James Baldwin for the modern liberation movement
The Fire Next Time is the fire now
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.” —James Baldwin
James Baldwin, arguably one of the most eloquent, truth telling novelists, poets and thought leaders ever to grace the world stage, would have turned 94, if he were still living on Aug. 2, 2018. In life, he triumphantly and publicly embraced all of his identities including being black, gay, from and of Harlem and poor. And he did this in spite of the judgement, ignorance, and danger he faced for living life unapologetically in truth.
To be clear, while we celebrate it now, the path that Baldwin endured was not easy—he constantly and intentionally made the decision to always show up in truth and in pursuit of justice. So what would James Baldwin say to us now? How does he show up in the lives of those of us who proclaim to care about America?
Coming of age during the Jim Crow Era and maturing during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, Jimmy, as he was known to those he loved, built relatable and poignant critiques of American life by examining his own life and interrogating the subtle differences that have been used by those in power to exploit and divide communities, especially Black people.
The path toward collective liberation is one where we lean into Jimmy’s insistence that we show up for each other. At a time when the nation’s “leader” uses words to divide and inflict pain, Baldwin’s legacy invites us to not only remember the power of words but to also reexamine what leadership looks like. Voting and other fundamental rights are constantly attacked; children are being ripped from their parents both at borders and in communities ravaged by poverty and toxic stress; and too few hard working Americans have actual pathways to the employment and support to fully participate in civic society.
More than fighting for air time with a Twitter thug, leaders should be racing to aid Chikesia Clemons, who was almost raped by three white male police officers who threw her naked body onto the floor of a dirty Waffle House restaurant. Or Anthony Wall who was choked by a police officer outside of a Waffle House in Warsaw, N.C. Both Anthony and Chikesia are victims of the brutal power Baldwin warned us about in books like “The Fire Next Time.”
Among Jimmy’s greatest contributions to the struggle for freedom is humanizing Black people through vivid words and pictures of their lives. As he ruminated on the complexities of relationships, he spoke to how power directly threatens the concept of justice and liberty for all. He cautioned us against allowing those in power to prevent us from standing in our truth and from working better together to dismantle the systems designed to preserve white supremacy. These lessons are ever salient as the rights Black people have assumed to enjoy are being systematically denied, attacks that are most viscerally experienced by those of us with intersectional identities—who show up, as Baldwin did, as Black and _______.
For as long as there have been Black people there have been Black LGBTQ and same gender loving people. Baldwin described the contours of our otherwise invisible lives—naming and describing emotions intimately known only by members of our community. During one of his most piercing interviews in 1984 with The Village Voice, Baldwin made a significant point about how queerness is experienced by Black people: “The sexual question comes after the question of color; it’s simply one more aspect of the danger in which all Black people live.”
Baldwin aptly names the reality that Black LGBTQ/SGL people are Black first and the compounding, discriminatory reality he describes endures to date. Dominant culture has a way of forcing people of color into monolithic and one-dimensional boxes, boxes that are then weighed down by the anchors of poverty, toxic stress and trauma.
It is this collective struggle with the social construct of “Blackness” that Jimmy underscores the importance of Black people standing together—of marginalized and oppressed people standing together, especially in the moments in which the system seeks to keep us apart. Baldwin theorized if people can understand that our fates are tethered—that our liberation is dependent upon the liberation of the least of these, we could walk further down the path toward true justice. The lesson Jimmy taught me that I hope others will learn, as well, is that none of us are free until all of us are free.
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” —James Baldwin
Now more than ever, we need social justice warriors trained in the school of Baldwin who understand the importance of speaking full truth to power, especially in the moments in which it is most inconvenient and uncomfortable. Are you registered to vote? Are you willing to help others exercise their right to vote? Does your plan include meeting with elected officials to let them know you will hold them accountable? Have you considered running for office or contributing to a campaign?
If we do nothing else, we owe it to the children who will inherit our problems to stand in truth and on the side of justice. It’s this type of radical truth telling and standing in solidarity with those who have shared experiences, sometimes shared sorrows that made Baldwin a man of the people even when he stood alone.
Judy Heumann helped so many of us with disabilities to be out and proud
‘Like the color of my eyes or the color of my hair, it is a part of who I am’
When I was growing up, people like me, who were disabled, were usually met with scorn, pity and exclusion.
On March 4, Judith (Judy) Heumann, a founder of the disability rights movement, died at 75 in Washington, D.C.
For decades, Heumann, who contracted polio when she was 18 months old, was a leader of a civil rights movement that changed the lives of millions of folks like me.
Judy (so many of us, whether we knew or not, connected with her on a first-name basis), was known as the “mother” of the disability rights movement. She was the Harvey Milk of our struggle.
You might think: why should LGBTQ people care about the passing of a disability rights leader?
Here’s why: Nearly, 20 percent of people in this country have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes LGBTQ+ people. An estimated three to five million people are queer and disabled.
Studies, including a study by the Map Advancement Project, reveal that queer people are more likely than non-queer people to become disabled. We face the double-whammy of anti-queer and disability-based discrimination. The MAP study reported that of the more than 26,000 transgender people surveyed, 39 percent reported having a disability.
If you’re queer and have a disability (blindness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, psychiatric disorder, etc.), you’ve likely run up against employers who don’t want to hire you or restaurants who don’t care to serve you. If you’re a queer parent of a disabled child, you’ve probably had to fight to get your kid the education they need.
These battles are hard. But, thanks to Heumann and the movement she led, there are ways — from the Americans with Disabilities Act to working the media — to fight this injustice.
Heumann, who at 29 led a month-long protest that was the Stonewall of the disability rights movement, and in her 70s was the star of the fab, Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp,” was a powerhouse of energy, discipline, hard work and humor. She was a quintessential bad ass who worked for justice 24/7, and kicked your butt if you didn’t.“Kathi, get your self together!” commanded the voice over the phone, “or you won’t get anything done.”
