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A new era for LGBTQ+ America

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Pete Buttigieg, gay news, Washington Blade

Pete Buttigieg is mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo courtesy of Pete for America)

(Editor’s note: This is edited from a summary of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 18-page LGBTQ Equality Plan on PeteforAmerica.com.)

To be LGBTQ+ in America today is to enjoy freedoms hard-won by trailblazers who came before and to feel the urgency of an unfinished promise of full equality under the law….

Twenty years ago, an awkward teenager at St. Joe High School in South Bend, Indiana, who didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ student there, never would have imagined how far we would come as a country. But what does our country look like to a teenager in 2019, just starting to realize who they are? What future do they see for themselves?

They see an administration that has unacceptably deemed people who risk their lives for their country as unfit for service because they are transgender. They see a government that is allowing clinicians to refuse to treat patients who are LGBTQ+. They see a president who, when asked about LGBTQ+ rights by a reporter, joked of his vice president: “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

They see more states covering gender-affirming procedures, but they also see schools refusing to allow trans students to use the bathroom of their current gender. They see people with HIV living vibrant lives, but they also see people who cannot afford the treatment they need. They see gay nightclubs opening up across the country, but they can’t forget Pulse. They see transgender people, primarily Black transgender women, murdered at alarming rates. They see a country where they are still not fully free or safe and one in which they still don’t feel like they fully belong.

In the past week alone, four out of five LGBTQ+ youth felt down or depressed, more than two out of three reported feeling worthless, and last night, almost all had trouble sleeping. This past year, LGBTQ+ Americans were twice as likely to suffer from mental illness as their straight peers, and almost one in two transgender people considered suicide.

Across much of our country, discrimination and the ever-present fear of it continue to govern aspects of LGBTQ+ people’s lives. Can I be who I am and keep my job? Can I hold the hand of the person I love in public? Which bathroom can I use safely? Will I be able to raise a family or not be harassed at school? Can I live here and be happy? Will I ever be accepted?

When I’m president, I hope these questions will start fading away. We will share solutions big enough to meet the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces while bringing the American people together to understand that our freedoms are bound up in each other.

For LGBTQ+ people, like for other marginalized groups, the political has always been extremely personal. This is why our policy is inspired by LGBTQ+ people’s stories: by the war that breaks out in the heart of a young person when they realize that a basic fact about them makes them more likely to be feared, and the immense joy that comes with finally knowing with certainty that you belong….

Each of us has our own story. And when I’m president, I will use the power of the presidency to tear down the walls that have excluded far too many LGBTQ+ people for far too long. Major policies:

On equality:

●  Pass the Equality Act, so that LGBTQ+ people can no longer be denied a job or housing.

●  Ensure that the freedom of religion is not the freedom to discriminate.

●  End the blanket ban on blood donation for gay and bisexual men and replace it with a science-based approach.

●  Protect and respect the rights of intersex people’s bodily autonomy, including banning medically unnecessary genital surgeries on intersex infants and children.

On health:

●  Guarantee that every LGBTQ+ person has access to affordable health coverage through Medicare for All Who Want It.

●  End the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, which is disproportionately affecting gay men of color and transgender women.

●  Pass the LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Act to address key risk factors for deaths by suicide.

On youth and families:

●  Prohibit violence, bullying, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and ensure that all students can learn in safe, supportive environments.

●  End “conversion therapy” for good.

●  End youth homelessness as part of a comprehensive housing agenda.

●  Pass the FAMILY Act so new parents, including LGBTQ+ parents, get time off from work to take care of family, including chosen family.

On community:

●  Launch a “We Belong National Mentorship” program modeled on My Brother’s Keeper and other successful peer-to-peer mentoring efforts, and focused on supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

●  Increase funding for community-based programs that support the LGBTQ+ community.

On justice:

●  Ensure the safety of all LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender women of color, by vigorously enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and training law enforcement to provide respectful, appropriate and equitable treatment to all.

On honor:

●  Honor the contributions of the LGBTQ+ veterans and service members, starting by rescinding the transgender military ban.

●  Review and restore honorable discharges and appropriate benefits to veterans discharged solely based for being LGBTQ+.

