In 2014, my wife and I were invited to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. When I first came out as a lesbian, I never imagined standing next to an Easter bunny in front of the White House balcony alongside my wife and our two kids. With the simple act of including a family like mine during such a cherished American tradition, the White House sent a powerful message that LGBTQ families are part of the American family.
Fast forward to 2017 when, during Donald Trump’s inauguration, the LGBTQ page on the official White House website was removed. On the first day of the Trump administration, GLAAD noted that a search for LGBTQ on WhiteHouse.gov was met with a simple message: “sorry, no results found.”
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For LGBTQ people, visibility has always been the cornerstone of our fight for equality and acceptance, and it was growing by leaps and bounds before the 2016 election. President Obama famously lit the White House in rainbow colors after the historic passage of marriage equality in 2015. LGBTQ advocates were invited to White House policy roundtables. President Obama regularly congratulated LGBTQ notables when they came out, included LGBTQ Americans in Pride month and World AIDS Day proclamations, and honored LGBTQ Americans like Janice Langbehn, an inspiring marriage equality advocate who received a Presidential Citizens Medal. Such allyship and visibility from the highest office in the country trickles down into statehouses, media, workplaces, schools and living rooms across the country.
The trickle down was abruptly cut off before President Trump’s inauguration ceremony ended. From day one, the highest office in our country began a rollback of LGBTQ visibility that would soon be paired with rollbacks of LGBTQ policies and a rise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
From banning transgender military service, to appointing alarmingly anti-LGBTQ judges at every level of the judicial system, some attacks have been front and center. But many of the Trump administration’s attacks on the LGBTQ community have been silent and sinister. Just last week, in its final hours while the nation reeled from the pro-Trump mob’s insurrection at the Capitol, the Trump Department of Health and Human Services enacted a rule permitting social service providers that receive government funds to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project, which documents anti-LGBTQ attacks in policy and rhetoric, launched after the 2016 election and now counts more than 180 total attacks against LGBTQ Americans during Trump’s tenure. As Trump and his administration dominated the media, GLAAD relied on our 35-year history of media advocacy to ensure media practiced fair and accurate LGBTQ reporting to hold the Trump administration accountable. Despite false claims and strategic misinformation campaigns suggesting otherwise, the Trump administration will be remembered as virulently anti-LGBTQ.
On a new Inauguration Day, we begin the work of healing: both as a nation, and the LGBTQ community itself. As we inaugurate the most LGBTQ-inclusive administration in American history, we must clean up the mess left behind by the Trump administration.
The Biden administration has announced plans to overturn every discriminatory Trump administration attack on LGBTQ people, including repealing the ban on transgender troops. President Biden has promised to move the Equality Act forward and reinstate protections so transgender students feel safe at school — guidance the Trump administration had withdrawn weeks into office. The Biden administration has already announced immediate steps it will take to address the overlapping crises facing the country, including the pandemic, the economic crisis and racial equity. These emergencies have disproportionately impacted the LGBTQ community, especially LGBTQ people of color. As journalists and media shift to covering the first 100 days, it is critical that LGBTQ issues and voices remain part of the coverage of these intersectional crises.
More than reversing policy, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris is a return to visibility for LGBTQ Americans and other marginalized communities. President-elect Biden and VP-elect Harris speak out consistently on LGBTQ issues, including addressing the epidemic of violence facing transgender women of color last fall on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The visibility extends beyond mere words. During this Inauguration Day we are set to see the most diverse administration ever sworn in. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the first out nominee for Transportation Secretary or any cabinet position. Pili Tobar and Karine Jean-Pierre, both lesbian women of color, will become the first out LGBTQ members of the White House Communications staff, and the team will be made up of all women for the first-time ever. Veteran LGBTQ advocate Gautam Raghavan has been appointed Deputy Director of the Office of Presidential Personnel and Carlos Elizondo, a gay man, was named White House Social Secretary.
And, earlier this week, the Biden Administration nominated Pennsylvania health expert Dr. Rachel Levine to be assistant secretary for health in the department of Health and Human Services, in a move that will make Dr. Levine the first transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Last week, GLAAD’s annual TV report identified a huge opportunity for LGBTQ visibility across the industry with the pandemic bringing a renewed drive for connection via television and a growth in audiences eager for new and diverse content.
It’s not just television audiences who are prioritizing diversity. Voters in states across America, including traditionally “red” states in the Midwest and South, voted for a record number of openly-LGBTQ candidates. LGBTQ voters and allies turned out in record numbers in the 2020 general election, in the closely-won states that lifted Joe Biden to the presidency. We are being seen and heard.
GLAAD research shows Americans overwhelmingly believe discrimination against LGBTQ people should be illegal. We have every expectation the new Congress and president will align those values with protections like the Equality Act to fulfill their promise to LGBTQ Americans to center acceptance and justice for all. Today is an incredibly historic day for all Americans and for marginalized communities like the LGBTQ community; it’s a collective deep breath and a sigh of relief that reminds us of the simple fact that visibility matters. After every storm, there is a rainbow.
Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD.
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