As we wind down 2021 and prepare for the upcoming midterm election season, taking stock of all the things our world experienced this year is critical. After finally seeing the election of a pro-equality administration, we saw the country devolve into an insurrection at our nation’s capital.  And, despite gains in recent years, there is still so much work for advocates and allies: advancing LGBTQ+ protections at the national and local levels, protecting our democracy, supporting the most vulnerable, and building our collective power. 

This pandemic continues to negatively impact nearly every aspect of our lives including housing security, healthcare accessibility, education, and the cost of food. Members of the LGBTQ+ community and those with multiple marginalized identities are disproportionately affected.  In 2021, a record number of over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced, and 25 were enacted by lawmakers across the country, largely targeting trans youth. Unsurprisingly, 2021 was the deadliest year for violence against transgender individuals and anti-Asian hate crimes soared. According to the most recent data from HRC, at least 46 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed in the United States, the majority trans women of color. The time is now to enact comprehensive legislation protecting LGBTQ+ and BIPOC populations from discrimination so that all individuals can thrive and are safe to express their full humanity. 

Vitriolic attacks on school boards and educators targeting anti-racism education, LGBTQ+ students and educators, and most recently, social and emotional learning and suicide prevention grew in number and intensity this past year. It is clear these coordinated attacks, crafted to appear as though they are organically arising from grassroots parent groups, are a reaction to changing demographics and shifts in power. This political strategy is fear-based and attempts to legislate LGBTQ+ individuals out of existence. Also of concern, the Supreme Court is considering a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Early signals indicate the court may be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade. Experts estimate that abortion could become illegal in as much as half the country, impacting reproductive freedom for millions including trans and gender non-conforming people.The court is expected to issue a ruling sometime this summer.

Amidst the many challenges and pain, there is hope. NC is Ready™, a project led by Equality North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality was launched at the end of 2020, after the sunset of HB 142. The project was launched with the intention of compelling local and national elected officials to enact proactive protections, and non-discrimination laws. A broad coalition of North Carolina’s social justice organizations, community groups, and faith organizations support these efforts. In North Carolina, over the past year, 16 municipalities enacted non-discrimination ordinances. Moving forward, we must challenge lawmakers to keep this momentum going and advance similar legislation at the state and federal level. 

Nationally, we saw historic wins for LGBTQ+ incumbents like Virginia House of Delegates member, Danica Roem. Additionally, we welcomed the first openly non-binary member of the US Judiciary, housing organizer and scientist, Xander Orenstein. Currently, more than 1,000 LGBTQ+ elected officials serve in a variety of public offices across the US. Many are calling the victories of these candidates and others a continuation of the ‘Rainbow Wave’ that began with unprecedented numbers of LGBTQ+ individuals entering political races around the nation. When crafting policy to lift up those at the margins, lived experience is essential and securing more positions of power for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC community members remains critical as we move into what is likely to be a contentious mid-term election season in 2022.

Another bright spot included the Biden administration’s announcement to enforce federal anti-discrimination protections in healthcare for LGBTQ+ individuals based on gender identity and sexual orientation. In North Carolina, three pieces of anti-trans legislation, targeting LGBTQ+ youth, were defeated. During the legislative session, four bills were introduced offering protections from discrimination including proposed legislation to prohibit discrimination regarding employment, housing, and education. Other measures proposed banning conversion therapy, prohibiting the use of the LGBTQ+ panic defense, and a full, clean repeal of HB2. We know that often, legislation must be introduced and considered on multiple occasions before it makes it to the floor for a vote. These will be critical issues in the upcoming legislative sessions.

We’ve heard it many times before, but we are truly at a crossroads. The emerging national narrative presents two competing and incompatible visions for our collective future. One centers lived equality, transformative justice, celebrating the inherent genius in our LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities, and the freedom to experience unfettered opportunity. The other, a far more alarming vision, advances narrowly defined rights, increasing oppression, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few. How do those of us dedicated to advancing justice and equity move our vision forward in this environment? We continue to show up, speak up, organize,and vote!