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Renewed hope in India

I now have more explicit legal protections there than here

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India’s Supreme Court on Sept. 6, 2018, struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. (Photo by Legaleagle86; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

When I came out to my dad, one of the first things he said was: “I wonder how many people in our family were gay but couldn’t say anything.”

I once looked through the family tree he has kept for 25 years, scanning seven generations of direct ancestors and distant relatives, wondering whose truth died with them.

During one visit to India, my grandmother took me to visit an old friend of hers. He was smartly dressed and well spoken, the sole occupant of an apartment littered with books and art. As my grandmother explained, he was a “confirmed bachelor” who had never married.

I think of him often. I’ll never know for sure if he was gay or not, but I do know there were generations of gay men in India who only had two options: a marriage based on a lie or a quiet life alone in the closet. And I wonder how different my life would have been if my family had stayed in India instead of immigrating to America when I was three years old. Which option would I have picked?

Thankfully, I had other options. I grew up and came out in an America just beginning to awaken to the cause of LGBTQ equality. I followed Ellen DeGeneres out of the closet and Edie Windsor to the altar. Later, I followed my dreams all the way to Barack Obama’s White House.

For these reasons, among others, I will always be extraordinarily proud to be an American. In no other country is my story – immigrating, coming out, marrying the person I love and starting a family, serving the highest office in the land – even possible.

And yet, that pride has always come with a corresponding set of complicated emotions about India, a deep personal connection tempered by sadness, guilt, and resignation.

Recently, my husband and I have talked about living abroad for a year or two when our daughter is older. In many ways, living in India would be a powerful way to teach her about a country that may not be a part of her genetic makeup but is nonetheless a very real part of who she is, who her appa is, and the values we hope to instill in her.

But every time we talk about it, I rule it out. How could we live as a family – even temporarily, and even with the privilege of American citizenship – in a place where our very relationship is criminal?

All of that changed on Sept. 6, when India’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down Section 377, the provision of the penal code criminalizing homosexuality, and further ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this ruling. Not only did Section 377 codify discrimination, it was used for years as a tool by government and police to raid, arrest, and stigmatize queer Indians. In their judgements, the Justices spoke to this long history of oppression, calling Section 377 “irrational, indefensible, and manifestly arbitrary,” speaking to the inherent dignity and equality owed LGBTQ individuals, and calling for full and equal protection under the law – a goal we have yet to attain here in America.

It’s not lost on me that, as a consequence of this historic ruling, I now have more explicit legal protection in the land of my birth than in the land that I love.

That said, this is just the first step. Much like Lawrence paved the way for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the freedom to marry, India too will have to grapple with the meaning and implementation of full equality for its LGBTQ citizens.

But for now, it signals the beginning of an end to loveless marriages and closeted confirmed bachelors. Even more importantly, it shows the way to a future of endless possibilities and unlimited options for future generations of Indians – and Indian Americans.

In January, my husband, daughter, and I will travel to India for a family reunion. In many ways, we will be returning to exactly the same country we’ve visited before. But in one very important way, we will be visiting a new land, with renewed hope for the future.

Gautam Raghavan served as President Obama’s liaison to the LGBTQ and AAPI communities from 2011 to 2014, currently advises the Indian American Impact Project and Biden Foundation, and is the editor of the forthcoming ‘West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House’ to be published by Penguin Books on Sept. 25.

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David Hogg demands Congress gets ‘One Thing Done’ on gun safety

Hogg, who co-founded the student and young person led March for Our Lives movement placed the blame on both political parties for the carnage

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WASHINGTON – Appearing on MSNBC program ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” Tuesday night, David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took 17 lives and injured 18 more, called again for action from Congress on gun safety.

Hogg, who co-founded the student and young person led March for Our Lives movement placed the blame on both political parties for the carnage that once again has affected an American community, this time in a small community not far from the U.S. border with Mexico in Southwestern Texas, a shooting that claimed the lives of 18 elementary students and two of their teachers.

David Hogg Demands Congress Gets ‘One Thing Done’ On Gun Safety:

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U.S. Catholic bishops must recuse themselves from politics

An archbishop complains Speaker Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal & who’s really causing it

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Nancy Pelosi (L) by Gage Skidmore. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Salvatore Cordileone from YouTube screenshot (CC BY 3.0)

By James Finn | DETROIT – A powerful U.S. Catholic bishop is at it again, forcing himself into politics trying to make an elected leader knuckle under to Church “discipline.” Enough! It’s bad enough this guy is a notorious anti-LGBTQ bigot reviled by many San Francisco Catholics.

