by Roy Steele
Voting in a presidential election is like participating in a super bowl to me. Waiting for the polls to close and watching the returns on election night is a time-honored November tradition that I’ve observed (save for when I lived in England) since I was a little kid growing up in New Jersey.
Politics and elections are in my blood, and I’ve had a front-row seat to contests at every level. I’ve witnessed nail biters, uncontested routs, landslides and bitter defeats. I've worked for candidates to be elected, and campaigned to defeat many others. The 2016 presidential election was no different.
Despite having a vote by mail ballot, I wanted to go to the polls to soak up the energy and see the environment where people were casting their votes. I walked over to San Francisco’s City Hall to turn in my ballot in person. With half a million registered voters in San Francisco, and seventy percent turnout in 2016, there was a steady stream of people turning in their ballots.
I snapped some pictures and spoke to a fellow collecting and processing the ballots by mail. He said they were busy all day long. I chatted with some voters, and the general consensus was that Hillary Clinton would prevail, and we all were excited by the prospect of electing the first woman President of the United States.
It bugs me that during a presidential election year, major television news networks are projecting winners, before everyone across our vast the country has voted. People living in western states are at a disadvantage due to the time difference. When faced with casting a vote after work, some people think their vote won’t make a difference, and they choose to not vote.
I thought about that as I turned on the evening news and saw the projected winners for many eastern states. As the polls closed in the midwest, and many races were too close to call, I began to get nervous. I thought that Secretary Clinton would win running away, and it was becoming apparent that the race for president was much closer than anyone predicted.
I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, Senator John Kerry in 2004, Senator Barack Obama in 2008, President Obama in 2012, and Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2016. I know what it’s like to be on the winning side, and far more often I know what it’s like to lose.
As time went on and a winner became less clear, I started thinking about what a Donald Trump victory would mean. Trump’s vitriolic campaign rhetoric echoed in my head. I thought about his bigoted attacks on my Latino friends, and tried to imagine how his Islamophobia would impact a religious minority. Trump’s belief that it’s ok to grab a woman “by the pussy” flashed through my mind, and I was horrified that many men might believe it’s okay to mistreat women. I tried to dismiss my fears that a homophobic Trump who doesn’t believe in marriage equality, or equality at all, would appoint judges that oppose gay civil rights.
I was nauseous and felt sick to my stomach. I had no choice but to I switch off the television early. I wasn’t prepared for a Donald Trump victory, and hoped that when I woke up the next day, that we’d be celebrating a historic win. For the first time in my life I couldn't watch the returns. This felt personal and I was having a hard time processing the results.
Over the next few days I instructed anyone I spoke to or exchanged text messages with, to not discuss the election. I didn’t want to know the results. To stay in denial I stayed away from my phone and computer and iPad, and was disengaged from social media.
Even though I sensed that Trump had won, I knew in my heart that he would never be my President. He lacked a moral compass, the gravitas, empathy, compassion, intelligence, and experience, to be a leader. He divides people and doesn’t have a clue about what it takes to unite our nation.
When I saw a headline screaming at me from a newsstand, confirming that Donald Trump was the President-elect, I looked away and tried not to weep.
I lost that battle too.
straight talk in a queer world.
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