The Fight for LGBT Equality in 2018 Will Be Fierce

Jay Michaelson: So, here we are at the end of a strange year for LGBTQ Americans. On the one hand, mainstream acceptance of gay people continues to spread; gays are now officially boring. On the other hand, trans people are being singled out for government persecution on the one hand and continued street violence on the other.

Meanwhile, as all three of us have written, the Trump-Pence administration is inflicting the "death of a thousand blows" against LGBTQ civil rights, severely limiting employment rights, marital rights, access to healthcare, access to safe facilities in schools, and so onwhile literally erasing LGBTQ people from government forms, proclamations, and observances.

For that reason, it's even harder than usual to look toward 2018 with any sense of certainty. What are we most hoping for in the year to come? And what do we fear?

Samantha Allen: I have written the word bathroom hundreds of times over the past two years of covering the various state-level attempts to restrict transgender peoples restroom use. I wish I never had to type it again; I didnt sign up to be a reporter to write about the human excretory system every week.

But in 2018, I am hoping to talk about bathrooms a lot less frequentlyand I have reason to believe that will be the case.

One of the most important victories for transgender people this year came in the form of something we avoided: a bathroom bill in Texas that would have effectively made birth certificates into tickets of entry for restrooms in public schools and government buildings. But that was scuttled at the last second by the business community, local law enforcement, and a sympathetic speaker of the House who said he [didnt] want the suicide of a single Texan on [his] hands.

Im confident that well see somebut fewerred-state legislatures really push for bathroom bills. Theyre political losers and money drainersand everyone in elected office knows that by now

I was in the state this summer when this thing almost got passed and I witnessed firsthand the gloriously outsized Texas rage against a bill that could have cost them billions (Tim wrote about the Texas bathroom battle at the time for the Daily Beast).

Between that and North Carolina being forced to repeal the most controversial aspects of HB 2 under pressure from the NCAA, Im confident that well see somebut fewerred-state legislatures really push for bathroom bills. Theyre political losers and money drainersand everyone in elected office knows that by now.

Tim Teeman: Id like to share your optimism, but Roy Moore supplies a harsh correctivefor me anyway. In the celebrations that followed his defeat at the hands of Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race, some difficult questions were left hanging.

Moore was a candidate whose rampant homophobiahis actual desire to see discrimination enacted against millions of LGBT Americans, his desire to see prejudice and discrimination enshrined in lawwent mostly unchallenged and unquestioned. Only on the last day of the race did Jake Tapper of CNN ask his spokesman whether Moore believed homosexuality should be illegal (the answer: Probably).

This was a shameful and telling omission by the media. The depressing footnote to Moores loss is that extreme homophobia itself is not a disqualification for a political candidate in 2017. Active homophobia was seen as a valid mandate to hold by the modern Republican Party.

Moore was only too happy to hold it close even in defeat, as he showed by posting (on Facebook) Carson Jones, Doug Jones gay sons, post-election interview with The Advocate. It was a sly attempt to stir up anti-gay poison. Politicians like Moore are thankfully fewer and fewer in number, but homophobia and transphobia are still a major currency in this White Houseand that Trump and other of Moores high-profile Republican supporters dont see it as a disqualifying characteristic tells us something very sad and alarming indeed.

Since ordinary gays are now not so novel, Hollywood's search for novelty is causing them to explore stories of people of color, rural folks, genderqueer folks, and other people who aren't Will or Grace

Jay Michaelson: I am putting most of my hopes outside the machinery of the state. Hollywood told some beautiful queer stories in 2017; I hope this expands and continues in 2018. A decade ago, when I was a professional activist, we had it drilled into us that the number one factor in someone "evolving" on any particular LGBTQ issue was knowing someone who was L, G, B, T, or Q. And if they didn't have firsthand knowledge, media figures counted too.

