Connect with us

Commentary

When Trans Athletes Win

We need to understand what’s happening to fuel all of these anti-trans bills.

Published

on

PHOTO CREDIT: Austris Augusts on Unsplash

We need to understand what’s happening to fuel all of these anti-trans bills.

By Zack Ford | The war on trans people’s right to exist has escalated greatly this year in state legislatures. By far, the most popular anti-trans legislation — in terms of both how many bills have been introduced and how successfully they’re becoming law — comes in the form of bills banning transgender student athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity. And there’s something fascinating we have to reconcile about the success these bills are having this year: conservatives found more success advancing anti-trans discrimination by lowering the stakes of their arguments.

Think about it. Half a decade ago, everything you heard from conservatives was about bathrooms and locker rooms. The narrative was safety: “Women won’t be safe if they have to see a trans person changing!” It was offensive bullshit, of course, but as far as narratives go, “safety” is a pretty high-stakes one. But the new narrative is “fairness” — in sports of all things — and it’s a much lower-stakes claim. And, perhaps counterintuitively, I think that’s why it’s been more successful.

Many of the bills we’re also seeing are attacking the health care that trans kids deserve, which is very dangerous and high-stakes, so I don’t want to ignore it. But I’ll ask you to join me in setting those bills aside for a moment to consider just where this surge of anti-trans sports bills is coming from and why it’s so effective. At least 33 different states have seen at least one of these bills introduced, and seven states now have bans in place, including West Virginia, where the ban just became law this past week.

There was previously only one ban in place. Idaho was the first state to pass such a ban into law just last year, and Idaho’s ban is not even currently enforceable thanks to the ACLU’s quick victory in court challenging it. From one state in 2020 to at last seven so far in 2021 is a huge escalation, and we have to examine what’s happening there, because these sports bills are gateway bills. As we’ve already seen at a rapid pace in Arkansas, one kind of anti-trans discrimination begets another (including the bills targeting kids’ health care and the bathroom bills of yore).

So how is this lower-stakes argument for anti-trans discrimination accomplishing so much more for conservatives?

It’s because some trans girls won their races. Some Black trans girls.

Yeah, race is a factor too. Because of course it is.

Out Of The Locker Room, Onto The Field

If you think back to the surge of anti-trans advocacy we saw after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in 2015, the focus was almost entirely on bathrooms and locker rooms. Overblown stories about simply seeing trans people in these spaces (like the Planet Fitness case in Michigan) were used to demonize all trans people (though really just trans women) as perverts and predators and justify discrimination against them. This arguably culminated in early 2016 with North Carolina’s passage of HB2, which mandated discrimination against trans people in public places.

While the effort to demonize trans people has by no means dissipated, the focus on such “bathroom bills” has seemingly diminished since then.

Before even getting into the reasons why that might be, it’s important to note that these anti-trans campaigns are not organic. More than any other conservative organization or individual, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group, is controlling the narrative and approach of anti-LGBTQ litigation and legislation. My buddy Josh Israel profiled ADF in 2014 as “The 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right,” and it’s only grown since then. The strategic shifts we’ve seen in the attacks on trans people can easily be connected to ADF’s successes and failures.

As to why we’ve seen less of a push for bathroom bills, the first and foremost reason is surely how monumental the backlash to HB2 was. The bill itself was a reaction to Charlotte becoming North Carolina’s first city to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the local level — you know, the kind of inclusive protection that dozens of major cities and states have that have resulted in none of the consequences conservatives fear-monger about. HB2 both banned such protections in North Carolina cities and prohibited trans people statewide from using public facilities consistent with their identities. Major corporations, artists, and sports leagues punished the state so heavily that HB2’s major champion, Gov. Pat McCrory (R), lost reelection in 2016 even as Donald Trump won North Carolina’s electoral votes.

Newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper (D) quickly worked to repeal the ban on trans people using facilities in 2017 and set an end-date for the ban on municipal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. When that ban finally lifted last December, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Durham, Greensboro, and Orange County all immediately followed Charlotte’s lead and passed their own protections. As a law, HB2 is now history, and the state has better LGBTQ protections than it did before its passage. It’s no surprise that conservatives have at least rethought their approach on such blatantly discriminatory bills given the massive net loss.

Secondly, Trump’s election helped ease the pressure conservatives likely felt to push for discriminatory policies at the state level by reversing all the federal protections introduced by the Obama administration. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed the Title IX guidance protecting trans students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Title VII guidance protecting trans workers, HUD Secretary Ben Carson reversed the guidance protecting trans people seeking shelter, and Trump tweeted out a ban on trans military service — to name just the most prominent examples. There was no longer a “threat” to conservatives that the whole nation was going to be obligated by the federal government to abide by these LGBTQ protections.

Thirdly, ADF and similar conservative legal groups were losing a lot of their bathroom cases in court. ADF has a two-pronged approach; it helps draft, lobby for, and defend discriminatory bills, but it also challenges the laws that do protect LGBTQ people in court and defends schools and employers that want to keep discriminating. But there was a big wave of victories in federal courts for transgender students seeking or trying to maintain equal access to facilities in their schools, including in WisconsinIllinoisOhio, and Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court notably refused to hear ADF’s case in Pennsylvania after it lost its push for discrimination in the Third Circuit.

But the Supreme Court did hear a trio of cases about employment discrimination, including one about a trans woman, and delivered a massive defeat to ADF in Bostock v. Clayton County. Federal law officially now protects trans people from discrimination.

It’s no surprise we now see a new raft of bills with a new strategy, one that capitalizes on a case ADF found that follows a rather different narrative.

Introducing Race To The Race

There’s a lawsuit ADF filed in 2016 that never went anywhere, but that I’ve never forgotten.

Targeting a high school in the small city of Virginia, Minnesota, the lawsuit was ostensibly one of ADF’s many attempts to reverse a school’s inclusive policies for transgender students. It made all the usual false claims about “safety and privacy” for cis girls, but it also directly attacked “Student X,” a real trans student enrolled at the school.

You can go back and read my full reporting on the suit, but I want to draw your attention to this specific paragraph from the complaint:

Student X began dancing in the locker room while Girl Plaintiff A and others prepared for track practice. Student X would dance in a sexually explicit manner — “twerking,” “grinding” or dancing like he [sic]was on a “stripper pole” to songs with explicit lyrics, including “Milkshake” by Kelis. On at least one occasion, Girl Plaintiff A saw Student X lift his [sic] dress to reveal his [sic] underwear while “grinding” to the music.

A Sense Of Fairness

Before we get to the Connecticut case, let’s talk broadly about sports for a minute.

Objectively, sports aren’t fair.

We go to a lot of trouble to convince ourselves that they are, but they never truly are. Each person’s biology is different, so on a fundamental level, we can only approximate fairness.

We do that in a lot of ways. Gender is obviously one way we divide up sports in an attempt to make the competition more fair. Age is another factor, where we have everything from junior varsity to senior citizen leagues — to say nothing of sports like gymnastics where competitiveness is by default limited to a very narrow age range. Some sports like wrestling and boxing specifically consider physical attributes like weight. Through rules about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, we set limits about what exactly a person can do to their body to achieve a competitive advantage. And in college sports we even separate athletes into divisions with the primary difference being whether students can receive athletic scholarships, which —though we don’t generally think about it — inherently introduces all kinds of factors like career goals and finances into determining the fairness of athletic competition.

In short, a lot of thought has gone into how to approximate fairness in athletics. But we also acknowledge that we can only make things so fair. For example, we can’t really do anything about Michael Phelps. From his torso-to-leg height ratio to his massive wingspan to his double-jointed ankles and elbows to his reduced lactic acid creation, Phelps’ body naturally excels at swimming, and he capitalized on that with discipline and drive. When he swims, we all just stand in awe of what this cis white guy with a ton of biological advantages is capable of; he’s the best and hooray for what the human body can achieve! Of course he’s allowed to compete; his advantages don’t fit any of the disqualifying criteria we’ve established.

But not everyone just gets to be the best when they excel in athletics. In a lot of other cases, when someone does well, it raises suspicion instead of applause. Sports do not exist in a bubble and are not exempt from societal forces. The question “Why did that person win?” quickly leads to the question ‘“Did they have an ‘unfair’ advantage?” and attempts to identify what sets them apart. When trans people excel, just like when women excel and when people of color excel, such suspicion around their success very easily and inevitably turns into a proxy for discrimination against them. It’s one thing if someone is allowed to compete; it’s quite another if they’re able to win.

Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood were able to win. Both Black and both trans young women, they won a combined 15 track championships in Connecticut from 2017 to 2019. And ADF turned them into the symbol of the alleged unfairness of transgender inclusion in sports because of the opportunities they were supposedly taking away from cis white girls.

The Exception Does Not Prove The Rule

It’s no surprise that the question of whether it’s fair for trans people to compete has been asked. But it’s also been answered — for some time now. The International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and K-12 athletic leagues across the country have long had policies allowing trans people to compete according to their gender identity with simple caveats regarding how far along they must be in their transitions.

That’s because studies have repeatedly found that the changes trans people make to their bodies set them up for fair competition with their cis peers. Trans women, the most common concern, lose most of the advantages often associated with male bodies. I really appreciate how Joanna Harper, author of some of these studies, framed the debate in a recent interview with OutSports (emphasis added):

For those who suggest trans women have advantages: We allow advantages in sport, but what we don’t allow is overwhelming advantages… Trans women also have disadvantages in sport. Our larger bodies are being powered by reduced muscle mass and reduced aerobic capacity, and can lead to disadvantages in quickness, recovery, and a number of other factors.

The bottom line is, we can have meaningful competition between trans women and cis women. From my point of the view, the data looks favorable toward trans women being allowed to compete in women’s sports.

To the extent that any sports are “fair,” allowing trans people to compete is fair enough. And there are trans people competing all over at varying levels of competition that we never hear anything about. There’s nothing to hear, and there are no complaints about their participation, because they aren’t winning.

But Miller and Yearwood’s ability to win — as both trans and Black in the very white state (75%) of Connecticut — drew attention. Then all ADF had to do was find a couple of cis girls who didn’t like losing to them to file a lawsuit attempting to overturn the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s entire inclusive policy for all trans athletes in the state. The message was clear: If inclusion means these two trans athletes can win, then no trans athlete should be allowed to compete.

At this point, I want to send you on a detour to read a recent piece by the brilliant Derrick Clifton. In it, he connects the way Miller and Yearwood have been targeted for their bodies to the long history of cis Black women being policed in the same way, such as Serena Williams, as well as Black women who are intersex or have other conditions like hyperandrogenism, including the saga of Caster Semenya. As he writes, “Black women in sports — whether they are cis, trans, or intersex — constantly encounter shifting rules and expectations as a reprimand for their successes.”

One of the things I didn’t even know until I read Derrick’s piece is that Chelsea Mitchell, one of the cis white girls who joined ADF’s suit, actually beat Miller in their last two races and had earned her own state championships. So the portrayal that these Black trans athletes were always superior and depriving the cis white girls of victories and scholarships wasn’t even true; Miller and Yearwood were merely competitive. It’s not a detail that has come up often.

The Biden administration had already withdrawn the support for the suit offered by the Trump administration, and about a week ago, a federal judge tossed ADF’s suit entirely. It was moot, he ruled, because Miller and Yearwood aren’t even students anymore and there were no other winning trans athletes to substitute into the case. Trans inclusion in Connecticut’s school sports appears to be safe for now.

But even if the case ends there, the damage has been done. Literally every time this issue is now discussed or written about, photos of these two Black trans girls become the symbol of unfairness in athletics. They are likewise the scapegoats for all of this new legislation — and it’s literally because there are no other examples.

A Cause With No Célèbre

In state after state, the lawmakers advancing these anti-trans sports bills have been asked if they can identify a single example of a trans student athlete in their state who could even be accused of benefiting from an unfair advantage. As this CNN report from this week highlights, they repeatedly answer “no” then pivot to highlighting the Connecticut case.

In an interview with the conservative site CNSNews this past week, ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb claimed, “We have seen increasing examples across the country of males [sic] dominating girls’ athletic competitions when competing as females, capturing championships and shattering long-standing female track records.” It’s telling that she specified track (as opposed to any other sport) but provided no “increasing examples” as to who or where these trans athletes are, and it’s no coincidence that the article featured a photo and two different videos of Miller and Yearwood.

Shortly after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed his state’s anti-trans sports bill into law this week, MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle asked him the same question about why this was no necessary. He had no answer, and Ruhle proceeded to read him for filth about all of the other concerns he could be prioritizing in West Virginia instead of this purely discriminatory bill. It’s worth clicking through to watch the clip:

The pure cruelty of these bills is obvious. But the question remains: Why do conservatives feel less risk advancing them — and why have more of them prevailed — compared to follow-up bathroom bills? I have a theory.

Part of it, as I said at the top, is that the stakes feel lower. Thus, conservatives can try to sell the message that the discrimination is somehow less cruel or less consequential than, say, the outright banishment from public spaces dictated by bathroom bills. This is just about specific participation in sports, they can claim, and it’s only about fairness in competition, not about discriminating against trans people. It’s a false narrative, to be clear, but it’s one they can market differently than trying to paint all trans women as predators while erasing trans men from existence altogether.

But I also think there’s something a bit more insidious at work than just a less-discriminatory-sounding message, and it speaks to why these sports bills are the new vanguard for anti-trans legislation and the way they open the door for even worse bills.

The premise of all anti-trans prejudice is to convince people to reject the legitimacy of transition: Ignore the decades of research and 95+% success rate of affirmative treatment and surgeries; ignore the mental health benefits of transitioning and mental health consequences of not transitioning; and ignore the very reality of the lives transgender people live and instead regard them only as the sex they were assigned at birth. Any skepticism of transitioning is a victory for transphobia.

In the context of sports, conservatives can carve out this diabolical little niche that convinces people that even if transgender people transition, they’re still going to have these physical differences that they can’t change. Those differences — those so-called “advantages” — are an essential part of their existence, and no matter what gender defines how they’re living their lives, it’s unfair to let them compete as such because of those relic differences. It’s an emphasis on the imperfections of transition, a tether that ties trans people to their sex assigned at birth without overtly rejecting the legitimacy of their transition.

Like everything else in transphobia, it doesn’t even have to be true; it only has to be believable by people who don’t have any foundation for understanding trans people’s experiences. Competitive advantages based on race aren’t true either, but a lot of people still believe in such myths as well, which compounds the believability that these Black trans girls are somehow undeserving of their success and a barrier to cis white girls’ apparently more deserving success.

What this results in is that many people who might otherwise be supportive of protecting trans people from discrimination can be convinced to make a small exception for sports under the guise of “unfairness” that’s no fault of the trans athletes themselves. A perfect example is Caitlyn Trump-would-be-good-for-trans-people Jenner — whose contributions to the trans community have largely been in spite of herself — saying this weekend that she doesn’t think trans inclusion in sports is fair. Again: It’s a false narrative, but a sellable one.

These anti-trans sports bills thus achieve the goal of instituting transphobia and rejecting the full legitimacy of trans identities in our laws while simultaneously appearing not to engage in overt transphobic discrimination.

But hey, now that conservatives already have folks thinking about trans kids and already signing onto one form of discrimination, they have a receptive audience for selling their other false narratives about what health care should look like for trans kids. And from there, they can continue to escalate back toward the ultimate goal of bathroom bills. It’s exactly what happened in Arkansas over the past couple months:

By lowering the stakes from safety to fairness, conservatives found an easier entry point to get more people on board with anti-trans regulations. Their goals haven’t changed, but they found a new approach to get their foot in the door for mandated discrimination. These anti-trans sports bills are clearly a gateway to additional transgender discrimination, and they should be subjected to the exact same level of backlash as the worst discriminatory bills we can imagine.

In other words, the stakes aren’t lower. They’re as high as they’ve ever been for trans people’s right to exist as themselves in this society of ours. “Fairness in sports” is just a façade for justifying a form of transphobia.

And a final thought: We have to own that true inclusion includes an equal opportunity to win. Any trans athlete who has the bravery to compete and the discipline to succeed deserves any championship title that they earn — fair and square.

I’ll be revisiting the legislation that’s been targeting health care for trans youth in a future newsletter. Stay tuned.

Zack Ford is the former LGBTQ editor at ThinkProgress.org and currently serves as press secretary at Alliance for Justice. His views are his own.

The preceding piece was originally published at Fording the River Styx and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Commentary

Underfunded, undermined & unabashedly victorious in Brazil

Country’s LGBTQ politicians are bringing diversity to democracy

Published

on

Erika Hilton (Photo courtesy of Erika Hilton's Twitter page)

SÃO PAULO — Imagine a group of 18 winners where you’ll find only one white man. The recent election in Brazil not only brought back former President Lula, but also doubled the numbers of out LGBT+ representatives in both the national and state legislatures. Out of these 18 elected officials; 16 are women, 14 are black and five are trans. There is only one white man in the group.

