The 2020 presidential election looks to be one of the most important in America’s history, but it is also one of the most highly contested. While many Democrats and Republicans alike are united under the mantra of “Never Trump,” there is also a growing “Never Biden” movement from Democrats who are so displeased with the Democratic nominee’s campaign that they would rather abstain from voting than cast a vote for him.
In his three years as president, Donald Trump has rolled back legal protections for an array of marginalized groups. His administration’s actions have caused particular harm to queer and transgender people. A rule issued June 12 by the Trump administration reversed considerable protections against discrimination in health care for LGBTQ+ people across the country, and it was just one of many homophobic and transphobic actions by the administration. Those have included instituting a trans military ban, lifting guidelines on equal treatment of trans students, allowing discrimination in the guise of “religious freedom,” and much more.
Despite how much is at stake for queer and trans youth in the upcoming presidential election, many first-time voters find themselves distressed by the current political climate. Some wonder whether they should vote at all.
Emily Rose Thorne, a queer 21-year-old college senior from Athens, Ga., says she plans to vote in the November election no matter what. The issues she most wants her candidate to address include women’s rights, racial justice, the prison system, police abolition, climate action, marijuana legalization, gun control, and LGBTQ+ rights.
“I consider all of these topics to be dependent on each other too,” Thorne tells The Advocate. “We can’t have racial justice until we address the climate crisis because the negative effects of climate change disproportionately affect people of color. We can’t have racial justice until we end the racist war on drugs. We can’t have women’s rights until we also have LGBTQ+ rights, because queer and trans women are also women who need to be guaranteed safe, happy lives in our country. They’re all interconnected.”
Thorne’s views align with those of many of her peers in Generation Z (those who were born in the mid-to-late 1990s). Research suggests that Generation Z has adopted a more diverse vision of the world than previous generations, with a deep commitment to fighting sexism, racism, homophobia, and other types of bigotry. LGBTQ+ voters, in particular, had an unusually high turnout in the Super Tuesday primaries in March, arguably in response to the Trump administration’s rollback on queer and trans rights.
Although more people in Generation Z identify as Democrats than Republicans, some first-time voters have complicated feelings about supporting Joe Biden. Many associate him with what they see as xenophobic and pro-war policies of the Obama administration, or they are wary of his recent pro-cop rhetoric or about the sexual assault allegation leveled against him earlier this year.
“I believe Biden will enact whatever measures are already widely accepted and easy to swallow but [will] fail to make more substantial, progressive changes unless sufficient pressure is applied,” says Rachel, a 21-year-old senior at Loyola University in Chicago. “I’m not saying a Biden presidency wouldn’t be better than Trump actively rolling back protections for vulnerable members of my community, but it isn’t enough.”
Rachel’s disinterest and lack of trust in Biden is representative of a much larger trend among Generation Z. A CIRCLE poll conducted after the 2018 midterm election revealed that 57 percent of voters aged 18–24 were losing faith in democracy as a whole. The sentiment seems to be shared by young LGBTQ+ voters today.
“I do not feel that any candidate is particularly looking out for me,” says Hannah Hildebolt, a 21-year-old college senior from New York’s Long Island. “More importantly, I don’t feel that any candidate is looking out for anyone who is less privileged than I am, and I try to think of that when I vote too. This made it hard for me to feel that voting was worth it because there were no candidates who really seemed to care about the folks I try to support and align myself with.”
This loss of faith in the democratic system is perhaps why many LGBTQ+ people who would be casting their first vote are considering abstaining.
“I’m not sure if I will be voting in the upcoming presidential election, because based on his actions in the past and his current actions, I don’t believe Biden would bring about any significant political change,” says Jack Davis, a 19-year-old from Washington, D.C. “I am personally opposed to the idea of the ‘lesser of two evils,’ and I also find Biden’s record disturbingly similar to Trump’s. I’m aware that voting is an important political action, and that’s the reason I’m undecided on whether or not I will be partaking come November.”
Though some young queer and transgender people are considering not voting, Generation Z is still committed to enacting political change. According to CIRCLE’s 2018 pre-midterms poll, only 33.7 percent of white people aged 18–24 believed membership in a political party made their voice more powerful. A growing number of young people are identifying as socialists or independents rather than aligning themselves with one of the two major parties. Many young queer voters, unconvinced that their political leaders can provide for them, are hoping to find ways to make meaningful change outside of electoral politics.
“Recent events have further demonstrated how inadequate our government is at pushing widespread, systemic change,” Hildebolt says. “At this point, it’s hard to feel that electoral politics will really shift things; the awful response to police abolition from our government officials is one example of this. We have gone so beyond their limitations, at least to my mind. I’d rather focus on supporting movements which require more political imagination.”
Mary Retta is a freelance writer covering culture, identity, politics, and wellness. Her work has been featured in The Nation, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Bitch Media, Vice, Nylon, Allure, and other similar outlets. Follow her on Twitter @Mary__Retta.