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Valerie Jarrett: A positive force for change

Former Obama senior advisor is keeping her eye on the long view

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Valerie Jarrett, a staunch ally, speaks candidly about the hurdles LGBTQ people face after Obama. (Photo the White House flicker page)

Talking with Valerie Jarrett, the former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, is surreal. On this day, Tuesday, Sept. 19, a day filled with such powerful natural and political thunderclaps, the news is deafening: a massive 7.1 earthquake shakes Mexico City; Maria, the third massive hurricane in a row to hit the Caribbean, becomes as Category 5; Senate Republicans scramble to repeal the Affordable Care Act; Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s cyber warfare and interference in the 2016 elections intensifies; and President Donald Trump lectures the UN about national sovereignty, then threatens to “totally destroy North Korea,” bringing the US closer to nuclear war than since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

The pall of hatred cast over America during Trump’s dark Inauguration speech has descended in seven months to become like the thick, choking smog of China. It’s hard to see each other through the billowing exhaust of white supremacy. Everyone’s afraid as LGBT rights and Black lives and immigrant promises are blocked from the sun with a shrug from the White House.

Valerie Jarrett is a breath of fresh air, a patch of blue. In advance of her appearance at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 48th Anniversary Vanguard Awards at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, Sept. 23, Jarrett speaks candidly about the election consequences and keeping an eye on the prize of justice and equality for all.

“Obviously, I disagree with the dismantling of many of the important measures that President Obama put in place to create an even playing field and advocate for civil rights for Americans,” Jarrett says in a phone interview. “But elections have consequences. I don’t think we should be surprised about the steps the administration is taking. That’s why President Obama campaigned so hard for Sec. Clinton. And he expressed quite clearly during the campaign what was at stake here.

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“But we are where we are,” says the longtime advocate for civil rights and equality. “I try to be a force for good. I try to highlight the positive steps we can take to create a fair and more just country. And I also try to take the long view and know that our democracy is messy– but you can’t give up. You have to just keep fighting.”

But many LGBT people, especially millennials, are still in shock: how can fundamental rights be revoked?

“Well, this is the challenge. You can never take equal rights for granted. You have to constantly reinforce their importance. And we can never afford to become complacent. It is a real blow, particularly to young people who grew up with President Obama fighting on their behalf,” Jarrett says. “But part of the lesson here is that we all have a responsibility, a collective and an individual responsibility, to fight for what is just and what is right.”

Jarrett say she is “heartened” to see so many people running for office, showing up for city council meetings, becoming active in their communities.

“That’s the bright light for us all to see—people who are willing to turn their outrage and their frustration and their anger into constructive action to fight for justice,” she says. “I’m just heartened to see so many young people who are rolling up their sleeves and engaging in their local communities. They are constructive forces for good. We can’t allow our frustration or our discouragement to paralyze us. It should motivate us to take action.”

Valerie Jarrett (Photo from Jarrett’s Twitter feed)

It is imperative to take the long view. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—if we all push in the same direction. I think reminding everyone of that responsibility of citizenship means that you have to be engaged,” she says, noting that 43 percent of eligible voters didn’t vote in 2016. “It’s very hard. I’m not trying to sugar coat how painful and hard it is—not just the people whose lives are directly affected, but for those of us who believe in a country where our fundamental value is based in civil rights for all.”

This belief is at the root of her deep 26-year friendship with Barack and Michelle Obama, whom she first met when they were just out of law school and she tried to recruit then-Michelle Robinson to join her working for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“Part of why the three of us clicked so long ago was because we shared this passion for social justice,” she says. “We felt a responsibility to give back and to try to fight for people who needed advocates—to have this sense that we are all in this together and so I can’t just fight for my civil rights, I have to fight for your civil rights, too.”

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Jarrett, who was very involved in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and lifting the ban against transgender military service, says she “can’t imagine” why the Trump administration is seeking to re-impose the trans ban.

“I’m not in a position to guess their motivation,” she says. “I just believe that anyone who is prepared to serve and sacrifice for our country should be given permission to do so. And should be supported in doing so. We owe our men and women in the military an enormous debt of gratitude for their service and their sacrifice. Why deny somebody the opportunity to do that?”

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Jarrett points to Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s powerful statement reacting to the trans ban. Duckworth, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and helicopter pilot, lost both her legs in 2004 in Iraq.
“When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind,” Duckworth said.

