LGBTQ voters helped tip the 2020 election, and we can do it again in Georgia

Ryan Roemerman is the Executive Director, LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The year 2020, with its challenges, demonstrated that the LGBTQ community is vibrant, diverse and engaged. And we vote. The LGBTQ community helped tip the 2020 election, and the LGBTQ community of Georgia has the power to do it again in 2021.

A recent nationwide poll by GLAAD, revealed that 93% of registered LGBTQ voters turned out to vote–and 25% were first time voters! Roughly 3.6 million LGBTQ adults live in the South, including over half a million transgender adults—more than in any other region. And, in Georgia, at least 425,000 people identify as LGBTQ.

The most important issues to them in deciding how to vote were the COVID-19 response (54%), healthcare (25%), and racial justice (22%). The issue of LGBTQ equality, broadly defined, was the fourth most important issue, followed by jobs and the economy (18%) and the environment/climate change (16%). Not only does this show that a high percentage of LGBTQ people vote–but that what they care about spans a variety of issues and communities.

One only needs to look at the data to understand why these issues mattered: One in ten LGBTQ people reported having a friend or relative die of Covid-19. In healthcare, 33% of all respondents of the LGBTQ Institute Southern Survey reported some form of discrimination when trying to access healthcare services because of their sexual orientation or transgender status in the past year, with nearly half choosing to avoid treatment. Racial justice is a top concern across the country as the murder of George Floyd and the continued witness of police violence against communities of color have played out again and again. The legacy of slavery and systemic racism have significant, continuing impacts on the experiences of LGBTQ Southerners who are Black and other people of color. More than four in 10 LGBTQ people in the South are people of color. And more than one in five LGBTQ Southerners are Black, higher than any other region.  The need for racial justice is especially urgent here in the South.

The LGBTQ Institute Southern Survey found significantly greater rates of Black lesbian, gay, and bisxeual (LGB) respondents (77.3%) report having been threatened or physically attacked in their lifetime because of their sexual orientation when compared with LGB respondents in other racial or ethnic groups. Latinx transgender individuals experienced being threatened or physically attacked the most at 29.1% because of their transgender identity when compared with transgender respondents in other racial or ethnic groups. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of all LGBTQ adults in the South are living in poverty, higher than any other region with 28% of Latinx and 34% of black transgender people in poverty. Latinx transgender individuals experienced higher rates of healthcare provider discrimination (25.5%) than respondents from other racial/ethnic backgrounds. LGBTQ Southerners are more likely than LGBTQ people outside the South to be religiously affiliated, with over half of LGBTQ Southerners being religiously affiliated. However, Black/African American transgender people were most likely to report feeling unwelcome in places of worship (37.1%)

In addition to these systemically racist, homophobic and transphobic barriers to safety, employment, health, and support, LGBTQ Southerners have had to organize and mobilize against efforts to erode progress and suppress their rights. Over the last five years, LGBTQ Southerners successfully defeated 93% of the anti-LGBTQ bills that were introduced in Southern state legislatures. While fending off anti-LGBTQ state legislation, many of our recent victories for equality have been won nationally in the courts. Most notably the 2015, U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. And, the recent landmark Supreme Court case expanding civil rights employment protections to LGBTQ people this year is named for and brought by Clayton County, Georgia resident Gerald Bostock.

Our organizing strategy of achieving LGBTQ equality through the courts has not gone unnoticed, however. Those seeking to stop progress are trying to eliminate or roll back our gains by reverse engineering the courts. So far, President Trump, who has championed anti-LGBTQ policies has appointed over a quarter of all active federal judges in the United States, more federal appeals court judges to date, and has appointed one-third of the Supreme Court justices. We have seen Mississippi and North Carolina both pass anti-LGBTQ laws under the guise of religious freedom. And, in November 2020, in a 2-1 decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down conversion therapy bans in Florida, siding with with two therapists who said the laws in their cities violated their free speech rights. President Trump appointed both judges in the majority.

This reconstructed judicial branch is poised to roll back progress. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

LGBTQ Georgians have a unique opportunity to expand progress and opportunity for LGBTQ people in the South and across the country by voting in the January 5th Senate run-offs (ideally voting early). And, we can do so by modeling what intersectional organizing and mobilizing efforts can look like in this election and beyond. By making our collective concerns known to all candidates in the race, we can make clear that we are a voting bloc whose civil and human rights movements are inextricably linked with one another. And that as a community, we understand that our shared destiny for equal dignity will be determined by our commitment to each other, and holding elected officials accountable through our fundamental right to vote.