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Schiff takes on Trump and truth

New House Intelligence Committee chair poised to expose lies, corruption

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Adam Schiff, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is poised to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee in January. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

It’s come down to this: name-calling. Literally.

California Rep. Adam Schiff appeared on ABC’s “This Week” Nov. 18 explaining that Democrats intend to challenge President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general. A former federal prosecutor who becomes chair of the House Intelligence Committee in January, Schiff said the appointment is unconstitutional.

Trump responded like a spoiled five year old, calling Schiff “little Adam Schitt” in a tweet. “That’s a good one. Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?” Schiff tweeted back, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Even Trump ally Laura Ingraham called the name-calling “an unforced error” on her Fox News show, saying it detracted from his accomplishments. But it also caused real life pain. “Just want to point out all the kids in school with the last name #Schiff getting bullied and name called #Schitt today because of the president of the US. I know because my nieces are Schiffs. “#BeBest” film producer Laurie David tweeted.

Schiff recalls the spontaneous rally at the LA LGBT Center the night after the election where people were “despondent and fearful of what this meant for the future.” And in so many ways, Schiff tells the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview, “the reality of the next two years proved every bit as bad, in some ways worse, than what we feared. It really takes your breath away.”

Rep. Adam Schiff is a regular target of Donald Trump’s tweets, including an especially vulgar one last week. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Karen Ocamb)

Schiff is keenly aware of Trump’s attacks on the LGBT community, including the “Twitter change in policy regarding transgender patriots serving in the military” and the proposal to redefine “transgender.”

“The administration’s efforts to define the transgender community out of existence is among its most pernicious acts,” Schiff says. “It’s just appalling. We are going to obviously fight this tooth and nail.”

Trump’s attacks helped create the coalition that won Democrats the House in the midterm elections. “People throughout the country recognized that an attack on the most vulnerable among us is an attack on all of us,” Schiff says. “And any one of us could be among the most vulnerable at some point in their life. And so we’ll fight this legislatively, we’ll fight this in the courts, and we’ll fight this until we succeed and we will succeed.”

Schiff adds forcefully: “The transgender community is not going away. It won’t be defined away. It won’t be intimidated away. It won’t be legislated away. And we’re going to be doing everything we can in the majority to protect the community.”

Schiff is “thrilled and grateful” that the House flipped convincingly to a Democratic majority “to provide a check on this president,” he says. “I think that this presidency and the threat that it presents to our democracy motivated people like I’ve never seen to be involved.”

From small group meetings in his district to fundraisers for candidates around the country, Schiff worked hard for that win. And he was impressed with the LGBT turnout.“Schiff has raised nearly $5.5 million for candidates and the Democrats’ House campaign arm this cycle, according to his campaign, more than any House member outside of the congressional leadership,” the LA Times reported last Oct. 16. “He’s stumped for candidates in 23 states this year, including Arizona, Massachusetts, Missouri and New Mexico, according to his campaign.”

And he was impressed with the LGBT turnout.

“One of the last events I did during the campaign was an event in North Carolina with [out California Rep.] Mark Takano in the LGBT community. I think it was perhaps the first LGBT DCCC fundraising event in that city in memory,” he says. “What we saw throughout the country was the extraordinary level of activism among all Americans—but particularly within the LGBT community. And I think both Chad [Griffin] and HRC [the Human Rights Campaign] and the broader community deserve a lot of credit for the results.”

Told Griffin was leaving HRC, Schiff was complimentary, having first met him in June 2012 at the “goodbye party” thrown by his friend Rob Reiner after Griffin was named the new HRC President.

“I just want to express my gratitude for the tremendous work that he has done over the years,” Schiff says about Griffin. “I think he has been a superb leader of HRC, a great organizer, a superb strategic thinker. And the contribution that HRC has made both legislatively as well as out in the precincts under his leadership was just phenomenal.”

Schiff says passage of the Equality Act “is going to be a top priority for us,” which he expects to be taken up early in the House of Representatives but will probably meet with “rough sledding” in the Senate.

