Building LGBTQ Political Power Across the Nation
15th anniversary of David Bohnett scholarship program at Harvard
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
Target & Bud Light show hypocrisy of “Corporate Pride”
Bud Light & Target came under far-right fire for including LGBTQ+ people in products & advertising. The speed at which they caved? Not good
By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – Even before Pride season has begun, evidence of corporations succumbing to far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ led boycotts is emerging.
Bud Light, for instance, recently faced pressure after featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney on its cans. The simple act incited a boycott campaign by anti-LGBTQ+ conservative activists, including Matt Walsh. In response, Bud Light placed the executives responsible for the campaign on leave.
Following this, Target faced a similar situation when it displayed its annual Pride merchandise. Calls for boycotts from the same far-right influencers ensued. Videos emerged of individuals trampling on Pride displays in stores and harassing staff members. Target’s reaction was to pull several Pride items and relegate Pride displays to less visible parts of its stores.
When these companies faced anti-LGBTQ+ hostility, they backed down with little resistance. This reveals the reason why transgender people have been wary about corporatization of Pride: if corporate advocacy consists merely of rainbows that disappear at the first gust of fascist wind, it amounts to net harm. That support was never truly there.
This is all happening against the backdrop of a broader cultural climate marked by over 530 bills directed at the transgender community, withholding of medication for transgender youth and adults, bans on books featuring LGBTQ+ characters, cancellations of Pride parades, travel warnings discouraging LGBTQ+ individuals from entering certain states, and arrests of transgender individuals in restrooms.
The retreat of corporations from supporting the LGBTQ+ community, caving to anti-LGBTQ+ pressures, does more than fail to assist the community they professed to support when adversaries looked away. It actively damages the community by feeding a narrative that suggests LGBTQ+ individuals are not worth protecting.
Bud Light and Target came under far-right fire for including LGBTQ+ people in products and advertising. The speed at which they caved shows why LGBTQ+ people have warned about corporate pride.
The campaign against LGBTQ+ inclusion in stores is not grassroots, but rather a calculated move by the same far-right influencers responsible for the early anti-trans bills this year. Matt Walsh, who advised on and posted the very first anti-trans bill this year, delineated the strategy in April. His approach: “Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it. We can’t boycott every woke company or even most of them. But we can pick one, it hardly matters which, and target it with a ruthless boycott campaign. Claim one scalp then move onto the next.”
What followed was mass harassment and violent threats to LGBTQ+ advocates and store employees. Of Particular note is Ethan Schmidt, whose videos of walking through Target knocking down Pride signs began to reemerge. See this video from Ethan Schmidt tearing down pride signs in target, originally from 2022:
Ethan Schmidt has since promised to revive his actions, warning, “We’re gonna be exposing Target… We are going to be going on hunting expeditions soon. Hunting LGBTQ+ supporters across Arizona and Phoenix.” ‘
Numerous other videos have emerged. One person’s viral tiktok expressed anger over rainbow themed and tuck-friendly clothing while going through Target racks. OAN anchor Alison Steinberg expressed dismay at cards that include two moms and two dads. Matt Walsh called for people to “make pride toxic for brands. If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know they’ll pay a price.”
Sure enough, Target acquiesced, announcing that it would be dropping some “controversial items” and moving displays to the back of some stores. Pictures emerged of empty Pride display racks shortly after:
The speed in which some companies are caving to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment shows the danger in entrusting Pride events to the care of corporations, who have no meaningful skin in the game and who are willing to pull support at moment’s notice. Pride has its roots in a response to anti-LGBTQ+ oppression in 1969, particularly the raid on the Stonewall Inn.
Interestingly, both then and now, anti-drag laws proliferate and LGBTQ+ people find themselves targeted by the state and by bigotry on the streets. The first Pride was a riot, and its early celebrations were not about touting corporate advocacy or organizational support for queer people, but rather about fostering our own communities and networks to ensure that overt oppression would never prevail.
By shifting from the original spirit of Pride to Bud Light-sponsored block parties and parades filled with corporate floats where we are merely spectators rather than active participants, we risk losing sight of the essence and purpose of Pride – to forge strong bonds in the face of oppressive forces.
Target is removing LGBTQ Pride products because of terrorist behavior like this.— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 24, 2023
Yes, this is absolutely terrorism & Target should be ashamed for caving in. Just like Anheuser Busch caved in.
And people wonder why there’s so much fear in our community. pic.twitter.com/0kMab9s44k
Moving forward, we need a new vision of Pride that is more in line with the reason Pride was first conceived. This vision of Pride should not be dependent on corporate sponsorships, but rather, should uplift the community and support the creation of social networks. Local organizations should be centered rather than multinational corporations.
This vision of pride is one where we collectively march together in solidarity and celebration and express to the world that our joy will not be eradicated. I envision a pride where local businesses are supported, where drag thrives, where our block parties truly support the locals who call those blocks home.
We must make it unequivocally clear to corporations that raising rainbow flags, only to retreat when confronted by oppressive forces, contradicts the essence of Pride. Symbols demand action to substantiate them.
Corporations wishing to demonstrate support for their LGBTQ+ employees should implement comprehensive paid family leave, include full coverage for trans-specific medical care in their insurance policies, and cease all donations to politicians endorsing anti-trans stances.
Should a company truly aim to support its LGBTQ+ employees, it must stand with queer and trans people, even in the face of harassment and abuse by right-wing aggressors. Instead of hastily retreating in the face of even a fraction of the hatred endured daily by the LGBTQ+ community from these same individuals, these corporations need to show resilient support.
Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.
Follow her on Twitter (Link)
Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/
The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.
