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LGBTQ people should oppose recall effort against Newsom

The recall poses an especially grave threat to our LGBTQ+ community

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Screenshot of recall Newsom proponents via KABC News 7 Los Angeles

A little over a year ago the coronavirus pandemic exploded, shutting down the country as experts, health officials and scientists struggled to get a handle on combating overwhelming numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

One grim reality emerged: There was a disproportionate number of Americans impacted in certain demographics and very little healthcare providers could do as patients ended up being intubated except wait and hope and in many cases prepare patients’ loved ones for their lonely deaths only to be witnessed by nurses, doctors, or not at all.

Complicating this nightmare outbreak scenario was that the nation was being led by a proven liar with a narcissistic penchant for ignoring healthcare professionals’ advice including his own administration’s top experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIH, and the Public Heath Service.

Beyond that, once it was well established that COVID-19 was a respiratory illness by which its transmission could be dampened or eliminated with the use of masks alongside social distancing and simple hygienic precautions, he openly disparaged and then in the worst way possible politicized mask wearing.

There’s a lengthy list of other outrages foisted on Americans by Donald Trump, but his greatest contribution to the atmosphere of death that enveloped the United States was his unwillingness to use the power of the presidency and the federal government in a central way to assist states as they grappled with seemingly endless deaths and record breaking hospitalizations.

Ultimately he also contributed to the economic catastrophe with his stubborn resistance to follow the science and data, which left many governors no choice but to shut down to save their residents.

At the end while he finally was able to bring the full power of the federal establishment to bear especially in the unheard of efforts by the scientific and pharmaceutical manufacturing communities to produce viable vaccines- but, his inept mishandling and ignorant behavior at the outset cost more lives than was truly necessary or based in science and data could have been prevented.

One of those governors was California’s Gavin Newsom. In fact, he was the first to completely idle a state’s economy and routine with his stay-at-home mandate in an effort to corral the virus. This was uncharted territory for Newsom and his leading health officials including California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly. Initially there was not enough solid information outside of awareness that only a draconian stance would stave off horrific loss of life.

As California battled surges and spikes, openings and closures, Newsom kept holding daily press briefings and attempted to govern under less than ideal circumstances. Yes, there were missteps such as his attending a birthday dinner party last fall at the white-tablecloth restaurant the French Laundry in Napa County, which he did apologize for as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I made a bad mistake. Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back out to my car,” Newsom said. “You can quibble about the guidelines, but the spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted. I’ve got to own that. So I want to apologize to you.”

Then after surges that brought more suffering and pain to Californians, 3.63 million cases and over 56,709 deaths to date, the vaccination roll-out began with numerous hiccups but with a purpose to get the over 40 million California residents vaccinated.

No, it hasn’t been pretty and yet Newsom has persevered. There are those however, who only see a fraction of the greater truth and reality of the actualities of the pandemic and governmental response to it and they have launched a recall effort. These people who have organized this campaign to recall the governor claim their effort is “fueled by grassroots supporters angry about pandemic restrictions” oh and the previously mentioned attendance at the dinner party despite his own administration’s guidelines.

That’s actually not truthful, but given a good deal of the organizers are acolytes of the former president and according to the Chronicle and others the financial engine of the recall campaign has been less populist and largely driven by mega-donors writing six-figure checks.

Of the nearly $4 million that recall organizers say they have raised, more than half has come from two dozen contributors — wealthy individuals, deep-pocketed companies and Republican groups.

The landscape and tone of the rhetoric to recall Newsom is led by people including Trump’s former ‘gay’ ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who stood by and allowed Trump and his White Christian Nationalist leaning administration officials like Stephen Miller and their allies to ban transgender military service. Grennell also defended former Vice-President Mike Pence who has a long record of anti-LGBTQ animus while attacking now Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during his presidential campaign run.

Let’s examine Newsom’s record regarding LGBTQ equality rights. Newsom has led on rights for LGBTQ Californians since his days as mayor of San Francisco. His record is such that last week 57 LGBTQ+ elected officials throughout California released a joint statement opposing the recall effort.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Legislative LGBTQ Caucus Chair Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell), former Chair Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, League of California Cities LGBTQ Caucus Board Member Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton and BART Board Director Janice Li praised Governor Newsom’s long record of support for LGBTQ+ civil rights and his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, national economic downturn and devastating wildfires.

The leaders also spoke to the risk that the partisan recall effort, led and funded by anti-LGBTQ+ and pro-Trump extremists, poses to LGBTQ+ Californians and the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong.

This attempt to remove the Governor — led and funded by anti-LGBTQ+ and pro-Trump extremists — is the product of a coordinated disinformation campaign that will cost the state of California $100 million. Instead, this money should be used to support Californians as our state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The recall poses an especially grave threat to our LGBTQ+ community and the progress that California continues to make toward full, lived equality for all people.

Throughout his career, Gov. Newsom has been a dedicated ally of the LGBTQ+ community and an unyielding champion in our fight for civil rights and social justice. He stood with us at times when it was not politically popular, regardless of personal and professional risks, because he knew it was the right thing to do.

He has taken bold, principled actions to advance marriage equality, expand access to life-saving HIV prevention medication, protect transgender Californians from discrimination, and ensure that California’s government reflects the diversity of our communities.

As publisher of the Los Angeles Blade I concur with the sentiments as expressed by the LGBTQ political leadership of California and urges LGBTQ Californians to oppose this dangerous, unnecessary, and frankly ignorant partisan recall effort.

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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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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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