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Reflections During Pride Month Under Trump

Trump tweeted support for Pride month, while trans women die in detention centers. What does it mean to be LGBT during the Trump years?

Olivia Wood

June 30, 2019
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The violent assault of two LGBTQ women on a London bus earlier this month is only the most widely-publicized recent example of the hate crimes perpetuated against LGBTQ people every day, which are not limited to overt acts of interpersonal violence. Although LGBTQ people have won many rights, 50 years after the birth of our radical movement, Stonewall, our oppression continues. With World Pride Weekend quickly approaching, let’s turn to some of the ongoing struggles LGBTQ people continue to face, particularly under the current Trump administration.

Pride is a celebration of the Stonewall Riots, of our right to openly live as ourselves, and of the rights we have won through activism since 1969. However, we must remember that the same forces that oppressed us then — the same forces that criminalized our very modes of being, that beat and humiliated us and looked away when others beat and humiliated us, that later refused to fund AIDS research and let hundreds of thousands of our community die — continue to oppress us today. While today, I have my pick of gay bars when I want to go dancing, and I can wear a suit when I want to and marry a woman if I want to, these gains are unevenly distributed across the LGBTQ community, and we still face many problems — just in different forms, and often based on class and race. Since the Trump administration has taken power, the right has become increasingly powerful and open in their extremism, both in the United States and around the world. Additionally, they are also trying to repeal legal protections that have already been won, such as protections against discrimination based on gender identity and the right to a safe, legal abortion.

Some Forms of Continuing Oppression

In all of the following statistics, the true prevalence of these problems is likely higher than the numbers suggest, because these statistics are based on self-reporting, and there are many reasons people may not choose to disclose their LGBTQ identity. For example, some research suggests that as many as 80% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people go unreported.

According to the Williams Institute, 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, and 30%-40% of homeless adults depending on the measures used. LGBTQ people also have significantly higher rates of experience with intimate partner violence (IPDV), with the exception of gay men, who report experiencing IPV slightly less often than heterosexual men. LGBTQ women are more likely to live in poverty than straight women, and African American LGBTQ people are more likely to live in poverty than straight African Americans. Trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed as cis people, and 90% of them report experiencing some form of on-the-job harassment or discrimination.

In 2017, the FBI reported a 17% increase in total hate crimes compared to the previous year, and multiple perpetrators have explicitly linked their hateful actions to Trump’s presidency and the validation and empowerment they feel as a result. Nearly 20% of all reported hate crimes were based on homophobia or transphobia. And these are only the reported hate crimes. Again, as many as 80% of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are never reported. Whatever the true hate crime statistics, members of the far right are also openly organizing against LGBTQ people. Boston’s so-called “Straight Pride Parade” was organized by the same people who put on a sister rally to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and even Detroit Police admitted that neo-Nazis hoped that Detroit Pride would turn into “Charlottesville 2.0.” If even a police chief is willing to blatantly acknowledge the violent intentions of a Nazi group, they must have been straightforward indeed. 

As this example shows, it is becoming more and more difficult to deny the violent, oppressive nature of far right (and less-far right) groups, and these groups are increasingly less afraid to admit their beliefs and desires. They are receiving cultural support and validation in ways they didn’t before. They feel safe, normalized, and appropriate. They appear in broad daylight without hoods or masks with increasing frequency. They are testing the boundaries of what society will allow — and in testing them are pushing them. Perhaps the most evident examples are the neo-fascist marches in Charlottesville and the right wing militias that mobilize against immigrants rights. 

Cognitive Dissonance

Walking around in New York City during June, I see Pride decorations everywhere, every day. Some bars and cafes hang rainbow flags or tape up advertisements for Pride-related events. Most of the clothing stores on 34th Street display items emblazoned with the store’s logo, but in rainbow. My workplace is hosting multiple Pride-themed events this month. Yet men are beaten outside the bar I went to for my birthdaya chilling reminder for me, a recent transplant to New York, that the supposed safety and acceptance of a “progressive” city in the modern era is all too often an illusion. At least 10 Black trans women have been murdered in the United States so far this year; LGB youth are almost 5 times as likely to have attempted suicide than straight youth, and a full 40% of trans adults have reported at least one previous suicide attempt. 

The threat of the right wing has an immediate effect on the mental health of our community. Shortly before the 2016 election was called for Trump, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline experienced a surge in call volume four times the average for that time of night — the biggest surge since the Lifeline was founded in 2005 — and the Crisis Text Line experienced a surge eight times the size of their normal traffic. For the Crisis Text Line, “LGBT” was one of the four most common keywords in their conversations with clients that night. To be clear, these surges have not been shown to correlate with an increase in suicide attempts after the election, but they do indicate the fear and desperation many people felt — and continue to feel. 

On the one hand, I’m glad to see so many rainbows, especially when I reflect on how impossible this must have seemed to the rioters at Stonewall. On the other hand, I know these corporate rainbows are a happy — dare I say it, gay — facade on top of a mountain of suffering, and I resent them for pandering for my money. 

This article by James Finn delineates a multitude of anti-LGBTQ actions Trump and his administration have taken since they have been in power, including rolling back many federal protections for LGBTQ people, supporting religious exemptions for bigotry, and considering “legally defining trans people out of existence.” Vice President Mike Pence is well known for his support of “conversion therapy,” and the Trump administration recently forbade U.S. embassies from flying the Pride flag beneath the American flag. If one looks closely at Trump’s Pride Month tweet, it becomes clear that, like the clothing stores I pass every day, he only cares about our rights and our lives insofar as he can use us to further his own agenda. 

Trump asks his followers to “stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation,” and has launched a campaign to “decriminalize homosexuality around the world,” yet he regularly takes steps to make our lives more miserable here. On the home front, he panders to bigots who applaud him for supposedly upholding traditional values. On the foreign policy front, he claims inclusivity as a tactic to demonize other countries and paint the United States as a paragon of liberty and moral rectitude. Not so coincidentally, the countries painted as uncivilized due to their homophobia are always the countries the U.S. has a vested interest in vilifying in order to justify exerting its imperialist power, such as Palestine. When it benefits U.S. hegemony, widespread homophobia is conveniently ignored, as in the case of the U.S.’s diplomatic and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

Even more recently, ICE released photos of a “media tour” of their facility in New Mexico designated for trans women detainees barely a week after a second trans woman died under their supposed care. Many Twitter users responded to ICE’s tweets by comparing this “media tour” to Nazi propaganda designed to portray concentration camps as humane.

I am grateful for the activists who came before me and the battles they fought for future generations of LGBTQ people, and I try to cherish but sometimes take for granted the fruits of their labors. But their labors are not finished, and they are our labors now. It’s not wrong to celebrate Pride, but we should celebrate it with an eye toward our ongoing battles against those same forces that tried to keep us hidden and silent in 1969: the police, the media, politicians, and capitalism.

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Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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