Women, LGBT+ and Black people have always showcased political leadership in their communities. But the path to occupy a space in Brazilian institutional politics is often violent and expensive. In recent years, many organized social movements have directed their efforts to set the agenda for public debate into the intersectional realm and support community leaders. In a poll VoteLGBT conducted in 2017 during the São Paulo Pride parade, the biggest in the world, only 45 percent of Pride participants surveyed thought that identity matters when choosing a candidate. In 2022, 85 percent believed so.

Despite the many obstacles and violence they face, Brazilian LGBT+ leaders are gaining political power, often being the most voted individuals in their states or cities. Many trans women who won big in their cities in 2020 advanced to higher positions in 2022. Four LGBT+ people (all women) were elected to congress: Three of them Black and two of them trans, a major breakthrough for LGBT+ political participation.

In Brazil, campaigns are publicly funded. Taxpayers’ money goes to parties’ leadership who can pretty much do whatever they want with it. There are rules made to fight the underrepresentation of women and Black population, but they are often corrupted by fraud.

Party leaders are often older rich white cis men who focus their efforts and financial support to old allies. LGBT+ politicians receive an average of 6 percent of the legal limit for what parties can provide to a single candidate. When interviewing 30 of those who ran in 2020, we came across three trans women who didn’t have enough to eat during their campaigns and still won their seats. Our vote is the cheapest in the election market.

Once elected, LGBT+ officials often face discrimination from their peers in the chambers, many times from their own parties. In a poll we did in 2021 we found that more than half of LGBT party members reported facing discrimination. And those who decided to report it found that there’s no accountability for LGBTphobia inside the parties.

Not to mention the constant death threats that (especially) Black and (especially) trans women face when elected or running for office. City Counselor Benny Brioly, who is Black and trans, had to flee the country in 2020 after public security forces refused to offer her protection, which was her legal right. In 2022 she kept getting death threats from a congressman, from his official Cabinet’s email. Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert, the first trans women elected for congress in 2022, had to conduct campaign activities with armed security and bulletproof vests.

It seems like the world is looking for the tools we are developing to fight extremism and LGBTphobia. International organizations have long supported many of those initiatives. The partnership and support from organizations like the National Democratic Institute and the LGBT Victory Institute have been fundamental to promote a comprehensive approach to such a complex issue.

VoteLGBT’s innovative research strategies have a political and historical importance due to the lack of official data about the LGBT+ population in Brazil. Research has been fundamental for us, not only to give visibility to our issues and set the agenda for public debate, but also to better strategize where to allocate resources. Since 2021 we have been investigating the parties, conducting in-depth interviews with candidates and LGBT caucus. We’ve produced a list of 327 out LGBT candidates in the 2022 election cycle with their racial and LGBT+ identity self declared. That had never been done before.

We’ve offered direct support through organizing a series of webinars, creating downloadable toolkits, conducting pressure campaigns on parties, lobbying the Supreme Electoral Court for them to produce official data on our leadership, creating a gallery with over 300 LGBT+ candidates and their priorities, and offering confidential psychological support, especially after such a violent campaign.

It would be dishonest, though, to claim any part of such astounding victories. Each of those candidates struggled to run their underfinanced and understaffed campaign, and still created strategies to reach and amplify their audience brilliantly. Also, we are not the only ones on the task. There are other organizations who are great examples and partners.

Brazil’s recent election results show us that an intersectional approach to the issue of political representation is not only possible, but potent. LGBT+ candidates earned over 3.5 million votes. Of those votes, a third went to trans women. Seven in 10 went to a Black candidate. Brazilian voters are showing us what kind of democracy they are willing to fight for. Without diversity there is no democracy.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Thank you Madam Speaker: Karen Ocamb reflects on Nancy Pelosi

Whether comforting a friend with AIDS or pointing a powerful finger at Trump, Pelosi exemplifies the humble nobility of servant leadership

Published

on

Nancy Pelosi argues with former President Trump during a tense meeting of officials in the cabinet room of the White House (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Thank you, Speaker Nancy Pelosi! Let me add my gratitude to the praise that’s poured in since Pelosi announced she would stay in Congress but was not seeking re-election as Speaker to make way for a younger generation.

In typical Trumpian fashion, CA GOP colleague Kevin McCarthy rudely absented himself as commentator after commentator – including some Republicans – called Nancy Pelosi the best Speaker in American history as she gave her “future plans” speech from the Floor of the House of Representatives.

Some commentators applauded how many extraordinary pieces of legislation she got passed – key among them ObamaCare, about which Pelosi repeatedly said: “Because of the Affordable Care Act – and I hope that every woman in America understands this – being a woman is no longer a preexisting medical condition. As a mother of five children, four daughters and one son, I’m very excited about this.”

Thanks to one of those daughters, Alexandra Pelosi, who caught her mother’s brave, caring and powerful reactions during the Jan. 6th insurrection when domestic terrorists where hunting her down, the world got to watch America’s top Congressional leadership demur to the woman who is third in line of succession as she essentially served as Acting President of the United States and helped effectuate the Constitutional transition of power from Trump to Joe Biden.

I’d met and photographed Nancy Pelosi very briefly over the years when she came to Los Angeles for an event I was covering. But after the #ResistMarch in 2018, it occurred to me that so many of the young people raising their fists in exuberant agreement with her remarks probably had no idea who she really was. I got in touch with her terrific out deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill and asked for an interview. We were slated for 15-20 minutes but she wanted to go longer.

It was May 2018. We talked about Donald Trump and his threat to democracy; the looming midterm elections; how Republicans brand her as being from San Francisco – a “coded” gay slur; the Equality Act; and her Catholicism in the context of a Church that worked hard to oppose Prop 8, calls homosexuality “intrinsically evil,” and excluded her from taking Communion in SF because of her views on abortion.

“As a Catholic, I was raised to respect every person. We’re all God’s children. In my family, there was never any question about that,” Pelosi told me. “In Baltimore, we did have a growing LGBT community—we didn’t call it that then but it was part of our lives and it was not any question that we would be any more respectful of one person than another. It wasn’t even an issue with me and I didn’t ever even describe it or associate it with Catholicism because Catholicism taught me something different. It didn’t teach me discrimination. It taught me respect. And so it prepared me very well, my Catholicism, for being a representative in San Francisco.”

“There’s no question the Catholic Church in California was a participant in Prop 8 in a negative way,” Pelosi said. “We were on the other side of that. But to me—it was their problem. It wasn’t anything that was any moral imperative to me for me to follow the Church in enshrining discrimination in the law in California.”

Ironically, in San Francisco, the Church “was more sympathetic to people when they had HIV/AIDS because they needed help then they were to people who weren’t infected. It was the strangest, strangest thing,” Pelosi said.

AIDS was – and is – deeply personal to the Speaker of the House.

“Some people criticized me for talking about AIDS on my first day in Congress (in 1987) and I realized that it was not just about getting funding for AIDS research and prevention and care but it was about ending discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS,” Pelosi told me.

More from the my cover story:

Pelosi responds viscerally when asked about losing friends. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. A little flower girl in my wedding. My dear, dear friends in the community in San Francisco. We were going to two funerals a day. I was visiting people in the hospital all the time and quite frankly, when I say losing people,” Pelosi says, “I lost friends because I just walked away from them because they were not treating people with HIV and AIDS with respect. They would say to me, ‘I don’t know why you hire that caterer – don’t you know that everybody there has HIV?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t bother to come to my house anymore if that’s your attitude.’ It just changed my whole view of them.”…

“I’ll never stop missing some of my dearest dear friends from then,” she says. “Of course, we went from funerals to people saying help me make out my will because this is going to end soon, to those very same people looking for a job and then wanting to get married. So, everything has improved but I would never have thought 30 years ago when I started all this in Congress that we still wouldn’t have a cure for AIDS. We’ve improved the quality of life, we’ve sustained life. Everything is better but it’s not over, not finished.”

Whether comforting a friend with AIDS or pointing a powerful accusing finger at Trump, Nancy Pelosi exemplifies the humble nobility of servant leadership with a touch of classy swagger.

Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for representing so many of us who still haven’t found our power

Read the entire story here:

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

Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb joined Public Justice in March of 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her two rescue dogs.

