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We need the ERA now!

Amendment would clarify sex discrimination for courts

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ERA, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by David via Flickr)

Excuse me? I can’t hear you! Why are you not talking about the ERA?

‘What is the ERA?” you ask?

It means EQUAL RIGHTS AMMENDMENT!

It means “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States because of sex.”

Yes, it would finally put WOMEN in the constitution! It has only taken 48 YEARS to have enough states to ratify it!

Yes, the 19th Amendment granting women suffrage is the only mention of the word “woman” in the Constitution. And, the ONLY right guaranteed to women by federal law is the right to vote. (Except in states controlled by Republicans! Just kidding.)

The most important effect of the ERA would be the clarification of the status of sex discrimination for the courts, decisions of which still demonstrate confusion regarding such claims.

For the first time, “sex” would be a suspect classification, like race, and would require the same level of “strict scrutiny” and to have to meet the same high level of justification — a “necessary” relation to a “compelling” state interest as the classification of race.

This issue is so important.

Last month, Virginia became the critical 38th state to ratified it! Of course, Republicans want to say it is too late, as it took so many years to get three-fourths of U.S state legislatures required for a constitutional amendment. Some states want to rescind their ratification because the Republican Party has made such an extreme right turn, that if the planet were flat (which some of them still think it is), they would fall right off.

Our community fights with each other over everything: “Pete Buttigieg isn’t queer enough!” Maybe — but he still doesn’t have the right to work in more than 30 states, which will make being president difficult.

“Amy Klobuchar is really a bitch.” Why? Because she is a strong, forceful, highly intelligent moderate. Besides, our community loved Joan Crawford. I rest my case.

An ex-lover told me “Elizabeth Warren is too aggressive. She reminds me of my old gym teacher.”

“Really?” I replied. A gym teacher who is also progressive and brilliant? Perfect!

And don’t get me started over the fights about Mike Bloomberg.

So we spend a lot of time fighting with each other. Over everything, not just
politics!

Meanwhile, the most important bill to affect all women — an issue that cis and trans women might consider fighting for together — is hardly getting any press!

And I don’t see organizing for the ERA going on in our community!

What about those wonderful demonstrations that WEHO pulls together in 8 hours — usually with all the City Council speakers, but still, inspiring!

Where are you WEHO City Council?

Remember when gay men loved lesbians because of how much we did for them during the AIDS crisis? “Just let us know if there is anything we can do for you” was their grateful response.

HELLO, GAY MEN! As a matter of fact, there is something you can do for us.

Visibly support the ERA!

Hello, queer people! You say you are the most inclusive group?

Knock, knock. Who’s there? It’s us — you know, women!

OK, it’s us, the L and the female B in LGBTQ!

Remember us? Will you fight for the ERA?

Now, to be honest, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who supports the ERA, for once has sided with the Republicans and believes we should “begin again.”

Excuse me? “Begin again” in a country that is going directly toward male authoritarianism which suffocates women’s rights?

OK, let’s begin again and see what happens with marriage equality, or racial justice or even social security or Medicare.

Do we look stupid enough to throw ourselves under the bus when we are fighting the right wing from pushing us there?

No. This is our one and only chance for the next 100 years — providing the planet lasts 100 months, let along 100 years.

So, let’s see this coalition come together to fight for women as hard as we have fought for you.

 

Robin Tyler is a Jewish, gender queer lesbian comedienne and pioneer in the LGBTQI civil rights movement.

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Commentary

Legislation may negatively impact LGBTQ+ kids already feeling isolated

Why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media

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Graphic courtesy of the Grant Halliburton Foundation

By Isaias Hernandez | LOS ANGELES – It seems difficult to comprehend that living in California in 2022, coming out as queer is still terrifying. With homophobic and transphobic legislation being introduced and passed in states across the country, including Florida’s law that allows parents to sue a school district if a teacher says the word “gay,” it is easy to assume that the state of California is far removed from that.

Unfortunately, laws like these in California are not an impossibility. Let’s not forget, it was just a short 14 years ago that Golden State voters chose to ban same-sex marriage by passing Proposition 8. It’s an unfortunate reality, but the decision to fully come out may never feel completely safe for many of us – which is why finding a community where we feel welcomed and accepted when we are young is so important, and why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media. 

Like many other queer teens who are also people of color, my high school years were hard. I did not feel safe being myself at home or at school, and on the precipice of adulthood, instead of finding my voice, I retreated and shrank myself to fit the role I thought I was expected to play. And then finally in 2019, I created a place where I could be my true self: a queer, brown, environmental justice fighter.  

