I want to wish a Happy New Year to our O&AN readers—particularly the Middle Tennessee LGBT community and its allies—and share a few thoughts as we embark on this new adventure, 2017.
The year we have just concluded was a hard one. Much of the year was consumed by a political battle that involved swipes at our community and threats to the liberties and protections it has recently obtained. In Tennessee we narrowly held back the tide against a pernicious bathroom bill that threatened to make Tennessee a pariah state along the lines of North Carolina, while legislators forged ahead in eroding the rights of LGBT people and other minorities to access to mental health care.
Much to the dismay of many of us, last year’s political battles culminated in a political victory for the right and, much more a matter of concern, the “Alt-Right” (a term used to whitewash an informal conglomeration of individuals and hate groups representing racists, fascists and neo-Nazis, misogynists, and xenophobes, among others).
In 2016, we also saw not only our rights, but also our physical well-being, threatened. We saw hate crimes, including anti-LGBT assaults and murders across the country, even in urban bastions like San Francisco and Dallas. In Tennessee, acts of hate were on display, from the ripping of the LGBT flag and placement of a disgusting note at UTK’s Pride Center (see photos) to the pre-election burning of a Cookeville transgender veteran’s truck.
The most visible attack on our community in 2016 was, of course, the tragic murder of forty-nine people in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub—an event that rattled LGBT communities across the nation and around the world. This event touched us locally, as one of the young men killed had only recently been a resident of Middle Tennessee. Further, so many local performers had strong ties to the club. That tragedy, more than any other in the past year, reminded LGBT people how tenuous is our hold on the little security we have built for ourselves, and how bold is the target many people have placed on us.
We are leaving 2016 behind—and in many ways, good riddance—but the new adventure that is 2017 appears set to rival it. Donald J. Trump will be president, and he is sweeping those same “Alt-Right” villains who got him elected into positions of power. He is installing the most anti-LGBT cabinet in recent memory. Anti-LGBT legislatures control the lawmaking apparatus of the nation and many of its states. And if 2016 is any guide, being vocally, visibly, openly anti-LGBT, racist, sexist, etc., will continue to be encouraged in those circles.
Here we stand again. After the high of the last Obama administration, especially 2015, and the heady victories that made us think the march to equality had taken on a certain inevitability, we find our momentum suddenly, and violently, slowed. Perhaps halted. Perhaps reversed. We face the possibility of years of rearguard action after a decade of advance.
I asked Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, to share his “New Year’s Resolution” in the face of this new reality:
The best way to learn how to bring change to Tennessee is to spend as much time as possible with Tennesseans. So I am resolved to spend even more time in communities throughout the state getting to know LGBT people, allies, the indifferent, and those who oppose us. I believe in pragmatism and experimentation in activism and we have only just begun to test what works here. I'm convinced the answers are in ourselves and our neighbors.
2017 holds a rough legislative session for our community, but it may hold opportunities for positive gains at the local level. We're working with some new regional TEP committees that are fired up about making progress. We need to equip them to work effectively.
Facing this brave new year, what will you do, what is your resolution? Where will you stand, and what will you stand for? Will you wait four—or eight years—and hope that things will change, or will you fight against the rising tide? The movement of 2017 will be ‘resistance’: Will you join it? This isn’t a rhetorical question—answer it in your lives, and let us know…
Contact James Grady on Twitter: @jamesallengrady