●  Fund and promote the ongoing documentation and celebration of LGBTQ+ arts, history, and culture.

●  Increase the representation of LGBTQ+ people and history in our National Parks System.

Leadership:

●  Become a global leader on LGBTQ+ rights, including by strengthening protections for LGBTQ+ immigrants and refugees.

●  Recognize the right to refugee status and asylum in U.S. for individuals being persecuted for being LGBTQ+.

●  Lead against persecution and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people on the global stage, and encourage our ambassadors to be spokespersons for LGBTQ+ rights as human rights.

●  Build an Administration that reflects the diversity of America, including LGBTQ+ Americans.

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Commentary

The Darkening, the Republican Skeksis run amok

“We are part of their communities, not enemies to be destroyed- campaigns that pit neighbor against neighbor, is to the detriment of all”

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A evil Skeksis confronting the young Gelfling Kira (Screenshot via The Jim Henson Company)

LOS ANGELES – In the ‎Legend of the Dark Crystal, a young Gelfling named Jen sets out to repair the crystal with a missing shard while the Blight, a noxious energy emanated from the Crystal whenever it was abused or maipulated by the evil Skeksis, affecting the fantasy world of Thra. The Blight manifested itself in the form of a purple light or black vapour, and caused plant life to wither and animals affected by it are poisoned to the point of aggression.

One person on a message board noted; “the most prominent theme we see in The Dark Crystal is the lengths people will go to in order to hold onto their power. There is no line that the Skeksis won’t cross in order to prolong their lives and maintain their rule of Thra and it often comes at the expense of everyone else.”

It was a 1982 fantasy film brought to life by filmmakers and puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz that conveys a message that needs to be heeded in the real world of American politics, contrasted in a stark analogous way when observing the battles between the far-right and progressives.

The real world equivalent to the Skeksis are the Republicans and most assuredly their never-ending assaults on the freedoms and liberties of those people they deplore and in many cases despise.

The real world equivalent to the Dark Crystal are those very freedoms such as women’s reproductive rights and choices, the very existence of transgender Americans, the right of same-sex couples to adopt or have fair access to healthcare and countless other rights. Then there are the ongoing efforts to disenfranchise the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans and immigrants.

Texas these days seems to be ground zero for the Republican Skeksis in their bid to rid their world of the “Gelflings” represented by the aforementioned groups.

In the most recent example, just this week Texas State Republican Representative James White sent a letter to fellow Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in which he asked, “Whether Obergefell v. Hodges … requires private citizens to recognize homosexual marriages when the law of Texas continues to define marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.”

White hammers away at his point writing to Paxton in his letter that the Constitution of Texas defined marriage as between one man and one woman and another law in the state Family Code that read “A marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union is contrary to the public policy of this state.” 

He then argues “The State of Texas has not amended or repealed its marriage laws in response to Obergefell v. Hodges … and the Supreme Court has no power to amend formally or revoke a state statute or constitutional provision — even after opining that the state law violates the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution.”

This inane rubbish follows on the heels of the Texas legislature passing a measure that greatly restricts voting rights in the state directly impacting its minority citizens, less than a month ago the passage of a draconian law that prevents Trans youth from playing sports in the K-12 grades in the state, and of course the battle over abortion rights which has led to the U.S. Supreme Court granting a a writ to hear the case in early November.

Never mind that the rulings in these cases became settled case law that an overwhelming majority of Americans support.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in an email to the Blade noted; “The escalating extremism in Texas is a symptom of our national culture, which has become ever more toxic and polarized. Now is the time for LGBTQ people and allies to remind our elected officials and leaders that we are part of their communities, not enemies to be destroyed, and that campaigns to target vulnerable groups pit neighbor against neighbor, to the detriment of all. Whose rights will be next?”

But it is not just Texas. The Republican Skeksis are taking over school boards or disrupting school board meetings with fights over Trans youth, about a theory about race that isn’t even taught in schools, and the ongoing battle of vaccination mandates and even facial masks still.

The hypocrisy of the Republican Skeksis over vaccine mandates is rich in irony. They protest that they want the freedom of choice over their bodies- yet they deny that very right to women. The so-called Critical Race Theory? Actually its a truth of the American experience in the ugly history of the treatment of Black Americans and their ancestors.

