President Joe Biden will address the nation soon when he gives the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. The ceremonial speech will outline the president’s priorities and the country’s challenges. But what about the LGBTQ+ nation?
LGBTQ Nation spoke with six of the nation’s best and brightest to find out what they saw as the difficulties — and solutions — for the queer community and our struggle for equal rights. In a time of unprecedented challenges, these individuals can shine light in the darkness and show us a way out.
Mondaire Jones knows the best defense queer people have is the ballot
Former Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-NY) was first elected in 2020 and is one of the two first-out LGBTQ+ Black members of Congress; he lost his seat in 2022. He co-introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress to ensure same-sex couples continue to have the rights associated with marriage should the Supreme Court overturn the marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges.
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Jones helped get former President Donald Trump impeached for a second time after his supporters rioted in the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He pushed for even tougher democratic reforms, including automatic voter registration, public financing of elections, and an end to partisan gerrymandering.
“The crisis of our democracy is the biggest existential threat,” Jones told LGBTQ Nation. “If we do not have a truly representative government, if we do not have a pro-equality majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House, then we are going to continue to see this Supreme Court whittle away at our rights.”
So it’s no surprise that Congressman Jones’s message now is that getting better people elected is the key to moving Congress toward equality.
“We have to continue to build and renew the movement for liberation through organizing at the grassroots level and defeating those who are hostile to the humanity of our community,” Jones said. “My project will be to ensure that Democrats take back the branches of government in 2024.”
How V Spehar is keeping tabs on America from under a desk
Self-described citizen journalist V Spehar says being in the room where it happens reveals the true colors of elected officials and how their personal and political agendas may impact our country’s future.
Spehar, 40, spent the early part of their career in the hospitality industry in New York City, Tampa, and eventually as an event planner with one of Washington D.C.’s most prominent caterers. “People speak so honestly in front of you when they don’t think you’re ‘that’ kind of smart — when they think you’re just a waiter, a bartender, or whatever,” Spehar told LGBTQ Nation. “And so I got to see these people, not just for the policies that they wrote, but for the people that they are, and understanding that who they ate dinner with changed how the world was going to be.”
Spehar launched Under the Desk News on TikTok in April 2020 and rapidly amassed 2.8 million followers, and last year launched V Interesting, a GLAAD-nominated long-form podcast with original reporting that tackles topics from Gen Z voter engagement to gender-affirming surgery.
“You’re not going to get somebody to stop believing their sole mission is to be a protector,” Spehar said, “but you can get them to understand who actually needs protection.”
What does ‘activist-elected official’ Park Cannon foresee in the future for queer rights?
In 2016, Park Cannon was Georgia’s youngest elected official in the state legislature at 24 years old. Seven years later, she continues to exhibit an insatiable energy for fighting for equity and standing up for marginalized groups.
In 2021, Cannon became a national name after she was arrested for standing up to S.B. 202, a law that significantly rolled back voting rights for Georgians. Cannon, who is Black, was arrested by a white state trooper for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) office door as he signed the bill in a closed-door ceremony. Charges against Cannon were ultimately dropped.
“We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled,” she wrote on Twitter after her arrest. “We have a right to our future and right to our freedom. We will come together and continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms.”
“I know the feeling of coming out in the South and expecting that there would be hate. And there was, but there was also a lot of fun and exploration and resistance that teaches people more than they could ever imagine,” Cannon told LGBTQ Nation. “I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to look at LGBTQ culture as groundbreaking and inclusive and not look at it as anything but that.”
Activist Matt Foreman questions whether we have the leadership and resources needed for full equality
Matt Foreman has seen it all from the forefront of the struggle for equality. The veteran politico led multiple queer organizations, including the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force). As someone who has had to do the hard and inglorious work of both soliciting donations and funding campaigns, it’s no surprise he has a decidedly pragmatic view of how the movement can move forward during a challenging time.
“What is urgently and desperately needed is a coordinated, multifaceted campaign to push back against all this horrific legislation that has come down the road and will be coming down the road this year at the state level,” Foreman told LGBTQ Nation.“It’s the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, the anti-trans bills, the curriculum attacks, book bans, it’s all of that, and right now, our movement at the state level is strapped for resources.”
“I think the number one priority is fighting back in the states and grinding the other side down over time by showing their true nature, which is not about protecting kids, just about hate and demonizing good people. And so because that kind of rhetoric is out there, it becomes accepted wisdom,” Foreman said. “It has an impact on the way people treat queer people. And we’re seeing this rise in the rhetoric now, which isn’t just rhetoric once it influences people to attack us physically, financially, or emotionally. The only way we’re gonna get around that is to take it on, fight back, and expose them for what they are.”
Kelley Robinson is head of the largest LGBTQ+ organization — and she knows our Achilles’ heel
In November 2022, Kelley Robinson was elected the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), becoming the first Black queer woman to hold the position in the civil rights group’s 40-year existence. Now she aspires to be the first Black queer woman to spearhead the HRC in fundamentally changing the country and its systems of power.
“I come to this work as a Black woman, as a queer person, as a wife, and as a mom,” Robinson told LGBTQ Nation. “And there are so many issues that matter to people in the community because we hold all of these identities, right? You can’t get to liberation without racial justice; you can’t get there without disability rights, immigration justice, climate change, and climate reform.”
When asked about how to prioritize the country’s most urgent issues, Robinson said, “The biggest thing to understand is that we cannot be single-issue. You have to talk about the violence happening in Black trans communities, particularly against Black trans women. At the same time, be able to talk about how it is a disgrace that we are still living with the HIV epidemic in this country. At the same time, also be able to talk about the issues facing folks related to discrimination across this country because of the loopholes created under the guise of ‘religious freedoms.’”
But shifts in voter demographics offer signs of hope. HRC polling estimates that queer voters will make up increasingly large parts of the electorate as Gen Z ages into adulthood. “To take advantage of the demographic shifts, we’ve got to make sure that we’re giving people a meaningful way to engage and fixing the system,” Robinson said, “so that they know that when they vote, it will actually make a difference.”
Taylor Brorby knows anti-queer red America. Here’s his prescription for changing it.
Taylor Brorby, author of the recently published memoir Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land, remains optimistic despite recalling the bleak anti-gay landscape of his youth and the environmental challenges posed by global warming.
“It’s a time to be nervous. Being nervous is different than being afraid,” Brorby told LGBTQ Nation. “We live in a country that allows the targeting of vulnerable people whose rights aren’t fully enshrined in our governmental documents.”
Brorby suggests that dismantling the rural-urban divide may be one solution to uniting the country despite its geographic differences. “We have to start the conversation by reminding ourselves we’re actually dependent on each other,” Brorby said. “City people value rural people, too. Growing up in North Dakota, we knew rural America enriched everyone’s life, and the goal now shouldn’t be to get everyone to an urban center. It should be possible to have a good life wherever you live. We do not hear each other’s stories. We need ambassadors.”