Members of the LGBT community are watching the Trump administration closely to see exactly when we will become a direct target. I am sure I am not alone in reading through each statement and each executive order with a sense of foreboding as we watch community after community being targeted by a government that seems determined to roll back the progress of the last few decades.
Rumors floated around Washington, D.C., that a nondiscrimination executive order was about to be overturned. Earlier this week, we heard that it won’t — but there may be another forthcoming order targeting LGBT people under the guise of "religious freedom."
Of course, I am drawing an artificial distinction when I talk about the LGBT community as if it were somehow separate from other communities already under attack. Women, refugees, immigrants, religious minorities, people of color — LGBT people are a part of each of these communities, and each of these communities overlap with one another. So LGBT people are already under attack in terms of various identities they might carry, but so far nothing has specifically targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
There is one direct mention of “sexual orientation” in a recent executive order. A quick read might cause you to think it was actually a move to protect LGBT people. But on closer examination, you quickly realize that what is at play is something we dreaded all along. The protection of LGBT people is cited as a justification for a set of cruel and unnecessary new immigration policies that, no matter how carefully worded they might be, amount to a Muslim ban.
The “Purpose” section, which purports to explain what the executive order is designed to accomplish, notes, “The United States should not admit … those who would oppress members of one race, one gender, or sexual orientation.” It is not clear exactly how immigration authorities would know which individuals “would” take such actions, although I suspect they will turn to broad generalizations about religious groups. This language, like other sections of the order, seems clearly designed to target Muslims. We saw this coming and we cannot let it stand.
LGBT people and Muslims living in the United States actually have a lot in common. We are small segments of the population who are often viewed negatively by the majority. We aren’t always able to hide our identities, nor should we have to. By now we should be familiar with this divide and conquer strategy used to perpetuate oppression and discrimination, and we should know better than to fall for it. “Intersectionality” must be our mantra.
Muslims are hardly alone in their struggle to reconcile their faith and traditions with the push for LGBT equality. But the fact is that Muslims who live in the United States increasingly support LGBT equality. According to Pew Research, in 2007 only 27 percent of Muslim Americans felt that homosexuality should be accepted; by 2011 that number was 39 percent. In 2007, 61 percent of Muslim Americans felt that homosexuality should be discouraged; by 2011 that number had dropped to 45 percent. Keep in mind that these last numbers are from six years ago, so it is likely that they have continued trending in the right direction, particularly as same-sex marriage became the law of the land and normalized for many.
By comparison, the general public’s rate for acceptance went from 51 percent to 58 percent from 2006 to 2011, and the rate of discouragement went from 38 percent to 33 percent. A 2014 poll showed that Muslims in America favored same-sex marriage at higher rates than Mormons or evangelical Christians.
The distrust runs in both directions. In 2015, only 53 percent of all Americans had a favorable view of Muslims. And while there doesn’t seem to be any polling specifically on LGBT attitudes towards Muslims, we know that the LGBT community is not immune from Islamophobia.
I think it is fair to say that we are in a moment of crisis right now as all of our various identities are under attack in various ways. Our right to reproductive health, our right to move freely, our right to decent health care are already on the chopping block, and there is likely much more to come.
The Trump administration seems to be employing every tactic at its disposal, but one of the most egregious is this strategy of “divide and conquer.” By appealing to the shared desire that LGBT people might live their lives free from violence, the Trump administration is hoping we will turn that desire into fear and hatred of another marginalized community. He did it after Orlando, he did it with this executive order, and I would call on the entire LGBT community to stand up and say “not in our name.”
I want us all to say that we recognize that violence and discrimination perpetuated against one of us is violence and discrimination perpetuated against all of us. The LGBT community will not be pitted against other communities because we are one and the same.
We have suffered for years from violence and discrimination that is tolerated, if not perpetuated, by the state. In our schools, in our workplaces, in our places of worship, as we walk down the street. Having achieved unprecedented levels of legal rights and public support, we will not go from the oppressed to the oppressor and insist that our rights should come at the expense of our Muslim brothers and sisters.
SHAWN GAYLORD is advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, focusing on LGBT issues. Follow him on Twitter @shawngaylord.