CNN should have known better than to give Donald Trump free rein
Anyone could have predicted he would make a mockery of CNN’s town hall, turning it into another extremist political rally
By Eric Kleefeld | WASHINGTON – Disgraced former President Donald Trump appeared Wednesday night for a prime-time campaign town hall event on CNN, during which the live audience cheered his continued lies about the 2020 election, applauded his pledge to pardon January 6 insurrectionists, and laughed as he described sexual assault.
Moderator Kaitlan Collins addressed him as “Mr. President” throughout the event, even though the title currently belongs to President Joe Biden, and she failed to fact-check many of his various blatant lies, including a heinous claim about infanticide that CNN debunked years ago. When Collins did push back on Trump’s flagrant lies, the fawning audience rallied to his defense with laughter and applause.
The entire display was so debasing to the network, Fox News gloated about it.
The fault for this debacle lies with CNN itself.
The network should have known better, especially after stocking the live audience with Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. That same demographic previously nominated election-denier candidates during the 2022 midterm elections, and Trump himself in 2016, so it was obvious from the start that they would provide a receptive crowd for his never-ending trail of falsehoods.
In one telling moment, Collins seemed to temporarily stump Trump with a persistent rebuttal to his false claims about mishandling classified documents, but the audience laughed and applauded when he personally insulted her in response:
"You're a nasty person" — Trump to Kaitlan Collins (the audience cheers) pic.twitter.com/Sa7XMTBPI9— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2023
It was also clear in advance that Trump would use CNN as a rhetorical punching bag for his own benefit. Tuesday morning, he posted on his social media site that he would be appearing on CNN, “because they are rightfully desperate to get those fantastic (TRUMP!) ratings once again.”
When CNN first announced the town hall event last week, the network indicated that it would treat Trump like any other candidate, despite the unprecedented nature of his candidacy and his previous tenure in office — among other things, he spurred an insurrection to stay in power. In addition, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav declared the company was “happy that he’s on our network” because he’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination, seemingly casting Trump and other extremist Republicans as equal voices on both sides of a political debate.
Former District of Columbia police officer Michael Fanone, who is now a CNN contributor, wrote a scathing piece on the network’s various rationales for hosting Trump. His guest piece published at Rolling Stone on Wednesday was titled “CNN Is Hosting a Town Hall for a Guy Who Tried to Get Me Killed,” referring to Fanone’s own experiences when he was brutally attacked by insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. (By his own admission, Fanone actually supported Trump in 2016, but he later became disillusioned with the former president.)
“Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did,” Fanone wrote. “It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them.”
Maybe CNN didn’t set out to produce an hour of pro-Trump propaganda, but that’s exactly what it did. Other media outlets need to learn a lesson from this spectacle and realize that Trump is unlike any other candidate in American history — whatever the rules used to be, they don’t apply to him or his radicalized base of Republican primary voters.
The previous commentary was originally published by Media Matters for America, a Los Angeles Blade contributor, and was republished with permission.
RuPaul’s Drag Race finale highlights ACLU’s defense of trans rights
The ACLU’s Drag Defense Fund aims to educate and activate supporters and push back against restrictive anti-LGBTQ legislation
By Johanna Silver | NEW YORK – The highly anticipated finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race will feature incredible ensembles, sensational lip sync performances, and of course, the revelation of the season 15 winner. Alongside the competition, the finale will also highlight a joint effort with the ACLU to help defend constitutional rights and creative expression in the LGBTQ community.
With our nationwide network of affiliates, supporters, and advocates, we’re showing up to fight back against hate, and holding politicians accountable for their anti-trans agenda — and you can join us.
ACLU employees represented the ACLU on the red carpet during the April 1 taping of the finale, which featured drag queens from past and present seasons. During the airing of the finale, the ACLU’s Drag Defense Fund will also get a special shoutout as a way to mobilize against mounting legal attacks against drag performers.
What is the Drag Defense Fund?
In partnership with production company World of Wonder, MTV, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, the ACLU’s Drag Defense Fund will support the ACLU’s work defending LGBTQ rights, including censorship of drag performers themselves. The ACLU is committed to the importance of drag as a First Amendment right and an important form of artistic expression. It will also fuel the ACLU’s expansive advocacy work in support of the LGBTQ community, which includes everything from courtroom battles, to guidance on state-level legislation, to challenging LGBTQ censorship in classrooms.
What’s at Stake in the Drag Community?
Drag performance has always been a hallmark of the queer community, allowing members to express themselves openly and joyously. Due in large part to the explosive success of RuPaul’s Drag Race over the years, drag performers have received widespread fanfare and support. But in the past few months, dozens of bills have also been introduced in states around the country that restrict how and where drag queens can perform. One recently-passed Tennessee bill bans drags shows in public spaces around the state, effectively criminalizing them.
These bills censor a fundamental human right to freedom of expression and attempt to remove LGBTQ people from public life — a strategy that ACLU Ambassador for Transgender Justice and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Peppermint recently explained.
“It is sort of a catch all that allows them to attack a word or a notion or an idea, drag, when really what they’re talking about is transgender folks,” she said on a recent episode of our At Liberty podcast. “Trans issues, trans rights, you know, anything having to do with gender and sexuality, they’re trying to dismantle that — dismantle any of the progress that we’ve had on that, and turn us into the boogeyman.”
One Part of a Larger Battle for LGBTQ Rights
These legislative attacks against drag performers, coupled with the anti-trans legislation across the country, underscore an unsettling trend. These bills are bald attempts to prevent people from expressing themselves authentically and restrict their right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. The majority of this legislation specifically targets trans youth and aims to obstruct their ability to find support and access health care. These attacks not only undermine drag queens and trans youth, but the broader LGBTQ community, and the very foundations of gender justice.
