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National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund; ‘On voting rights under attack’

LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund urges the U.S. Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act & the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

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By Kierra Johnson | WASHINGTON – Voting rights are a cornerstone of our democratic process and have been under attack by conservative political extremists. These extremists have tried everything from partisan gerrymandering to mass purges of voter rolls in attempts to undermine the work of election officials, sow false doubt in legitimate election results and curb access to registering and casting votes. 

There are many things to be divided over but right now there is an opportunity to be aligned in eradicating barriers to voting. We have an opportunity to restore faith in the American people that there are still foundational values and inalienable rights that can hold us together. The right to vote is a baseline. It is an essential part to exercise our power and participate in our democracy.

George Washington was quoted as saying, “The power of the constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their choosing: and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled.”

This is the plainest argument for eradicating barriers to voting for any and all of our people. However, it also explicitly explains why attacks on voting rights and access have increased as the demographics of this country have changed.

When LGBTQ+ Americans, People of Color and other marginalized populations vote in high numbers, elections are greatly impacted and it can make the difference in local, state and federal elections. The fear of losing power and the threat of losing an elected seat is not justification for our leaders to carve out LGBTQ+ folks, People of Color, women, poor people and so many other already marginalized groups from the political process. 

Members of congress often have the hard job of making decisions that require them to weigh numerous nuances and complex decision points with varying intended and unintended consequences on communities. However, on the question whether to eradicate barriers to voting – the answer is clear. Our beloved people deserve access to our democracy. We have a right to it and therefore the right to vote – regardless of our political views. Any member of congress who is advocating for anything less than ensuring and protecting the right to vote for all of the people in their districts and states is in fact advocating to take away the power of the people to elect and hold accountable those who should be legislating on their behalf.

The choice is simple: are you on the side of all voters or are you willing to allow restricting of the vote for political ends?  Will you advocate for all of the people that you claim to represent or will your sacrifice and abandon us community by community? Every decision will firmly place our elected officials on either the right or wrong side of history.

Instead of leaning into tactics that alienate and distance people from our democracy and each other, what if instead our elected Officials were inspired to  get back to the real work of getting more of our people to more actively and consistently participate in civic engagement. What if they were willing to commit to learning more about the fears and dreams of those in the community that they know the least about and invest in meeting their needs and creating opportunities from them to thrive! 

Our Democracy is broken and further restricting access to the political process will not heal the fractures that have only grown deeper and wider over these last years. Senators must take leadership and pass legislation that will protect and ensure free and fair elections. The strength of our Democracy and of our people depend on it.

Ongoing state legislative attacks in 2021 and 2022 on voting rights, many of which are barely disguised plans to suppress votes of Black people, as well as people from other historically marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ community, are undemocratic, racist and just plain wrong.

Some new and proposed state voting laws qualify as inhumane, for example, making it illegal to provide water and food to voters standing in hours-long lines. 

Some of these attacks ignore the reality of people’s daily lives, outlawing assistance to voters with disabilities so they can cast ballots by mail from home,  limiting voting hours, limiting, or ending ballot drop-box accessibility for people working several jobs to support minor children and elderly parents, and requiring identity documents to counter supposed voter fraud that research shows is practically nonexistent.

Identity document requirements pose specific challenges for many transgender and gender non-binary people due to some outdated state laws and financial and other barriers to updating documents like legal fees, a lack of access to inclusive health insurance and an inability to afford or overcome discriminatory policies and practices to receive gender-affirming care.

The path forward is clear – we need our federal elected officials to take leadership, take action, and protect voting rights NOW in order to rebuild and strengthen our democracy. This country belongs to all of us. This is our democracy, and we demand our rightful place in it. Pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act now!

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Executive Director, Kierra Johnson, joined the Task Force in 2018 as Deputy Executive Director and previously served on the board of directors.

As a bisexual Black woman, Johnson is one of a few out queer-identified women of color at the helm of a national LGBTQ organization.

