Debunking post-election myths about LGBT issues & middle America voters

Debunking post-election myths about LGBT issues & middle America voters
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In the wake of the stunning 2016 election, there has been no shortage of post-game analysis and finger pointing. Perhaps the nastiest strain is the line of thinking that LGBT people and issues are somehow to blame for the outcome. However, even a cursory examination of each of the lines of reasoning shows that they don’t hold up when put in context of the debates, speeches, campaign narratives, and the sole state level election where LGBT issues were front and center.

LGBT issues are not “boutique” issues

Several commentators have called LGBT issues, and particularly transgender ones, a “boutique” issue. Bill Maher said Democrats should not talk about transgender issues because, “what we can’t do this election, get tricked into symbolic fights about college campus pet peeves… There’s no room for boutique issues in an Armageddon election.” Frank Bruni of the New York Times said in an interview when referring to LGBT initiatives,I think in a lot of ways the Democratic Party has become this collection of boutique issues.”

The idea that LGBT issues are “boutique” fails when put in context of how many people are affected and how they are affected. There are about as many LGBT people in the United States as there are undocumented immigrants. There are about three times as many LGBT people in the US as there are Muslims.

These numbers also ignore straight people who are deeply affected by LGBT issues. Ask a parent of a LGBT child who was bullied to death if LGBT protections are a boutique issue. What about the children who will be plunged into poverty if their LGBT parent loses their job? For every LGBT child, there are two parents. For LGBT parents, there is often more than one child (we have three). As such, the number of people affected by LGBT issues goes way beyond the 9 million people who identify as LGBT.

For LGBT people themselves, being able to go to work or school without fear of discrimination and harassment is both essential to living in the US and our number one priority. For transgender people, bathrooms aren’t a boutique issue, as they are directly related to the LGBT community’s top issues. Companies and schools have both used these as a legal pretext to fire employees and kick children out of school.

Comparatively, the campaigns spent far less time talking about LGBT issues than immigration, guns, trade, etc… However, if LGBT people had a state, we’d be the size of North Carolina and have 15 electoral college votes.

So no, LGBT issues are not “boutique”. There are lots of us, and the issues we face go beyond simply our ability to function within the legal constraints of our system, but to our underlying humanity. As Jennifer Boylan wrote in the New York Times, “A boutique issue? Is this what my fellow Americans had thought of my fight for dignity all along?”

Transgender people did not lose the election for Democrats

Maher and Bruni both hinted that transgender people might lose the election for Democrats, and right wing media outlets came right out and said it. They did this, however, without a shred of direct, quantitative evidence. They relied simply on the fact that Trump was running on an “anti-political correctness” platform. The actual data says the exact opposite, however.

Pew polling of registered voters showed that of 14 potential issues offered,  LGBT issues  came in dead last as a priority to voters overall. The poll also showed LGBT issues were a low priority to Democratic voters as well.  Social issues, including LGBT rights issues, are a lower priority to independent voters than to Democrats or Republicans, and previous studies showed that even on a big-ticket LGBT issue like marriage equality, the positions of candidates did little to affect how the majority of independents voted.

LGBT issues were really only front and center in one state: North Carolina. Governor Pat McCrory had supported HB2, which banned transgender people from public bathrooms without having a new birth certificate.

In many ways, the governor’s race in North Carolina was a referendum on the anti-transgender portion of the law. In the end, McCrory’s Democratic challenger Roy Cooper out-performed Hillary Clinton, with Cooper winning the governor’s race, and Clinton losing the state.

Based on what quantitative evidence we do have, the opposite conclusion would be the more plausible: voters generally didn’t care about LGBT issues in this election, and in the one place where it was a state issue, it swung the gubernatorial vote to the left.

 “Identity politics” will happen as long as discrimination, and a desire to discriminate, occurs

In another New York Times op-ed entitled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University professor Mark Lilla argues that Democrats would do so much better if they ignored issues of concern to various minority groups, and simply focused on the idea that we are all just Americans. He said that Democrats should work on only the big picture issues while ignoring inequalities within the system for others He more or less called out transgender people as well, reminding readers that, “To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.”

