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Knives out for Buttigieg in debate as LGBTQ issues finally come up

Five takeaways on the Democratic candidates last 2019 foray

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Democratic debate, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, Ind.) speaks at a Democratic primary presidential debate on Dec. 19. (Photo courtesy of PBS News Hour/POLITICO)

Climate change, health care — and for the first time this year in a substantive way, LGBTQ issues — were major topics during the Democratic debate Thursday night, when seven candidates squared off on stage for the last time in 2019 and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg found himself the target of criticism.

In no particular order, here’s five takeaways from the PBS/Politico debate, which took place in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University’s Gersten Pavilion.

The seven candidates on stage along with Buttigieg were entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Vice President Joseph Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and businessperson Tom Steyer.

1. Lower-tier candidates had their moment

With the number of candidates on the debate stage winnowed down to seven, each of the contenders on stage had a greater opportunity for speaking time, giving those considered lower tier — like Yang, Klobuchar and Steyer — their time in the sun.

Klobuchar was both energetic, forceful and engaging as she made her case for the nomination. Keeping her reputation as queen of puns in the Democratic primary, Klobuchar in response to the first question quipped, “As a wise judge said, the president is not king in America, the law is king.”

The Minnesota Democrat’s use of imagery was particularly powerful when the issue of climate change came up and she talked about the way her home state has first-hand experience with the issue.

“What we are seeing there is unprecedented flooding, we’re seeing an increase of 50 percent in homeowners’ insurance over the last few years,” Klobuchar said. “And when we make these changes, we have to make clear to people that when we put a price on carbon, that that money is going to come to back to those areas where are going to be hurt, where jobs are going to change and to make them whole with their energy bills.”

Klobuchar was able to tie that in with electability, saying when you make that case “you bring in the Midwestern votes, you win big.”

“I think the best way to do it is by putting someone at the top of the ticket who’s from the Midwest,” Klobuchar concluded.

Steyer, who has been struggling to make his case for relevancy in the Democratic primary, certainly made up for that in his debate performance when he made his case for being the best candidate to take on Trump, who’s likely to run a strong economy.

“I built a business over 30 years from scratch,” Steyer said. “We’re going to have to take him on on the economy in terms of growth as well as economic justice. We’re going to have to be able to talk about growth, prosperity across the board for everyone in America. My experience, building a business, understanding how to make that happen, means I can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Trump and take him down on the economy and expose him as a fraud and a failure.”

Yang also had some good moments, especially in response to the first question on the topic of impeachment, when he seamlessly transitioned to a changing economy.

“If your turn on cable network news today, you would think he’s our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton and emails all mixed together,” Yang said. “But Americans around the country know different. We blasted away 4 million manufacturing jobs that were primarily based in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri. I just left Iowa — we blasted 40,000 manufacturing jobs there.

“The more we act like Donald Trump is the cause of all our problems, the more Americans lose trust that we can actually see what’s going on in our communities and solve those problems,” Yang concluded.

But the extra time wasn’t always good for these candidates, especially Yang. Among other things, he made a bizarre comment his plan for a $1,000 universal monthly income would somehow have led to more candidates of color on the debate stage. Later on, he said American youth are addicted to both smartphones and drugs, drawing an odd comparison between the two.

Yang’s response to the final question, what he would give as a gift to the candidates, was a copy of his book. That ended up coming off as self-serving when other candidates offered more aspirational answers like beating President Trump in 2020 election.

2. The knives were out for Buttigieg

Buttigieg didn’t have his best night, and that’s putting it gently. He had a lot of canned answers and talking points that made him seem robotic. The only breakout moment for him was when the issue of China came up and he had a great line about the country using technology for “the perfection of dictatorship.”

On top of that, the knives were out across the stage for Buttigieg, whom many polls shows is the front-runner in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. In each instance, Buttigieg fought back aggressively, but his opponents — who are reportedly grumbling about his success given his lack of experience — knew how to draw out his weaknesses.