When I created my Instagram account, @QueerBrownVegan, I was told that I shouldn’t talk about my queerness and that my environmental activism would be diminished by my queer identity. Knowing what I do about LGBTQI+ communities and the outsized impact the climate crisis and environmental injustices have on this vulnerable population, though, solidified my choice to keep my queerness front and center. 

I relied on the social connectedness of Instagram to create my online presence and to discover people who had similar interests as me. The photos, videos, and accounts I searched for would lead to recommendations of other like-minded people. It opened an entirely new world to me – and led to me feeling accepted and seen. This platform has also helped me to hold space for others, too. When young, queer environmentalists find my account, they too can feel like they’ve finally found a space of their own where they won’t feel judged or be bullied for being who they truly are. 

The community I have built on Instagram is one I wish I could have found when I was a teenager. This community has not only allowed me to be myself but also to forgive myself for the years I spent hating who I was. Social media gives teens from marginalized communities – brown, black, queer, disabled, fat, whatever and whoever they are – a place to find a community where they feel less alone and less marginalized. 

Recently, there has been a discussion in California’s Capitol about how to best keep teens safe on social media. To Sacramento, I say this: Queer teens are not safe when they are being ridiculed at school, they are not safe when their parents abuse them for a sexuality or gender they did not choose, and queer teens are not safe when they cannot be themselves. Social media is sometimes the safest space for queer teens who have nowhere else to be themselves. 

Bills like California Assembly Bill 2408 (AB 2408), that would impose strict standards on social media companies, could prevent young people from using social media at all, and that could have a dire impact on an already isolated young person who is looking for information or support from a community of people they otherwise may never find. With 45% of LGBTQ youth having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, that is not a risk lawmakers should be willing to take.

I urge lawmakers to think about queer youth and youth from other marginalized communities – listen to their stories and understand the importance of being able to create a community where they can finally be themselves, unapologetically.

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Courtesy of Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez is an environmental educator & founder of QueerBrownVegan.

Queer Brown Vegan is an environmental media platform that discusses the intersections around climate, LGBTQ issues, and food.

He seeks to advance the discourse around climate literacy through an intersectional media lens.

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Commentary

My Michigan neighbors shutter “pornographic” public library

Their definition is peculiar: LGBTQ = Porno. You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries

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Burning book photo licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Think that book banning doesn’t happen in the United States, that it’s only the stuff of dystopian fiction? Think again! Hear about that Iowa library that closed early this summer because three head librarians quit, one after the other? They and the rest of the staff got tired (and frightened) of being called groomers and pedophiles by loud homophobes and racists who don’t want ANYBODY in their community reading books about LGBTQ people or about the U.S. history of slavery and segregation.

You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries

Some community members celebrated when the library shut its doors. Mission accomplished!

They were not fighting for space to express their own opinions. They were demanding their neighbors be barred from reading differing opinions. They were willing to make the lives of professional librarians hell — including a gay librarian who became a target of particular harassment, from the way he dressed to the way he spoke.

This NBC Newlong read is instructive and frightening: (LINK)

Last week, the story came home to me in Michigan

For a little background first, PEN America says U.S. public-library book banning has reached heights they’ve never seen before:

Today, books in the US are under profound attack. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history.

In 1922, literary luminaries like Willa Cather, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Benchley, and Booth Tarkington founded PEN America to foster connections around the world and fight book banning. I wonder if they imagined that a century later the problem would be worse than ever?

They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.

While Pen fights community efforts to remove books from libraries, a Michigan town near me responded by going after the library itself.

Jamestown, Michigan voters opted last Tuesday to defund their library rather than tolerate books by or about LGBTQ people — not even if the books are in the adult section of the library with a jacket cover “warning,” not even if the books are behind the counter and have to be requested from a librarian.

“Gender Queer” cover art from Goodreads

It all started early this year when groups of up to 50 people began attending meetings of the elected library board, first demanding that the memoir-comic Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe be removed from the library’s collection, then moving on to a list of about 90 other books, almost the library’s entire collection of books about same-sex relationships and transgender people.

Then, just like in Iowa, two staff members quit their jobs. Former library director Amber McLain told Bridge Michigan she resigned after being accused of being a pedophile and becoming the target of daily online harassment.

She says the the details are ugly:

I had to change my name on Facebook for a time to prevent messages that were starting to come in. I never read any of them fully, but it was the typical fare — that I’m evil, that I’m indoctrinating kids. In March, a woman came into the library filming on her cell phone. She said she was looking for ‘that pedophile librarian’ and ‘the freak with the pink hair.’

Residents cite religious beliefs for voting to shut down library

A coalition of conservative Jamestown residents began campaigning against funding for the library in May while protesting a Pride Month book display. When the couldn’t convince the library board to remove LGBTQ-themed books from the shelves, not satisfied with compromises to restrict access to the books, they took to the streets to convince their neighbors the town would be better off without a public library at all.