It was 1987, and I was writing my first news story. I was interviewing Heumann about an historic protest that she’d led a decade earlier. It was the 10th anniversary of what is believed to be the longest non-violent sit-in a federal building.
In April 1977, more than 100 disabled people took over the (then) Health, Education and Welfare building in San Francisco. President Richard Nixon had signed the Rehabilitation Act into law in 1973. But, regulations, known as “504,” a section of the Act that prohibited discrimination against disabled people by institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) receiving federal funding, hadn’t been signed. After protesting in the San Francisco building for a month and in Washington, D.C. (including at then President Jimmy Carter’s church), the “504″ regulations were signed.
Heumann, who was an official in the Clinton administration and a special adviser in the Obama State Department, was tough, kind, and proud of herself and the movement that she founded.
For Heumann, who is survived by her husband and brothers, disability was a normal part of life, not a tragedy.
“I never wished I didn’t have a disability,” Heumann wrote in her memoirs “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.”
When Heumann was a child, disabled children were often institutionalized. Like being queer, being disabled wasn’t considered to be normal then.
Doctors advised Heumann’s parents to send Judy to an institution when she was a child. But her parents, who were Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany, refused. This experience turned her mother and father against institutionalizing her, Heumann wrote in her memoir.
“If I’d been born just 10 years earlier and become disabled in Germany, it is almost certain the German doctor would also have advised that I be institutionalized,” Heumann wrote, “The difference is that instead of growing up being fed by nurses in a small room with white walls and a roommate, I would have been taken to a special clinic, and at that special clinic, I would have been killed.”
Just as it is if you’re queer, if you’re disabled, if you want to respect yourself, you need to be out and proud.
Judy more than anyone I’ve ever known, helped so many of us with disabilities to be out and proud. She taught us that being disabled isn’t something to be ashamed of. That it’s an important aspect of who we are.
Her disability, Judy often said, is, “Like the color of my eyes or the color of my hair, it is a part of who I am.”
I knew Judy only from interviewing her over the years and being on an episode of her podcast “The Heumann Perspective.” But Judy, whether you’d known for decades or just a few months, made you feel like you were a friend. She’d advise you, cheer you on and challenge you over the phone, in texts and on Zoom.
She almost got me, a non-make-up wearing lesbian, to wear lipstick (so I wouldn’t look like a ghost on her podcast). Earlier this winter, Judy wondered why I didn’t put my disability on my resume. Being nervous could be good, she said, when I was scared of reading at a poetry festival.
“If you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t demand what you believe in for yourself, you’re not going to get it,” Judy said.
Thank you, Judy for teaching us to respect ourselves and to demand our rights! R.I.P., Judy!
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
Latest Uganda anti-homosexuality bill incites new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ hate
Mbarara Rise Foundation appeals to international community for help
To the international community,
I write to you today on behalf of the organization I lead, Mbarara Rise Foundation.
Since the year began, our rural grassroots LGBTQI+ communities have faced life threatening problems including an increased number of mob attacks, individual threats, police arrests and non-stop fears and insecurities arising from the homophobic campaigns happening in Uganda. Sadly, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was introduced on March 9, inciting a new wave of anti-LGBTQI+ hatred.
This anti-homosexuality bill is worse than previous bills because, under this new law, simply identifying as LGBTQI+ means you have committed a crime. Even before the bill has passed, this homophobic action in Parliament has encouraged more of the general population, bloggers, celebrities and politicians to increase their hate campaigns all over the country. More than ever, Uganda is not a safe environment for us now.
Currently, attacks are happening all over Uganda. Our communities have faced mob “justice” scenarios, threats and arrests and we have no legal recourse. Many of our constituents have received death threats, and in fact some have gone into hiding. This all increased dramatically when the bill was read in the Parliament and homophobic people are using it as a new excuse to inflict harm upon us. In just one of many examples, a transgender woman associated with our organization was beaten, publicly, by a group of cis men and she now sustains serious wounds. The police do not care.
Your voices are needed to speak out against these human rights abuses in Uganda. Your kind support is crucial and timely for us because we need protection, visibility and defense of our basic human rights. Mbarara Rise Foundation is working tirelessly to help LGBTIQ persons through building the capacity of the LGBTQI+ community, by documenting and advocating against violence, and through providing safety and security where we are able. We are fighting to increase access to legal counsel and justice and working to repeal homophobic laws and transform the attitudes of duty bearers towards LGBTQI+ persons. We cannot do this work alone.
These matters are urgent because Uganda needs interventions to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons amidst escalating violence and homophobia given the limited capacity of LGBTQI-led organizations, a shrinking civic space. In short, we need your outrage, your voices, and your support and we need it now.
Mbarara Rise Foundation
Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ+ community
Proposed reforms of country’s judiciary have sparked widespread protests
WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Thursday was another record day for the protests against the legal revolution that members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are trying to carry out. High-tech employees and business owners, doctors and nurses, professors, teachers and students, economists and intellectuals, parents and children, security personnel and activists have united in the protest movement and the number of weekly demonstrations against the coup d’état have increased.
What began as a single demonstration in Tel Aviv 10 weeks ago turned into a huge demonstration of about 300,000 people in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem about a month ago. This movement two weeks ago turned into a Day of Disruption throughout the country and reached its peak on Thursday with the declaration of a National Day of Resistance.
LGBTQ+ and intersex people and organizations have joined the struggle.
LGBTQ+ and intersex organizations on Thursday morning held their own protest in Tel Aviv’s Culture Square before they marched with Israeli and Pride flags and joined other protest groups in front of the city’s government building.
These organizations took part in the first demonstrations that took place more than two months ago. They formed a larger LGBTQ+ group and marched together as one, with gay party promoters joining them later. The Aguda, Hoshan, IGY (Israel Gay Youth), the Gila Project and Maavarim rented buses for LGBTQ+ and intersex people who wanted to go to Jerusalem and demonstrate in the capital.
Next step: Cancelling the right to LGBTQ+ parenthood
One of the largest protests to date is the Day of Disruption that took place on March 1.
