Right after Trump had been inaugurated, I met my friend Mo at the Eagle, a gay bar in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
“I can’t help but be scared,” he said to me. “People like me, with Trump as president, what happens to us?”
It was a strange moment. At first I wasn’t sure what Mo, short for Mohammed, was referring to — people like me. Then it occurred to me that Mo was right.
People like him should be scared.
Mo is from Syria. He’s Muslim. He’s gay. And he’s living here illegally.
“So what does happen to you?” I asked Mo. “I have no idea,” he responded. “I can’t go back to Syria, you know? This is my home now.”
Mo has lived in the States for nine years. He has been involved with the same man for seven of those years. He’s a part of my community.
“I can’t go back to that world where I have no voice, where all I can do is hide,” he said. He laughed, but there was no humor in it. “And yet, now I can’t help but wonder if maybe that is exactly what is going to happen here. I moved to the U.S. to have a voice, to be open about who I am, to be free. Now I turn on the news and I begin to feel as if I’m everything this country hates: gay, Arab, immigrant. I’m treated like a terrorist when I actually love this country.”
Nizar is a doctor living in Toronto.
He is also Syrian, but he has lived in Canada for 15 years. Right after Trump’s initial travel ban went into effect, Nizar and his husband, Mike, a white Canadian, were traveling to the states for a party in Palm Springs. During their layover at JFK, Nizar was held for nine hours and eventually sent home — a doctor from Canada traveling to the states for a gay party in Palm Springs — all because his country of birth was deemed dangerous to our way of life.
Weeks after Nizar was sent home, I was able to talk to him.
“I love the States,” he told me. “I love all my friends there. But I will never go back. Not as long as that man is president. The airlines wouldn’t even pay for Mike’s ticket from New York back to Toronto. We explained to them what had happened, but they didn’t care. No one cared. I was treated like less than a man. Like some kind of criminal. It makes no sense. I am the kind of man you want to come visit. I have money. I love the way of life there, and what the United States is supposed to stand for: democracy and freedom, tolerance. But now that way of life has been traded for something else. Something mean. We are not all terrorists. Just like all white men with guns in Alabama are not all homicidal mass murderers.”
Across the country, just weeks after Trump’s initial Muslim travel ban, U.S. judges found the ban a discriminatory, illegal over-reach. It appeared to be defeated.
That is, until just a few days ago.
The Supreme Court has since allowed aspects of Trump’s travel ban to stay in place, agreeing to hear full arguments on the issue in October. And while the Trump administration is celebrating what it considers to be a clear win, both sides have reason to feel optimistic.
The Court, while allowing Trump’s ban on people traveling to the United States from countries the administration deems dangerous, also restricted the ban’s scope. Someone traveling to the States from one of these countries with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” would fall outside the travel ban’s parameters and be allowed entry.
The fight in October will either expand those limits or chip away at them. The administration wants full discretion on who it deems dangerous or not, while critics of the ban feel we should not be denying entry to America based on country of origin or religious affiliation alone.
My friend Ahmed recently married his partner, Paul, of 16 years.
For those 16 years he has also been an illegal resident of America. He’s now applying for citizenship, but he worries. He feels there are no guarantees anymore.
“Donald Trump is a monster,” Ahmed says. “A fascist dictator who will try to take full control of the United States. He behaves as if everyone who is Arab or Muslim is a terrorist out to kill Americans. Even if it’s just the subtext of his words and not direct. He is advocating for violence against Muslims living in the United States.
“A friend of mine — a Muslim in Dallas — was beaten outside his apartment by a bunch of teenagers calling him ‘sand n*gger’ and ‘terrorist’ and ‘Osama.’ They all wore ‘Make America Great Again’ hats. My friend was too afraid to call the police. He isn’t legal either. He’s gay. He knew if he called the police he would be treated like the enemy, not the boys who beat him. He couldn’t even go to the hospital.
“Where is it right to treat another human being like that? How is that kind of bigotry and violence making America great?”
The question before us now is this: What kind of country do we want to be? How do we see ourselves in the world? What is the American Dream? What do we as a nation believe in?
The United States was founded on the idea of tolerance, separation of church and state, democracy and freedom.
Under Donald Trump, and ultimately the Republican Party, these very ideas are coming under attack. The current administration is remaking our country into something new, something meaner.
We have a choice. Do we sit back, ignoring what is happening to those on the outside of our community — people like Mo and Ahmed — or do we take a stand? Do we fight for those who are not in positions of privilege? Or do we, like the Trump administration, just discard them?
It’s up to us to decide what kind of nation we will be.
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. His novel Accidental Warlocks will be released by Lethe Press in May 2018. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
Featured image by okeyphotos via iStock