What's At Stake: The Current Landscape On LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Protections

12/02/2017 10:57 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2017
Don Arnold via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I started my new job as CEO at Freedom for All Americans with no lack of a comprehensive to-do list. The LGBTQ movement is at a critical juncture. The federal political climate has left many feeling hopeless and discouraged as the Trump administration proves itself at best unpredictable, and at worst committed to stripping us of our dignity. At the state level, we're defending ourselves from hostile legislation and doing everything we can to identify opportunities to advance proactive nondiscrimination protections. And key cases continue to make their way through the courts. In fact, the Masterpiece case – which concerns a Colorado bakery that turned away a same-sex couple – will go before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5. What’s at stake in Masterpiece is nothing short of the integrity and enforceability of nondiscrimination laws writ large.

The landscape can often feel overwhelming, but we can't lose hope now. Like many current leaders in the movement, I’ve been working for LGBTQ equality for decades. Over the course of my career, LGBTQ rights have exploded as one of the biggest issues of our time. The fight to win marriage equality was indisputably one of the most successful social movements in recent American history in terms of messaging, organizing, and sheer growth in support over a short number of years. And in less than a decade, the trajectory of transgender rights has accelerated from relative obscurity into a transformative national conversation.

In the long run, there's no question that we've made progress that is impossible to reverse. Americans' hearts and minds have changed. LGBTQ people are visible in our communities and workplaces. We are raising families, serving in public office, and thriving in our lives. The world is still far from perfect, but living openly is gradually becoming safer and more welcoming in America.

But this next chapter will be critical. In 2018, we'll face the first-ever statewide attempt to roll back transgender rights in Massachusetts, which became the 18th and most recent state to update its nondiscrimination law to include explicit protections in public places -- including restrooms -- based on gender identity. The fight in Massachusetts must happen on a national scale in order to set a national precedent and narrative that voters support transgender equality. If we can secure our first-ever transgender ballot measure victory in Massachusetts -- the birthplace of marriage equality -- our opposition will undoubtedly feel the defeat, and momentum on our side will be stronger than ever.

Simultaneously, we'll defend the wins we saw this year in Texas, where egregiously anti-transgender bills were defeated time and again by a historic coalition that included women’s advocates, law enforcement, civil rights leaders, and the business community. We'll work to secure our newest proactive victory in New Hampshire, building bipartisan support to push forward a transgender nondiscrimination bill in the legislature. We'll continue building strong and diverse coalitions of businesses, mayors, conservatives, law enforcement officials, advocates for survivors of sexual violence, and other key constituencies who support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in order to increase understanding about who we really are. Last but not least, we'll keep amplifying the importance of the work our legal partners are doing in the courts as they seek justice for LGBTQ people who are experiencing the concrete harms of discrimination every day.

In the midst of all that’s happening across our nation, let's not lose sight of the bright spots. In November, LGBTQ legislators made history on Election Day. Eight openly transgender Americans won victories to local and state offices all across the country. Danica Roem in Virginia became one of the first openly transgender state legislators ever elected in the United States, while Dawn Adams became the state’s first openly lesbian candidate elected to the House of Delegates. Two LGBTQ people of color – Andrea Jenkins, who is bisexual and transgender, and Phillipe Cunningham, a transgender man – have been elected to the Minneapolis City Council. In Palm Springs, bisexual Christy Holstege and transgender woman Lisa Middleton’s victories mean that the city council is now run entirely by LGBTQ people. And in Seattle, voters elected their first lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan. Americans showed up to the polls, and in many cases rejected outright anti-LGBTQ rhetoric by campaigners. Constituents in districts led by pro-LGBTQ officials will now see their communities as safer and fairer places to live. As Roem stated unequivocally in her victory speech, “This election must prove that discrimination is a disqualifier.”

There’s so much on the line for all LGBTQ people right now. As a movement, we have a lot on our plate, and there's uncertainty in what the future holds. But we do have control over the work we do, and we must feel empowered to carry it out. There is no time to waste in pushing forward in the states, in the courts, and in the halls of Congress to do the hard work necessary to ensure every LGBTQ person can live free from discrimination. Let's keep at it, and secure our collective vision of equality for all.

Masen Davis is the CEO of Freedom for All Americans, the national campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

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