HRC president on anti-LGBTQ laws amid state of emergency: ‘My heart breaks’

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, tells theGrio that the LGBTQ+ community is in a crisis all across the United States.

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The LGBTQ+ community is in a crisis all across the United States, says Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“The LGBTQ community is facing an imminent health and safety threat,” said Robinson of increased anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and threats of violence as more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills and at least 75 laws have been proposed or passed across the country in 2023 – nearly triple the number from last year.

Kelley Robinson, Human Rights Campaign president, speaks at a Washington rally that drew more than 1,000 people on March 31 and was organized by the Queer Youth Assembly in honor of Transgender Day of Visibility. Robinson told theGrio that “our trans family and our trans youth” are especially at risk. (Photo: Joy Asico/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

In response to the wave of legislation – legal bans ranging from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in schools to prohibiting the use of bathrooms – the Human Rights Campaign recently issued a state of emergency warning for LGBTQ+ Americans and their families. The issuance is a first of its kind for the nation’s largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other members of the queer and nonbinary community.

Robinson, the first Black female president of the organization, founded in 1980, told theGrio that HRC felt it necessary to ring the alarm not just because of the growing number of bills and laws coming from Republican politicians, but also because of the real-life danger they are creating for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m talking about bomb threats to pediatricians that care for our children, armed people at drag queen story hours, attacks to the places that we work and that we shop,” she explained. 

The Human Rights Campaign also generated an LGBTQ+ guidebook to help members of the community navigate laws in each state, know their rights and know where to go if their civil rights are violated. 

“We need to make sure that as we’re entering a busy season of travel, that people have this information,” Robinson said.

A gay rights supporter demonstrates in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington in December. The head of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said recent bills and laws pose a threat to the community. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

HRC will continue to provide updates to the guidebook and will “[apply] interventions to reduce this harm wherever possible,” she noted.

The 3-million-member organization is also calling on elected officials and businesses to do their part to protect the LGBTQ+ community from harm, including ensuring that employers are providing benefits that are supportive of LGBTQ+ families and publicly “fighting back” against state laws.

Robinson, a years-long organizer, particularly wants to see more from the White House. While the Biden-Harris administration deserves its flowers for being the “most pro-LGBTQ administration in history” and its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ equality – including President Joe Biden signing into law the Respect for Marriage Act and an expansive executive order protecting LGBTQ+ citizens – she said she wants to see the same boots-on-the-ground as the White House’s response last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Robinson, who was executive director at Planned Parenthood at the time, recalled the whole-of-government, “full-throated and full-chested” response to protect abortion and reproductive rights, including the launch of

“We need that same level of response for the crisis that is facing the LGBTQ community, especially our trans family and our trans youth,” she told theGrio.

President Joe Biden (center) and a host of Democratic politicians react after he signed the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 13, 2022. HRC president Kelley Robinson said she’d like to see further action from the White House in the wake of anti-LGBTQ legislation. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“My heart breaks,” said Robinson when asked about the impact of anti-LGBTQ legislation on young people.

“Even when these bills aren’t signed into law,” she explained, “what they do is create a culture of fear, a culture of concern.”

According to The Trevor Project, 41 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Additionally, transgender, nonbinary and Black and brown LGBTQ+ youth reported higher rates than their white peers. The Trevor Project also found that nearly one in three LGBTQ+ young people reported having poor mental health due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation.

Robinson denounced Republican legislators who argued that their policies prohibiting various aspects of LGBTQ+ identity and services are to protect children from indoctrination. She called the notion “outrageous.”

“They’re doing nothing to deal with the number-one killer of our children,” she said, “which are guns.”

“We need them to stop pandering to … this MAGA Republican extremist base,” she added, “and to actually deal with the issues that are facing our community [and] the crisis that’s facing our kids.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the Parental Rights in Education bill at a school in Shady Hills on March 28, 2022. The measure, which some called the “don’t say gay” bill, is the kind of legislation the HRC says contributes to a dangerous climate for LGBTQ people. (Photo: Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

Despite concerns over the current climate, Robinson is hopeful that American voters can change the temperature in states across the country. “Seventy percent of Americans believe that our communities should be protected, in terms of nondiscrimination protections,” she asserted. “We’ve even identified 62 million voters across this country that prioritize LGBTQ issues when deciding who to vote for.”

“We truly believe in the power that people have to organize and to make a difference,” Robinson contended.

This Pride Month, she is calling on community leaders, elected officials and businesses to “put some skin in the game” by taking meaningful action. Lawmakers, for example, could propose alternative policy agendas, and businesses could make bigger commitments beyond selling Pride paraphernalia for profit.

“It’s not just about a rainbow flag this year,” said Robinson.

Leaning into optimism, she noted, “For every Florida out there, there’s also a Michigan that’s put in place historic non-nondiscrimination protections for the community. For every Texas, there’s also a Minnesota that passes a historic ban on gender and conversion therapy in the state.”

“This is an important moment,” she continued, “where we have got to come together to make sure that the light outshines the darkness, and we can do that … Pride is a great opportunity for us to.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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