Jamie Fontaine: Fear 2.0

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Trump’s Twitter announcement Wednesday that the U.S. will no longer “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in our military may well be his most blatant and outrageous attack on the LGBT community yet.

Along with many peers in the political and LGBT communities, my immediate response to Trump’s win was to question what impact his presidency could have on my marriage, my children – my civil rights. Perhaps naively, I surmised the answer was likely very little.

Of course, the LGBT community was not alone on November 9th in our forced calculation of the consequences of a Trump presidency on our lives and our families. We stood alongside a dizzying number of minority, ethnic and faith-based organizations and individuals in a surreal resurgence of collective fear – something that’s always been with members of the LGBT community to varying degrees, but in my adulthood, never so close to the surface.

The shock and incredulity we’ve felt since Election Day is not only because Trump’s victory has given validation to the actions of hate groups across the country, but specifically because his conduct thus far amounts to no less than a direct assault on the civil rights of LGBT Americans. His statements yesterday couldn’t make this clearer.

In addition to Trump’s blatant expression of transphobia Wednesday, the tremendous representation in Washington of anti-LGBT sentiment no doubt offers activists more of an opening to affect public policy than they’ve had in decades and is a backstop for Trump, who could potentially nominate another Supreme Court Justice. Across the country, anti-LGBT groups are pursuing legal actions in the states to take rights away from LGBT Americans in the name of issues like religious freedom.

Anyone who still questions what rights could be up for grabs in a post-marriage-equality America should consider the totality of circumstances since Trump took office:

1. Mike Pence.
2. Steve Bannon.
3. One day after Trump was sworn in, all LGBTQ content was removed from White House and Department of State websites.
4. Trump chose Kenneth Blackwell, an official of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, to lead his transition team.
5. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family helped fund the offices of the Family Research Council.
6. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a vocal, lifelong opponent of gay rights. Under his watch, the Justice Department in February withdrew guidance issued to schools on the treatment of transgender students, signaling that it would no longer consider their rights to be protected under a 1972 civil rights law.
7. The Department of Health and Human Services is now led by Tom Price, a vocal opponent of gay rights in Congress. The agency’s civil rights office is now run by Roger Severino, “an ultraconservative activist who last year accused the Obama administration of attempting to ‘coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.’ ”
8. New Secretary of the Army, Mark Green, last year called being transgender a “disease."
9. According to ProPublica, recently hired Department of Agriculture employee James Renne helped orchestrate an anti-gay purge of longtime LGBT government employees during George W. Bush’s presidency.
10. Questions relating to sexual identity and gender have been removed from both the Census and from surveys conducted via the National Survey of Older Americans Act (NSOAAP).
11. All this, plus Trump’s implied commitment to the Republican Party Platform, which includes opposition to same-sex marriage and support for anti-transgender policy and for a parent’s right to subject gay and transgender children to “conversion therapy.”

While LGBT Americans across the country now rush to make sure the birth certificates of our children properly reflect their parents, that our same-sex parent adoptions are complete, our passports updated and our living wills are properly executed, we sit in the shadow of so much progress, knowing that we can’t afford blind faith in the process to protect our civil rights – but otherwise not clear on what, if anything we can do about it.

As an organizer at heart and by trade, I believe the answer – and the only thing many of us have the power to do – is that we must organize.

We must come together – one friend, to one colleague, to one family member – each motivated by our very personal stories and relationships, to learn and prepare.

Very different from the competing agendas, egos and ideas of so many large, well-meaning but over-burdened organizations vying for their place in history and their claim to a win in 2020 – it is incumbent upon all LGBT Americans to drive an almost underground insurgence - something that can’t be co-opted, something that creates commitment through hand-to-hand organizing. No website, no digital ads, no public declarations of strength.

Instead, a dedication to engaging as many LGBT and allied people as we can– one-on-one, in something bigger. This could take many forms and evolve in many ways, but at its core, it can be hundreds of thousands of people - each connected to one another through our existing networks – who are informed, educated and more motivated than your average name in a database to advocate ferociously in 2020 and beyond for whatever it is that will make our futures more secure.

Fear is the supreme motivator. On that unfortunate, but solid foundation, we can rise – and we must.

Jamie Fontaine is Managing Partner at KOFA Public Affairs.

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