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Furry-tales: The organized hate effort against LGBTQ+ young people

The same slippery slope fallacy that claimed gay marriage would lead to bestiality is on display here, equating trans kids to house pets

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Nebraska Senator Bruce Bostelman (Photo Credit: State of Nebraska Legislature)

By Michelle Clifford | LINCOLN, Ne. – Last Monday, Nebraska Senator Bruce Bostelman stood on the legislative floor – just a few blocks away from the school I teach at – and voiced his concern about “furries” in schools.

He described students who dress as dogs and cats, communicate with their teachers in barks and meows, and demand to use litter boxes instead of restrooms. After describing an instance in which a student reportedly defecated on the floor in retaliation for their lack of litter box accommodations, he earnestly asked, “How is that sanitary?”  

In eight years as a teacher, I have not had any furries bark answers in class or abandon their toilet training. But I have taught a large and growing number of transgender students who consistently express that they do not have an adequate place to use the restroom at school. It is clear that they are the real target of Bostelman’s complaint. The same slippery slope fallacy that claimed gay marriage would lead to bestiality is on display here, equating trans kids to housepets and offering a version of reality in which schools retain custodial staff even while requiring them to scoop human feces out of a litter box.

While Bostelman may have publicly humiliated himself and the state of Nebraska, he is not the first to make headlines with this fake news about schools. In January, a Michigan superintendent publicly debunked false claims of students using litter boxes in his school district. In February, the same had to be done in Iowa. Next month, the same story will likely show up in another state. Almost certainly, the hoax will be fueled on social media by their own version of Protect Nebraska Children (PNC), a “grassroots” hate group that has been grown with national funding. 

Whether Senator Bostelman is aware of these headlines or is a member of PNC is not clear, but his proximity to anti-LGBTQ activists is. One of Bostelman’s staffers is Edward Newland, husband of Marilyn Newland (formerly Synek), who is the communications director of the Nebraska Family Alliance (NFA), an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group. The NFA’s political involvement is neither new nor specific to Bostelman. You may remember this hate group from their recent attempts to overturn the Fairness Ordinance, or from our interview with Eve Downing, the estranged trans daughter of NFA president, Jeff Downing. The Nebraska Family Alliance has a long history of protesting anything that resembles LGBTQ-acceptance in schools, while also working within local politics to generally make life harder for queer people, women, and domestic violence victims. Most recently, they have advocated against Nebraska’s proposed revisions to sex education curriculum, even though districts are not required to adopt these standards and parents still retain the right to opt their children out of health classes.

These groups are threats to the children in our community. And there are plenty more just like them. Save Nebraska Children is an Omaha-based group with similar aims. Their website is geared toward changing the Human Growth & Development courses in Omaha Public Schools to meet their “biblical values.” Another group, Nebraskans for Founders Values, lists “Parental Rights,” “Return God to our Public Schools,” and “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” as three of its seven top “issues.” Most of these organizations – and others – are listed as partners on the website of Nebraskans Against Government Overreach, a group that strives to both abolish government and control most people’s basic freedoms. Adults all over our state are organizing against kids. 

So, tempting as it might be to laugh at Bostelman, there is too much at stake. Nebraska just lost Milo Winslow, a young trans activist, due to the growing hostility towards LGBTQ people here. I want my students to feel safe at school* and in the larger Lincoln community without having to fight for their basic human rights and dignity like Milo did. During Pride Club meetings, students discuss why schools should have single-person or gender-nonconforming restrooms to accommodate all sorts of people, including trans students. But mostly they talk and laugh with each other and are enthusiastically making decorations for Pride Prom. They are high schoolers – just kids. But the people who claim to protect children try to deny their existence and create legislation that blocks others from recognizing these kids and their human dignity. These groups have real influence over our politics, and are putting members into public office themselves. 

Even when blatant anti-trans sentiments aren’t on display in the Capitol, it is clear that legislators do not care about protecting any kids in Nebraska. Just two days after Bostelman embarrassed himself, he and most of our other senators voted for LB 873, a bill which cut tax rates for only the state’s wealthiest. This bill had been voted down twice already, but “saving kids” was again used for harmful purposes: an amendment was added that would protect K-12 public schools from losing $200 million of their $548 million in tax credits by 2024. This forced senators to vote with LB 873 in order to keep schools open for another two years, but will ultimately cost Nebraska $900 million in tax revenue, with schools anticipated to take a big hit. The long-term impact on public schools does not matter in the legislature, which is especially evident in the increasing number of bills for vouchers or other school privatization efforts. Public schools deserve critique and need to do more for trans students, but – unlike private or charter schools – we have to serve all students. There is no picking, choosing, or lottery system to decide who attends a public school, while attempts to increase privatization are coming from those who would prefer to limit children’s ability to learn about LGBTQ identities, let alone claim one.

Senator Bostelman’s comment about “furries” as our biggest school issue – in a time of massive budget cuts and staffing shortages, student trauma, and the probable end of free school meals for all – was more than just insensitive. It was a glimpse at the larger problem of extremist hate groups influencing local government and presenting dangerous views as “centrist,” rather than as directly harming youth and, therefore, our collective future. 

