Where do we go from here? Reflections on a divided America

These past few days have been really difficult for a lot of people, including myself.  It’s taken me a lot of time and energy to get through my initial emotional reaction of shock and horror to a place where I can think rationally about what I’m feeling and where to go from here. There’s a lot of garbage on social media right now, but amongst it all I’ve been able to have some good dialogue with people from both sides of this election, which I think has really helped me along in the healing process. As such, I wanted to present some of the things I’ve been thinking about just as a jumping off point for more constructive conversation. As a caveat, I can only speak for myself. Don’t assume I’m speaking for all gay people or other minorities, because everyone’s experience is different. I recognize that people will disagree with me and I welcome your opinions.

First off, let me set the stage just so you know where I, personally, am coming from. I’d like everyone to try your best to imagine what it would feel like to have 50 million people dismiss the fact that your rights and protections will be taken away if their candidate wins the election. That feels pretty horrible and it makes it seem like the world is out to get you. I know full well that many of you cannot understand what that would feel like, and I don’t blame you for that. You did not choose your privileged identity any more than I chose my targeted one, so when I say you cannot understand, it’s not an attack and I do not hold it against you. All I’m asking is that you listen to what our experience has been with an open mind. What I do hold against people is when they are unwilling to even consider the fact that we are hurting in a way that is different than they will ever experience and when these same people tell us to calm down or that everything will be ok. It is easy for people who will not be affected by Trump’s discriminatory stances to tell us we’re overreacting, but the truth is you have nothing to lose as far as civil rights go – we do. You have no business minimizing that.

If you genuinely try your best to put yourself in the shoes of minorities and see things from our perspective, it becomes a lot easier to understand why people are so upset about Trump being elected. This is so much more than Democrats being sore losers, or millennials throwing a tantrum because we didn’t get our way. The president-elect explicitly and openly proposed racist, homophobic, and misogynistic policies during his campaign and the fact that he won the election proves that a lot of people support that. Notice, though, I said “a lot,” not “all.” I know that not all Trump supporters are bigots. I promise I know that. I would be a hypocrite to ask people to listen to me to understand my experience with an open mind without doing the same myself, which is why I’ve been talking with people who disagree with me. I know several people who voted for Trump who are good people who voted for him for reasons completely unrelated to his stances on social issues, reasons that were related to what they thought would benefit their struggling families and local economies. I understand that if you feel that your government has forgotten about rural America and you need a change from the existing system, Trump might have seemed like the one to shake things up. I don’t agree, but I can respect that and recognize that different issues are more immediate to different people. One could easily make the case that these people were still acting selfishly and without regard for the millions of people who will be hurt by their decision, but that doesn’t make them actively bigoted.

However, that doesn’t mean that you didn’t have a hand in whatever will result from Trump’s bigoted policies. I still hold you accountable for your vote and its ramifications. And let’s be honest, it’s the ramifications that really matter. You don’t get to vote for Trump and then say “but I’m not a racist” and then go back to your life. This isn’t really about our feelings, it’s about what concrete actions will ensue that will do an incredible amount of damage to the progress we have made. It’s about the spike in hate crimes since the election. It’s about the marriages that could be dissolved, families torn apart as parents are deported, rape culture validated by Trump’s rhetoric. Trump voters, bigoted or not, were complicit in all of that by consciously deciding to vote for him, fully aware of the vile rhetoric he spewed during his campaign. For that reason, Trump supporters who disagree with his stances on social issues have a particularly important responsibility to stand up to the discrimination and voice their discontent with the prospect of their friends and neighbors’ rights and protections being obliterated.

I’m asking you to stand with us. You owe it to us. Volunteer with an LGBT rights organization, spend time working with immigrants or refugees, just get to know some of the people who will be affected by Trump’s administration and ask what you can do to be a better ally. Reach out to your minority friends; tell them that you will be supporting them, and then ACT so that Trump’s social policies will gain no traction. If you do nothing, there’s really no practical difference between you and, as Hillary would say, the “deplorables.” Standing by idly and saying “I’m not a bigot” means nothing to us when you just cast a vote for someone who will implement discriminatory policies that directly impact us – your actions to counteract those policies mean a lot more.

