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Opinion: We will fight any rollback of rights for LGBTQ Americans

The Obama administration was supportive of LGBTQ rights, writes Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. But all signs points to a more hostile approach from the Trump administration. Here, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch talks with National Parks Service Commissioner Joshua Laird. She is accompanied by Superintendent Shirley McKenney, as she visits the new Stonewall National Monument in New York on Dec. 13. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Today on the South Side of Chicago, a man worries about dying from AIDS when he can no longer afford his life-saving prescription following the loss of his health insurance. Today in Elgin, a transgender 8th grader worries about losing her basic right to use the restroom that matches her gender when the federal government repeals its guidance recommending trans-affirming school policies. Today in Joliet, a couple worries that their daughter living in Texas will lose her job when the federal contractor who employs her is no longer barred from firing her simply because she is a lesbian.

Today across our state, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ Illinoisans, our families and our allies worry about the future of our civil rights under a Trump-Pence administration.

OPINION

The past eight years have represented an unprecedented time for LGBTQ Illinoisans in some respects. Much of our move toward full equality has come because of the tireless work of LGBTQ activists in Illinois and because of the courageous leaders in our state. These gains were undoubtedly hastened by a federal government led by President Barack Obama and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. Their support of the LGBTQ community created incentives for state and local action and greater public understanding and acceptance.

But as of January 20, the White House and both houses of Congress will be controlled by the Republican Party, a party that in July adopted the most anti-LGBTQ platform in recent history. In a matter of days the federal government will be in a powerful place to curtail the march toward equality for the LGBTQ community in Illinois.

Here in Illinois, where 700,000 people receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the threatened rollback could expose thousands of LGBTQ Illinoisans to a loss of health care. For example, at Chicago’s Howard Brown Health centers, some 7,000 of its clients have “Obamacare” insurance.

The potential to cut back funding to the Ryan White CARE Act — which sent $88.5 million to Illinois in 2014 (the last year of available statistics) – could result in a spike of new HIV infections throughout the state.

The repeal of guidance from the Department of Education that says that schools may not receive federal funding if they “discriminate based on…a student’s transgender status” could precipitate a roll back in trans-affirming policies by school districts across the state, an issue we have seen played out in some Illinois school districts.

And while Illinois law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, families and friends of LGBTQ people in states without protections could stand helpless as their loved ones lose their jobs when federal employers are given the green light to openly discriminate against their LGBTQ employees.

While the threat of immediate and far reaching policy shifts suggest darker years for the LGBTQ community, it is the elevation of virulent anti-LGBTQ bullies to national leadership positions that causes many LGBTQ Illinoisans the greatest alarm.

Today under the Obama-Biden administration we have a White House liaison to the LGBTQ community, an openly gay Secretary of the Army, multiple openly gay ambassadors and other appointees, and an environment that seeks out and values LGBTQ perspectives. That is soon to be replaced by a Trump-Pence administration that has openly ridiculed and opposed the LGBTQ community.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was one of the biggest champions of advancing a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the country and has suggested marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse.” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, has cast anti-LGBTQ votes throughout his 20 years in Congress. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Rep. Tom Price, called the Supreme Court’s decision to extend marriage equality to all Americans “a sad day for marriage.” The incoming chief strategist at the White House, Steve Bannon, referred to a transgender man as a “guy with a beard and a dress,” and he’s used slurs targeting the LGBTQ community in interviews.

There could be no greater green light for bullying, harassment, public shaming, and attempts to outright discriminate against LGBTQ Illinoisans than the elevating of these leaders to positions of national importance. And Republicans in Congress are threatening to pass a “right to discriminate” bill targeting LGBTQ Americans, a bill that the president-elect has pledged to sign.

Still, LGBTQ Illinoisans have supporters among leaders across the state, in Springfield, and in Washington, including Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen.-elect Tammy Duckworth. We are marshaling our forces to work with them to try to block or mitigate the worst inclinations of the incoming administration and Congress.

Our civil rights protections should not be at risk with the change in administrations, but that’s the reality we face, and we will resist at every turn.

Brian C. Johnson is the CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s LGBTQ civil rights advocacy organization.

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