My grandfather had twelve children and was two years shy of 50 when he voted for the first time. A product of the segregated south, he, like many other African Americans in South Carolina and across the South, feared that his third-grade education would be no match for the imposed literacy test and that the poll tax would be more than what he earned as a sharecropper. He would endure years of verbal and physical violence and tolerate being spat on in front of his wife and children before he built the courage to exercise his right to vote and cast his first ballot on November 5, 1968.
The voter disenfranchisement my grandfather faced as an undereducated, low income person of color who also had a disability, is similar to the voter intimidation millions of Americans now face as a result of new strict photo ID laws that require government-issued identification for people to cast ballots. The efforts in states such as Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kansas, to limit early voting and tighten registration and residency requirements, are estimated to impact as many as 21 million voters, most of whom are people of color, low income, seniors, and individuals with disabilities, and discourage countless others from having their voices heard this November. Even more, for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of those communities these newly instituted voting laws have a doubling affect.
Like countless other Americans, many LGBT people—particularly those of color–face socioeconomic and cultural barriers that prevent them from being able to obtain government-issued IDs. As studies show, LGBT people are far more likely live below the poverty line, face discrimination in the workplace, and intimidation in their communities. As a result, these new voter ID laws become a modern-day poll tax on the already disenfranchised.
Consider: According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 40 percent of transgender citizens who have transitioned to live full-time in a gender different from the gender assigned at birth report not having an updated driver’s license. Of the trans individuals who do have some form of government-issued ID, 41 percent of them said they’d been harassed while trying to vote and 15 percent said they’d been asked to leave the venue where they presented the ID. Some even said they were attacked or assaulted while trying to vote simply for being transgender. As a result, the Williams Institute, of UCLA, estimates that the revised voter ID laws could impact as many as 25,000 transgender Americans—again, most of whom are people of color, youth, students, those with low incomes, and people with disabilities—by either discouraging them from voting or having their ballots not counted.
There’s no denying it, our right to vote is under attack.
The importance of our vote extends beyond the Presidential race and impacts the everyday lives LGBT Americans trying to participate fully in their communities. There are four states with ballot initiatives this November that will affect the legal recognition of same-sex relationships (Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington) and at least four more states could face similar battles next year.
At a time when Americans are still being fired from their jobs in 29 states because their sexual orientation, bi-national loving and committed same-sex couples are still face being ripped apart because of challenges with their immigration statuses, and funding for health services for individuals infected, and families affected, with the HIV/AIDS epidemic is being significantly decreased, we cannot stand by and let our vote be stolen.
Organizations like GLAAD, National Center for Transgender Equality, Color of Change, the NAACP the National Action Network, are standing up to make sure all Americans understand their rights and are empowered to protect their right to vote. Take the time to find out how you can get involved.
My grandfather lived in a reconstructed world that defined personhood as White and male. Let’s not recreate that world. Let’s move forward.
Today is the last day to register to vote in 16 states! Register online here.
Daryl Hannah is the Director of Media and Community Partnerships with GLAAD.