The LGBTQ+ Community Needs Allies More Than Ever


Robby Phillips (PPS ‘24)

Robby Phillips (PPS ‘24)

Now more than ever, Democrats must be bold and stand for what they believe in. Otherwise, they risk not only losing the midterms this year, but allowing a lifetime of progress to be erased.

After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, it felt like the tides had turned at long last for gay rights in the United States. Homophobia certainly remained, but for a brief moment, it seemed that the issue had been settled.

Litigation over whether adoption agencies or bakeries could discriminate against gay couples persisted and legislation like North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” in 2016 continued to put trans people at risk. Still, progress marched on steadily. After all, in an entirely unprecedented move, the 2016 Republican nominee for president even held up a rainbow pride flag during a rally.

A week later, that nominee, Donald Trump, was elected President. His administration would prove disastrous for the LGBTQ+ community. From thereon, the Republican party was done letting progress advance without a fight.

With sudden fervor, Republicans have launched a full-fledged assault on gay and trans rights across the country. From Florida banning teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues in the classroom to Alabama and Texas making it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to a trans teenager, similar bills are appearing too quickly to keep track.

This legislation is paired with equally dangerous rhetoric, of a sort not seen in mainstream politics for decades. It has largely focused on Disney, since the company has taken a stand against the aforementioned Florida bill (despite having donated to its co-sponsors). Conservative media outlets and thinkers pump out headlines like “NY Times Writer Admits Schools Are Grooming Kids into LGBT Identities” and “Why Does Disney Hire so Many Pedophiles?” accusing Disney, along with public school teachers, of being “groomers,” a trope for LGBTQ+ adults who are said to be trying to sexualize children and turn them gay or trans.

According to many Republicans, simply affirming children’s identities or telling people that gay people exist could qualify as grooming. These attacks are not on the fringe, either. Donald Trump Jr. published an Instagram post of the Disney logo with the company’s name replaced with “groomer.” Texas Senator John Cornyn referred to Obergefell as judicial overreach, implying it should have never been decided.

These laws and rhetoric have dire consequences on an already vulnerable population. LGBTQ+ youth were already four times more likely than their counterparts to attempt suicide. Now, the Trevor Project has found that two-thirds of these youth and 85% of trans and nonbinary youth feel their mental health has declined as a result of the bills. By denying gay and trans people, especially youth, the right to accept and be themselves, this conservative onslaught threatens to destroy lives.

The question is, will Democrats let them? For decades, gay and trans people didn’t have allies in politics. As recently as 2008, the Democratic party did not even support legalization of same-sex marriage. This era must be different. In this moment, anyone who considers themselves an ally must pick a side.

Standing up for the LGBTQ+ community is a moral imperative, but it can also be a winning issue for Democrats politically. Despite today’s efforts, our culture has changed. Last year, Gallup found that a record high 70% of Americans support gay marriage, and young people, in particular, can be key not only to Democrats electoral success but also to rallying support against this wave of bigotry. In that same Gallup poll, 84% of people ages 18–34 support same-sex marriage. Half of young people report knowing someone who is transgender. With President Biden’s approval numbers hemorrhaging youth more than any other age group, this moment provides an opportunity to shore up his support with the generation who cares about these issues the most.

We stand at a precipice — will we continue to make progress with each passing generation, or will we turn back the clock? A movement is underway to erode the last half-century’s progress, not just of LGBTQ+ rights but of racial justice and gender equity as well, with other legislation limiting history from classrooms and suppressing the vote underway.

While Democrats have a political responsibility to take action, this is not an inherently political issue. It is a matter of humanity, of whether the next generation will be freer than the previous, of whether our society will be one in which we can truly be ourselves and love who we love. Which side will we choose?

Robby Phillips (PPS ’24) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.