Just a month ago, we hosted over 5,000 people virtually at our annual Workplace Summit. It was an incredible week filled with learning, connection, and the emotional high we have come to expect every year when we get to be together again. Summit re-charges my batteries and reminds me of why I am so passionate about our mission.
This year, however, as Summit ended and the election approached, many of us – myself included – found ourselves anxiously looking towards the November election. We had knots in our stomachs and struggled to keep our hope steady.
I felt a true sense of relief when the Biden-Harris victory was announced. There is reason to celebrate new leadership that has supported LGBTQ equality – not just with their words and platform but with their actions as elected officials.
Let’s talk for a moment about where we’re coming from, and the damage that has been done over the past four years. This is deeply personal to me, as I’m sure it is for many of you. I will never forget my little girls telling me they didn’t feel safe when we moved back from the Middle East in 2016. I will never forget their wondering if there was a place for them in this country because of the attitudes and policies that were coming out of the White House. I still feel the sting of waiting outside of Customs at Dulles Airport for my girls’ father, who was coming for a visit from the Middle East. I did not know if he – an Arab Muslim – would be allowed into America.
Intersectionality is not just a buzz word. It is a description of the challenges we face as whole, multi-dimensional people. It is a framework for understanding our individual lived experience, and it is also a framework for our LGBTQ movement. Just as I am both a member of the LGBTQ community and a mother of biracial children, every other member of the LGBTQ community has other identities that are relevant to this discussion.
So, as we talk about the election and the LGBTQ community, we are talking about the Muslim travel ban. We are talking about the trans military ban, and the right to healthcare. We are talking about xenophobia as policy, about the suffering of parents and children at America’s southern border. These are all embedded in and fall under the umbrella of the LGBTQ community, because our community is everywhere. We reside in each of these spheres.
After four years in which our community has had to live in fear, many of us are feeling optimistic that the future will look different. But this is not a moment to rest. It is a moment for action:
- We need to pass the Equality Act into law. This would guarantee the LGBTQ community many of the legal protections that other minorities in the United States already have and ensure equal and consistent protection beyond what was achieved in the Supreme Court Title VII win that protected us from discrimination in employment.
- We need to end the trans military ban. Remember, the US Department of Defense is the largest employer in the world.
- We need to restore protections under section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. This directly affects protections on the basis of sex, including gender identity, and gutted equitable access to healthcare for the trans community under the Trump administration.
- We need to roll back the Trump administration’s draconian prohibitions on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training. As the Executive Order was rolled out just a couple of months ago, I was getting panicked phone calls from federal employees, some of whom were afraid their jobs could be on the line if they attended our Workplace Summit. Others told me about diversity trainings that were canceled in their agencies. This EO extended to federal contractors as well and puts at risk the support federal agencies rely on.
We need to act to ensure that these changes, and more, take place once Joe Biden moves into the White House. Even with all the powers that he will have as president, it is still our responsibility to ensure that he and Congress act – especially with a more conservative Supreme Court. It is still our responsibility to demand accountability from our leaders.
And it is still our responsibility to act in ways that transcend the political debate… We must build true cultures of belonging in our workplaces, our schools, and our communities. While new laws and better policies are essential, the lived experience of our day-to-day realities is also determined by what behaviors are deemed acceptable in each of these communities. Will we continue to hear demeaning jokes? Will we see more and more visibly out LGBTQ people advance, thrive and be role models? Will people feel free to be out as themselves?
This election result is a very big deal. It is a significant part of the path forward. But you and I must always remember that we are not the recipients of this election. It is not a gift that someone has granted to us. Rather, it is something that we helped to realize by living our values and demanding change. In order to realize its full benefits and to tackle critical issues like racial justice, gender inequity, metal health issues and more, each of us needs to act. It will take all of us, and we look forward to continuing to engage the O&E community in creative and powerful ways. If we have achieved success in company or industry, we owe it to each other to bring back the learning and resources in spaces like the O&E Hub and events like Summit, so others early on in their D&I journey don’t recreate the wheel and accelerate through mistakes. Have you thought of yourself as part of the broader LGBTQ movement? Because you are. And the hard work starts now!