Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. This truth dawned on me at midnight on Election Day in the Timothy Dwight buttery. A cluster of raucous freshmen who previously joked about pantsuits and the Midwestern voting landscape stood — jaws agape — in utter shock, as those around processed how a volatile and bigoted man would lead the “free world”. Although I first coped through comedy (If Donald Trump can become president, could I drop out of Yale, buy a ukulele and found a bohemian commune on Audubon street?), all jokes quickly vanished as the profound emotional and practical repercussions of a Trump presidency materialized.
The next four years will be littered with more than just rhetorical faux pas and foreign policy mishaps. The next four years will be a staging ground for an ultra-conservative agenda that destroys the wishes of marginalized communities to prosper through progressive action. Even if Trump is a notorious flip-flopper who might not give a damn about sexual orientation or gender performance, his vice president and Republican-controlled legislative branch certainly will.
And the transgender community is terrified.
For one, Trump has threatened to repeal Obamacare — legislation banning discrimination against transgender patients that mandates gender identity disorder as an insurable condition. Without Obamacare, transgender patients face unabashed insurer discrimination and exponentially heightened costs on medical procedures that are life-altering. These procedures include sex reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy that both alleviate the psychological and physical stress of gender dysphoria.
Trump has also vocalized support for the First Amendment Defense Act, which justifies discrimination based on the “protection” of religious freedom. This means, for instance, that a baker can refuse to sell wedding cake to gay customers because their sexual orientation conflicts with certain biblical interpretations. It also means that employers can reject transgender applicants because they personally deem gender variance sinful. Cloaking bigotry under religious pretense obscures explicit discrimination and sets our country 10 steps back in the fight to grant basic decency to those in need.
But perhaps the most ominous reverberation of a Trump presidency is the fatal social climate he engenders. Previous Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain constrained their conservatism with respectful language in political discourse. Trump’s brand of conservatism, however, thrives on speech that is borderline violent to marginalized communities. Trump encourages fanatics to catcall, denigrate and assault transgender citizens, gay citizens and citizens of color. 2016 has already seen 20 transgender murders; a Trump presidency will all but certainly exacerbate these numbers.
Our status in the face of this political situation reminds me of the year 1981, when a Hollywood star named Ronald Reagan inhabited the White House amid an escalating AIDS epidemic. As thousands of victims lost their lives to the virus, Reagan stood silent, catering to the evangelical right. Reagan only addressed AIDS for the first time in 1987, after the disease had spread to 113 countries and affected more than 55,000 people. In 1981, urban gay communities fought AIDS without any semblance of federal government support. In 2016, the transgender community will fight for protection without any semblance of federal government support as well.
This lack of institutional backing requires activists to boost efforts through grassroots endeavors, NGO organizations and powerful media production. The gay AIDS activists demonstrated fortitude in these areas. Members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) staged theatrical “die-ins” to highlight the human cost of prescription drug prices. They interrupted a prayer service and tried to place wrapped condoms near an Archbishop’s hands and feet, shouting, “these will save lives — your morals won’t.” They circulated stickers featuring an HIV-positive Santa Claus with the tagline, “If only Reagan and Bush had told the truth, Santa wouldn’t have to die from AIDS”. They chained themselves to the VIP balcony in the New York Stock Exchange, shut down the Food and Drug Administration for one day and entered the studio of CBS Evening News shouting “AIDS is news. Fight AIDS, not Arabs!”
While Trump’s election is in no way analogous to a fatal plague, the political landscape of AIDS activism mirrors a present-day reality that we must fix through relentless action. We are victims to the punitive consequences of a silent administration — an administration that will approve of transphobic discrimination in the workplace, defund Planned Parenthood and prevent transgender high schoolers from using a bathroom that aligns with their true gender.
I texted a friend recently — a queer woman of color — saying “stay strong, take care”. She responded with “you too, brother, war is coming.” This is not hyperbole. American’s national psyche is torn, and the onus of repair now lies, voluntarily or involuntarily, on our shoulders.
Isaac Amend is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .