Winston Churchill famously said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government—except all the others that have been tried.” Democracy has been especially exhausting in recent memory. Mainstream media has locked Americans into a perpetual election cycle: Once a president, for example, is sworn in, speculation begins on the outcomes of the midterm elections two years in the future. Once those elections take place, the presidential election cycle speculation begins anew. Focus remains for nearly two years on who’s traipsing through Iowa and New Hampshire, awkwardly chatting with farmers in diners, more than what the current occupants of political offices are actually doing.
Politicians, social media, activists and other interests meanwhile lock us into cultural wars with stakes that vary not just in relevance but in their foundations in reality as well. While that’s been happening, a large cohort of American politicians have begun kicking the tires of democracy, seeking weaknesses and loopholes to exploit to gain the perpetual power and money-making opportunities a high-profile political office offers.
It is enough to make any sane person want to crawl under the blankets and stay there. But the LGBTQ+ community not only has to pay attention closely to politics in the years ahead; they are going to have to be active, vigilant participants in the political process. The first step is voting.
What voting now means for the LGBTQ+ community
Forgive the hyperbole, but the LGBTQ+ community has every reason to assume that it will be under increased political attack in the years ahead, and those attacks will be heightened further should the balance of power tilt to the right in even one Congressional house after Nov. 8.
Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Conservative politicians of old would campaign and fundraise off the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade, but for decades it was a political third rail. Not anymore. The newly reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision that would have surely embarrassed principled jurists in years past, overturned Roe. Our new Right was not afraid to pull the rug out from under a demographic—women—amounting to over 50% of the body politic, so they will have no problem coming for LGBTQ+ Americans as well.
Across the nation, cruel politicians and activists have proposed oppressive laws and funding cuts aimed right at the heart of our community. Some, such as proposals to cut funding for PrEP, can have detrimental impacts of our health and well-being. Most proposals, such as Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, tap into parental hysteria around schools, positioning the well-being of LGBTQ+ folks as being antithetical to the well-being of children. Calls for teaching LGBTQ+ history or the availability of LGBTQ+-themed books in libraries are seen as perpetuating some amorphous, provocative agenda.
Young LGBTQ+ people, a demographic with no power at the voting booth, are taking the hits. Rules prohibiting transgender young people from using the locker rooms designated for the sex with which they identify marginalize all transgender students, even if they are unconcerned about using the locker rooms. When a school bans gay-related reading materials, gay students get the message loud and clear that they are unwelcome in the school unless they keep their true identity locked tightly in the closet.
It is up to LGBTQ+ community members who can vote to do what we can should such rapacious anti-LGBTQ+ politicians show up in our midsts. If they, their handlers or media talking-heads later dismiss threats against our community as empty rhetoric, don’t listen. Those political leaders are speaking to a fired-up base that expects action at some point; that base, we have seen now, is sometimes even fired up enough to take action of its own. At worst, the politicians will follow through with their threats. At best, they are playing with fire, with the LGBTQ+ community’s safety at stake, for the sake of votes and fundraising.
For years now, the community has been able to take solace in a number of openly-LGBTQ+ politicians at the local, state and national levels. While LGBTQ+ politicians are not inherently more virtuous or ethical than their straight counterparts, voters do have every right to expect that politician, as a member of the community, to feel some investment in its well-being.
Furthermore, they also should expect those politicians to have respect for community members living at the intersections and/or margins due to their race, religion, financial circumstances, etc.
Many voters say that keeping track of politicians is difficult, and that’s true. But it is our responsibility as a community and as Americans so that we can continue to function as a democracy. If the public commits to voting responsibly, election reporting must follow suit.
The importance of responsible election reporting
As perceived beacons of objectivity, established news media outlets and publications are expected to practice responsible election reporting—and they should.
Audiences for these news sources can certainly vary, and there may be perspectives added to certain articles. However, regarding election results, numbers rarely lie (despite what some politicians—former and current—have said).
Also, reporting leads to informing and impacting readers—which leads to influencing society. It is vital that articles be based on fact and not opinion. Balance is also key, including when promoting damaging items against a candidate; at least providing said candidate to respond (and acknowledging that) establishes the balance so crucial for the reputations of the candidate, journalist and news outlet.
Of course, political reporting covers what happens before, during and after elections. Covering all that ground may include anything from voter registration to candidate profiles to results and post-election developments. Campaign issues (including LGBTQ+ issues, of course) can be minefields for journalists. However, it’s best to be as objective AND accurate as possible. For example, it’s best to take directly from a candidate or his/her/their website (who and which should be cited to avoid charges of plagiarism) and not get information from a second-hand source.
Again, objectivity is key—although certain aspects (such as historic developments) should be noted, sometimes in a way that emphasizes the reader demographic. Also, an outlet’s reputation can rest on accuracy, which spans everything from having the correct election results/numbers to spelling candidates’ names correctly.
A media outlet that is consistently inconsistent or inaccurate will lose trust—and readers.
That all that being said (or written), many LGBTQ+ journalists hope that LGBTQ+ candidates prevail in as many races as possible on Nov. 8, helping an underrepresented demographic gain more traction; after all, representation definitely matters. (Regarding the importance of having LGBTQ+ politicians, click here.)