“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.