She is recognized as a national expert on queer and reproductive rights issues and has testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

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Where’s the LGBTQ+ outrage over Sen. Kyrsten Sinema?

LGBTQ people are still official second-class citizens without full equal rights & figured out long ago that there is no “both sides” fairness

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Arizona Democratic U.S. Senator Krysten Sinema, speaking at the HRC National Dinner 2018 (Screenshot via HRC YouTube)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – I’ve been waiting and waiting but nothing. What the hell, Human Rights Campaign? Are we really OK with letting this hyper-flirty, bisexual nouveau conservative Democrat from Arizona continue to say she’s representing us while holding hands with Sen. Joe Manchin in crushing democracy?

Last October, when Arizona Democratic U.S. Senator Krysten Sinema found super infamy by fighting President Biden’s infrastructure spending bill and much of her Democratic Party’s call to end the procedural Senate filibuster, The Advocate cited criticism from Black gay New York Rep. Ritchie Torres.

There is a sense in which we no longer live in a democracy; we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema,” Torres told CNN. “I welcome the ideological diversity of the party. I can live with dissent. My colleagues and I have trouble living with what we perceive to be erraticism. The perception of erraticism is brought on by a lack of communication and clarity for where she stands.”

Last Thursday, Sinema gave a soap opera-choked up speech saying she would not vote to change the filibuster because “eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.” First of all, the threat is here and now and the fact that she doesn’t get that makes her inept and craven. The ramifications are huge: without democracy, there is no access to justice. 

Secondly, as House Majority Whip James Clyburn told CNN on Sunday, Democrats are seeking a carveout to the filibuster to enable a simple majority to vote on fundamental principles like voting rights. 

When it comes to the Constitution of the United States of America, no one person sitting downtown in a spa ought to be able to pick up the telephone and say you are going to put a hold on my ability to vote. And that’s what’s going on here,” Clyburn told Jake Tapper. “So I would wish they would stop that foolishness because if we do not protect the vote with everything that we’ve got, we will not have a country to protect going forward.”

After Thursday’s speech – which she insultingly delivered as Biden was on his way to talk to lawmakers about the critical need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – MSNBC’s Joy Reid noted that Sinema’s rationale for defending the filibuster “is as inconsistent as it is immoral.” Sinema supported bypassing the filibuster just over a month ago “in order to raise the debt ceiling on a party-line vote. She doesn’t think Republicans should be allowed to damage America’s credit, but she thinks allowing them to damage American democracy is a virtue.” 

Reid noted that Sen. Raphael Warnock called out the contradiction last month after the debt limit vote. 

Be very clear, last week we changed the rules of the Senate to address another important issue, the economy. This is a step, a change in the Senate rules we haven’t been willing to take to save our broken democracy, but one that a bipartisan majority of this chamber thought was necessary in order to keep our economy strong. We changed the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States government. We’ve decided we must do it for the economy, but not for the democracy,” Warnock said.

Audacity, thy name is Sinema:

With Sinema’s obstinate obstructionism flaring up days before Martin Luther King Day and before a Senate vote on the John Lewis Act – named for the late civil rights icon she claims to have loved – more and more critics are noting how the filibuster was created to further lynching and racist Jim Crow laws. “There’s nothing partisan about saying the filibuster has mostly been used for racist reasons, I think everybody would agree that that’s true,” Harvard Law professor Michael Klarman told the Associated Press. 

On Saturday, MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross said the subtext out loud. “Sinema is a Democrat, but she is in many ways upholding white supremacy,” Cross said on “The Cross Connection” after showing a clip of Sinema’s Thursday speech. “I don’t think I can roll my eyes hard enough and you kind of just want to say, ‘Girl, bye.’” 

It’s not like we didn’t notice that Sinema – who used her story of childhood poverty to get elected – has courted infamy. In March 2021, Christine Linnell made an important point in an Advocate commentary. 

