A Good Night for Queers

It was a good night for queers, so it was a good night for progressive politics in general.

LGBT civil rights owes its remarkably rapid success in politics and policy since the outbreak of the militant movement in 1969 partly to its predecessor in civil rights activism, the African American movement, which set the terms for civil rights politics and policy in the United States. African Americans established a clear precedent for the idea that members of a minority group who suffer discrimination should engage in public protest to fight that discrimination, and set various legal precedents, both in the strict sense of judicial decisions, and more broadly in the sense of major legislation, for LGBT activists to build on and emulate.

LGBT activists still have a lot of catching up to do, but they achieved a number of major victories on election night, 2018.

First, Tammy Baldwin won reelection as the first openly lesbian/gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, having won her first term in 2012. Baldwin served several terms in the House of Representatives, where she was the first lesbian/gay person to win a seat as an openly lesbian/gay person. There were openly gay men in the House when she won, but they had all won election as presumptively heterosexual persons before revealing their gay identities. Baldwin is a pioneer in the battle to make openly lesbian/gay members of Congress unremarkable.

In an important follow up to Baldwin’s lead, Sharice Davids is the first lesbian Native American, and the first LGBT person at all, to represent Kansas in Congress, having won a seat in the House of Representatives. She knocked off an incumbent Trump loyalist, having worked for the Obama administration near its end.

In another queer first, Colorado elected the first openly gay governor in the history of the republic, Jared Polis. Need one even write that Baldwin, Davids, and Polis are all Democrats. Since the Republican Party can’t even muster a serious African American candidate for president, they have no chance of fielding any openly LGBT candidates any time soon.

Kim Davis, who earned her fifteen minutes of fame by refusing to issue marriage licenses as a county clerk in Kentucky because she claimed issuing them to same sex couples violated her right to freedom of religious belief and practice, lost the office on Tuesday night. Even in small town Kentucky, discrimination against queers is not popular.

The young man who made quite an impression as an Eagle Scout with two mothers by testifying in favor of same sex marriage at the Iowa legislature has won election to that body.

In general, the large number of women, especially women of color, who have won seats in Congress is encouraging, no matter their sexual orientations. More women is always good, Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee to the contrary notwithstanding.

Finally, in Massachusetts, voters chose to affirm a state statue prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons by a 2 to 1 margin. This may be the most important of the various queer victories of the night. Lesbians and gay men have been fighting openly as such since 1969. Depending on how you choose to define the terms, several of the people who participated in the Stonewall Riots, which marked the beginning of the militant LGBT civil rights movement, were transgender, rather than lesbian or gay, but for whatever reason, transgender persons would go on to be the last group to join the LGBT movement, and their addition was initially somewhat controversial.

Ultimately, the obvious logic of making common cause between lesbians and gay men, on one hand, and transgender persons, on the other, prevailed, and transgender persons are now solidly ensconced in the larger social movement, but for reasons that are not at all clear, transgender persons and their rights remain much more controversial than lesbians and gay men.

Looking broadly at the overall situation, the various LGBT victories are all strong indicators of where the culture is moving. Republicans still oppose same sex marriage, and the Republicans who run North Carolina recently decided to run a test of their ability to discriminate against transgender persons, as well as lesbians and gay men, by passing a statute that prohibits municipalities from enacting local LGBT civil rights ordinances and requiring transgender persons to use the public restroom that corresponds to their sex as it appeared on their original birth certificate.

This proved to be a debacle, as persons within the state and without protested mightily, with many organizations boycotting the state over the law. More recently, President Trump decided to jump on the bandwagon to pick on transgender people by producing a proposal to define “gender” in the Department of Health and Human Services also as the person’s sex according to their original birth certificate. This idea serves no purpose except to target transgender persons.

The large point here is no great surprise: the culture as a whole is leaving the Republican Party and its retrograde policy preferences behind. They elected a racist president, which should no longer be possible — may Trump be the last — who also wants to discriminate against LGBT persons when apparently very few citizens wish to do so.

Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in 2018 despite a huge structural disadvantage. The Republican Party is not popular. They hold power at the moment, to the extent that they do, because of institutional and structural factors that will not preserve their illegitimate majorities forever.

The future is queer.