Indeed the ‘Blight’ manipulated by the Republican Skeksis permeates every aspect of the contemporary American political landscape. Anyone who identifies as a progressive and dares to suggest a more humane communal/societal approach to problem solving is instantly labeled a “commie” and an enemy of “true American Patriots.”

Worse is the propensity of the Republican Skeksis to engage in violent acts such as the insurrection that was attempted to topple American Democracy on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol. Even if not directly engaged in such action then giving it a pass of approval by downplaying the events or blaming the Democrats.

Again the irony being that the so-called ‘law and order” types were the very people attacking the law enforcement agencies and personnel they claim to uphold and support.

These are troubling times and the Blight is very much a daily factor negatively impacting the ‘Gelflings’- LGBTQ+ people, Black, Latino, Asian, and poor people who value freedom, equality, for all, bereft of the so-called ‘values’ and decrees of those on the Republican right who seek to maintain their grasp on the institutions of government and society.

The most prominent theme we see in The Dark Crystal is the lengths people will go to in order to hold onto their power. There is no line that the Skeksis won’t cross in order to prolong their lives and maintain their rule of Thra and it often comes at the expense of everyone else.”

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Brody Levesque is the Editor of the Los Angeles Blade.

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Commentary

Time for an LGBTQ reality check-queer students face rising tide of bullying

Nothing is going to get better unless we work together collectively against the insidious notion that LGBTQ identity is controversial

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LGBTQ+ Progress Flag

By James Finn | DETROIT – Two teens walk into a high-school classroom during period change. While the teacher yells at them, they rip a Pride flag off a wall then sprint through a crowded hall.

They outrun the teacher and disappear. Soon after, several students film themselves crowding into a school toilet cubicle as they try to flush the flag. When they fail, one of them drops his pants, squats, and defecates on the flag while the rest of them laugh and shout homophobic/transphobic slurs.

This happened in September at Paso Robles High School outside central California’s San Luis Obispo, which dubs itself the “Happiest City in America.” Soon the whole student body was buzzing. Most of them watched the video, which got posted to TikTok, but administrators did not respond for two weeks, saying they were unaware.

The incident surprised nobody.

LGBTQ students at Paso High say the region’s famed happiness doesn’t include them, writing in an editorial that they feel constantly targeted and harassed at school. They’ve told a reporter at the San Luis Obispo Tribune they don’t feel safe, that they face bullying and hatred every day. Sophomore Eve Barajas, president of the school’s Equity Club, says “micro aggressions” are common but physical violence is a real problem.

When the administration finally responded, LGBTQ students, allies, and teachers gasped in collective shock

They didn’t expect leadership to validate the bullying, but that’s what happened. In an interview, Paso High teacher Geoffrey Land called the defecation video, “an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” adding, “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.” He expected administrators to take the strongest possible stand against bullying.

Defecating on a symbol of inclusion is an act of hatred. The symbol isn’t the problem, the hatred is. Banning the symbol endorses the hatred.

So did science teacher and swim coach Evan Holtz, the man who chased the bullies down the hall. He told reporters he wants LGBTQ students to know they’re safe with him and can come to him for support. That’s why he and a few other teachers used to display Pride flags in their classrooms, a popular custom in schools around the U.S., where over half of all LGBTQ students report being bullied, according to a new survey conducted by the queer youth advocacy organization The Trevor Project.

They report that contrary to popular narrative, anti-LGBTQ bullying in U.S. middle and high schools has been getting worse in recent years instead of better, and that the bullying often equals acts of physical violence.

Ian Ring, via screenshot of KREM news report

In a very recent example, 13-year-old transgender student Ian Ring was badly beaten by bullies at his school in Spokane Washington while a crowd of students looked on, laughed, and filmed. Local police have charged one student with misdemeanor assault, but Ian’s mother says she doesn’t know how to keep him safe. She’s considering homeschooling.

Back at Paso High, Coach Holtz says he was happy three students brought him replacements for the stolen Pride flag. He hung one on his classroom wall, but that’s when the other shoe dropped. District Superintendent Curt Dubost banned the flag, not the bullying.