So how do we move forward from all of this? We need to open respectful dialogue between Democrats and Republicans with a sincere interest of understanding one another better. The two parties have gotten so out of touch with each other that both sides are guilty of vilifying the other to the point that one side just assumes that the other side is made up of horrible people, without bothering to really listen to what they have to say. Maybe if you spend time trying to understand the other side better, you will find that there are things that we have in common, and that is a great starting point for moving forward together. While much of the Republican party is very much out of step when it comes to issues of social liberties and protections that are so important particularly to minorities, I can also understand and admit that the Democratic party is out of touch with rural working class Americans. Too often I hear Democrats write this segment of the population off as “uneducated rednecks” who don’t really know what they’re talking about. That is unfair and it completely disrespects the fact that their experiences are just as valid as ours.

I was speaking with one individual who was explaining to me how he felt that democratic politics overlooks and forgets about rural communities. He said he voted Trump because the people where he was from were really struggling and no one in Washington was doing anything about it and it seemed like they didn’t even really care. I thought to myself, “I know how that feels.” I do — I know how it feels to believe that your government is not representing you or advocating for your rights as well as it should be, pretending you’re not there, not important enough to warrant attention. Granted, I didn’t agree with this person on most policy stances, but it was honestly quite an enlightening moment that stoked a flame of hope inside of me — it’s a hope that we will be able to find common ground where we can come together and understand each other better. Better understanding leads to seeing each other as human beings, it leads to compassion, and it leads to cooperation.

In the spirit of cooperation and despite anger, I’d like to encourage you all to do a few things that I think will help us get to a place where people from both sides of the aisle can begin the dialogue that we so desperately need:

  • Take care when making sweeping generalizations. I know it is a natural and understandable reaction to respond to a situation like this with anger. I am certainly guilty of saying things that I shouldn’t have and I do not blame anyone for being furious about what happened. You should experience those emotions fully and without shame. But the truth is we cannot know everyone’s reasons for what they do. Not every Trump voter is personally attacking you and assuming all Trump racists are the scum of the earth will alienate people who could otherwise be helpful advocating for our rights.
  • Reach out to someone who disagrees with you politically and have a respectful conversation. Don’t go into it prepared to duke it out. Approach it with genuine interest and a desire to understand where they’re coming from.
  • Share your experience and allow them to share theirs, understanding that each is valid in its own way. Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean that their worldview that has resulted from a confluence of all their experiences is any less true or valid.
  • Educate humbly and non-judgmentally. Many people have never been challenged to think any differently than they do simply because they have never had a relationship with a member of a minority group. My parents come to mind. They used to believe homosexuality was wrong until I came out, because that’s how they were raised and they never had any reason to question it. That personal connection changes people.
  • Find some common ground. You might be surprised to find out that there are things you can agree on. These are the points we should capitalize on in forging alliances for the future.

While I am advocating for opening dialogue and listening to the other side with a genuine intent to look for opportunities to come together, we should never tolerate bigotry.  I cannot emphasize enough that trying to understand and build bridges with the other side does not mean that we need to throw aside our moral convictions and roll over. We can work together, but that does NOT mean giving up on advocating for those who are systematically oppressed. Protest Trump’s ideologies, organize against the hatred, be a support to those who need it, reach out to your friends in minority groups to let them know they are not alone. There are some things we can compromise on, but dignity and respect for all human beings is not one of them.

To wrap up, I get that people are angry and scared. And you should be. I’m still angry and scared that such an overtly bigoted person ended up in the highest seat in the US. I’m scared of the policies that could come as a result. I’m scared for my queer brothers and sisters, people of color, immigrants, Muslims. But don’t let that anger and fear prevent you from seeing opportunities to connect with people who voted for Trump not because they are against us, but because they are for other things. Don’t drive them away and give them a reason to become bigots, because quite frankly they are important to our cause. We need as many inter-aisle friends we can get and if that takes reaching out with an open mind to those we have historically viewed as the “enemy,” that’s what I’m prepared to do.

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