Election 2024 and LGBTQ+ rights, by Errin Haines
12/7/2023, 6 p.m.
The last year in politics has seen an erosion of rights for LGBTQ+ Americans, who are facing an assault on their very existence, with bans on books that affirm their experience, to hundreds of bills in statehouses targeting the rights of transgender youth.
A year ahead of an election that again feels existential for millions of voters, Kelley Robinson — who recently marked her one-year anniversary this week as the first Black, queer woman to lead the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization — sees the moment as one in which she is uniquely positioned to lead.
I spoke to Ms. Robinson about how she sees the fight for equality now, the stakes for 2024 and how she is thinking about her role as one of several Black women and queer people currently leading legacy progressive organizations that were historically helmed by White people.
One thing she told me: This is not the worst things have ever been.
“It took so many decades and really centuries of people that were never written into the Constitution, fighting for that to be real, for us to get involved in fights that affirmatively declared our humanity in a country that did not want it to be so,” Ms. Robinson said.
She pointed to the gains of the last several decades — including remarkable progress toward ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the legalization of marriage equality — and added that a new strategy is needed to achieve real change in the next half century and beyond.
“We can’t underscore enough that for us to be sitting here is actually the result of so much positive change the movement has driven,” she told me. “I think what’s also true is that we’ve been dealing with the symptoms and not the root causes of too many of these issues. What we have the opportunity to do in this moment is to not just deal with the symptoms, but to address the root causes of white supremacy and of racism that have resulted in a democracy that was not built for us.”
Ms. Robinson’s leadership doesn’t just look different; she’s also thinking differently about the role of the Human Rights Campaign, an approach that she said is like “turning a cruise ship into a battleship.”
“I’ve really been kind of embracing these concepts of disruption right now,” Ms. Robinson said. Four decades after the HRC’s founding, she said, assimilation should no longer be a requirement for acceptance, agency or allyship.
“The history of the move-ment has been like, ‘We’re queer people, but we’re just like you! Don’t be afraid!’ In this season, we have to be sure that people are acknowledging that we don’t have to be ‘just like you’ to deserve rights like everyone else. There’s got to be a place where equality does not require uniformity, which I think has been true across a lot of social movements.”
It’s a mindset Ms. Robinson hopes will help build a coalition who will stand with LGBTQ+ people at the ballot box next fall. Democratic victory at the top of the ticket is a priority, but so is increasing representation in state legislatures and local governments, where many of the battles to roll back rights are being waged.
Ms. Robinson added next year’s election is about not just trying to get candidates into office but to set new expectations for a government that legislates with their community front of mind. They want the president and governors to make appointments that increase representation.
And for would-be allies, Ms. Robinson added, that means more than attending a Pride parade — it means advocacy that prioritizes LGBTQ+ people as active stakeholders in our politics.
“Part of our work in the election is about making sure that we maintain the White House and that we maintain the Senate with a pro-equality majority,” Ms. Robinson said. “But it’s also that when those folks are in office, they are governing on our issues first, so they understand that to fight for LGBTQ+ people and trans lives, you have got to focus on restructuring democracy so that our votes and our voices matter.”
The writer is editor of The Amendment and The 19th’s