In this op-ed series published exclusively on Out.com, members of the LGBTQ+ community discuss their support for the major contenders in the 2020 presidential primaries. Participating candidates include Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, and Cory Booker, and one editorial will be published every weekday. The editorials in this series do not reflect the views of Out magazine or its editors.
In today’s installment, Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf tells us why he believes Elizabeth Warren should be the next president of the United States.
In the world of politics, the term “safe space” has largely been perverted by Twitter trolls into a punchline about progressives’ desire to treat people with dignity and respect. But for LGBTQ+ people, safe spaces are lifelines, hideouts painstakingly carved into our communities where we can be our whole selves without fear of shame, violence, or retribution. LGBTQ+ centers become safe spaces for youth who aren’t safe at home. Friendships become safe spaces for those who are rejected by their families. Bars and nightclubs become safe spaces for everyone afraid to dance freely and live unashamedly for fear that they will be discovered.
On June 12, 2016, my safe space was invaded. I was at Pulse nightclub when a gunman opened fire, killing 49 mostly LGBTQ+ people of color, including my best friends. In an instant, the safety and security we had fought so hard for was set ablaze by a man filled to the brim with hatred and militarized by our nation’s easy access to guns. It was our community’s worst nightmare realized: hunted in the spaces we created to feel comfortable being ourselves.
The aftermath rubbed salt in our wounds. Members of our community lined up to give blood, only to be turned away due to archaic laws rooted in homophobia. As we buried our friends, undocumented survivors and families of victims stayed quiet for fear that they would be identified and deported. Black LGBTQ+ people, despite being among those directly impacted, saw resources fail to reach them and their voices left out of the dialogue.
In many ways, the attack on Pulse and what unfolded next captures the current struggle for equality — and our need to elect a president that is willing to take on the powerful, put marginalized voices front and center, and commit to big, structural change in America. The candidate ready to do that is Elizabeth Warren.
In 2019, our reality is a scary one. Despite decades of progress on LGBTQ+ issues, people in our community are suffering. The Trump Administration is working systematically to erase LGBTQ+ people, excluding us from adopting children, arguing that discrimination laws do not protect our community, and denying transgender Americans the right to serve their country, receive equitable healthcare, and access public housing. We are witnessing an onslaught against our civil liberties, and only a leader willing to take bold, aggressive action while centering the voices of the most marginalized among us is going to stop it.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Senator Warren on the phone. She was cheerful and warm, with a characteristic tinge of defiance in her voice. She spoke at length about the toxic influence of money in politics. She bristled at the idea of vague policy proposals that stop us short of achieving our potential. But what struck me about her words was how frequently she turned her attention to the most vulnerable Americans. Yes, she outlined her plans with the wonkiness we love, but her ideas were informed by her work and experiences helping to change outcomes for working families.
The Senator repeatedly spoke to the urgency of our need to combat violence against Black trans women. Critically, when she spoke of how we take on what can seem like an insurmountable problem of gun violence, she drew a line back to her anti-corruption plan and removing the corrosive influence of money in politics. Elizabeth Warren, in a single conversation, captured what I had been so desperately seeking in a candidate for president: how we move the country forward without leaving people behind.
This administration has been an unmitigated disaster for marginalized Americans. With the 2020 election upon us, we are facing a pivotal moment in history that could see us either break through on civil rights without leaving LGBTQ+ people behind or watch the gains we fought so hard for melt away in the flames of bigotry and hate. A moment like that calls for a bold, decisive plan with the strength to lean in to tough conversations on issues of race and gender identity — a plan like Elizabeth Warren’s.
A lot stands out about her proposals, including but not limited to banning the practice of conversion therapy, protecting LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers fleeing persecution, and tackling youth homelessness. But you don’t have to look further than the first sentence of the plan to understand what is shaping her values. In it, she applauds the courage of activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of color who helped launch the Stonewall Riots and ignite the fight for equality. In a country that has seen nearly two dozen black transgender people, the majority of whom were trans women of color, murdered this year, Elizabeth Warren is centering those voices in her run for the Oval Office.
After I learned that my best friends were among those lost at Pulse on June 12, 2016, it was days before I could bring myself to watch the news. When I finally worked up the courage to turn on the television, what I saw broke my heart. Debate raged about Donald Trump’s revolting tweet, while the faces and stories of LGBTQ+ people of color, those who had been most directly impacted, were nowhere to be found. It was a painful reminder that the sacred space we had cultivated was gone and we were suddenly thrust into a world treating us like a footnote. That day, and every day that followed, I pledged to lift up the voices of those in my community and communities like ours — and to demand that our leaders do the same.
The first step to a better future for LGBTQ+ Americans is getting Donald Trump out of the White House, but equally as important is what happens next. True equality for our community is going to require a leader who refuses to leave anyone behind, sees our unique identities as a strength, and understands that our best work is done when everyone has a seat at the table. Safe spaces are about allowing people to be their authentic selves so all of us can thrive. With President Elizabeth Warren, rest assured that the White House will be one of those spaces. Now we need to help her get there.
Brandon Wolf is a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 that left 49 people dead. He has since become a national advocate for gun safety reform, LGBTQ+ civil rights, and is currently a surrogate for the Warren campaign.