Election season is upon us, and for me that brings with it two of my unique passions. First, a deep and abiding commitment to addressing issues of inequity and unequal access so that the playing field of life might be more even and fair for all. Second, a rather wonky obsession with numbers and data and matters of government, law and public policy. How these intersect are of constant fascination and bring me particular delight as well as ample food for thought in election cycles.
Historically, self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters make up four to five percent of the U.S. electorate. LGBT Americans are also more likely to both register to vote and to go to the polls on Election Day. Although some may assume that LGBT people share similar political beliefs or affiliation, the Log Cabin Republicans — the national group that works within the Republican Party to support fairness, freedom and equality for gay and lesbian Americans — and GOProud, which represents conservative gay people and their allies, demonstrate that ideological diversity is also an important part of the LGBT community.
Just a few weeks ago, out delegates attended both major parties’ national conventions to actively be a part of the political process. A number of out delegates participated at the Republican National Committee, though the RNC doesn’t keep track of which of its delegates identify as LGBT. There were 550 LGBT delegates at the Democratic National Convention, including 14 transgender Americans — the largest number yet.
There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to politics, legislation and public policy regarding LGBT people. Marriage equality gets quite a bit of attention these days, and it’s only been a year since lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans have been able to serve openly in the military. Yet there are many other issues that can impact LGBT people differently than our heterosexual peers, including our ability to: work in inclusive and fair environments free from discrimination, take care of ourselves and our families with our pay and the ability to fully access our benefits, be safe where we live, work and study — in our homes, our schools and our faith communities, have our identity documents accurately and respectfully describe ourselves and our relationships to others, access knowledgeable and welcoming healthcare providers aware of the unique risks that can face LGBT people because of societal stigma and unequal access, make decisions when our loved ones are ill or injured and take time off to care for them when necessary, sponsor our partner or spouse for immigration purposes, literally “be counted,” because of lack of data collection at all levels that can identify the needs of LGBT people and their families, because lack of this data can render us invisible when it comes to taxpayer funded programs, and access all that education — K-12 and higher education — has to offer.
Issues that directly impact LGBT people and our loved ones must be addressed by our elected officials at the local, state and federal levels of government. They may be addressed in very different ways, and there are many ways to learn more and to get involved.
Our LGBT communities are composed of a rich tapestry of diverse peoples, with all kinds of backgrounds, interests and views. We may share a common identity — and an uncommon interest in exercising our right to vote — but our differences define and strengthen us just as much as our commonalities.
This election year, I encourage everyone, of all orientations and identities, to participate. Find out about the candidates’ positions on the issues you care about. Get involved, or more involved, in public service. Register to vote. Then join with Americans from all walks of life to make your voices heard on Election Day.
Lis Maurer is the director of the Ithaca College LGBT Education, Outreach and Services Program. Email her at email@example.com.