We keep fighting because we are committed to the long game. We fight with determination, because we know optimism is not a luxury, but a responsibility – to past generations on whose shoulders we stand and to next generations on whose futures hope hangs.

In a recent episode of Amicus hosted by legal journalist Dahlia Lithwick, departing President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Sherrilyn Ifill issued a potent reminder that the escalating attacks we have seen over the past year on voting rights and on teaching the truth about race and racism in the classroom must be seen for what they are: a direct response to recent critical advances toward racial justice.

As we consider the implications of the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and continue to fight the attacks on voting rights across the country, Ifill commends us to remember the historic voter turnout in the November 2020 election and the January 5 special election in Georgia. Such deep and broad democratic engagement, particularly from Black and Brown communities, is what motivated far right lawmakers into passing drastic new measures to burden voting rights. Similarly, Ifill says, the surge of bills aiming to whitewash how American history is taught in schools should be seen as a response to the multiracial mass uprisings in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer, which elicited “empathy and a sense of justice” amongst millions of Americans.

In other words, the unprecedented attacks that we are experiencing are in reaction to the unprecedent gains that we have fought long and hard for. They must be seen as validation of our successes and a reason to fight on – not admit defeat.

For me, Ifill’s powerful comments were a call to action as I think about what comes next in our intertwined struggle for racial and LGBTQ+ justice.

Last year we began to see the impact of the organized right-wing effort to censor classroom discussions about the history and present-day reality of systemic racism and other structural inequalities, under the guise of restricting the teaching of “critical race theory.” Between January and September 2021, right wing lawmakers invoked anti-CRT rhetoric to justify 54 bills across 24 states. At least 11 are now law in 9 states. Most of these bills target discussions of race and racism in American history, banning a series of “prohibited” or “divisive” concepts for teachers and trainers operating in K-12 schools, public universities, and workplace settings. In increasing cases these laws also include bans on discussions of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Just before the new year, GLAD, with a coalition of partners, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge a newly enacted censorship law in New Hampshire that prevents educators from talking about race, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, or disability in the classroom. This law restricts New Hampshire’s teachers from being able to cover important topics like racism and slavery and puts teachers at risk of professional discipline and lawsuits if they do. It also hurts LGBTQ+ students, students of color, students with disabilities and those with intersecting identities by marginalizing and silencing them in the classroom.

Learning the full picture of America’s history – both the good and the bad – is how students come to empathize with perspectives different than their own, develop critical thinking skills, and appreciate the rich diversity of our communities and our country. It’s also how students with historically marginalized and intersectional identities can see themselves in their text books and in their communities.

In a climate that already included unprecedented attacks on transgender and LGBQ students, our opponents have taken on this new front in school curriculum with ferocity.

In addition to the New Hampshire law we are fighting in court, a bill introduced in Tennessee seeks to ban curricular materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues or lifestyles.” A bill moving in Florida would ban talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom and encourage parents to sue schools or teachers if they believe such discussions are taking place.

These attacks too must be seen for what they are: a response to the gains we have made for LGBTQ+ inclusion in recent years.

Currently, 6 states have laws supporting LGBTQ+ curriculum in school, most recently Nevada which passed its curriculum law in June 2021. Learning about the contributions of groundbreaking LGBTQ+ figures has a huge impact on young people’s sense of belonging, helping them to picture their own future. It is also how non-LGBTQ+ youth learn how to empathize with their LGBTQ+ peers and appreciate the diverse world they will live and work in as adults. Imagine what our future could look like if every student in every state learned about LGBTQ+ contributions to American history, literature, and science.

Our opponents can also see that possible future, and they are doing everything in their power to keep that future from coming to fruition. They understand that given the already seismic shifts in people’s attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people in the last decade, particularly amongst younger adults, their only strategy to win is to start early.

The fight ahead is daunting. But here’s what I also know:

While the right may have slowed down or in some situations reversed our progress, those tactics will ultimately fail. That’s because our community and movement know how to fight back, persevere, and ultimately win the long game.

Take our decades long fight to win marriage equality. Over two decades of advocacy, we won and lost state supreme court decisions, we made gains in state legislatures and saw reversals at the ballot box. But all that time we persevered – honing legal arguments and telling our stories so that our family, neighbors and coworkers came to understand what we were fighting for.

By the time GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto argued in front of the Supreme Court on behalf of same-sex couples nationwide, a majority of Americans supported the equal right to marriage and many assumed that victory was inevitable. But our victories have never been inevitable – they have only been made possible through hard work and perseverance.