The idea he presents, however, is impracticable at its core. Muslim Americans cannot forget that they are Muslim when surrogates of the Trump administration are invoking Koramatsu v. United States and internment camps as a way to deal with the (somewhat limited) threat of ISIS. Jewish Americans will not suddenly stop identifying as Jewish when anti-Semitism is resurgent, in great part due to the white-nationalist “alt-right” that largely backed the Trump campaign.

Black people will not subsume their identity when over 140,000 Americans (as of the end of the last presidential term) wanted to label black people as terrorists for opposing excessive use of force by the police. (That number has changed since the online petition was reset with the beginning of a new administration). LGBT people will not stop identifying, and voting, based on the stances of politicians on LGBT issues, when over 200 bills targeting LGBT people were introduced in state legislatures last year alone.

In short, as long as classes of people are targeted with hatred and discrimination by laws enabling both, they will identify as that class of people. For example, I don’t spend any time whatsoever thinking about myself as a right-handed American, because it doesn’t really impact my ability to function and support my family. People don’t mock me for it, no one is discussing a right to discriminate against me for it, and I’m not likely to be fired for having right-handed scissors on my desk at work.

However, I think about being a transgender person in America constantly because of all the people who believe that it is not just their constitutional right to discriminate against and mistreat me, but it is in fact their moral obligation to do so. The fact that some of them wield considerable power within the administration only increases how often I think, “I’m transgender, and that puts me and my family in grave danger.”

We can’t forget, because you won’t let us forget. And if we did, we would probably suffer greatly for it.

Democrats did not overemphasize LGBT issues

Conservative pundit Mark Shields appeared on PBS News Hour after the election, and accused the Democrats of over focusing on “liberal” issues. He singled out LGBT issues in particular, stating: “I think they have become too culturally liberal a party. I think that there’s been a willingness to emphasize LGBTQ issues, rather than working-class issues of people in declining incomes and families falling behind and Carrier jobs leaving.”

It is already established that LGBT issues affect a lot of Americans, and not just LGBT ones. It is also worth noting that Trump voters were, on average, significantly better off economically than the US average. However, LGBT people are far more likely to live in poverty than the US population at large. This is particularly true of lesbian and bisexual women with children. It is most pronounced with transgender people, who are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as likely to live in on less than $10,000 per year.

As such, focusing on LGBT people would have actually directed attention towards a group of working class people that is less affluent and more likely to have minor children in poverty.

Still, how much did Democrats focus on LGBT issues? The answer is very little.

The Democratic platform gave LGBT issues one paragraph. The Democratic convention had a transgender speaker (Sarah McBride). However, it wasn’t a prime-time speech, so most people who weren’t LGBT or political junkies didn’t see it. Ditto Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA. During the Vice-Presidential debates, Tim Kaine never challenged Governor Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT record. During the Presidential debates, no LGBT questions were asked. Clinton also never formally responded to a questionnaire submitted to her campaign by a transgender advocacy group.

In general, Clinton’s stump speeches mentioned LGBT people only in a general sort of way. In her acceptance speech at the DNC, she mentioned “LGBT” only once in passing.

Trump’s campaign was similarly reticent to use LGBT issues as a wedge, stating that marriage equality was “settled law” and that transgender bathroom issues should be “left to the states.”

As such, there was almost no emphasis by the Clinton campaign on LGBT issues, and the Trump campaign wasn’t in a rush to bring them up either.

LGBT issues are not the problem here

A number of pundits on both sides of the aisle have been in a rush to blame LGBT people, and particularly the T, for the outcome of the election. They assert that they dragged the Democratic Party, and candidate, too far to the left and cost her votes as a result.

However, the evidence suggests that the campaign generally avoided LGBT issues, despite state level legislative efforts to target LGBT rights.  Voters of all stripes, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, regarded LGBT issues as a low priority, and in the one state where LGBT issues were front and center they shifted votes in the gubernatorial race to the left, not the right.

Trump outperformed McCrory by 60,000 votes, suggesting that LGBT issues had less of an effect on the national election.

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