What a tumultuous time for the LGBTQ community! While California’s change to the history curriculum in public schools could be considered a win, by Friday there was an iconic loss with the passing of Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag. President Trump has also officially reversed Obama’s climate change policies, as well as the requirement of federal contractors to demonstrate that they are actually protecting the community from workplace discrimination. The U.S. Census Bureau then cancels proposed inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity alongside gender, age, race, ethnicity, relationship and home-ownership status in the forthcoming 2020 Census. And to express their dissent for the recent back-to-back heartbreaks, activists held the “Queer Dance Party for Climate Justice” in front of Ivanka Trump’s house in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
Loss of a Beloved Icon
The rainbow flag creation has endured as the symbol of gay activism and solidarity for 40 years. Designed by Gilbert Baker, who was born in Kansas in 1951, died on March 31 in his NYC home at the age of 65. Baker served in the U.S. Army from 1970-72 after which The Army brought him to San Francisco where he found a place among the increasingly accepted and visible gay community there. An Army veteran and drag performer, Baker found himself sought after for his deftness at costume design to make signs and banners for the burgeoning rights movement. Baker developed his first flag during the 1970s while an active member of San Francisco’s LGBT community. The parade committee offered $1,000 for its design and construction and enlisted about 30 volunteers for the project, built at a local community center. The first rainbow flags debuted at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. During his years in San Francisco, he crossed paths with Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay men to hold public office in 1978. When Milk’s life was turned into a biopic, Baker was tapped to design versions of his original flag for the film. In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art acquired the flag for its design collection. During an interview with the MoMA he said,
I wanted to make it at the center, with my friends—it needed to have a real connection to nature and community….We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky.
California’s Curriculum Changes
Decades later and in the movements’ hometown, California is now slated to be the first state to require LGBT history curriculum at public schools. Over in Ohio, Gov. Gary Herbert has repealed the state’s “No Promo Homo Law,” which banned discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools. While these laws generally are written to apply only to sexual health education, they are often vaguely misapplied by schools to limit other parts of the curriculum, school events, programs, and even extracurricular activities. There are currently 8 states that have these types of laws, however California has taken the opposite approach. Earlier this year, the state became the first to implement statewide recommendations on how to include the discussion of LGBTQ and disabled people in classroom lessons under the Fair Education Act. New social science and history class frameworks will have second-graders learning about diverse families, eighth-graders discussing gender roles in the 19th century, and 11th-grade students studying the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The updated textbooks come out in November and will be accessible to schools in other states that want to implement the new progressive curriculum.
Mandate Rollback Frees Federal Contractors
A firestorm of protest was sparked on the heels of the Trump administration actions to diminish another one of former President Obama’s executive orders. The order dates back to 2014 – President Obama prohibited the federal government from contracting with firms that discriminated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Just ten days after he signed that 2014 executive order, Obama signed another one, requiring firms doing business with the federal government to prove compliance with federal laws and executive orders. This was necessary to ensure companies were adhering to the rules about LGBT protections he had just implemented. When President Obama issued the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order (also known as Executive Order 13673 — in tandem with Executive Order 13672), it represented a substantial step forward for LGBT rights. Since this was an executive order, as opposed to legislation passed by Congress, it did not apply to all employers. However, it did apply to the huge number of firms that do business with the federal government. While it is true that the order only protected a subset of the workforce, it set a tone that the federal government believed such discrimination was unconstitutional.
But now, that protection is no longer guaranteed.
In late March, President Trump officially revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. As a result, federal contractors will no longer have to prove they have been in compliance with federal directives on workplace equality for at least three years. Legal experts have argued that while LGBT individuals are still covered under federal authority, this action could effectively mean that federal contractors no longer have to respect that federal directive; which means there’s now no requirement that firms certify they’re fair to gay employees. As Camilla Taylor, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said,
It’s sending a message to these companies that the federal government simply doesn’t care whether or not they violate the law. What’s different is that now, LGBT people will have to take steps to enforce the law against the firms, as opposed to firms proving they’re not discriminating.
However, even though most people believe that LGBT people also should be protected from discrimination at work, Congress has failed to change the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This crucial change to the federal mandate PLUS the removal of gender identity questions on the 2020 Census has created the discriminatory seal of approval.
2020 Census Exclusion
The U.S. Constitution requires a census be taken every ten years. And while the Founders may have had great foresight, it’s doubtful they saw this simple command—mostly to determine representation in Congress—would become mired in controversy over sexual politics. Throughout the years, as the nation became more complex, so did the census form, adding questions about race, ancestry, education, health and housing. But never before have there been questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, not so long ago, the LGBT community probably would have seen such inquiries as an invasion of privacy.
Also near the end of March, the group hit another snag in the road to freedom in the way of LGBT rights, equality and visibility when questions about sexual orientation and gender identity was removed from the final version of the proposal. The initial proposal list from the Census Bureau included such questions, but the finalized categories show those questions are no longer prioritized in its planned data points for collection. John Thompson, head of the Census Bureau—which is part of the Department of Commerce–explained in a letter that they’d investigated if there was a “legislative mandate” to collect such data and determined there was “no federal data need to change the planned census.”
More than 60 congressional Democrats—led by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Representatives Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Adam Schiff of California—sent a letter to the Trump administration insisting the census look into how many LGBT people are in the United States.
The fact remains that we know little else about the social and economic circumstances of the LGBT population at large. There is also compelling evidence that many, particularly transgender people, are at greater risk of being victimized by violence and experience significant health disparities and vulnerability to poverty. Expanded data collection on LGBT people is needed to help policymakers and community stakeholders understand the full extent of these disparities, as well as identifying the needs of these communities so they can be better served.
The National LGBT Task Force explained that information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. The Task Force stated that one of the most important functions of the census is to ensure that the federal government knows its constituents and can provide the services they need. This White House cares so little about doing its job for LGBT Americans that it won’t even bother to count them.
It turns out to fundamentally be less about gay and transgender rights and more about organizations who want a slice of the great federal spending pie. Due of decades of historic underrepresentation and misconceptions about the LGBT community’s economic impact, NGLCC commissioned the groundbreaking “America’s LGBT Economy” report. LGBT-owned businesses in the U.S. add at least $1.7 trillion to the American economy and have created tens of thousands of good-paying jobs from coast to coast. The report suggests that:
America’s LGBT business owners are driving our economy upward and deserve every opportunity to continue to create jobs, innovate industries and contribute extensively to the economic health and vitality of America. As this report proves, there is strength in numbers. Business has long understood that protecting LGBT Americans is good for business, essential for creating a vibrant, competitive workforce, and a fundamental principle of a strong and resilient economy.
Party with a Purpose
To show just how resilient and vibrant the community is some LGBTQ activists hosted an event, dubbed the “Queer Dance Party for Climate Justice,” to protest President Trump’s decision to roll back environmental regulations and cut EPA funding. A storm of dancing people marched with signs, speakers and festive clothing while chanting obscenities directed towards the first daughter’s father to protest his administration’s rollback on Obama’s climate change policies.
Along with the environmental policy changes, it’s been speculated that many LGBTQ supporters are also openly expressing their dissatisfaction with the sweeping changes to the social climate by the Trump administration. For a community that has done their fair share of freedom fighting, what better way than to dance the stress away for Washington to see.