The Progress We’ve Made – and Our Promise to LGBTQ Youth

I often hear mentors and friends in the LGBTQ community – people I trust and admire – share variations on a common sentiment: I know this moment feels bad, but I remember what it was like in the ‘90s, or the ‘70s, or the ‘50s. Believe it or not, things are better today. And we have to keep hope alive that they’ll be better tomorrow.

I’ll be honest, on especially bad days, that message can feel out of touch. It’s hard to imagine a *worse* day than the day a young transgender person’s healthcare is taken away, or the day their parents are investigated for abuse just because they affirm their child’s identity.

But through it all, I take to heart the words of previous generations – the folks who lived under McCarthyism, fought back at Stonewall, endured the AIDS epidemic, and won the right to marry. I believe their hard work has made our lives better.

And I believe our hard work today will make more lives better in the future.

With the backdrop of the 2024 elections and legislative sessions, we know this year will bring more attacks on our community – trans youth, in particular. At the same time, Americans are starting 2024 with more LGBTQ elected officials than ever before. We have the most pro-equality federal administration in our nation’s history. We see ourselves and our families reflected on TV and billboards, in boardrooms and C-suites.

Our country still has a long way to go, no doubt. But when we take stock of the progress our movement has made, we can have more confidence in the tools and strategies that brought us where we are today. They can point us toward a path forward.

In the year ahead, the Gill Foundation will work with our grantees to double down on tried-and-true strategies, updating them to meet the challenges of our time.

While our programmatic investments are diverse, I see them aligning around three broad goals:

  • Reclaim the narrative: build stronger familiarity and support by sharing our stories – especially those of trans youth and their families – in ways that resonate with broad and diverse audiences
  • Advance and defend LGBTQ rights: leverage administrative action to gain new protections, while reinforcing litigation efforts to defend and expand existing rights
  • Resource the front lines: equip states that have been hit hardest with resources to mobilize public support and beat back anti-LGBTQ attacks

As we set out on a new year, I’m especially encouraged by the innovation, fortitude, and grit that our grantees and partners demonstrate in the face of these attacks.

Consider the incredible storytelling being led by trans youth and their families – like the GenderCool Project’s feature on ABC, showcasing six teenagers’ inspiring stories as young trans people. Or a new video from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “Healthcare Is Caring,” which reminds us that what all of our kids need most is love and support.

This year, these grantees and others will build on these successes and seize more opportunities to share stories that win hearts and minds on a national scale.

While we continue the long-term work of building familiarity and shifting the public narrative, there are also immediate opportunities to advance and defend LGBTQ rights.

Gill Foundation grantees are hard at work to secure new administrative protections for vulnerable groups like youth and seniors, including bans on conversion therapy for minors and state aging policies that include services for LGBTQ and HIV+ elders.

On the litigation front, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund is leveraging the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. A successful case in Georgia ensured that transgender workers have coverage for essential healthcare, while an ongoing case in Tennessee aims to achieve the same for state employees.

As protections like these advance, we know opponents of LGBTQ equality will continue to push harmful policies – and movement litigators will continue to push back. For instance, when Alabama and Florida enacted bans on healthcare for transgender youth, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights swiftly filed lawsuits challenging them. Of the 22 states with similar bans, movement litigators have already filed challenges in 14.

At every step, our advocates move quickly and methodically to protect LGBTQ youth, and they’ll continue to do so up to the Supreme Court.

As we take stock of the challenges ahead, we know many of the toughest battles will take place in local communities.

That’s why the Gill Foundation is equipping state equality organizations – our movement’s first responders – to rapidly and effectively counter anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and mobilize support. This means providing networks for real-time learning and knowledge sharing with peers in other states.

Take the debate around parental rights, which anti-LGBTQ voices have used to justify everything from book bans to “forced outing” policies in schools. In Kentucky, LGBTQ advocates at the Fairness Education Fund called out the hypocrisy of using the guise of parental rights to strip away the rights of trans youth and their parents, like their right to access healthcare. This message resonated – because it’s true: Who knows better than loving parents, with guidance from trusted doctors, what care is best for their child?

Fairness Education Fund shared what they learned with groups in other states, and together they began to reshape the national discourse around healthcare. As the public conversation changed, soon governors on both sides of the aisle – even national figures like Nikki Haley and Chris Christie – began echoing this new frame on parental rights.

By fostering connections like these between states and providing resources to put ideas into action, we create a positive feedback loop for honing effective strategies and scaling them across the country.

In states where the anti-LGBTQ voices are loudest and the assaults on our rights are most severe, I know that’s where statements like “things are better today” can sound the most out of touch.

But those are also the places it’s most important to maintain hope that progress is possible. Where the challenges are greatest, so are the opportunities to make a real difference. We must remain committed to the states that have the potential to reshape the trajectory of our ongoing struggle for equality.

Tim Gill once said: “Every increment of justice you make, makes someone’s life better.” Generations before us succeeded in making our lives better – persistently, deliberately, step by step. Let’s continue the work they began. Let’s embrace their sense of hope and resolve. LGBTQ youth deserve nothing less.