In early October, Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature proposed a swath of anti-trans bills, one that bans gender-affirming surgery for minors, and three more that limit participation in sports for trans-youth, which have passed through the Wisconsin House and Senate with little difficulty. Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ quiet assurances to veto these bills provides little solace to the trans community, who have been living under constant fear of their rights and access to life-saving healthcare being stripped out from under their feet. Evers’ short-sighted approach, which mirrors that of Democratic lawmakers facing off against anti-queer Republicans across the country, is reflective of the Democratic Party’s general strategy in fighting the right. They make concession after concession to right-wing politicians as a means of “keeping the peace” but always at the expense of the most oppressed.
Earlier this year, Evers approved a state budget that included a 40% increase in private school voucher enrollment, a sellout that would cripple the state’s public school system. Alongside this, Evers pessimistically slashed his own proposed funding for K-12 schools by 60% for the sake of compromising with the Republican dominated legislature, despite a $7 billion budget surplus and his self-anointment as Wisconsin’s “education governor”. No measure of austerity will ever be “enough” for the right wing, or for the ruling class who work through both parties. Yet instead of presenting a strong alternative to this agenda, Evers and the Democrats limit their scope to (often unsuccessfully) fending off Republican attacks, even when they have the capacity to bypass them.
The Democrats’ Meager Opposition
Selling out the working class isn’t merely the fault of individual Democrats like Evers, it is a doctrine embedded in both parties of the capitalist elite, including the whole DNC. In April, Biden’s White House passed a toothless “ban” on state-wide discrimination against trans athletes that nevertheless allowed individual school districts to legally continue barring trans athletes from competing in sports programs.
Now, anti-LGBTQ political maneuvers are appearing on a federal scale. Republicans, particularly the reactionary Freedom Caucus, added 40 anti-LGBTQ “riders” into a draft version of the federal budget. Seven of them would restrict federal funding for gender-affirming care, cutting this service for people on Medicare, Medicaid, and federal employees, among other groups. Seven more bills would ban the use of funds to fly pride flags at federal buildings, ten would restrict funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs across the country, and 11 would end protections for same-sex couples across the nation. The temporary budget currently on Biden’s desk that will fund the government through February does not include these riders, but the Freedom Caucus will likely continue to pursue this agenda when the budget question inevitably comes up again this winter.
If Democrats were at all interested in seriously fighting for the rights of marginalized communities, they would be sounding the alarm on these bills. They would be calling for mass rallies and forcing votes on counter-proposals to permanently protect LGBTQ rights. Instead, they’ve done little more than send a strongly-worded letter expressing their disapproval. When Democrats held a majority in both houses of congress in 2021, the Progressive Caucus – headed by AOC, Cori Bush, and other members of “The Squad” – possessed a golden opportunity to leverage the strength of their members to pressure then Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass a proposal for a trans-inclusive Medicare-For-All through congress, in similar fashion to how the Freedom Caucus is utilizing an opening to attack the queer community now.
A Militant Mass Movement Is Needed
The Democrats’ preference toward maintaining working relationships with the Republican party over boldly taking a stand against oppression has disastrous consequences. The Democratic Party has blundered the fight for queer rights for years, enabling Republicans nationwide to strip rights at-will.
Biden’s 2020 presidential platform included eliminating queer youth homelessness and ending the AIDS epidemic. Despite being in office for almost three years, he’s done nothing to make good on those promises – and neither has any other Democrat. Homelessness hasn’t decreased, the price of rent continues to skyrocket, millions of Americans still don’t have healthcare, and HIV treatment remains profoundly expensive.
Nationwide rent control and widespread investment in affordable housing programs would address the housing crisis among queer youth and the entire working class, but Democrats across the board have actively opposed this kind of legislation when proposed. Medicare for All would make essential medication more accessible, but Biden said he would veto it if it ever came to his desk. At the end of the day, many initiatives that would materially improve the lives of queer people cut into the profits of the capitalist class, which are off-limits to the Republicans and Democrats alike, no matter how much they claim to be the party of the working class. Now more than ever, the struggle for queer liberation needs to radically change course away from the Democratic Party.
We need to channel our resistance – not into votes for the Democrats or faith in the capitalist establishment to “do the right thing,” but towards mass movements for substantive change. Pressure from a mass feminist movement won Roe v. Wade, and the combative ACT UP movement secured important gains for queer people in healthcare across the country at a time where they also faced threats to their existence. Strong movements based on tactics of class-struggle are proven to deliver the gains ordinary people need and move society forward, and similar movements need to be reignited now in the wake of these destructive attacks looming overhead. This can only be done by fully breaking with the Democratic Party the big-business duopoly and by creating an independent workers party that organizes working class people around militantly fighting to protect and expand our rights.