Beyond The LGBT Platitudes: Democrats Over The Rainbow

BY NATHAN JAMES

As the historic Democratic National Committee Convention (DNCC) ended in Philadelphia, with the delegates, celebrities, elected officials, and the candidates returning to their daily lives, as the campaign rhetoric of four days died down and began to fade from memory, and as the LGBT community at large reflects on its unprecedented level of visibility during the proceedings, it’s a propitious moment to look beyond the flowery platitudes and high-flown pronouncements of equality and diversity, to examine the real issues facing LGBT people and the Democrats, as they seek to retain the White House.  Each session of the DNCC was marked by acknowledgments of the LGBT community and our ongoing struggles to be free of fear, free of injury, and free to be true, equal participants in American life.  Political figures from all levels of the party celebrated the accomplishments of the LGBT rights movement, and the dangers we still face, invoking Stonewall and Orlando, polemically decrying the massacre, even as they promised a brighter future ahead.  As Hillary Clinton enters the fight of her public life against Republican nominee Donald Trump, how does she, and her party, take us over the figurative rainbow once the election has been won?

Obergefell has been settled, making marriage equality the law of the land.  President Obama ended Don't Ask/Don't Tell, allowing gay, lesbian, and transgender members of our Armed Force s to wear their country’s uniform openly and proudly.  LGBT characters now regularly appear in major roles in film and on television.  The aforementioned, iconic Stonewall Inn of New York City has even been named a national monument. 

By many measures of progress, we’ve advanced further, and in less time, than I ever imagined would be possible within my lifetime.  However, it would be short-sighted to read an augury in these and other milestones we’ve achieved thus far.  The systematic regression of our hard-fought gains has been underway for a considerable period, including the passage of laws permitting anti-LGBT discrimination in several states, the Republican Party’s clearly homophobic platform, the increasing levels of nationwide violence against us, and the tacit acceptance of these developments by the electorate in general.  These and other troubling developments point the Democrats toward a sober evaluation of how they, or a Clinton administration, might respond.

As a political entity diametrically opposed to the tactics of division so lately employed by their opposition, today’s Democrats need to look at what’s going on within their precincts, and formulate real, comprehensive strategies for undoing the back stepping we’ve seen, and restoring the forward march of our collective community body.  This all begins with a four-letter word: VOTE.  Although Democrats (and their LGBT constituents) are often fed a steady diet of reassuring sound bites and anecdotes about Hillary Clinton’s all-but-assured election, history has a warning for us about such hubris.  In the 1948 presidential election, which pitted incumbent Harry Truman against New York’s Thomas Dewey, it was thought to be a foregone conclusion that Dewey would win.  Even experienced, major pollsters of the day, such as Elmo Roper, baldly said, “My whole inclination is to predict the election of Thomas E. Dewey by a heavy margin, and devote my time and energy to other things”.   Of course, Truman hit the rails, whistle-stopping across the country, and pulled off one of the greatest upset victories in American history.  If we are mindful of a major factor in Dewey’s defeat—low turnout by overconfident Republicans—the gravity of getting voters out pulling levers becomes apparent. 

That’s critical for us in the LGBT community, because as a group, there have never been enough of us in the population to be a decisive voting bloc.  This means we must rely on our votes along with those of other Democrats, because despite the GOP’s protestations of LGBT-friendliness, the accession of Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate speaks more loudly than either Caitlyn Jenner or Peter Thiel.  A get-out-the-vote push is therefore at the top of the to-do list for Clinton’s campaign.  She will not be able to coast to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the absence of her constituency. All those targeted or maligned by Donald Trump’s demagoguery have a stake, as well, in high voter turnout, and this most certainly includes us. 

If Clinton beats Trump, it will require more than a mere continuation of the Obama administration’s supportive LGBT policies to keep things aimed in the right direction.  A President Clinton must also be prepared to challenge states whose laws create first-class-taxpaying, second-class citizens out of LGBT people living in them, just as Obama did in enforcing the Civil Rights Act against North Carolina.  This means going beyond merely enforcing existing federal law; these can be—and are—challenged in the courts, so Clinton needs to choose future Supreme Court judges (she may actually get to name two) with care, jurists who will apply the Constitution to these Jim Crow-like pieces of legislation dressed up as “freedom” initiatives.  Just as the high court brought Constitutional imperatives to bear in Obergefell, so, too, can it restore the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment to us. 

Finally, a Clinton administration, indeed, the whole of the Democratic Party, can continue to effect the kind of truly beneficial, sometimes radical change, which has always lined the path we took from Stonewall in 1969, to today’s general election, by exemplifying the leadership on LGBT issues, for which it has come to be known.  Perhaps just as much as the other necessary action items, leadership, in word, spirit, and implantation, can move people to see us as the truly equal individuals we’ve striven to become, all throughout our lives.  Our future is inextricably tied to the votes cast in this, and every election.  We, too, must join with the Democratic body politic to make it happen.  The alternative, as Donald Trump has made manifestly clear, is for his dysfunctional, hate-based republic to become reality, to our very immediate detriment.  If the Democrats are to bring us all over the rainbow, they need first to get us through the other party’s thunderstorm.