So, while the Republican party caters to its Christian Right base, I hope that continued media visibility makes them pay for doing so. There's a nice irony too: since ordinary gays are now not so novel, Hollywood's search for novelty is causing them to explore stories of people of color, rural folks, genderqueer folks, and other people who aren't Will or Grace. That might not be for the best motive, but the consequences could be profound.

Tim Teeman: Then we have the 'wedding cake' case at SCOTUS, which you have written about Jay. That seems currently going in favor of the baker refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. This isn't just about a wedding cake, of course, but providing a signal that discrimination based on "beliefs" is OK, which can be used against LGBT people in so many contexts.

Samantha Allen: Im afraid the Trump administrations attacks on the LGBT community will continue to be so persistent and so piecemeal that they will continue to get shuffled to the side. This past month, we were stunned when the Washington Post reported that the CDC had been discouraged from using the term transgender in preparing their annual budget, but if people had been paying closer attention to Trumps appointments in the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, this wouldnt have been a surprise.

We cant afford to pretend anymore like these are stunningly cruel attacks that come out of nowhere: leaders of anti-LGBT groups regularly walk the White House halls, they wield tremendous influence right now, and the administration is quietly giving them what they want.

Im worried that, with so many other scandals dominating the headlines, the systematic erosion of LGBT rights will continue to fly under the radar

Trumps tweets on transgender military service created a media shockwave, but that moment aside, the administrations attacks on LGBT people in 2017 have been considerably less flashy: amicus briefs filed to the Supreme Court, tinkering with executive orders, adjusting the Department of Justices approach to transgender students. All of these perniciously subtle attacks have taken place against a cultural backdrop of continuing bigotry and violence: In the last year, for example, at least 28 trans people have been killed, most of them transgender women of color.

Tim Teeman: I think one of the things the U.S. would do well to figure out (he said vainly) is the separation of Church and State. The Religious Right has such a grip on the levers of power here, in certain states and in certain administrations like President Trumps which is greatly relying on the bedrock of its support. LGBT people, activists and groups are facing a traumatic 2018, as the far right of the Republican support seeks to shore up support around Trump, and trans people especially are especially vulnerable in such an atmosphere.

Jay makes a good point: at a time when the Right seeks a ratcheting up of the LGBT culture war, LGBT people and their straight allies working in the culture at large should work to put a wide diversity of LGBT lives and characters into that culture, whether it be TV, film, literature, art, or whatever. Actual LGBT presence will be vital in 2018.

If this global backlash isn't stopped, queer people will be murdered, arrested, targeted, stigmatized, and forced to leave their countries (and then denied refugee status) in numbers we have never seen before

Samantha Allen: The death of a thousand blows of LGBT rights under Trump is only going to continue in 2018, and Im worried that, with so many other scandals dominating the headlines, the systematic erosion of LGBT rightsa phenomenon thats directly affecting at least 4 percent of the U.S. population and 7 percent of millennialswill continue to fly under the radar.

Thatd be like the Trump administration deciding one day that everyone in the state of Pennsylvania didnt deserve human rightsand it somehow not being front-page news every single day until it got fixed.

Jay Michaelson: My greatest fear for 2018 is on a somewhat macro-scale. The rise of nationalism, nativism, and right-wing populism around the world is terrifying. On one level, it's an understandable backlash against globalization, multiculturalism, and technology: people unable or unwilling to change are clinging to old identities and myths. But it's also profoundly dangerous, and queers are just one population endangered by it. It's not to be taken lightly.

Already we've seen the United States retreat from the whole concept of human rights, giving carte blanche to murderous anti-LGBTQ elements in Russia, Egypt, Chechnya, Indonesia, and elsewhere.

In 2018, the US will practically zero out its aid to vulnerable LGBT populations around the world. At the UN as elsewhere, America is now allied with Putin's Russia, in this case withdrawing protection from LGBT people and instead defending the oppression of us.