We keep fighting because we are committed to the long game. We fight with determination, because we know optimism is not a luxury, but a responsibility – to past generations on whose shoulders we stand and to next generations on whose futures hope hangs.

The challenges before us may feel at times overwhelming. But we cannot let those challenges make us forget what we’ve gained.

Even against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID pandemic, escalating state legislative attacks on LGB and particularly transgender people, and growing threats to our democratic institutions, GLAD – with our partners, allies, and supporters – has accomplished life-changing victories in the past year:

  • Securing our families
    • We led coalition efforts to pass in Connecticut one of the most child-centered, inclusive, and comprehensive parentage laws in the country, ensuring that all children in the state have equal access to the security of a legal relationship to their parents.
    • We helped pass updates to Maine’s parentage laws to expand access to Voluntary Acknowledgments of Parentage, a simple mechanism long available to establish parentage but previously inaccessible to many parents, including LGBTQ+ parents, in Maine.
    • We supported successful efforts to reverse the Trump-era policy of denying citizenship to children born through assisted reproduction, ensuring the U.S. State Department now recognizes the citizenship of children born abroad to LGBTQ+ married parents where at least one parent is a U.S. citizen and the child has a genetic or gestational tie to either parent
  • Protecting our youth
    • We submitted an amicus brief that contributed to a ruling from the First Circuit Court of Appeals upholding Massachusetts’ anti-bullying law and affirming the inclusion of “emotional harm” in the definition of bullying.
    • We launched a new website “Safe Schools for All” with movement partners, which provides tools to students, parents, and supporters to take action against bullying.
    • We helped pass reforms to Maine’s juvenile legal system that will divert young children from incarceration and ensure that when youth are incarcerated, they have a legal advocate in their corner able to articulate their concerns and ask for a closer look at their circumstances.
  • Safeguarding our health
    • We worked with partners to successfully advocate for an innovative law in Maine that expands access to PrEP by authorizing pharmacists to dispense the powerful medication that nearly completely prevents the transmission of HIV, while connecting individuals to vital healthcare services.
  • Advancing equality
    • We helped win a major ruling from the highest court in Massachusetts, holding for the first time that peremptory challenges based on a prospective juror’s sexual orientation are prohibited by both the Massachusetts and federal constitutions.
    • We helped pass new laws in Rhode Island that increase housing security and reduce threats of harassment and violence in public spaces for LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders.
    • We successfully advocated to the NH Department of Motor Vehicles to revise the process for nonbinary and transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their driver’s license or state ID, eliminating the requirement of a health care provider’s sworn certification that the applicant is under the provider’s care for “change of gender.”
  • Defending against attacks

In 2022, there are more fights to tackle together. And we’re ready.

  • We are ready to join with all those who care about democracy and the promise of justice and equality for all people in the critical fight to protect and expand voting rights.
  • We are ready pass federal nondiscrimination protections through the Equality Act, to explicitly add LGBTQ+ people to our nation’s civil rights laws for the first time and to expand protections based on race and sex.
  • We’re ready to stop the spread of laws targeting LGBTQ+ people across the country – that’s why GLAD is challenging a dangerous law in Tennessee that forces business to post signage that sends the message that transgender customers are not welcome.
  • We are ready to make sure LGBTQ+ people can age with dignity, respect, and the support and care we all deserve. GLAD is representing an older woman in Maine who was denied access to an assisted living center simply because she is transgender.
  • We are ready for all our families to have the legal security we need. That’s why GLAD is leading a coalition to build support for a new law that would ensure all families are protected in Massachusetts, no matter how they are formed.
  • We are ready to ensure everyone who needs it can access PrEP to prevent HIV transmission, no matter their economic status, insurance, or proximity to healthcare resources
  • We are ready to address the systemic racism and lack of LGBTQ+ support and competency in our systems of child welfare
  • We are ready to stop the brutality of our systems of incarceration and intercept the school to juvenile justice to prison pipeline so that all young people have the chance to thrive
  • We are ready to close remaining health insurance gaps so that everyone can access the care they need.
  • We are ready to fight efforts to ban lessons and conversations about race, disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom and instead establish model, inclusive curriculum.
  • And so much more.

At the end of Ifill’s Amicus interview she posits: if we care about the future, what other options do we have but to fight?

“Are we good for it?” Ifill asks.

I know I am, and I know you are too. No one said that journey to justice would be short or easy, but together we will persevere each step of the way.