Yard signs urging residents to vote no on funding the library popped up all over town, one sign across the street from the library, another in the lawn of a library board member who did not respond to Bridge Michigan’s request for comment.

One homemade sign said, “50 percent increase to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!”

Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the drive to defund down the library, emerged from the library last Tuesday after, in a twist of irony, casting her ballot there. She told a reporter, “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”

She did not explain why her private religious beliefs should restrict access to books for people whose religious ideas differ from hers.

She won, though.

Voters said no to the funding, gutting the library’s 2023–24 $245,000 budget. After this year, the lights are likely to go off and the doors to close, permanently, according to Larry Walton, library board president.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he told reporters. “The library is the center of the community. For individuals to be short sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ is very disappointing.”

Many Michigan public libraries and school libraries have found themselves under community fire over books with LGBTQ themes, but last Tuesday is the first time a Michigan community voted to close a library because a library board refused to ban books.

Let’s talk about pornography, what it is and what it isn’t

A common theme in library censorship debates this year is pornography. The people in Iowa and Michigan who tried to force library boards to ban LGBTQ-themed books did so on the grounds that the books are “pornographic,” citing descriptions of sexual acts or sexualized images. One of the drawings in Gender Queer, for example, features frontal nudity, though calling that clinical drawing porn is beyond silly.

It’s true that some of the books they object to, like Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, at the top of censorship lists this year, include passages about sex and sexuality, but to characterize them as pornographic is also beyond silly.

And it’s blatant hypocrisy.

I keep scanning banned book lists for mentions of beloved YA classics like John Green’s The Fault in Our StarsThat novel, and many like it, treat teenage (straight) sexuality with respect and sensitivity but don’t shy away from depicting it.

I hesitate to write this, because I don’t want to give book-banning activists any ideas, but Green’s novel and many like it contain much more frank discussion of sexuality than Lawn Boy or other books activists target over LGBTQ material.

Curiously, one California middle school briefly pulled The Fault in Our Stars from library shelves in 2014 due to parental concern, mostly arguing that 11–13 year olds are too young to read about teenage cancer and death. The school board voted to restore the book about two months later.

Green’s response to the censorship was sardonic and on point:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

I remember reading The Fault in Our Stars shortly after it came out and feeling a great deal of awe for Green — about how he mined beauty and insight from a story about a terminally ill girl. As far as I know, few people ever claimed that her loving (eventually sexual) relationship with a boy qualifies the novel as pornography.

Porn? What a silly idea!

The novel is art, though it contains sexual passages. It’s not porn because it contains important literary value, namely an exploration of mortality, grief, and joy — where you’d least expect to find joy.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Lawn Boy and most of the other LGBTQ-themed books topping this year’s ban lists contain far less sex than A Fault in Our Stars and other popular, non-controversial books for teens.

Lawn Boy is not porn. It’s a novel that features three or four non-graphic sexual paragraphs out of 320 pages that don’t talk about sex. Critics and readers love the book, which is also joyful in unexpected ways, written by a literary phenom with important insight into the human condition and certain contradictions of American culture.

That one of the main characters turns out to be gay at the end of the book is almost incidental.

Porn? What a silly idea!

But according to my neighbors in Jamestown, queer sexuality is porn by default. Is dystopia coming true?

My neighbors hate Lawn Boy so much they’ll close their library rather than leave open any possibility that somebody might read it. Making their own choices isn’t enough. They insist they must control what other people read and what other people’s children read.

Trans characters and lesbian/gay characters having sex or talking about having sex is, to them, pornography by definition. Cis/straight people having sex or talking about having sex is not. Maybe they don’t like that either, but they didn’t campaign to close the library over The Fault in Our Stars.

Remember Jack Petocz, one of the Florida high school students who rallied teenagers to protest against Governor DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law? PEN America honored him this year with their Freedom of Expression Courage Award after he campaigned to get books about LGBTQ people and Black people into students’ hands.

Jack says kids deserve to read about themselves and about people different from them. He says banning books is un-American. He says representation matters.

I agree with Jack and PEN.

Most people do. Banning books is antithetical to American values, contrary to our traditions of freedom, curiosity, and education. Most of us WANT to understand people who are different from us, not put our hands over our eyes and pretend those people don’t exist.

It’s come to this: Christian conservatives in a town near me just voted to shutter their library rather than tolerate books about people different from them.

Will you raise your voices with me in defense of books and libraries?

I can’t believe I need to ask, but according to PEN, the need is greater today than at any time in American history.