Arizona’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may have taught us a valuable lesson in the past week: when it comes to politics, visibility and representation will only take you so far,” she wrote. “Sinema, the first openly bisexual person to be elected to Congress, went viral for the wrong reasons on Friday when she voted against a provision in the coronavirus relief package that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And she didn’t just vote against it, but went out of her way to get Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attention before giving a sassy thumbs-down on the floor of the Senate.

Linnell cited journalist Ryan Grim’s March 5, 2021 tweet, re-tweeting a C-Span video clip: “Here’s @SenatorSinema walking on to the floor, patting Mitch McConnell on the back, looking back to make sure he sees her, then giving the thumbs down to a $15 minimum wage.”

But Sinema is no John McCain and then, like now, it’s hard to see what principle she was upholding. 

I interviewed Sinema in 2018 for the Los Angeles Blade when she was running for the Senate and noted a tracking report from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight indicating that Sinema voted in line with Trump’s position 54.7% of the time.

“This isn’t a matter of one party being right and the other being wrong,” Sinema said. “If we allow our basic values to become just another political football, we’ll all lose. If President Trump is willing to work together to stand up for Arizonans, I’ll work with him….I learned early on that you get more things done when you’re willing to work together…The problem with Washington is that people don’t listen to those who have different points of view so they never find the common ground needed to really solve problems. When you actually talk with people and work across the aisle, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish.”

The problem is that Trump’s Republican Party is subsumed by white supremacists for whom lying and treachery is a convenient, amoral means to an authoritarian end. There is no negotiating in good faith here.  There is no bipartisanship when one partisan side is angling for white straight male supremacy. 

And the thing is, we LGBTQ people — who are still official second-class citizens without our full equal rights – figured out long ago that there is no “both sides” fairness when you’re talking about the far right. Ask Joan Garry of GLAAD. CNN used to pit Joan against some religious right nut until finally she (standing in for all of us) said we would not acknowledge the religious right or white supremacists as the equivalent of our movement for equality and social justice. 

Yet here we are as Sinema – who claims to represent LGBTQ people – acts as if Trump’s white supremacy is equivalent to Biden/Pelosi/Schumer and GLAAD ’ agenda to restore Constitutional voting rights.

But where are WE? Do we not remember Silence = Death? 

“At consequential moments in history, they present a choice,” Biden said in his speech from Atlanta on Jan. 11. “Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

What side do you want to stand on, LGBTQ people? 

Ironically, Sinema foreshadowed this moment in her speech before the Human Rights Campaign on March 10, 2018. “It’s up to us now to make certain that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender will never again be an impediment to success. These battles will take place on many fronts. Under our new President, that’s unfortunately meant returning to some of the fights we thought were behind us,” she said, noting that she was running for the Senate “to stand up for the values that unite us as Americans,” including “the right to define our own destinies. The belief that no one should be different in the eyes of the law, the freedom to reach for every opportunity and fulfill our greatest potential. We here, we together, we have a moral obligation to continue this work. And standing together, I know we can win.” 

Standing together? From Jan. 1, 2021, Krysten Sinema tweeted about LGBTQ people/issues only FIVE (5) times – three of which were during June Pride Month.

I reject any assertion that Krysten Sinema represents me as an LGBTQ person. What about you?

Arizona Representative Kyrsten Sinema Speaks at HRC Los Angeles Dinner:

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Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and former editor of the Los Angeles Blade has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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COVID-19, Isolation, Tobacco and the LGBTQ + BIPOC Community

Research shows that intense amounts of discrimination is linked to increased risk of tobacco use. This is no coincidence

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Courtesy of Equality California Institute’s OUT Against Big Tobacco Program

By Ryan Oda | SANTA MONICA – While smoking rates have declined nationally in the past 20 years, this decline has not been shared equally among Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities or the LGBTQ+ community – and especially among those with intersecting identities.

Tobacco is one of many harmful coping mechanisms that are adopted disproportionately by the LGBTQ+ community due to discrimination. Research shows that intense amounts of discrimination is linked to increased risk of tobacco use. This is no coincidence.