*Safety for anyone in school is relative to gun laws in the United States. The only documented use of a “litter box” in school that I could find was a district in Colorado, providing “go buckets” for students in the event of an active shooter or other lockdown situation. Senator Bostelman is endorsed by the NRA.

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The preceding commentary was previously published at SEEING RED and is republished with permission.

Commentary

The end comes soon: Drums, drums in the deep

“We cannot get out. The end comes. Drums, drums in the deep. They are coming.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Brynn Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – To be trans in the US is to know fear. It is a companion that travels with us constantly: from the moment we realize we are trans, to coming out, to transitioning, and now into our lives long past the point where we should have faded away into anonymity in days past.

We are in the midst of a second Lavender Scare, and in many ways this is far more dangerous: even Christine Jorgenson wasn’t barred from receiving hormones or being within 2500 feet of children simply for being transgender. 

I have been called a doomsayer who profits from prognosticating an inevitable end. This is not precisely true: there is hope, if precious little of it. We can all clearly see the situation deteriorating rapidly in red states, with (at best) spotty resistance from the Democratic Party as a whole. We can see the effects of this deterioration as transgender people not only ask how to flee, but actively do so now. But most in a poverty-stricken community, however, lack the money or resources to flee.

There’s an eerie similarity to 1933, when people sold everything they owned, with no job waiting for them, just to get away from what they saw happening and coming. Others look at what it will take to get to another country, even as those countries are not yet ready to grant trans people asylum or refugee status. Most can only tell you that it’s getting bad, and that they’re afraid of what their government is preparing to do to them, even if they don’t know exactly what that will be. However, with nowhere to go, and no country particularly wanting transgender people, I find myself dreading another S.S. St. Louis moment in history.

There’s an authoritarian party in permanent power in half of the U.S. They’re making it clear that intend to seize permanent federal control and bring their vision of a shiny, Godly America to the rest of the country by any means necessary. They’re ready to destroy the Union and our democracy to save it from “wokeness”. And they have sold their base on the idea that the number one threat that the country must be saved from is transgender people.

State level anti-transgender bills are becoming both more numerous and draconian year after year.  The Overton Window of anti-trans legislation keeps shifting further and further to the right. For example, first they wanted to ban transition-related health care for everyone under the age of 18. Then the bills started putting the age at 21. Then, this year, we saw Oklahoma propose banning it for anyone under 26. Texas followed by passing a resolution condemning it for people of all ages. 

Now, Oklahoma has proposed a law that would ban providers who take state or federal money of money of any sort (e.g. Medicare or Medicaid) from providing transition-related care to anyone of any age. This means thousands of people who transitioned years ago will no longer be able to refill their prescriptions. Access to medical care will become a right that exists in theory but not in practice, like suffrage in the Jim Crow South. 

It’s not just medical care. It’s sports, bathrooms, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, bans on “drag”, required misgendering, and forced outing. The creativity of this performative cruelty seems endless.  Of these though, the “drag” bans are the most devastating. These laws are deliberately written as to be so vague and overly broad that a symphony orchestra with a transgender 2nd clarinet, or a family with a trans child doing a sing along in the car would be considered obscene. In West Virginia, SB252 and 278 single out transgender people (and not just drag performers) to declare that their mere presence in public is obscene.

Not only are the scope of laws increasing; the sheer number is growing exponentially. In 2018, there were 19 anti-trans bills proposed in state legislatures. By 2020 it was 60. Last year it was 155. Now, in 2023, we surpassed the 2022 total by the middle of January and are well on our way to more than 200. Even so, these numbers don’t tell the full tale.

In years past, only perhaps 10% of these bills would pass, usually after opposition and debate. Now, we’re seeing bills introduced, sent to committee, debated, and sent to the floor in 24 hours. There is simply so much happening so fast that trans people cannot put together opposition in time to speak against these bills, whereas conservative legislators coordinating with religious legal groups always have “experts” lined up and ready, since they know exactly when and where the bills will be heard ahead of time. The result is that in a year where a record number of anti-transgender bills are introduced, a record percentage, and a record total, will be passed.

Trans people are not doomed, but we’re clearly on an accelerating trajectory to the end of the community in at least half of the US. Reversing these trends, and preventing a nation-wide destruction of the community, requires numerous highly improbable things to happen. This includes Republicans moving on from the moral panic about trans people, deciding that they’ve gone far enough already with their oppression at the state level, or the courts overturning anti-trans laws. None of these seems likely.

Additionally, there remains the fear that even states with sanctuary laws, like California, will not remain safe forever. Republicans in Congress have made it clear that should they take power in 2024, they intend to pass nationwide laws similar to those at the state level. The odds of the GOP taking full control are frighteningly high: the Senate map in 2024 for Democrats is very bad, Biden’s net approval is where Trump’s was in 2020, and gerrymandering makes taking back the House difficult.

Masha Gessen’s rules for surviving autocracy state that “your institutions will not save you.” This is true for trans people now in several ways: neither courts, the Democratic party, nor the media seem prepared to stand up for us as the situation goes from hostile to non-survivable. There’s the open question of whether the courts will uphold sanctuary laws. When Texas demands the arrest and extradition of trans people (or parents of trans youth) who have fled to a sanctuary state, it seems unlikely that the current Supreme Court will do anything but what their Christian Nationalist masters tell them to. It’s also unknown whether a state like California would defy the courts and break the union over trans people or women seeking an abortion. 

