Last night I watched the election returns come in with increasing dread. I went to sleep at 4am when it was clear Donald Trump would be our 45th president, and I woke up at 8am to over 100 text messages and 20 missed calls.
So many of the texts read the same: I’m so sorry.
I wasn’t much more involved in Hillary Clinton’s campaign than millions of other Americans. I donated; I attended a few rallies; and I dedicated a handful of Facebook statuses to being with her. So why did so many seemingly assume my disappointment was deeper than theirs? Because I’m gay? From Iowa? Is it my name?
I scrolled through those texts, briefly expressed gratitude and answered, “What happens now?” with, “I’m not sure.” It felt mechanical. I was numb.
One key contact was absent from my messages: my father, a Palestinian-born Muslim who lives in Florida after migrating to the U.S. 40 years ago. Late last night I asked, “Dad, are you okay?” Nothing.
When I arrived to work, my colleagues were somber. We watched Hillary Clinton’s beautifully delivered concession speech and we talked about what it meant for us—not professionally but personally—as young people in a changing (or unchanged) America. I didn’t have much to contribute.
But when I stepped away from our meeting, I looked to my phone and my father had responded, “Sad day. But I’m ok. Take care of yourself. Talk tonight.” I read his generic reassurance over again and for the first time I felt the weight of last night’s results. I sat in a locked supply closet and cried. I imagined my dad on regular trips to his mosque, and how each trip will now be threaded with the same fear of bigotry or violence that caused him to vote early in Florida.
I cried thinking about Hillary Clinton’s speech, when she said, “I still believe in America and I always will.” My father must’ve repeated it to himself time and time again: when he moved from a refugee camp in Jordan where he worked as a physician to a gritty, unwelcoming Bronx in 1976; after 9/11 when strangers left him vitriolic voicemails; and when I came out to him and—tragically—he struggled to reconcile how my being gay could be a function of growing up in America.
I cried for my father first, for the fear he won’t ever tell me he feels, and then for the crippling fear that millions of minorities—blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, disabled, and LGBTQ people—are feeling today.
As a gay man in America, I feel very privileged to have rights that so many LGBTQ people around the world don’t, like the right to marry and all of the civil liberties that come with it. But I also feel privileged to have seen advocacy catalyze victory time and time again.
I’m emboldened by how many of our community’s greatest wins have been born out of crushing defeat. When Prop 8 passed in California, it galvanized us and paved the way for marriage equality. I remember elation made sweeter when gay marriage passed in New York and then became the rule of the land in 2015.
I know many LGBTQ heroes who fought hard for increasing resourcing towards, and reducing the stigma around, HIV and AIDS. Just this week I spoke with someone who was part of the ACT UP demonstration that held a political funeral at the White House with the body of an AIDS patient.
The LGBTQ community knows how to fight, and we know how to win.
While there are no shortage of new challenges LGBTQ people will face—from support for conversion therapy to repugnant discrimination policies in the form of the First Amendment Defense Act—it’s now incumbent on us to take what our community has learned over decades of successful advocacy efforts and support other minorities and marginalized populations.
It won’t be easy and it won’t always feel natural. I’ve written extensively about my deep love for my father, a man who loves and respects me though his religion takes issue with my gayness. I’ve written about gay Muslims and their heartbreaking struggles to accept themselves. Through mostly supportive responses there are always those who ask why I would give a voice to a community that will never accept me. It’s because progress comes from empathy and to quickly dismiss bigotry or misunderstanding is a missed opportunity for unity.
If you are LGBTQ, today be grateful that you have a unified, vocal community and that you know it can get better. Then think for a moment about populations that are bigger but less organized, that live further on the fringes of society, or that won’t speak because they have no history of living loudly.
This morning, almost as many people that told me they were sorry described feeling “gutted.” It’s a visceral, crushing adjective that I related to but reject.
We are not gutted because we still have our guts. And just as we must continue to build the America Hillary Clinton referenced this morning—one that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted—we must again suit up for a fight. Only this time we must recruit unexpected warriors who don’t yet know their strength.
Khalid El Khatib is currently writing his first book, a memoir on his youth in Iowa, his twenties in New York, and how being gay and half Middle Eastern impacted the two. He is a regular contributor to Hello Mr. and PAPER magazine and runs marketing for a New York-based company.