Connect with us

Commentary

Building LGBTQ Political Power Across the Nation

15th anniversary of David Bohnett scholarship program at Harvard

Published

on

Michael Fleming (Photo courtesy Michael Fleming)

Election Night 2017 was a historic one for the LGBTQ community. Candidates across the country campaigned hard, talked to voters, raised funds, and spread their message. Their diligent work paid off. Forty LGBTQ candidates won their races. And now, more than ever, it is crucial that LGBTQ leaders have a seat at the table when critical decisions affecting our rights are made.

In 2002, at the suggestion of our good friend Fred Hochberg, a number of funders met in the Washington, D.C. home of Marylouise Oates to pool their funds to cover several partial scholarships to the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School. The program had existed for decades, but, even by its own admission, it suffered at times from a lack of diversity, including the absence of exceptional LGBTQ elected and appointed officials.

The Fellowship that the funders created was immensely popular, and it quickly became clear to all of us that a larger long-term commitment was required. Victory Institute’s mission is “to change the face and voice of America’s politics and achieve equality for LGBTQ Americans by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ officials at all levels of government.” Its mission makes Victory Institute the perfect partner for the nation’s premier leadership program; you see, as funders, it’s our goal to bring like-minded folks together. This, to us, seemed a match made in progressive policy heaven.  

In 2005, the Los Angeles-based David Bohnett Foundation began to fund the program in earnest and, since then, with our investment of more than $1.7MM, the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellows Program has become not simply a signature program for Harvard and Victory Institute but a great example to other funders about the power of investing in the leaders who will determine the future of our community and, indeed, our country. Designed for senior and mid-career executives from state, county, and local governments, as well as their elected counterparts, the curriculum thrives on the political expertise and real-world experience of its esteemed participants. Fellows for each class are chosen to represent a full spectrum of governmental levels, functional responsibilities, geographic distribution, and diversity in the LGBTQ community.

Funders are always asked how we measure the success of a grant. When I look at the caliber and quality of the 143 Fellows whom we’ve helped attend Harvard, the transformative leadership skills they’ve developed, and the essential relationships they’ve honed both in Cambridge and after they’ve returned home, I know that by any measure this program is a success.

This training has enabled those leaders to move forward in their careers and achieve higher levels of public service, including:

  • Jolie Justus – Missouri State Senate, now running for Mayor of Kansas City
  • Ricardo Lara – member of the California State Senate, now running for Insurance Commissioner
  • Annise Parker – former Mayor of Houston, now set to become President and CEO of Victory Fund and Victory Institute
  • David Richardson – Florida state representative, now running for Congress in 2018
  • Brian K. Sims – former staff counsel for policy and planning at the Philadelphia Bar Association, now a Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 182nd district
  • Kyrsten Sinema – U.S. Representative from Arizona’s 9th congressional district, now running for U.S. Senate against an anti-LGBTQ challenger
  • Lupe Valdez – Dallas County Sheriff, an elected position, now running for Governor of Texas

In the past several decades, the LGBTQ community has made significant strides in achieving equality, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning California Proposition 8, helping make marriage equality the law of the land; gains in employment and healthcare protections; repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military; and establishing the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act.

However, in the time of Trump and its accompanying surge of homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy, these advancements are under threat. For instance, Trump wants to reinstate a ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, while a Federal court ruled that the military must pay for trans-inclusive medical services, including gender-affirming surgeries. It is vital that we have highly skilled representatives at all levels of government to safeguard our rights – as court challenges may or may not result in positive outcomes.

We are encouraged by the recent election wins that more than doubled the number of elected openly transgender officials in the United States, creating much needed visibility for the trans community and more pressure on lawmakers to make progress on equal rights legislation.

With these landmark victories, we look forward to welcoming more trans applicants for the 2018 Bohnett Fellows program. We encourage members of the LGBTQ community to consider applying to the Harvard Senior Executives Program, three-week sessions that take place during the months of June and July. Individuals wishing to be considered should apply to both the Harvard Kennedy School and Victory Institute. See further details at victoryinstitute.org/bohnett.

The Bohnett Leadership Fellows’ increasing power and influence in local, state and national governance is supported by the David Bohnett Foundation’s mission to improve society through social activism by applying philanthropy strategically.

— Michael Fleming is the Executive Director of the David Bohnett Foundation

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Commentary

Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

Published

on

[Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Alberto J. Valentín | It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
Continue Reading

Commentary

Happy Mother’s Day

The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

Published

on

The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Rich privilege on full display- Hannity interviews Jenner and it wasn’t pretty

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner.

Published

on

Commentary

LOS ANGELES – Fox News pundit and anchor Sean Hannity interviewed realty television star Caitlyn Jenner on his show Wednesday evening and it frankly was a hot mess.

Jenner, who announced a week ago that she’s running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the likely recall election this Fall, gave Hannity her take on issues that was Trumpian and clueless to outright enraging at times.

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner pontificating on subject matters that she clearly doesn’t have a firm grasp of.

For instance, on California’s homeless crisis: Jenner said: “My friends are leaving California. My hangar, [ Jenner is a pilot and has her own aircraft ] the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, where are you going? And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless'”

Jenner again disparages Trans youth athletes: Jenner explains that she’s opposed to transgender girls playing sports against other girls. But then in the next breath she says she wants to be a role model for transgender girls.

“Forest management is extremely important” Jenner’s comments about wildfires reminded Rupar of former President Trump’s clueless remarks.

Next she claims, well take a listen yourself:

This next part is rich. “You’re pro *legal* immigration” — Sean Hannity puts words in Caitlyn Jenner’s mouth when she talks about immigration. Jenner responds by saying, “sorry, did I miss the legal part? Thanks for catching me. You’ve got my back, Sean, I appreciate that.”

Then there’s her take on trains. Jenner wonders why high speed rail is needed between LA and SF since people can just fly

Then she muses that Trump did a better job than Biden is doing which is completely vapid and devoid of substance

Mercifully it ended…

I reached out to a Trans activist of note for comments on the Hannity interview, who angrily asked why I would consider giving Jenner any more oxygen.

I explained that sadly in the toxic world of Republican politics circa 2021 in a post-Trump presidency world there are those right wing extremists who will hold Jenner up as an ‘authority-figure’ and as a spokesperson for Trans people, and worse will cite Jenner as an example.

Jenner needs to be marginalized, people need to hear loudly and clearly that she absolutely does not speak for the LGBTQ+ community and that her bigotry towards young Trans people is harmful and dangerous.

While Jenner’s candidacy and ‘policy’ positions may well be perceived as a joke, what does need to be taken seriously is her ongoing attacks on the Trans youth who just want to participate in sports.

Electing not to comment the activist agreed.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Trending