The day, which began as protests that took place in dozens of cities across Israel as MKs passed bills, for the first time during the protest movement saw violent scenes between protesters and police officers, who used stun grenades to disperse them.
The Aguda and Hoshan before the Day of Disruption hung signs in the train stations that simulated a train route. Bills that would discriminate against the LGBTQ+ and intersex community and simulating life after the legal revolution’s approval in the Knesset were written in place of station name: The first stop was the cancellation of Pride parades, followed by the cancellation of Transgender pregnancies, a ban on discussing LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in schools and in the media, repealing the discrimination ban removing children from same-sex households and approving so-called conversion therapy.
“The State of Israel is speeding down a path of direct discrimination, and that is our red line. When the first stop is crushing the justice system, the next stops are canceling the right to gay parenthood and allowing discrimination in businesses, just like what happened in Hungary and Poland,” wrote the Aguda and Hoshan in their campaign. “This is exactly the time for everyone to ask themselves where his red line cross — because when the legal revolution leaves the station, it will be very difficult to stop the violation of the rights we fought for years.”
Lesbians on motorcycles at the beginning of the Day of Disruption blocked traffic throughout Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv while on their way to Jerusalem. The Israeli “Pride and Ride” Dykes on Bykes movement led the protest. Dykes on Bykes has existed since 1976, and has emerged as a significant part of the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights movement and as a symbol of female strength and Pride for every lesbian woman.
At the same time in Jerusalem, writer Ilan Scheinfeld arrived at the Western Wall plaza with his two sons who were born by surrogacy and waved a large pride flag in front of the Western Wall.
Israel’s LGBTQ+ and intersex families have launched a campaign aimed at Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a proud father of twins, in which they tried to appeal to his heart as a gay person who started a family thanks to Supreme Court rulings, and to explain to him what the consequences of a political revolution might be on gay parenting.
Aguda Chair Hila Peer in the evening spoke at the central demonstration in Tel Aviv.
“They think they will push us back into closets. This government has a clear agenda and the LGBTQ community is one of the first in line. This is not legal reform, it is a gun that is being held to the head of the LGBTQ community. They are destroying the only body that protects human rights, so that later they can enact whatever they want against us,” said Peer. “This government has brought up the worst haters of freedom, of equality and of the LGBTQ community, It gave them power over our families, over our rights. We faced crazier, meaner, more violent and broke every closet they ever dared to try build for us.”
“The year is 2023 and we are going nowhere but forward,” added Peer. “Even if you take the court, even if you threaten us in the streets. Even if you deny us right after right, we will not stop. We will not disappear. The LGBTQ community was born out of a revolution, and the LGBTQ community will bring the next revolution.”
Opposition community representatives also tried to disrupt the Constitution Committee’s proceedings, or at least create actions that would cause them to become illegitimate. MK Yorai Lahav Hertzno from Yesh Atid party during one of the debates came up to the table and began chanting “shame” while pointing an accusing finger at MK Simcha Rotman, who chairs the committee The demonstration caused a lot of criticism and the Knesset’s Ethics Committee punished Hertzno.
Why is the LGBTQ+ and intersex community afraid?
The absolute majority of the rights of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community in Israel today came from Supreme Court rulings. From treatments for HIV carriers to surrogacy and parentage registration, all achievements were achieved as a result of battles waged in court against the decisions of the government and the Knesset.
The regime change that includes the weakening of the Supreme Court’s power and allows the Knesset to overrule any Supreme Court ruling with a simple majority allows the cancellation of any Supreme Court decision with relative ease. Although laws against the LGBTQ+ and intersex community are not currently on the agenda, the potential for change is clear such possibility.
If the legal revolution passes, the government will be able to enact laws that directly harm LGBTQ+ and intersex people — and without an independent court there will be no one to protect them or the rights we have already received.
Already now, under the auspices of the public atmosphere, there is an increase in the number of reports of cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ and intersex people in businesses and in the public sphere. This discrimination would be legal if some extreme MKs succeed in their efforts. LGBTQ+-phobic members of Knesset are already spreading their dangerous agenda today and promote bills that will harm LGBTQ+ and intersex youth and the creation of safe spaces in schools.
The LGBTQ+ and intersex community and its rights are under attack, and LGBTQ+ and intersex people will be among the first groups to be harmed when the checks and balances are removed from the government. Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community.
George Avni is the editor of WDG, an LGBTQ+ and intersex media outlet in Israel.
LGBTQ+ Puerto Ricans are making history in 2023
U.S. Senate last month confirmed Gina Mendéz Miró as federal judge
Representation matters even more to three of the most historically marginalized and underrepresented groups in the last century in the U.S.: Women, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans since then have struggled to get worthy representation in the states and internationally. But if being a Puerto Rican is already tricky because of the historical unfairness of the “relationship” between the island and the U.S., being a member of the LGBTQ community is even more challenging.
Puerto Ricans are treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. by receiving less federal aid and benefits than the 50 states and being underrepresented in each political, social, cultural, economic and governmental position within the mainland. Puerto Ricans’ federal and constitutional rights are not guaranteed like ordinary Americans. Puerto Ricans, like women and Black people, have mainly and throughout U.S. history received their federal and constitutional rights one by one through the U.S. Supreme Court. And why is it so important to give all this background if we are here to talk about Puerto Rican LGBTQ women? Well, because a famous saying says: “… people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it …” and it’s always essential to understand the historical background of our LGBTQ representatives and put ourselves in their shoes.
The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Gina Méndez Miró, the first openly lesbian Puerto Rican woman, to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico. The Senate voted 54-42 to approve the previous Puerto Rico appellate judge.
I met Gina in 2016 when she was serving Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia’s Chief of Staff. We were both delegates for Hilary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as members of the LGBTQ community. Even though our encounters have been brief since then, I have perceived Gina’s passion for justice, gender equity and promoting a more secure world for the LGBTQ community. This appointment was a victory for our LGBTQ community, women and the Latino community in the U.S.
