If nothing else, this presidential election taught Americans that the Republican and Democratic Parties have radically different understandings of government’s role in the lives of its citizens. We’re heard from Mitt Romney that a relatively undisclosed set of economic reforms holds the potential to reinvigorate the American economy and set us back on the track towards not just prosperity, but exceptionalism. We’ve heard from Barack Obama about how to support an economy where “everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their faire share, and everyone plays by the same rules.” What we have not heard discussed in any presidential debate thus far, though, is the stance of each candidate on their support for LGBTQ Americans.
With so little time left until the election, how should those concerned with LGBTQ rights evaluate their choices?
While neither candidate touched on the issue in the debates, it has been part of their campaigning. It is remarkable, after all, that the president has announced support for same-sex marriage and embraced the LGBTQ community throughout his time in office (signing hate crimes legislation, repealing DADT, etc). The Obama campaign even produced a YouTube video of queer celebrity surrogates to discuss the Democrats’ support for LGBTQ people. (Meanwhile, a search for the word “gay” on the Romney campaign website yields no issue page, drop-down menu, or policy proposal.)
However, the conversation ought not stop there, nor should all LGBTQ people accept the goodwill of the Obama campaign without critique. The concern for me, and many other queer-identified folks, then, is around the need to hold all parties and individuals accountable to working towards an inclusive and just society regardless of the election cycle. For us, this means more than a “shout out” or the formation of a campaign affinity group for queer folks.
It means redefining what the acceptable topics of discussion are for a nationally-televised presidential debate to engage with the history and presence of queer people in America. It means include queer families in discussion about families. It means affirming support for the HIV/AIDS services needed by many low-income LGBTQ folks.
It means making the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the primary target of our organizing and encouraging our straight allies to think similarly. By protecting the Americans in 29 states who can be summarily fired for perceived or actual identification as gay, and those in the 34 states where perceived or self-identification as transgender constitutes grounds for termination, ENDA will protect LGBTQ folks in the here and now — giving us the potential to organize stronger and better-funded campaigns for other queer issues in the future.
For LGBTQ Americans issues of “equality” are more than talking points, lawn signs, or sound bytes. Policies that legislate equity for LGBTQ people provide the means necessary for queer folks to find and hold jobs, secure housing, attend safe schools, and provide benefits to their partners. Working towards the realization of inclusive legislation is an imperative for queer folks. To us, social change is not an abstract concept to be discussed in a State of the Union address and then abandoned.
As we GOTV for Tuesday, I commit to voting but also to continue to engage society in a discourse on LGBTQ issues, to hold elected officials accountable to their progressive base, and to build community with other queer folks. Change is not given. It is won.