Then there’s the news media, the fifth estate that is supposed to be the light of truth shining on darkness. Instead, half of the media ecosystem is leading the charge to brand transgender people as an existential threat to women, children, and society. The other half, like Reuters, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, produce poorly thought out “both-sideism” and concern troll pieces that amplify and reinforce the narratives of the side that believes the ideal number of transgender people in the US is zero.

Trans people have precious few people that they know will go to the mattresses for them. We’re already seeing who on the left and center is stepping aside, or even joining in, to let self-proclaimed Christian fascists like Matt Walsh have their way. Not only can it happen here, but it is happening now, at this very instant, to the sound of deafening silence from the people who swore without irony “never again.” 

The American public, for their part, either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It’s just happening to “those people”.  Most trans people cannot enunciate all the factors that have them afraid, and why they form an interlocking system of failures that make recovery from the trajectory we’re on improbable. They just know that things are getting worse, and they don’t see how it will get better. Like animals before an earthquake, they know something is very wrong, even if they can’t explain why, or get anyone to listen.

All they know is that they cannot get out, the unstoppable power of the government is coming, and no one is coming to the rescue. For those who cannot flee, and cannot survive the laws about to be passed, the end comes soon. Drums, drums in the deep.

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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 price of freedom and criminalization of poverty

The right to be treated fairly & equitably by institutions that govern this country remains an elusive concept

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Dr. Danielle Dupuy-Watson | LOS ANGELES – As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy, it is important to recognize that civil rights battles continue in ways that are often unseen.  The right to be treated fairly and equitably by institutions that govern this country remains an elusive concept more than 50 years after his death.

One place where unseen injustice occurs every day in mass proportions is in our criminal legal system which irreparably harms millions, including those held in jail detention before trial

People have been led to believe that those arrested on suspicion of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. But this is simply not true. Statistics make clear that the presumption of innocence is reserved for those with access to money.  There are approximately 400,000 people in this country who are being held in cages while awaiting trial every day.

In Los Angeles, home to the largest jail system on the planet, it is estimated that 46% of the 14,000 people held in jail are being detained pretrial, often for days and weeks, before receiving an attorney or seeing a judge.  That’s 6,440 people! And it’s been estimated that about 72% of those detained pretrial are there because they can’t afford bail. That’s 4,600 Angelenos unnecessarily, and unjustly separated from their children, their families and their lives.

While the separation from your community is awful enough, the extreme and life-threatening harms that people face while in jail  pretrial is also a crucial part of these less visible stories

BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by this systemic injustice. Over 85% of people in LA jails are BIPOC. LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to be arrested relative to the rest of the population.  A survey of incarcerated LGBTQ+ people revealed that 74% of those interviewed were incarcerated simply because they couldn’t afford the price of freedom.  

The battle against this egregious system of poverty punishment is not new, but it has once again come into the spotlight in LA, in part because of the unrelenting work of those most impacted and advocates.  We refuse to let our communities continue to suffer these harms. We continue to fight because we see how progress can be undermined when government actors disregard court rulings. 

For instance, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s money bail system violates due process and equal protection in what is commonly referred to as the Humphrey decision. And while many may have expected to see movement towards a different and better reality for LA, 15 months later the LA Superior Court reinstated one of the most expensive bail schedules in the country. It did so in spite of the CA Supreme Court decision and without any evidence that secured bail improves public safety. 

In fact, empirical literature has concluded just the opposite. So, we must acknowledge that even a decision by the state Supreme Court does not immediately turn the tide and can, in some cases, have little impact on what is practiced.

Angelenos must care about and commit to something different for anything to change. Supervisor Hilda Solis and former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl exemplified this type of care and commitment in 2021 when they co-authored two motions — unanimously passed by the full Board — that support the Supreme Court decision, activating county resources to address the problem that cash bail and pretrial detention poses.  

But even with this support, actual change for the people in pretrial detention remains unrealized. That’s why Civil Rights Corp and Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project, with a coalition of concerned lawyers and faith leaders, filed a class action lawsuit on Nov. 14, 2022 on behalf of six individuals jailed in LAPD and LASD stations and jails for five days before seeing a lawyer or judge. They could not afford to pay preset money bail as required by LA County’s bail schedule, which assigns monetary amounts based on arrest charges before people are given any hearing in court.

In most cases, these charges were reduced or dropped once a prosecutor reviewed the case and the individuals were ordered released at their first hearing. The case alleges that this bail schedule policy is illegal. 

“Our clients can’t afford to pay for housing, let alone the thousands of dollars police demand for their freedom. But they are not too dangerous to release: they would be set free right away if they could pay. They are jailed only because they do not have money. Through this case, they have decided to stand up to LA’s cruel and senseless system of cash-based jailing,” says Civil Rights Corps attorney Salil Dudani.

“Under LA County’s system, a person arrested for a less serious crime is locked up solely because she can’t pay, while another person arrested for a more serious crime is set free because he can afford bail. This is the definition of wealth discrimination, and it has no place in our society or our legal system,” says Debtors’ Prison Project Director Leslie Bailey.