Another significant accomplishment in Puerto Rico happened last week when Daniela Arroyo González became the first transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe Puerto Rico.
Daniela has been chosen to compete in the Puerto Rico Miss Universe contest for the first time. I met Daniela in 2018 when we were participating in a runway fashion show fundraiser to raise money and awareness for the LGBTQ community on the island. Daniela is well known in the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico after being part of a federal lawsuit against Puerto Rico’s government, requesting the authority to change the gender designation in her birth certificate. People in Puerto Rico today can change their genders on their birth certificates. As executive director of the LGBTQ advisory board of the governor of Puerto Rico, I worked with the Department of Health’s Vital Statistics Office to create the local guidelines to allow trans people on the island this change by only bringing a medical certificate.
Daniela’s participation in the beauty pageant is another significant victory for the LGBTQ community, Latinas and women’s movement on the island. It is even more critical when Puerto Rico is the number one jurisdiction in the U.S. in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and number one in gender-based violence crimes against women. According to Human Rights Campaign’s statistics, a woman is murdered in Puerto Rico by her partner every seven days. In 2020, six of the 44 deaths of trans and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. were in Puerto Rico. These deaths represent most of the murders of trans people that happened in the U.S. in 2020.
Gender-based violence has also become even more common in Puerto Rico, with at least 5,517 female victims recorded, according to the Gender Equality Observatory. Daniela’s representation gives the strength and necessary visibility that trans women on the Island need.
Third but not least, we have Villano Antillano, the sensation of the moment. Villano is a 27-year-old trans Puerto Rican woman that has recently become one of the most iconic Spanish-language rappers by making memorable worldwide appearances in Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
In 2022, Villano launched to fame with her collaboration with Argentine producer, Bizarrap. Her music has reached the Billboard Argentina Hot 100 and Billboard Spain Hot 100, and she is the first trans and nonbinary artist to get the Top 50: Global on Spotify charts. Last week, Villano was nominated for “Premio Lo Nuestro,” becoming the first trans artist in the awards’ women’s category for Breakthrough Female Artist of the Year. The iconic Premio Lo Nuestro is a Spanish-language award show honoring the best Latin music of the year.
I met Villano a few years ago in 2015, and I witnessed her passion for music and women’s rights since day one. I had the privilege to learn from her how to become more aware of the struggles of Puerto Ricans, trans women and the necessity of creating more safe spaces for women in Puerto Rico. Congratulations Villano.
These victories send a solid message to young people everywhere: LGBTQ people, women and Latinas can dream bigger and honestly believe anything is possible. The above is a tangible reminder to our youth generations that every single vote matter and that expanding society to integrate more voices is what real democracy is all about. Seeing characters serving in power positions like judges, getting nominated for music awards, or winning beauty pageants, gives LGBTQ youth the hope that they can make it too. These three wonderful and talented women will allow future generations to dream and aspire to be anything they want.
Thank you, Gina, thank you, Daniela, and thank you, Villano, for allowing us to dream, dream of becoming, and succeed.
LGBTQ+ community rallies around NCLR’s Shannon Minter
Friends and colleagues of National Center for Lesbian Rights’ longtime legal director are rallying around him and his family after a tornado
EAST TEXAS HILL COUNTRY – A powerful fast moving stormfront moved across Texas and other Southern states yesterday, Thursday, leaving behind in its wake a wide swath of destruction with lives lost and disrupted by tornado damage and high winds.
Sadly it also destroyed the home of Shannon and Robin Minter and the collective of their furry children they love and take care of. Fortunately says Minter, nobody was lost or hurt although the home is beyond repair, or in the parlance of insurance adjusters, it’s totaled.
In full disclosure this reporter has been friends with Minter for 15 years and I have to say, this was a serious gut blow. Shannon is one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and he’s also one of the fiercest legal eagles/advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in his role as the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Beyond his legal expertise and dedicated work to preserving and fighting for equity and equal rights for LGBTQ+ humans, as chronicled on his hugely popular Twitter account, is his love and advocacy for all creatures great and small, but especially stray ‘doggos and kittys’ that find their way to the Minter home. Oh and trust me when I say- nay, place emphasis on ‘home.’
My colleague and fellow editor Cynthia Laird at the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco where NCLR is home based wrote earlier:
“Within hours of the news, one of Minter’s friends started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds. Minter’s friend, known by the Twitter handle Cee Eyes (“Dr. Strange PhD Cat Lackey”), noted the campaign quickly surpassed its initial $10,000 goal. Cee Eyes wrote that the goal likely would be adjusted upward as the “situation evolves and needs are assessed.”
“Shannon Minter and his wife Robin have given a loving home to so many stray kitties and pups. Many of us know Shannon for his big heart, kind words, and boundless devotion,” Cee Eyes wrote for the fundraiser. “Sadly, a tornado ripped apart the Minter home on March 2, 2023. Shannon and Robin have done so much for others — bringing light and joy to those who follow their Twitter adventures. Now it’s time for us to do whatever we can as they begin to rebuild a safe home for the Minter Babies!
“When we first heard about the disaster, we posted the link to an ongoing, separate fundraiser before starting this one,” Cee Eyes, an ally, added. “Both fundraisers are for Shannon, and no matter which you donate to, all the money raised will go directly to Shannon and his family. Bless all of you for your loving, generous hearts!”
Last October, another friend, Laura McNamara, started a GoFundMe to raise money to help the Minters care for their many animals. It is also active and has raised over $21,000.”
This reporter saw the initial tweet and communicated with Shannon immediately to be assured that a beloved friend and his extended people/furry companions family were safe. I cannot express the relief when that text came that yep, we are.
Friends, I am sorry to share that our house just got hit by a tornado. All people & animals are okay, but we have a lot to figure out very quickly. pic.twitter.com/savhYvRnkp— Shannon Minter (@shannonminter5) March 2, 2023
Let me add a statement from Shannon’s NCLR family here. Christopher Vasquez, NCLR’s comms director wrote:
“Our hearts at NCLR go out to our legal director Shannon Minter, one of the most inspiring and passionate legal minds in the LGBTQ movement. Right now our thoughts are with him, his wife Robin, and their expansive family of beloved cats and dogs that have provided much-needed light and levity to Twitter through some particularly tough years.
