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Thank you, Your Majesty

British expat in D.C. mourns late monarch

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Maximilian Sycamore pays his respects to Queen Elizabeth II at the British Embassy in D.C. on Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Maximilian Sycamore)

It was early on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, when the first rumbles came across the pond about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s health. “Keep calm and carry on” kicked in until her children arrived in Scotland. Nothing screams imminent death in Britain more than the arrival of close family.

When the news finally broke, I went into autopilot. Saving my yearly tear for the funeral, I put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. Strangely, the kettle had started leaking that week like a very British prophecy. Later I would meet fellow expats in a bar, giving brief hugs of condolence before resuming the national pastime of moaning (the Pimm’s Cup was not to our standards, even with clear instruction.)

We joined the British public in the impossible task of mourning the loss of such an important woman while maintaining our dignity in the process. Tradition dictates televisions play BBC news non-stop before mourners rest flowers outside the palaces, taking a moment of quiet reflection in the silent embrace of the crowds.

For those of us not home we have to find other ways to feel included. A small collection of Brits gathered on our D.C. roof-deck for a Paddington Bear double bill; enjoying sausage rolls, curry and Pimm’s before the ironically British weather chased us inside.

Keeping up with the proceedings is easy, though with the time difference a lot occurs before I’ve opened my eyes. The hardest day will be the funeral, taking place on a Monday, a bank (public) holiday for the locals but a little more tricky for those of us peppered across the globe.

D.C. isn’t the worst place to be during this time, it’s globally aware and moderately respectful (the large gay community doesn’t hurt.) But Her Majesty was not without detractors, her last few decades tarnished as Meghan-shaped nails were hammered into a Diana-sized coffin, buried underneath the ghosts of a legacy that comes with a monarchy that was once an empire.

When outside the protection of national grief you feel oddly exposed to critical opinion and cruel jokes and begin to second guess your own choice to mourn.

Her death had been long dreaded. Would the nation be able to survive without her? When His Majesty King Charles III made his first address; we braced ourselves for a fraud, an imitation monarch. So, when we were instead met with a son battling to stay strong as he grieved his mother, our defenses dropped and we were united, rallying behind him.

For those living in Britain the other changes will be gradual. The National Anthem will sound strange, and our money will look foreign. For the rest of us the changes will be a bit more jarring, but we’ll have a cup of tea to steady our nerves and persevere.

To write a piece like this is not easy, it seems almost naive to form opinions based on a public persona. Luckily for me I was able to meet Her Majesty and speak with her for a brief couple of minutes when she visited my university. As I explained to her in moderate detail my task, I was met with a look of interest that was equal parts understanding and fascination. I couldn’t help but think that she wanted to be there, to learn more about her subjects so she could perform her duties just that little bit better. 

And it’s the level of respect she showed us that I will never forget.

Madam, Your Majesty, thank you.

Maximilian Sycamore meets Queen Elizabeth II at his university in the U.K. (Photo courtesy of Maximilian Sycamore)

Maximilian Sycamore is a D.C.-based media producer who is originally from London. The opinions expressed in this op-ed are entirely his own.

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End anti-Trans discrimination in credit reporting practices

H.R. 8478 would change all of that, prohibiting “deadnaming” in consumer reports and improving accuracy in credit reporting

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Graphic Credit: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau/USA.gov

By Bodhi Calagna and Steve Ralls | DENVER – There is an ancient Confucian saying: “If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things.”

Names have power. In many spiritual traditions, names are akin to incantations, carrying their meaning and their weight out into the world when spoken. When tragedy strikes – whether the attacks of September 11th or the mass murder at Pulse Nightclub – one of our first human responses is the need and instinct to say the names of those we have lost. We speak them aloud, and the memory and meaning of who they were is given back to the world.

For transgender and nonbinary people, names are an especially important part of claiming, owning and honoring identity. When names are correct, they become affirmations, confirmations and powerful reminders – to ourselves and to the world around us – of who we are. 

