Q: There was a huge outcry on social media after the election, especially among Yale students. That outcry wasn’t homogenous— some people took a “we have to listen closer” approach, while others took a “we have to fight back” approach. Are you more sympathetic to one or the other, and do you think those viewpoints can be married?
A: They are mutually incompatible, and I think the LGBT community is pretty emblematic of this. There are a couple of really important concerns, I think, in the context of our campus. As someone who would identify more on the “empathy” side of that spectrum, I understand that taking that position requires an extremely high degree of privilege. We’ve seen disastrous policies, like the ones Trump will undoubtedly enact, under a variety of presidential administrations. So the idea that we will survive it, and therefore that we have time for empathy, is rooted in the fact that we’re not directly threatened by it. I think we’ve been basically fighting the whole time, and it didn’t work, so maybe it’s time to try a different approach. That’s not to say that fighting shouldn’t be a part of that approach — it should, particularly in the legal realm. We also have to fight for a better result in the next election cycle. But yes, [political empathy] requires a lot of privilege and a feeling of not being acutely threatened.
Q: Trump has, in the past few days, slightly softened his stance a bit. For example, Trump said that he won’t touch the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality ruling. What do you think a Trump presidency will mean for the LGBT community?
A: So, for LGBT rights specifically, one of the big things is marriage, and that’s not going away. Data shows that the Supreme Court doesn’t like to overturn precedent at all, and they really don’t like to overturn recent precedent. Even if you look at conservative justices in the wake of major civil rights decisions, [overturning the ruling] would be basically unprecedented. Donald Trump has said that he isn’t going to touch it; Mike Pence hasn’t been quite so generous with his words, but I think marriage is safe.
Now, I think we can expect to see no progress forward on any other issues. One major issue that most LGBT organizations are fighting for is having LGBT people, specifically transgender people, included in a non-discrimination clause at the federal level. That’s one thing that’s not going anywhere. Another thing that’s not going anywhere, which is a big deal, is conversion therapy. That is almost more of a shame because unlike the non-discrimination clause, that had a lot more victories [being banned] on the local and state levels. So it’s not necessarily that we’ll see a step backwards in LGBT issues, but we’re going to see a halt in progress, and a movement that will hopefully refocus away from the federal level — except for the realm of very specific litigation related to employment. Of all the issues that a Donald Trump presidency is really going to threaten, I don’t think progress already made on LGBT issues is a concern.
Q: You’ve occupied many student leadership positions. What do you think the role of Yale’s administrators should have been leading up to the election, and what should their role be now in the wake of the election?
A: Like any social, political, or ideological issue, elections are something we need to be able to talk about freely and openly in this setting. So I think University administrators should make sure we have an environment where everyone feels like they can express their opinion, but also understand that expressing their opinion may affect how their peers and university personnel interact with them. They should first create a space for discussion, and also a space for withdrawal from that discussion. I think they’ve done a pretty good job with that.