The rights of oppressed communities, as well as working people more broadly, are under attack by Trump, and the LGBTQ community is no exception. Key steps forward for LGBTQ rights are now on the line, with Obama-era gains like trans bathroom protections in schools coming under fire within Trump’s first weeks in office. Yet, as we enter the season of LGBTQ Pride, it is both inspiring and critical to our movement that this year’s events are becoming politicized in response to the attacks on our community, with some planned marches even being formally turned into protests. We can use Pride as a launch pad for a revitalized LGBTQ movement to face down Trump and fight for our liberation, in solidarity with all working people struggling against this dangerous right-wing administration.
Attacks Across the Board
Trump has moved quickly on his anti-LGBTQ agenda. In March, he gutted LGBTQ protections for employees of federal contractors and rescinded the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order that President Obama issued in 2014. The latter order had required companies doing business with the federal government to comply with various federal worker protections, including a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Trump is also threatening billion-dollar cuts to research funded by the National Institutes of Health, including initiatives to help people with HIV/AIDS.
LGBTQ youth are also in Trump’s crosshairs, and they will need solidarity in their fight against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In Michigan, DeVos family money financed the push for what they called “students’ expression of religious beliefs,” in the form of a 2012 pro-bullying exemption passed by the Michigan State Senate. DeVos now has federal power at the head the Department of Education, putting all LGBTQ youth at a higher risk of bullying as well as the higher rates of depression and suicide that come along with it. Already, DeVos has gone along with Trump’s reversal of the Obama administration’s Title IX transgender-inclusive interpretation, threatening the everyday safety of transgender students who simply want to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender.
Recent gains won by our movements, such as federal-level protections for trans students, are being rolled back. While Trump claimed personal indifference during his campaign toward which bathroom a person uses, his actions and choices for his cabinet have since made crystal clear that his reactionary agenda will seek to undermine bathroom rights and other gains. A slew of bathroom bills, many inspired by the rise of Trump and Pence to the White House, have been launched around the country, with 16 states already considering anti-trans legislation to limit access to bathrooms or other gender-segregated facilities in 2017. These attacks are being brought forward by the same right-wing bigots who are working relentlessly to kill reproductive rights one state at a time. Meanwhile, bigotry of all kinds has been emboldened by the administration, and hate crimes are on the rise around the country.
Lessons From the Fight Against Reagan
This is not the first time the LGBTQ community has faced off against a bigoted, right-wing president. Under Ronald Reagan, the LGBTQ movement demonstrated how to win victories in a hostile environment. Reagan said he “could not condone” a gay “lifestyle,” while his communications director Pat Buchanan said AIDS is “nature’s revenge on gay men.” Reagan’s homophobic views were backed up by his four years of inaction regarding the lethal HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.
An international mass movement of working-class LGBTQ people fought back, a key part of which was ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which stomped out erroneous claims about the transmission of HIV and called out the government’s deadly silence. In their coordinated action on October 11, 1988, “Seize Control of the FDA,” hundreds of activists stopped business as usual by occupying FDA headquarters for long enough to cover the building in ACT UP graphics and banners saying messages like, “The Government Has Blood on Its Hands. One AIDS Death Every Half Hour,” and, “We Recognize Every AIDS Death as an Act of Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic Violence.” The movement dramatically raised the public’s awareness, and the Reagan administration was forced to speed up progress on HIV/AIDS research or risk further mass resistance and mass action.
Uniting Our Struggles
Those movements that were built on the ground allowed us to pose a credible threat to the establishment and win major gains. Undoubtedly, the Trump administration presents new challenges. To defeat the Trump agenda, we must unite our struggles: The defunding of Planned Parenthood, for example, is a key battle that must be fought for by the LGBTQ community alongside working women. Trump’s election represents a clear and present danger to LGBTQ people, women, and working people generally, and we need maximum unity in action to stand together against this right-wing assault.
While we need broad unity, the LGBTQ movement will be strongest when it does not limit its fight-back to what is acceptable to the corporate establishment of the Democratic Party. Both now and when Obama was in power, transgender people face triple unemployment rates and high levels of sexual and police violence, while issues of health care, homelessness, and mental health have continued to be endemic in the LGBTQ community.
The recent developments in the trans rights movement have already led to important gains in visibility and begun to make strides on safety, while renewing the fighting spirit of the LGBTQ community as a whole. While Democratic leaders have hesitated and stalled in the fight for trans rights, a radicalizing section of the LGBTQ movement, often led up by young trans activists, has begun to fight on a more independent basis and made substantial progress, although inequality, discrimination, and violence continue to plague our community.
We need a political program that acknowledges social and economic hardships head-on with clear demands, while calling for all those who claim to stand with us to help us fight for real gains. It was the mass movement for marriage equality that pushed the evolution of Obama’s support for the cause.
Obama stood aside as California passed its infamous Prop. 8, which temporarily banned same-sex marriage and threatened to set back the whole movement, and he only came out in favor of marriage equality after there was majority support for the demand. Corporate politicians too often listen to the movement only once it has become too loud to ignore. We must continue to organize on a grassroots level and force the hand of Democratic politicians while fighting back against the right and for more radical, class-based demands.
It is important that Pride events are again taking on a more activist character, which can both revitalize the movement and push back against the commercialization that has run rampant in recent years. We should use this year’s Pride to help build the broader movement against Trump and to take up demands that move from defense to offense: going beyond the struggle for acceptance to the fight for strong anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws, free and accessible counseling for LGBTQ youth, free and accessible sexual reassignment surgery, and real solutions to LGBTQ homelessness.
The resistance against bigotry also needs to be international, and many pride events around the world are also being politicized against the rise of right-wing governments. In Brazil, the brutal violence against trans and LGBTQ people in recent years has been further intensified with the reactionary interim Temer administration coming to power. The Brazilian LGBTQ and women’s movement have also been fighting back through politicizing of Pride parades, including Carnival, which has become more and more an expression of struggle against bigotry, in spite of its roots in Catholic tradition. The brutal oppression of LGBTQ people in Chechnya has led to protests globally and demands for an end to the violence and arrests.
The most powerful way to defend the LGBTQ community against future attacks is through a broad-based working-class movement that stands for LGBTQ liberation and builds maximum unity in action around our collective struggle.
For example, the fight for single-payer health care can unite millions of workers opposing Trumpcare but also wanting genuine affordable and universal care that will disproportionately benefit LGBTQ people. We can unite our struggles by taking up demands for a $15 minimum wage, affordable housing, and free public education through college. At the same time, a broader movement can fight side by side with us against bathroom bills, attacks on workplace rights, and other bigoted, anti-LGBTQ legislation. If you are serious about building a powerful struggle for LGBTQ and workers’ rights alongside a broad movement led by working people and youth of all genders and sexual identities, join Socialist Alternative.
Capitalism has bigotry and inequality built into it. It relies on strategies of divide-and-rule and on hierarchical structures of church and family, in order for a super-wealthy ruling elite to defend their dysfunctional and massively unequal system. An end to homophobia, misogyny, and bigotry will require an end to capitalism, and in its place a socialist society based on equality, democracy, and solidarity.