With anti-LGBTQ panic at the center of Republicans’ culture wars and bigots like Ron DeSantis in the mix, it will be no surprise for issues of LGBTQ rights to have a high profile in the 2024 elections. As in previous election cycles, we can expect Democrats to leverage fear of what another Trump term would mean to get otherwise unenthusiastic voters to the polls. This type of “lesser evilism” will gain a certain popularity given the dire situation that transgender people are facing. But are Democrats actually a fighting opponent of Republicans when it comes to queer rights?
The Biden administration has boasted about its pro-LGBTQ policies which, in brief, fall far short of addressing the most urgent crises LGBTQ people face. The bulk of them charge various state agencies with vague directives like “reviewing existing policies” and “proposing new rules” that are shallow by design. For example, the federal Department of Health and Human Services is now tasked with addressing disparities for LGBTQ people’s access to healthcare. But as a staunch opponent of Medicare for All, Biden has in reality already ensured that healthcare will remain inaccessible for the vast majority of LGBTQ people alongside the whole working class.
When it comes to fighting for LGBTQ rights against the Republican onslaught, Democrats are playing a weak defense at best. In this context, it’s necessary to lay out what a party that genuinely stands for working and oppressed people would do in this situation. At a bare minimum, such a party would put forward and fight for a national Right to Self-Identify law, to protect transgender people’s right to change their gender on legal documents, and enshrine the right to same-sex marriage in law rather than leaving it in the hands of the court system. Such a party would also go all-out to build a movement alongside the labor movement and youth to win Medicare for All, including free gender-affirming care, so not just queer people but all people can have the healthcare they need at no cost, cutting across the divisive claims of the right wing that trans rights “infringe” on those of others.
A working-class party would wage a determined campaign for a whole host of reforms that would improve the lives of all working people, especially those most marginalized under capitalism. Things like universal rent control, high-quality permanently affordable housing, fully funded schools, universal childcare, and more.
Democratic Strategy – Avoid & Evade
Top Democrats like Hillary Clinton have urged the party to “stay away” from social issues, including trans rights, to avoid losing right-wing voters. Biden’s approach has been roughly similar: this spring, his administration released a sports ban proposal that takes a “moderate” line – an empty attempt to appease trans people without inflaming the right. In doing so, Biden is legitimizing rightwing disinformation intended to demonize and scapegoat trans people, and leaving the door open for the right wing to legally discriminate against transgender athletes.
With the immediacy of the attacks, particularly at a statewide level, “staying away” from social issues is inviting the right wing to do its worst. In these moments we’ve seen them flounder: siding with Republicans to attack trans rights, and funding far-right candidates in a short-sighted bid to get votes in the immediate election cycle, while actually strengthening the right and anti-trans attacks.
Some Democrats have taken a stand against these attacks, like the Nebraska and Missouri lawmakers who filibustered their legislatures to attempt to stop anti-trans bills, but without a movement, these attempts have at best only slowed attacks, and have faced a lack of support from within the Democratic establishment – resulting in one Nebraska Senator, Megan Hunt, leaving the Democratic Party in disgust at the party’s inaction. A working-class party would have pressed the issue nationwide, calling demonstrations and calling out Republicans in every city, state, and in Congress against bathroom bills, Don’t Say Gay, etc.
The Democrats’ attempts at a “moderate” approach have sometimes made them as much an enemy of LGBTQ rights as the right wing, such as when Bill Clinton signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy into law in 1994, describing it as a “necessary compromise.” Clinton also put forward and signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which Biden voted for in the Senate. To this day, Biden still poses himself as a “reach across the aisle” candidate, making him no ally to the fight for LGBTQ rights.
The so-called “centrist appeal” that Democrats use to defend their dismal record on LGBTQ rights is a clear-as-day indication that we can’t have any faith in the party’s most powerful and dominant wing to lift a finger for us in any substantial way when they think it’s not “strategic.”
But even when LGBTQ voters are “strategic” for the Democrats, we get half-measures at best and completely symbolic pandering at worst, including the current policy “victories” of the Biden administration. Why? This compromising strategy is based on the idea that they have no way of reaching right-wing voters and instead seek to hide or minimize trans and LGBTQ issues so as to not increase right-wing voter turnout. At the end of the day, they’re also scared that putting up a real fight for LGBTQ rights could embolden movements and call into question a much broader range of working-class policies like Medicare for All. The Democrats’ primary objective is to block any struggle for these things to shield their corporate donors and the whole capitalist class.
History has shown time and time again that a mass struggle from below is necessary to defend and win real gains for marginalized and working-class people, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in office. This type of fight would be enormously aided by an independent political party that could both organize to fight the attacks from the right head-on, while also exposing the Democrats’ real role. Unlike the Democrats, a genuine left party would have a real program for LGBTQ rights, which its politicians and leaders would be held accountable to fight for by the party’s membership. This and more is what we deserve — not the Democrats’ race to the bottom!