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    Fasten Your Seatbelts for 2020!

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    It’s finally here, the year so many of us have been waiting for: 2020. The year millions of Americans, including many in the LGBTIQ community, hope will bring forth the end of the Trump presidency. A year that will likely have a monumental impact—for better or for worse—on the LGBTIQ community, the nation, and the world.

    In her classic 1950 film All About Eve, gay icon Bette Davis cautions her evening party guests, “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Indeed, 2020 could turn out to be a bumpy nightmare for the LGBTIQ community—or a watershed year for the advancement of LGBTIQ rights.

    In the next few weeks or months, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, the federal law that outlaws race and sex discrimination in employment nationwide. The decision will have major nationwide impact, especially in the nearly 30 states that lack full state law prohibitions on discrimination against LGBTIQ people.

    The ruling will also have ramifications in the areas of housing, public accommodation, education, and sports. A victory would be huge. But even though the actual legal arguments are strongly on our side, we could easily lose because of Trump’s two appointments to the Court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

    The Gorsuch and Kavanaugh appointments already cement a strongly conservative 5–4 majority on the Court for years to come. At age 71, Clarence Thomas, the oldest person in that 5-member majority, could remain on the Court for years. If Trump were re-elected and had the opportunity to replace any of the 4 liberal/moderate members of the Court minority, the impact could be felt for generations. Achieving full constitutional protections for LGBTIQ people—an unfinished work despite nationwide marriage equality—would be even more at risk than it is today.

    A Trump/Pence re-election would also likely mean continued executive level attacks on the transgender community, the undermining of the rights of transgender people, and further measures to legitimate discrimination against all LGBTIQ people under the guise of so-called “religious freedom.” With Gorsuch and Kavanuagh on the Court, the federal courts would likely provide little if any protection against these efforts.

    However, all of these Republican threats to our community come as we, as LGBTIQ people continue to make significant strides toward greater societal embrace of gender and sexual orientation diversity than ever before.

    From a national political perspective, the prominence of openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is testament of a sea change in public acceptance. As political junkies who have followed the influential Iowa Caucuses since their inception in the 1970s, we find it truly extraordinary from a historical perspective that polls show that a gay man who appears with and speaks openly about his husband could win the caucuses. That would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.

    And who knows? Mayor Buttigieg could be inaugurated president of the United States on January 20, 2021, with his husband Chasten at his side. Stranger things have happened … and indeed arguably did happen with the election of the current occupant of the White House four years ago.

    And if Buttigieg became president, he could lead a restructuring of the Supreme Court of which he has often spoken to restore balance and reshape the future of constitutional rights, not just for LGBTIQ people but for millions of other Americans as well. And he would support full federal protections for LGBTIQ people and end the attacks on transgender Americans, as many other Democratic contenders would do as well.

    Or Trump could be re-elected.

    Bette Davis’ admonishment to “fasten your seatbelts” is delivered as a sassy throwaway line. But when we consider the uncertainties that lie ahead in 2020 and the tendency of some of us to fret and despair or become outraged at every twist and turn along the way, Davis’ words offer sage advice.

    Although 2020 is the time to stand up, speak out, and be counted, “fasten your seatbelts” is a wise reminder to take care of each other and ourselves as we do. After all, seatbelts are designed to protect us from the minor bumps and the hard knocks along the way. We wish you a truly happy new year, buckled up individually and bound together as community.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on January 16, 2020