s the only way we can move forward. I can’t tell you how energizing it was to see people of all ages, all nationalities, all sexual orientations representing one simple value: our lives matter. We are a movement that is not divided by color, creed, or sex. Our divisions don’t matter! What matters is the woman who almost hung up on me, but who eventually realized its not about Obama or Trump, it was about the 2 surgeries she had lined up. Or the other woman whose first real interaction with a gay person was on the phone with me, doing my best to make sure you could continue to get her Parkinsons medication. We are all human beings and we all deserve to be heard. Our stories could unite us, if only we’d let them.
People make cheeky jokes about how the anagram for the movement keeps getting longer. LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA — we just keep adding more denominations of people. But I say let it get longer, because I don’t see the Grand Old Party getting any grander. And with the Democratic Party still reeling from recent scandals, the onus is on us to act. We’re all in this together. The only way we rise, is if we rise together. And gay, straight, trans, or queer — no one should have to walk this road alone.