Last week my friend Richard Socarides called this election "the gay rights election." To me it was the moment that crystallized that LGBT civil rights are, indeed, the civil rights issue of our time, and that political homophobia is dead.
After losing 32 state ballot measures relating to marriage, we won not one, not two but four. The turnaround is remarkable. And though civil rights should never be put to majority vote, we can celebrate the impulse of Americans behind those affirmative votes and work to ensure that no one else's civil rights can ever be put to a vote. For Americans not living in one of those four states, the victory is palpable and just as real, because their dignity has been repaired and elevated, as well. Those four state wins were the effect, the cause being the end of political homophobia.
It's hard for me to comprehend this new state of affairs. The simpler side of the political equation is that gay and transgender persons were not used as a wedge by Karl Rove and company, just eight short years since they did so with impunity (and quite successfully). Eight years, two presidential cycles. Had the Republicans, and particularly the religious fundamentalists controlling that party, felt that it would win them votes, they would have used it. They certainly have not refrained from wading through the sewer on issues of sex, race, ethnicity and religion. The truly incredible inference is that they knew that not only would it fail but it could backfire. While some gay pundits voiced concerns over the fact that gay issues were not discussed during the debates, for instance, the truly important point is that they weren't because they were no longer a wedge.
The more complex side of the equation is that in less than three years the LGBT community has gone from being politically toxic to a welcome and important part of the new American governing coalition. Three years ago the president's inner circle shied away from the gay agenda presented by the nation's leading LGBT rights organizations, believing that the president's embrace of any of it would set back his administration. Today we have a president and vice president trumpeting their support for marriage equality. The vice president even called transgender discrimination "the civil rights issue of our time."
I'm painting with a very broad brush, and I don't want to minimize the challenges that still exist. This weekend we begin the 15th year of the observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place Nov. 20. We memorialize and grieve for our dead, as many are still killed today simply because of their gender expression. But the community has organically evolved from simple memorials to celebrations of progress and opportunities to take further action. The empowerment has been palpable to me since my first event on the Mall in D.C. in 2003, a very cold and lonely vigil tinged with only fleeting glimmers of hope.
I will also add that many of us know that although the overall climate has changed, with the Democratic Party embracing and recognizing LGBT Americans, those changes coming from the top have not yet reached down to individuals who struggle with their own demons of difference. We've doubled our representation in Congress and raised the percentage of women in the Senate to 20 percent, but those are still pathetic numbers. In an ideal society at least 50 percent of the members of Congress would be women, and at least 22 of them would be LGBT. There is much yet to do. And political racism, in our so-called post-racial society, is alive and well, as evidenced in the electoral map, on the airwaves and Interwebs and in the Republican Party.
However, it is so much easier to fight for one's rights from a position of strength than to be begging for crumbs. We come to our governments and corporate America standing tall, not stooped or on our knees. We bring ourselves, ever increasingly recognized as valuable and desirable participants in society, to demand a seat at the table. And for me the most important aspect of this radical change in America is the empowerment of the next generation that will more easily slough off any remnant of shame as they grow and take their place in society. I do my work for my children and their fellow citizens, and today I can sit back and smile at a job we have done very well.