How We’re Fighting Back Against Anti-LGBTQ Attacks
Many Drag Race alumni — and RuPaul — have come forward to promote the fund, speak out against the targeted legal attacks, and uplift drag queens as champions for equal rights.
“Drag has influenced everything about my queer identity — as a performer, as a trans individual, drag has just blurred all of the things I love and am into getting to be this kind of walking art installation that is also a protest,” drag queen and season 15 finalist Sasha Colby said of the art form.
The ACLU will always show up to defend our LGBTQ community, especially amid these ongoing legislative attacks. Along with mobilizing our Drag Defense Fund, we will continue to push back against censorship, hold legislators accountable for their anti-LGBTQ agendas, and take legal action to protect our communities. With your help, we’ll be stronger than ever. Join us as we work to preserve our right to freedom of expression, inclusive communities, safe schools, and the right to be who we are without fear.
The preceding commentary was originally published by the ACLU.
SUPPORT THE DRAG DEFENSE FUND
Drag performers and the LGBTQ+ community are facing threats across the country. In the face of these threats and censorship, you can fight back with the ACLU for the protection of all our rights.
The freedom to express ourselves and our gender identity in creative ways fuels artistry across our country and culture – and Drag is protected by the First Amendment like any creative expression such as dance, fashion, and music. That’s why RuPaul’s Drag Race, MTV, and World of Wonder are proud to donate to “The Drag Defense Fund” in support of the ACLU’s LGBTQ+ rights work.
Please make a tax-deductible gift to this crucial fund now.
Uganda’s president shouldn’t sign anti-gay legislation
The measure reflects a growing pattern in parts of sub-Saharan Africa to target members of the LGBTQ community
By David J. Kramer & Deborah L. Birx, M.D. | DALLAS – Uganda is on the verge of imposing draconian penalties on anyone who identifies as gay and requiring their friends and family members to report anyone in a same-sex relationship.
The Ugandan parliament passed legislation last month that would prohibit “advocacy for LGBTQ rights and mandate people to report the community to law enforcement,” according to the Washington Post. It awaits the signature of President Yoweri Museveni, who has supported past anti-LGBTQ legislation and made disparaging remarks in the past about those who are LGBTQ.
The measure reflects a growing pattern in parts of Africa to target members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, same-sex intercourse is illegal in 32 countries in Africa, including Uganda.
President Museveni shouldn’t sign this violation of the universal human rights of expression and association. It singles out a minority population – the LGBTQ community. While it should be opposed on that basis alone, it also could be exploited to go after any critics or opponents of the government by accusing them of engaging in what would be illegal behavior in their personal lives. Equally jarring, it would exacerbate Uganda’s HIV/AIDS situation by furthering the stigma and discrimination of an already victimized segment of the Ugandan population. Marginalizing any population vulnerable to acquiring HIV will ensure Uganda does not reach the critical Sustainable Development 2030 Health Goals President Museveni and governments across the globe committed to in 2015.
Uganda has previously tried to implement similar legislation, but the country’s courts rejected it, albeit for procedural reasons, not on the merits of the case. When Uganda tried to enact a similar law in 2014, the United States held direct funding to the Government but not to nongovernmental partners. Effective national level policies that promote health access for everyone are critical to responding effectively to pandemics including the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We should consider doing the same thing this time if this discriminatory and punitive law is enacted. Any steps we take should focus on those responsible for the legislation, not the people of Uganda.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched 20 years ago by President George W. Bush, has saved more than 25 million lives in Africa and around the world, including many Ugandans. The United States has invested over $5 billion in Uganda through PEPFAR for HIV prevention, care, and treatment services and must continue to ensure these resources support effective and impactful programs that improve the outcomes of all Ugandans and don’t marginalize communities or violate human rights.
PEPFAR’s impact has been possible due to deep partnerships with both communities and governments that provide everyone with access to prevention and treatment services – everyone. The program has the responsibility to ensure U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to fund effective programs with clear outcomes and impact. PEPFAR must guarantee those most at risk for acquiring HIV are seen, heard, and have access to essential services not driven into the shadows out of fear. It must also continue to use data so that all people are reached, that Government policies support comprehensive programming, and that gaps are addressed. This approach has not only saved lives but changed the very course of the HIV pandemic.
President Museveni historically has done an admirable job in leading his country through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but there are already worrying signs beginning to emerge in Uganda. The last comprehensive community survey, in 2020-2021, showed increasing evidence those at greatest risk for HIV – marginalized populations and young men and young women—are falling through the cracks when it comes to testing and treatment. Nearly 20% of Ugandan adults don’t know their HIV status.
Progress in reaching underserved groups has been minimal over the past five years, and the Ugandan government and communities must come together to address this gap. This anti-gay legislation threatens to further divide them instead: For example, young people afraid that people will assume that they’re participating in this criminalized behavior could be frightened away from HIV testing sites.
The last thing we need is to further stigmatize an already victimized segment of the Ugandan population and exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS by driving same-sex activity further underground and discouraging and creating clear barriers to critical prevention services, HIV testing, and treatment for the virus.
The proposed law would violate the concept of treating individuals with equality, respect, and dignity; target and discriminate against even more those in the LGBTQ community; and aggravate Uganda’s HIV/AIDS situation. President Museveni should do the right thing and listen to those urging him not to sign the legislation.
David J. Kramer serves as the Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute and is a leading expert on Russia and Ukraine.
Deborah L. Birx, M.D., Senior Fellow, George W. Bush Institute, has spent her career serving the United States, first as an Army Colonel and later, running some of the most high-profile and influential programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of State. As a world renowned medical expert and leader, she has focused her work on clinical and basic immunology, infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research, and global health.
The preceding piece was originally published by the George W. Bush Institute and is republished with permission.
