Excerpts from remarks delivered by Mary Beth Maxwell, former HRC Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training, at the Human Rights Campaign Chicago gala dinner on Saturday, November 12, 2016, following the election of Donald Trump.
Just a few short days ago, we all believed we were on the verge of ushering in a new era of equality. We had all poured our hearts and souls into the election, because we all knew how devastating it would be for the hatred and division of Donald Trump and Mike Pence to prevail. Despite our best efforts and the historic mobilization of LGBTQ and equality voters, here we are.
It will take time to fully process the outcome of this election, and the enormous challenges we now face. But one thing is certain, we must move forward with greater strength and resolve than ever before. And we must do it in locked arms, together. As a community, we have always achieved forward progress through unity, and through incredible strength in times of adversity.
Make no mistake. This is a time of great adversity. Donald Trump and Mike Pence campaigned on a platform of fear and division. We have never in our lives seen such a degraded public discourse and blatant disrespect for women, for people of color – for anyone “other.”
Over the past few days, we have drawn strength from the vast majority of Americans who believe that our lives and rights are worth fighting for. We can take courage in knowing that a majority of Americans did vote for Hillary Clinton and do believe that we are stronger together.
We also take heart in the important victories we did have this election. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) deployed the largest get out the vote effort in our organization’s history. In North Carolina, while the votes are still being counted, it appears we have defeated the reckless Governor Pat McCrory and helped elect Roy Cooper to repeal the vile and hateful anti-LGBTQ HB2. The fight isn’t over, and our opponents are going to do everything they can to toss out votes on our side. But we’ll fight tooth and nail to send Pat McCrory packing. The North Carolina victory is a powerful signal – that even in a state that went red, targeting LGBTQ people was a losing strategy.
The outcome in North Carolina is both a historic victory and a critical lesson for the days and years ahead. Governor McCrory made a cynical and calculated choice to put a target on the backs of our transgender brothers and sisters, thinking it would shore up his coalition, divide and confuse the people of North Carolina, and help him at the polls.
McCrory had no idea what he would be unleashing. HRC, Equality North Carolina, and the LGBTQ movement mobilized like we have never mobilized before. More than 200 business leaders said a resounding no to HB2, and North Carolina lost hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs as companies concerned with protecting their employees and consumers from Pat McCrory’s discrimination moved events and investments out of the state. The leadership and courage of the NBA, the NCAA, and the CIAA in standing up to McCrory and his hateful law was phenomenal. And on election day, voters said “no hate in my state.”
We unseated a Governor and sent a loud clear message. Try to single out and make a scapegoat of the transgender community, and you have just taken on ALL of us.
Thinking he could recycle the same old worn out lies and fear-mongering used elsewhere, McCrory wanted this to be the “bathroom bill.” But we all know that HB2 was always about stripping LGBTQ people of our rights. He and his cronies attempted to sow fear about transgender people. They thought they would try to divide us and pick us off because they know that the majority of Americans really do believe in LGBTQ equality – that we should not be fired from our jobs, denied access to public places or unfairly discriminated against in any way. We won because we stood together shoulder to shoulder. We know an injury to one is an injury to all.
These results were heartening, but truthfully a thin silver lining of a very dark cloud. Now, we need you – all of you -- in order to fight back and protect all of our progress. Our families, our jobs, our safety – they are now at risk. Whether it’s the appointment of anti-LGBTQ judges to courts, the expansion of exemptions from non-discrimination laws cloaked as “religious freedom,” fulfilling promises to rollback protections President Obama’s administration ensured for LGBTQ workers and students, or repealing the Affordable Care Act and impacting access to insurance and non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, there is much at stake with Donald Trump in the White House.
The good news is that the majority of Americans are on our side, and the Human Rights Campaign won’t stop fighting until every single person, in this country and around the world, knows that tomorrow will be better than today. We will continue to do incredible work through the HRC Foundation changing hearts and minds and working in the institutions of daily life. We will continue to work with forward thinking businesses and our Corporate Equality Index. We will make progress in cities and states with the Municipal Equality Index. We will provide support for LGBTQ youth through Welcoming Schools and our Children Youth and Families program.
For eight incredible years we have had the leadership of President Obama and the power of the federal government standing with us for freedom and equality. But plenty of us are old enough to remember the Reagan years when all politics was defense and a president turned his back on our people being decimated by HIV and AIDS. We changed that by organizing – no one elected leader did that for us.
Every one of us must stand ready to do our part. The LGBTQ community is as diverse as America, and as HRC President Chad Griffin so eloquently said at the Democratic National Convention, we are women, we are people of color, we are immigrants, we are Muslims, and we are people with disabilities. We must stand together now more than ever before. We need to have each others’ back like never before.
Let’s be honest. As shaken as we all are, we know there are many folks who have much more to be afraid of – immigrant families in real danger of deportation and separation; folks with HIV who finally have access to health care who are frightened of losing the Affordable Care Act; people fearful of emboldened attacks based on the color of their skin or their religion. And I can hardly bear to say this, but we started getting calls this week of LGBTQ youth – transgender teens especially – taking their own lives because they are just so scared.
This moment is our moment, and we have a decision to make. Are we going to be resigned and dispirited? Or are we going to seize this moment of heartbreak, of shock, of sadness, and use it to renew our fight for all the people who need someone to have their backs. The answer is pretty clear, as within hours of Tuesday’s results, LGBTQ, civil rights, women’s, workers’ and immigrant rights organizations were reaching out to each other committing to solidarity and creative action.
From Stonewall to Laramie to Orlando, in the face of tragedy and persecution, our community has shown time and again that we are stronger than fear. Ours is a story of perseverance, of progress and pride, and we are living proof of that distinctly American creed that out of many, we are one.
The LGBTQ community knows how to fight, and we still have a lot of fight left in us. We are a people who know how to love. We are a people who know how to nurture and care for each other in hard times. We are a people who know the power of throwing off fear to live lives of authenticity and freedom. It is our unyielding belief in the promise of a better tomorrow that has carried us so far, and it is that same belief that will get us through now.