2017 wasn’t just a bad year for LGBT equality in the United States. It was a pivotally bad year; an epochally horrific one, in sometimes subtle but almost always sinister ways.
The events of the last 12 months will have ramifications that could last for the next 12 years. And so, what better way to highlight the monumental terribleness of 2017 than to imagine the year it could have been, had a different candidate won the election, or had Donald Trump’s image as an LGBT-friendly Republican not been sloughed off like snakeskin the moment he stepped foot in the Oval Office.
It seems like an eternity ago but it was only in January that the White House said that President Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” If that were true, LGBT Americans would have had not just a very different 2017, but a different 2030 as well.
This fantasy 2017 begins in February when, instead of rescinding Department of Education and Department of Justice guidance protecting transgender students’ restroom rights, that guidance is left solidly in place.
That decision doesn’t just help the reported 59 percent of transgender students who have been denied access to a restroom matching their gender, it has potential ripple effects for generations:
Let’s say that the guidance remains in place and so the justices take up the case, ruling in favor of Grimm, who had been denied access to the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school. Then, instead of the transgender restroom issue swirling around at the circuit court level for years to come, there would be federal-level clarity.
Transgender youth would be able to stop cutting their food and water intake to avoid uncomfortable restroom experiences—as many currently report doing—and their mental health would undoubtedly improve, as peer-reviewed literature suggests.
Things only get better in March when we learn that the 2020 Census will indeed ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity—instead of apparently scrapping a proposal to do so. Then, instead of having to rely on an elaborate statistical guessing game to estimate the size of the LGBT population, we would have harder numbers in three years.
As The Daily Beast has repeatedly pointed out, that number is not trivial: Census and federal survey data informs public policy and allows government agencies decide what to do with their resources. We would know exponentially more about the LGBT community, in areas ranging from economic well-being to racial diversity to the average date our housing units were built. And after the 2030 Census, we’d be able to track the LGBT community’s progress over time with two comprehensive and reliable data sets—instead of having to wait until 2040 to gather all that information.
The wins keep piling up in April when, in our alternate universe, Neil Gorsuch doesn’t get confirmed as a Supreme Court justice and a judge more likely to protect LGBT rights from the anti-LGBT “religious freedom” crowd takes his chair.
Then, LGBT Americans have to worry less about landmark civil rights cases reaching the Supreme Court over the course of the next few decades—especially cases that deal with transgender rights and non-discrimination legislation.
And the consequences would be more immediate than that, too: The Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which could potentially decide whether some business owners can refuse service to LGBT people based on religious belief, would be an opportunity for same-sex couples to cement marriage equality even more firmly in place, instead of a source of anxiety. (As it stands, SCOTUS watchers are speculating after this month’s oral arguments that the case is headed toward a narrow victory for Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, with Gorsuch possibly being “one of the Court’s most reliable votes in favor of Phillips,” as Patrick Hornbeck noted for Religion Dispatches.)
After the spring, LGBT equality wouldn’t go on summer break. Transgender recruits would begin enlisting in the military as scheduled, joining the estimated 4,000 transgender troops who are already serving. Instead of anxiously watching the various legal challenges to a transgender troop ban, those service members would continue to “serve with distinction,” as District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote in her preliminary injunction against that ban.
But remember, in this alternate 2017, that ban doesn’t exist because Trump was “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” instead of waking up one morning and tweeting, without evidence, that transgender inclusion in the military would mean “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” And in this fantasy 2017, young transgender people who are hoping to join the military would be able to look forward to doing so, rather than wait years for the various court cases to resolve.
Pride Month would be marked not by dead silence, but by an official statement—or even the White House being lit up in the rainbow colors of the same flag that a smiling Trump once hoisted on the campaign trail (albeit upside down).
Election night in the dream version of November 2017 would, hopefully, unfold similarly to its real-world counterpart, with dozens of openly LGBT candidates—including the mayor of Seattle, incoming Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, and several other transgender candidates—winning their contests. But these victories wouldn’t be framed as responses to anti-LGBT actions on a federal level, so much as electoral confirmations of the increasing acceptance in this country.
And finally in December, the White House would include mention of LGBT people and people of color in its World AIDS Day statement, because those often intersecting groups are disproportionately likely to be affected by HIV/AIDS. An intact Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS would remain intact—instead of one that lost six members—and be able to work with full effectiveness to combat the devastating rates of new infections that persist for gay and bisexual men especially.
Oh, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would submit a budget that repeatedly used the not-at-all-banned word “transgender” in discussing HIV prevention programs for transgender people.
In sum, we would be looking back at year when same-sex marriage was seen as a done deal, not the grounds to start the next chapter of a culture war. Federal transgender protections, which were already precarious and often effected through executive action, could potentially have become rock solid in some areas, with the hope of more progress to come.
Same-sex marriage rights would be further embedded into this country’s legal fabric. And LGBT people would have continued to feel seen, heard, and valued after eight years of slow but meaningful progress.
LGBT advocates warned that the 2016 election would have consequences for the community, long before it was believed that Trump even had a chance of winning. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said back in January of last year—before the Republican primaries had even started— that “all the progress we have made as a nation on LGBT equality—and all the progress we have yet to make—is at stake in November.”
As we enter January 2018, it is painfully clear that these warnings were not exaggerations. This year could have gone very differently, but it didn’t—and LGBT people will pay the price.