The current problems with pretrial detention and the LA bail system validate Dr. King’s fears about the future. “Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house,” King said.

If we take this seriously, we must care for people in our communities who live in poverty and most importantly continue to put out the fire before the house burns beyond repair. 

To learn more about pretrial detention, the cash bail system and how to get involved in Los Angeles, visit The Bail Project or Justice LA

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Danielle Dupuy-Watson, Ph.D, is the CEO of Civil Rights Corps. Prior to joining CRC, she was the Executive Director of the Million Dollar Hoods project and the Director of Research and Programs at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

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Brazil insurrection proves Trump remains a global threat

Jair Bolsonsaro took page out of former U.S. president’s playbook

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Washington Blade Trump photo by Michael Key; Bolsonaro photo by Celso Pupo/Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — I was at home in Dupont Circle on Sunday afternoon when I learned that thousands of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro supporters had stormed their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace. I grabbed my iPhone, used Google Translate to translate my initial thoughts into Brazilian Portuguese and sent them to many of the sources with whom I have worked while on assignment for the Washington Blade in the country.

“Muito perturbador a que está aconterendo em Brasília,” I said. “What is happening in Brasília is very disturbing.”

One source described the insurrection as “terrible.” Another told me that “everything is chaos.”

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group, said what happened in Brasília was “horrible.” Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in a statement said the insurrectionists “attacked democracy.” Congresswoman Erika Hilton, who is Transgender, described them as “terrorists.”

The insurrection, which has been described as a “coup” and a “terrorist” act, took place two days after the U.S. marked the second anniversary of Jan. 6. I felt a real sense of déjà vu because what happened in Brasília was nearly identical to what I witnessed here in D.C. two years and two days earlier with Blade Photo Editor Michael Key and then-Blade intern Kaela Roeder.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump refused to accept the 2020 presidential election results, and thousands of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, laid siege to the Capitol after he spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse. The insurrection began after lawmakers began to certify the Electoral College results.

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP STORM THE U.S. CAPITOL ON JAN. 6, 2021. (WASHINGTON BLADE VIDEO BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS)

Bolsonaro, who has yet to publicly acknowledge he lost to current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, flew to Florida on Dec. 30.

Da Silva’s inauguration took place in Brasília on Jan. 1. Bolsonaristas laid siege to their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace a week later. 

“The Brazilian presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency that has tipped the LGBT+ community into a boiling pot of fake news,” wrote Egerton Neto, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who is also an Aspen New Voices Fellow and manager of Oxford University’s XX, in an op-ed the Blade published last Oct. 28, two days before Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of Brazil’s presidential election. “This is part of a broader global problem and we need a global plan to stop it.”

SUPPORTERS OF THEN-BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO RALLY NEAR THE BRAZILIAN CONGRESS IN BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL, ON OCT. 1, 2022. (WASHINGTON BLADE VIDEO BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS)

I was on assignment in Mexico City on July 16, 2018, when Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki. I wrote in a Blade oped the “ridiculous spectacle … proved one and for all the U.S. under (the Trump) administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world.”

“American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is a beacon of hope to those around the world who suffer persecution. American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is the land of opportunity where people can build a better life for themselves and for their families,” I wrote. “Trump has turned his back on these ideals. He has also proven himself to be a danger not only to his country, but to the world as a whole.”

Bolsonaro during a press conference with Trump at the White House on March 19, 2019, said he has “always admired the United States of America.”

“This admiration has only increased since you took office,” said Bolsonaro.

The so-called “Trump of the Tropics” clearly took a page out of his American ideological counterpart’s anti-democratic playbook, and Sunday’s insurrection in Brasília is the implementation of it. The bolsonaristas who stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace perpetrated an assault on democracy in the name of their country’s former president who cannot bring himself to publicly acknowledge that he lost re-election. Sunday’s insurrection also proves that Trump, his enablers and those who continue to blindly defend and worship him remain as dangerous as ever.

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GLAAD: NY Times’ hire of anti-LGBTQ David French is appalling

The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues

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David French (Screenshot/YouTube MSNBC)

By Sarah Kate Ellis | NEW YORK – GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, is responding to the New York Times’ recent announcement of their hiring of anti-LGBTQ attorney and writer David French as a columnist.

“It is appalling that the New York Times hired and is now boasting about bringing on David French, a writer and attorney with a deep history of anti-LGBTQ activism. After more than a year of inaccurate, misleading LGBTQ coverage in the Times opinion and news pages, the Times started 2023 by announcing a second anti-transgender opinion columnist, without a single known trans voice represented on staff,” responded GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis.

“A cursory search for French turns up numerous anti-LGBTQ articles and his record as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination, including just last month at the Supreme Court. The Times left out these facts in its glowing announcement of French’s hiring, and also forgot to mention his work as a co-signer on the 2017 Nashville Statement, which erased LGBTQ voices of faith and falsely stated ‘that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.’ The Times had the gall to claim French as a ‘faith’ expert despite this known history.

