It wasn't so long ago that LGBT Americans could be excluded from emergency evacuations, kept apart from a spouse in hospitals, outed at work by government officials, or straightwashed in the Census.
Over the last seven years, the Obama administration has made unprecedented strides toward fixing discriminatory laws and creating new institutions to serve the needs of LGBT citizens. Now, with candidates like Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio entering the race, it's become clear that the next president could either defend those advances or undermine them.
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Among the Obama administration's most significant achievements for LGBT people: passage of the the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and the first-ever LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
All three pieces of legislation encountered significant resistance from congressional Republicans. All three declared Republican candidates -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio -- opposed the repeal of DADT, for example.
There have also been dozens of other incremental advances, particularly in the area of relationship recognition. In 2013 the Office of Personnel Management published new guidelines about recognizing married couples; the Social Security Administation began recognizing same-sex couples; and the Department of Homeland Security committed to equal consideration of visa applications. In 2014 the Administration on Community Living ensured that same-sex couples will have equal access to caregiver programs, and the Department of Labor extended family and medical leave to same-sex partners.
The administration has also made significant strides on trans issues. In 2010 the Office of Personnel Management issued guidelines on equal treatment of transgender workers. In 2011 the Department of Veterans Affairs issued guidelines of its own regarding respectful treatment. In 2012 the Federal Aviation Administration ended discriminatory testing requirements for trans pilots. And in 2013 the Department of Education revised policies regarding bathroom use by trans students.
This is just a tiny sampling of the Obama administration's advances for LGBT citizens. But there's still more work to be done. Congress still has not passed an Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect workers from being fired for being gay. There are still loopholes that allow discrimination against couples with domestic partnerships, and the foster-care system needs additional reforms. Also pending in Congress are an act that would prevent individuals who violate LGBT rights abroad from entering the country, legislation to prohibit discriminatory juror selection, an act to improve sex education, and bills to reduce school harassment.
The next president will be instrumental in passing this legislation -- or in preventing its passage. A hostile administration could even roll back the improvements made over the preceding decade. Although it's too early to tell who the nominees for president will be, it's already clear that the 2016 election will have an impact on LGBT Americans for years to come.