Despite ‘relentless attacks,’ optimism for future of LGBTQ movement
Despite being hit with an unprecedented 300 or more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in U.S. state legislatures over the past two years, the nation’s LGBTQ community at the same time has seen some important advances and there is reason for optimism, according to a March 19 LGBTQ State of the Movement address delivered by two key movement leaders.
Kierra Johnson and Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, executive director and deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, offered a detailed assessment of where things stand today for LGBTQ people in the United States during the organization’s 22nd Annual Creating Change Conference, which was held virtually March 19-20.
Since it began in 1987, Task Force officials have said the Creating Change Conference has served as the LGBTQ movement’s preeminent organizing, skills-building, and networking event.
Johnson and Salazar said the political attacks on LGBTQ rights and other progressive causes coming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced LGBTQ leaders and activists to adopt new strategies for responding to the attacks.
“We are doing this in the face of storms that have kept coming,” Salazar said. “In just the last year, there have been relentless attacks to gut voting rights, the right to protest, abortion access, and trans youth health and rights,” she stated in the address delivered jointly by the two women.
“There have been 100 anti-trans bills and over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills considered in state legislatures across the nation,” she continued, adding that a record number of deportations of immigrants, a “barrage” of racial injustice in the U.S. and abroad, and new and ongoing wars and conflicts, “have left many of us feeling afraid, disconnected, and powerless.”
Johnson continued those thoughts by saying, “We know that you are tired. Many of you are afraid and rightfully so…But I know that I’m talking to a group of people who know that these events, these feelings, they’re no reason to stop the work – anything but,” Johnson said. “These are the reasons we do the work. This is why what we do is so important, why you are showing up today, and tomorrow and it is the difference between the light at the end of the tunnel going out entirely and growing brighter and nearer for us and for generations to come.”
Salazar cited what she called optimistic data showing that more people are coming out as LGBTQ than ever before at an earlier age, with young people identifying in greater numbers as bisexual and nonbinary.
“Now some of you may be wondering, is there something in the water?” she continued. “Of course, the answer is no! But more people coming out and the fluidity in how they identify has everything to do with the work you and we have done and do every single day to build a world where people can embrace themselves – and be embraced – in every aspect of their lives.”
As a further sign of optimism, Johnson noted the political climate for LGBTQ people coming from the White House has changed for the better since January 2021.
“After four years of relentless attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, the Biden-Harris administration has brought more LGBTQ+ visibility and begun undoing the damage of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies – from protecting the civil rights of every LGBTQ+ person, to ensuring that LGBTQ+ Americans are leaders at every level of the federal government,” Johnson said.
“Together with you, we have successfully backed more queer, women, people of color candidates to join the White House than ever before,” Johnson told conference participants.
Among the LGBTQ White House appointees, she and Salazar said, are Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian and Iraq war veteran serving as the U.S. Undersecretary of the Air Force; Pete Buttigieg, who is serving as the first openly gay Cabinet Secretary confirmed by the U.S. Senate; Admiral Dr. Rachel Levine, who is serving as director of the U.S. Public Health Service at the Department of Health and Human Services and who became the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the U.S. Senate; Reggie Greer, a Black gay man serving as White House Director of Priority Placement and Senior Adviser on LGBTQ+ Engagement; Ambassador Chantale Yokmin Wong, the U.S. Director of the Asian Development Bank who became the first out lesbian and first LGBTQ person of color with the rank of ambassador in U.S. history; and Mehgan Maury, a former National LGBTQ Task Force official now serving as Senior Adviser to the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and the first nonbinary member of the Biden administration.
“Contrary to what many would have us believe, we have also made progress in the states,” Johnson stated in her remarks. She and Salazar pointed to bills providing various types of LGBTQ supportive services or protections that have passed in New Jersey, Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, and New Mexico in the past two years.
“And finally, to those of you – advocates, organizers, change makers – in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Michigan – thank you for your tireless work and non-stop efforts to stop the devastating bills ravaging their way through your state legislatures and making their way to the desks of your governors,” Johnson said.
“You are showing the country and the world that trans kids matter, that Black Lives Matter, that saying Trans and Bi and Lesbian and Gay matters,” added Johnson. “While we’ve had some setbacks in these sessions, the work you’ve done means those losses are temporary. You are building long-term sustainable power,” Johnson said.
