The presidential election last November brought instrumental advances for the LGBTQ community and its allies. With the reelection of President Barack Obama, the U.S. will have another term with the only sitting president to support marriage equality. Three more states now allow same-sex marriages after voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington all took to the ballot in November, marking the first time that marriage equality was passed by a popular vote. To top it all off, the 113th Congress, which began at the start of this year, has a record number of LGBTQ members in the House of Representatives (six), and with the swearing-in of Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the Senate will have its first openly gay member.
I remember piling onto my roommate’s bed with my friends to watch the election results come in, and with each of these LGBTQ victories, I was overcome with joy. I was watching history being made — history that I felt was imperative. Elections are one of the few chances U.S. citizens have to participate in our democracy and use their voices. After the results of this November election, it is clear that the people have spoken.
The people we elect are meant to be a representation of us and our diverse beliefs and ideologies. In Congress, they should vote as we would. The beauty of our system is we have the chance to re-elect officials we believe have done a good job or elect new ones we believe could do better.
That being said, I have to hand it to elected officials — their jobs are hard. They have to do their best to represent the people who elected them while also staying true to their own core values and beliefs. And because they are constantly in the public eye, these core values and beliefs are heard often and, therefore, have a heavy influence on those listening.
When the leaders we elect stand up and say that LGBTQ rights are worth fighting for, that changes the perspective of the people who hear them. And when our president publicly announced his support of same-sex marriage, I could only hope public opinion will follow his lead. When I watched as a record number of LGBTQ men and women were elected into Congress, I could begin to see the shift in public opinion. And when the people of Washington, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota voted in favor of marriage equality for the first time in U.S. history, I knew public opinion was changing — and changing for the good.
But the fight isn’t over. The presidential race was close, and if Obama had not been reelected, the current momentum of the gay rights movement might have hit a speed bump. If the states that got to vote on marriage equality voted against it, then opponents would have the chance to say this isn’t what the people want. And if the LGBTQ members of Congress weren’t elected or reelected, the LGBTQ community would not have representation in our government. That’s why it’s essential public opinion continues to change, and that change starts with more of our elected leaders fighting for gay rights and helping the LGBTQ community achieve the equality they deserve.