The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues. This is damaging to the paper’s credibility. The Times opinion section editors’ love letter to French yesterday shows a willful disregard of LGBTQ community voices and the concerns so many have shared about their inaccurate, exclusionary, often ridiculous pieces. Last year, the Times ended popular trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column, leaving the opinion section with no trans columnists and a known lack of transgender representation on its overall staff. Who was brought on after Boylan? Pamela Paul, who has devoted columns to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ disinformation, and David French. This reflects a growing trend on the news and opinion pages of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage. The Times started 2023 by bragging about hiring another anti-trans writer, so LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and allies should make a 2023 resolution not to stay silent as the Times platforms lies, bias, fringe theories and dangerous inaccuracies.”

Examples of French’s anti-LGBTQ activism:

Examples of NYT columnist Pamela Paul’s anti-LGBTQ work:

Recent examples of inaccurate news coverage of LGBTQ people and youth, and their consequences:

  • In court documents, the state of Texas quoted Emily Bazelon’s June 15 report in the New York Times Magazine to further target families of trans youth over their private, evidence-based healthcare decisions. Every major medical association supports gender affirming care as best practices care that is safe and lifesaving and has widespread consensus of the medical and scientific communities.
  • The World Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), the world’s leading medical and research authority on transgender healthcare, criticized the Times’ November 2022 article “They Paused Puberty, But Is There a Cost?” as “furthering the atmosphere of misinformation” about healthcare for trans youth, noting its inaccurate narratives, interpretations and non-expert voices. WPATH noted the Times elevated false and inflammatory notions about medications that have been used safely in non-LGBTQ populations for decades without an explicit statement about how the benefits of the treatment far outweigh potential risks.
  • Writer Michael Powell elevated anti-transgender voices to falsely assert, in a piece about one successful transgender athlete, that transgender athletes are a threat to women’s sports. Powell’s other pieces have been used to support Pamela Paul’s inaccurate opinion essays falsely claiming “women” are being erased by the inclusion of trans people in discussions about abortion access. 
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Let light and love into our world this holiday season

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”

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The Israeli Embassy in D.C. on Dec. 12, 2022, hosted a Hanukkah reception. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Christian Fuscarino | NEPTUNE, Nj. – As the holiday season passes us by and we head into the new year, for many it is still the season of celebration. But we know all too well that these are dangerous times — particularly for marginalized communities.

In early November, the FBI alerted New Jersey Jews that they had credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in our state. It was a stunning alert — and half a million New Jersey Jews had to think twice about whether to attend their houses of worship. Later that month, a mass shooter opened fire at Club Q in Colorado Springs, murdering five people and injuring 25 more. It was yet another violent attack on the LGBTQ+ community.

In the face of such violence and hate, feelings of hopelessness can be inevitable. And yet, we must be resilient and strong in the face of hate because hate can never win.

I wasn’t raised in a Jewish home. But nine years ago, I was proud to work with Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. The group focuses on mobilizing Jews to advance social issues by speaking out against injustice and inequality. It was there and later working for Educational Alliance — a network of community centers in lower Manhattan — I learned about Jewish values, ultimately leaving an indelible mark on my work to this day.

In 2016, I became the executive director of Garden State Equality, the largest LGBTQ+ education and advocacy organization in New Jersey, with over 150,000 Members. Our work in advocacy, policy work and trainings create safe environments for youth, improve access to affirming healthcare for our community, and ensure our older adults are treated with dignity and respect.

A good leader should talk less and listen more. For years I had heard about the progress in Israel the LGBTQ+ community was making and wanted to learn more. The fact that Israel and New Jersey have roughly the same population was particularly intriguing to me. What could I learn to be a better leader and advocate for my community?

This past June, I had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time with A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ+ group that fosters closer ties between the Israeli and American LGBTQ+ communities.

It was a transformative experience both personally and professionally. What I saw there wasn’t the conflict, it wasn’t politics, and it wasn’t religion. It was an LGBTQ+ community taking care of each other. I saw community groups in action, advocating for their equal rights. The government investment in LGBTQ+ issues was also extraordinary. It’s a model for what our work demands here in New Jersey and around the country. 

After my visit, I watched in dismay the recent election results in Israel, where far-right extremists have catapulted from the margins of society right to the heart of government. We know all too well here in the U.S. the impact that can have on social progress. The LGBTQ+ community needs our support now more than ever, both in Israel and around the world where extremism is on the march.

In recent months we’ve also seen the mainstreaming of antisemitism to an unprecedented level.

It’s in the streets — the ADL noted over 2,700 incidents of antisemitism reported in 2021 — which was an increase of 34 percent from the previous year. In 2022, those numbers will rise even further.

It’s in our politics — former President Trump openly dines with antisemites and Holocaust deniers.

It’s in our culture — Kanye West’s disgraceful attacks on the Jewish community were broadcast to millions of Americans across alternative networks. The big tech companies did their best to remove the content from their platforms, but it didn’t matter. Countless Americans — many of them young people — were subjected to the vilest hatred from a cultural giant.

There is no avoiding hate in today’s media environment. The mental health impact that it has on our communities is immeasurable. The impact it has on our physical well-being is tragic. The only way to protect our communities is to be seen and heard.

This holiday season, and moving into 2023, I encourage all of us to embrace the Jewish values of solidarity, shared liberation, dignity, equality, resilience, and moral courage as we confront these extremist threats. We must stand in solidarity because the threats facing the LGBTQ+ communities and the Jewish communities intersect. A hateful attack on any community is an attack on us all.