“It’s very important that we establish our positive agenda, that we show the country what we want to accomplish when they give us the responsibility of fully governing and when they give us control of the White House and the Senate,” Schiff says. “And strong legislation to ensure equality is of paramount importance. So I would expect us to underscore what an important part of the Democratic agenda this is.”

The Equality Act is a top priority for Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is facing a rebellion from some Democrats who do not want her to return as House Speaker, despite having passed the Affordable Care Act, which she urged Democrats to run on in the midterms. The caucus vote happens after Thanksgiving with the floor vote in January.

“I believe Nancy is going to be successful and I’m helping to whip votes,” Schiff says. “I think that her policy priorities are in the right place. She’s a superb organizer—she gets the disparate members of our caucus all working together on the same page. And under her leadership, I’m confident that we will pass the Equality Act.”

Schiff finds the rebellion incomprehensible. “Are they prepared to have [California Republican Rep.] Kevin McCarthy be our Speaker? Because that would be the effect of [withholding support from Pelosi]. That seems to me a very perilous path they’re going down.”

Meanwhile, there’s the lame duck period before January, during which Whitaker could shut down the Mueller probe and throw the country into chaos. “We will fight Mr. Whitaker in every way we can to protect the integrity of the Muller investigation. I think were he to initiate his own Saturday Night Massacre, and certainly the president began that process by firing [former Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, it would prompt a constitutional crisis and where that would take us is very hard to tell.”

Schiff says the most powerful remedy House Democrats have to Trump “is the power to expose what the administration is doing. Exposure has a powerful impact. Exposure of Scott Pruitt’s malfeasance got him fired and has gotten others fired within the administration. It has also affected policy by preventing the administration from doing things that it wanted to do.”

In addition to investigating “the Russia bailiwick,” Schiff— cofounder of the House Caucus on Freedom of the Press—says he’s extremely concerned about Trump’s war on truth. He points to Trump’s secret meeting with the Postmaster General “to browbeat the Postmaster into raising postal rates on Amazon. Now I don’t believe the president cares about postal rates. This looks to me like an effort to punish Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post,” as well as his ongoing attacks on CNN. “Exposing wrongdoing, if indeed wrongdoing is going on, can be powerfully corrective.”

Schiff is also “deeply concerned” about “whether the Russians were laundering money through the Trump organization and that is leverage the Russians are holding over the president of the United States. And looking into those allegations and if they’re true, exposing it, and if they’re not, telling the country that they’re not, is vitally important and potentially will have great consequences on U.S. policy. It will certainly cause the Congress of the United States to push back against the president’s pro-Russian policies if it is revealed that they are being driven by the president’s financial interest and not the national interest.”

More questions were raised Nov. 20 when Trump sided with Saudi Arabia’s denials that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) was responsible for the brutal death of journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia and critic of MBS.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said, positing U.S. economic and national security interests—billions of dollars in arms purchases he said the Saudis would make —over the need to investigate the brutal murder of a journalist.

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel said Trump just put all journalists, whom Trump has called “enemies of the people” at risk for similar murders.

And then there’s the new New York Times story says Trump took up another authoritarian trait—wanting to harm, investigate, prosecute or imprison his personal enemies, in this case Hillary Clinton and fired FBI Director James Comey.

And then there’s Trump’s corrosive license to lie. “This is probably one of the most cross-cutting and difficult problems of all,” says Schiff. Fox News, for instance, provides an “alternative universe” where “they traffic in conspiracy theories about the deep state that used to be relegated to only kooks and cranks.”

It’s perplexing. “We’re not going to legislate what they can say on Fox News. We’re not going to somehow publicly arbitrate what’s true and what’s not true,” Schiff continues. “This is a deeply distressing problem. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Already worse is the new “deep fake” technology that allows the production of fake audio or video that looks real, as recently demonstrated by director Jordan Peele who put fake words in the mouth of Barack Obama.

“You can imagine how much mischief the Russians could do with this technology,” says Schiff. “They could put out an audio or videotape of a candidate saying something unethical or illegal or otherwise damaging. And before it was disproven, you would have half the country believing it, and even if it could be disproven technologically, would people believe the proof?”