School district claims Pride flag is sectarian and controversial

Dubost sent a letter to teachers saying he opposes bullying, then ordered them to remove any LGBTQ Pride flag bigger than two feet by two feet, which students say is an effective ban, noting almost all commercially available flags are larger than that.

The ban is the ONLY action Dubost announced. He announced no comprehensive anti-bullying programs and no plans to make life better for queer kids in the schools he runs.

In a later interview, he claimed rainbow flags are partisan like “Blue Lives Matter” flags supporting police officers. He did not cite any incidents of teenage police officers being bullied in school or needing to know where they can find support from teachers. Queer students’ jaws dropped at the inanity of his message.

Jaws dropped harder over Dubost’s statement that LGBTQ Pride flags “mean different things to different people,” which students and teachers say they received as an overt endorsement of anti-LGBTQ hatred. In what world, they ask, should a symbol of love, safety, and inclusion mean something different? To add insult to injury, students say the bullies who stole the flag and posted the TikTok received only “minor discipline.”

The upshot is that anti-LGBTQ bullies sent a message of hate, got a slap on the wrist, and then saw their message validated and actively enforced by the school district.

Paso High Senior Danny Perez reacted like this: “My identity has been politicized. Someone defecated on a Pride flag. So the school takes away the Pride flag, not the homophobia?”

LGBTQ student Ava Hughes added, “We’re minors, and they’re forcing us to hide or protest.”

Superintendent Dubost threw away a fantastic teaching opportunity, but students aren’t letting it slip by

Students have announced that in cooperation with Paso High’s performing arts department, they will hold a “Coming Out Against Hate” community forum tomorrow evening in the high school auditorium. Local news media have cooperated with a blitz of free publicity.

LGBTQ students will “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” in person and via a self-produced short film. They say they will focus on personal stories about bullying they face in school. Superintendent Dubost did not respond immediately to an email asking if he would attend. No students are required to attend the forum, which is taking place after school hours and is not an official assembly.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and allied students have been plastering school walls with rainbow-themed posters and drawings filled with messages of love and support.

They’re sending their bullies and Dubost a clear message: We LGBTQ students matter because we are human beings who deserve a safe education in a nurturing environment. Defecating on a symbol of inclusion is an act of hatred. The symbol isn’t the problem, the hatred is. Banning the symbol endorses the hatred.

Time for an LGBTQ reality check

LGBTQ students, especially transgender students, are facing a rising tide of bullying and violence in U.S. schools. Even on the coasts, queer kids are struggling. San Luis Obispo and Spokane are not as politically liberal as Los Angeles or San Francisco, but they’re still “left coast” communities with reputations for tolerance and acceptance.

They’re not the kinds of places where we expect 13-year-old trans kids to be beaten or school superintendents to endorse anti-LGBTQ hatred. They’re not the kind of places where we expect queer students to write that they feel physically unsafe in school every day. But you know what? This is real. This is happening. Right now.

Nothing is going to get better unless we work together collectively against the insidious notion that LGBTQ identity is or should be controversial. The Paso Robles High School community is doing a great job educating students and parents as they send their superintendent a strong message that he must do better.

What about you and your community? What can YOU do to stem a rising tide of hate?

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a regular columnist for queer news outlets, 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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Dave Chappelle won’t get cancelled for Transphobia

In his latest special on Netflix, Chappelle once again attacks trans people’s identities, and mocks them as part of his act

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Dave Chappelle, “The Closer” publicity photo courtesy of Netflix

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – Recently, prominent Daily Wire podcaster and frequent Fox News guest Matt Walsh proclaimed on his show that the Spanish Inquisition  “was far more defensible than modern-day cancel culture is, especially the cancel campaigns waged by trans activists.” 

This accusation against transgender people is a high bar to clear, given that the tortures of the Inquisition are both well documented and legendary in their cruelty. They included ripping peoples arms out of their sockets with ropes (the strappado), the rack, water torture, burning people alive, the “Spanish tickler”, and slowly crushing people’s skulls in a vice. Perhaps worst was the “Judas Chair”, in which people were seated naked on a sharp, pointy pyramid, and weighted down until they were impaled to death rectally.

