On November 6th, 2018, something amazing happened. On that night the United States elected over 150 out LGBTQ+ individuals to public office. Dubbed “the Rainbow Wave,” queer people saw themselves elevated on the political stage in an unprecedented way. From governors to senators to members of the U.S. Congress, queer people were suddenly represented in a significant way by the powers that have traditionally been used to oppress us – a striking victory at a time when the rights of minorities are being constantly threatened.
Earlier this month, the Rainbow Wave continued, giving credence to the idea that acceptance could be the new trend and not just a happy anomaly. According to the Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing queer people to public office, out of the 111 candidates they endorsed for the 2019 election, 83 had been elected at the time of this writing, with several races still undecided. This, along with several other queer candidates who won their elections, this brings the total to at least 100, according to the Advocate.
This isn’t just a victory for queer people. This is also specifically a victory for women’s rights – and we can thank a trans woman for helping to make it possible.
Danica Roem was reelected to her seat on the Virginia House of Delegates, making her the first trans person to be reelected to public office at the state level. She was one of many Democratic candidates who helped secure her party’s control of that state with this election. She has fought for the rights of all women, not just those who share her particular life experiences. For instance, she introduced HB 83, which requires feminine hygiene products be provided to prison inmates without charge. Her run for reelection was described by Michael Keegan, commentator for The Advocate as, “the most important LGBTQ race in 2019.”
“A win by Danica is not only a key element of flipping the Virginia House and the entire state legislature from red to blue, it’s a key part of setting the stage for 2020”
–Michael Keegan, The Advocate.
The reality of a Democratic takeover of both the Virginia House and Senate paves the way for the long-awaited Equal Rights Amendment, which was first proposed in 1923 and finally passed by Congress in 1972. It only managed to win 35 of the 38 states needed for ratification by the 1982 deadline, and so failed to become law. Thought dead by some, it crept silently along for nearly forty years until 2017, when Nevada became the 36th state to support it. Illinois signed on the following year. Now the Democratic majority of Virginia has vowed to immediately take up the cause when their legislative body reopens in January, making ratification by that state all but certain.
It seems fitting that such an important piece of legislature – one that essentially frames the goals of the feminist movement — should include in its ranks of noble supporters and sacred warriors powerful trans women like Danica Roem. It is ironic as well because of the constant attacks and erasure that the transgender community has had to endure, not just from larger society, but right here in Paganism, even where our spiritual movement intersects with the queer and feminist communities. These attacks seek to erase the vital contributions to our communities that trans people have made.
Trans people –and especially trans women of color—have been at the forefront of the queer equality movement since its inception and yet they have been the very first people that the queer community throws under the bus. A petition arguing to remove transgender people from the LBGTQ+ socio-political umbrella, purportedly written by “a group of gay/bisexual men and women,” began circulating in 2015 and garnered support from at least a few high-profile Pagan elders at that time. Queer-rights groups and publications spoke out against the petition, which gathered a little over 3000 signatures before it closed. Though seemingly diminished, the movement is currently still advocating for trans exclusion.
To me this seems like a textbook case of an oppressed people using the tools of the oppressor in an attempt to feel more powerful than someone else. How far have we not come since the playground traumas of our bully-filled youths for us to exclude others from the very thing that we have fought so hard to win for ourselves?
The good news is that opposition to the expansion of equal rights and dignity for trans people is obviously the losing side. Where once there were zero political trans representation, there are currently 21 out trans people serving in public office. And that number will only continue to grow.
While there will still be a battle ahead for implementing the ERA on a federal level (the congressional deadline is decades past), there has been renewed momentum in recent years to bring the ERA back to life. But lest we think that institutional sexism is an archaic footnote in our country’s history, opposition to the ERA has been active as recently as February of 2019, when the then-Republican-led Virginia House of Delegates killed a vote on the matter, leaving Virginia Democrats promising electoral retribution.
That retribution seems to have come in the form of the Rainbow Wave. Though it cannot erase the pain and the suffering that so many have endured, nor bring back to us those who have died violently at the hands of ignorance and hatred, this wave inspires the promise of equality and the hope for a better life. What was once almost unthinkable for most queer people even 10 years ago, is now not only coming to pass, but being celebrated. Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and propaganda is not the “sure-fire win” that it once was. Diversity is being celebrated and our tent is growing. We are gaining momentum. The wave is rising.
Our continued victories are certainly not guaranteed. Each success carries with it a reminder that we need to remain vigilant. Even as we celebrate our triumphs, more threats to our liberties loom darkly overhead. Minorities must find a way to work collectively or else we will surely be overwhelmed by the majority. Paganism, being most definitely a religious/spiritual minority, should resist the urge to further divide and exclude from our ranks those who are most vulnerable. If we are to ride that wave of queer diversity, we must be actively committed to challenging the pervasive demons of bigotry in all its forms and resist the urge to further divide our already fragile community. And most of all, we need to vote to make our collective voices heard.
“United we stand, divided we fall.” I want Paganism to be a place in which we can all stand proudly together, celebrating our differences instead of continuously using them as a means to further divide ourselves. We can have different life experiences and still find common ground with each other. And if we want to survive, we will have to. But for now, let’s celebrate our latest victories and ride that rainbow wave all the way to a better future.