We are heartened to see the vast and generous outpouring of support for the Minter family in the last 24 hours through a barrage of messages and two separate GoFundMe campaigns. Shannon is one of the bravest and most resilient individuals we know and we are positive he will come out of this temporary setback stronger than ever, ready to continue fighting for our community.”
A friend of Shannon’s has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds to assist him and Robin take care of their family of much-loved pets during this challenging time.
If EVER there were a pair of folks who could really use a helping hand from our community, it’s the Minters. So let me add my voice to request that even if its only the price of say a large pizza, one topping, and a coke? Yeah hit the link and drop them some love please.
Oh, one last thing. Shannon VERY much has a stake in every battle our collective of LGBTQ+ humanity is engaged in right now as the right attempts to erase our trans siblings, take away women’s reproductive and health rights, and stop our LGBTQ+ youth from being themselves or even learning our history. For you see, my dear friend is trans himself.
Brody Levesque is the editor of the Los Angeles Blade
Tennessee’s Taliban flips their wig over the gays
What makes these fundamentalist MAGA types so afraid of a man in a dress with make up on his face and a goddamn wig on his head?
My home state, Tennessee, has just lost its mind over gay folk.
It’s far right Republican majority legislature and Republican Governor have become nearly singly purposed in their goal of halting LGBTQ rights in the state, today declaring an all out war that is likely to spread to dozens of other states and ultimately — and perilously — the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state’s governor is expected to sign into law Senate Bill 3 and its companion, House Bill 9 banning “adult cabaret performances,” including “male or female impersonators,” from taking place in public or in any location where the performance could be viewed by a minor.
A first violation of the law would be a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent violations would be classified as a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3000.
That’s right: actual Prison time for drag show performers, promoters and owners of venues is one odious aspect of this.
But banning drag shows was not all they did.
Transgender youth in Tennessee are now legally barred from receiving gender-affirming care after the Governor signed another bill that prohibits Doctors from providing gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, including prescribing puberty blockers and hormones — and they could also be penalized.
Violations include $25,000 penalties for everyone involved. Parents could lose guardianship. And, borrowing a page from abortion restriction laws, crossing state lines for treatment has been introduced as an amendment to the bill.
Obviously a lengthy legal battle will be waged over the coming months but in the meantime the law is the law and it’s likely to be enforced.
“These children do not need these medical procedures to be able to flourish as adults,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth. “They need mental health treatment. They need love and support, and many of them need to be able to grow up to become the individuals that they were intended to be.”
Lamberth and his legislators studiously ignore the vast body of research and study that states those with ” gender dysphoria” have much better outcomes with puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
They are simply gaslighting the public and sacrificing the health and welfare of the few so they can excite the many misguided Christian conservative voters.
It’s also likely that other state’s will follow Tennessee’s lead in coupling anti-drag laws with banning gender affirming care for youth. As of today, 97 bills are pending in conservative state legislatures hoping to achieve the same thing.
The message is clear, at least to any LGBTQ person who is paying attention to the mushrooming round of grooming arguments.
The argument goes something like this: The existence of Drag queens does not, it is thought, represent innocuous or frivolous fun. They are sinister and their popularity and influence is a serious threat to the agency parents have over their kids and to culture at large; Drag is a force that is marketed to youth with the intention of grooming them into the so-called vice of homosexuality. Gender non-conforming ideas are a threat to society, they posit, and will lead young people to question their identities and seek gender reassignment. I guess they also think this means the world will end in a hail of fire and brimstone.
The bill associates any form of dressing outside one’s gender as “adult” entertainment, using the wording “male or female impersonators.” It makes it illegal to perform such entertainment in public or in places where it could potentially be seen by children.
The bill is so poorly written that it may now also be a crime in Tennessee to wear clothing in public that is not intended for one’s perceived gender.
It’s hard to combat that kind of ridiculousness with rational thinking.
But let’s digress! I want to get to what makes these fundamentalist MAGA types so afraid of a man in a dress with make up on his face and a goddamn wig on his head?
Maybe drag queens challenge the masculinity of the Republican legislators? Maybe it’s just the way of the bully: If you don’t pick on the fag then people will think your softness means you are one? Maybe they secretly blush with a beet-red raging hard on everytime they see a drag queen on TV? Maybe women Republicans just know they can’t compete with the beauty of the queens (they can’t of course) who are out to take their man. Ok!
It was Tammy Wynette who sang “you ain’t woman enough to take my man,” but I’m pretty sure she’d say these are not men she can stand by.
Sadly, it’s THEIR kids who need the most help, these people who are so easily threatened and so thin skinned. Liberal parents who truly want their kids to live their best lives know what’s best for their kids. They want parental choice, but not your brand of it.
Conservative parents are determined to keep their children ( and everyone else’s) conservative even if miserable and think their need to shield them from unwanted culture means the rest of the world and all of science needs to be shut down.
Tennessee has always been a place of contrast and that, at least when I was a kid, used to be a strength. But now its contrast is also its breaking point. The governor and its legislature, for instance, are out of step with the needs and the culture of the core populations that drive its economy; what works and the ideologies of places like McMinville, TN don’t work for Nashville or Memphis or Knoxville or Chattanooga or Murfreesboro or Franklin.
Right now Tennessee, particularly Nashville, is in the middle of one of the greatest economic booms in the nation’s history. 3,000 people move to the city every day. They don’t come with hate but they do come because the economy is booming and that boom is now most assuredly at risk.
I’m not talking about the loss of revenues from the state 42 drag shows potentially being shut down because they are threatened by these laws. Or because doctors at Vanderbilt may have to cease offering transition care to youth and their supportive family.
Tennessee’s economy is at risk because these laws will bring a response from the world that Tennessee depends on. The LGBTQIA family will work to ensure Tennessee pays a steep price for its sad display of ignorance and evil.
