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Opinion: Normalizing for the Better

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You don’t have to be queer to be inspired by the results of Nov. 7 elections and what they mean for LGBTQ people. In an era of malice and discrimination towards the community, moments like these are unique in changing the images of queer people in the minds of our culture.

This year’s election season boasted at least 20 openly transgender candidates, according to the LGBTQ organization Victory Fund, which far outnumbers the amount of currently known openly transgender officeholders.

In an irony worthy of immense historical gravity, Republican Bob Marshall, who was personally responsible for steering four anti-LGBTQ bills into the Virginia House of Delegates that later died, was spectacularly felled by Danica Roem, a transgender Democrat whom Marshall had persistently referred to as a man. She will be the first openly transgender person to serve in a U.S. statehouse.

During her campaign, Roem raised three times the funds Marshall did despite running for a seat Marshall held 13 times since 1991. She spared no syllables in illustrating the weight of this moment.

“Let me make this really clear for you,” Roem said in May. “When the people of the 13th District elect a transgender woman to replace the most anti-LGBT legislator in the South, it will be an act of certainty, and it will be a defining moment that will resonate across the country.”

The United States has been home to LGBTQ politicians since the 1970s, like UAlbany alumnus Harvey Milk who galvanized a national movement at a time of widespread efforts to delegitimize the personhood of queer individuals.

But while one major figure such as Milk can make a stark impact at a critical time, the prominence of just one person only provides a reminder of the abysmal statistics for LGBTQ representation in U.S. government.

Seeing one LGBTQ person in office can be empowering, but when Congress and every other governing body in the world is filled with straight white men, everyone internalizes this as the image of those who can be a politician.

When we as a country normalize trends and attitudes that take hold in our politics and media, we sometimes create a darker, more cynical image of what our nation is like. For the generations that follow ours, even people born just four or five years after us, it can be difficult to understand exactly how the social and political climate used to be.

There are kids born in the past few years who won’t remember a time when gay marriage wasn’t a right guaranteed by the Supreme Court.

Social progress isn’t always forward-moving and to imply that would be disrespectful to the people who have had to struggle and fight every day of their lives to achieve human rights.

If there is any justice in the world, every few years another small but significant group of LGBTQ politicians will enter office and chip away at the dismal statistics of queer representation in government. And every few years, the youth of this country will build a worldview where more and more of these historically subjugated peoples stand side-by-side with the old Christian white men who have regularly sought to demonize and dehumanize them.

The politicians of the future will never get away with bathroom bills or purposefully mis-gendering their opponent as a political tactic. They will have to talk about slain transgender people in the same breath as every other victim of violence in this country. LGBTQ people will not just be another group of “people” we add to a conversation we already have about cis-straight people. Hopefully, we will just become people as well.

Zach Perry

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