Following in the footsteps of a journalistic pioneer: Barbara Gittings
Stonewall is the focal point of the modern LGBTQ-rights movement, but the groundwork was laid previously by activists like Barbara Gittings
LOS ANGELES – April 17, 1965 was a typical Spring day in the nation’s capital. What was very much atypical however, was the presence of over a dozen men and women, dressed in professional business attire, marching in a circle on the wide expanse of the sidewalk in front of the North facade of the White House holding protest signs that demanded equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Occurring a full four years before that hot muggy Greenwich Village night when all hell broke loose at the mafia-owned Stonewall Inn, thrusting the fight for gay and lesbian rights suddenly into the public spotlight by the mainstream media, a core group of dedicated gay rights activists were already engaged in pushing the message that homosexuals should have the same rights as every other American.
Frank Kameny, Elijah ‘Lige’ Clarke, Jack Nichols, Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Paul Kuntzler, Lilli Vincenz formed a dynamic group, part of Washington, D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society (MSW) that Kamney and Nichols had co-founded on November 15, 1961.
Beyond the messaging of that April protest at the White House, later including the first Fourth of July picket in 1965 in front of Independence Hall, co-organized with Craig Rodwell who was active in the Mattachine Society in New York City, four of them would go on to be pioneers in the nascent gay press.
The protests at Independence Hall would continue until 1969.
Nichols, Clarke, Gittings and Lahusen would create some of the earliest gay themed content, stories and columns in early gay national publications. Nichols with his partner Clarke, wrote the column “The Homosexual Citizen” for Screw magazine, a pornographic ‘straight’ tabloid publication in 1968.
Gittings and Lahusen were engaged in early gay journalism. Lahusen’s photographs of lesbians appeared on the cover of The Ladder as Gittings worked as its editor. The Ladder, published by the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), was the first national lesbian magazine.
In the summer of 1969, Nichols, Clarke, Gittings and Lahusen would create GAY, the first weekly newspaper for gay people in the United States distributed on newsstands underwritten by Screw magazine’s publisher and founder, Al Goldstein.
There was also her partnering with Kameny, as they waged a multi-year campaign pushing the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.
In the August 1964 issue of The Ladder, Gittings’ editorial blasted a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, writing that it treated lesbians like her more as “curious specimens” than as humans.
In 1971, some seven years later at the annual meeting of the APA, Gittings, Kameny and fellow gay activists stormed the meeting and Kameny seized the microphone, demanding to be heard. In a write-up celebrating that first Fourth of July picket in 1965 in front of Independence Hall 50 years later in 2015, the author noted:
“For the APA’s annual meeting in 1972, Kameny and Gittings organized a panel on homosexuality. When no gay psychiatrist would serve on it openly for fear of losing his medical license and patients, Gittings recruited Dr. H. Anonymous (John E. Fryer, M.D.), who appeared masked and using a voice modulator. Gittings, Kameny and Dr. Anonymous asserted that the disease was not homosexuality, but toxic homophobia. Consequently, the APA formed a committee to determine whether there was scientific evidence to support their conclusion.
In 1973, with Gittings and Kameny present by invitation, the APA announced its removal of the classification. Kameny described it as the day “we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists.” At the time, the “cures” for homosexuality included electric shock therapy, institutionalization and lobotomy. With the APA’s retraction, the gay rights movement was no longer encumbered by the label and its consequences.”
Since her days as editor of the Ladder and assisting Kameny, Nichols, and Lilli Vincenz creating content and writing stories for the MSW newsletter, Gittings continued to write about lesbians, the movement, and the never ending fight to be recognized as citizens with full civil rights.
Gittings also successfully crusaded to promote gay literature and eliminate discrimination in the nation’s libraries.
The author of the chronicling of the 50 year celebration of that July 1965 protest writes: “She volunteered with the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association, the first gay caucus in a professional organization. Although she was not a librarian, she soon became the group’s coordinator—a position she held for 16 years. Gittings edited the Task Force’s bibliography and wrote “Gays in Library Land,” a history of the group. The American Library Association awarded her a lifetime membership.”
Looking back now, nearly sixty years after her editorial blasting medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, the landscape of now LGBTQ+ media while dramatically different primarily due to the internet and digital journalism, the same fundamental needs to cover the unique stories of the LGBTQ+ community, and with the contemporary attacks on the transgender community are just as great as when Nichols, Clarke, Lahusen and she toiled away in that cramped office space in New York City publishing ‘Gay.’
Today’s Gen Z, Millennials and Gen Xers are the beneficiaries of Gittings’ and the early LGBTQ+ media pioneers’ work. The world they reside in, while still fraught with incredible undertones of homophobia and blatant transphobic bigotry, have a sense of freedom built on the foundations of journalism Gittings and her colleagues were devoted to.
Gay activist Michael Bedwell in a March 9 , 2020 post wrote: ” Kay Tobin Lahusen called me yesterday to alert me to Barbara’s inclusion in “TIME” magazine’s 100 Women of the Year project. They commissioned 89 new “TIME” mock covers to commemorate 89 women who should have been on the magazine’s covers over its near century of existence. The remaining 11 are existing real covers of women who had been named Person of the Year.
Gittings ‘cover’ used a 1964 photo by Kay rendered by Serbian artist Ivana Besevic, and incorporates the motto “Gay Is Good” coined in 1968 by Barbara & Kay’s close friend and mentor Frank Kameny, the father of the modern gay rights movement. The accompanying text by “TIME’s” San Francisco Bureau Chief Katy Steinmetz reads:
“The Stonewall riots have become the focal point of the modern LGBTQ-rights movement, but they didn’t start it. The groundwork was laid in the previous decade by activists like Barbara Gittings, who understood that before marginalized people can prevail, they must understand that they are worthy and that they are not alone.