It’s bad enough he’s defying Pope Francis’s directive not to use Church sacraments as weapons. But when he tries to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change how she represents her constituents, he’s gone more than just a bridge too far.

The archbishop complains Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal and who’s really causing it. But first, a rundown on the facts:

The Archbishop of San Francisco bars House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from communion because she opposes criminalizing abortion

Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, tweeted yesterday that U.S. House Speaker Pelosi “is not to be admitted to Holy Communion” because of her opposition to criminalizing abortion in the United States. In details reported by the New York Times, the archbishop ordered Pelosi in a letter not to present herself for communion and ordered archdiocese priests to deny her the sacrament should she request it.

Speaker Pelosi calls herself a “devout Catholic” and “regular communicant,” telling C-Span that if she were ever denied communion, “that would be a severe blow to me.” She acknowledges conservative forces in the Church would like throw her out over her insistence that the U.S. government must not mandate reproductive decisions for women, but she insists she’s not going anywhere.

Cordileone wants to talk about scandal, so let’s talk about scandal

“Scandal” has a special meaning in Catholicism. It’s a “sin,” a statement or act that “leads people to move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.” Scandal in its most straightforward Catholic sense might consist of a Catholic leader claiming Church teachings are wrong. In a more nuanced sense, scandal could be a truthful statement that lead people away from the Church.

If anyone is guilty of the sin of scandal here, the archbishop is. Nancy Pelosi IS a faithful Catholic. She hasn’t had an abortion. She doesn’t encourage women to have abortions. But as the elected representative of U.S. citizens from all over the San Francisco area, she says criminalizing abortion must be off the table. She has to represent all her constituents, not just the Catholic ones. She refuses to impose her religion on people who practice other religions or no religion.

Know what else Pelosi doesn’t support criminalizing?

  • Contraception
  • Oral sex
  • Masturbation
  • Divorce
  • Same-sex marriage

Cordileone teaches that all of those are grave moral evils, and he’s tried to enforce them for San Francisco Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Seriously.

In 2015, he forced staff at Bay Areas Catholic schools and charitable agencies to sign employment contracts agreeing to refrain from all the above (plus much more) and publicly affirm they are “grave moral evils,” or face dismissal.

Even if they aren’t Catholic.

Hundreds of prominent Bay Area Catholic leaders responded, sending a letter (read the full text here) begging Pope Francis to replace Cordileone with someone who would not cause scandal to the Church. Francis did not respond. Cordileone then mounted a massive witch hunt against LGBTQ Catholic employes — from teachers, to counselors, to social workers, to clerical staff. He disingenuously claimed custodial workers are “religious ministers” exempt from protection from California’s employment equality laws.

Many Catholic lay people resigned from Catholic agencies. Some said they would leave the Church for greener religious pastures where they were free to exercise their personal moral consciences. Many have questioned why Cordileone focuses so hard on rooting out gay/trans staff or staff who support gay/trans equality. He hasn’t mounted a witch hunt, after all, against Catholic staff who limit family size. He’s not grilled couples about their private bedroom practices. Divorced staff haven’t been fired. It’s curious, say San Francisco Catholics, that only LGBTQ people seem to be in Cordileone’s crosshairs.

Speaking of scandal, the archbishop continues scandalizing Bay Area Catholics by refusing to release a list of hundreds of archdiocese priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse, something the vast majority of U.S. bishops have already done. He’s even defying California law to keep the list from Catholic parents who insist they have a right to know.

Scandal? Well, pews are emptying out fast and the drop is sharper every year. Donations are down precipitously. I’d call that the result of scandal, wouldn’t you?

Catholic scandal aside, Cordileone threatens U.S. democracy and pluralism

Whether Nancy Pelosi remains a member in good standing of the Catholic Church is an important question for many Catholics, but a larger issue presents itself. Can U.S. Catholics meaningfully serve as government leaders if Church patriarchs try to dictate positions on issues that impact the nation as a whole?

This tweeted comment to Cordileone sums things up very well: “Speaker Pelosi follows her religion. You are punishing her because she does not believe in forcing her religion on others. As a public servant she took an oath to the Constitution, not the Church. You are not our government, but you are the reason people will leave your Church.”

If the archbishop wishes to teach women that abortion is a grave moral evil, then he should do that. He should write books, he should speak in public, he should persuade and convince. He should encourage or even require other priests in his archdiocese to do the same. He should focus on being a faith leader.

