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Here’s What We Can Do When the Trump Administration Challenges LGBTQ Rights

Danni Siminerio

Religious freedom and bathroom bills are just two of the legal fights our community needs to be ready for.

Donald Trump is the next president. As progressives wake up to that sobering fact, some have begun to move past shock and denial and into action. As queer people, we need to understand what the upcoming Trump presidency could mean for our rights and the rights of other minorities.

While Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, that doesn't mean Trump's bills will pass easily. House Speaker Paul Ryan may say this is a "unified Republican government," but with deep divides among establishment, evangelical, and populist party members, there's no such thing as a unified Republican party anymore.

So the greatest risk to progressives lies on issues where all three species of Republicans align.

Trump has a 100-day plan that gives us a glimpse at what the future holds. This plan mostly focuses on the economy, foreign trade and immigration, and government corruption. The plan is light on social issues and doesn't mention anything directly regarding LGBTQ people.

However, we at Out can predict at least two areas where a Trump administration will act on LGBTQ rights--so-called "religious freedom" and "bathroom" bills.

Religious freedom

What it is: Vice president-elect Mike Pence signed into law a "religious freedom restoration act" (or RFRA) as governor of Indiana in 2015. These RFRAs allow private and public individuals to refuse goods and services based on sincerely held religious beliefs. RFRA supporters have said that these laws do not target LGBTQ people with discrimination because they often don't include specific language on sexuality. Too bad that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant gave away the game when his state's RFRA, which he is defending in district court, explicitly stated that a protected religious belief is marriage between a man and a woman and that gender is determined at birth.

How it could happen: The U.S. had a national RFRA in 1993, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. However, a Supreme Court decision struck down the law for everyone except the federal government. If the Trump administration decides to reintroduce a national RFRA, evangelical and populist Republicans in Congress would likely rally behind it and a conservative Supreme Court may interpret a First Amendment protection for it--or simply refuse to hear a challenge to it all together.

What it means: First, stop worrying that you'll lose marriage equality. Obergefell made a resounding precedent similar to Roe v. Wade. But, like Roe, conservatives can't stop same-sex marriage--but they can make it a lot harder to get it. Judges and magistrates can refuse to license same-sex couples, adoption agencies can close their doors, doctors can toss aside patients, and yes, even bakers can deny you a cake. You will live in a world where, more than ever, you have to wonder if the person in front of you is gay-friendly. Because if they aren't and you suffer an injustice, they will have a built-in excuse.

Let's also mention that Trump has promised to roll back all of President Barack Obama's "unconstitutional" executive orders, which could include those protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination already in place for federal employment and contracting.

What you can do: First, start paying serious attention to the Equality Act. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee and has not moved out of subcommittee. Here is a list of every member of the committee and their office phone number in Washington, D.C. Start calling and asking for the bill to not only come before the whole committee, but also to come before the House floor. I wouldn't expect a win, but if the full House can start debating this issue as soon as possible, that will change the tone of any RFRA debate and preserve the humanity of LGBTQ people in Congress.

Second, reach out to religious voters. Even moderate religious people have shown support for RFRAs because of the misleading title and the general attitude that religious worship is "under attack" in the U.S. Share queer viewpoints on RFRAs on social media. Ask priests or pastors if you can lead a small group outside normal services about what a RFRA could mean to you and your family.

Bathroom bills

What it is: "Bathroom bills" refer to laws that require people to use restrooms and changing facilities matching the gender they were assigned at birth. That would mean transgender women can't use the women's restroom, transgender men can't use the men's restroom, and so on. Unfortunately, transgender Americans face more serious problems than this (like access to health care and employment), but conservatives have decided this is the hill they want to die on. After the Obama administration sent out a guidance for schools and employers to allow transgender people to use restrooms of their gender identity, dozens of states took to court. North Carolina's Pat McCrory lost reelection over his state's "bathroom bill" after severe backlash from the business and entertainment communities. Even the Supreme Court has decided to take the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who was denied the boys' restroom by his school district.

How it could happen: A national "bathroom bill" is not likely a priority for the Trump administration, but it would be an easy win among evangelical Christians. Trump himself has gone back and forth on transgender bathroom access, and despite whatever he personally believes, he needs evangelicals more than he needs LGBTQs. Plus, gay conservatives have never given much credit to the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans. If Trump fails to deliver on the promise of restricting abortion access--the sole reason evangelicals stood by him--a national bathroom bill would be a great way to appease them. And he has the votes to do it.

What it means: Bathroom bills do mean more than just where you pee. First, there's the symbolic aspect that transgender people are not who they say they are--that their gender identity is not respected or worth considering. Second, there's the legal aspect. Basically what's at question is if the "sex" protections in civil rights law protect "gender identity." If they don't, that message could spread from bathrooms to courtrooms everywhere trying to handle cases of discrimination. Third, there's the myth that transgender people--women in particular--are actually sexual predators in disguise. State legislators, like in Texas, are already crafting entire bills around that myth alone.

What you can do: The people who need to come forward on this are the parents. Transgender rights may be decided in Washington, but they start in your school district. Ask your school board what plans they have to accommodate transgender students. Tell teachers and other parents that you support transgender students' right to the restroom of their gender identity.

At the state and national level, challenge leaders on the "sexual predators" or "protect our women" storylines. Call and ask them to defend their voting records on issues of sexual assault, women's access to health care, or Title IX protections on college campuses. Put these legislators who are scapegoating transgender people on the defensive about their own records of "protecting women."

Finally, support those businesses and entertainers who took such a hard line in North Carolina. The boycotts convinced a state that Trump won in the presidential election to oust their Republican governor for a Democrat. Denying transgender people their rights cost North Carolina in real dollars; make sure that other states understand that the same could happen to them.

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