Arizona LGBT People Worry About Their Rights Under Trump

By Stina Sieg
Published: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 9:00am
Updated: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 1:24pm

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Jenni Vega
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
As a young queer woman of color, Jenni Vega feels vulnerable under the Trump administration, especially after recent tweets by the president - and after the Department of Justice said LGBT people aren't protected from employment discrimination.

Since late last year, we’ve been periodically speaking to a group of LGBT people in the Valley about how the election has been affecting them. Each time they’ve said they’re worried — but more for other minorities than themselves. After President Donald Trump tweeted about transgender people in the military and his justice department argued that civil rights law does not apply to sexual orientation, we checked in with them again.

A young queer woman and two middle-aged gay men were doing what most folks do when they haven’t seen each other in a while: sharing pictures of their pets.

The last time they were all seated around this small kitchen table, they were scared — scared for Latinos, for people in the country illegally, for Muslims.

They still worry for these groups, Tony Moya said.

“But, if you start looking at what’s happened since the last time we met, to me there’s an onslaught against the gay community,” he said.

The 53-year-old isn’t surprised, even though Trump called himself a friend to LGBT people during the campaign.

Brendan Mahoney, 60, also saw this coming.

“All of our experience, we can spot a phony a mile away,” he said. “And Trump is a phony.”

Jenni Vega has friends with trans partners in the military, and the 20-year-old said their futures are now uncertain thanks to a few Trump tweets.

“And so even though it doesn’t affect me personally, it affects those who I love personally,” Vega said.

No one here is planning to join the military, but they still feel targeted by this administration. In one specific instance, the justice department has argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect gay people from workplace discrimination. And more generally, they feel Trump has helped embolden homophobia and transphobia.

Tony Moya and Button the cat
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Moya says banning trans troops would be a solution to a "made-up problem." Moya's worried about Russia and North Korea, not the gender identity of the people defending the country.

Moya said Trump has “opened the floodgates,” especially legislation aimed at rolling back LGBT rights. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, politicians have introduced more than 100 such bills in state legislatures this year. Many of those measures would allow businesses to exclude LGBT people based on religious liberty.

“They’re not sleeping at night,” Moya said. “You know, they’re thinking of other creative ways to attack your rights. So we can’t rest.”

Staying awake looks different to everyone here. For Moya, it means continuing to hold fundraisers for promising liberal candidates — and supporting young people who can take this fight into the future. Young people like Jenni Vega, who uses the pronoun “they” and identifies as Chicanx, a gender-neutral form of Chicana.

“The more comfortable you become, the more you think you’re settled in, and then hurricane comes, and you’re not at all prepared,” they said.

For Vega, preparing includes encouraging local LGBT groups to be more accepting of young people and people of color.

Brendan Mahoney
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Mahoney says a trans troop ban would affect him - and everyone in the country. "Injustice to one is injustice to all," he said.

And as for Brendan Mahoney, he feels morally called to resist the current administration. Mahoney said Trump is a bully who goes after anyone he perceives as weak.

“And bullies only have power when we, the bystanders let them do it,” he said. “It’s up to us to shut it down and say this is not OK.”

Mahoney is doing that through his church. He’s worked to get every congregation in this region of the United Church Christ to become sanctuary churches. He believes Trump keeps drawing lines in the sand and saying the bad guy is on the other side. Mahoney has seen that with sexual orientation and with immigration.

“Don’t wait for the line in the sand to be in front of you, and there’s no one left to speak for you,” he said. “You need to speak up now for other people.”

Everyone at this table feels vulnerable under this administration. But all believe tomorrow, anyone could become a target.

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