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In memory of Larry Kramer

Pioneer taught us to say ‘I will not stand for this’

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Larry Kramer, gay news, Washington Blade
Larry Kramer in 2007. (Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia)

Larry Kramer was never afraid to speak his mind and continued to fight the system and status quo up until his death. He was even writing a play this spring when the coronavirus first emerged.

“It’s about gay people having to live through three plagues,” he said.

At 84 he was still engaged and knew perhaps more than anyone the scale of what was to come.

My name is Mathilde Laderud, I am from Norway and have lived the past 10 years in NYC. I have worked for the U.N. and later in documentary and film production. I am writing this because I am a huge fan of Larry Kramer. I have been moved by his conviction and dedication and try to channel his strength whenever I feel that something is too much to handle for just one person. Larry taught us that there is always something you can do, even if you are the only one fighting.

During these past few months of irregular life schedules, people have begun to wake up and are asking themselves what parts of normal are no longer acceptable. The past few months of isolation has provided a vacuum of solitude away from regular distractions. The injustices happening around the world are now right in front of us, visible and impossible to brush aside. We are seeing people organizing and no longer accepting the silence or the lies we’re fed from the media and our governments.

Larry said silence equals death. Today I am seeing people all over the world taking power into their own hands, going to the streets without fear and protesting, asking questions and demanding justice. Protesting is no longer only for the radicals, like Larry and his fellow protesters were called. In the U.S. and across the world people are protesting decades of systemic racism and the murders of so many innocent black men and women. Simultaneously minorities and poor communities around the world are dying disproportionately from the coronavirus.

In the U.S. we have a health care system that denies access to its most vulnerable citizens. It’s a system that punishes you for being sick, or losing your job — a time when you need this support the most. if you lose your job in the U.S., you also lose your health insurance. Larry fought to change the healthcare system and demanded that everyone should have access to health care and new drugs. He said, “everyone should be angry.” Needless to say, the situation in the U.S. is very unstable and in need of a serious makeover.

Around a year ago we saw millions across the globe protesting climate change and demanding change from governments. The protests have already changed the way politicians and businesses leaders talk about climate change and added urgency to the political debate. The U.K.’s House of Commons has declared a “climate emergency,” and some cities have followed, including Sydney, New York and Paris.

I want to thank Larry for teaching us to say “no”, “I will not stand for this” and “we need to do better” He fought against inaction from leaders and people in positions of power, and against the apathy he sometimes found within his own people.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?” he wrote in his 1983 essay “1,112 and Counting” for the New York Native magazine. You don’t get anything unless you fight for it, united and with visible numbers. Without him, millions of people more would die from HIV/AIDS. The drugs that are here today are because of Larry Kramer and no one in history can dispute that. We must all take Larry’s advice, to think big and try to change the world.

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SCOTUS ruling on Philadelphia case, LGBTQ groups view with some relief

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief.

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Graphic: The Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision Thursday in a unanimous 9-0 ruling that sided with Catholic Social Services (CSS),  a Catholic social services organization that sued the city of Philadelphia after the city excluded it from a foster-care program due to the organization’s refusal to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief. Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade in a phone call Thursday that ruling was exceedingly narrow, aimed at a section of the contract by the City, and more importantly was not a ruling that would be citable in future litigation in terms of an anti-LGBTQ basis.

Specifically, Minter noted that with this unanimous ruling, the court avoided a situation that would overrule the 1990 SCOTUS ruling in the case of [the] Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. That ruling, authored by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had made it more difficult for religious people and groups to secure exemptions from generally applicable laws governing anti-discrimination

Scalia in the Smith case wrote; [that] “the Court has never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate. Allowing exceptions to every state law or regulation affecting religion would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” Justice Scalia goes on to cite examples such as compulsory military service, payment of taxes, vaccination requirements, and child-neglect laws.

Minter opined that while there would be definite support to overturning Smith by three of the court’s conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, he was doubtful that Chief Justice John Roberts, or the court’s other conservative justices Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett are that eager, given that there isn’t a legal remedy or replacement for Smith that would not create chaos within the federal judiciary in future challenges.

Properly understood, today’s decision is a significant victory for LGBTQ people, Minter said. The focus is on a contractual clause which is what the court focused in on. Writing in concurrence, Justice Alito noted, albeit it somewhat sarcastically, “This decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops. The City has been adamant about pressuring CSS to give in, and if the City wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power. If it does that, then, voilà, today’s decision will vanish — and the parties will be back where they started.”

Minter pointed out that the Court did not change the current constitutional framework, which permits governments to enforce antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people even when doing so may have a disparate burden on those who hold certain religious beliefs.