“There are already transgender people serving our country admirably, making great sacrifices for our country. Why would you try to change that? It’s not true to our core values,” says Jarrett.

The Obama administration took LGBT rights seriously. “From Day One, President Obama directed us to fight for equality everywhere and to look at all of the different ways in which there was inequality and level the playing field,” Jarrett says. “And so that was our mission. And it was important to him to be an advocate for everyone.

But it was hard to change policy. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal effort “was herculean,” she says. But now “you don’t hear of any issues. And that is because it was embraced by the Defense Department” so “it wouldn’t be a pyrrhic victory. We wanted to ensure that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters would actually be able to thrive in the military.”

Jarrett has stories, too. “I went to the first LGBT annual celebration that they had during Gay Pride Month at the Defense Department,” she says. “I was moved to tears to see people in uniform who had had to sneak into the White House to see me during the process of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for fear of being thrown out of the military. And then, there they were in their uniforms proudly celebrating with the Sec. of Defense. It felt like a thunderbolt because one year they weren’t allowed to be in uniform and the next year, they were.”

That thunderbolt came after years of sustained hard work, fighting against those entrenched in the status quo. “They’re threatened by change—and change is never easy. It always takes longer than it should, it’s more painful than it should be, but ultimately, that arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice.”

But Jarrett is no Pollyanna. “I am optimistic,” she says. “But I know people are scared and feeling very vulnerable and under attack. All Americans have a responsibility to make it clear that the LGBT community doesn’t stand alone. We all stand with the entire community. We all have to lock arms together and look out for one another.

“Believe me, I know this is hard,” Jarrett continues. “And it is shocking, particularly to young people who I think have been perhaps lulled into a false sense of security. But our democracy is worth fight for and it’s something every citizen can do. It’s within their power to do it. So let’s do it.

“Every voice matters. Every person, everyone in this country can be that force for good,” says Valerie Jarrett. “It is no time to feel paralyzed and or to feel hopeless because we can all be a part of that positive force for change.”

For more information on the LA LGBT Center’s Vanguard Awards, go to: https://lalgbtcenter.org/

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Right-wing media exploit monkeypox- retread anti-vax misinformation

These anti-vax talking points are intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – As monkeypox presents an ever-increasing threat to Americans, predominantly gay and bisexual men, conservative media figures are exploiting the global health emergency to stoke fears of the COVID-19 vaccine and related health measures and to attack queer men. 

These anti-vax talking points are often invoked alongside AIDS-era rhetoric intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease and gay and bisexual men as culprits in — rather than victims of — the growing outbreak. This stigmatization has already reportedly resulted in violence against gay men.

During the last week of July, the U.S. reported both the fastest rise in and highest number of monkeypox cases worldwide, leading the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency on August 4. The virus, which is endemic in certain African countries, is usually rare in Europe and the U.S. However, the virus recently found its way to men who have sex with men (MSM), where it has proliferated primarily through sexual contact. The gay community has emphasized the need to warn about the risk the virus poses to MSM while not feeding into anti-gay rhetoric that depicts gay sexuality as immoral. 

Despite this plea from those most affected by the ongoing health crisis, right-wing media quickly responded to the spread of monkeypox with homophobia – recalling the vilification that gay men experienced during the AIDS epidemic. In addition to being impacted by the latest right-wing media smear campaign risking targeted violence against LGBTQ people, queer men are also less likely to seek medical care for monkeypox in countries where their sexuality is stigmatized.

Conservative media figures invoke COVID-19 conspiracy theories and criticism of health measures in coverage of monkeypox

From early on in their coverage of the monkeypox outbreak, right-wing media figures used the story to renew efforts to sow vaccine hesitancy and undermine COVID-19 health measures. Some far-right figures have even spread conspiracy theories that falsely assert the COVID-19 vaccine is directly responsible for the monkeypox outbreak. 

On May 24, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens said on her show that “the first person who lines up to get a monkeypox vaccine, I’m going to laugh in your face.” Owens then suggested the World Health Organization, Bill Gates, and Dr. Anthony Fauci were involved in the spread of both diseases as part of “attempts at authoritarianism” and “globalism.” This claim coincides with the recent conservative conspiracy theory claiming the U.S. was ceding power to the WHO.

