I’ve seen what hate is capable of when it is empowered and undeterred. On June 12, 2016, I was washing my hands at a bathroom sink inside Pulse Nightclub when a man filled with hate charged in and murdered 49 mostly queer people of color, many of whom were my friends and community members. That night I lost my two best friends, and I have spent every day since confronting evil in its purest form, as emboldened by a president who has staked his political success on demonizing our most vulnerable.
Our country is facing a democratic crisis over Donald Trump’s looming impeachment, following reports that he attempted to pressure Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky into digging up dirt on political rival Joe Biden. For LGBTQ+ people like me and the friends I lost that Saturday night, this moment represents so much more. It’s a long overdue chance to hold the president accountable for the violence and bigotry he represents, and a failure to bring his actions to justice will only make things worse. Unbound by constitutional norms and the rule of law, Trump will continue to victimize the community he has spent over two years assaulting: ours.
You don’t have to look far to see the war this administration is waging on LGBTQ+ Americans. Just six months after taking office, Trump announced that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military in a series of tweets. At the time, it was one of more than two dozen attacks on the LGBTQ+ community — a tally to which he has since added an additional 100 assaults. The Trump White House has given anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups unprecedented access to the Oval Office, argued that it should be legal to fire employees for being LGBTQ+, permitted adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples, erased LGBTQ+ people from data collection, and repealed protections for trans students who just want a safe place to go to the bathroom.
In May of this year, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson loosened provisions in the Equal Access Rule, giving homeless shelters permission to discriminate based on gender identity. Just last month, he summed up the bigoted animus of this administration by referring to transgender women as “big, hairy men” and suggesting they wanted to infilitate these shelters to abuse and assault other vulnerable women.
Time and time again, the Trump administration has exploited our pain, demonized us, and used us as disposable pawns in his quest for power. When my friends were murdered, the president promised to be a “friend” to the LGBTQ+ community, and even now, the memory of his empty pledge still sends a chill up my spine. I remember him patting himself on the back, tweeting “I told you so” before the bodies could be identified. Trump used the deaths of LGBTQ+ people to further policies targeting Muslims — who he blamed for the tragedy — and then spent the next two and a half years doing everything possible to make the world less safe for others who claim the intersectional identities of the brown and queer people who died at Pulse.
That hateful violence turned my world upside down, robbed me of my joy, and tore my community apart, but it also showed me why Trump must be removed from office. What the president reportedly attempted to do in Ukraine — extort his way to reelection — has nothing to do with LGBTQ+ people, but it has everything to do with us. When the constitution is no longer a deterrent for tyranny, those who are already marginalized and oppressed will be its first victims.
Imagine what will happen if Trump is not put on trial for the ways in which he has degraded and perverted our democracy. He will view it as a sign that it doesn’t matter which communities he harms or which lives are lost in the process, so long as he clings to power. Since 2017, LGBTQ+ people have feared normalizing the president; failing to impeach Trump would hand him a blank check.
Congress must send a message that enough is enough. Our community can’t survive more assaults on our liberty, and we also cannot survive elected officials who prove themselves powerless to stop the president’s assaults on our basic freedoms. While 224 House Democrats have come out in favor of beginning impeachment proceedings against the president, 11 have remained silent. Not a single House Republican, at the time of publication, has suggested that Trump should be held accountable. Liberals and conservatives must join together and find the courage to say that this isn’t about party ideology. It’s about deciding who we are as a nation.
The LGBTQ+ community doesn’t just have a vested interest in helping Congress to make that decision — we all have an active role to play. It may not seem like much, but each and every LGBTQ+ person who has found themselves in the crosshairs of this administration must call our elected representatives and tell them to join the calls for impeachment, especially those of us in Republican districts. All of us have the power to write our Senators and demand that when the time comes, they stand on the side of the American people. It takes a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate to remove the president from office. If the Republican intransigence of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tenure is any indication, LGBTQ+ people will need every vote they can get.
Three years ago, I watched what happens when the flames of hatred are fanned. We have a president that, rather than reject hate, has chosen to harness it as a weapon. Impeachment is America’s opportunity to seek justice for communities like ours and an opportunity to affirm that love always wins. We must demand nothing less.
Brandon Wolf is a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting that took the lives of 49 and injured 53 others. He has since become a nationally recognized advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gun safety reform. Brandon has been a surrogate on multiple political campaigns throughout the 2016 & 2018 election cycles and is a frequent guest on MSNBC and CNN. This year, Brandon became the first Pulse survivor to testify before Congress, sharing his powerful story during a hearing on hate violence in the House Ways & Means Committee.