“As a result of today’s decision, those who feared the Court might create a sweeping new religious exemption to such laws can breathe a sigh of relief,” he concluded.

Also weighing in was Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We are relieved that the court did not recognize a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs,” she said.

“Opponents of LGBTQ equality have been seeking to undo hard-won non-discrimination protections by asking the court to establish a constitutional right to opt out of such laws when discrimination is motivated by religious beliefs. This is the second time in four years that the court has declined to do so. This is good news for LGBTQ people and for everyone who depends on the protections of non-discrimination laws,” Cooper added.

Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, writing in his Volokh Conspiracy blog noted;

Justice Barrett, joined by Justice Kavanaugh, concurring: The original meaning of the Free Exercise Clause is unclear on the broader question of religious exemptions from generally applicable laws, but “As a matter of text and structure, it is difficult to see why the Free Exercise Clause—lone among the First Amendment freedoms—offers nothing more than protection from discrimination.” Yet Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh are “skeptical about swapping Smith‘s categorical antidiscrimination approach for an equally categorical strict scrutiny regime, particularly when this Court’s resolution of conflicts between generally applicable laws and other First Amendment rights—like speech and assembly—has been much more nuanced.” In particular,

To name a few: Should entities like Catholic Social Services—which is an arm of the Catholic Church—be treated differently than individuals? Cf. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012) [providing broad protection for certain decisions by religious institutions -EV]. Should there be a distinction between indirect and direct burdens on religious exercise? Cf. Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) (plurality opinion). What forms of scrutiny should apply? Compare Sherbert v. Verner (1963) (assessing whether government’s interest is “‘compelling'”), with Gillette v. United States (1971) (assessing whether government’s interest is “substantial”). And if the answer is strict scrutiny, would pre-Smith cases rejecting free exercise challenges to garden-variety laws come out the same way? See Smith.

M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued the following statement. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is troubling but, importantly, it refused to give a free pass to people or agencies that want to discriminate against LGBTQ people for religious reasons and is limited to the specifics of Philadelphia’s foster care system. Instead, the Court validated the City’s ‘weighty’ interest in the equal treatment of LGBTQ prospective foster parents and foster children. The only reason those interests did not carry the day was due to the specifics of the City’s contract. Because the Court decided the case on contract-specific grounds, the City can address the situation by rewriting its contracts.” 

“But make no mistake.  Philadelphia has never refused to work with Catholic Social Services. The agency has continued to receive millions of dollars in foster care contracts from Philadelphia and the contract at issue simply applied a standard, important nondiscrimination principle to its contract agencies. Foster care is a government function, and all governments have a compelling interest in ensuring their contract agencies, including faith-based ones, treat all children and families equally. And today’s ruling does mean, at least for now, that different-sex married couples have access to all city agencies, while same-sex couples do not,” Cook said.

“The court’s ruling today on Fulton is a narrow one, limited in both nature and scope. The most important take-away is that the Supreme Court unanimously refused to allow a religious entity to have a license to discriminate. We stand in solidarity with the community in Philadelphia that is working for the fair and equitable treatment of  those who want to provide safe and loving homes to children and hold in our hearts the many children who will be impacted by this decision,” Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force said.

“The work ahead for our community is clear – we must continue to advocate for local and state non-discrimination laws, apply the ones that exist and most importantly, fight for the Equality Act, which would provide long overdue Federal protections to the LGBTQ community and many others,” she added.

Equality California’s Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, a prominent civil rights attorney weighed in saying, “Today’s ruling by the Court is limited in nature and scope. While the Court ruled against the City based on the specific facts of this case, we are heartened by the fact that it did not recognize or create a license to discriminate. The Court’s ruling means that governments can — and must — continue to enforce neutral, generally applicable laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination both inside and out of the foster care system.”

There was a note of defiance and dissent to the ruling from the SPLC listed anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Family Research Council, which released this tweet:

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OAN’s anti-LGBTQ hate supported by cable & streaming services

OAN reportedly relies on subscriber fees, also known as carriage fees, rather than advertising as a prime revenue source

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Graphic via Media Matters for America

By Beatrice Mount & Alex Paterson | WASHINGTON – The right wing conspiracy theory One America News channel regularly uses extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, combating what it has called “militant LGBTQ recruitment” strategies.

OAN’s baseless fearmongering about Drag Queen Story Hour, Demi Lovato’s gender identity, and transgender athletes, however, is being financially supported by cable companies and streaming services that claim to be celebrating LGBTQ people and Pride month.