In an era when it was dangerous to be out, Gittings edited the Ladder, a periodical published by the nation’s first known lesbian-rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, creating a sense of national identity and providing a platform for resistance. In the August 1964 issue, her editorial blasted a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, writing that it treated lesbians like her more as “curious specimens” than as humans.
Gittings would go on to be instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness and in getting libraries to carry gay literature. Whether she was wielding a pen or a protest sign, the militant advocate had a simple message: when society said that being gay was an abomination, Gittings said that gay was good.”
The journalistic legacy Gittings left for those of us who work in LGBTQ+ media is unchanged from her days: Tell the stories of LGBTQ+ people and in light of today’s campaign by far-right conservatives and others to ban our books, marginalize our LGBTQ+ kids, and erase our trans siblings- remind everyone when society claims that being LGBTQ+ is an abomination, that no, actually, “gay IS good.”
For the Los Angeles Blade and the Washington Blade, GLAAD’s 2023 prestigious Barbara Gittings Award for Excellence in LGBTQ Media is not only an honor, but a commitment to continue her legacy.
Brody Levesque is a veteran journalist and the Editor of the Los Angeles Blade.
The end comes soon: Drums, drums in the deep
“We cannot get out. The end comes. Drums, drums in the deep. They are coming.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
By Brynn Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – To be trans in the US is to know fear. It is a companion that travels with us constantly: from the moment we realize we are trans, to coming out, to transitioning, and now into our lives long past the point where we should have faded away into anonymity in days past.
We are in the midst of a second Lavender Scare, and in many ways this is far more dangerous: even Christine Jorgenson wasn’t barred from receiving hormones or being within 2500 feet of children simply for being transgender.
I have been called a doomsayer who profits from prognosticating an inevitable end. This is not precisely true: there is hope, if precious little of it. We can all clearly see the situation deteriorating rapidly in red states, with (at best) spotty resistance from the Democratic Party as a whole. We can see the effects of this deterioration as transgender people not only ask how to flee, but actively do so now. But most in a poverty-stricken community, however, lack the money or resources to flee.
There’s an eerie similarity to 1933, when people sold everything they owned, with no job waiting for them, just to get away from what they saw happening and coming. Others look at what it will take to get to another country, even as those countries are not yet ready to grant trans people asylum or refugee status. Most can only tell you that it’s getting bad, and that they’re afraid of what their government is preparing to do to them, even if they don’t know exactly what that will be. However, with nowhere to go, and no country particularly wanting transgender people, I find myself dreading another S.S. St. Louis moment in history.
There’s an authoritarian party in permanent power in half of the U.S. They’re making it clear that intend to seize permanent federal control and bring their vision of a shiny, Godly America to the rest of the country by any means necessary. They’re ready to destroy the Union and our democracy to save it from “wokeness”. And they have sold their base on the idea that the number one threat that the country must be saved from is transgender people.
State level anti-transgender bills are becoming both more numerous and draconian year after year. The Overton Window of anti-trans legislation keeps shifting further and further to the right. For example, first they wanted to ban transition-related health care for everyone under the age of 18. Then the bills started putting the age at 21. Then, this year, we saw Oklahoma propose banning it for anyone under 26. Texas followed by passing a resolution condemning it for people of all ages.
Now, Oklahoma has proposed a law that would ban providers who take state or federal money of money of any sort (e.g. Medicare or Medicaid) from providing transition-related care to anyone of any age. This means thousands of people who transitioned years ago will no longer be able to refill their prescriptions. Access to medical care will become a right that exists in theory but not in practice, like suffrage in the Jim Crow South.
It’s not just medical care. It’s sports, bathrooms, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, bans on “drag”, required misgendering, and forced outing. The creativity of this performative cruelty seems endless. Of these though, the “drag” bans are the most devastating. These laws are deliberately written as to be so vague and overly broad that a symphony orchestra with a transgender 2nd clarinet, or a family with a trans child doing a sing along in the car would be considered obscene. In West Virginia, SB252 and 278 single out transgender people (and not just drag performers) to declare that their mere presence in public is obscene.
Not only are the scope of laws increasing; the sheer number is growing exponentially. In 2018, there were 19 anti-trans bills proposed in state legislatures. By 2020 it was 60. Last year it was 155. Now, in 2023, we surpassed the 2022 total by the middle of January and are well on our way to more than 200. Even so, these numbers don’t tell the full tale.
In years past, only perhaps 10% of these bills would pass, usually after opposition and debate. Now, we’re seeing bills introduced, sent to committee, debated, and sent to the floor in 24 hours. There is simply so much happening so fast that trans people cannot put together opposition in time to speak against these bills, whereas conservative legislators coordinating with religious legal groups always have “experts” lined up and ready, since they know exactly when and where the bills will be heard ahead of time. The result is that in a year where a record number of anti-transgender bills are introduced, a record percentage, and a record total, will be passed.
Trans people are not doomed, but we’re clearly on an accelerating trajectory to the end of the community in at least half of the US. Reversing these trends, and preventing a nation-wide destruction of the community, requires numerous highly improbable things to happen. This includes Republicans moving on from the moral panic about trans people, deciding that they’ve gone far enough already with their oppression at the state level, or the courts overturning anti-trans laws. None of these seems likely.
Additionally, there remains the fear that even states with sanctuary laws, like California, will not remain safe forever. Republicans in Congress have made it clear that should they take power in 2024, they intend to pass nationwide laws similar to those at the state level. The odds of the GOP taking full control are frighteningly high: the Senate map in 2024 for Democrats is very bad, Biden’s net approval is where Trump’s was in 2020, and gerrymandering makes taking back the House difficult.