From the May 24, 2022, edition of Daily Wire’s Candace

Fox News’ Sean Hannity brought anti-vax conspiracy theorist Dr. George Fareed onto the August 8 edition of his radio show, where Fareed falsely claimed “the mass vaccination with these gene therapies, COVID vaccines, have the ability to weaken the immune system and make people more vulnerable to viral infection,” suggesting the vaccine could precipitate the spread of monkeypox. 

Far-right blog American Greatness posted an article on August 3 promoting the work of Shmuel Shapira, an Israeli scientist pushing similar claims as Fareed. The article claimed “Twitter censored Shapira” after the platform flagged a tweet of his as misinformation. Shapira’s tweet read, “It is well established the mRNA vaccines affect the natural immune system. A monkey pox outbreak following massive covid vaccination: Is not a coincidence.”

Right-wing media figures have also taken advantage of the recent health crisis to reignite their crusade against public health measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative commentators claim that a double standard exists between government reactions to monkeypox and COVID-19, ignoring differences in how the two diseases spread. 

Podcaster Steven Crowder, amid a longer homophobic rant suggesting gay men were engaging in bestiality, claimed on August 2 that COVID-19 health measures were “politically motivated” and that masking and social distancing “didn’t make any difference whatsoever.” Crowder then contrasted those measures with the fact that Pride events still took place this year despite the spread of monkeypox, saying, “They won’t even cancel their gay San Francisco fuckfest.”

From the August 2, 2022, edition of Louder with Crowder, streamed on YouTube

An article for The Federalist titled “Americans Lost Fundamental Freedoms During Covid — But Halting Gay Orgies To Stop Monkeypox Is Too Far?” bemoaned COVID lockdowns and claimed, “We shut down the world for a virus that had no traceable transmission, it was entirely random. It really isn’t too much to ask for gay men to stop engaging in orgies and public sex events for their ‘mental health,’ their ‘self-esteem,’ and to continue ‘having fun.’”

On Twitter, right-wing personalities expressed a similar sentiment. 

Alt-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted his criticism of public health advocate Dr. Gregg Gonsalves:

Far-right YouTuber Ian Miles Cheong continued his online anti-gay tirade on monkeypox:

Right-wing radio host Dan O’Donnell similarly tweeted:

Gay men are targeted with violence while right-wing media continues to depict them as threats

After the first cases of monkeypox were found among children in the U.S., LGBTQ advocates reported right-wing figures were using the news to falsely claim that gay men were guilty of abuse. This was a part of a larger attempt by right-wing media to use the monkeypox outbreak to depict LGBTQ people as a threat to society. By attempting to evoke the sort of stigmatizing rhetoric pushed during the AIDS epidemic that frames the MSM community as vectors of disease, right-wing media is feeding a culture of prejudice that has already resulted in violence against gay men. 

The above-mentioned article from The Federalist fearmongered that “as gay men spread the virus within their population at startling rates, the chances of it escaping into the mundane world through close contact in stores, crowded streets, or buses increases,” claiming that gay and bisexual men were spreading the disease through “truly selfish behavior [that] is endangering the rest of us.”

Right-wing talk show host Erick Erickson tweeted, “‘My orgy doesn’t affect you,’ said the man who spread monkeypox to the lady who worked at the gas station. Two weeks of no orgies to stop the spread is just too much to ask.”

On Hannity’s August 8 radio show, guest Dr. Brian Tyson said the virus would “spread to the heterosexual community if we don’t get a handle on the gay community to stop the transmission,” and claimed “the CDC and the NIH, they’re afraid to come out and tell the gay community to stop having intercourse until this pandemic goes away.”

On the August 5 edition of his show, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk characterized the government response to monkeypox as an attempt to avoid offending “the alphabet mafia” of the LGBTQ community, saying, “You can’t go after the gay community for maybe doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” before declaring he would “not live through another lockdown or an erosion of our civil liberties by a corrupt or usurpatious government because we’re afraid to offend people. Don’t care, and you shouldn’t either.”

From the August 5, 2022, edition of The Charlie Kirk Show, streamed on YouTube   

The effects of right-wing media’s misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine put their audience at serious risk. However, these conservative figures are now jeopardizing the health of millions of LGBTQ Americans as well by seeking to stigmatize their sexuality during a public health crisis.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Florida school removes posters of Black heroes, teacher resigns in protest

“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price”

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O.J. Semmes Elementary School, Pensacola, Florida/Facebook

PENSACOLA – A career special education teacher in Escambia County, Florida resigned this past week just as classes were scheduled to start after a Escambia County Public School District staffer removed posters and pictures of historically significant Black Americans from his classroom.