The first exchange took place between Buttigieg and Warren, when the Massachusetts Democrat took an oblique knock at him by saying she doesn’t raise money from wealthy donors who pay $5,000 for a selfie.

Buttigieg — who unlike Warren, is willing is hold fundraisers with major donors — picked up on that, rejecting the criticism.

“Donald Trump and his allies have it abundantly clear that they will stop at nothing, not even foreign interference to hold on to power,” Buttigieg said. “They’ve already put together more than $300 million. This is our chance. This is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump, and we shouldn’t try to do it with one-hand tied behind our back.”

But Warren twisted the knife in further, pointing out Buttigieg held a fundraiser in California in a “wine cave” full of crystals where alcohol was served for $900 a bottle.

“Think about who comes to that,” Warren said. “He had promised that every fundraiser that he would do would be open door, but this one was closed door. We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoked-filled rooms would not pick the president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Buttigieg shoot back by saying he’s the only candidate on the stage who isn’t a millionaire or a billionaire, decrying such complaints as “purity tests” and saying if he swore off those donations he couldn’t be on the stage. Buttigieg also made it personal: “Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.”

The exchange went on with Warren saying she doesn’t sell access to her time. Buttigieg went on to say her presidential campaign was funded in part by money she transferred after having raised money at big ticket events.

“Did it corrupt you, Senator?” Buttigieg said. “Of course not.”

Taking a different approach, Klobuchar said she was hurt by earlier comments Buttigieg made about his lack of experience being a lack of experience in Washington. To the contrary, Klobuchar said, many candidates on the debate stage accomplished a lot as representatives in the federal government.

“I have not denigrated your experience as a local official,” Klobuchar said. “I have been one. I just think you should respect our experience.”

Buttigieg responded Klobuchar had, in fact, denigrated his experience before a break in the debate by implying his relationship to the First Amendment was talking point, but he “was going to let it go because we have bigger fish to fry here.”

Klobuchar shot back, “I don’t think we have bigger fish to fry than picking a president of the United States.”

The Afghanistan war veteran wouldn’t stand for that.

“Let me tell you about my relationship to the First Amendment,” Buttigieg said. “It is part of the Constitution that I raised my right hand and swore to defend with my life. That is my experience, and it may not be the same as yours, but it counts, Senator. It counts.”

Klobuchar said she certainly respects Buttigieg’s military experience, but the election is about choosing a president.

“We should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and has been able to show that they can gather the support that you talk about from moderate Republicans and independents as well as a fired up Democratic base,” Klobuchar said. “And I have not just done it once, I have done it three.”

If there’s a such a thing as a gay card, Buttigieg played it.

“Do you want about the capacity to win?” Buttigieg said. “Try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”

But Klobuchar pointed out Buttigieg tried before to win statewide in Indiana and couldn’t make it happen. South Bend, she said, was another matter.

“If had won in Indiana, that would be one thing,” Buttigieg said. “You tried and you lost by 20 points.”

Those weren’t the only times the debate was heated. On the issue of health care, Biden, who wants to build on Obamacare, and Sanders, who wants Medicare for All, got into a quarrel about affordability that got testy. Klobuchar came in to rescue to resolve it, saying her plan for a non-profit public option was both progressive and practical.

3. Biden showed off his foreign policy chops

In contrast to Buttigieg, Biden had inarguably his best debate performance over the course of the year. He was filled with a new energy he hadn’t exhibited before on stage and offered concrete plans for policy.

When the issue of age came up, Biden had the response he should have given in the first debate when Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) all but told him it was time to give up the torch: With experience comes wisdom.

“I’m running, because I’ve been around, on my experience,” Biden said. “With experience hopefully comes judgment and a little bit of wisdom.”

Amid media reports Biden has indicated he’d only serve one term as president, he somewhat blunted this response by refusing to commit one way or the way on stage about a second term, but it’s debatable whether that was much of a drawback.

