Writing Our Wrongs

I published a piece on Medium about learning from the past. It is specifically about LGBTQ+ rights in this country and the current administration’s apparent goal of taking them away. You can read it here, but I’ve also pasted it below.

When I began to write the collection of short stories that later became my book, Stories About People, I was living in Obama’s America. I felt mostly safe as a gay man out in the world or online. My biggest fear, somehow, was that I might say something that would be misconstrued.

Social media had already begun its reputation as contentious and unforgiving. I saw people being taken down for being misunderstood or simply misspeaking. They were losing their jobs over tweets.

I reacted and wrote a story about a (straight) man who mistakenly becomes an alt-right, anti-gay hero based on a misunderstanding. The ending of the story subverts the expectations of the reader (hopefully) and is a cautionary tale about not listening well enough to others. To put it into 2018 terms, it was a story about the “left cannibalizing its own.” To some degree, I still agree with the message: we are stronger together, so let us listen to each other, and not attack our allies.

However, if I wrote the story now, it would not end, or perhaps even begin, in the same way.

In June of 2016, same-sex marriage had been legal nationwide for one year. We had a President who spoke about gay people as if they were people. A month later, Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for President of the United States. He promised that he would be President to all Americans, and would be a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community (there is a video where he chokes on those letters at one of his rallies — while denouncing radical Islamic terrorism, no less.)

Now, as the Commander in Chief, he has mostly remained silent on gay issues. What must he speak on? Same-sex marriage is still legal. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a relic of the past. There doesn’t seem to be much talk, even among conservatives, about reinstating that policy, or introducing legislation that once again criminalizes homosexual activity or bans same-sex couples from getting married.

There is something much more sinister happening.

Transgender people represent just 0.6 percent of the population of the United States. This is a somewhat outdated statistic, and does not represent those who do not openly identify as transgender. However, as most of us know, visibility equals viability. As the number is small, and many people still don’t understand transgenderism, it is much easier to oppress a less visible population.

In July of 2017, President Trump announced that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military, rolling back the recent decision by the Obama Administration to allow transgender individuals to serve. Why? Because of the “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” Including the financial concern speaks to the logical faculties of the public. To Republicans and fiscal Conservatives, who often run on cutting costs and lowering taxes, this gives them a non-emotional leg to stand on. While medically-assisted gender transitioning does come with a hefty price tag, (figures vary depending on insurance and extent of medical intervention) this assumes that transgender individuals have not already transitioned, or will undertake that extremely involved process during their enlistment. Overall, costs for ongoing care for transgender individuals would be minimal, increasing overall military medical costs by around .04 to .13 percent.

The issue went away relatively quietly. Our nonstop news cycle persisted, and again, because the number of transgender lives affected is so small, even as compared with gay lives, it didn’t seem to be at the top of the list of concerns for most of us. Some of us, though, reacted with measured caution.

Four days ago, on October 21st, 2018, the New York Times published a story claiming that the Trump Administration was “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth…,” specifically in relation to Title XI (education based anti-discrimination legislation.) This follows an official memo released by the Office of the Attorney General (led by Jeff Sessions) in October of 2017, rescinding an Obama-era policy that recognizes gender identity under the umbrella of “sex” under Title VII (employment based anti-discrimination legislation.)

The argument to include both gender identity and sexual orientation under the term “sex,” specifically as it relates to anti-discrimination laws has been ongoing. It is truly an argument over semantics, and has allowed for people on both sides of the argument to claim either a narrowly defined term (Trump Administration) or broad umbrella term (Obama Administration.)

As we know, public opinion and policy have a strong relationship; they influence each other. In 2015, before the Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage, public support of gay marriage was at 55%. In 2017, after the decision, the number was at 62%. [Pew Research]

For reference, in the year 2000, only 31% of the public was in favor of marijuana legalization. Since California passed Proposition 215 in 1996 allowing medical-use of marijuana, all but four states have enacted medical marijuana laws in some form (including low-THC or CBD-only treatments.) Now, 62% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. [Pew Research]

For years now, this has been how our relationship to “controversial” issues changes and grows. Personal relationships to issues drive change and acceptance. You find out a friend or family member is gay, or that they smoke pot, and you still love them because nothing about them has changed. Or your family member gets cancer and uses medical marijuana and it helps them. Your beliefs shift, and with them, your views on policy shift. How does this relate to the current actions of the administration? Most of us still don’t know a transgender individual personally.

Enacting legislation that targets minorities by legally allowing discrimination is nothing new. Mike Pence gained national attention (and a Vice-Presidential nomination) for signing a “religious freedom” bill into law in 2015, that grants a person (defined as an individual, an organization, or company) protection from anti-discrimination laws if the discrimination is motivated by their religious beliefs.

That is how these fights begin. Many people are afraid that the policies recently enacted by the Trump Administration are a bad omen. I reiterate that I am proceeding with caution. After all, progress can be painful.

Proposition 8 in California, which defined legal marriage as between a man and a woman, passed in 2008. Four years later, in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of California, the Proposition was deemed unconstitutional. Three years later, after bans in several other states led to similar legal battles, the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges was decided, and the Supreme Court of the United States ruled all such bans unconstitutional.

Many of us would like acceptance and tolerance to proceed without lengthy legal battles, but that is not the pattern of progress in this country. We must voice our support of our fellow Americans, whatever minority they fall into. I stand with my transgender brothers and sisters, and all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I am not able to do much financially, but for every copy of my book that is sold, I will donate 30% of my royalties to one of the following organizations in equal measure: 
 The National Center for Transgender Equality
 The Human Rights Campaign 
 The Rainbow Railroad — an organization which helps LGBT individuals escape violence and persecution in their native countries.
Note: Please take time to read about the anti-gay purge in Chechnya (a federal subject of Russia), where concentration camps were built to house and torture suspected homosexuals. This human rights crime was given very little coverage in America, and went completely unchecked by the governing body of Russia (in 2013, a law was passed in Russia banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. What sounds innocuous, again, is so broadly-defined that it has become justification for discrimination against same-sex relationships. A man holding hands with another man in public could be deemed as propaganda of gay — read: nontraditional — relations, and as such, subject to prosecution.)

Perhaps if I was paying more attention in the past, I would have seen the writing on the wall. I wouldn’t have fallen into the trap of false comfort. I may not be able to re-write my own story, but together, we can ensure that our national story doesn’t become one of unchecked discrimination and violence.

Cameron Harrie