“Together we will use all the tools in our toolbox – from the streets to the courts to the pews and pulpits, to the media to the ballot box – to overturn and overcome these wretched attacks and take back our democracy from extremists who will do anything to sustain the status quo or worse, roll back the gains we’ve won,” according to Johnson.
Following is the text of the full remarks delivered by Kierra Johnson and Mayra Hidalgo Salazar in their LGBTQ State of the Movement Address on March 19 before the Creating Change Conference as provided by the National LGBTQ Task Force:
Johnson: Welcome to the State of the Movement 2022. Convening virtually was not what we envisioned for Creating Change this year. Like you, last spring we were hopeful that we would soon turn a corner and leave our COVID-19 lives behind. Then Delta and Omicron dished a dose of reality that was more devastating than we thought possible. We saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and then swiftly the tunnel got longer, until the light was all but impossible to see.
Johnson: We are now beginning our third year under the cloud of a global pandemic. While we’ve necessarily become pros at adapting to these changing conditions: moving the work forward, getting our kids to school, taking care of elders, navigating other health crises and wearing masks everywhere we go, COVID continues to have a deep impact on our health and well-being and on our community’s ability to fight back. Like you, we also hold the tension of trying to stay focused on how we show up in our work to build a different world, while acknowledging the challenges of shouldering sickness, the passing of friends and family, and the frustration of dreams deferred.
Salazar: And, because we are brilliant, creative and resourceful, we also found new and beautiful ways of building and being in community – like virtual events with magical moments we only dreamed possible, became reality.
Salazar: We are doing this in the face of storms that have kept coming. In just the last year, there have been relentless attacks to gut voting rights, the right to protest, abortion access, and trans youth health and rights. There have been 100 anti-trans bills and over 300 anti LGBTQ bills considered in state legislatures across the nation. And if that wasn’t enough to overwhelm us, the record deportations of immigrants under the Biden administration, the barrage of racial injustice here at home and abroad, and new and ongoing wars and conflicts, have left many of us feeling afraid, disconnected, and powerless. At any given moment, we are experiencing changes moving at an unbearable pace.
Johnson: We know that you are tired. Many of you are afraid and rightfully so. Be tired. Be angry. Be frustrated, confused, sad, be ALL of those things. But I know that I’m talking to a group of people who know that these events, these feelings; they’re not a reason to stop the work — anything but. These are the reasons we do the work. This is why what we do is so important, why you are showing up today, and tomorrow and it is the difference between the light at the end of the tunnel going out entirely, and growing brighter and nearer for us and for generations to come.” Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez recently reminded us that a resigned cynical working class that has given up is exactly what our opponents want. But she also reminds us that things are changing and that it is up to us to share good news and enjoy the good news and remind each other that we are having success and we are winning.
Salazar: Data is showing us that more people are coming out as LGBTQ than ever before and they are coming out earlier, with young people identifying in higher numbers as bisexual and nonbinary. Now some of you may be wondering, is there something in the water?! Of course, the answer is no! But more people coming out and the fluidity in how they identify has everything to do with the work you and we have done and do every single day to build a world where people can embrace themselves—and be embraced—in every facet of their lives.
Johnson: After four years of relentless attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, the Biden-Harris administration has brought more LGBTQ+ visibility and begun undoing the damage of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies— from protecting the civil rights of every LGBTQ+ person, to ensuring that LGBTQ+ Americans are leaders at every level of the federal government Together with you, we have successfully backed more queer, women, people of color candidates to join the White House than ever before including:
Salazar: Gina Ortiz Jones, a gay woman and Iraq veteran serves as the 27th U.S. Under Secretary of the Air Force – she identifies as an Ilocano, a member of a Filipino ethnolinguistic group. KJ: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who is the first openly gay Cabinet Secretary confirmed by the U.S. Senate MHS: Admiral Dr. Rachel Levine, Head of U.S public health efforts at the Department of Health and Human Services, who is the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Johnson: Reggie Greer, a Black gay man now serves as White House Director of Priority Placement and Senior Advisor on LGBTQ+ Engagement. MHS: Ambassador Chantale Yokmin Wong U.S. Director of the Asian Development Bank, the first out lesbian and first LGBTQ person of color with the rank of ambassador in U.S. history.