The LGBTQ+ community is unique because people of all ages, races, and religions can identify as LGBTQ+. Issues that affect one community, such as the increased risk of tobacco use for Black communities, also impacts Black LGBTQ+ folks at even higher rates. In fact, research has shown that Black lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 225% more likely to smoke than heterosexual Black youth. 

While many cisgender heterosexual BIPOC folks can rely on their tight knit communities as a support system, LGBTQ+ BIPOC people are often disowned by their biological family and wider community because of their LGBTQ+ identities. These added stressors caused by the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people are associated with a higher risk of tobacco.

Big Tobacco has used flavors, like menthol, to cover up the harsh taste of tobacco which makes it easier to get hooked and harder to quit. Candy, fruit, and dessert flavors are attractive to young people, getting them hooked on nicotine from a dangerously young age. Big Tobacco’s marketing strategy has targeted LGBTQ+ people resulting in an overwhelming presence of tobacco products in LGBTQ+ spaces, clubs, bars, Pride events, etc. 

OUT Against Big Tobacco Los Angeles, a coalition supported by Equality California Institute, is working in Santa Monica to educate the community and policymakers on the impacts of flavored tobacco and coupons and discounts on tobacco purchases on the LGBTQ+ community. Santa Monica, which has a history of passing tobacco control policies, has the unique opportunity to create a healthy and safe environment for its residents, including youth. 

Research has shown that flavored tobacco increases people’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine; because youth are most likely to begin smoking with flavored tobacco, youth can especially be at risk for becoming addicted due to these products. The City of Santa Monica passed an outdoor smoking ordinance at the Pier, citing its danger and risk of secondhand smoke exposure to youth and tourists.

As the pandemic has continued, so have stressors for the LGBTQ+ community, and BIPOC youth. More now than ever, community action based on research is needed to prevent more people from becoming addicted to nicotine. 

To add to the many stressors LGBTQ+ folks deal with, the past year has resulted in many LGBTQ+ people facing increased risk of social isolation and depression. Due to COVID-19, various support groups that the community often relied on outside of their biological family such as school, Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) or Pride clubs, were no longer available to gather in-person.

This lack of in-person support has created room for online influences to now hold even more weight than they previously did. As we reopen, the long-term effects of isolation on youth remain to be seen.     

Further research is needed to fully understand the impacts that the pandemic and subsequent social isolation has had on smoking rates for LGBTQ+ youth, especially those of color. It’s likely that more LGBTQ+ young people will come out of this pandemic addicted to tobacco.      

The onus is on institutions to ensure equitable access to resources to quit. Big Tobacco must be prevented, once and for all, from targeting our youth.

To find out more about how to get involved in tobacco control work in Santa Monica, please check out OUT Against Big Tobacco’s Twitter: @outtobacco and Facebook: @OUTAgainstBigTobaccoCoalition

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Ryan Oda (he/him) is a Program Associate for Equality California Institute’s OUT Against Big Tobacco Program, where he is working to reduce LGBTQ+ tobacco use throughout Los Angeles County.

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SCOTUS: Eroding the separation of church and state

The conservative Right has spent years trying to destroy our public education system. With this decision, they now have a clear pathway

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Graphic via Natchitoches Parish School Board, Natchitoches, LA

By Brynn Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – The Supreme Court’s outrageous oral arguments over abortion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the court’s refusal to halt Texas’s abortion bounty law dominated the news recently.

But that wasn’t their only controversial, disastrous ruling that week: In a 6-3 decision for Carson v. Makin, which asked the court whether the government could require the state of Maine to subsidize religious education, SCOTUS ruled that laws prohibiting the use of public funds for religious education were a form of religious discrimination.

This represents a catastrophe for the separation of church and state—and a boon for conservatives looking to destroy public education and flood churches with government money.

