In the wake of the wildly divergent tones of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, nationwide election-year rhetoric has quickly shifted to warning the American people about the gravity of their decision in the voter’s booth this November. We are reminded that the dramatic choice between success or failure, good or evil, and even life or death, rests in voters’ hands.
But beyond the dogmatic bloviating, this year the decision between one candidate or the other more accurately represents choosing between sickness and health. Voting for the Republican Party, complete with its historically anti-LGBT platform and unhinged but consistently hateful candidate, equals a vote against advancing the well-being of this country’s LGBT citizens. And it’s no secret that we are a community already facing extensive barriers to health and wellness services, even under a president that has been lauded as the staunchest LGBT ally ever to occupy the White House.
Beyond the platform, the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president is arguably best known on the national stage for his unapologetic support for anti-LGBT policies. In March 2015, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence proudly signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which opponents said gave businesses and individuals in the state a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people. Although Pence signed a “fix” to the bill a month later, the damage was already done, and his state took a $60 million hit from the pronounced backlash.
Pence has a long record of opposing basic dignity for LGBT people, including his outspoken disappointment over the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling that brought marriage equality to all 50 states. Predictably, Pence fell in line with other Republicans strongly criticizing guidance that came out of President Obama’s administration this year recommending that public schools allow all students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Pence openly opposed the repeal of the military’s ban on open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
As far back as 2000, during his successful bid for U.S. House of Representatives, Pence called for the reallocation of funds from Indiana residents living with HIV toward “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That sounds an awful lot like taking funds from proven harm reduction methods and redirecting them into programs that are proven to harm members of our communities.
From a public health standpoint, a Trump-Pence administration isn’t looking good for the health of LGBT Americans, and the impact could have far-reaching and devastating consequences.
Research into so-called conversion therapy shows an increase in suicidal ideation instead of a decrease, especially in youth subjected to the discredited “therapy.” The American Psychological Association and other leading health organizations have denounced the practice. President Obama himself, and other high-ranking officials in his administration, have called for the dangerous practice to be illegal for use on minors anywhere in the U.S. Five states and the District of Columbia currently ban use of the practice on minors, and a pending federal law would declare the practice fraudulent under Federal Trade Commission guidelines. Any support for this inhumane, ineffective practice — no matter how veiled — is an immediate red flag that such supporters have no interest in preserving the health and survival of LGBT Americans.
Speaking of thinly veiled animus, the GOP’s official backing of transphobic “bathroom bills” further demonizes an already marginalized community. Amid the unabated and escalating deadly violence against transgender people — especially black transgender women — and persistently high rates of unemployment and discrimination in health care, housing, and employment, the GOP’s decision to focus on keeping transgender people out of restrooms is beyond cruel. The patently false scare tactics that warn about the dangers of “men” in women’s bathrooms not only erase of the lived reality of transgender people, but also actively contribute to a culture that violently represses transgender individuals.
Finally, the GOP’s continued push to overturn last year’s Supreme Court decision embracing legal same-sex marriage and the insistence that marriage equality will bring about the apocalypse is nothing short of antiquated. In fact, there’s evidence that marriage equality actually contributes to better health outcomes for LGBT people. A 2012 Massachusetts study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the medical records of more than 1,200 gay and bisexual men, and found that medical visits in the state increased, while costs of health care dropped for the covered partner after same-sex marriage became legal.
Make no mistake, despite Paypal founder and out gay billionaire Peter Theil addressing the crowd, and Trump himself awkwardly tripping over our acronym in his acceptance speech “promising” to protect the LGBT community at the Republican convention, doesn’t portend progress by the Republican Party like many pundits have suggested. The GOP is still light-years away from taking that leap over the rainbow towards ally status.
And to put bluntly, at this point trying to claim that the racist rhetoric and his party’s homophobic platform are somehow separated from Trump’s character and don’t foreshadow how he’ll run the country is blatant ignorance that is dangerous for LGBT citizens. History is watching, as legendary journalist Dan Rather so eloquently put it recently on Facebook, and the GOP has intentionally staked its claim on the wrong side, with Trump reveling in his ascension as their leader.
Recent polling has Hillary Clinton in the lead, but Trump’s grandstanding and overpromising have him falling not too far behind in key swing states like Virginia, Florida, and Ohio. The reality of a Trump in the White House is much more probable than we think. That probability makes it more important than ever for LGBT communities, and anyone who considers themselves our allies, to consider what a Trump presidency could mean. Not only for our rights but for our physical and mental health too.
A Trump presidency would not only be dark and disturbing for LGBT Americans, it could very well mean taking several steps backward in our general health as a community, undoing years of public health strides in inclusive care for underserved populations in our country.
D.A. STEWARD is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ health advocate who works with Fenway Health in Boston. Follow him at www.dasteward.com or on Twitter.