But this is just the beginning. If this global backlash isn't stopped, queer people will be murdered, arrested, targeted, stigmatized, and forced to leave their countries (and then denied refugee status) in numbers we have never seen before.

Figure out some way to help those who dont have as much, or who are especially politically and culturally vulnerable, and who could do with support. Give money, volunteer, whateverdo what you can

Tim Teeman: On that basis, LGBT people and their allies with any time, money, commitment and energy might think about involving themselves with activism and campaigning for organizations like The Trevor Project, HRC, Anti-Violence Project, National Center For Transgender Equality, GLSEN, PFLAG, OutRight Action International, and groups in their local area. If they don't want to do something overtly political, then maybe figure out a way to help those who dont have as much, or who are especially vulnerable, and who could do with supportwhether that be financial and pastoral.

If you need inspiration, look to Nathan Mathis who wasn't going to let Roy Moore winor lose at it turned outin Alabama without shaming him over his homophobia; and without remembering, in the most moving way possible, his dead lesbian daughter, Patti Sue.

Listen to, and be inspired by, the stirring stories of those from times when things were not just bleak but political progress and cultural evolution seemed alien and utterly distant. Eric Marcus has distilled, and continues to distill, amazing interviews with the likes of Sylvia Rivera and Frank Kameny, conducted for his landmark book Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight For Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights, into a must-listen podcast.

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The Ten Worst Things Scott Pruitts EPA Has Already Done

No part of the government has been untouched by the Trump revolution. Multiple Cabinet departments are headed by people opposed to their core missions, the judiciary is being transformed at an unprecedented rate, and thanks to the new tax cut, even the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security are now in line for legislative slaughter.

But nowhere is the takeover clearer than at the Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by Scott Pruitt, who made his name suing the watchdog on behalf of fossil-fuel interests. In one year, Pruitt has destroyed the foundations of the agency, firing scientists and replacing them with industry lobbyists; undoing critical regulations that protect our air and water; and favoring industry interests over public health.

The trajectory is clear: Prioritize polluters freedom over personal freedom, health, and environmental protection. Here are the top 10 worst actions Pruitts EPA has taken in 2017:

10. Corruption

Pruitt is probably the most suspect member of the Trump administration, which is saying a lot. At his confirmation, he lied to Congress (a felony) about his private email account, which he used for communicating with industry representatives. When he served as Oklahomas attorney general, Pruitt was discovered to have simply cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his own stationery.

And then theres the money. Since taking office, Pruitt racked up $58,000 in taxpayer-paid travel bills for flights to and from Oklahoma (where he is rumored to be mulling a Senate run in 2020), often on the flimsiest of pretexts. The EPAs inspector general is investigating.

Pruitt also spent $40,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuels. (How that counts as environmental protection is anyones guess.) And he retained a shady PR firm that has previously done opposition research on journalists, at the cost to taxpayers of $120,000a contract voided when the news of it broke.

9. Slashing the Budget to Tidbits

The EPA is, in large part, a law-enforcement agency. Yet can you imagine any other law-enforcement department slashing its budget by more than 30 percent in one year? The result is a deliberate anarchy as polluters know the EPA cant (and doesnt want to) do its job. Enforcement actions have dropped by more than 30 percent from Obama administration levels, and more than 20 percent from George W. Bush levels. Demands that polluting factories clean up their act have plummeted nearly 90 percent. The cops are just not walking the beat.

For example, Superfund enforcementi.e., making polluters pay for cleaning up the toxic messes theyve madehas been cut 37 percent, causing many cleanups to simply stop altogether (PDF). In 2017 alone, programs that have been completely eliminated include those that reduce radon in schools, control runoff pollution from roads, and certify lead-paint-removal contractors, among many others. And thats by design: Candidate Trump promised to eliminate all of the EPA, leaving only tidbits. Pruitt is his hatchet man. But even these budget cuts dont include the largest shrinking of the agency…

8. Hollowing Out the Agency

Its not just EPAs budget being cutits the agency itself. More than 700 employees have left or been forced out. Thats just the beginning: Congress is set to appropriate $60 million to buy out the contracts of EPA staff, whose positions will be eliminated. Many high-level enforcement jobs remain vacant.

