Guest blog by Tanya Tassi, Policy Manager for CenterLink. Tanya first got involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy at the Wisconsin AIDS Resource Center at the age of 17 where she eventually became an HIV test counselor. She continued her work with the LGBTQ+ community; first at Nashville AIDS Project, then at her local PFLAG chapter, and finally at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and CenterLink. She is the proud founder of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s “Senior Mobilization Squad”, a coalition of older adults who advocate for senior and LGBTQ+ rights.
The LGBTQ+ community includes people from all racial, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, making us uniquely positioned to improve voter turnout and make a difference in election results. This year’s presidential election has high stakes for LGBTQ+ people, with laws around anti-discrimination protections in housing, education, health care, and more hanging in the balance.
While nearly nine million LGBTQ+ adults are registered and eligible to vote in the 2020 general election, 21% of LGBTQ adults are not yet registered to vote according to a recent study by the Williams Institute.
That is because LGBTQ+ voters often face an uphill battle when trying to make their voices heard at the ballot box. In some states, a person’s identification documentation must match their birth-assigned gender, which could prevent a transgender person from registering to vote and casting their ballot. In over 25 states, LGBTQ+ people are still at risk of being refused housing or denied services simply because of who they are. This type of discrimination sends a message that our community is “less than”, creating the belief that LGBTQ+ voices are not needed or valued when it comes to shaping public policies. Voter suppression often targets people who fall below the poverty level; and LGBTQ+ people frequently fall into a lower socioeconomic status than the population at large.
CenterLink, along with over 250 LGBTQ+ community centers across the country, works to bring awareness to the importance of registering to vote and showing up at the polls. LGBTQ+ centers spend precious resources on ensuring their communities and lawmakers are educated on issues that affect the daily lives of people who identify as LGBTQ+ because they recognize that systemic, lasting change happens when people vote.
Every year community centers of every size hold National Voter Registration Day events on the fourth Tuesday of September. This year will look slightly different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the many challenges that come with our new normal, National Voter Registration Day planning remains a high priority for LGBTQ+ community centers. LGBTQ+ centers also bring awareness to the need to register to vote all year long by engaging with their communities through social media, town hall events, and one-on-one conversations. Voter registration forms and instructions on how to register are always available to staff, donors, volunteers, and clients.
Eliminating conversion therapy, military service, racial inequities, ending HIV, homelessness, trans rights, aging with dignity, domestic violence, immigration, being counted in the census, adoption and foster care, and equality….all these issues intersect with and affect people who identify as LGBTQ+. That is why CenterLink continues to educate the LGBTQ+ community on why voter registration is vital to ensure that our voices are heard, and that we not only survive, but thrive.