Rather than relying on “advertising as a prime revenue source,” OAN reportedly relies on subscriber fees, also known as carriage fees, as its primary funding source. Verizon and DirecTV (and its parent company, AT&T) pay OAN subscriber fees in exchange for the network being available to their customers, whose subscription costs pay for OAN. While it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much revenue these cable contracts generate, Bloomberg previously reported that OAN “gets paid about 15 cents per subscriber by the companies.” 

OAN also generates revenue through subscriber fees via its streaming app, which charges its subscribers $4.99 per month and is available to download on RokuAmazon FireGoogle Play, and Apple TV. In exchange for hosting OAN in their channel libraries, these companies reportedly take a percentage of that subscription fee. For example, according to Yahoo Finance and The Motley Fool, Roku takes 20% of subscription fees, and Apple TV takes 30% during the first year and 15% in subsequent years. 

These companies have all celebrated Pride month through statements and social media support, including VerizonAmazonGoogleAppleRoku, and DirecTv and its parent company AT&T. However, these companies also enable OAN to maintain a steady income, even though the network is in direct opposition to their corporate commitments to the LGBTQ community.

What’s more, OAN’s hateful rhetoric adds fuel to the rising attacks on LGBTQ people, particularly trans people: Anti-trans violence in the U.S. has reached record high levelshate crimes targeting LGBTQ people are on the rise, and state legislatures have proposed over 100 bills to restrict trans rights so far in 2021 alone. 

OAN hosts and guests regularly spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and misinformation, particularly targeting trans people

In the days leading up and following the first day of Pride Month in June, some of OAN’s most prominent hosts — Kara McKinney, Stephanie Hamill, and Dan Ball — and their guests have regularly used the platform to fearmonger about LGBTQ people, including claiming that Pride “is a really sad indicator of just how far the cultural rot has gone.” Here are some of the worst examples:

Tipping Point with Kara McKinney

  • On May 20, McKinney suggested that “militant LGBTQ recruitment” has caused more young people to identify as LGBTQ. She also claimed PBS programming that featured Drag Queen Story Hour was “radical LGBTQ propaganda” and a ”mockery and caricature of true womanhood, basically the gender equivalent of blackface or cultural appropriation.”
  • Later in that same segment, McKinney was joined by RedState’s Brandon Morse, who claimed that PBS is “introducing what is actually a mental illness” to kids through covering Drag Queen Story Hour in order “to make good little soldiers for the hard-left, progressive agenda,” comparing it to “the sexual abuse of our children.” He also said that being trans is “a trend, and when this trend wears off the people who actually submitted these kids, pressured them — all the celebrities who signed up for it and pushed it on them, the corporations who signed on and pushed it on them — none of these people are going to look good in the long run, and I can’t wait for that day to come.”
  • On May 24, McKinney asserted that people who affirm trans youth are “leading young people, especially those suffering from mental illness and who are typically being raised in unstable households, into a life of gender confusion.” 
  • In that same edition of Tipping Point, Morse said that being trans is a “trend” and compared it to “the emo craze, the scene kids, you know, all these people dressing in weird ways to try to stand out.” He also claimed that as “abortions are becoming harder and harder to get for Planned Parenthood to perform, they’re moving toward … gender transition treatments” and pushing trans youth “into this weird LGBT-centric agenda that forces them to do something that they can’t take back years later.”
  • On June 1, McKinney commemorated Pride month by proclaiming, “We of course pray for those suffering with same-sex attraction,” and she equated being LGBTQ to a “sin” and a “vice.” She also lamented that “for being a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the fact that we dedicate an entire month to one of the seven deadly sins, which is pride, the cause in many ways of the fall itself, is a really sad indicator of just how far the cultural rot has gone.” 
  • Later in that same episode, far-right pastor Jesse Lee Peterson said people should celebrate “white history month” instead of “perverted” LGBTQ Pride. He also asserted that “Christians must stand up and fight against evil” and questioned, “What’s happy about being perverted?”

In Focus with Stephanie Hamill

  • On May 20, one day after singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary and announced they will now use gender-neutral “they/them” pronouns, Hamill suggested they were “desperately trying to stay relevant.” Turning Point USA’s Alex Clark claimed that “the ultimate magic eraser for bad PR is to change your sexual orientation or your gender identity” and accused Lovato of being “severely mentally ill.” (Hamill and her guest also repeatedly misgendered Lovato the following day.)
  • During a May 28 appearance on In Focus, Terry Schilling, the executive director of anti-LGBTQ group the American Principles Projectcalled for a “ban” on best practice health care for trans youth and claimed such care is “absolutely insane” and “all meant to destroy us as human beings.”
  • Later in that segment, during a rant about Kellogg’s Pride-themed cereal, Hamill said that “kids are getting bombarded with liberal propaganda,” and Schilling questioned if LGBTQ advocates “didn’t have the billions of dollars a year that they spend in this movement, what percentage of Americans would identify as LGBT or have some type of confusion about their gender? My guess is that it won’t be that many.”
  • In a June 1 segment with the right-wing Libertas Institute’s Emma Phillips, Hamill complained that Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues is “pushing the drag culture so hard on kids” and claimed that “we see this kind of indoctrination going on in schools, the anti-American agenda, too.” Phillips said that “parents have been posting on social media, ‘My child just learned that Jesus is nonbinary,’ and it’s like this laundry list of insane things that kids are being exposed to.”
  • On June 2, in an apparent violation of a court-issued gag order, Jeff Younger, a father in a high-profile Texas child custody dispute, joined Hamill to spread anti-trans rhetoric about his trans child’s “abnormal gender expression.”

