Don’t give up on LGBTQ rights, Conference on World Affairs panelists urge

While the Trump administration brings cause for concern for LGBTQ rights, it’s not time to panic yet, a group of panelists agreed at a Conference on World Affairs panel at CU Boulder Friday.

Titled “Two Steps Forward, One Back?: LGBTQ Rights,” the talk discussed the state of LGBTQ rights in America under the new presidential administration. The speakers were Ellie Schafer, openly lesbian White House staffer in the Obama administration; Joel Gallant, HIV specialist and gay man; and Eugene Sepulveda, Texas-based gay rights activist and businessman. The director of CU’s Gender and Sexuality Center, Scarlet Bowen, moderated the discussion.

The three panelists spoke about their experiences in LGBTQ activism over the years and the hopes and fears they have for LGBTQ rights going forward. Gallant said that when he was at the CWA in 2015, he felt more optimistic, and is less so now. He said the Supreme Court is his biggest concern regarding LGBTQ rights, as President Trump has already appointed one conservative judge to the bench, Boulder’s Neil Gorsuch, and may have the opportunity to appoint another.

Despite these fears, the three agreed that it was not the time to panic. While Trump’s views on LGBTQ issues are nebulous and Vice President Mike Pence enacted a strong homophobic agenda as governor of Indiana, it would be difficult if not impossible to roll back protections like same-sex marriage. Additionally, they cited the fact that the majority of Americans are in favor of LGBTQ rights as a reason not to be discouraged.

“The biggest predicator of homophobia is age,” Gallant said, explaining that younger Americans are more accepting of LGBTQ people than older generations, which gives him hope.

The panelists said that currently they are most concerned about the fact that data on LGBTQ populations is being taken off the 2020 census, but Sepulveda named the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank that conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity as it related to public policy, as a valuable alternative.

They also expressed significant fear and concern over the situation in Chechnya, where gay men are being rounded up, tortured and at times killed, but said they had little advice for how to combat the situation.

“I’ve tried to ignore Chechnya this week because I wanted to be optimistic here,” Sepulveda said. “It’s inconceivable — I don’t want it to be true, but we all need to be thinking about it.”

Gallant said that LGBTQ people in America should have a sense of solidarity with people who are living in countries where it is much more dangerous to be LGBTQ, including Russia.

“We should all look at ourselves as brothers and sisters globally, not just here in the U.S.,” he said.

The panelists also discussed the importance of reaching across the aisle to try and implement positive change for LGBTQ people, and being willing to work with anyone who is receptive, regardless of ideological difference. Sepulveda named younger members of the Republican Party and those who are ideological libertarians as possible allies on the right.

“We’ve got to invite our friends to join us in decency, in respect for human life,” Sepulveda said.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at

Carina Julig

Carina Julig is managing editor of the CU Independent. A SoCal native, she is a sophomore at CU majoring in journalism and political science and minoring in space. Follow her on twitter at @CarinaJulig.

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