But Biden shined the most during the debate when foreign policy came up, giving the former vice president a chance to show off his chops on his credentials on the issue.

Take for instance, the issue of China, when Biden condemns the nation for human rights abuses and offered a specific plan his audience could easily envision.

“We have to make clear is that we, in fact, are not going to abide by what they’ve done,” Biden said. “A million Uighurs, as you pointed out, are in concentration camps. That’s where they are right now. They’re being abused. They’re in concentration.”

Biden pledged to move 60 percent of U.S. seapower to the Pacific Ocean to “let, in fact, the Chinese understand that they’re not going to go any further, we are going to be other to protect other folks.”

The former vice president went on call for rebuilding alliances with South Korea, Australia and Indonesia and going to the United Nations to issue sanctions against China.

4. LGBTQ issues finally came up

After one question on LGBTQ issues had come up heretofore in only the Democratic debates this year (and one that didn’t really require candidates to give thoughtful answers on policy), a debate moderator finally posed a question on LGBTQ issues to the candidates.

PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked the candidates about their support Equality Act, comprehensive legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and what they would do to address anti-trans violence. In this year 2019 alone, 27 transgender people were counted as killed.

Sanders, who was the first candidate asked to respond, drew a contrast with the current anti-LGBTQ Trump administration and himself by saying leadership on LGBTQ issues is important.

“We need moral leadership in the White House,” Sanders said. “We need a president who will do everything humanly possible to end all forms of discrimination against the transgender community, against the African-American community, against the Latino community and against all minorities in this country.”

With transgender people calling for greater access health care, including transition-related care, Sanders said his Medicare for All plan would ensure all Americans would have access to health care “regardless of their sexual orientation or their needs…including certainly the transgender community.”

Warren took a slightly different route, committing herself to each year as president reading the names of the transgender people killed in the Rose Garden of the White House.

“I will make sure that we read their names so that as a nation, we are forced to address a particular vulnerability on homelessness,” Warren said.

Additionally, Warren pledged to reverse the Trump administration policy at the Bureau of Prisons that refuses to respect the gender identity of transgender inmates when placing them into federal detention.

Before the question was asked, Warren also name-checked the transgender community in reference to comments former President Obama made about needing new women leaders, saying she believes he was “talking about women and people of color and trans people and people whose voices just so often get shoved out.”

5. Impeachment was avoided like the plague

Impeachment only came up during the debate in the context of the first question, when moderator Jody Woodruff pointed out the U.S. House impeached Trump this week despite polls showing a majority of American public are opposed to impeachment.

That might have something to do with why the candidates wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot-pole afterward.

Klobuchar used the opportunity to call for White House officials to serve as witnesses in the Senate trial, a sentiment echoed on stage. All the candidates responded by criticizing Trump, but clearly were eager to move to other subjects.

Just as Yang moved to the topic of the changing economy, Buttigieg shifted to corporate greed and being able to change things in the 2020 election.

“it’s up to us,” Buttigieg said. “No matter what happens in the Senate, it is up to us in 2020. This is our chance to refuse to be taken in by the helplessness, to refuse and reject the cynicism.”

Not one candidate brought it up afterwards. It was clear they wanted to have the job of ousting Trump from the White House themselves.

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Africa

Botswana attorney general seeks to again criminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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California

H.S. students steal Pride flag, defecate on it & post video to TikTok

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community and a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely”

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Paso Robles High School via Google Earth

PASO ROBLES, Ca. – Earlier this school year two students walked into a science teacher’s classroom at Paso Robles High School, they proceeded to rip down the LGBTQ+ Pride flag hanging in the room and fled out the door. The theft took place as there was a classes break and as science instructor Evan Holtz took out after them he lost them in the throng of students in the hallway.

Holtz, who is a chemistry teacher, tutor, and swim coach, has been teaching at Paso Robles since 2019. In an interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Holtz told the paper he had displayed the Pride flag to show solidarity with the school’s LGBTQ students, making sure that they knew they were welcome and safe in his classroom.

