You’re forgiven if you missed, during the past few weeks of political chaos, that Donald Trump has vowed to sign the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act and undo President Obama’s executive orders and other efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Indeed, he is one of the most anti-LGBT candidates in history.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake for our families.
The LGBT community has never enjoyed as many policy wins as in the years of the Obama administration. During the Obama presidency, we celebrated monumental victories — from a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and winning marriage in the Supreme Court to small but important initiatives such as Health and Human Services funding for LGBT refugees in Chicago and the opening of the first national resource center for older LGBT people. The last eight years have afforded our community the greatest growth in equality we have ever seen.
How did we come so far in light of the gridlock in Congress? The answer lies in small changes in the implementation of laws, the setting of priorities, and the tedious process of rule-making that happens in the Executive Branch. Cabinet members of the Obama administration have made many significant advances in our rights. In his first year in office, the president issued a directive to agency and department heads that opened the door for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Office of Personnel Management to extend domestic-partner benefits to foreign service members and domestic employees respectively.
At the president’s request, Attorney General Eric Holder oversaw a meticulous two-year review of the constitutionality of DOMA that ended with the announcement that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the law. After the United States v. Windsor decision struck down parts of DOMA and after Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, Obama instructed his cabinet to review and update thousands of marriage regulations — taxes, Social Security payments, and beyond.
These administrative changes — sometimes slow-moving, incremental, and all but invisible to the public — have added up to impressive advancements in our community. The administration opened visitation rights at hospitals for LGBT families, banned anti-LGBT discrimination by the federal government and its contractors, issued policy guidance about the fair treatment of transgender students, prohibited discrimination in Housing and Urban Development’s housing programs, dedicated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument, and so much more. During the past eight years, the Obama administration created a federal task force on bullying, banned discrimination in health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, developed the first national strategy to address HIV and AIDS, and supported legislation banning conversion therapy.
The long list of the Obama administration’s accomplishments — too long to list here — has already made a difference in the lives of LGBT people, but much is left to do. We can achieve full legislative equality for LGBT Americans; look at how far we’ve come in such short time. But our vision can only be accomplished through working hand in hand with the next administration, and not losing momentum. It is critical that the next administration continue to work with our community to advance LGBTQ equality — our future is at stake.
REBECCA ISAACS is the executive director of the Equality Federation, which helps state-based LGBT organizations achieve their missions.