There’s a roadmap for exacting that price.
Just ask Cracker Barrel what happened when it tried to ban LGBTQ people from employment. The City of New York sold its holdings in the Lebanon, TN headquartered company, a sizable investment held by the City’s Teacher’s Pension Fund. Other municipalities followed suit and Cracker Barrel was forced to change its policy, but only after a multi-million dollar loss that caused it to struggle for a time.
Some of us remember the power of that lesson.
I’m quite sure California and New York hold billions of dollars in investment into Tennessee. Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Tennessee include FedEx, HCA Healthcare, International Paper Company, Dollar General Corporation, Community Health Systems, Inc., Unum Group, Eastman Chemical Company, AutoZone, Inc., Vanguard Health Systems, Inc., Tractor Supply Company. Tennessee’s cultural connection to the world through New York and California based companies is profound. The number one city from which people relocated to booming Nashville is Los Angeles. The distillery world and publishing world are massive beneficiaries of Tennessee’s cultural ties to the world and those too can be easily disrupted.
I am NOT calling for a boycott.
I am calling for something far worse, much harsher and way easier to accomplish; divestment of Tennessee based assets by Comptrollers and Secretaries of State in pro-LGBTQ Cities and States around the country.
Tennessee’s slogan is “The Volunteer State” and that is intended to imply its a place that follows the golden rule and lends a helping hand and never oppresses.
Also true to Tennessee’s character, which always loves a good joke, a little schadenfreude when someone steps in it is always a lot of fun.
A photo of Governor Bill Lee’s 1977 High School drag performance has made the rounds with the caption “Hard Luck Woman.”
“The bill specifically protects children from obscene, sexualized entertainment, and any attempt to conflate this serious issue with lighthearted school traditions is dishonest and disrespectful to Tennessee families,” a spokesperson rattled.
When asked during a press conference Monday if he “remembered dressing in drag in 1977,” Lee didn’t deny the photo was of him—but he said it doesn’t change anything.
“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is,” Lady Lee protested. “Conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject.”
Tennessee loves a good Jr. and High School cheerleading squad and anyway, I’m pretty sure there were children present for your performance, dear.
And that’s for starters.
But if you would like to reprise your drag role and abolish this silliness, I know a bar or two in DT Nashville that would love to welcome you to stage for a starring role as Lady Miss Governor.
But by the time you unravel this treachery to your own drag community, the LGBTQIA community will have made sure you and your trans-kid hating cronies lose billions of dollars for Tennessee.
Troy Masters is the publisher of the Los Angeles Blade
LGBTQ genocide is happening now in Afghanistan
A humanitarian catastrophe is occurring that must have the attention of Western governments and all LGBTQ people and their allies
By Don Kilhefner | LOS ANGELES – At this very moment, gay genocide is happening in Afghanistan. It is underreported by print and electronic media everywhere and has gained little activist traction. A humanitarian catastrophe is occurring that must have the attention of Western governments and all LGBTQ people and their allies.
Since the August 2021 Taliban takeover, LGBTQ lives there have been dehumanized and terrorized by honor killings, torture, sexual violence, and legal and extralegal extermination. This gay genocide, coordinated countrywide, has forced recognizable or outed gay men, lesbians, and trans people to go into solitary hiding to survive. Their only hope to dodge the bullet is to flee the country. Yet, they have very few options to escape.
While precise demographic statistics are unknown, the magnitude of the crisis is potentially huge. It is estimated that there are over a million LGBTQ Afghan people between 14 and 35-years old, the primary target of the Taliban.
Despite this peril, teenagers and 20-somethings in Afghanistan have been influenced by the Gay Liberation movement via cell phones and the internet.
They know about Stonewall, Pride celebrations, same-sex marriage, posting videos on Instagram and Tic Tok, Grindr, and queer culture. They state their preferred pronouns. They also know that their lives could be spared if they somehow escaped Afghanistan and found refuge in a friendly country.
Here are the desperate words of one young gay Afghan as reported by Rainbow Railroad’s “No Safe Way Out” research report: “The Taliban has taken over, they are abducting suspected gays, and you never see them again. Because of the way I talk and behave, it’s not hard to spot me. It’s hard for me to walk around now. Before the Taliban, I was just alone, and lonely, at least my life was not in danger. I have no hope. I have almost given up. Sometimes I have the urge to go public about it, with a pride flag in my hand, and scream as I walk through the streets of Kabul, ‘I am Gay.’ If my family found out they would be the ones to kill me, no need of Taliban.”
LGBTQ people have been the last to be evacuated and the first to be executed. Over 150,000 Afghans have been evacuated to Western countries since 2021, but it is estimated that less than 1% were self-identified LGBTQ people. Priority is given to families. Since the Taliban takeover, Western countries have failed to prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of queer Afghans.
Let me be frank with you. The response of LGBTQ people living in freedom to this gay genocide has been sluggish, at best, perhaps even shameful.. Western LGBTQ leaders and organizations have largely ignored the plight of queer Afghans because they are out of sight and act like they are someone else’s problem. Once more, “Silence” by liberated LGBTQ people = “Death” to young queer Afghans.
Amid the general apathy of the LGBTQ community, three U.S. gay men stand out righteously. Michael Failla, 70, of Seattle, working relentlessly, has been involved in helping more than 100 LGBTQ Afghans escape and is helping dozens more in hiding. In October 2021, he was offered 19 seats for queers on a flight out. He had to make a Solomonic decision on whose lives to save. Finally, 19 nonbinary, young gay men were selected because they were the most visible and likely to be arrested and executed by the Taliban.
Joe, 62, of San Francisco and Frank, 57, of Los Angeles (their last names have been redacted so as not to endanger their rescue work) have started a volunteer rescue effort called “Freedom Connection USA.” Through trial-and-error learning over the past 18 months, they have mastered how to work through underground systems, sneaking at-risk LGBTQ young people out of Afghanistan and housing them, sometimes as long as a year, until they are assigned refugee status and resettled. Recently, I interviewed one of the young men whose rescue Joe and Frank narrowly engineered with the Taliban in hot pursuit. Near the end of our talk, he burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably as he choked out the words, “I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Joe.”