As far as I can determine, “trans activists” haven’t done anything as bad as this, and it’s hard to imagine something worse. However, if they were doing things worse than the Spanish Inquisition to thousands of people for “heresy” every year, you would think transphobes would be a lot more circumspect expressing their views.

But they’re not, because being anti-trans is profitable, a quick way to get media exposure in big mainstream outlets, suck up to the right-wing base, and otherwise prove you bona fides as “edgy”, “anti-woke”, and contrarian in a way that’s still socially acceptable. It is, in effect, one of the last ways for people to “punch down”. It’s like beating up the most unpopular, misfit, neurodivergent kid in school to make yourself more popular.

For example, Matt Walsh is unabashedly transphobic, has more media exposure (and followers) than any trans person, and isn’t going away. Transphobic conspiracy theories were given a full segment on 60 Minutes, and it isn’t going away. The New York Times Editorials under Bari Weiss (who’s openly hostile to transgender people) gave fellow travelers Katy Herzog and Jesse Singal plenty of exposure

While both writhed around on the ground like a French soccer player looking for a card, neither of them seems to have suffered any real consequences for supposedly being cancelled. Herzog continued to write for the gay press after she was supposedly cancelled. Jesse Singal got his book published by a major outlet. 

Despite taking the position that trans people should be banned from public spaces, denied health care, banned from sports, and denied access to government ID, JK Rowling is doing just fine. Far from being cancelled, continues to have hundreds of millions of dollars, book deals, an agent, a publisher, movie deals, and invitations to rub elbows with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres set in the UK.

A few transphobes have been “black-listed,” but not for anything they said about transgender people. Rosanne Barr had a long history of transphobia, but didn’t suffer consequences until she made racist tweets. Similarly, former MLB player Kurt Schilling had a history of anti-trans commentary, but was fired from ESPN for making racist statements. Milo Yiannopolous went from college to college singling out local trans students for hate, but only lost his position within conservative media when he defended pedophilia.

Which brings us to Dave Chappelle, who has once again doubled down on his long-standing disgust at trans people. In his latest special on Netflix, Chappelle once again attacks trans people’s identities, and mocks them as part of his act. This follows his 2019 special (also carried by Netflix) which also targeted trans people.

This presents us with a testable hypothesis. If people like Walsh are right, something worse than being burned alive or getting a ride on the Judas chair will happen to Chappelle for offending trans sensibilities. A less extreme hypothesis is that if Weiss, Herzog, and Singal are right, Chappelle will be black-listed and venues will refuse to host his performances.

Or, if I’m right, nothing significant will happen. And that’s a bet I’ll take any day. Netflix knew there was transphobic content in his show in 2019 and put it out anyway, the same as they did with his first two shows on the network. They went and put him on contract for another show. And when that show also had transphobic content in 2021, they (again) chose to post it. Dave Chappelle will not be “cancelled” unless he targets some other group with a similar level of offensive scorn. Indeed, Chappelle proclaimed that, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.”

But you know who did get cancelled? Trans employees of Netflix who got suspended for speaking out publicly, and pointing out that of the record-setting 44 trans people murdered so far this year, 44 were people of color. Apparently, it doesn’t feel like a supportive work environment when your employer pays Dave Chappelle millions of dollars repeatedly to spew anti-trans invectives to the masses and proclaim he’s on the side of bigots who want to see your fundamental human rights eliminated. 

The fabricated narrative of trans “cancel culture” is another right-wing dog-whistle for a crisis that doesn’t exist. Like Critical Race Theory (CRT) in elementary schools or trans athletes taking away scholarships from cisgender girls. It was created to stir up the right-wing base and weaken support for an already marginalized group to provide post hoc justification for whatever is done to trans people by the government, and preemptively create the narrative that what suppression falls on trans people was necessary. The right wing wants people to see fascism an appropriate response to (manufactured) left-wing outrages, and believe trans people “had it coming”.

And Chappelle is merely their useful idiot.

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Brynn Tannehill is a senior analyst at a Washington D.C. area think-tank, and is the author of “American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy.”

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