‘We Can't Let Our Fear Win’: How Queer Young People Are Fighting For Equal Rights By Voting
By Reilley Flood, CVP Communications Intern
“Voting is a powerful way to fight for LGBTQ rights and ensure that pro-equality voices are at every decision-making table.”
That’s according to GLAAD, one of the leading LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the country. At least 1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+, and that number is expected to increase. LGBTQ+ young people make up a significant and important part of this generation.
They also want to be heard.
Ninety-three percent of registered LGBTQ+ voters turned out to vote, with 25% being new voters.
Still, two million eligible voters who identify as LGBTQ+ are not registered. Reasons for this can include a lack of time and resources, strict voting laws like voter ID requirements, or a fear of discrimination. This especially affects people of color and disabled queer and transgender voters who are already victims of voter suppression.
Attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have risen recently, many of them coming from lawmakers who are threatening – or at worst, enacting – laws that infringe on the rights of their queer constituents. Over 500 anti-LGBT laws have been introduced into state legislatures as of May, which was already double the amount introduced by that time last year.
Lack of representation in government is a major factor in this. Representation is an important part of motivating voters and protecting the rights of at risk groups, and less than .2% of elected officials identify as LGBTQ+. When LGBTQ+ people see themselves being represented in our government, they are more likely to feel empowered and engaged in the political process, making them more likely to turn out to vote.
When I spoke to Alex Edgar–a student at University of California, Berkeley who identifies as bisexual–about the importance of representation, he said, “We can't just focus on the presidential or Senate or House race, it really comes down to the small local elections.”
Although there has been a general rise in acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community over the years, there is still pushback in both progressive and conservative states from local officials who are against equality.
In Alex’s home state of California, for instance, the Orange County Board of Supervisors banned Pride flags from flying during Pride Month on government properties. Many in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies saw this as a message that they are not welcome or accepted.
Voter suppression and legislation affecting the LGBTQ+ is a nationwide issue. Over 35 states have introduced anti-LGBT legislation. Transgender and nonbinary people are especially targeted by this. Nearly half of states restrict people who are transgender and nonbinary from legally updating their ID’s to represent their identity. Only 21 allow gender neutral licenses and offer options other than “male” or “female.”
Furthermore, 35 states require an ID to vote and 18 states require a photo ID. The Williams Institute estimated that in those 35 states, around 260,000 Trans and non-binary voters–representing over a quarter of eligible trans voters–did not have a valid ID for the 2020 election.
This leaves a large portion of voters vulnerable to voter suppression because these laws create an increase in barriers. Only 20 states and DC allow people to update their gender on their IDs without medical documentation. This creates a financial barrier for Trans and non-binary people, who often already are experiencing economic hardship, to have their voice heard. Trans people experience poverty at a rate of around 29%, with Trans men being the highest at 33 percent. In comparison, the national average poverty rate is around 11 percent.
The cost of medical care and documentation, the identification update process, and the time consuming nature of the process of changing your gender on identification prevents transgender and nonbinary people from participating in elections where their rights are on the ballot.
Although it can be discouraging, and at times nerve wracking, to fight for better representation and the right to be heard, Alex implores his peers in the LGBTQ+ community to persevere.
“We can't let our fear win. We have to organize, and we have to vote and we have to engage with politics as much as possible, to make sure that our voices are not silenced.”
— Alex Edgar, a bisexual student at UC Berkeley
Queer the Vote is one organization working towards that goal. Created by the National LGBTQ+ Task Force, they work to “mobilize LGBTQ+ voters, stop voter suppression, end partisan gerrymandering, and to guarantee other vital protections.”
There are many young activists working towards equality who can inspire us, like 18-year-old Cameron Samuels distributed books banned by their Texas school district that centered LGBTQ+ themes and racism. Or Rebekah Bruesehoff, a 15-year-old young transgender woman who has been advocating for her rights since she was eight. They fight for equality alongside passionate young people across the country to make progress for all LGBTQ+ voters.
What is the best way to reach young LGBTQ+ audiences? Alex suggests meeting them where they are at: On social media. “All these ways that young people communicate, and doing it in a way that's genuine. So often we see disingenuous outreach to young people.”
As pride month comes to an end, it is important we must acknowledge all of the progress the LBGTQ+ community has made. As the 2024 election cycle gets closer, continuing to activate LGBTQ+ voters and their allies will be crucial in protecting those rights and allowing vulnerable voices to be heard.