Rainbow Railroad, a well-known nongovernmental organization anchored in Canada and modeled after the ante-bellum “Underground Railroad” in the U.S., has also turned its focus on LGBTQ Afghans. In 2022, this NGO brought 220 queer Afghans to Western countries and recently announced the resettlement of 600 more LGBTQ Afghan refugees in Canada. However, the current effort is minuscule compared to the need. It has 6,000 requests for help. Canada and Germany have excellent records of resettlement for queer Afghans. The U.S. record is dismal.
For LGBTQ Afghans who cannot escape the country, self-deliverance—suicide—can be a way to escape the genocide. It happens often. It was reported to me recently, that the Taliban had jailed the beloved father and younger brother of a young gay man. He knew they had been arrested so he would turn himself in to the Taliban for their release, which meant his certain death by the Taliban. So, he took his own life instead.
The gay genocide in Afghanistan is based on the religious authority of the Qur’an, hadith (the words and actions of the prophet Mohammed while alive) and sharia (codified Islamic law)—kill all homosexuals. In Afghanistan, sometimes these executions are public as warnings, but the Taliban usually does it privately in a prison—out of sight, out of mind.
I recently viewed a several-minutes-long video montage of young, Muslim, gay men being executed—one hanging from a bridge with a noose around his neck, another being stoned to death by a frenzied mob, another being beheaded, and several being bound and pushed off tall buildings as bystanders rejoiced.
It’s time to hear the cries from Afghanistan. It’s time for every sector and strata of the LGBTQ community to unite around this issue with sweat and dollars—saving the lives of young queer Afghans. As Existentialism teaches us, who you are is determined by what you do.
Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., 85, a pioneer Gay Liberationist, has been a gay community organizer in Los Angeles and nationally for over half a century, including as co-founder of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s first and largest.
Our current asylum system denies thousands from living their truth
I fled Syria, came out once I received refuge in U.S.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Growing up in Syria, life was relatively stable — until it wasn’t. My world turned upside-down in 2011 when civil war ravaged the country, separating families, destroying buildings, schools and parks and displacing millions of innocent people who were forced to begin life anew in strange lands with virtually no supportive services.
I remember seeing videos of queer people being thrown from the top of buildings in areas controlled by ISIS and similar groups. Life was never easy for queer people in Syria to start with, but threats to one’s life grew exponentially amid the chaos and rise of religious extremists. I was closeted at the time; a young doctor eager to start a career in saving lives. I remember hearing the sounds of sirens, gunshots and blood-curdling screams echoing from a distance, and realizing that I had no choice but to flee.
This is the reality for many LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the United States who are escaping countries where homosexuality is criminalized, but what many Americans don’t realize is that seeking asylum isn’t as easy as filling out paperwork. The current asylum process is a tangled web of bureaucracy, politics, and legal barriers that traps asylum seekers in limbo for years.
In the U.S. today, there are 1.6 million people with pending asylum cases. Among them are doctors, students and other professionals who fled war, violence and persecution in search of safety. Now that they have found it, they face up to a 6-year waiting period before learning their fate. Asylum is a notoriously complex and discretionary system. Each case is determined on its merit by the subjective opinion of the presiding judge or immigration officer. Unfortunately, many applicants lack adequate representation, and more than half of asylum cases are denied each year. Tens of thousands struggle with coming out and living their truth against the threat of potential deportation, should their case be denied years later.
While a process to vet cases has to exist, there is no reason it should take this long. The system wasn’t always like this. In fact, over the course of a decade, the backlog in asylum applications increased seven fold — from 100,000 in 2012 to nearly 788,000 by the end of 2022.
At best, the current system is a careless abdication of responsibility by our government. At worst, it is intentionally weaponized to discourage asylum seekers from coming to the United States. This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on being a beacon of hope and opportunity, which I know firsthand. I credit my ability to freely live life as my authentic self to the ideals this country is built upon. It is our duty to ensure all asylum seekers have the same opportunity.
Last week, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary of moving to the U.S. Five years ago, I became an American citizen. It wasn’t until that point that I felt I could finally embrace my true identity. I was fortunate to have pre-existing familial ties to the U.S., which helped me bypass the complicated asylum system, but many of my queer siblings don’t have that luxury.
Since moving to the U.S., I’ve been plagued by survivor’s guilt. Three of my medical school classmates lost their lives, and some are still missing to this day. Why them, and not me? I’ve often wondered. The news of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey earlier this month, killing over 46,000 people to date, triggered many memories I thought I had long buried deep. It has also reminded me that, despite the hell I’ve been through, I made it to the other side whole. I never had the chance to be whole before calling the United States my home. Other people who were forcibly displaced, like me, deserve the same.
I want the images of destroyed buildings and the sounds of falling bombs to be replaced in their minds by those of Pride parades and drag shows — as it was for me. I want them to experience the excitement of holding another person’s hand without looking over their shoulders in angst. I want them to know what it’s like to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day with the person they love, a milestone I recently achieved this year for the first time.
This is what I fight for, and what every American should fight for.
I am unrecognizable from the person who stretched his shaky hands to give his Syrian passport to the CBP agent at Boston’s Logan Airport a decade ago. I am now an openly gay DEIB professional, human rights and LGBTQ+ advocate who is in a loving relationship. I am now a proud American citizen and a living testament to the power of compassion. It is our responsibility to ensure that the same opportunity is afforded to all those seeking asylum in the United States. The time for change and to fix our broken asylum system is now.
Basel Touchan is a Syrian American immigrant and human rights advocate. A doctor by training, he currently works as a DEIB leader and consultant. (Twitter: @Basel_Touchan)
Taliban persecution against LGBTIQ Afghans heightens
Extremist group regained control of country in 2021
NEW YORK — When Pari, a 48-year-old gay man in Afghanistan, was beaten and forced into sex by Taliban officials, his body was so badly bruised that he told his family he had been in a car crash.
