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    Keep Calm and Stay Agitated

    LewisGaffneyNow that Americans have all cast their votes, we and many others are beginning to assess in real terms the impact of the election—in particular, how it will affect our lives. A few weeks ago, at John’s high school reunion in Kansas City, we were struck by how differently two of his classmates’ perceived the potential impact of the election on their lives.

    One classmate, a straight man who is enormously supportive of LGBT rights, and his wife are compassionate physicians. Moreover, for the past 25 years, they have cared day in and day out for their own special needs son who has severe physical challenges. This classmate remarked that “our day-to-day issues make what goes on in Washington just not worth agitating about. Neither Hillary or Donald (or Gary) are going to make a huge difference to what occupies” us.

    By contrast, a gay classmate, who has been with his partner for 23 years and someday hopes to marry him, offered a different perspective. He told us: “We may get married sometime soon, but as you know, Missouri is not as progressive as California—and we are waiting to see how this particular election turns out, especially for our local politicians; many of them still want to fight marriage equality.”

    As LGBT people and also as people who have always believed that we should try to use the political system and public policy to better people’s lives, the first classmate’s remarks initially took us aback. What do you mean that “what goes on in Washington was just not worth agitating about?” We’ve been agitating about what goes on in Washington for years. Millions of other LGBT people have been doing so as well.

    We’ve gone from protesting the Supreme Court 1986 decision permitting states to put LGBT people in jail to advocating for, and then celebrating, the Court’s 2015 nationwide marriage equality decision. The year 2017 will once again witness the Court addressing a vital LGBT issue: transgender kids’ right to use public restrooms fitting their gender identity.

    We protested the federal government’s inaction on HIV/AIDS dating back over 30 years ago, and through Stuart’s professional work participated in the development of effective HIV/AIDS policy. We witnessed the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and its eventual repeal, and participate in the ongoing struggle to pass nationwide protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public services. The identity of the President, members of Congress, and the Supreme Court justices has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the lives of LGBT people.

    John’s gay classmate’s thoughts also highlight the importance of statewide and local elections to LGBT people. Local elections, even in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, not long ago had significant effects on the rights and protections of LGBT people; they continue to have vital impacts across the country. Ever since the passage of Proposition 8, we have felt a vague foreboding on election day—a lasting imprint of LGBT people’s ongoing vulnerability as not all our basic civil rights are yet protected nationwide.

    But the first classmate’s reaction suggested great wisdom as well. The circumstances of his life mean that caring for his son and family (not to mention his patients) is what he devotes most of his life to. It reminds us of the importance of caring for ourselves, those closest to us, and others as well, regardless of the outcome of elections or whether or not our movement for civil rights is enjoying success or facing challenges.

    Indeed, caring for ourselves and others is the motivating reason for the movement itself. His reaction also points to the value of finding well being and happiness that sustains regardless of the results of elections or other life circumstances. Homo-bi-transphobia has caused far too many of us to live far too long in pain and isolation, but our community has found extraordinary and often creative ways to find joy, meaning, and human connection in the face of formidable personal and political obstacles. We don’t know what the next four or eight years will bring, but we will benefit by finding wellbeing amidst both the joys and the sorrows that lie ahead. Let’s keep calm and stay agitated.

    Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, 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 nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.