January 31, 2018 at 3:08 pm PST | by Rebekah Sager
Human Rights experts offer ‘silver lining’ to Trump

West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman is pictured here with Salam Al Marayati, Sue Dunlap, Adam P. Romero, Yosimar Reyes, and Maria Sjodin at the West Hollywood panel about Human Rights under the Trump administration. (Photo by Rebekah Sager)

While President Trump was delivering his first State of the Union address in Washington D.C., West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman was moderating a panel on “Human Rights and Civil Liberties: One Year After the Inauguration.” Noting the erosion of rights under Trump, they also praised the hope brought by the resistance movement.

“For Muslims, it was just a few years ago we were fighting against this image that we are not terrorists. It’s like Richard Nixon saying he’s not a crook. It was the only image we had of Muslims saying ‘we’re not radicals,’ and ‘we’re not terrorists.’ And that has changed,” said Salam Al Marayati, https://www.mpac.org/about/staff-board/salam-al-marayati.php the nationally recognized president and co-founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

“I’ve had people who’ve accused me of being a terrorist sympathizer, now they’re calling and saying if Muslims have to register [for Trump’s Muslim ban], then they are Muslims, too,” Marayati said. “That solidarity represents a tectonic shift in America. That’s the silver lining. We are coming together after the bad thing that happened a year ago. Good things are coming out of it. Muslims have over 50 percent favorability in the polls, where it used to be 20 percent. Trump has 36 percent. We have more favorability than the president himself. That is historic.”

Intersectionality—the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender—was also a theme among Marayati’s fellow panelists: Maria Sjödin, Deputy Executive Director of OutRight Action International; Sue Dunlap, the out President and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles; Adam P. Romero, Director of Legal Scholarship and Federal Policy at the Williams Institute; and renowned poet and activist Yosimar Reyes,.

“What is at stake is equality under the law. We cannot have the rule of law work for the people unless there is equality of the law. Without equality of the law then the rule of law becomes an instrument of oppression against communities and against minorities,” said Marayati.

Marayati noted that Trump tried to exploit the mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando by driving a wedge between the LGBTQ and Muslim communities.

“That night after the Orlando incident, we had a vigil at the Islamic Center and we invited the religious and LGBTQ community and we prayed together and we cried together and we sang together and that was a moment of solidarity that no one was going to divide us. No one was going to pit one community against another. We declared that evening we would be a shield against any kind of hate. It was the nexus of understanding homophobia and trans phobia and Islam phobia in our society that they are one in the same,” Marayati said.

“When the President expresses his admiration for strong men such as Putin, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, or Duarte, and others, it contributes to making it more legitimate for these men to attack many communities and minorities including the LGBTQ,” said Sjödin.

Dunlap noted that the global Women’s Marches kicked off by Trump’s inauguration have been the largest civil rights demonstrations ever. “I feel a shift in the conversation,” she said. “I don’t think we will talk about women’s rights without talking about equity, equality and immigration and understanding that women are whole people.”

“Today a year later, after trying to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Dunlap, “we’re still here. And I’m incredibly proud of those doing the hard work to show up.”

In his SOTU remarks, Trump talked about prison reform, but not mass incarceration. Black people are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites; one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids, according to the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality.

“This past year we published a study finding significant over representation of LGBTQ people in prisons and jails. More than 30 percent of women in jails across the U.S., identify as lesbians, and youth in custody, more than 60 percent of girls identify as sexual minority,” said Romero. “For us that shows that for criminal justice issues in our country—they are also LBGT issues.”

With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program ending on March 5, immigration advocates have been urgently trying to extend DACA’s protection of the DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought to America as young children. Congressional Republicans also want to end “chain migration,” otherwise long known as family reunification.

In his SOTU speech, Trump mocked DREAMers, saying, “Americans are dreamers, too.” That pleased White Supremacist David Duke, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump. Americans are “Dreamers” too.”

“We’ve reached a point in the country where we cannot necessarily just advocate for one group. All the work needs to be intersectional,” said poet Yosimar Reyes. “Social movements cannot be effective without all groups involved and everyone having a seat at the table. You cannot say you’re pro-migrant if you don’t believe that black lives matter.”

But the evening wasn’t all Kumbaya. A black transgender woman noted the lack of black and transgender representation on the panel.

“[Racism] has been going on in past administrations,” said another audience member. “I think we just took off our mask. And we’re facing this systematic problem that’s more visual and more vivid. I’m undocumented. I’m HIV positive. I’m not a DREAMer. I’m an asylum refugee and I live the intersections. And I’m also poor. But I still believe—as a non-voter and a non-citizen—we have power.”

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