In the face of antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia and all form of intolerance, let us remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Let us light our menorahs and string lights on our trees because together our light will drive out darkness, and together our love will drive out hate.

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Christian Fuscarino, is a community organizer, LGBTQ+ activist and the executive director of Garden State Equality. 

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Paxton’s transgender “list:” A chilling abuse of government power

Paxton’s list is an abhorrent invasion of privacy and an attack on the dignity of an entire group of Texans

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Transgender activists and advocates gather on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin, Spring of 2022. (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

By Shannon Minter | Even in a year of unprecedented attacks on transgender kids and their families, the news that Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pressured state agencies to create a list of transgender people marks a dangerous new low.

According to the Washington Post, earlier this year Paxton ordered the Texas Department of Department of Public Safety to provide him with a list of everyone who had corrected the gender identifier on their Texas driver’s license within the past two years.

Just days later, the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered Texas’ child protection agency to investigate parents of transgender children for alleged child abuse simply for providing their children with medical care.

Throughout our nation’s history, corrupt officials have abused their power to create or expose “lists” of disfavored groups. Recent examples include President Trump’s order directing immigration authorities to arrest undocumented women seeking protection from domestic violence in family courts, as well as allegations that the IRS may have targeted Trump’s political enemies for invasive audits that turned their lives upside down.

Historically, Alabama courts sought to destroy the NAACP by forcing the group to disclose its membership records—a practice the Supreme Court ultimately held to be unconstitutional. 

When elected officials exploit access to private records for political ends, they betray the public’s trust and corrode our system of law. In this case, the negative fallout from Paxton’s misconduct is profound.

It punishes transgender individuals for exercising their legal right to obtain accurate government ID, just as other Texans are permitted to do. Texas law permits transgender people to correct their ID to match their gender, and doing so is essential to attend school, obtain a job, and engage in many other activities of daily life.

Paxton’s order directed state officials to treat transgender residents like lawbreakers stripping them of their rights to privacy, dignity, and equal treatment under the law. That is the behavior of a despot, not a democratically elected official. 

In addition to harming transgender people, the exposure of Paxton’s order sends a message to all Texans. No one is safe. Any group can be targeted at the whim of an elected official. Any group can find its rights violated with no process or notice.

These messages silence dissent and make a mockery of our democracy. In such an environment, members of a targeted group understandably tend to suffer in silence rather than risk further reprisals. And those who support them are often afraid to speak up for fear they may be next.     

Equally destructive, this type of abuse corrodes the public’s trust not only in state government, but in one another. It puts civil servants into a dreadful double bind. On the one hand, state workers often know what they’re being asked to do is wrong and even unlawful. On the other, they are being ordered to do it by the chief law enforcement officer of the entire state, and failure to comply is likely to lead to adverse consequences, possibly even including the loss of one’s job.

This is how democracies become authoritarian states in which ordinary citizens find themselves colluding in the persecution of their fellow citizens—of friends, neighbors, and even family members. Thankfully, thus far in Texas, most state employees have behaved with remarkable courage, either quietly refusing to comply with unlawful orders or, in some instances, leaving their jobs rather than harming innocent families. 

As a Native Texan and a transgender man who loves my home state, I am sickened by Paxton’s betrayal of the spirit and values of Texas.

Nothing is more fundamental to being a Texan than having the freedom to be yourself and to be left alone by overreaching government. The corrupt officials who are behind this abuse are small-minded, misguided, and cruel. They are abusing the levers of power to make people afraid. 

Paxton’s list is an abhorrent invasion of privacy and an attack on the dignity of an entire group of Texans. It is also a wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of democracy in this country.

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Shannon Minter is the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), one of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

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Sam Brinton: A story too ‘Good’ to be true?

One also wonders how Brinton can recall unusually specific details about their therapy experience, but not the identity of their therapist

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Screenshot/YouTube

By Wayne Besen | Sam Brinton, a non-binary, LGBTQ activist and outspoken opponent of conversion therapy, has been charged with felony theft. They allegedly stole a woman’s suitcase worth $2,325 from a carousel at the Minneapolis Airport. Brinton, who served as a nuclear expert at the Department of Energy, before being suspended from their duties, has a Dec. 19 hearing. They face up to five-years imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both.  

The criminal case against the activist is damning. Brinton had no checked luggage, precluding this being a case of accidentally taking the wrong bag. Video surveillance captured Brinton removing the suitcase from the carousel and putting the bag’s tag in their handbag before leaving “at a quick pace,” the police complaint read.

While this is a personal calamity for Brinton, the fallout faced by the LGBTQ community could have easily been avoided. The red flags regarding Brinton were overwhelming and obvious to all who cared to see them. Unfortunately, some of America’s top LGBTQ activists and organizations were willfully blind to Brinton’s shortcomings.

These organizations, such as the Trevor Project and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, (NCLR) ignored clear warning signs and incontrovertible evidence because Brinton provided these groups with a seemingly perfect “ex-gay” survivor story to expose horrific conversion therapy practices and ideology.