Real America with Dan Ball

  • On June 8, while defending a Loudoun County, Virginia, public school teacher who refused to refer to trans students by their correct name and pronouns, Ball claimed that affirming trans youth is participating in “pronoun garbage.”
  • Ball has also repeatedly denigrated prominent trans people. He has misgendered and deadnamed U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. Ball also ridiculed Caitlyn Jenner, saying she was “dick-tator-less,” while his guests, far-right commentators the Hodgetwins, said being trans is “just a wardrobe” and a “bizarre lifestyle.”

Beatrice Mount is a media analyst and researcher for Media Matters for America. She’s a George Washington University Graduate with a degree in gender studies and political science.

Alex Paterson is a researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, where he has worked since 2019. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Montana State University and has a background in LGBTQ advocacy, including previous work at the National LGBTQ Task Force and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The preceding commentary and analysis was published by Media Matters and is republished by permission.

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Pride at Work, U.S. Dept. of Labor recommits to inclusive workplaces

Pride Month is for LGBTQ+ people to be proud & visible in a world that tells us not to be; recommitting to inclusive workplaces

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U.S. Department pf Labor, Frances Perkins Building, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)

By B.A. Schaaff | WASHINGTON – Pride Month is a chance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people to be proud and visible in a world that tells us not to be. Pride Month is a chance to celebrate and honor the work of LGBTQ+ people as we fight every day for equity and inclusion in society, in the law and in our workplaces. 

Thanks to the tireless work of advocates, we’ve had many recent encouraging wins at the national level:

  • Last June, in Bostock vs. Clayton County,the Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • In January, President Biden issued an Executive Order 13988, Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, and  another executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which includes LGBTQ+ persons. He also rescinded a 2020 executive order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping that had a chilling effect on diversity and inclusion training programs among federal agencies and contractors.
  • The Biden-Harris administration has stated strong support for the Equality Act, which would amend existing federal civil rights laws to expressly include non-discrimination protection on the basis of sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), providing security and equality to LGBTQ+ people in accessing housing, employment, education, public accommodations, health care and other federally funded services, credit and more.
  • In March, President Biden became the first U.S. president to recognize Transgender Day of Visibility.

In the past year, anti-racism protests have sparked important conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. The Department of Labor has recommitted to being an inclusive workplace, and continues to offer trainings related to sexual orientation and gender identity, including those related to the use of gender-inclusive language and pronouns. I’ve been proud to provide these trainings and support those efforts as a vice president of Pride at DOL, an affinity group for the department’s LGBTQ+ employees and contractors and our allies.

As part of the department’s efforts to implement the sexual orientation and gender identity executive order, our Civil Rights Center – a member of the Title VI/Title IX Interagency Working Group led by the Department of Justice – will serve on the Title IX and Executive Order 13988 Committee. This committee will serve to provide opportunities for interagency collaboration to advance EO 13988’s goal of protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ensuring the Bostock decision is applied to Title IX and other relevant statutes, and making federal agencies welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.

The department is also working to reverse the impact of the prior administration’s executive order on diversity training. Our Office of Federal Contract and Compliance Programs is examining promising practices for diversity training as one component of broader efforts to eliminate bias from employment practices. In addition, the department is conducting an equity review to better understand how well our policies and programs are reaching historically underserved populations, and launched a related data challenge.

But there is still more work to do, and our pride can come at a price. Being visible sometimes means being exposed to harassment, discrimination, and violence. This is especially true for transgender people, particularly those who are women and people of color. Equity and inclusion require creating an environment — through language, policies and practices — that not only tolerates but recognizes and affirms people’s identities and relationships. Only with this can employers create a sense of belonging and value in their organization.

So as we celebrate Pride Month this year and every year, let’s recognize all the work that has been done and that is necessary to keep pushing forward.

B.A. Schaaff (they/he) is an attorney in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor and is vice president of Pride at DOL.

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