We need LGBTQIA public servants at all levels – but representation is not enough

As we as marginalized people continue to fight for representation at all levels of office, it is becoming increasingly clear that having a seat at the table is not enough to create change or protect our rights. When we get that seat, we need to be supported – or at least not attacked.

Peyton O’Conner, the first openly trans woman on a North Carolina school board, resigned this week after experiencing what was described like an endemic transphobia since joining the board in March 2021. While serving on the Asheville School Board, O’Conner said she was constantly abused and repeatedly harassed at school board meetings by Ronald Gates, member of an Arizona-based organization called the Alliance Defending Freedom and its team. The ADF says it aims to protect religious freedom, but because of their often violent anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed them a hate group, according to the Citizen Times.

“On the surface, it seems [the ADF] attacks me, but I am just an easy vessel and target for him to drive a political wedge that will ultimately erode the thin layers of protection we have for our gay students, staff and families,” wrote O’Conner. in her letter of resignation to the Board, which she also published on facebook. “I can’t in good conscience give him a foothold and I think walking away may give him less opportunity to sow discord.”

According to O’Conner’s Facebook post, the ADF’s strategy was to harass her so much that the board would have no choice but to censor or limit Gates’ ability to speak at meetings. This would ultimately give the ADF ammunition to take legal action and claim Gates was being censored and his free speech under attack.

It is worrying to think that as more and more trans and queer people gain positions of office, a record number of LGBTQ candidates won their midterm races last month in what has been considered a “rainbow wave”. – hate groups are also becoming more sophisticated in how they attempt to erase them.

Their playbook is tired, sure, but it’s also a cautionary tale of what could come. When the existence of queer and trans people emerge as a threat to anti-LGBTQ cohorts, they will continue to manipulate the tools of democracy to fight against our progress. In most cases, they will use terms like “religious freedom” and “freedom of speech”, whether it relates to their refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple or prohibition trans people in sportas a means of justifying the erasure of LGBTQ people.

As hatred against our communities becomes a growing part of the right-wing agenda, it’s critical to remember that just because we see more representation doesn’t mean we can let our guard down. If anything, now is the time to make sure the people representing our communities feel supported enough to stick around and make meaningful change. Obviously, many are counting on their downfall.


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