Elections reflect public attitudes, or so the thinking goes. They reveal the unspoken beliefs of our family, friends, and neighbors. They take the pulse of the nation, gauge the health of the body politic, and engage in many other medical metaphors.
Are those ideas complete bullshit? Maybe, but there’s no arguing that they’re deeply ingrained. As a result, it’s easy to take elections personally.
I did just that in 2008: the election that brought hope to the Oval Office after eight years of despair also brought a profound sense of sadness for LGBT Americans. Though we had elected an extremely LGBT-friendly president, one of the most liberal states in the nation–California–had voted against marriage equality. If same-sex couples in California couldn’t secure marriage equality, what hope did the rest of us have?
Or, more to the point: if there was that much homophobia in California, how much more must there be in other states? My state?
The fact that few of us saw all that hate a-coming made it even more shocking and dispiriting.
The 2016 election was different. Hatred was front and center the entire time. Emboldened by their allegedly bold candidate, Trump supporters had no qualms about speaking their minds–in fact, Trump’s own “straight talk” gave them the courage to speak up. This has strained race relations, made politics even more partisan (as if anyone thought that were possible), and given the Alt-Right license to shout racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic opinions that were deemed inappropriate decades ago.
But you know what’s funny? The homophobia that’s fueled the Republican party for most of recent history didn’t really pop up in this election. True, the GOP’s official party platform was among the most LGBT-unfriendly on record. However, Trump never really espoused those views. In fact, even after the election, when he was free to say whatever he liked, he described Obergefell as “settled“. That doesn’t mean that his henchmen and women won’t be trying to undo the rights we’ve earned, but that’s clearly not one of Trump’s priorities.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, Republican governor Pat McCrory lost his reelection bid, and he lost precisely because he signed signed HB2, which limited the rights of LGBT residents.
Some people disliked the bill because they saw it as discriminatory (it was). Others disliked it because it marred North Carolina’s hospitable image. And far more disliked HB2 because it lost the state millions of dollars in revenue when conventions, sporting events, businesses, and concerts cancelled or suspended activities in the state. In that storyline, McCrory was the villain, LGBT Americans were the heroes.
What I’m saying is this: we’ve just been through an election where race, sex, religion, and national origin were major points of contention, but sexual orientation wasn’t a very big deal. If elections do reflect public attitudes in some way, this election showed that people like me–that is, middle class, white gay men–are no longer seen as a major threat to America’s most outspoken bigots. They’ve got bigger fish to fry: African Americans, feminists, Jews, Muslims.
As someone who’s more often been a talking point, a cultural cancer, a boogeyman, an enemy of the state, it feels weird to be left out of the discussion.
It also makes me feel a little guilty, because what I’ve quietly known for some time has now been writ large: class and skin color are far more threatening to bougey whites than who fucks whom in their bedrooms. I’ve become largely invisible, normal. At least for now.
What worries me is the possibility that this quasi-acceptance will make me and others like me complacent. When you’re no longer the pariah, there’s a temptation to stop fighting back. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that complacency can have deadly consequences. Silence will always equal death.