But when he steps into politics, when he tries to twist a politician’s arm with religious discipline, he crosses a red line. The United States does not and must not tolerate religious leaders forcing their beliefs on people who don’t share them. The Roman Catholic Church has a terrible track record of doing exactly that, and the American people must not stand for it.

Trying to stop a suicide hotline? Here’s why religious leaders need to stay in their lane.

A year ago, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has hit a stomach-churning new low,” in lobbying to stop Congress’s bipartisan national suicide hotline. The bishops (a majority of all U.S. Catholic bishops) worked behind the scenes to torpedo the law because they opposed the hotline providing services specifically to LGBTQ people.

The bishops were apparently blinded by dogma, rejecting love and compassion in favor of a convoluted theology of refusing to label LGBTQ people as LGBTQ people.

I have no idea why the bishops believed the national suicide hotline was any of their business. It doesn’t impact the Church, and they have no possible interest in how it operates. But they made it their business like Cordileone is making civil abortion law his business.

Can you join me in asking him to back off?

Can you raise your voice demanding that he stay in his lane? That he stop trying to force Catholic beliefs and practices on people who don’t share them? That he stop trying to dictate to democratically elected leaders?

Better yet, can you join me asking Pope Francis, once again, to replace Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone? Faithful Catholics have been asking for years, and the time has come.

Here’s how to communicate your message to the pope:

Email the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre at [email protected] or phone his office at 202–333–7121.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Gay, Trans, Black, Woman: Voluntary segregation heats up across U.S.

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again. White Christian nationalism promises more division

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Human rights banner licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – Know what delights me about trans and gay young people these days? They no longer presume they must uproot themselves from family and community to thrive and find love. They can be happy where they are…..

I wrote the above paragraph six years ago. I broke into online writing with a viral essay on another platform titled, “Have You Seen My Yellow Brick Road?” I described my journey from closeted teenager to happy middle-aged gay man, remembering fleeing my suburban Iowa home in search of “Oz,” a metaphor for love and acceptance, only to find that while I wasn’t looking, Oz had come to me.

“Please,” I wrote in conclusion, “if anyone finds a pair of ruby slippers, burn them!

Wow, have things changed since I wrote that

Somebody asked me a question on an LGBTQ Facebook group yesterday: “Where do you see the struggle for queer equality going in the next decade?” I hated what my answer had to be, because it means the borders of Oz are retreating.

“We’re going to have to focus” I wrote, “on building strong communities in cities and states where Democrats are in charge, and we’re going to have to reach out to our queer siblings in red states. We’re going to have to make space for them to join us, and we’re going to have to work to get life-saving/sustaining services to queer people, especially kids, stuck where they are.”

What I meant is, we’re going to end up segregated again.

Maybe that won’t mean a return to the densely populated gayborhoods we used to rely on — that had been emptying out as we perceived less need for them — but we’re already witnessing the beginnings of what could turn into a great migration. In my own circles of queer friends, people are already leaving southern/heartland/red states… or they’re talking about it seriously. Prism & Pen writer Logan Silkwood is selling his house and moving 1,719 miles in search of his and his wife’s personal Oz.

A queer exodus from red states has already started

Not a day goes by that I don’t see social media posts from queer people in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Idaho searching for jobs or housing in blue states, or announcing they’re moving. And why not? According to Brody Levesque in the LA Blade yesterday, “child abuse” investigations of parents of trans kids in Texas are back on again after a court had struck them down. What parent is going to live with that fear? The U.S. Air Force is even cooperating by allowing families with trans children to transfer early out of Texas with no strikes against their service records.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind.

LGBTQ people are leaving Florida even though Miami has a reputation as LGBTQ friendly. South Beach is actually on of our gayborhoods. Gay couples are speaking up about leaving or trying to leave because of a hostile state government with its Don’t Say Gay law, and with the probability things are going to get worse.

Yesterday, for example, The Washington Post featured a story about Nicolette Solomon, a young lesbian who just quit her job with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She says her marriage to her wife led to so much workplace suspicion and hostility that “it no longer felt possible to be lesbian and a teacher in Florida.”

And that’s in liberal Miami!

Will she move to a different state to seek the happiness and fulfillment she used to find in teaching? She doesn’t know yet.

Solomon is one of several queer teachers who have already resigned in Florida, citing the recently passed Don’t Say Gay law. Several of them are actively seeking jobs in blue states.

LGBTQ people are thinking twice about purple states too

Yesterday, The Advocate featured a story about an elite private school in “purple” Maryland that denied admission to 11-year-old Brayden Stratton. Megan Stratton and Jennifer Dane applied to the non-denominational Christian school because their son has friends there and because the school has an excellent academic reputation. They wanted him to have a head start in life, but the school turned him down because his moms are engaged to be married.