Conversely, says Schiff, “will we be able to tell what is real if the salacious videotape that has long been alleged involving the president in a hotel room in Moscow? If those allegations turned out to be true and the tape were produced tomorrow and it was 100 percent authentic, the president would simply call it a fake.”

Deep fakes are “one of the gravest threats to our democracy,” says Schiff. “And what makes it so much worse is you have an administration that is pushing out the idea that there is no truth. [Rudy] Giuliani said truth isn’t truth and Kellyanne Conway says we’re entitled to our own alternate facts. And as Sarah Huckabee Sanders does almost everyday she goes to the microphone, she takes fiction and weaves it into her own alternate version of fact.

“That’s the kind of administration the president has been running,” Schiff continues. “The president spouts falsehoods at an unprecedented rate, thousands and thousands since he took office. So there is literally a full-scale assault on the truth. It’s no wonder the president considers the press the enemy of the people since it’s so often the press that are pointing out what is true and what is not true.”

Meanwhile, childish name-calling exposes the malicious pettiness of this president.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Illinois

Illinois high school investigates ‘anti-queer’ bathroom survey

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey

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Anna-Jonesboro Community High School (Photo Credit: Anna-Jonesboro Community High School)

ANNA, Il. – An unofficial student survey that made the rounds at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School located in the Southern tip of Illinois last week has the local LGBTQ+ community angered and LGBTQ+ students alarmed.

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey that asked: “Yes, I want queers to go in the bathroom,” or ” No, I don’t want queer kids to go to the bathroom with us normal people.”

Screenshot courtesy of NBC-affiliate, WPSD-TV 6, Paducah, Kentucky

Rob Wright, the superintendent told NBC News affiliate WPSD 6 News that school administrators found out about the survey this past Wednesday.

“We began investigating. We’re still investigating. At this point in time, I really can’t give any information regarding any individuals or discipline measures,” said Wright. “But, I can tell you that this type of harassment is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated. And once the investigation is complete, the appropriate discipline will take place where warranted.” 

The Rainbow Café LGBTQ Center in neighboring Carbondale, Illinois, responded to the survey, “My understanding is that it was an association that was brought upon the students and a parent that’s cosigning for it that made the Anti-Queer Association, basically trying to repeal the Keep Youth/Children Safe Act,” Michael Coleman a member of the Cafe’s board of directors told WPSD. “Basically stating that we are supposed to have inclusive bathrooms for those who are transgender or non-binary or non-conforming,” he added.

Coleman also told the station that bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.

Noting that the high school’s LGBTQ+ students are feeling alarmed and that there are no safe spaces, He said that the message he wanted to convey to those students is to let them know they have a safe space available with his organization. He also shared a message to those responsible for the survey.

“Come to Rainbow Cafe. We offer a plethora of resources and training,” he said. “I’m actually the one that does all of the training for different local agencies, schools. We do training on an individual basis as well, so you know, I like to tell people: If you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t spew hate about it because you don’t understand something.”

“They really feel very unsafe in that environment in Anna-Jonesboro and that they felt that nothing was going to get done,” Coleman said. “That by us taking that stand, that initiative, they really feel like it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Superintendent Wright said to WPSD that “he is personally disappointed that this happened at the school.” The station asked Wright if the staff at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School will provide counseling to the LGBTQ+ and other students affected. His response was that the school has always had counseling and other resources available to students.

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Ohio

Akron, Ohio non-profit gears up to assist LGBTQ+ young adults

“Although there’s a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights”

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Giovonni Santiago (Photo courtesy of META Akron Facebook page)

AKRON, Oh. – The Motivate, Educate, Transform and Advocate (META) Center has provided support to Northeast Ohio trans and gender-nonconforming youth from ages 7 to 19 since 2016. Now, Giovonni Santiago, the founder of the Akron, Ohio, based nonprofit, is gearing up to support people in their 20s. 

Santiago started the group to “create social change and foster acceptance” by providing housing coordination, legal advocacy, emotional support and community outreach, reports the Akron Beacon Journal

“Sometimes, it’s just allowing people to have a place to go,” Santiago told the Beacon Journal. “It’s like they don’t need to have a conversation. They just need a safe place.”