While these advocates were well intentioned, they took a shortcut, looked the other way and elevated them without ever asking: Is Sam Brinton’s story too “good” to be true? It remains an open question to whether Sam Brinton’s story was contrived or embellished to manipulate high profile leaders to elevate themself into the upper echelons of LGBTQ activism and achieve a level of celebrity? But “ex-gay” conversion therapy needs no sensationalism and Sam’s story, if truly fabricated or exaggerated, adds to that destruction by undermining credible survivor stories.

Sam Brinton burst on the scene on October 1, 2010. In a riveting two-part interview with I’m from Driftwood, they revealed the most shocking conversion story activists had heard since the 1960’s. It involved Brinton coming out to their parents at age 11, and their father reacting with a swift punch to their face. 

“Dad just started punching,” Brinton said. “That was the first day that I was sent to the emergency room, because I had ‘fallen down the stairs’. I was sent to the emergency room about 6 more times for ‘falling down the stairs’ or ‘tripping on the sidewalk’. I’m in this constant state of fear.”

Brinton also claimed, “My dad has held a gun up to my head multiple times.” 

Brinton says that they were then sent to a cruel and sadistic Florida conversion therapist, who they saw for two or three years [Brinton’s timeline periodically changes depending on the media interview]. Brinton alleges this practitioner used aversion therapy, which included sessions where they were tortured with extreme heat, ice and needles.

“We then went into the ‘Month of Hell’,” Brinton alleged. “The ‘Month of Hell’ consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.”

The idea was to associate homosexual feelings with extreme pain, so the urges would disappear. While such practices were more common in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was exceedingly rare to find such cases when Brinton allegedly attended therapy, approximately between 1999-2001. The paucity of finding active cases, that employed such barbaric techniques, meant that added due diligence was necessary to ascertain the veracity of Brinton’s explosive testimony.

Brinton also claimed that conversion therapy led them to attempt suicide, and they were later thrown out of the house by their parents.

As an LGBTQ activist fighting against conversion therapy with my organization Truth Wins Out, as well as the author of “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth”, I had hoped to work with Brinton to expose the harm of conversion therapy. Their story was compelling and could influence public opinion against “ex-gay” practices, which has been my life’s mission.

I excitedly reached out to Brinton, and they were oddly inaccessible, communicating indirectly through intermediary LGBTQ activists in the Boston-area, where they were attending MIT. The reason for Brinton’s scarcity had to do with two simple questions I had asked them: Who was your conversion therapist and in which facility did the therapy occur?”  

This basic inquiry was critically important for two reasons. First, in order share Brinton’s story, we had to verify if it was true. Second, Brinton’s testimony involved a torture center where hideous abuses were presumably still occurring against children at least as young as eleven years old. If such a place existed, there was a moral imperative to rapidly identify the abusive therapist and contact the authorities to stop the atrocities.

Why was Sam Brinton the ONLY survivor of conversion therapy I’ve encountered since 1998 who refused to answer these questions? Not only had every other survivor provided this information willingly, but they were eager to fight back and shut down their own therapist or “ex-gay” minister.

Rapidly embraced by activists who were enamored by their story, youth and charisma, Brinton began widely sharing their story in Boston. Soon, people began asking me why I wasn’t promoting such a powerful example of the harm caused by conversion therapy. On October 11, 2011, I wrote in the comments section of Queerty:

“Until he provides more information to verify his experience, he makes it impossible for us to use him as an example. Indeed, it would be grossly irresponsible for us to do so.” [At this time, Sam did not use they/them pronouns]

In response to my public comment, Brinton finally addressed my questions at Queerty:

“I was indirectly in contact with Wayne and although I know he wants me to send the information of the therapist that is simply not an option. Counselor after counselor has seen me revert to near suicidal tendencies when I try to dig deep into the memories of the time, and I simply don’t have his name. I can picture him clear as day in my nightmares, but his name is not there.”    

Brinton’s reply raised some serious questions. If Brinton was in such a psychologically fragile state, why were LGBTQ activists having them talk to the media and lawmakers? Wouldn’t this be a cruel form of exploitation that placed Brinton’s mental health at risk? At Truth Wins Out we vet our spokespeople and would never expose a person, enduring this level of trauma, to intense public scrutiny.

To believe Brinton, one would have to suspend reality and buy their explanation that they couldn’t recall the name of a therapist that, “For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions.” Does this sound plausible? Or is Brinton more concerned about keeping their story unverifiable?

One also wonders how Brinton can recall vibrant, unusually specific details about their therapy experience, but not the identity of their therapist. In one striking instance, they told NBC News, “There were seven King James Bibles on a stack on the coffee table,” recalling the conversion therapist’s small office in an Orlando, Florida strip mall.

I checked with a top expert on conversion therapy in the Orlando region. He said that there is no known conversion office in a strip mall that existed during the years that Brinton attended therapy. After the airport incident, I called Brinton’s mother, Peggy Jo Brinton. She told me that her son had attended therapy, but that “it was not a conversion therapist”. She refused to provide the name of the mystery counselor, but added, “I do love them [Sam] dearly.” For the record, she also denied that Sam was physically abused or attempted suicide. [Of course, let’s not deny there is a compelling interest in refuting these serious allegations]

In their Queerty post, Brinton says, “I can picture him [the therapist] clear as day in my nightmares.” Well, if that’s true, why hasn’t Brinton tried to identify this monster by finding his picture online? After all, how many conversion therapists are there in the Orlando area? Have they ever reached out to experts in the region to help find this abominable culprit who is presumably still preying on children? 