Michael James, 61, who has taught special ed classes for the past fifteen years told Pensacola News Journal reporter Colin Warren-Hicks in an interview this week that he had emailed a letter to Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith in which he wrote that a district employee removed the pictures citing the images as being “age inappropriate.”

Images that were removed from the bulletin board at O.J. Semmes Elementary School included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James said.

Michael James
Courtesy of Michael James

“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”

James chose the board’s theme because the majority of the students and the residents in the neighborhoods that surround O.J. Semmes are Black, and he wanted to motivate his students with inspirational leaders they could easily look up to and see themselves.

The Pensacola News Journal reported that Escambia County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Smith  said that “teachers are permitted to decorate their classrooms with educational materials and he was unaware of any policies that would prohibit a teacher from displaying pictures of inspirational American heroes on their walls.”

Smith said a full investigation of the incident, which he called an “anomaly,” has been launched.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, (D-FL 13th District) who is running to secure the Democratic Party nomination to oust DeSantis in the November elections took aim at the sitting governor in a Facebook post:

On Wednesday afternoon the Congressman expanded his remarks saying:

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida — a teacher, in a predominantly Black community, comes into their classroom to see posters of historically Black American heroes, including President (Barack) Obama, taken down for being ‘inappropriate,’ Crist said in a statement. “DeSantis’ culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”

Florida Politics reported that the controversy comes as the first Florida schools, including Escambia County schools, begin their first academic year under legislation signed by DeSantis that targets “critical race theory.”

Among other rules, the law prohibit lessons teaching students that they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. It would also ban instruction that they are personally responsible and should feel guilty for the past actions of members of their race, color, sex or national origin.

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Log Cabin GOP compares FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago to Stonewall

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records

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former President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan stand in the main entrance to Trump's exclusive private club & Florida residence Mar-A-Lago on April 17, 2018 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

WASHINGTON – As the outraged fallout continued in Republican Party circles Tuesday, after special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant Monday at the South Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, the LGBTQ political group Log Cabin Republicans, (LCR) joined the growing chorus on the right angered by the search.

“Just as the patrons of Stonewall were not intimidated by police, we will not be intimidated by the weaponization of the FBI and DoJ against President Trump or his home, Mar-A-Lago… …where (as we announced hours ago) we will be holding our annual gala later this year!” the group tweeted Monday after news of the search broke.

Reaction to the LCR tweet was swift ranging to from disgust as expressed by LGBTQ writer and radio host Rob Watson to outright anger as noted by former Advocate editor and LGBTQ journalist Matthew Breen.

The FBI’s action was described as unprecedented by legal experts and analysts, however the execution of the search warrant underscores the fact that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will order investigations into criminal wrong doing to include the former president.

Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have dismissed the FBI search as politically motivated.

While a copy of the search warrant was delivered to Trump’s attorneys, little is known about the predicate probable cause found significant enough that a federal judge authorised the search. The affidavit which is the foundational document showing that a crime had been committed and that evidence would likely be found during the search provided to the judge to make that determination has not been made public.

A Justice Department source told the Blade that last January Trump had been found in possession of 15 boxes of materials at his Florida home, which he relinquished to staff from the National Archives amid concerns he may have violated the Presidential Records Act, (44 U.S.C. Chapter 22).

A certain portion of the paperwork that Trump had in his possession was classified which the Justice Department official noted is by itself criminal in nature.

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records. The National Archives said some of the documents Trump turned over to them had been ripped up and taped back together CBS News noted.

It remains to be seen whether the search will lead to criminal charges against the former president or anyone in his immediate orbit, but former prosecutors noted there are serious penalties for violating public records laws the Hill reported Tuesday.

“Highly classified information is treated that way because of its extreme sensitivity. There is a whole range of material that is really a crown jewel, national security, high-consequence sequence. And if that’s what a person carried away rather than leaving it in the hands of the government and complying with the Presidential Records Act, that’s a gravely serious matter,” said John Barrett, a former federal prosecutor who worked for the independent counsel investigating the Iran-contra scandal and served in the DOJ inspector general’s office.

The former president had issued a lengthy statement Monday evening in which he called the raid an “attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”

The House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy promised retribution in a tweet should his party retake control of Congress in the Fall midterm elections:

The Justice Department and the FBI both declined to comment.

Former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Home Being Searched Causes Immediate Political Fallout:

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