“I do this work because I want other people to live their life authentically,” he said.

Santiago says that parents who see their child “expressing differently than society would say they should” seek his help.

“A parent might say, ‘Well, my daughter likes to play with trucks’… and it’s not just a one-time thing,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It might be nothing, and it might be something.”

“We want them to know that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We want people to feel valid with who they are.”

Although META is based in Akron and does much of its work in Northeast Ohio, Santiago says his group has a national impact, helping approximately 200 people a year, according to the Beacon Journal.

“It entails support groups, one-on-one peer support with myself, we send out care packages after individuals have gender-affirming surgery, we offer a clothing closet, so we send clothing to individuals who need clothes,” he said. 

Santiago, who is also the Northeast Ohio organizer for Equality Ohio, knows first-hand the struggle that trans kids face, as he too is a trans man.

“As trans people, the journey is not just ours,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It affects our families, it affects our friends. It affects everyone.”

According to the Beacon Journal, he entered the U.S. Air Force during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military era. After his Air Force service, Santiago earned a degree in early childhood education and began teaching preschool.

At 27, Santiago began his medical transition at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2013. He tells the Beacon Journal that he was the doctor’s first trans patient.  

“I was born female, and knew that I belonged in a male body,” he said. “So, I tell people that I’ve been transitioning, and I’ve been transitioning for eight years.”

Santiago is a highly regarded LGBTQ organizer. According to the newspaper, he was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People and honored by NBC Out in 2018.

Although Santiago helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights. Santiago added that nearby Cleveland is “No. 4 on the list for where Black trans women are murdered.”

“We’ve always been here, but we’ve had to live in fear,” he said. “Even now in Ohio, there are zero protections for LGBTQ people”

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California

Visalia’s city council proclaims October ‘LGBTQ history month’

“Thank you to the council for doing this […] When we started this work five years ago, we didn’t know how we would be received in the city”

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Downtown Visalia, CA (Photo by Devon Jones, City of Visalia Economic Development Manager)

VISALIA, Ca. – In a proclamation this past Monday, the city council paid tribute to The Source LGBTQ+ Center’s work in the Visalia LGBTQ+ community, including Tulare and Kings Counties over the past five years. The council also proclaimed October as LGBTQ+ history month presenting ‘The Source’ a plaque noting the nonprofit’s recent expansion.

“In 5 years, The Source has become the largest LGBT center between Los Angeles and Sacramento,” the plaque reads in part, The Visalia Times-Delta newspaper reported.

“We started with just an idea that we came up with on Main Street – back when it had antique stores,” said Nick Vargas, director of development and cofounder of The Source. “From that idea, other people have joined us and I have been able to do the best work of my life, helping the citizens of Visalia, particularly the LGBTQ youth, those living with HIV, and their families.”

On Saturday, the fifth annual Pride Visalia organized by ‘The Source’ was held at a different time of year and in a brand new location, Valley Strong Ballpark, supported by communications giant T-Mobile. The center’s annual Halloween Gala was also held Saturday night at the Bello Vita Venue. 

“Thank you to the council for doing this, it means a lot to us. When we started this work five years ago, we didn’t know how we would be received in the city,” Vargas said. “It means a lot to be here today, I would love it if you all showed up to PRIDE Visalia… but just knowing we have the support of the council and the city, is a lot.”

On its website, ‘The Source’ specifies that the center’s mission is to “provide spaces within our communities for the LGBT+ population to Learn, Grow, Belong, Transform, Question + Support.”

Visalia, the Tulare County seat, is the gateway to Sequoia National Park, and only forty-one miles south of Fresno located in the conservative San Joaquin Valley region of central California. In Congress, the area, California’s 22nd congressional district, is represented by Republican Devin Nunes, who has been unresponsive to LGBTQ+ concerns, having been labeled anti-LGBTQ+ by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California.

The Times-Delta also reported that The Source is also hosting its first-ever AIDS Walk to raise awareness as well as funds. The walk is scheduled at 11 a.m. on Oct. 30 on NW 2nd Avenue. 

Pride Visalia 2021 sponsored by T-Mobile:

 

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