The Trump presidency has been a disaster for most marginalized groups, and now it's the LGBTI community's turn. As Obama's federal protections for trans students are rolled back, Associate Professor Winnifred Louis gives her expert advice on the most effective ways to resist Trump’s tyranny.
It’s not just the rights of women, Muslims, immigrants and the LGBTI community that are under threat from the Trump administration, it’s democracy itself says Social Psychologist Winnifred Louis. “Many of us are now arguing that democracy is beyond the moment, it’s a series of institutions and an ideological commitment to that and it’s fragile and it is under attack. So it’s not about Republicans and not even really just about Trump, it’s about supporting the rule of law.”
As Trump’s divisive, hateful campaign rhetoric is being blamed for a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes, Louis argues that we all have a responsibility to build bridges instead of walls.
Citing new research published last week from Johns Hopkins University, which shows a link between marriage equality and a reduction in teenage LGBTI suicide attempts, Louis warns that “these divisive political debates we’re facing in America now but also in Australia have real consequences, particularly for vulnerable people in the community. The rejection and stigmatising messages and hateful rhetoric can have a huge impact on everyone, but especially on people who are already suffering and unsure and confused. People on all sides of politics need to bear in mind that heavy responsibility when they frame the debate.”
Louis advises that while prejudice should be challenged and highlighted, “Thinking back to the battle days that many of us would’ve grown up with when hate was everywhere and homophobia was everywhere and we had to fight these human rights battles from the ground up, one lesson to draw on is that we didn’t get to where we are now by attacking all of our opponents as hateful. We really attempted to shift the centre. Focusing on the centre and not on the extremists absolutely needs to be a feature of the LGBTI community’s resistance.”
Louis warns against responding to the rise in hate by “stigmatizing, othering and labelling” opponents to marriage equality and LGBTI rights, and lumping the most extreme in with the middle ground. “The people who are advocating in favour of the American transgender bathroom repeal, people who are taking a stand that are against LGBTI rights and against trans rights and in the favour of ‘traditional marriage’ and that are talking about religious freedom, that label for them - that they’re hateful - isn’t very persuasive. It’s not persuasive to the centre and it’s not persuasive to voters.”
Persuasive argument intended to change the hearts and minds of unaligned people, moderate Republican politicians and Trump supporters is vital for turning political protest into real political change. “As people are mobilising to try to take back power, we have to keep in mind how much we have in common with those people in the centre and really try to speak to them really clearly about what we’re going through: the hurt, the vulnerability of young people, the responsibility that we all have to make decisions about how human rights are going to be treated in this country. That’s going to have repercussions for a generation, and what side they’re going to be seen to be on in history.”
Building a coalition is equally important to effecting change. As George W Bush becomes the latest Republican voice to speak out against Trump, “We’re in a situation now where there are a lot of people that might have a lot in common with moderate, mainstream Republican values that are actually speaking up against the president. It’s unprecedented. And for the CIA to be leaking like this - it’s unprecedented. And for the sense of a public debate about whether the president is trying to undermine democracy, it’s really unprecedented. So the important point is for us to really welcome in a spirit of sober-minded common cause, this new alliance. Together all who are determined to preserve democratic institutions and the rule of law form a majority – if we can work together.”
HOW WE CAN BE MOST EFFECTIVE
Louis explains that Trumps agenda is being resisted on three levels – by community non-government organisations, lawyers and judges and politicians, and each of us can individually contribute to fights on all three of these fronts.
“On the legal side there’s institutions like the ACLU that have been very powerful and effective and that need support. Among the community groups there are many community groups that are taking action. It’s easy to find one that’s in line with your values and interests in supporting causes.”
As for the political aspect, Louis says it’s shocking how few Americans actually vote. “It’s something amazing like 53% of Americans voted and it was less than 1% that determined the margin of victory. That implies that if people were just able to come to the polls and these obstacles were removed around registration, then the primary season may have changed and the Electoral College may have changed. So forming an allegiance with people across the border in another state and helping people register in those red states, that seems like an obvious direction in activism.”
WHAT ABOUT BOYCOTTING AND PROTESTING?
Louis warns that some corporations are more vulnerable than others to boycotting, but some simple changes can make a powerful impact. “What are the areas where you normally spend? What are the areas where you’re spending and inadvertently supporting an agenda that you don’t actually align with? If there are areas where your consumer choices are not aligned with your values I think it’s really important to take note of that and make those personal changes.”
Louis says that people new to protesting are often drawn to a recent, immediate threat which leads them to support a particular activist group. Managing the expectations of these new recruits is critical to helping people transition from one time activists into committed activist engaged in the long-term fight against the Trump administration.
“They have a four year window plus they have a Supreme Court justice – that’s what last year’s inaction gave them. So when people are coming into the movement that’s the reality that should be talked about, not just that blithe optimism that people will be able to stop everything, because the reality is they’ve got heaps of power and they’re going to try to use it. So it’s mobilising for our future but it’s a future that’s two or four years away.”
Winnifred Louis is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. Her research interests focus on the influence of identity and norms on social decision-making. She has studied this broad topic in contexts from violence and hate crimes to politics and community activism to health and environmental choices. Winnifred is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals, book chapters, peer-reviewed conference papers, and scholarly reports. Louis has won numerous awards for research, teaching, and service, and is a longstanding activist herself.