‘People are scared about the next four years’: Wake Forest’s LGBTQ community fears Trump’s presidency
‘I’m black. I’m gay. I’m a woman. I don’t feel protected right now. I don’t feel safe.’
Eyes were swollen with tears and lips quivered trying to hold back the pain. This wasn’t how the night was supposed to end.
The election watch party held by the Pro Humanitate Institute had begun with tipsy students, fun games and prizes, dancers surrounding the band, and an overwhelming excitement among attendees. By the time the clock struck midnight, many people had left, but those who remained had lost their enthusiasm.
The band was performing without an audience. No one was playing the games. The once out-the-door line for free alcohol had dwindled down to two or three people drowning their sorrows in beer after beer. Instead of enjoying the party, everyone was huddled around the televisions scattered throughout the house, watching the results slowly trickle in.
One by one, flickers of hope faded from the faces around the room as states continued turning red on the election map. Donald Trump was going to win, and no one was smiling.
“I feel attacked for being a woman; I feel attacked for being a religious minority; and I just feel really sad about the division in our country,” said Ciara Appelbaum, a senior at Wake Forest who attended the watch party.
She wasn’t alone. People from minority groups across the nation felt disheartened and scared on November 8th and every day since. The Central American Resource Center was flooded with calls from concerned immigrants who fear deportation just hours after Trump’s win was announced. Muslim women around the US contemplated the safety of wearing their hijabs in public. The KKK held a victory parade in North Carolina following the election and African Americans talked with their children about what this could mean regarding their security. School children were bullied and Trump’s hateful rhetoric echoed down the halls of educational institutions. Every Clinton supporter felt the sorrow that Appelbaum felt on election night.
“I’m black. I’m gay. I’m a woman. I don’t feel protected right now. I don’t feel safe,” said Briana Powell, a Wake Forest sophomore. “I would say that this election has given me a lot of apprehension about trusting our government to make the right decisions for the most vulnerable populations.”
One of the populations that could be negatively impacted by a Trump presidency is the LGBTQ community. While Trump himself has not said anything directly anti-LGBTQ, he has surrounded himself with people who are staunchly against gay rights (His VP Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, Elaine Chao, Reince Priebus, Mike Flynn, and Nikki Haley).
“If your advisers are against gay people and you’re so reactionary, as Trump is, it is easy to go out on a whim and alienate an entire group of people,” said Richard Cabán Cubero, a member of the Wake Forest LGBTQ community and a devoted social justice activist. “I don’t think he’ll make an active effort to be against LGBTQ people, but if he did, I would not be surprised because of the people he’s surrounding himself with. I think for LGBTQ rights, we’re just going to be stagnated on a legislative level nationally.”
Unfortunately, things could potentially get worse than just stagnation for the LGBTQ community in the United States. Trump has stated that he plans to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice to fill Antonin Scalia’s place which could eventually lead to the marriage equality ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) being overturned. It appears as though Trump could nominate up to four justices, depending on whether any current justices pass away or retire during his term.
“One judge is bad enough because it could be the vote that decides on swing cases, but if Trump has four judges that are staunchly Republican and staunchly anti-LGBT and anti-reproductive rights and anti-other social justice initiatives, that could be really, really bad,” said Anna Rech, a sophomore at Wake. “People are scared about the next four years, but the Supreme Court judges are going to have a lifetime impact. They’ll be making rulings for decades into the future, and Supreme Court cases have great impact on how other cases get decided.”
Furthermore, Trump’s Vice President has one of the worst LGBTQ records in history. In March of last year, Pence signed a bill that would allow businesses to refuse to serve homosexuals based on religious grounds. He also advocated for taxpayer money to be diverted from organizations providing HIV/Aids care and treatment to conversion therapy. He’s been adamantly opposed to marriage equality since his first step into the public eye and used to run a conservative think tank that published anti-gay articles.
“It’s disconcerting knowing that this man is likely to take Trump’s place if Trump is at all impeached or something terrible happens to him,” said Cabán Cubero. “If he gets bored of the job and decides that he wants to step down because it’s no longer as fun as he thought it would be, Pence is the next in line.”
Wake Forest has tried to remain at the forefront of important issues as a progressive institution by being the first university in the south to desegregate, using its private status to protect transgender students’ rights in spite of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, and providing undocumented students with financial aid. Nevertheless, there are differing opinions among the LGBTQ community about what Wake can do for its marginalized students in light of this election.
“There are things that this school could do, but ultimately they’d be pretty symbolic,” said Powell. “We’re at Wake and we’re in our own little bubble, but once you leave this campus on January 20th, you’re in Donald Trump world.”
“Wake Forest is an educational institution, they are quite literally educating people in increments of 4 years,” said Cabán Cubero. “That means the next freshmen that they get will be voting for the next president their senior year. They’ll be voting for Congressional members their sophomore year. Wake Forest University needs to make sure that through education it’s not only telling students how the world works right now but it’s also encouraging them to question if that’s the only way.”
Immediately following the election, the LGBTQ Center provided consolation cookies and a reflection wall for students to cope with the results, but even the leaders of the center are confused about how to move forward.
“I worry about folks and particularly students who are feeling even more targeted or potentially vulnerable by the results of this election and what that means for them and for their families and their futures,” said Kayla Lisenby, Program Coordinator of the LGBTQ Center. “I’m just trying to be there as a support while also processing it on my own.”
While things may look dim now, another future is possible. Through grassroots movements and reforms at the state level, progress on the issues mentioned here can still be made. Many members of Congress will also be up for election in two years and if Democrats become the majority, Congress would be an important check on Trump and his administration.
“I’m sure that there is some hope in the sense that we can still get things done by being vocal and being active,” said Rech. “I know a lot of people are scared about what’s going to happen to the way our democracy works, but it’s still a country where the government is supposed to serve the people. We can’t just sit down and let things happen.”
“I think it’s required that we’re hopeful if we’re going to get stuff done,” said Cabán Cubero. “My hope is that people don’t forget their power: their voting power, their power to influence legislators, etc. because that’s what’s really going to save us.”