************************

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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Editor's Letter

Tell Newsom: Helping addicts is good for public safety and will save lives

Detractors claim safe consumption sites encourage drug abuse — which is emphatically false- a position even liberal-minded politicians take

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The addiction crisis in California is getting worse. The American Medical Association recently called the nation’s increasing drug-related overdose and death rate an “epidemic.” And with heightened public safety concerns from visible drug consumption on our own sidewalks, we’re faced with this undeniable fact: something needs to be done. We need to think creatively about how to help people struggling with addiction.

That’s exactly what Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 57 aims to do. This legislation, which sits on Governor Newsom’s desk awaiting a signature or veto, allows the City and County of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland to open pilot Overdose Prevention Programs (OPP), also known as safe consumption sites.

Healthcare and harm reduction professionals are clamoring for these facilities, which would be safe places where, under trained professional supervision, people can use drugs, access clean supplies and fentanyl testing strips, receive information about and referrals to treatment, and get fast medical help in the event of an overdose. 

“This is incredibly long overdue. In 2021 alone, California lost over 10,000 residents to the overdose crisis, and we are continuing to see it disproportionately claim the lives of people of color throughout the state. By passing SB 57 and embracing this cost-effective evidence-based public health intervention, the Legislature is making it abundantly clear that saving lives is its top priority,” Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said after the bill passed the Legislature. “With countless lives hanging in the balance, we urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill without delay, so that we can adequately confront this crisis through the implementation of Overdose Prevention Programs and begin providing people the support they need.”

“Overdose Prevention Centers have a long-proven history of working to save people’s lives. In 35 years, there has not been one reported overdose death in these spaces. Yet, our people are dying, and OPCs are the solution to negate this public health emergency. Today we are one step closer to helping our participants stay alive,” said Elham Jalayer, Harm Reduction Program Manager for the East Los Angeles-based Bienestar.  

Detractors claim that safe consumption sites encourage drug abuse — which is emphatically not true. Nonetheless, it’s a position publicly embraced by even liberal-minded politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed a similar Wiener bill in 2018. In his veto letter, Brown said that “enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.” He also cited threats from the Trump administration saying anyone associated with an OPP could be vulnerable to federal prosecution for facilitating drug use.

Then-former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, campaigning for governor, had a different stance, telling Chronicle columnist Phil Matier in August, “I’m open to it. I think it’s a novel strategy.

Ironically, during the height of the AIDS crisis, novel thinking about helping injection drug users came from Republicans. 

In May 1992, after Democratic presidential nominee and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton addressed a rally of gay and AIDS activists at a fundraiser at the Palace in Hollywood, Clinton’s gay campaign aide Bob Hattoy enabled LGBTQ reporter Karen Ocamb and ACT UP/LA’s Danny Levy to talk with Clinton.

Clinton and Levy agreed on everything except lifting the ban on federal funding for needle exchange – a critical issue as Clean Needle NOW exchanges were beginning to illegally pop up around Los Angeles. The issue exploded when President Clinton refused to heed recommendations to lift the ban from Health and Human Service Sec. Donna Shalala. Years later, in 1998 when Clinton still refused, most of his AIDS Commission resigned in protest.   

And yet, in Sept. 1994, Republican LA Mayor Richard Riordan declared a state of emergency, authorizing the city AIDS coordinator and other city officials to “immediately take steps permitted by law” to allow privately run needle exchange programs to stem the spread of HIV, according to the New York Times. LAPD Chief Bernie Parks and (Republican) LA County Sheriff Sherman Block issued orders not to interfere with these operations — though Human Rights Watch subsequently reported that not all law enforcement followed those orders.  

Meanwhile, controlled substances and drug paraphernalia are still illegal in California, a point SB 57 addresses directly. Wiener also notes that, as of 2021, 165 safe consumption sites exist in 10 countries. In New York City, the nation’s first two consumption sites have served 1,540 people over the last eight months, reversing 399 overdoses that likely would have led to death. 

In the two years after Brown’s veto in 2018, Los Angeles County reported over 4,000 overdose deaths. 2021 marked the seventh consecutive year that L.A. saw preventable, accidental overdose deaths rise, with a staggering 2,442 deaths last year – more than double the number of lives lost to drug overdoses in 2015. 

How many are our LGBTQ people, who struggle with addiction and overdoses at higher rates than the general population? We cannot continue to fail our people — all people — who struggle with addiction. That’s why I’m urging Governor Newsom to sign SB 57 into law. 

It quite literally is a matter of life or death. 

Brody Levesque is a veteran journalist and the editor of the Los Angeles Blade.

Former LA Blade news editor Karen Ocamb, who now works at Public Justice, contributed to this editorial. 

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