Johnson: AND our own Mehgan Maury, who led our Queer the Census campaign and now serves as Senior Advisor to Director Robert Santos at the Census Bureau, the first non-binary member of the administration’s team.
Salazar: And we need more action, support, and resources from the White House to address the escalating attacks on our humanity and our rights. We need progress that goes beyond the preTrump status quo. The rights of LGBTQ+ people must be solidified to capture the full breadth of our experiences and face the onslaught of growing racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia. MHS: And there is a bill in congress right now — The Equality Act – that if passed would move us forward in holding elected officials accountable at the federal level and in every state, expanding and protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people, people of color and women.
Johnson: With each year more cross-movement, cross issue, cross community partnerships are created, and they are deepening. Whether creating new messages and frames to engage the community and address the state attacks on LGBTQ people, to creating interfaith strategies to assert a progressive religious and spiritual perspective to beat back discriminatory religious exemptions, to inspiring and supporting more BIPOC, Young People and Queer people to vote Commented [MS1]: i don’t want to uplift this as a win, especially while we are at/on the brink of another war Commented [MS2]: moving and advocate directly with legislators, we are fortifying our foundation for the hard work ahead!
Johnson: Contrary to what many would have us believe, we have also made progress in the states! New Jersey enacted a law that adds gender nonbinary to medical data collection. Oregon passed a law to add LGBTQ people to priority populations definition for workforce development programs and increases funding. Colorado passed a bill to support older people from diverse, racial, cultural, socioeconomic, gender and ability groups in community planning; health services and infrastructure.
Salazar: Washington State passed two bills – one that preserves a person’s ability to access abortion care, making the language trans-inclusive. And another that makes incarcerated folx medical records confidential, including for trans-affirming care and gender identity. New Mexico passed a bill to stop LGBTQ people from being blamed for people assaulting or murdering them, barring use of the so-called Panic defense.
Johnson: And finally, to those of you—advocates, organizers, change makers—in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Michigan – thank you for your tireless work and non-stop efforts to stop the devastating bills ravaging their way through your state legislatures and making their way to the desks of your Governors. You are showing the country and the world that trans kids matter, that Black lives matter, that saying Trans and Bi and Lesbian and GAY matters. While we’ve had some setbacks in these sessions, the work you’ve done means those losses are temporary. You are building long term sustainable power. Together we will use all the tools in our toolbox— from the streets to the courts to the pews & pulpits, to the media to the ballot box—to overturn and overcome these wretched attacks and take back our democracy from extremists who will do anything to sustain the status quo or worse roll back the gains we’ve won.
Salazar: We are far from powerless. From weighing in on presidential appointments to engaging with civil rights leaders on strategies to ensure that our communities have access to the right to vote. We have been connecting with national and state partners, advising hill staff and Members of Congress and engaging LGBTQ people in a range of issues including the Equality Act and the Texas abortion ban. We have won protections in the workplace and nondiscrimination policies continue to pass in cities and states across the country. Actors, Athletes and musicians are exclaiming their pride and queering the media at every turn igniting a new force of queer and allied activism. Carl Nassib, Kal Penn, Tommy Dorfman, Hikaru Utada, Kehlani and Billy Porter are just a few of the celebrities that have come out in the last year as trans, non-binary, queer, HIV positive, and Pansexual. They are showing up and out as queer pop icons, public figures for a new generation looking for themselves boldly reflected in media, culture and politics. We must remember how we got here. We must celebrate our successes as forward momentum. We have much to be proud of…But we are FAR from done.
Salazar: In January of this year, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) signed into law the first anti-trans bill of 2022. In doing so, she banned transgender girls from playing school sports. From there it has
been almost impossible to keep up with the barrage of attacks. Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota and just a few of the states that introduced measures that target trans and nonbinary youth, their families and their communities.
Johnson: As if that wasn’t enough, in addition to the unabated and unrelenting state attacks on LGBTQ+ legislation, our communities have also been hit with attacks on reproductive rights, voting rights, and the erasure of the history and impact of BIPOC people in this country. In states across the country, the legislature has waged a triple threat of bad bills targeting our access to information, bodily autonomy, and ability to participate in our democracy. These are the foundation of personal, community and political power!