Other key posts have been filled by former industry shills, like Nancy Beck, a chemical-industry lobbyist whos now ostensibly in charge of regulating toxic chemicals. Whistleblowers have reported a culture of fear and suspicion, with longtime staffers assumed to be disloyal to the new regime.

Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast these cuts are motivated not by budgetary concerns but by opposition to the EPAs core mission. Its easy to think of it as reducing bureaucracy, Holstein said, but when you consider the fact that EPA is such a small agency to begin with, with a budget thats basically what it was in the 1970s (adjusted for inflation), its pretty clear that further reductions in staff is all part of a strategy to undermine and hollow out EPA as an effective public health agency.

7. Disaster Failure

One of the most stark examples of the EPAs incapacity came after Hurricane Harvey, when the unfolding storm disaster caused factories to release nearly 6 million pounds of pollution into the air. The EPA was slow to respond, but quick to issue a press release congratulating itself. In one case, a chemical plant exploded, triggering evacuations, and the EPA was found to have simply not shown up at the scene until after the explosion happened.

By coincidence, the EPA had just withdrawn the Chemical Disaster Rule, which would require companies to disclose which hazardous materials they had on site. That withdrawal didnt affect the Houston response, but it indicated that the next such disaster might be even worse; the EPA is not a disaster-response agencyits value comes from monitoring risks over the long term, which now it wont do as efficiently.

This will only get worse. Global climate disruption has already increased the frequency of extreme weather events. If the EPAs budget is slashed by a third, and if climate change is not allowed to be spoken of, let alone factored into risk analysis and resource allocation, Harvey is just a tiny taste of what is to come.

6. Secrecy

You wouldnt know the EPA is a public agency from Pruitts unprecedented secrecy. He has demanded that employees not take notes at meetings with him, ordered a denial of Freedom of Information Act requests, and implemented gag rules that ban staffers from talking about a host of environmental issues. Until pressured, he refused to release his meeting calendarnot surprisingly, given what it reveals (see No. 5).

And once again, theres the enormous waste of money. Pruitt has retained his own round-the-clock security detail, costing taxpayers $830,000. No EPA administrator has ever done that. He also installed a secure phone booth in his own office for $33,000, and special locks that cost $6,000.

The reason for all this secrecy is obvious

5. The EPA Is Now an Industry Puppet

As he did in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt is taking his orders from the polluters hes meant to regulate. The New York Times recently tracked who Pruitt met with on a single day, April 26: top executives from a coal-burning utility, the board of a huge coal-mining company, and lobbyists from General Motors. No environmental or public health groups.

The remainder of the six-month period the Times examined was similar: chemical manufacturers, Shell Oil, truck manufacturers, the National Mining Association, Oklahoma oil lobbyists; not to mention the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and CropLife America, a trade association run by pesticide manufacturers.

The effects of these close contacts have been obvious.Sometimes, theyve been plums handed out to specific companies, like the aforementioned Devon Energy, which had agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for illegally emitting 80 tons of toxic pollution each yearuntil Pruitt simply voided the settlement and let it go with a slap on the wrist.

More often, the effects are far broader…

4. Regulatory Rollback

Pruitts EPA has eliminated regulations that:

  • Verified emissions from a companys industrial expansion are what the company says they are. (Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value.) (PDF)
  • Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation in Alaskas Bristol Bay. (The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the worlds largest sockeye salmon population.)
  • Required the tracking of methane emissions (this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court).
  • Required data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies.
  • Monitored fracking.
  • Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals theyre storing.
  • Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water (even though the EPAs analysis showed it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it). (PDF)
  • Set tighter emissions standards for trucks.
  • Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Still under rollback review are restrictions on smog, coal ash, mining waste, mercury, and benzene pollution. Even the popular Energy Star appliance certification program has been slated for reduction.