Other holes in Brinton’s story have emerged. In some versions Brinton claims that they went to a Florida therapist. Yet, the Des Moines Register reports that they “began a series of out-of-state treatments.” Why won’t Brinton clarify which state the reporter was referring to?  

A 2011 LGBTQ Nation story reports that “Sam specifies [his counselor] was a ‘religious therapist’ and not a doctor.” Yet, Brinton penned a 2014 piece for the National Center for Lesbian Rights that described his counselor as a “psychotherapist.” The same year he told the U.N.’s Committee Against Torture in Switzerland, “When I was a child, a licensed psychotherapist tried and failed to change something I never chose.”

So, when Brinton was trying to specifically ban licensed conversion therapists from practicing, they suddenly upgraded the credentials of their mystery therapist. Interesting.

Despite these eyebrow-raising inconsistencies, and Brinton being the only survivor spokesperson who could not recall the name their therapist, major national organizations, such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Trevor Project, elevated Brinton as the face of their anti-conversion therapy programs.

I personally warned NCLR that that they must verify Brinton’s testimony before using it. I said that if Brinton isn’t who they say they are, it would undermine our reputations and anti-conversion efforts. NCLR responded that “we must believe all survivors.” To which I replied, “Yes, we should trust, but shouldn’t we also verify?” Apparently, not.  

The reason we scrutinize potential spokespeople, is to protect the LGBTQ movement and ensure that we don’t offer media platforms to charlatans or elevate morally suspect people who would do something like steal luggage at an airport. But NCLR seemingly wanted a perfect anti-conversion story so much, that they were willfully blind to the glaring imperfections of the storyteller.

The media is also culpable in this scandal. In countless stories not a single reporter, from the world’s top publications, pressed Brinton to name their counselor. What kind of journalism is this?

Not once did they ask them, “How do you justify crisscrossing the world to ban conversion therapy, yet you won’t lift a finger stop your own therapist, who was far more egregious? Are you not concerned he’s out there still torturing kids?”

They could have asked, “How do you remember every detail of your experience, except the ones that would confirm the veracity of your story?” This failure of modern journalism is a black eye for the profession. If they want respect, they must do better and not behave like third-rate hacks.  

Finally, the utter shamelessness of Brinton themself is revealed by their unquenchable desire at self-promotion, even when it comes at the expense of the LGBTQ community they purport to represent. In their 2011 Queerty response, Brinton said, “I don’t want to be the poster-child for the anti-conversion movement.”

This claim was belied by Brinton doing two major interviews, one with USA Today and another with Yahoo Life, as late as Oct. 27, 2022, which occurred after being questioned by police for theft on October 9. One would think, given the dire circumstances, Brinton would be humbled and lie low. But apparently, the pull of the spotlight was too great to ignore.

In the cringeworthy Yahoo Life story, Brinton says, “I work on nuclear waste management where transparency, honesty and trust building are so critical.” But I guess not revealing they are in trouble for felony theft isn’t worth mentioning? In the most painful moment, the host, Brittany Jones Cooper, says, “Sam, I want to thank you for joining us, for showing up so authentically.” She had no idea that criminal charges had been filed that day.

Is Sam Brinton a fabulist or a legitimate survivor? After twelve years, I can’t definitively say, although the totality of the evidence is troubling. However, that’s not the point. Brinton should never have been given a platform by national LGBTQ organizations without having crucial details of their story confirmed. LGBTQ groups were sloppy, ethically negligent and shockingly unprofessional, choosing expedience over prudence in turning Brinton into a national spokesperson. They were warned but didn’t listen.

There were literally dozens of articulate survivors, with powerful testimonies, they could have chosen instead of Brinton. Tragically, they picked the one person with a flashy story that was unverifiable, and now we suffer the consequences. The negligence of these organizations has resulted in hundreds of scathing, homophobic right-wing stories this week that could have been avoided, had they used scruples.  

In the case of the colorful Sam Brinton, all that glitters is not gold. The LGBTQ movement must learn from this embarrassing lapse in judgement. I used to hammer the religious right for the bizarre “ex-gay” spokespeople they’d promote, such as John Paulk, Anthony Falzarano, Janet Boynes and Jeffrey McCall. Every time the right wing used dubious spokespeople, it backfired.    

In the case of Sam Brinton, we’ve stooped to their level, and it has backfired too. It is imperative we reflect on this grave error and reclaim the high ground that we have surrendered. In their Queerty response, Brinton wrote: “I thank you for challenging the validity [of my story] since blind-faith never served anyone.”

If only the LGBTQ leaders who promoted Brinton would have listened to their sage advice.

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Wayne Besen is the Founding Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, the Center Against Religious Extremism (TWOCARE.org) 

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Underfunded, undermined & unabashedly victorious in Brazil

Country’s LGBTQ politicians are bringing diversity to democracy

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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.

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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

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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:

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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.

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Observations on the Brazilian, U.S. elections

Polls in both countries proved inaccurate

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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.

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