Conservatives in the U.S. have long despised public education. During the 1980s, President Reagan appointed Terrell Bell as Secretary of Education to work himself out of a job by shrinking, or abolishing, the department, and shuffling children into church-run classrooms. Under Trump, Betsy DeVos followed this tradition of wanting to defund public schools, and instead have the government provide vouchers for children to go to parochial schools.

The GOP has also been the beneficiary of homeschooling producing “foot soldiers for God,” who almost invariably vote Republican. In return, the GOP has worked hand in hand with parochial schools to ensure that they do not need to meet state educational standards, and that homeschooling is almost entirely deregulated and oversight nonexistent. Florida leads the way, expanding school vouchers for private schools and deliberately underfunding public ones.

With religious schools, there’s very little academic oversight, and even less financial. Two-thirds of private schools are religious, meaning that they are run through a church. The church is theoretically responsible for providing financial accountability, but in reality the IRS long ago stopped auditing churches except in extreme circumstances.

Florida is pouring another $200 million into school vouchers on top of the billion they already spend, with scant evidence to suggest that it is working.

In other words, the Supreme Court just made it nearly mandatory for states to throw money at religious-based grifts. However, this goes way beyond providing an easy way for places like Florida to shovel nearly unregulated billions of dollars into churches they like.

The fight over “school choice” dates back to the ’60s and ’70s, when all-white Christian schools wanted to retain their tax-exempt status. This became the central political issue for people like Jerry Falwell, and was the catalyst for what became the Christian Right as a political block in the U.S. Today, religious schools aren’t (theoretically) allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, but they’re allowed to ignore most other civil rights laws.

They’re always exempted from Title IX (prohibiting sex discrimination), and the Americans With Disabilities Act. They’re also exempt from state and local non-discrimination laws against LGBT people; in many cases, they refuse to serve children whose parents or siblings are LGBT.

This illustrates the broader agenda here: Religious schools are meant to reshape American society by dictating who has access to them, and to an education in general. Suppose the plaintiffs in Carson v. Makin who don’t have any public schools available have an LGBT child? Or are LGBT themselves? Or have a child with disabilities? Functionally, the state is no longer providing public education, though it remains there in theory.

This ruling is also a Trojan horse for one of the biggest issues for religious conservatives: bringing back prayer in schools. In Ohio, front-running U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel has made bringing back compulsory religion and prayer in public schools one of his top campaign issues.

Conservatives see bringing back prayer in schools, and making Americans Christians whether they want to be or not, as a panacea to all of society’s ills: from abortion, to gun violence, to poverty. They believe that all of our problems can be traced back to removing prayer and state-sponsored religion from our schools. Rather than addressing problems with solutions based in research, social science, or good policy, their solution is, as always, thoughts and prayers.

The Supreme Court has essentially handed them a roadmap to test their theory that if everyone just went to a nice Christian school and prayed a lot, everything would be super. With queers in schools gone, kids with Downs and cerebral palsy no longer sucking up funding, boys being free to be boys and girls being free to be girls, and a curriculum based on the three R’s, (rosaries, Revelations, and resurrection), they’ll finally Make America Great Again with a heaping helping of that old-time religion.

SCOTUS has told states that they no longer have to provide for public education so long as a religious-based alternative is made available through vouchers. It seems nearly inevitable that states like Texas and Florida will test this by slashing funding for public schools and opening the purse for vouchers to religious schools even further.

The courts today resemble those that gave us Plessy v. Ferguson on the basis that rights that exist only in theory are as good as one that are actively enforced. This court has no issue deciding that an education is available because their parents can stop being lesbians at any time. Or that as long as the state puts some educational videos online, that counts as providing for all the people who can’t (or won’t) go to a religious school.

The possibilities for abuse here are endless, and it is inevitable that deep red states will take this SCOTUS ruling and run with it. The result is a mandate for churches to get richer, more students getting a worse education, and a widening of the two-tiered country we live in.

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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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The preceding article was originally published by DAME magazine and is republished with permission.

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