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

Continue Reading

Commentary

Observations on the Brazilian, U.S. elections

Polls in both countries proved inaccurate

Published

on

The U.S. midterms took place on Nov. 8. Brazil's elections took place last month. (Image by alexandrabykova/Bigstock)

BRASÍLIA, Brazil / STEVENSVILLE, Md. — I was sitting in my hotel room in Brasília, the Brazilian capital, at 5 p.m. on Oct. 2 when the polls closed. The area around my hotel was quiet as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal began to post the election results on their website. Brazilian television stations continued their live coverage of the election that largely focused on whether former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would defeat incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. I was nibbling on KIND Dark Chocolate Whole Grain Clusters that I had bought at Dulles two days earlier before I flew to Brazil and sipping a glass of Brahma beer that I had poured for myself while refreshing the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s website and listening to the reporters talk about the results. I was nervous because Bolsonaro was ahead. 

I left my room at around 7 p.m. to get some dinner at a nearby mall. I ordered sushi from a restaurant in the food court. Bolsonaro was still ahead of Da Silva when I returned to my room at around 7:45 p.m., but the margin between the two men had narrowed. Da Silva soon took the lead, but it soon became clear that he and Bolsonaro would face each other in a runoff because neither of them had received at least 50 percent of the vote.

Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of the presidential election that took place on Oct. 30. The U.S. midterm elections took place nine days later.

Banners in support of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and members of his Workers’ Party in the lobby of a PT office in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Jair Bolsonaro supporters hold a banner near the Brazilian Congress in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

I arrived at Heather Mizeur’s election night party at the Kent Island Resort in Stevensville, Md., shortly before polls in Maryland closed at 8 p.m. Mizeur less than three hours later told her supporters that her bid to unseat Republican Congressman Andy Harris had come up short. The so-called red wave that so many pundits and polls predicted would elect Republicans across the country also failed to materialize.

Heather Mizeur speaks to supporters in Stevensville, Md., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Each country is different and the way they conduct their elections is difficult. I cannot, however, help but compare the Brazilian election and the U.S. midterms. Here are a few observations from a reporter who covered them both.

• Polls ahead of the first round of Brazil’s presidential election predicted Da Silva would defeat Bolsonaro in the first round. Polls and pundits ahead of the U.S. midterms, as previously noted, predicted Republicans would defeat Democrats across the country. Both scenarios did not happen.

• Bolsonaro ahead of Brazil’s presidential election sought to discredit the country’s electoral system. Bolsonaro did not concede to Da Silva after he lost. Former President Donald Trump continues to insist he won the 2020 presidential election. Trump also instigated the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection that took place as lawmakers were beginning to certify the Electoral College results.

• Cláudio Nascimento, president of Grupo Arco-Íris de Cidadania LGBT, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in Rio de Janeiro, on Oct. 9 told me during an interview at his office that Bolsonaro would “destroy democracy”in Brazil if he were reelected. Mizeur in July described Harris as a “traitor to our nation” after the Jan. 6 committee disclosed he attended a meeting with Trump that focused on how he could remain in office after he lost to now President Joe Biden. 

• Voters in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte on Oct. 2 elected two Transgender women — Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert respectively — to the Brazilian Congress. Openly gay Rio Grande do Sul Gov. Eduardo Leite on Oct. 30 won re-election when he defeated former Bolsonaro Chief-of-Staff Onyx Lorenzoni in a runoff. LGBTQ Victory Fund President Annise Parker in a Nov. 10 statement noted 436 openly LGBTQ+ candidates across the country won their races. (One of them, openly gay New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas, who represents my mother, defeated Republican Karoline Leavitt in the state’s 1st Congressional District by a 54-46 percent margin.)

Brazil and the U.S. are different countries, but they both have democracies that must be defended. Brazilians and Americans did just that through their votes.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Trans people: Let’s show this country who we are

“If you’re trans or nonbinary, we urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5”

Published

on

Texas Trans activist & Gender Cool Project Leader Landon Richie in Chicago for Pride 2019 (Photo Credit: Landon Richie)

By Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen | WASHINGTON – We have a political climate that has exploded with anti-trans legislation, policy, and rhetoric. In the leadup to last week’s election, TV ads and political mailers spread lies about trans people, denigrating our community and stoking fear in people who simply don’t understand what it means to be trans.

Now, when there is a glaring spotlight on trans people in America, we have an opportunity to show the country who we are. Telling the truth about what it means to be trans, using real data, can counter the misinformation being spread about our community. It is important that we tell our own stories and that we are heard loud and clear.

Right now, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and partners are conducting the U.S. Trans Survey, the largest ever national survey of the lives and experiences of transgender people. Whether you’re trans, nonbinary, or otherwise not cisgender, the time is now to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes. The last survey was conducted in 2015, and a lot has changed since then.

Visit www.ustranssurvey.org to learn more and take the survey today!

Since 2015, many states have advanced policies that ban gender-affirming care or ban trans youth from playing sports. Others have made it easier to change the gender marker on our identification to match who we are. Violence against trans people has gone up over the past several years, and we know from the data that Black trans women face a disproportionate amount of that violence.

Next week, Trans Awareness Week, we honor the loved ones we’ve lost to violence and celebrate those who are still here. We speak up loudly about the disparities we face in hopes that others will see and understand. We lift up the voices of the most marginalized in our community, understanding that together, we will all rise.

Much of the political focus right now is on trans youth – their right to transition-related care, their right to play sports with their friends, and their right to use the restroom. Now, more than ever, it is important to hear from young people about their experiences. That’s why this time around, youth as young as 16 years old can take the survey and share their stories.

There is a concerted effort by certain politicians and political organizations to deny that trans people are real. There is a false narrative that trans youth are “too young” to know that they’re trans, that people who transition at a young age, whether socially or medically, later regret it. 

But we know from the data that this narrative is simply not true. A study came out in May this year revealing that for young people who socially transitioned, only two percent of them “detransitioned,” or went back to identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth. And another study published just last month found that at 98% of youth who were prescribed puberty blockers went on to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy after turning 18. Meaning, trans youth continued to be trans.

This is the importance of research. And we need this research to inform the decision makers, educators, elected officials, health care providers, and the general public about who we are and what we experience in life.

We know that trans people exist and that our lives and experiences are valid. By making this the largest trans survey in U.S. history, we can show that how strong, diverse, and how real of a community we have. And we aren’t just young people in New York and California; trans people from Wyoming to Alaska, from youth to elders; trans folks who are Indigenous, Black, Latine, white, multiracial. Every voice must be represented in the U.S. Trans Survey.

The survey in some places covers some heavy topics: mental health, experiences with religious institutions, and experiences with the police. But it also helps us reveal answers to questions like: Has having access to transition-related care improved your life? How has coming out as trans affected your mental health? Does your family accept who you are, and how does that impact you?

There are hundreds of questions in the survey to examine the details of our lives, so we recommend setting aside about an hour to take it. Tens of thousands of you already have, but we know our community is even larger. There is strength in numbers, and the more people who take the U.S. Trans Survey, the harder it is to deny that we exist and that we are real.

If you’re trans or nonbinary, I urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5. Let’s show this country who we are. Let’s show them that we won’t go away.

Visit www.ustranssurvey.org to learn more and take the survey today.

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

Courtesy of Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Continue Reading

Commentary

New Public Justice President Tom Sobol is taking on Big Pharma

In March of 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against a California based Big Pharma giant

Published

on

Tom Sobol (Photo Credit: Public Justice)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – If there is a star of the 7,359-word, June 2004 Atlantic article “Greed on Trial” about the $1.3 billion Massachusetts Big Tobacco-fee trial, it’s attorney Tom Sobol.

“Both on and off the stand, the forty-six-year-old Sobol cuts a bold figure, closely resembling Bruce Springsteen before the Boss started showing his age,” contributor Alex Beam wrote in about the recently installed Board President of Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization. 

The intricate, complicated and fascinating story about the legal wrangling over attorneys fees following the landmark longshot 1998 victory over Big Tobacco posits Sobol as a hero, “the One Just Man in the eyes of the state’s lawyers” grounded in ethics, willing to publicly call out his former law firm, Brown Rudnick Berlack & Israels, over their corporate fee greed. Sobol, who “led all the private attorneys in the Massachusetts case,” actually asked the court to determine whether Brown Rudnick’s claim violated a rule of professional conduct that “bars a lawyer from charging or collecting a clearly excessive fee” after the $775 million arbitration award, Beam reported. 