Would you stay in a community that rejected you? I think that’s an important question, because this family is the tip of a growing iceberg. Ever since same-sex marriage became legal, certain institutions, usually conservative Christian ones, have used it to reject LGBTQ people, and the problem is getting worse. I don’t know what Megan and Jennifer are planning, but I imagine they’ve at least thought about what it would be like to live where they aren’t strangers in a strange land — where their high-achieving kid would be welcome or even recruited to an elite school his friends attend.

Abortion will soon separate us too. It’s already begun.

Supreme Court watcher and legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern wrote an important article in Slate yesterday, detailing how the the fight for women’s reproductive freedom is moving to the state level. He says legislatures in blue states, after years of relative inaction, have snapped into focus passing laws to make abortion easier to access and pay for:

This is the irony of our current moment: The most immediate impact of the Supreme Court’s imminent assault on abortion rights has been … an expansion of abortion rights.

But he warns that comes at the cost of a greater national divide. Authorities in red states are already (as in Oklahoma) gearing up to outlaw abortion from as early as “the moment of conception” and seeking to impose punitive legal consequences on women who leave the state for an abortion.

Faced with that, will some women in Oklahoma and similar states decide to move? Certainly not every woman will have that economic freedom, just like not all LGBTQ people can afford to leave red states, but some undoubtedly will. I think the only real question is: How significant will the exodus be?

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again

The same White Christian nationalism driving anti-LGBTQ persecution and the war on women’s reproductive freedom drives racism. “Replacement Theory” nonsense, regularly featured on Fox News and extremist corners of the Internet like 4chan, used to be fringe. But as Fabiola Cineas explored in Vox on Wednesday, “replacement theory” has gone mainstream in the Republican Party. White Christian nationalists are panicking over a dearth of “white babies,” and unapologetic racism is back in fashion.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind. We share a border with Canada. I can only get grits from Amazon. Nobody thinks those flags stand for Southern heritage.

We all know they mean racism. We know they mean Christian nationalist militias, Proud Boys and insurrection, increasing national division. Most of my neighbors excuse or defend that.

I haven’t seen a person of color in weeks. Black people don’t live up here in western Michigan villages. I’d have to drive more than an hour to Grand Rapids to find Black families and Black-owned businesses, and even then, only in certain neighborhoods.

That’s not unusual.

In New York last week, “Replacement Theory” led to mass murder — a young white man motivated by racist hatred entered a supermarket full of Black people and shot as many to death as he could.

That’s the kind of division I’m talking about.

The United States may have ended legally enforced segregation, but voluntary segregation never went away. That New York shooter? He left his predominantly white community to kill Black people in a majority Black neighborhood.

Voluntary segregation doesn’t mean freely chosen

When Black people, queer people, immigrants, and women end up divided from important parts of the nation, living apart from conservatives, Christian nationalists, or racists, it’s not because we want to or choose collectively to do so.

Individual human beings like Nicolette Solomon, Megan Stratton, and Logan Silkwood make rational, practical decisions. They don’t have the luxury to base life choices on strategy or activism. They have to do the best they can for themselves and their families.

Division and segregation stem from failure to protect human rights

If Congress had ever managed to pass the LGBTQ Equality Act, the Don’t Say Gay laws burning through red states would be unenforceable. Texas wouldn’t be permitted to hound parents of trans kids as “child abusers.” If the Supreme Court weren’t about to strike down Roe and thereby deny basic human rights to women, women wouldn’t be making hard choices about where to live. If the Supreme Court hadn’t eviscerated voter protection for Black people, political power would be more evenly distributed.

The Right in the United States is now largely the Christian Nationalist Right, up to the very highest levels of Republican leadership, even though they don’t and can’t have a majority of the American people on their side.

What that means in the short term is conflict, physical separation, and increasing political division.

It means all of us are going to need to figure out where our personal Oz is, and which road leads to it.

The United States of America are less united than they’ve been in a long time, and a lack of commitment to liberty and human rights explains a lot. Where do we go from here?

Can the Democratic Party take decisive control of Congress in November? Can the radically conservative Supreme Court be reformed and brought back into step with the majority of Americans? Can liberty and human rights enter the public stage as important values?

Yes, if we all work hard to make it happen! Yes, if we surge to the polls in November!

I’ll be working for that, you can bet your ruby slippers. But in the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes on Oz. What about you? Where is your Oz?

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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