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    Treasuring Our LGBTIQ Community Amidst a Crisis in Democracy

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    As we began to settle from the shock of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we were surprised that one of our many reactions to the events of the day was to realize how much we treasured being part of the worldwide LGBTIQ community and civil rights movement. As the currently popular slogan goes, “Stonewall was a riot,” but unlike the January 6 mob insurrection, Stonewall was a riot for love, respect, common humanity, and the freedom to live as our authentic selves in community with others. Our movement is not based on delusion, denial of reality, white nationalism, violence, bullying, and conflict for its own sake. It is based on the genuine wish for LGBTIQ people to live freely, safely, and peacefully in a world that is better for everyone.

    By chance on the evening of the insurrection, a gay friend of ours who lives under Sharia law in one of the most anti-gay parts of the world, and therefore must keep his sexuality completely secret in his home country, happened to message us to say hello. He had not heard any news about what had gone on in Washington. When we explained it to him, he was astonished, especially since he thinks of the West as a place of greater freedom and stability.

    As we related the events of the day to him, we explained how deeply disturbing they were in and of themselves. Further, the lawless efforts of the mob to keep Trump and Pence in power means supporting their anti-LGBTIQ policies and numerous judicial nominees hostile to LGBTIQ rights.

    We see roots of the insurrection’s utter lack of respect for the democratic process in Ronald Reagan and the decades-long insidious Republican effort to destroy American’s respect for government. Reagan in his inaugural address 40 years ago famously declared: “Government is not the solution to our problem—government is the problem.” 

    Having lived through the entire AIDS pandemic, we can attest that Reagan’s government was indeed a huge part of the problem when it came to AIDS—actively denying the reality of the disease as it ravaged our communities. Reagan did not even publicly mention AIDS until four years into the pandemic, and nearly 90,000 Americans died of the disease under his watch. Reagan and then both Bush presidents as well as Trump have appointed all the Supreme Court justices who have tried to stand in the way of advancement of LGBTIQ rights. Their administrations and Congressional supporters have actively opposed LGBTIQ rights for decades.

    Many activists have rightfully called out the starkly different treatment federal law enforcement gave Black Lives Matter protestors last summer compared to the treatment given the white nationalist pro-Trump insurrectionists on January 6. We also remember back during the Reagan administration how the federal police were out in force with riot gear at the completely peaceful 1987 LGBTIQ demonstration outside the Supreme Court to protest the now infamous anti-LGBTIQ Bowers v. Hardwick decision. Clad with plastic yellow gloves out of fear of AIDS, police arrested nearly 600 queer demonstrators and AIDS activists that day, compared to the mere handful of arrests on January 6, 2021.

    We place responsibility for the current crisis not only with Trump, but also with the myriad Republican leaders—from outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who refused for weeks to acknowledge the simple fact that President-elect Biden had won the election, to Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and over a hundred other members of Congress whose strategy to object to the election results on the 6th fueled the delusions of the mob and millions of other Americans who inexplicably reject the clear fact that Biden won the election.

    A right-wing joke circulating January 6 on the internet read: “Big game at the Capitol today! Patriots vs. the Stealers!” To many in the mob, was it all just a game? A West Virginia state legislator brazenly recorded himself on Facebook Live storming the Capitol with the mob, providing video evidence of himself committing numerous federal crimes. Others proudly posted selfies of themselves doing the same. Had these people so lost touch with the fact their actions have consequences that they thought they were living in a big reality TV show, just like Trump himself? Were they creating conflict simply for its own sake and whipping themselves into a frenzy for no meaningful purpose at all?

    Mitch McConnell’s placing winning raw political power for its own sake above all else reflects the way some football fans root for their team simply out of a sense of tribalism. We are reminded of the degree to which the anti-LGBTIQ political movement has been fueled by Republican and conservative political Christian interests in raising money and mobilizing political support by any means they can.

    As we conversed with our gay friend many thousands of miles away on the evening of January 6, one of his first questions for us was whether we were personally safe. His fears for our safety that evening stood in stark contrast to our usual interactions where we have extended our support to him as he faces extraordinary challenges living as a gay man under Sharia law. His reaching out his hand across oceans to hold ours deeply touched us. It was a true act of friendship and connection, a palpable experience of the richness of our LGBTIQ community for which we are truly grateful.

    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 grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on January 14, 2021