“Here was the real problem looming for Brown Rudnick: in the bloodless world of corporate law, Sobol was an unabashed crusader who exuded passion for his adopted causes” through his work as a public-interest lawyer. 

Eighteen years later, Sobol is now a Partner & Executive Committee Member at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the lead negotiator in court-approved settlements totaling more than $2 billion, with recent successes totaling $649.75 million in direct purchaser class settlements and named by LawDragon last February as one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America

Sign outside of Gilead Headquarters in Foster City, California (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

For 25 years, much of Sobol’s practice has focused heavily on pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical pricing and pharmaceutical misbehavior. On March 23, 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against Big Pharma giant Gilead, In re HIV Antitrust Litigation, which was initially brought by AIDS activist Peter Staley

“We allege that Gilead has been able to jump from one patented product to another patented product to another patented product by putting products together in [Pharma packaging] and thereby prevent less expensive, equally effective generic HIV drugs from being on the market in any meaningful way,” says Sobol. “And they’ve done that by, we allege, either paying off the competition by, for instance, befriending them, bringing them into a deal where they agree that they will not do licenses with anybody else, and therefore encourage that generic company to stand down on a patent challenge. Or they have done explicit agreements with some companies simply that they won’t release a generic drug if they do another business deal with them on a similar product.”

Staley was “one of the original lead plaintiffs who, among other things, was alleging at these agreements and seeking to essentially get injunctive relief against Gilead from continuing this kind of actions that delay generics. He has since had his claim dismissed out of the case for some technical standing reasons,” says Sobol, “but he still legitimately should be credited as being an originator of this case and fully behind this case.”

There is something metaphysically ironic having this Boss from Massachusetts suing a pharmaceutical company for putting corporate greed over the anguish of people with AIDS, so movingly described by New Jersey Boss Bruce Springsteen in “The Streets of Philadelphia:” “I was bruised and battered/I couldn’t tell what I felt/I was unrecognizable to myself/Saw my reflection in a window/And didn’t know my own face/Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away/On the streets of Philadelphia?” 

“My father instilled in me a belief that hard work is in and of itself something of tremendous high value. My mother taught me that there isn’t anybody who you can’t find value in,” says Thomas Matthew Sobol, born January 6, 1958, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Sobol graduated from Clark University in Worcester in 1980 and from Boston University School of Law in 1983. He then worked for Allan Hale, chief judge of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, for a year before joining Brown, Rudnick, Freed, and Gesmer where he was chair of their pro bono program, on the hiring committee, and practiced criminal and white-collar defense and civil litigation, before departing in 2000.

At his core, Sobol draws from ethics and being tougher than the rest to fight injustice. 

“Earlier this year, the board of Public Justice voted approval of a strategic direction document. I see this strategic document as constitutional to this organization. And as president, it is my job to see that the board delivers on this promise,” Sobol said at the organization’s 40th Anniversary Gala last July. “At Public Justice, we see two interlocking problems that reinforce and perpetuate systems of oppression, exploitation, and inequality: predatory corporate power and ideologies of white supremacy. Together, these evils harm people and continue to warp and shape many of our laws and institutions. Some people deny that these systems ever existed or insist that they are historic relics. We believe that they are central drivers of injustice. To meet these challenges, what is Public Justice’s work? We are strategic and proactive. We are focused on changing inequitable institutions and systems, and we are driven through structured managed resource programs capable of delivering the change we seek to deliver the mission of Public Justice.”

And then there’s tilting at windmills — taking seemingly unwinnable cases without necessarily seeking a profit or even winning. “Look what Karla Gilbride (co-director of Public Justice’s Access to Justice project) achieved this year in her unanimous Supreme Court victory — that was tilting at a windmill. Who would’ve ever thought it would make sense to go to this Supreme Court on that [pro-employee] issue and have any level of success, right?” Sobol asks. “She and the rest of the team went for it and got it. Tilting at a windmill also means that you’re pointing True North — you have a true objective, a socially conscious objective, which Karla had. Over the years, I’ve tilted at my own windmills and I’ve lost more than I’ve won. But sometimes I’ve won.”

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

Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Ocamb joined Public Justice in March 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues. She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog, Pepper.

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

Continue Reading

Commentary

LGBTQ+ youth are target of a massive fear-mongering campaign

Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests

Published

on

Los Angeles Blade graphic/LGBTQ+ student mural

By Editorial Staff | LINCOLN, Ne. – With the impending midterm elections, and a view toward 2024, transgender issues have received a lot of attention in campaigns and the media recently. Particularly at question is the treatment of minors with gender dysphoria and whether or not public schools should support transgender kids.

However, the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up in the national conversation. Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests. To be clear, we at Seeing Red Nebraska fully support trans-inclusive education and policies and reject fear-mongering moral panic attacks that harm children and public schools alike.

But considering the wide attention this issue is receiving in campaign events and the media, we wanted to look into how big of a “problem” transgender identity in schools really is (spoiler: it’s not). Instead, we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children. Both parties with their rich donors benefit from keeping us distracted from the actual, big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change for all. We spend our time discussing a right-wing manufactured panic campaign that allows the GOP to attack schools and teachers at the same time as spreading trans-hate.

If one listens to right-wing moral panic campaigns, they’d be under the impression that today’s schools are overrun by children identifying as a variety of people, including as not people at all. Please note that the “furry” panic by far-right extremists is a deliberate attempt to dehumanize trans people by equating trans identity with animals.

Further, equating a sexual kink community with trans identity serves to sexualize children’s identity and portray LGBTQ individuals as sexual deviants. (Adult) kinks are not an identity, and (gender) identity is not inherently sexual.

Yet, the (completely debunked) furry panic about litter boxes in schools functions neatly to malign the LGBTQ community in general, and transgender individuals in particular, as non-human sexual perverts that target children — a narrative with a long homophobic history which, in the US, dates back to the 1800s and is also strongly informed by German Nazi propaganda in the 20th Century. And where do most children congregate outside their parent’s direct supervision?

Of course, at (public) schools, which right-wing extremists can malign as corrupting our children — sexually as well as intellectually — with the convenient side effect of also making defunding and school privatization more palatable to the public.

Our writers at Seeing Red Nebraska were curious how prevalent gender transitions among minors in the US really are.

Reuters recently published this analysis of gender dysphoria and its corresponding treatments among minors nationwide. The study found rising numbers of both gender dysphoria diagnoses and treatments for it. However, to put the numbers into perspective, according to childstats.gov, 50.7 million kids aged 6-17 lived in the US in 2021, meaning that a grand total of 0.08% of all children nationwide received a gender dysphoria diagnosis that year.

Our writers immediately wondered if this rise is due to new generations of kids being comfortable playing with gender to see what fits (which is AWESOME) and expressing themselves in all kinds of ways using gender, sex, fashion, pronouns, and other identifying tools. Trans Actual UK similarly explains the seeming rise in gender dysphoria in young people by pointing out that, thankfully, there are increasing support systems available to trans youth. 

In other words, the rise in gender dysphoria diagnoses in minors can rationally be explained by increased societal awareness and acceptance of non-binary identities which allows kids to “come out of the closet” and explore their identity more freely. Further, kids with gender dysphoria now have increasing (yet still woefully inadequate due to various red tape obstacles) access to often life-saving medical intervention and social support including inclusiveness in schools.

Yet, how many minors with gender dysphoria diagnoses actually seek and receive medical treatment? According to the Reuters study, a mere 3.5% on average of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria (remember, this is 3.5% of the 0.08% of all children nationwide) in the US initiated the extremely maligned puberty blocker treatment — which is completely reversible. In 2021, the latest year for which data is available, this means that 1,390 minors NATIONWIDE started on puberty blockers.

Similarly, 4,231 minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria initiated hormone treatment in 2021 — again, this is nationwide. This constitutes an average of 11.25% over the five year course the study covers of those youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The discrepancy between the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments is likely due to the limited applicability of puberty blockers (they only work for kids diagnosed and treated BEFORE the onset of puberty) and the fact that hormone therapy is often used IN ADDITION TO puberty blockers — meaning that many youth are counted BOTH in the hormone therapy graph and the puberty blocker graph.

As Reuters further notes, “[t]he ultimate step in gender-affirming medical treatment is surgery, which is uncommon in patients under age 18.” The Reuters analysis explains that many hospitals do not provide surgical intervention to minors at all, and consequently found records for only 56 genital surgeries on minors between 2019 and 2021. Unfortunately, their analysis is unclear about whether certain intersex conditions are included in this count. As to the more common “top surgery” (the surgical removal of breast tissue), the study found records for 776 mastectomies within the same time frame.