What happened immediately after the theft has left the high school’s LGBTQ+ students angered and alarmed. First, the Tribune reported, a video surfaced on TikTok of students attempting to flush the rainbow Pride flag down a toilet. Then, the video showed one student defecating on the flag in the toilet, according to those who had seen and heard about the video.

“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” Geoffrey Land, a social sciences teacher told the paper. “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.”

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District said that administrators at the high school had taken “disciplinary action” after being alerted to the situation and the TikTok video by students. The next action undertaken on October 1st by the school district has left LGBTQ+ students disillusioned and further upset.

District Superintendent Curt Dubost sent a memorandum letter to faculty that read:

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has received multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms, including those that are large and distracting and those that alter the American flag.

I want to start by reiterating my statement from last year that rainbow flags mean different things to different people but to many are a symbol of safety, inclusion and equity. All students deserve protection against bullying and harassment. A safe, caring learning environment is essential if students are to achieve their academic potential.

We have a duty as a school district to ensure that hate speech and bullying conduct does not create an unsafe campus environment. Students in protected classes are often among the most vulnerable and susceptible to bullying and discrimination.”

Superintendent Dubost then laid out the new district policy: No flags bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet may be displayed in classrooms, and no flags that are “alterations of the American flag” may be displayed in classrooms.

In a follow-up interview with the Tribune Dubost justified his actions telling the paper, “We don’t want to turn it into a politicized issue where a student enters a classroom and looks up, ‘Oh, there’s a rainbow flag here, or there’s a blue lives matter flag here — that determines what the partisanship is of my teacher.’ We think that that’s a real slippery slope. And so we continue to believe that this is a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason.”

In an op-ed written by PRHS students on National Coming Out day last week, they expressed their dismay over Dubost’s actions.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people can celebrate support for LGBTQ equality. But in Paso Robles, where we attend high school, we cannot celebrate. Too often, LGBTQ students feel unwelcome, unsafe and targeted by hate.

After briefly mentioning the theft, video, and the action to ban flags other than a U.S. National flag taken by Superintendent Dubost they added:

Eventually, the school imposed minor discipline upon the offenders, and nearly two weeks later issued a policy statement that includes a ban on rainbow flags larger than 2’ x 2’. As the standard flag size is 3’ x 5’, the school purposefully banned the very flag that was desecrated. What message does this send to students? The flag ban means the school has allowed the haters to win, while LGBTQ students feel punished for wanting to be seen and supported.

The students cited a 2018 oral history project at PRHS which interviewed students in the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District area high schools of Templeton, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

They found that offensive slurs and open hostility directed at LGBTQ+ individuals were commonplace in classrooms. LGBTQ+ students reported not feeling included in their school culture. Students interviewed reported that teachers who wore rainbow colored pins or posted supportive flags or posters in their classroom walls helped create welcoming, safe spaces. Over the years, PRHS has witnessed loss of life, violence and intimidation — all in the name of anti-LGBTQ hate.

In their call to action the students stated that; “Enough is enough. How many more students will be traumatized by systems and people who fail to embrace the beauty and diversity of their students? The school’s response is a collective slap in the face of all LBGTQ students at PRHS. From our perspective, the school’s flag ban means they’re more interested in appeasing the bullies than protecting the safety of the victims of hate.”

There is a community forum event scheduled for Wednesday, October 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the PRHS performing arts center. Organized by students, the event, “Coming Out Against Hate,” is an opportunity for students to “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” and it’s the first forum of its kind in Paso Robles, according to a news release sent out about the event.

With the forum, we’re hoping that things change and they stop normalizing hate against us,” a senior told the Tribune, “I’m really proud of the fact that so many people are brave enough to come up against the adversity that is very obvious here. We might get a ton of hate for this. We might get hate-crimed ourselves.

But we can’t let this continue. We have a culture of homophobia here. We literally have no other option than to put ourselves kind of at risk and in danger. Because we can’t let this continue.”

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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