October 18, 2019 at 1:33 pm PST | by Karla Jay
Missing: Lesbians at the CNN LGBT Town Hall
CNN Town Hall, gay news, Washington Blade

Karla Jay, Ph.D., is professor Emerita of English and Women’s & Gender Studies at Pace University in New York. She is the award-winning author of 10 books, an early member of both the Gay Liberation Front (1969), and a co-founder of Radicalesbians (The Lavender Menace, 1970). (Photo courtesy Jay)

When the CNN/HRC televised LGBT Town Hall ended at midnight on the East Coast, I felt more like I had survived an entire Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy (OK, this dates me) rather than an informative interchange between Democratic candidates and a lively audience. When I unscientifically polled “Friends” on Facebook afterwards, not one of perhaps 700 lesbians admitted to having watched the event. My bluest of the blue lesbian friends visiting from Florida confessed that they had fallen asleep not far in.

But it wasn’t Lesbian Nation’s fault for conking out at the remote when HRC’s questions totally ignored us.

I was prepared to count mentions of the L-word, but not a single question pertained specifically to my community! The pre-selected questioners identified themselves as gay men, transsexuals, or parents of an LGBT child. Most of the women identified themselves as “health care workers.” Toward the end, asking about medical coverage for her spouse, one woman referred to herself and her wife, and there was one bisexual and one nonbinary person.

While two openly gay men (Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon) were among the moderators, there was no lesbian or transgender presence on the stage. Instead, the viewers were treated to Chris Cuomo, who didn’t seem to understand a current protocol that Sen. Kamala Harris was adhering to when she introduced herself by her gender pronouns “she/her/hers.”   “Mine, too,” he quipped inappropriately to no laughs.

Was no out lesbian, inside or outside of CNN, available for the evening?  Everyone would have been so much better off with political writer Masha Gesen or  “Gay USA”s co-host Ann Northrop.

It is also time for a trans moderator—could the talented Laverne Cox not be trusted to read the cue cards or monitor?

For some reason, the general public and even many gay men seem to think that lesbians have no specific issues except to worry about which half of a couple will get custody of the cat after a divorce, who will win the lesbian softball tournament, and what should be brought to the vegan potluck.

However, not being seen is not the same as being well off or content.

Since women generally live longer than men and the ravages HIV took the lives of so many more gay men than women, being old is one issue more lesbians face. There is even an organization called Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) and no national equivalent for aging gay men or trans individuals.

Not one question or candidate addressed HR1777, the Ruth and Connie Elder Americans Act of 2019. “To amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to provide equal treatment of LGBT older individuals, and for other purposes.”

Our elders are a “vulnerable population,” often subject to abuse and denial of services, sometimes in the name of religion.  Same-sex couples have been separated when seeking assisted living or when entering homeless shelters.  Queer elders have been abused in nursing homes by staff and other patients when their identity is known.

Family leave was addressed during the Town Hall, but not the issues lesbians in particular have in terms of creating families. Both couples and single lesbians are often concerned about reproductive equality, access to alternative insemination in every state, and justice for both biological and nonbiological parents in the event of a separation or divorce.

The number of lesbians is actually fairly equal to that of gay men. According to The Washington Post, there are 5.5 million lesbians in the United States—most of them presumably of voting age. The robust lesbian communities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania could turn those states blue.

Reaching out to lesbians is an uncomplicated strategy that could pay big dividends. But suggesting by omission that our lives don’t matter is a strategic error.

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