This constitutes 0.8% on average of minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria within the same timeframe (although medical treatment of gender dysphoria is a years-long process, so these individuals were likely diagnosed much earlier).

One caveat of the Reuters data is that it is based on insurance data, so that surgical procedures paid for out of pocket (or performed abroad) are not counted here. Also, the data provided is not clear on whether the count of “top surgery” includes treatment of gynecomastia (the growth of breast tissue in boys and men which can induce gender dysphoria in otherwise cis-gender males).

In general, the data suggests that surgical intervention in minors is extremely rare, and transgender individuals tend to wait until adulthood until seeking gender-affirming surgery — probably to no small degree also due to the prohibitive cost out-of-pocket, even if insurance covers a portion.

We’d like to note here that ANY medical treatment on minors for gender dysphoria requires parental consent, which sadly may be a significant barrier for at-risk transgender youth. This, of course, goes counter to the far-right extremist non-sensical claim that SCHOOLS push medical treatment on children.

Schools are obviously not medical facilities capable of either diagnosing nor offering treatment to medical conditions. And even if youth with gender dysphoria are lucky to have the support of their parents, the medical process of finding a trans-inclusive medical facility and appropriate psychologist can be daunting.

It’s incredible to see how very few children actually have these medical interventions compared to how much we hear about it from both the right and the left. Since trans kids are basically the entire conversation these days, we certainly assumed these numbers were a lot higher.

The larger point is that the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up. This isn’t a real problem and we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children.

For some more perspective on these numbers, the number one cause of death in children aged 0-18 is now firearms, with 3,219 children shot to death in 2020 alone (and many more injured).

Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen contributing to the moral panic propaganda.

Just over a week before an election that will determine student debt, abortion rights (and whether pregnant women are full people), whether we can slow the burning fire of the planet, and whether the United States of America will continue to stay a democracy, the trans issue takes up astronomically too much space in the national political conversation.

It is not that the issue is unimportant, or that it doesn’t involve a lot of distress to people, but right-wing extremists don’t want to do a single thing about that. Instead, they are going to zero in on a rare medical intervention that medical experts have decided is in the best interest of a vanishingly small percentage of children, diagnosed with a particular kind of distress, to turn trans-hate into a politically motivated moral panic issue, while major issues such as access to healthcare for EVERYONE, income inequality, and climate change apply to virtually everyone and even have indirect effects on social issues.

To some degree, liberals have contributed to this outsized attention to moral panic issues because the disproportionate nature of the debate favors the right — foregrounding and maligning a social issue affecting a minority community over the very same widespread material fairness issues that affect us all — bodily autonomy, the right to self-determination, and equitable access to medical treatment, after all, are not *just* trans issues.

Yet, here we are playing whack a mole with the litter box canard. To give the benefit of doubt, the majority of the general public wants kids to grow up unharmed and comfortable with their bodies and identity, feeling safe in their own skin.

However, extremists like to exploit that concept and turn it into something menacing instead of a healthy and normal human feeling of wanting kids to grow up confident in their bodies and their communities.

Since both political parties primarily serve the wealthy (and politicians usually are wealthy themselves now), it is necessary to find a “safe” social issue to fight over in order to differentiate themselves and to keep larger economic issues out of the discussion. 

Whatever minority group of people they choose to make their battleground, people who were almost certainly always having a rough time of it to start with suffer more when this happens. But while both parties benefit from keeping us distracted from the big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change, the GOP definitely chose this debate — it allows them to attack schools and teachers at the same time as causing panic around children. Win win for them, while trans kids — and all our kids — suffer as the collateral damage.

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

The preceding commentary and news analysis was written and published by the Seeing Red Nebraska Editorial Board and is republished with permission.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Grindr betrays loyal users with another controversial leader

I personally stand with those who #DeleteGrindr, and I call for the parent company of Grindr, San Vincente Acquisition, to right their wrong

Published

on

Grindr's new CEO, George Arison (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

By Nguyen Pham| SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not difficult to see the impact of Grindr on the LGBTQ+ community. As the community’s most popular social networking app, hosting about 11 million monthly active users around the globe last year, Grindr is used across the United States to connect mostly gay men.

Its popularity is also seen in pop culture – from references in the movie “Bros” to mentions in the Netflix show “Uncoupled.” Grindr is set to go public – which is why now marks an important time to raise awareness of the controversy over the app’s new CEO.

A new leader with a dangerous past

George Arison was announced in September as the chief executive officer of the app. By appointing Arison – who is antithetical to the LGBTQ+ community – Grindr is openly betraying the millions of users who enabled the company to rise to such prominence in the first place.

Arison has come under fire for his extreme conservative political tweets – many of which leave members of the LGBTQ+ community wondering where he truly stands and where he draws the line. Arison – a self-described conservative – endorsed Michael Bloomberg in a series of tweets. Bloomberg has come under scrutiny for transphobic remarks.

At the same time, Arison has said he agrees with “some Trump policies.” But that statement opens the door to lots of questions about his stance on many policies of the former president – including those that eliminate hard-fought LGBTQ+ rights and have emboldened racism.

This is especially important given the state of our country. We have seen record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide. In fact, 2022 is set to break records, with hundreds of bills introduced across the United States.

A record of questionable leaders

Arison is far from the first controversial leader at Grindr. Former CEO Scott Chen caused internal strife and public outcry when he published a Facebook post that appeared to suggest he thinks marriage should only be the union between a man and a woman.

Arison also makes no secret of the fact that he has very little personal experience with the Grindr app. In fact, he has said that one doesn’t need to use the platform to understand its impact on the LGBTQ+ community. As the new President of SF Pride – and having worked with thousands of members of our community over the years – I find it hard to believe most people would agree with that sentiment.

A difficult decision for users caught in the middle

“Gay Twitter,” as it has come to be known endearingly by members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, has echoed many sentiments that resonate with my colleagues and me at SF Pride. In response to Arison’s appointment to CEO of Grindr and his now-infamous tweet about agreeing with some Trump policies, a user wrote, “Wonder which policies those are? The racist ones? The sexist ones? The anti-LGBT ones? Or the ones that make him richer (while keeping others poorer).”

Here’s the tough part for Grindr users who might feel stuck in the middle of this controversy, or for those who have had positive experience through the app and see it as an effective way to connect with others. The question becomes: should I continue to use the popular app or delete it? 

I personally stand with those who #DeleteGrindr, and I call for the parent company of Grindr – San Vincente Acquisition – to right their wrong with Arison.

But that’s a tough call for many Grindr users – who rely on the popular platform to build and maintain connections. While they might not agree with the hiring decision and Arison’s viewpoints, it’s hard to deny the social benefits the app provides to users.

That’s why I suggest Grindr users who want to stay on the app consider other ways to voice their concerns and put pressure on the platform’s investors. It’s only by doing so that we can curtail Arison’s influence. In addition, let this serve as an important reminder that members of the LGBTQ+ community should consider the background and political and/or social viewpoints of leaders who head the companies they patronize.

Against our turbulent national and global backdrop, LGBTQ+ solidarity and protection at this moment are increasingly urgent and important. Whether or not you choose to #DeleteGrindr, this controversy is an opportunity to evaluate how we all choose to support and protect everyone in our community.

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

As the newly elected president of SF Pride, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded to produce the SF Pride Celebration and Parade, Nguyen Pham works to uplift, center, and protect marginalized queer lives. Prior to his election as President, he served as Vice President of the organization for one year and as Board Secretary for five.

Nguyen is also Director of Philanthropy at Frameline, a San Francisco-based heritage organization aimed at changing the world through the power of LGBTQ+ cinema. Additionally, he performs with CHEER San Francisco, the Official Cheer Team of SF, and an all-volunteer nonprofit performance group that raises charitable funds globally for community members facing life-challenging conditions. He is also the first openly-LGBTQ+ member of the Mensa Foundation Board of Trustees. Nguyen also produces and emcees national events to raise charitable funds for numerous nonprofits.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Brazil’s fake news crisis is lethal for LGBT+ community

Country’s presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency

Published

on

T-shirts in support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for sale near the Brazilian Congress in Brasília, Brazil, on Oct. 1, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Brazilian presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency that has tipped the LGBT+ community into a boiling pot of fake news. This is part of a broader global problem and we need a global plan to stop it.