Salazar: The far-right has bemoaned for years that progressives have been trying to “censor” them, it is indeed the far-right taking steps to censor content of all kinds – from critical race theory to LGBTQ inclusive curricula, effectively erasing the diversity of people in this country and any accurate or inclusive understanding of our shared history. Book bans, which seem like an outdated tactic of fascist dictators, are back in style. The simple act of have a rainbow flag or Black Lives Matter sticker on your classroom door, meant to communicate a safe space, is now off the table. Imagine how our young people must feel as they are stripped of the symbols and information that made them feel safe and affirmed.
Johnson: Access to our most basic right to engage in our democracy is also at stake. The right to vote, our right to protest is being suppressed, curtained, blocked and gerrymandered at every turn.
Salazar: Finally, our self-determination and personal agency is also being threatened. Given the sharp rise in anti-LGBTQ laws passed over the last 8 years and what we are seeing now, it is no surprise we’re now experiencing what the American Medical Association has declared “an epidemic of violence against the transgender community,” most notably the skyrocketing rate of murders against trans women of color. The ability to make decision about who you are, how you walk through the world in your truth and have control over your own body are at the core of the anti-trans bills mentioned above and all the attempts to restrict abortion rights and access to reproductive related healthcare.
Johnson: If this feels familiar there is a reason – 40 years ago it was gay & lesbian teachers that were being targeted — today it’s trans kids and their parents.
Salazar: 40 years ago, it was Anita Bryant who was pulling out worn out tropes about “grooming” – and today it is Governors like DeSantis and Abbott recycling these tropes to spread misinformation about our community.
Johnson: 20 years ago, it was gay, lesbian and bisexual people being accused of trying to destroy the sanctity of (Christian) marriage and today it is loving families and allies of LGBTQ youth being accused of taking away “parental rights” when working for the safety and futures of all youth.
Johnson: Any historian or longtime Movement activist will tell you this cycle Is just that – a constant, sometimes subtle, sometimes direct, concerted effort to use queer people, reproductive freedom and democracy as the bait to push the buttons of conscious and unconscious homophobia, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, racism, Christian hegemony and classism in our country.
Johnson: This is our time, our opportunity to commit to building deeply and broadly across movements. To collaborate across issues and communities. We cannot win if we continue to organize in silos and ignore the WHOLE chess board. There is an opportunity to build intersectional partnerships, engage a larger base, and create solutions that have greater impact on more people. We must fight back. Now, for the remainder of this important election year, in every state facing anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice and anti-voting rights legislation.
Johnson: There is a lot at stake in this time but where there are challenges there are opportunities for us to learn, grow and succeed! Our political success will only ever be temporary if we’re not invested in building the power of the people. We win because more and more people are in coalition with us. But we know from the movements that came before ours that to hold onto those successes, our institutions and those in power must be willing to take action with us and we must be vigilant in holding them accountable.
Salazar: Today we are launching Queer the Vote and commit to building a robust and connected base of voters working across issues across communities to rebuild and strengthen our democracy. It is critical that queer people and our allies mobilize to take action, build power and create change whether that’s contacting your elected officials, providing testimony, or donating money and resources. And of course, above all else, if you are eligible, make sure you are registered to vote and turn out at the polls. Claim your power, use your voice, support your community and Queer the Vote!
The kind of change we imagine can take generations, and the Task Force is in this for the long haul – we’ve been at it for almost 50 years, and we won’t stop until we are all free. The pathway to liberation is long and if we are going to make it we must remember what we are working towards. We are organizing for our civil rights. We are demanding that our full humanity is honored and affirmed. And we are fighting for our democracy.
Johnson: We have already imagined the world we want…the world we deserve. Now we must have courage to act with and for our community to bring it into existence. The theme of CC22 is Remixed. A remix: a piece of media which has been altered or contorted from its original state by adding, removing, and/or changing pieces of the item. Our 2022 Creating Change theme Remixed refers not only to having pivoted from an in-person event to a digital one. Remixed is also a vision for how we can evolve as a movement. We have an opportunity to experiment and to play. To be responsive to what is new while benefiting from the wisdom, expertise, and talent of the past. I can’t wait to get back into the studio with you! We look forward to creating new sounds, covering some old tunes and remixing a new movement for the future…by us and for us. Forever together, we are powerful!
Johnson: Be You, Be Well and enjoy the rest of your Creating Change ‘22 remixed experience!
Salazar: Sea tú. Y que lo pasen delicioso. [Be you. And have a delicious time.]