Pari had tried to lay low after the Taliban captured control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021. He is a 48-year-old gay man who worked at a health clinic before the Taliban’s return to power, providing services to men who have sex with men. The clinic shut its doors and laid off its staff as the Taliban retook power, worried that some of its former clients would report their work to the Taliban. They were right to worry. A few weeks into Taliban rule, fighters showed up to the empty building and beat the security guards.
But the immediate months after the Taliban’s return to power was not the worst time for Pari and many other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Afghans. Nine months later, Pari was identified on the street by a group of Taliban who appeared to know who he was. “You are ‘izak’ and promote gay sex,” they said, using a local homophobic slur. Taliban members beat him and detained him at a checkpoint, demanding the names of his former clients.
Eighteen months after the Taliban takeover, the lives of LGBTIQ Afghans are increasingly in danger. A new Outright report demonstrates the scale and scope of violence against LGBTIQ people, who live in complete insecurity as Taliban persecution becomes increasingly systematic. In the early days after the Taliban takeover, Outright found that most threats and violence came from family members or in chance encounters with Taliban when queer people were spotted based on their appearance or identified when checkpoint guards searched their cell phones. Premeditated targeting was rare.
But Afghanistan’s de facto rulers have stepped up their persecution of LGBTIQ people over the last year. In December, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court announced individuals had been punished for homosexuality in Kabul, and public floggings for homosexuality have also been reported in other parts of the country.
Outright’s documentation suggests that much of the targeting by state agents primarily affects queer men and trans women so far. In one case, a gay activist was found dead outside a police station; a medical examiner found evidence of sexual assault, according to a family member. In another, a trans woman arrived for a dancing gig at a party to discover it was a trap, and she was handed over to Taliban officers.
For queer women and trans men, family members remain a primary source of danger, especially male relatives. One trans man we interviewed was savagely beaten by his uncle who then threatened to hand him over to the Taliban. An intersex woman who’d entered into an arranged marriage reported being beaten by her husband and forced to sleep in a cowshed. He, too, threatened to hand her over to the Taliban.
Violence against LGBTIQ people runs counter to Afghanistan’s obligations under international law and could quite possibly constitute crimes against humanity. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) stated in December that Taliban officials could be prosecuted for “gender persecution” for targeting LGBTIQ people. (Afghanistan is under the ICC’s jurisdiction, having signed onto the treaty authorizing the court in 2003.)
But the international community is doing far too little to protect queer Afghans, or to ensure that their persecutors are brought to justice. It’s almost impossible for queer Afghans to flee to safety. Foreign governments have provided far fewer visas to persecuted Afghans than are needed, and the process of resettlement requires refugees to spend months in Pakistan and other countries where LGBTIQ people are criminalized. Rainbow Railroad, an organization that help LGBTIQ refugees get to safety, has received requests for assistance from nearly 4,000 queer Afghans since August 2021. By the end of 2022, only 247 had managed to reach safe countries.
While many continue to try to leave, most queer Afghans cannot or don’t want to leave Afghanistan. They fall under the protection mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). But UNAMA has not made any public statements regarding LGBTIQ Afghans’ human rights and safety, even omitting reference to such abuses against LGBTIQ people in a human rights report issued in July 2022.
Creating safe space for queer people to connect with UNAMA and other international organizations will require a long process of trust building with the community in a country where being LGBTIQ is so stigmatized. Afghanistan is so dangerous for LGBTIQ people that many fear leaving their homes; the idea of outing themselves to an international agency is terrifying, especially if it requires the involvement of an Afghan interpreter who may share widely held anti-LGBTIQ attitudes.
But the U.N. tasked UNAMA to protect all Afghans when it was created in 2002, and UNAMA must find ways to fulfill that obligation, including by recruiting staff trusted by LGBTIQ people and beginning the crucial work of documenting violence against a deeply marginalized community.
For now, Pari has nowhere to turn for help. He ultimately escaped Taliban detention after agreeing to have sex with a man in exchange for his freedom. He thought about leaving Afghanistan, and secured a passport. But even if he could find a way out, he doesn’t want to abandon his children. To survive, he does everything possible to avoid leaving the house.
Stories like Pari’s are far too common in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. They will only grow more common unless the international community takes action. And with no safe way for most LGBTIQ Afghans to report these abuses, their stories may never be known at all.
J. Lester Feder is Outright’s Senior Fellow for Emergency Research. He researches the situation of LGBTIQ people in significant crises. He is a journalist and photographer who has reported in more than 40 countries, whose work has appeared in outlets including Rolling Stone, the New York Times and Vanity Fair. From 2013-2020, Lester was a senior world correspondent at BuzzFeed News, where he pioneered a first-of-its-kind international LGBTQ rights beat. Lester was named Journalist of the Year in 2015 by NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and received a GLAAD Media Award in 2016.
Lester holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.A. from the Columbia Journalism School.
Zapping hate-filled comments
Over the past several months there has been a marked increased frequency of unacceptable comments & hate on Facebook posts
LOS ANGELES – Over the past several months there has been a marked increased frequency of unacceptable comments and hate filled diatribes appearing on various Los Angeles Blade Facebook Page’s posts.
These have included transphobic bigotry, homophobic remarks, and ad hominem attacks on other commentators and the staff of this newspaper.
Bear in mind that this is an LGBTQ+ owned and staffed publication whose primary purpose is to serve the greater LGBTQ+ community with news reporting from highly qualified journalists and media partners along with human and community interest stories to enrich the lives of our readers.
The Blade’s commenting policy is simple: Keep it civil and focused with the understanding that attacking others WILL NOT be not tolerated, particularly with ANY form of hate-filled rhetoric or messaging.
The staff of the Los Angeles Blade has been deleting and WILL continue to delete comments that violate this policy. Abuse of the policy on a recurring basis will necessitate blocking and reporting a person making those type of comments.
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