Since the beginning of this year’s election race, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro deliberately galvanized Christian voters by framing the election as “a fight between good and evil,” repeating the scare tactics about the LGBT+ community he used in 2018. Bolsonaro’s tactics have also dragged his opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva into an outright contest of who is the true Christian among them.

Caught in the crossfire of this horrendous political battle are numerous victims including the country’s LGBT+ community. Bolsonaro has blatantly fueled misinformation about Brazil’s transgender and queer communities, claiming falsely that a Lula victory would lead to genderless toilets in schools and repeating false claims made in his 2018 campaign that the LGBT+ community wanted to promote homosexuality to children. 

These allegations are not without consequence. 

Brazil has the highest murder rate of transgender people in the world and life expectancy of a trans woman is only 35. In 2021, while Bolsonaro dismantled Brazil’s human rights protections, the NGO ANTRA recorded 140 murders of trans people. In this year’s election, 80 percent of trans candidates running for office reported being threatened or intimidated by far right groups. The impact is also personal. I have found that some of my closest relatives in Brazil who were previously supportive of my sexuality not only embrace anti-queer rhetoric but are also advocating against our democratic institutions. Some even told me that they would support a coup by Bolsonaro if he loses the election.

It seems hard to believe, but misinformation gets attention, no matter how absurd. For example a video stating that Lula has a pact with the devil was circulated just before the first round of voting. On election day, Oct. 2, searches associating Lula and satanism increased by 2,500 percent. Lula later posted that he never had talked to Beelzebub. This is not the sole territory of the right wing either. A few days later, an old video of Bolsonaro attending a Freemasons ceremony was shared by Lula’s team and searches for Bolsonaro and satanism increased by 5,000 percent. 

This kind of campaign behavior has ill-effects well beyond voting day.

In Poland ahead of the 2019 general elections, misinformation campaigns fueled anti-queer sentiment across the country in an attempt to rally voters. This strategy was later translated into discriminatory policy with Parliament approving an “anti-gay propaganda” law. In Ghana, online and traditional media almost uniformly broadcast hate against queer people and the government is close to approving one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBT+ laws, with a concurrent spike in phobic attacks and so-called “corrective rapes.” 

But LGBT+ minorities are not the only victims. We are all suffering the broader impacts of this borderless global crisis that is having a devastating effect on much wider debates including climate change, vaccination, and economic development. In a cover story in “Science” magazine, noted biologist Carl Bergstrom said misinformation “poses a risk to international peace, interferes with democratic decision-making, endangers the well-being of the planet, and threatens public health.” 

We are in dangerous territory for democracy and what we really need is a global plan to stop it. The 10-point action plan recently released by Nobel Prize Laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, is a good starting point. On one hand, there is growing awareness about misinformation with calls to action to regulate social media platforms. However, as happened with climate policy in its early stages, there is still a lot to be done to define the best political responses and potential avenues for regulation. 

Recently, I joined a group of researchers and advocates from around the world who see misinformation as an international crisis and are urgently working to develop the tools to fight it. We will collect the best evidence possible. We are calling for the creation of institutions to manage this global problem and to build a space for consensus-building and advice on solutions. 

I sincerely hope that, in Brazil, the next government will act boldly to stop the deterioration of the information environment. However little has been said during the campaign and a bill introduced in Parliament to regulate fake news was rejected with big tech platforms declining cooperate. Brazil’s new government could make a major contribution towards ending the global information crisis and horrific attacks on the human rights of the LGBT+ community by supporting a coordinated response. There is a lot to do, but the time is now. We don’t want to look back in a few years, wishing we had done more.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Leslie Jordan gave us permission to be our queer selves

“Leslie, we are heartbroken at your loss and will miss your mirth and your inimitable spirit.” George Takei wrote in tribute

Published

on

Leslie Jordan at Capital Pride, Washington D.C. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

HOLLYWOOD – In 2020 drag queen Trixie Mattel mock killed off Leslie Jordan. “Do you remember Leslie Jordan?” she quipped. “Rest in Peace.” Both her co-host, Katya, and the cameraman were horrified. With sincere shock the cameraman can be heard exclaiming, “What?  No!”

“No, no, I am kidding!” Trixie howled in laughter at her fake out, and the deeply pained reaction it generated.

Today, the joke is over, and the laughter has stopped. Leslie Jordan is gone.

Many will call Leslie Jordan a “gay icon”, but he is much more than that. He has been the constant television presence that gave us permission to be our authentic queer selves by whole heartedly embracing his own gayness. 

He is the icon that the icons mourn. Dolly Parton, certainly in that category, said. “Well I am as hurt and shocked as if I have lost a family member. Leslie and I had a special bond, I think the world felt they had a special bond with him.  I know people always say, “Oh they will be missed” but in this case, that could not be more true. He will be missed by everyone who knew him personally and by everyone who was entertained by him.  Rest in peace lil brother.”  

Leslie Jordan was part of our collective gay brand. While media liked, and still likes, to portray gay men with certain affectations that became cringe-worthy cliches, Leslie Jordan blew past them. His character was those presentations in their true authentic form. As Mayim Bialik told him in her podcast interview, “Your brand is YOU being you.”

As Leslie told Ellen on her show, “I open my mouth and fifty yards of chiffon comes out.”

Recently, for many in America, Leslie was the epitome of finding humor in our shelter-in-place reality. At the start of the pandemic, he had 80,000 followers on Instagram. By the end of the quarantine, thanks to his twice daily postings for 80 days, he had 5,500,000 followers. That was only the beginning—his whimsical short videos became TikTok snippets and You Tube pleasures as well.

In the broader history of television, Leslie’s appearances will stand out as a branding on any television show that wanted to make its stamp as an LGBTQ landmark. From Murphy Brown to Ryan Murphy, from Ellen’s coming out sitcom to Will and Grace, from Desperate Housewives to RuPaul’s Drag race… at one point or another, they all featured a Leslie Jordan episode. When they did, they could be assured of one thing: Leslie would steal the scene, every time.

Leslie Jordan appearing on Murphy Brown (Screenshot/YouTube)

“From the first time I saw him on an episode of Murphy Brown in 1989, he was hysterically hilarious. So grateful for the 33+ years of laughter from this deeply gifted man,” states Mark Hamill. The magic that was Leslie Jordan in 1989 can still be felt in today’s queer culture. 

“A light, a joy, PURE LOVE. What a loss. Love you sweet Leslie,” mourns Drag Race’s Michelle Visage.

“What a loss, an unapologetic masterclass on how to live life!” famed drag queen Vivienne states.

“Devastated to find out that Leslie Jordan has passed. He was such a queer icon to me,” Trinity the Tuck responded to the news.

“What an angel. Gone much too soon,” gay Rom-Com trailblazer Billy Eichner states.

“Leslie, we are heartbroken at your loss and will miss your mirth and your inimitable spirit.” George Takei wrote in tribute.

Leslie was gay and adored from the beginning. He was born in Chatanooga Tennessee in 1955, and a few years later became big brother to twin sisters. “I fell out of the womb and landed in my mother’s high heels,” he said.

His family was religious with his mother getting them into church at any point where “the doors were open.” His dad was a military officer who was adored by his son, even when in Tennessee society in the 50s, it might have found little Leslie a bit much with which to deal. As his dad sat on the front porch with butch miliary friends, little Leslie’s voice could be heard from the front yard, “Daddy, daddy! Watch me… twwwwiiirrrrl!”

When Leslie was three, he wanted a bride doll for Christmas. His military Lt. Col. dad told his wife “no.” On Christmas eve, as Leslie was going on and on about how Santa would bring him his bride doll, Leslie’s mom asked her husband, “What are your going to tell him?” The next thing she heard was the back door shut.

The next morning, Leslie found a beautiful bride doll under the tree. Leslie’s dad died in a plane crash nine years later.

Leslie found ways to be himself. “In high school, you have to play the game. Nobody bothered me—nobody teased me –because I was funny. I learned to be funny to keep the bullies at bay. So nobody would tease me. But I was always waiting for that axe to fall.”

Leslie arrived in West Hollywood in 1982. As he described it, West Hollywood was a “city in crisis”.  It was a time that forged his gay bravery into his persona, and gave him the spirit that would later burst through his comedic genius. “People were dropping like flies from AIDS. We were not getting any help, so we figured out very quickly we had to take care of our own. I jumped into the trenches, and I… I saw miracles.  With people whose families had turned their backs on them because they found out not only that they were gay, but they had this disease, It was a real period of growth for me where some real beauty came out of that. We were all going through this together. In the gay community, we were going though that struggle all together and we came out a stronger community, a more loving community. Because we were more willing to reach out to one another. That was when I figured out that I couldn’t argue with people (about being gay), I’m not going to argue with them. I know what I know.  I know what I know.”