That is why we are so grateful to Representatives Katie Porter (D-CA) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) for introducing new legislation, The Credit Reporting Accuracy After a Legal Name Change Act (H.R. 8478), which would ensure that credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies must honor requests from trans and nonbinary people to update credit reports and records in real, meaningful ways that would end discrimination and help fight homelessness, unemployment and economic disparity within the community. It is a critical piece of legislation that deserves every lawmaker’s support.

We have experienced, and seen, firsthand how meaningful this kind of change can be. One of us (Bodhi) recently began transitioning and, as part of that process, updated important identity documents, like their passport, to reflect their true selves. Seeing the institutions that document and identify our lives for so many critical purposes affirm a correct name was unexpectedly powerful and moving, and the impact of the moment the judge declared, “Congratulations, your name has been officially changed,” cannot be underestimated. The gravity and meaningfulness of the change was reiterated months later when presenting a passport with correct identifying information while traveling to Mexico. 

One of us (Steve) also spent many years working with LGBTQ service members as part of the campaign to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on troops. Time and time again, courageous, decorated and patriotic service members were misidentified on their commendations, military paperwork, medals and other honors. In one case, a highly decorated Navy veteran’s plaques honoring their service with an incorrect name was scratched out, and a correct one handwritten in its place. Such brave service members never deserved such inhumane treatment and, fortunately, the armed forces now have a process for correcting records for transgender veterans.

Such intensely affirming moments send a message that, yes, we have the power to ensure language will “be in accordance with the truth of things.”

Indeed, most institutions now have policies in place to honor and work with transgender and nonbinary people who have a legal name change. But no such process or requirement exists in the world of credit bureaus, whose reports have an extraordinary impact on people’s lives. Buying a house, applying for a job, securing loans – none of these life-changing events is possible without an accurate credit report. And reports that “out” transgender people can add insult to injury, making navigating systems rife with transphobia and discrimination even more impossible. 

H.R. 8478 would change all of that, prohibiting “deadnaming” in consumer reports and improving accuracy in credit reporting so that trans and nonbinary people can have their credit history follow them after their name change. It would create clear, federally mandated procedures for updating a consumer’s name and ensure a person’s credit history is correctly matched to their credit file after a name change. It would also prohibit credit bureaus, and other consumer reporting agencies, from disclosing a person’s deadname in a credit report after being notified about a name change. 

We know that credit agencies can do this already: They routinely update the files of heterosexual consumers who marry and change their name. It would be no more difficult, and no more burdensome, for them to do the same for the trans and nonbinary community. But it could make all the difference in the world for a community already severely impacted by unemployment, housing discrimination and a lack of access to credit and financial opportunities. 

Our own life experiences tell us that this is a profoundly meaningful action that will go a long way in ensuring trans and nonbinary people feel seen, affirmed, respected and protected. The power – and empowerment – of being able to show a document that simply confirms your own identity and self is both unmistakable and unforgettable. And while those who have never navigated a name change may not understand, that moment when you first get carded and hand over an ID that truly shows you as you is a moment that stays with you forever. 

We are immensely grateful to Congresswoman Porter and Congresswoman Pressley for their leadership on this simple but profound and life-changing issue. Every Member of Congress should support their bill, and President Biden should sign it into law. 

To add your name to those calling on Congress to stand with trans and nonbinary consumers, and pass H.R. 8478, visit www.lgbtq-economics.org.

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Bodhi Calagna (they, them, theirs) is the world renowned DJ, Producer and artist known as CALAGNA and the founder of Remix Your World, a program to heal trauma and create from a place of inspiration and service in order to truly live a purposeful life.

Photo by Sway Photography

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Steve Ralls (he, him, his) is VP of External Affairs for Public Justice, a non-profit legal advocacy organization that tackles abusive corporate power and predatory practices, the assault on civil rights and liberties and the destruction of the earth’s sustainability. He is the former Director of Communications for both Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Immigration Equality.