3. The Clean Power Plan

Power plants account for approximately 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Without tackling power plants, you cant address climate change. And without unified federal action, you cant address power plants.

The Clean Power Plan was born on Aug. 3, 2015, when it was finalized by President Obamas EPA, and it died on March 28, 2017, when President Trump called for a review. To no ones surprise, in October, the EPA recommended a total repeal.

Its hard to overestimate how important and game-changing the Clean Power Plan was. It called for a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030. It offered incentives for investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs. It set state-by-state targets that took into account each states unique needs. And now its dead.

2. The War on Science

In the era of alternative facts, its no surprise that science, the scientific method, and scientists have all come under attack at Pruitts EPA.

To take one example, Pruitts climate denialism (more on this later) defies the unanimous consent of the scientific community, choosing the fake science of fake think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which regularly churns out bogus scientific reports to create the perception that there is significant disagreement about climate change.

Another example was Pruitts decision that scientists who have received EPA funding within three years can no longer serve on the agencys 12 scientific advisory committees. While that may sound like a smart conflict-of-interest provision, its actual effect will be to exclude the majority of scientific experts from serving on the committees, and to replace them with industry experts instead.

For good measure, Pruitt has also defied economics as well. In fact, renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuel energy, but Pruitt endlessly repeats the lie that regulatory rollbacks are needed to save jobs.

All this has happened away from the spotlight. To the average person, said Holstein, the EPA seems like a murky government agency and nobody really knows how it works. But everyone who is familiar with it knows that its science and technology capabilities are at the heart of its success in protecting all of us from pollution.

1. Climate Change Denial

Finally, in terms of real-world consequences, theres nothing that tops climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 people will die each year between 2030-2050 from factors directly attributable to climate change. That doesnt even count the mass migration crises that rising sea levels and changing crop zones will bring about. There is full scientific consensus that human emissions are warming the planet; over a five-year period, 928 peer-reviewed articles affirmed this fact, while zero opposed it.

Pruitt has stuck the EPAs head in the scientific sand. The phrase climate change has been erased from the agency website. Any offices working on climate change have been closed or reassigned. Pruitt has even created a blacklist of EPA employees who had worked or published on the issue. Meanwhile, Pruitt claims to have advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, which he did, even though the rest of the world has signed it and is moving forward without the U.S.

Nor is Pruitt alone. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was previously the chief for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls climate change a hoax. Pruitt has also hired Inhofe aide Byron Brown to serve as his deputy.

Pruitt has gotten in a little trouble for these actions. After stating on CNBC that I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see, the EPA inspector general referred the matter to the EPAs scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, since EPA officials are required to reflect scientific consensus in their comments. (In response, a right-wing group demanded an investigation of Grifo.)

But theres little that can stop Pruitts anti-science crusade, absent congressional action, which, with the present Congress, seems highly unlikely. After going through some of this litany with the EDFs Holstein, I asked him if there was anything that any of us could or should do.

Holstein said the most important actions to watch for in 2018 may be in the obscure realms of budget cuts and regional office closures. There are also a lot of things well be looking at in terms of whether administration will lower the hurdle for pollutants, reduce enforcement at EPA and at the Justice Department, and try to dial the budget down at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which often studies climate change] and other science agencies.

When I asked if there was any hope, given the awful news from 2017, Holstein took the long view. What I say to people who want to give up is: Dont do it, he said. We have built over the last 40 to 50 years a bipartisan national legacy of bedrock environmental protections and safeguards and we should fight for them. The fact that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt would like to help polluters avoid responsibility doesnt change one bit the fact that we have nearly a half century of national and public commitment to a cleaner environment and healthier communities.

Besides, Holstein added, we have a great deal at stake.

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