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If you asked us to think of a timeless sentence, an evergreen sentiment that would be relevant no matter what period of history it was said in, we might offer, “It’s a really tough time to be in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.”
It was a tough time in the ’70s, during Anita Bryant’s antigay “Save Our Children” crusade.
It was a tough time in the ’80s, when President Reagan’s loudest comment on the AIDS epidemic was silence.
It was a tough time in the ’90s, when media coverage of the murder of Brandon Teena widely misgendered him and he was buried with a headstone reading “sister, daughter, friend.”
It was tough in the 2000s, when we saw an avalanche of constitutional and statutory bans on marriage equality.
It was tough even in the 2010s, despite what seemed like a cascade of legal and legislative victories, including the defeat of North Carolina’s anti-transgender “bathroom bill” — as the murder epidemic of transgender women, especially trans women of color, grew more and more dire.
And now, half a century out from “Save Our Children,” here we are again. This year alone, there have been hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures, of which 117 are explicitly anti-transgender.
It’s always been a tough time. And yet — we’ve always found a way to prevail over attacks on our community. And even more importantly, we’ve always found ways to cultivate joy, to find community, and to keep our heads held high no matter what the world threw at us. Time and time again, through victories large and small, the drumbeat of equality has stayed loud and steady. And anyone in this movement would tell you that no matter the setbacks we face, we’re still further along today than we’ve ever been before.
Groups in the LGBTQ movement continue to not only navigate the treacherous waters of today’s politics but also to innovate and drive progress in unexpected ways. This month, for example, a Georgia federal district court issued a landmark ruling in favor of a plaintiff represented by the Transgender Legal Defense Education Fund that an employer cannot exclude or deny coverage for gender-affirming care from its employee health insurance plan. And in the state of Alabama, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights successfully challenged in court an anti-trans health care measure. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for increased coordination and collaboration among our national, state, and local organizations.
Even as our opponents find new ways to demonize, dehumanize, and delegitimize us, we march forward. From where we stand, on the shoulders of Marsha P. Johnson and her siblings at the Stonewall uprising, shoulder to shoulder with trans youth who have stepped up to fight for their own equality, we know that this work is a marathon, not a sprint. Despite narratives to the contrary, we didn’t win marriage equality overnight; much as we want it to, victory rarely comes out of the blue.
It always comes down to hope. As our community endures these relentless, cruel attacks, we must remember how we’ve always beaten back the cruelty: by helping our fellow Americans understand we are just as deserving of being treated with respect and guaranteed equal protection under the law. Just like we did when we won marriage in the first place, when we beat back those bathroom bills in 2016, when Stella Keating became the first transgender teen to testify in front of a Senate committee in 2020, when TLDEF sent a delegation of trans and nonbinary youth to the White House in 2022, we must continue to meet them where they are and remind them of our shared values. We love like they do. Trans kids dream like all kids do.
“It’s a really tough time to be in the LGBTQ civil rights movement” might be timeless — but as the attacks grow more vicious and come from more places, and as we fight battles we once thought long since won, we instead say, “There’s never been a better time to be in this fight.” Because with the attacks also comes opportunities to build familiarity and expose the hostility for what it is: an ultimately futile attempt to misinform a public that has long been on our side.
It’s hard to see the light through the darkness. From time to time, we all lose sight of it. But when we do, we can take a deep breath, look back at our history, and say to ourselves, “There’s never been a better time to be in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.”
Brad Clark is the president and CEO of the Gill Foundation, one of the nation's leading funders of efforts to secure full LGBTQ equality. Andrea “Andy” Hong Marra is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which works to end discrimination and achieve equality for transgender people, particularly those in our most vulnerable communities.