Masha Gessen’s rules for surviving autocracy state that “your institutions will not save you.” This is true for trans people now in several ways: neither courts, the Democratic party, nor the media seem prepared to stand up for us as the situation goes from hostile to non-survivable. There’s the open question of whether the courts will uphold sanctuary laws. When Texas demands the arrest and extradition of trans people (or parents of trans youth) who have fled to a sanctuary state, it seems unlikely that the current Supreme Court will do anything but what their Christian Nationalist masters tell them to. It’s also unknown whether a state like California would defy the courts and break the union over trans people or women seeking an abortion.
Then there’s the news media, the fifth estate that is supposed to be the light of truth shining on darkness. Instead, half of the media ecosystem is leading the charge to brand transgender people as an existential threat to women, children, and society. The other half, like Reuters, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, produce poorly thought out “both-sideism” and concern troll pieces that amplify and reinforce the narratives of the side that believes the ideal number of transgender people in the US is zero.
Trans people have precious few people that they know will go to the mattresses for them. We’re already seeing who on the left and center is stepping aside, or even joining in, to let self-proclaimed Christian fascists like Matt Walsh have their way. Not only can it happen here, but it is happening now, at this very instant, to the sound of deafening silence from the people who swore without irony “never again.”
The American public, for their part, either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It’s just happening to “those people”. Most trans people cannot enunciate all the factors that have them afraid, and why they form an interlocking system of failures that make recovery from the trajectory we’re on improbable. They just know that things are getting worse, and they don’t see how it will get better. Like animals before an earthquake, they know something is very wrong, even if they can’t explain why, or get anyone to listen.
All they know is that they cannot get out, the unstoppable power of the government is coming, and no one is coming to the rescue. For those who cannot flee, and cannot survive the laws about to be passed, the end comes soon. Drums, drums in the deep.
The price of freedom and criminalization of poverty
The right to be treated fairly & equitably by institutions that govern this country remains an elusive concept
By Dr. Danielle Dupuy-Watson | LOS ANGELES – As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy, it is important to recognize that civil rights battles continue in ways that are often unseen. The right to be treated fairly and equitably by institutions that govern this country remains an elusive concept more than 50 years after his death.
One place where unseen injustice occurs every day in mass proportions is in our criminal legal system which irreparably harms millions, including those held in jail detention before trial.
People have been led to believe that those arrested on suspicion of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. But this is simply not true. Statistics make clear that the presumption of innocence is reserved for those with access to money. There are approximately 400,000 people in this country who are being held in cages while awaiting trial every day.
In Los Angeles, home to the largest jail system on the planet, it is estimated that 46% of the 14,000 people held in jail are being detained pretrial, often for days and weeks, before receiving an attorney or seeing a judge. That’s 6,440 people! And it’s been estimated that about 72% of those detained pretrial are there because they can’t afford bail. That’s 4,600 Angelenos unnecessarily, and unjustly separated from their children, their families and their lives.
While the separation from your community is awful enough, the extreme and life-threatening harms that people face while in jail pretrial is also a crucial part of these less visible stories.
BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by this systemic injustice. Over 85% of people in LA jails are BIPOC. LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to be arrested relative to the rest of the population. A survey of incarcerated LGBTQ+ people revealed that 74% of those interviewed were incarcerated simply because they couldn’t afford the price of freedom.
The battle against this egregious system of poverty punishment is not new, but it has once again come into the spotlight in LA, in part because of the unrelenting work of those most impacted and advocates. We refuse to let our communities continue to suffer these harms. We continue to fight because we see how progress can be undermined when government actors disregard court rulings.
For instance, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s money bail system violates due process and equal protection in what is commonly referred to as the Humphrey decision. And while many may have expected to see movement towards a different and better reality for LA, 15 months later the LA Superior Court reinstated one of the most expensive bail schedules in the country. It did so in spite of the CA Supreme Court decision and without any evidence that secured bail improves public safety.
In fact, empirical literature has concluded just the opposite. So, we must acknowledge that even a decision by the state Supreme Court does not immediately turn the tide and can, in some cases, have little impact on what is practiced.
Angelenos must care about and commit to something different for anything to change. Supervisor Hilda Solis and former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl exemplified this type of care and commitment in 2021 when they co-authored two motions — unanimously passed by the full Board — that support the Supreme Court decision, activating county resources to address the problem that cash bail and pretrial detention poses.
But even with this support, actual change for the people in pretrial detention remains unrealized. That’s why Civil Rights Corp and Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project, with a coalition of concerned lawyers and faith leaders, filed a class action lawsuit on Nov. 14, 2022 on behalf of six individuals jailed in LAPD and LASD stations and jails for five days before seeing a lawyer or judge. They could not afford to pay preset money bail as required by LA County’s bail schedule, which assigns monetary amounts based on arrest charges before people are given any hearing in court.
In most cases, these charges were reduced or dropped once a prosecutor reviewed the case and the individuals were ordered released at their first hearing. The case alleges that this bail schedule policy is illegal.
“Our clients can’t afford to pay for housing, let alone the thousands of dollars police demand for their freedom. But they are not too dangerous to release: they would be set free right away if they could pay. They are jailed only because they do not have money. Through this case, they have decided to stand up to LA’s cruel and senseless system of cash-based jailing,” says Civil Rights Corps attorney Salil Dudani.
“Under LA County’s system, a person arrested for a less serious crime is locked up solely because she can’t pay, while another person arrested for a more serious crime is set free because he can afford bail. This is the definition of wealth discrimination, and it has no place in our society or our legal system,” says Debtors’ Prison Project Director Leslie Bailey.
The current problems with pretrial detention and the LA bail system validate Dr. King’s fears about the future. “Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house,” King said.