In the past few decades, Leslie weaved his brand of out-hilarity with his own internal demons. “The dark cloud that followed me was not my homosexuality, it was depression,” he said. He found recovery and his own sense of spirituality. He related to something his friend Carrie Fisher had said: “I am a very enthusiastic agnostic who would love nothing better than to be proven wrong.”  

He told Mayim Bialik, “I seek with an open heart, I would love nothing better than to believe in a Higher Power and I talk to him. Do I know for sure? I don’t think any of us know for sure. In the seeking you find your faith.” He rankled at the idea that being gay was his “cross to bear.” “No, it’s not my cross to bear! It is who I am! I am just a little open book.”

In the end, there is comfort in knowing that Leslie Jordan not only lived as his most authentic self, but he also lived his best life. He is quoted as saying recently, “I am as content as I could possibly be. What a blessing to be content with yourself.” For those of us who emulate him, that might be our great take-away. The very gay Leslie Jordan has left us with the permission to be content with ourselves, just the way we are.

That should also bring his late mother solace. She proudly accepted him when he came out to her at age 12. Her only comment was “I am concerned that you will be subject to ridicule. So. I think you should live your life quietly.”

Well. We all know exactly how well THAT didn’t work out.  

Thank God.

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

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

Continue Reading

Commentary

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge & her “experts”

It seems telling that Rutledge relied on numbers from a largely discredited book on homosexuality written over 35 years ago

Published

on

Jon Stewart interviewing Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (Photo Credit: Jon Stewart/Twitter)

By Eric Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – In a recent video clip that has gone viral, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart interviewed Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge regarding the state’s ban on all health care for trans minors, and their defense of it in court.

Rutledge attempts to defend her position by claiming that for every expert who supports access to care, “there’s an expert that says we don’t need to allow children to be able to take those medications.” She also claimed that “98 percent of the young people who have gender dysphoria… are able to move past that and once they had the help that they need no longer suffer from gender dysphoria. 98 percent without medical treatment.”

Stewart challenges her on both these assertions, and calls them out as “an incredibly made up  figure.” However, he (rightly) doesn’t dive down the rabbit whole of who the state’s “expert” witnesses were, or where that 98 percent figure came from, and why it’s completely non-credible.

First, there’s the “experts”.  In the state’s court filings they cited only four: Dr. Stephen Levine, Dr. Mark Regnerus, Dr. Paul Hruz, and Dr. Patrick Lappert.  All of them have clear biases, mostly based on religion. 

Dr. Stephen Levine is an octogenarian professor emeritus who has never treated trans children. He makes his money acting as a hired gun for states that don’t want to provide health care to transgender prisoners. Some of the prisoners he denied care to have killed or castrated themselves using improvised implements.

In his credentials he claims to be an expert based on working with the World Professional Association of Transgender Health; the truth is that he left the organization 20 years and 3 standards of care ago, because he didn’t like the fact that trans people demanded a say in their own health care.

Dr. Paul Hruz is a pediatric endocrinologist, but has no experience with trans youth. He is a member of the American College of Pediatrics, a small SPLC designated hate group masquerading as a medical organization.

He is also affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful religious-right legal organization that opposes gay marriage, abortion, and the decriminalization of homosexuality. Hruz is an active member of the Catholic Medical Association and has received certification in Healthcare Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, both of which oppose all health care for trans people on religious grounds.

He’s also said in the past that he’s okay with trans kids being hurt by the positions he takes because, “some children are born in this world to suffer and die.” Courts have rejected his testimony previously, finding him, “not qualified to offer expert opinions” on the matter.

Dr. Mark Regnerus is a sociologist notorious for producing deliberately biased, low-grade research published in low-end journals meant to sway courts against gay marriage, which was paid for by hate groups. He has zero experience working with trans youth. Courts have found his work “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration”. He too has no experience whatsoever working with trans youth.

Finally, there’s plastic surgeon Dr. Patrick Lappert. He is no longer certified to practice medicine. He does, however, “run a Botox clinic in a strip mall in Alabama next to a Pizza Hut.” He has never worked with trans youth, nor published peer reviewed articles on them. He has, however, endorsed a book on how to perform do-it-yourself home conversion therapy on your trans child until they either pretend not to be trans or kill themselves.

None of these “experts” work with trans youth, and none of them have produced peer reviewed research on trans youth. They’re simply people who happened to have a medical license at some point in their lives and object to trans people in general, usually on religious grounds. They also get paid to do so. Thus, Rutledge saying “experts disagree”, is no different than Exxon or Chevron hauling in “scientists” from the American Petroleum Institute (API) to claim that there’s broad disagreement about climate change.

Then there’s Rutledge’s claim that 98 percent of trans youth desist without intervention. This is an oddly specific number that she doesn’t cite, because she’d look even worse if she did. 

The source of the 98 percent figure comes from Dr. Richard Green’s 1987 book, “The Sissy Boy Syndrome: The Development of Homosexuality.” It’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Green always had a fascination with curing “Sissy boys” dating back to 1961. He was George Reker’s supervisor in the 1970s when Rekers was torturing gay boys to make them stop acting gay, in the belief that it would make them straight.

Later, it turned out his “success stories” ended up killing themselves, while still being very much gay. For those who don’t remember, Rekers was one of the leading proponents for conversion therapy on gays for decades, right up until he got caught on vacation with a rent boy.

Green didn’t make much distinction between gender and sexual orientation at the time. His 1987 book was basically a continuation of Reker’s work, endorsing parents enacting strict gender roles for gender variant children in hopes of making them “normal acting”. 

Green’s book was written back in the days of the DSM-III, when the diagnosis of juvenile gender identity disorder was ill-defined. Under older editions of the DSM a diagnosis of gender identity disorder didn’t actually require a cross-sex identity. Playing with dolls, wearing tutus, and playing with girls was sufficient. Green and his ilk also mostly ignored girls who exhibited generally masculine traits. Thus, the 98 percent figure wouldn’t apply to trans men anyway.

The 98% figure in the book comes from the fact that based on one cohort of the 44 pre-pubertal “Sissy boys” brought in for “treatment”, only one ended up trans. Green’s book looked at 44 feminine acting kids, but didn’t account for whether or not they identified as trans, and pronounced all but 98% cured.

This is like taking 44 people with a stomachache, giving them some Tums, and declaring that Tums cured cancer 98% of the time because only one of the people died of stomach cancer, when in reality only one of them had it to begin with. Later desistance research by Kenneth Zucker suffered from the same methodological flaws. 

It is also worth noting that the Arkansas law applies to medical care. Only teens receive blockers or hormones. Green and Zucker’s deeply flawed research applies to pre-pubertal youth, not to teens. Even Zucker admitted that if dysphoria lasts past the onset of puberty, it is unlikely to go away.

Thus, Rutledge either had zero idea what the research really said or was lying. Neither of which help her defense of the law. Rutledge also ignored the fact that the Endocrine Society considers blockers “completely reversible“, and that these are only administered after the onset of puberty and in the presence of persistent gender dysphoria, yet banned them anyway.

It seems telling that Rutledge relied on numbers from a largely discredited book on homosexuality written over 35 years ago, rather than far better research published last year. A 2021 study with a large cohort found that when modern diagnoses are applied using the DSM-5, and an insistent, consistent, and persistent cross gender identity is present, only 2.5% of trans youth patients end up identifying as cisgender.

Similarly, the idea that regret is common is not supported. Meta-studies put the long-term regret rates for adults at about 0.2-0.3%. This compares VERY favorably with basically every other sort of medical intervention. Rutledge also conveniently ignored the overwhelming body of legitimate experts and peer reviewed research in support of access to care, resorting to creating a false “both sides” argument.

Thus, both the experts and the 98% figure are complete nonsense, just as Jon Stewart said (but with more explanation). Using the climate change analogy again, it’s as if Rutledge had used experts from the American Petroleum Institute, who pointed to data from the 70s & 80s to say the science isn’t completely in yet, and that there’s lots of disagreement on whether anthropogenic climate change is even real. But, instead of killing the planet, she’s content to keep her goals more manageable and settle for transgender children.

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

Eric Tannehill is a twenty-something queer activist and university student.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Advertisement

Popular