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What’s at Stake: the Significance of Environmental Conservation and LGBTQ+ Inclusive Policy in the 2020 Election

As November swiftly approaches and we prepare for what will undoubtedly be an extremely contentious election season, we want to take a moment to pause and look around at the precise state of America at this moment in time. Aside from Supreme Court nominations, a democracy currently bending more and more towards authoritarianism, and a clear, concise plan when navigating a global pandemic, we wanted to examine what’s at stake—specifically, what’s at stake for two places of intersection for us personally: environmental conservation and LGBTQ+ inclusive policy. 

Photo courtesy of Gaze at the National Parks

As the storyteller of America, the National Park Service operates at an interesting point of intersectionality; not only does it work to protect and preserve the public lands for current and future generations, it also works to preserve the history of the nation, both its triumphs and its failures. The overlay of public lands and history has a multitude of layers within it, from environmental concerns to scientific discoveries, to workers’ rights and the plight of marginalized people, NPS paints with a broad brush. 

While the recent passing of the Great American Outdoors Act will certainly boost the budget and complete many of the projects on the NPS maintenance backlog, it is inaccurate to view the passing of this bill as an indicator of this administration’s prioritizing of environmental preservation or care for outdoor spaces. In fact, their actions regarding the environment speak for themselves—the Trump Administration’s exhaustive and comprehensive track record is published by the NPCA, the National Parks Conservation Association. 

Photo courtesy of Gaze at the National Parks

Many of the actions taken and passed by the Trump administration center on the undoing of laws set to protect public lands from potentially harmful and dangerous activity, such as oil and gas drilling. This is merely a small indicator of the true priorities of this administration; the environment and its protection is simply not on their agenda. Furthermore, it is possible that there were ulterior motives with the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act, namely, a political boost for its Senate authors.  

Both Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, the Republican Senators that sponsored the bill, are incumbents facing tough races in their states. Both stand the possibility of being unseated by their Democratic rivals, former and current Democratic Governors, respectively. With both of these states containing numerous NPS sites, it stands to reason that along with championing the bill for the benefit of the NPS, these Senators would receive a boost in their polls when it came to their environmental policy, even though their overall Senate record regarding this topic would say otherwise. Even the President, who saw the act as a clear win, had the majority of the pushback regarding it from members of his own party and soon after finalized plans for opening leasing to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.  

The track record of the current administration has not only actively undone environmental protections that keep land, animals, and ecosystems safe from disruption and extinction, they have also further marginalized the LGBTQ+ community as a way to drum up support for its political base. 

Most gay people remember June 26, 2015, for its incredible significance in their plight for equity and hard-fought rights. On this day, the Supreme Court, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, officially ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and that these marriages must be recognized nationwide. With the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruled unconstitutional two years earlier, it seemed only a matter of time for this victory, the legal right for gay people to marry in the United States, to come to fruition. 

Another landmark victory came earlier this summer when the Supreme Court ruled it illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County. This case, like those in 2013 and 2015, helped further civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community, but in some ways this case was much more significant because over the last four years, we have been under constant assault. That is to say, the LGBTQ+ community has been under assault for much of history, but with what seemed to be a turning of the tide in the earlier part of this decade, the regression and exacerbation of this age-old battle brings deepened concern. While in the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre, then candidate/now president Trump, made this case to LGTBQ+ people at the 2016 RNC convention: “As your President I will do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens.” But in his effort to deliver on this promise, he has in fact done quite the opposite. 

Photo courtesy of Gaze at the National Parks

The Human Rights Campaign publishes a succinct list of the exact actions the Trump administration has taken to further marginalize the LGBTQ+ community. Some of them include banning transgender people from serving in the military, discharging members of the military with an HIV-positive status, eliminating guidance to ensure protection for transgender students, and eliminating information about LGBTQ+ rights and protections from government websites, to name a few. This administration has shown that if nothing else, Trump is an incredible opponent to the LGBTQ+ community, actively working against our rights and protection. 

The same could be said of most minority groups of the United States, be it on basis of religion, race, gender, or sexuality, as we watch as tactics of oppression, control, and division become commonplace. And while we shouldn’t be surprised by his lies or his actions toward any minority group since taking office, we should be alarmed; alarmed at the hard-fought victories of civil rights leaders that came before us that seem to now be in danger, alarmed by actions of indifference toward hatred, alarmed by the lies that push the envelope of what is acceptable in the treatment of others. But that alarm should also extend to the environment and its protection. For the two of us, it certainly does.  

When it comes to reflecting on the past four years and the systematic effort to distort the truth and create division, it is clear that the point we are at will either propel us forward as a nation which actively campaigns against hatred, domestic and abroad, or instead, embraces it. Looking at what is at stake, the importance in understanding, discussing, and participating in our national discourse is more important than ever. The important victories in both civil rights and environmental protection are too important to be undone, challenged, or unrecognized.  

And so we ask you: what part of your existence is currently at stake? And which of your core values are currently vulnerable due to the work of this administration? If you are someone fortunate enough to escape marginalization and endangerment due to this administration’s agenda, then we ask you to look at those around you. We are certain that you are probably only one degree away from someone whose life, presence, livelihood, rights, and protections are absolutely at stake. 

Register to vote. Then vote.

Header photo: Courtesy of Stonewall National Monument/NPS

Dustin Ballard and Michael Ryan are the co-hosts and co-creators of Gaze at the National Parks, the Podcast, a show that features one hiking trail in one national park, one park at a time.

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