Few of us who lived through US election night 2016 will ever forget it. For me, it happened at an election watch party in St James’ Gate, hosted by the US Embassy, and attended by people from every part of Irish life.
As the television networks were making their calls on a state-by-state basis, the mood was becoming distinctly downbeat. Hillary would not break through the ultimate glass ceiling after all. Misogynist, sexist and narcissist Trump was heading for victory.
That night haunts me. As someone with dual citizenship, as a lifelong Democrat and a campaigner on equality, I had openly backed Hillary, casting my vote using the postal system. At that moment I knew that next time, voting would not be enough.
Earlier this summer I returned to my other home, the United States to support the campaign to defeat Trump by getting Joe Biden and now his amazing Veep nominee Kamala Harris into office.
Ending this administration, its lies, its hate, is important for all sorts of reasons – not least on LGBT+ rights.
The Trump campaign centres on fabrications. A central one is a claim to be an ally of our community. His propaganda uses rainbow ‘Make America Great Again’ logos while the administration’s hard stance on Islam is falsely cited as being pro-LGBT+. In their world being our ally means you to have to be sectarian and racist.
Pitching one minority against another is a tactic of authoritarian regimes. Other policies promoted from the Oval Office are not so subtle. The trans community has borne the brunt of a campaign of pure hate. They have little or no protections. The biggest insult of all came when trans people serving and protecting others, often with distinction, in the armed forces were kicked out with a single tweet from Trump.
We also see the administration backing ongoing efforts in the Supreme Court to undo our rights in the workplace, effectively making it okay to sack employees because they are gay or trans. In some States if you get married on a Sunday you can genuinely fear that you will be sacked on a Monday.
In 2017, I saw the trickle down impact of these policies. Representing Ireland at St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Boston I was horrified to discover that an LGBT+ Veterans group, OutVets, was being excluded. While bogus reasons were trotted out it would appear that at least some organisers were emboldened by knowing they had an ally in the White House.
Only a furious push back from the wider Irish-American community, my own protests supported by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as well as efforts by the Irish Consulate ensured that fairness won. In the end I was proud to march with members of OutVets. Proud as a representative of modern, progressive and equal Ireland, proud as the daughter of a World War II veteran and proud as a married lesbian.
The past four years have not only seen Trump rubberstamping hate within the borders of the United States it spreads much wider. I have seen this through my work as Special Envoy on Ireland’s successful bid for a seat on the United Nation’s Security Council.
Despots, dictators and authoritarian regimes know they can target our community with no fear of recriminations. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s President Erdogan and Poland’s President Duda all know they have a friend in the Oval Office who will turn a blind eye.
The inhumanity of current immigration policies is well documented. Walls and cages, children forcibly separated from parents and millions living in dread of a late night knock on the door – that’s the reality.
There are countless cases where LGBT+ people at risk of discrimination, serious injury or even execution have had their pleas for shelter and safety ignored.
As we approach election day on November 3, it is true that our community will continue to mostly drift towards voting Democrat – they always do. However, many of those voters may not be aware that we have in Joe Biden a strong ally who as Vice President broke ranks to declare his support for Marriage Equality.
On May 6, 2012, Joe was appearing on the most influential Sunday television political talk show of them all - Meet the Press. It was to be routine, with the West Wing expecting the then Vice President to stick to his talking points, yet it would turn out to be a pivotal moment. Biden broke ranks from a yet to be fully convinced President Obama and declared his support for Marriage Equality.
To an astounded host and viewers across the US he declared, “Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about.”
Coming from a politician previously known as a social conservative this was seismic. Some argue that he simply jumped the gun in going public on a White House position which had yet to be revealed – but personally I don’t buy that. When I met Joe Biden during a visit to Ireland in 2016 I found him as someone keenly aware of many social justice issues.
His choice of running mate, Kamala Harris, is another champion on rights. Her record speaks for itself. As a San Francisco District Attorney she established a Hate Crimes Unit to investigate and prosecute anti-LGBT+ violence. She was a leader to end the use of the so-called ‘gay and transgender panic defence’. In 2014, California became the first state to ban the practice in law, four years later Harris and other Senators introduced a bill to prohibit the practice nationally.
Harris announced her campaign for California attorney general days after the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, a successful California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state. While serving as California’s top prosecutor — a job she held for six years — she declined to defend the ban in court.
It is hardly surprising that Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBT+ rights group has declared, “It’s clear the Biden-Harris ticket marks our nation’s most pro-equality ticket in history.” The Biden-Harris campaign looks to the future. There is a firm commitment to enact the Equality Act (to protect our right to work) within the first 100 days in office. There is a commitment to resource supports for transgender and non-binary people as well as a complete reversal of the military ban.
The authoritarian wrongs of the past four years will be swiftly dismantled, reversed and replaced.
The United States will rejoin Ireland in standing up for LGBT+ rights and advocating for equality, fairness and justice for all. The White House will no longer be silent when it sees hate.
Like Stonewall, Decriminalisation, Marriage Equality – we are at a crucial moment. The ‘Out for Biden’ campaign is reaching out to 11 million members of our community. In key battleground States from Florida to Pennsylvania to Michigan we will hold the balance of power.
It is now time that friends and allies in Ireland have an encouraging chat with their network of American family and friends to highlight the importance of getting this election right – because the alternative will be intolerable not just in the United States but for our community across the globe.
On October 5, Katherine Zappone will host a special digital event discussing the impact the US election will have on the global LGBT+ community as part of GCN’s In And Out Festival.