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Friday, June 09, 2017

Pride in a Changing Climate

Written by  Dr. Eva Hersh, MD

It’s easy to show our LGBT pride when we are in a crowd of people who are all doing the same. That’s why some people are out only during Pride: it feels safe. It’s also much easier to feel and show gay pride when things are moving in the right direction, as they had been in the last few years. The Supreme Court affirmed the legitimacy of same-sex marriages, there were steps towards equal rights for transpeople, and barriers to LGBT participation in the military and other institutions were coming down.

What happens when the pendulum swings the other way, as it has since the 2016 presidential election? Suddenly, alarmingly fast, there is discussion (though not yet signing) of a new “religious freedom executive order” decree which would allow staff of religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT people, if they can claim with a straight face that their prejudice is rooted in religious belief. Suddenly, a Texas Family Court judge can get away with denying the request of a gay couple to legally adopt their own biologic twin sons, conceived with a surrogate. Legislators in multiple states, who until then were thought to be sane, have proposed laws dictating that transpeople should risk their comfort and safety by walking into bathrooms designated for the other gender as well as laws denying gay couples the right to adopt. In some states, these laws have passed the state legislature and are now in effect.

It’s clear that the political tide has turned against us, at least for the current presidential term. We’ve arrived at a time when it is becoming more difficult, more potentially controversial, to publicly show our LGBT pride. This is a time when it is vital not to back down, and to help our friends to keep standing up too.

This is also a good time to learn about how laws work. Many of us did not realize that most of the positive things President Obama did for LGBT rights were done through executive orders, which, unlike laws, can be reversed by the next president with just a signature. Laws can only be reversed by a vote in Congress. Why didn’t Obama get laws passed instead? Because he could not get legislation supporting the rights of LGBT people – or nearly any other legislation – passed by a hostile Congress. That’s understandable, and he did what he could. Unfortunately, executive orders can be reversed at the whim of any future president. That is what we are seeing now, as our new president has promised to reverse “every one” of Obama’s executive orders.

So far, Trump has:

• Reversed Executive Order 13673, which required companies contracting with the federal government for contracts of $500,000 or more to have policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Trump’s action also ended the requirement that these federal contractors have policies against discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, age, and disability.

• Executive Order 13672, which protects federal government employees and job applicants from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, is still in place.

• Withdrawn the Obama administration’s guideline for public schools, which stated that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

• Reversed the Census Bureau’s plan to begin asking for data on sexual orientation and gender identity with the 2020 census. (Not counting us makes it easier to pretend we don’t exist.)

• Most recently, signed a new “religious liberty” executive order, which states the intention to allow religious organizations and officials to be politically active, including supporting specific candidates, without losing tax-exempt status. Congressional action will be needed to actually change the tax laws.

Some things that are feared have not happened. There has been no attempt to outlaw same-sex marriage. So far, there has been no executive order allowing religious or other organizations to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring or as customers.

No doubt, we must keep a close eye on all Trump’s – and Pence’s – proposed and completed executive orders and proposed legislation as long as they remain in office. I am sure that lobbying by LGBT individuals and advocacy groups are a major part of the reason nothing worse has happened. It is worth noting that nothing Trump or his administration have done so far will result in a severe adverse effect on the LGBT community. Other groups in the population, especially low-income and uninsured people, will lose much more through the effects of his budget proposal, if it is approved by Congress. The planet as a whole may suffer from his denial of climate change.

I’m looking for a hopeful note to end on, and so far, I’m not finding many. Remember there is strength in numbers and in visibility. Come out to celebrate Pride this year and show that the LGBT community will not disband or disappear under pressure. Let’s keep supporting each other through this difficult time, and work for a change at the 2020 elections.

Eva Hersh is a Baltimore family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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