Harnessing Momentum From a Historic Election

Wed. November 7, 2012 12:00 AM
by Waymon Hudson

Without a doubt, election night was a landslide victory for equality. Watching the historic results roll in on issues and candidates that matter to the progress of civil rights for LGBT people was truly a snapshot of just how much, and how quickly, this country has changed on social issues.

Obviously the reelection of President Obama is a huge win for LGBT equality. Bringing back the first sitting President who not only came out in support of marriage equality, but also signed comprehensive hate crimes legislation and ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", proved that supporting and legislating equality isn't the political suicide opponents said it would be. In fact, out-of-touch views on social issues like LGBT rights was actively used as an attack on the defeated Mitt Romney, who was endorsed by groups like the bigoted National Organization for Marriage. The President's reelection proves that vocal support for our rights can now be seen as a political plus and regressive policies about equality are damaging.

Election night also saw the end of a long pattern of losses for state-level marriage equality at the ballot box. We saw first of their kind marriage equality victories in three new states (Maine, Maryland, & Washington State) and also saw the defeat a marriage rights ban in Minnesota. Remember, just a few short years ago we lost marriage rights in the reliably liberal state of California with Prop 8. Now we have a historic clean sweep for equality around the country. Equality opponents poured millions of dollars into fighting basic rights for LGBT people and their families-- and the electorate finally rejected the lies, smears, and scare tactics used against our community for decades. As Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley so finely put it, "A message to Maryland's kids: whether your parents happen to be gay or straight, your families are equal under the law."

We also saw records shatter in the federal government as a record number of LGBT members got elected to the next Congress. The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus will also be expanded with the addition of three new members: Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is poised to become the first openly bisexual member of Congress; Mark Takano (D-Calif.), first Asian-American openly gay member of Congress; and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.). They join several re-elected and newly elected LGBT equality supporters in both chambers. That rainbow glass ceiling also shattered with the election of Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian, as the historic first out LGBT United States Senator. Less reported, but just as important, is that fact that we saw a huge number of state legislatures get their first out LGBT lawmakers ever. North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, Florida & Pennsylvania all got out LGBT lawmakers in state government for the first time in history. Having a government on all levels that better reflects the diversity of our country, and our community's place in it, is truly amazing and groundbreaking.

But stepping back from the sheer historic number of equality wins on election night, we see an even more important fact forming-- being anti-equality isn't good, or even safe, politics anymore. And that is a huge change in a short period of time.

And therein lies the real lesson from this election-- we have to harness that equality momentum.

The wins of out and ally lawmakers, from the President down to local city commissions,is vitally important. But now the real work begins. We have to use these political tools given to us to push forward on vital LGBT issues, like a comprehensive Employment Discrimination Act, in this next cycle. We have to seize the narrative from this election and drive home the truth to anti-equality politicians and organizations alike that they do not have the support of the American people-- and will pay for it at the ballot box. We have to continue to shine a light on the fact that opponents of LGBT equality are also the same people making "legitimate rape" comments and telling minorities to "self deport" so we can continue to build on the large network of fair-minded voters, organizations and communities fighting for their equality as well.

Equality has turned a corner in our country and there is no going back. But what we do with the victories we worked so hard for this election cycle is truly up to us. Now is when we roll up our sleeves and continue our march for full equality.

As Ted Kennedy said, "The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."