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It's Time to Mobilize Milwaukee's LGBTQs

Aug. 29, 2017
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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Last week, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s presidential pardon and the military transgender ban led the list of the regime’s most recent outrages. Typical of the Republican strategy (articulated so honestly by our own governor as “divide and conquer”), both undermine trust in our democracy, especially for marginalized Americans including the LGBTQ community. The ban of transgender servicemen and women in our armed forces is obviously a direct attack. Arpaio’s pardon portends a broader threat to the rule of law, the judiciary and the constitution. We might not at first construe that as an assault on LGBTQ rights, but it is.

In Milwaukee, already leading the nation as its most segregated city, Arpaio’s crimes might not seem so egregious. I’m sure many here agreed with his anti-immigrant campaign and his use of racial profiling to implement “ethnic cleansing.” For the most part, that’s all we know about Arpaio. The sinister details of his crimes, the ones that would open our eyes, require a little more research. The problem is, with all life’s distractions, whether planning a PrideFest visit or a pool party, many of us are too blissfully ignorant to bother. Yet Arpaio’s tactics could just as easily be employed against LGBTQs.

The pardon ultimately has a two-fold impact. First, it further emboldens those in power to act beyond the confines of the law. For anyone who would contemplate institutionalized discrimination against people of color, women or LGBTQs, the message is clear: Legally, you have little to fear; a pardon will protect you. At the same time, the blatant disdain for the law intimidates those who would act within it. That, in turn, undermines confidence in the protections of our democracy. The result (and, perhaps, the point of the exercise) is to weaken that confidence to the point of resignation.

Last February, I had a conversation with a Milwaukee LGBTQ leader. We discussed the homophobic attacks on a local LGBTQ health facility. By then there had been three. I asked why our leadership hadn’t responded to the first two. The reply was academic. As in a scientific experiment, he explained, we don’t know an action’s true cause until it repeats itself. Still, he confessed, “we” had become complacent. I presume he meant a universal “we” but it certainly included, as scant as is it, our political leadership. Sadly, the one thing our leaders cannot afford to be is complacent. But it’s endemic.

Wisconsin’s lesbian senator, Tammy Baldwin, is up for reelection in 2018. She’s already a target. The ultra-right Club for Growth has endorsed her probable opponent, war veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson. Other wealthy Wisconsin Republicans, perhaps even our notorious gay ones, will follow. She will be assaulted for her policy decisions, her votes, and for supporting President Obama’s Iraq policies, the ACA and marriage equality. But, whether by dog whistle or overtly, her sexuality will certainly be an issue. As Republicans frame transgender military personnel as unfit due to their sexual identity, so will they frame Baldwin.

With just more than a year until the 2018 election (if it isn’t cancelled by tweet), we’d better get over that complacency and not be intimidated. There is too much at stake.

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