By Jordan Grasso | Guest OpEd
In early February, Donald Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. The confirmation of Sessions to Trump’s team is going to have detrimental affects on the LGBT community by pushing back the fight for LGBT equality and forcing many members back into the closet.
As attorney general, Sessions represents one of the most important cabinet posts within the administration. He provides legal advice to the U.S. government while heading the Department of Justice. In other words, as attorney general, he is the chief lawyer of the United States, serving to represent all of its citizens.
How can a man with an anti-LGBT voting history represent and protect the continuously growing LGBT community, especially after the legalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015?
The LGBT community at large has finally begun to make advancements towards full equality, but the appointment of Sessions has the opportunity to not only stop this advancement, but reverse it in its tracks.
Sessions has a history of fighting against LGBT rights. He voted against both the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. acts, claiming they were not necessary because the LGBT community does not face discrimination.
However, according to the FBI, the LGBT community is the third-highest category with regard to the occurrence of hate crimes within the United States, and although violent crimes overall are on the decline, hate crimes against the LGBT community are steadily rising, especially after the election of Donald Trump as president. In fact, within 10 days of the election, LGBT hate crimes skyrocketed, making up 11 percent of the total hate crimes that occurred across the country.
Fear of violence, hate crimes and discrimination keep many LGBT members from coming out. With numbers seeing as many as 20-25 percent of LGBT people experiencing hate crimes during their lifetime, the threat of violence is something we all fear daily.
According to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the most experienced forms of hate crimes include discrimination, physical violence, verbal harassment and use of threats or intimidation. Research continuously shows the hate we encounter as members of the LGBT community, yet the man appointed to protect us does not believe the discrimination and violence we face everyday even exists. With such a misunderstanding of our experiences, how is he supposed to represent and protect us?
Sessions also supports the First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow businesses to openly discriminate based on their religious beliefs; that marriage is only between one man and one woman. Not only does he support this legislation, as an Alabama senator he was one of the co-sponsors of the bill and pushed for it to be approved. Now as head of the Department of Justice, he has the responsibility to enforce federal laws while protecting the rights of all citizens. However, he also has the power to decide how laws will be interpreted, governed and enforced. He has already backed away from protecting executive orders created under Obama that were implemented to prevent discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, including how trans children are treated within public schools.
Many people stay closeted within their own families and social circles due to religious and family values. By allowing discrimination based on religious beliefs, the fear of coming out will grow among many LGBT individuals. Religious fundamentalism is a strong predictor of views towards LGBT rights. The more important religion is regarded in one’s life, the more likely they will have negative views towards the LGBT community.
This country is based on religious freedoms, but that does not give people the right to disregard the basic rights of all individuals, including their freedom from discrimination and violence. Sessions supports fundamentalist religious views ahead of the freedoms and equality of all individuals.
And while Sessions has not explicitly made anti-LGBT statements, his voting history and push against LGBT rights is enough to show how much he will lack when it comes to protecting our community as attorney general. How can we trust a man who does not believe in LGBT rights and actively opposes any advancement forward?
Blindness to LGBT inequality is a form of discrimination. By claiming the LGBT community does not face discrimination or hate, Attorney General Sessions is invalidating our experiences and avoiding addressing the social problems we face due solely to our sexuality and gender expression.
As Elie Wiesel stated in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
We must not suddenly lose our voice. We must not encourage the tormentor. We must not allow Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump to silence us. Now is the time to come together and not let any of our brothers and sisters fall back into the closet.
—Jordan Grasso is currently a graduate student at Cal State San Marcos working on her Master’s Degree in Sociological Practice. Her research background is mostly in topics of justice studies. Any questions or comments may be directed to Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.