If we take this seriously, we must care for people in our communities who live in poverty and most importantly continue to put out the fire before the house burns beyond repair.
To learn more about pretrial detention, the cash bail system and how to get involved in Los Angeles, visit The Bail Project or Justice LA.
Danielle Dupuy-Watson, Ph.D, is the CEO of Civil Rights Corps. Prior to joining CRC, she was the Executive Director of the Million Dollar Hoods project and the Director of Research and Programs at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
Brazil insurrection proves Trump remains a global threat
Jair Bolsonsaro took page out of former U.S. president’s playbook
WASHINGTON — I was at home in Dupont Circle on Sunday afternoon when I learned that thousands of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro supporters had stormed their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace. I grabbed my iPhone, used Google Translate to translate my initial thoughts into Brazilian Portuguese and sent them to many of the sources with whom I have worked while on assignment for the Washington Blade in the country.
“Muito perturbador a que está aconterendo em Brasília,” I said. “What is happening in Brasília is very disturbing.”
One source described the insurrection as “terrible.” Another told me that “everything is chaos.”
Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group, said what happened in Brasília was “horrible.” Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in a statement said the insurrectionists “attacked democracy.” Congresswoman Erika Hilton, who is Transgender, described them as “terrorists.”
The insurrection, which has been described as a “coup” and a “terrorist” act, took place two days after the U.S. marked the second anniversary of Jan. 6. I felt a real sense of déjà vu because what happened in Brasília was nearly identical to what I witnessed here in D.C. two years and two days earlier with Blade Photo Editor Michael Key and then-Blade intern Kaela Roeder.
Then-U.S. President Donald Trump refused to accept the 2020 presidential election results, and thousands of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, laid siege to the Capitol after he spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse. The insurrection began after lawmakers began to certify the Electoral College results.
Bolsonaro, who has yet to publicly acknowledge he lost to current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, flew to Florida on Dec. 30.
Da Silva’s inauguration took place in Brasília on Jan. 1. Bolsonaristas laid siege to their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace a week later.
“The Brazilian presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency that has tipped the LGBT+ community into a boiling pot of fake news,” wrote Egerton Neto, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who is also an Aspen New Voices Fellow and manager of Oxford University’s XX, in an op-ed the Blade published last Oct. 28, two days before Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of Brazil’s presidential election. “This is part of a broader global problem and we need a global plan to stop it.”
I was on assignment in Mexico City on July 16, 2018, when Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki. I wrote in a Blade oped the “ridiculous spectacle … proved one and for all the U.S. under (the Trump) administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world.”
“American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is a beacon of hope to those around the world who suffer persecution. American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is the land of opportunity where people can build a better life for themselves and for their families,” I wrote. “Trump has turned his back on these ideals. He has also proven himself to be a danger not only to his country, but to the world as a whole.”
Bolsonaro during a press conference with Trump at the White House on March 19, 2019, said he has “always admired the United States of America.”
“This admiration has only increased since you took office,” said Bolsonaro.
The so-called “Trump of the Tropics” clearly took a page out of his American ideological counterpart’s anti-democratic playbook, and Sunday’s insurrection in Brasília is the implementation of it. The bolsonaristas who stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace perpetrated an assault on democracy in the name of their country’s former president who cannot bring himself to publicly acknowledge that he lost re-election. Sunday’s insurrection also proves that Trump, his enablers and those who continue to blindly defend and worship him remain as dangerous as ever.
GLAAD: NY Times’ hire of anti-LGBTQ David French is appalling
The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues
By Sarah Kate Ellis | NEW YORK – GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, is responding to the New York Times’ recent announcement of their hiring of anti-LGBTQ attorney and writer David French as a columnist.
“It is appalling that the New York Times hired and is now boasting about bringing on David French, a writer and attorney with a deep history of anti-LGBTQ activism. After more than a year of inaccurate, misleading LGBTQ coverage in the Times opinion and news pages, the Times started 2023 by announcing a second anti-transgender opinion columnist, without a single known trans voice represented on staff,” responded GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis.
“A cursory search for French turns up numerous anti-LGBTQ articles and his record as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination, including just last month at the Supreme Court. The Times left out these facts in its glowing announcement of French’s hiring, and also forgot to mention his work as a co-signer on the 2017 Nashville Statement, which erased LGBTQ voices of faith and falsely stated ‘that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.’ The Times had the gall to claim French as a ‘faith’ expert despite this known history.
The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues. This is damaging to the paper’s credibility. The Times opinion section editors’ love letter to French yesterday shows a willful disregard of LGBTQ community voices and the concerns so many have shared about their inaccurate, exclusionary, often ridiculous pieces. Last year, the Times ended popular trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column, leaving the opinion section with no trans columnists and a known lack of transgender representation on its overall staff. Who was brought on after Boylan? Pamela Paul, who has devoted columns to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ disinformation, and David French. This reflects a growing trend on the news and opinion pages of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage. The Times started 2023 by bragging about hiring another anti-trans writer, so LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and allies should make a 2023 resolution not to stay silent as the Times platforms lies, bias, fringe theories and dangerous inaccuracies.”
Examples of French’s anti-LGBTQ activism:
- French served as attorney for SPLC-designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), best known for attacking the rights of transgender students, fighting in court to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and working internationally to criminalize being LGBTQ. French has a history of expressing his outward disdain for transgender people. In the past, he lamented “transgender entitlement” and once described a young transgender woman as a “man” who is “on the verge of mutilating himself.” (from Media Matters.)
- French was a co-signer on the “Nashville Statement.”
- Column written by French attempting to refute existence of transgender people.
- French was called out for saying that lifting the ban on trans military service will result in “thought control.”
