May 16, 2017 at 6:17 pm PDT | by Karen Ocamb
The LGBT Stake in Defending Our Democracy

Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri Jean and longtime LGBT activist Jewel Thais-Williams. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

The center of American power, the seat of democracy, is in chaos. The world watched Donald Trump destroy civility as a campaign sideshow; now his bullying narcissistic ineptitude is threatening to destroy civilization. “Lord of the Flies” as a Reality TV show. But the White House is not an island unto itself and the latest breath-taking revelations that Trump leaked highly classified intelligence about ISIS to Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office—the sharing of which was not agreed to by the Israeli source—has caused feverish concerns about his competence and credibility.

Meanwhile, despite claims from the State Department that they are “deeply disturbed” about the abuse and murder of gays in Chechnya, the issue never came up in the meeting between Trump and the Russian foreign minister. The fact that Trump promised to protect the LGBT community to get LGBT votes, only to roll back Obama era protections and turn a blind eye to the anti-LGBT atrocities in this region of the Russian Federation only goes to shred the last wisps of his credibility even more.

“Some of the changes that we’re seeing should seem small, but they matter a great deal if you’re the person affected,” former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton told an audience at the New York City LGBT Center last month. “Others carry historic significance, like the future of the Supreme Court.”

Or the future of a state. The Human Rights Campaign says it is tracking more than 130 anti-LGBTQ bills in 30 states, including Texas. “This is the most number of specifically anti-LGBT bills that we’ve ever faced,” Chuck Smith, president of Equality Texas, told USA Today about the 24 anti-LGBT bills introduced this session. “It’s an all-out assault on LGBT people.”

What is surprising is that some Democrats seem to be backtracking on LGBT equality for the sake of political expediency.

For example, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat elected with a lot of help from the LGBT community furious over the hateful HB2, told the Center for American Progress “2017 Ideas Conference” on Tuesday, May 16 that he had a choice about signing a “compromise” repeal bill. “Do I continue to make a statement and pound on the table and nothing happen, or do I take a positive step, make progress, and continue to fight. I chose the latter for my state because we got rid of the birth certificate requirement, we opened up the ability of local governments to provide some protections now, and some in the future. I’m gonna issue an Executive Order pretty soon, that is comprehensive, that helps with LGBT protections, and we’re going to keep working every day.”

The CAP audience applauded. But LGBT politicos on the ground felt betrayed by the compromise,  which Cooper hastily signed to meet a deadline imposed by the NCAA.  The ACLU of North Carolina called the repeal a “disgraceful backroom deal” that uses LGBT rights “as a bargaining chip.” Important provisions of HB2 are still in effect until 2020, including prohibiting cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances regarding private employment or public accommodations nor are transgender citizens allowed access to public bathrooms that match their gender identity. Cooper  signed that bill in March but no executive order has yet been offered. Nor has the Democratic Governor’s Association called off plans for a September meeting in North Carolina, despite several states, including California, upholding a travel ban there until LGBT citizens receive full equality.

And then there’s the ugly homophobia in the race for California Democratic Party Chair with supporters of out Eric Bauman’s opponent accusing him of pedophilia. ““What they’re accusing me of is being a child predator! And I lost it. I started crying uncontrollably,” Bauman told me about hearing of the false rumors. “This is despicable! This is not the Democratic Party! These are Trumpian tactics and it has to stop!” The reaction in the LGBT community has been swift: “I am sickened that there still are people in California’s Democratic Party who would resort to these false smears to favor their preferred candidate,” Equality California Executive Director Zbur told the LA Blade, calling for an investigation.

But fighting back, resisting is not enough, Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. LGBT Center, told the crowd at “An Evening for Women” in Hollywood May 13.  “No matter the obstacles we faced, no matter who was in power, we NEVER accepted the status quo or settled for crumbs.  And we certainly have not been satisfied with simply trying to limit the damage being done to us,” she said.  “We cannot allow timidity or fear or even the prospect of short-term failure to reduce our expectations or our demands.  That kind of determination has been the key to our movement’s success thus far.  And it is key to our future.”

Jean pointed out that Los Angeles and California “have enormous power,” and will exercise it. “We will set the example for our nation, continuing to make real progress while holding fast to the values we cherish:  inclusivity, diversity, acceptance,” she said, organizing everywhere. “We will speak up and expose wrongs and hold the perpetrators accountable.  And in 2018 and 2020, with regard to those who would have us regress to an America that was never great for people like us, we will send them packing!”

In fact, Jean said, the LGBT community is inspiring. “Fighting for justice, and winning, is what we know how to do.  It’s one of the things we do best.  In these difficult times, it’s critical to remind ourselves of that fact.  We must remember not only that we are on the right side of history, but that we are fierce and resilient and inspiring.  We must use that power to ensure we do more than simply weather the storm.  We must BE the storm!”


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