Tag Archives: executive order

Remaking LGBT America: by the numbers

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

Social media went abuzz yesterday with the announcement that the 2020 census will not ask respondents whether they are LGBT. Many reported the news in a somewhat sensationalist way, mistakenly implying that the census would not count LGBT people at all.

Rather than an overt tool of anti-LGBT policy, this decision to continue to not ask for LGBT people to self identify echoes a more quietly delivered executive order Trump made on Monday. The order focused on data collection rather than LGBT people themselves – leaving intact Obama-era protections of certain LGBT workers while completely dismantling the regulatory process designed to document and thus prevent discrimination.

The issue here is deceptively simple. Many took the census announcement as a declaration that LGBT lives are too unseemly or undesirable to discuss on the census. Rather than that kind of cold sneer or haughty disgust, the explanation offered by the census’ director is tepid, measured, and legalistic. As he put it, “there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection” which he and others did not see as merited on this issue. In the history of both of these data collection projects, critics have asked for observation and study. The purpose of that is to demonstrate that anti-LGBT sentiments and practices exist and therefore understand how to challenge them. Thompson made quite clear that that’s simply not a consideration for the Trump administration.

Frankly, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Trump branded himself throughout the Republican primary as atypically amicable with LGBT people, even as he held us at arm’s length. What many cisgender and straight observers of that often seemed to miss was the expectation of what he would receive in return for that – not only did he assume we would be desperate to support him for the slightest tolerance but he expected us to curtail our experiences with anti-LGBT policies and attitudes to what he needed.

In his hands, anti-LGBT animus became not a common experience in this country, but a marker of foreignness. The reality that most LGBT Americans experience bigotry more regularly and acutely from other Americans is an inconvenience to the grand narrative Trump wanted to paint. Now, in the halls of power, he is doing what he can to disarm LGBT people of the overwhelming data that shows that.

lgbt-population.png
The Movement Advance Project constructs maps like this above one of the estimated overall LGBT population in different states without census data, as it has never been collected as part of the survey, from here.

Beyond his quixotic bid to build LGBT support, there’s an implicit threat buried in all of this. There is, as of now, supposedly no need to collect that data. What that admits is that the facts on the ground could change. If LGBT people become understood as not a group to hide the data from, but to gather it on, then perhaps they would put it back on the census. Or, failing that, let slip the dogs of war – Republicans in state government are already pushing to reinstate pre-Lawrence laws or similarly invasive and hostile measures, especially against transgender people.

The choice the administration is giving LGBT people is a simple one – obey or become reacquainted with survellir et punir. The self-styled deal-maker is offering LGBT people one: accept the quiet and private anti-LGBT bigotry that pervades the country or prepare to feel the heat turn up again.

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The threat of the executive order

If you’re on the Howard Dean-affiliated Democracy for American email list, you’ve probably already seen this image, which they sent out seemingly yesterday to their thousands (if not million plus) of subscribers:


(Literally anything?)

Huh. Now if that isn’t a symbol for our times. Not in that executive orders are more common (they aren’t), but that they’ve become necessary for basic political functions. In the 1980s and 1990s (and even the often called dysfunctional Bush years), the United States paid its bills, kept the lights on, and even updated the image of who was working and living in the United States. The legislature had it’s moments of inane or counter-productive behavior (Clinton’s impeachment seems like it shouldn’t be forgotten), but on the hold, governance was shared between a presidency, a congress, a high court, and numerous other functional elements to a political system.

That no longer exists. The threat of a executive order has been one of the sticks shown off in attempt to force congressional action on the debt ceiling, and similar attempts have now been made with regards to policy on indefinite detention, immigration, and now even the minimum wage. In a twisted way, the president has come to rely on (among other persuasion techniques) threatening to do everything himself in order to goad Republicans in Congress into action, which unfortunately only convinces them to dig in their feet harder (the better to oppose his “radical” policies!).

We’ve lost any semblance of a consensus that we as a country are viable in our current form, mostly because of rising conservative alternative theories. The resurfacing popularity among many Republicans of establishing a golden standard, of dismantling the Federal Reserve, of reversing Civil Rights victories, of overturning Roe, and of letting the US default on its debts and watch its federally-insurance banks go belly up in order to cleanse the economic system do not exist in isolation from each other. They tell a story of a long-negotiated political consensus about how the US economy and political system can and should be set up suddenly finding itself under attack in innumerable ways. It is likewise not an accident that secession is suddenly on the table again.

Within the context, it’s not just a useful threat to say that the President will keep those previously agreed-upon systems running. It’s also comforting to the people who would be protected by them. And it becomes unfortunately necessary to note that, comforting or not, executive orders have largely remained an overly polite bully pulpit for Obama, rather than an actual tool used to maintain (or even broaden) basic equalities and freedoms. Detainees are still waiting for their freedom in Guantánamo. Employees of anyone other than government contractors are still waiting for a raise. And the debt ceiling fight is threatening to come back again.

Systems are self-reinforcing, but only to a point. After a while, they need more than just a gentle nudge to keep them going. They need to be invested in and supported. How much longer will “good enough” be good enough?

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