- French recently made news for his late-in-life change of heart to support marriage equality, explaining it about a month ago. He has not disavowed his legal activism for ADF, and in fact has defended the group, which continues to attack and spread disinformation about LGBTQ people around the globe.
Examples of NYT columnist Pamela Paul’s anti-LGBTQ work:
- Pamela Paul, who is not LGBTQ, has devoted her first columns to inaccurately opining about LGBTQ issues, including falsely and incredulously claiming erasure of the word and identity, “gay” in the LGBTQ movement.
- Paul was New York Times Books Editor when writer Jesse Singal, who is not transgender or LGBTQ but who has built a career inaccurately writing about trans issues and targeting trans people, reviewed and supported his friend’s inaccurate anti-transgender book.
- Paul repeated Singal’s false and harmful exclusionary innuendo about transgender women and safety in one of her first opinion columns.
- While leading the Books section, Paul has been accused of silencing voices supportive of transgender youth.
Recent examples of inaccurate news coverage of LGBTQ people and youth, and their consequences:
- In court documents, the state of Texas quoted Emily Bazelon’s June 15 report in the New York Times Magazine to further target families of trans youth over their private, evidence-based healthcare decisions. Every major medical association supports gender affirming care as best practices care that is safe and lifesaving and has widespread consensus of the medical and scientific communities.
- The World Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), the world’s leading medical and research authority on transgender healthcare, criticized the Times’ November 2022 article “They Paused Puberty, But Is There a Cost?” as “furthering the atmosphere of misinformation” about healthcare for trans youth, noting its inaccurate narratives, interpretations and non-expert voices. WPATH noted the Times elevated false and inflammatory notions about medications that have been used safely in non-LGBTQ populations for decades without an explicit statement about how the benefits of the treatment far outweigh potential risks.
- Writer Michael Powell elevated anti-transgender voices to falsely assert, in a piece about one successful transgender athlete, that transgender athletes are a threat to women’s sports. Powell’s other pieces have been used to support Pamela Paul’s inaccurate opinion essays falsely claiming “women” are being erased by the inclusion of trans people in discussions about abortion access.
Let light and love into our world this holiday season
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”
By Christian Fuscarino | NEPTUNE, Nj. – As the holiday season passes us by and we head into the new year, for many it is still the season of celebration. But we know all too well that these are dangerous times — particularly for marginalized communities.
In early November, the FBI alerted New Jersey Jews that they had credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in our state. It was a stunning alert — and half a million New Jersey Jews had to think twice about whether to attend their houses of worship. Later that month, a mass shooter opened fire at Club Q in Colorado Springs, murdering five people and injuring 25 more. It was yet another violent attack on the LGBTQ+ community.
In the face of such violence and hate, feelings of hopelessness can be inevitable. And yet, we must be resilient and strong in the face of hate because hate can never win.
I wasn’t raised in a Jewish home. But nine years ago, I was proud to work with Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. The group focuses on mobilizing Jews to advance social issues by speaking out against injustice and inequality. It was there and later working for Educational Alliance — a network of community centers in lower Manhattan — I learned about Jewish values, ultimately leaving an indelible mark on my work to this day.
In 2016, I became the executive director of Garden State Equality, the largest LGBTQ+ education and advocacy organization in New Jersey, with over 150,000 Members. Our work in advocacy, policy work and trainings create safe environments for youth, improve access to affirming healthcare for our community, and ensure our older adults are treated with dignity and respect.
A good leader should talk less and listen more. For years I had heard about the progress in Israel the LGBTQ+ community was making and wanted to learn more. The fact that Israel and New Jersey have roughly the same population was particularly intriguing to me. What could I learn to be a better leader and advocate for my community?
This past June, I had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time with A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ+ group that fosters closer ties between the Israeli and American LGBTQ+ communities.
It was a transformative experience both personally and professionally. What I saw there wasn’t the conflict, it wasn’t politics, and it wasn’t religion. It was an LGBTQ+ community taking care of each other. I saw community groups in action, advocating for their equal rights. The government investment in LGBTQ+ issues was also extraordinary. It’s a model for what our work demands here in New Jersey and around the country.
After my visit, I watched in dismay the recent election results in Israel, where far-right extremists have catapulted from the margins of society right to the heart of government. We know all too well here in the U.S. the impact that can have on social progress. The LGBTQ+ community needs our support now more than ever, both in Israel and around the world where extremism is on the march.
In recent months we’ve also seen the mainstreaming of antisemitism to an unprecedented level.
It’s in the streets — the ADL noted over 2,700 incidents of antisemitism reported in 2021 — which was an increase of 34 percent from the previous year. In 2022, those numbers will rise even further.
It’s in our politics — former President Trump openly dines with antisemites and Holocaust deniers.
It’s in our culture — Kanye West’s disgraceful attacks on the Jewish community were broadcast to millions of Americans across alternative networks. The big tech companies did their best to remove the content from their platforms, but it didn’t matter. Countless Americans — many of them young people — were subjected to the vilest hatred from a cultural giant.
There is no avoiding hate in today’s media environment. The mental health impact that it has on our communities is immeasurable. The impact it has on our physical well-being is tragic. The only way to protect our communities is to be seen and heard.
This holiday season, and moving into 2023, I encourage all of us to embrace the Jewish values of solidarity, shared liberation, dignity, equality, resilience, and moral courage as we confront these extremist threats. We must stand in solidarity because the threats facing the LGBTQ+ communities and the Jewish communities intersect. A hateful attack on any community is an attack on us all.
In the face of antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia and all form of intolerance, let us remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Let us light our menorahs and string lights on our trees because together our light will drive out darkness, and together our love will drive out hate.
Christian Fuscarino, is a community organizer, LGBTQ+ activist and the executive director of Garden State Equality.
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