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Monkeypox Reckoning

“At this point it is irrefutable that monkeypox is an STD The good news is that gay men are taking their foot off the gas”

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"Mother Nature's Revenge," painting by S. Maury '09 (Deviant Art)

By Michael Weinstein | LOS ANGELES – As the famous TV commercial went from the 70s – “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”. Mother Nature has a way of exacting her revenge. 

The immediate task at hand is to educate gay and bisexual men how to avoid monkeypox and to get vaccinated. But it isn’t too early to assess what brought us to this point. In the last ten years there has been a wholesale abandonment of safer sex promotion in favor of PrEP brought to you by Gilead. The result has been the destruction of the condom culture which was so carefully built in the 1980s in the face of the raging AIDS epidemic; a tsunami of STDs; and sustained high HIV infection rates across the US. 

The battle lines in the gay male community over condoms and partner reduction is nothing new. It was well documented in Randy Shilts book And the Band Played On and in Larry Kramer’s play the Normal Heart. There has been a long-standing split between sexual freedom and prevention among gay men. There has always been a sex radical group that has defined gay liberation as absolute sexual freedom. They have denied that condoms are the primary tool in prevention or that the more partners you have the greater the risk. This reminds me of people who believe that we can continue to foul the planet because we will magically invent technical solutions that will save us. How’s that working for us?

There has been a widespread attitude that syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc. are no big deal – take a pill or get a shot. If we have learned anything in the last few years, it should be that diseases are not static. Rather they morph into more debilitating or deadly forms. Syphilis is serious. Gonorrhea is on its way to being completely drug resistant. And now we have monkeypox that jumped from animal to human and now human-to-human. It found its perfect petri dish in condomless sex parties and porn shoots.

I can already hear the shouts of slut shaming. If you love gay men, your first priority must be to keep them safe and healthy. It is not shaming to tell them the facts. 

The facts are really simple. PrEP doesn’t protect you from damaging STDs. STDs have health consequences that should not be ignored. The more sex partners you have, particularly if you don’t use condoms, the more likely you are to get an STD. The tighter the circle of partners you have – such as Grindr and other hook-up apps – the greater your odds of getting an infection.

Are condoms really such a sacrifice to protect your health? Is it possible to have great sex with a condom? Do you ever get sick of getting STDs?

Gilead, the greediest of all drug companies, is pounding our community with ads promoting PrEP and is buying favor through millions in community grants. PrEP is needed for people who won’t use condoms. But the CDC and local government have abandoned safer sex promotion in favor of biomedical options. Shows such as the popular Netflix show Uncoupled tell us that condoms are so 1990s.  

U = U which means that Undetectable (virus) = Untransmitable (infection) is a great message if it is intended for sero-discordant couples but if it is another way of saying condoms are unnecessary then it is a problem.

Now we have monkeypox. At this point it is irrefutable that monkeypox is an STD. If you want to protect your penis or your rectum from excruciating sores a condom will help. The good news is that gay men are taking their foot off the gas. Polls show that sexual hookups are down. But monkeypox will subside and chances are we will go right back to the free-for-all of the last ten years.

Prevention is not sexy or popular. You are stigmatized as a prude or a self-hating gay or an old fuddy duddy if you promote it. But someone has to name the elephant in the room. So many of these STD surges happen among gay men because we have more partners and we are not taking precautions. For me I would rather be the one sounding the alarm then apologizing for not having warned. 

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Michael Weinstein is the President of the Los Angeles-based global AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

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Vote like your family’s rights are on the line – Because they are

“The most important thing we can do is to share our stories- Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything”

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

By Nesta Johnson | SAN FRANCISCO – On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion.

Justice Thomas all but cackled at the prospect of “reconsidering” other legal cases that established rights based in substantive due process, including our right to privacy in making decisions about our bodies, our relationships, and our families. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, attempted to reassure us that we need not fear the loss of time-honored rights. 

We are not reassured.

Across America, people are panicking. LGBTQ+ Americans – frightened for their freedoms and for their families – have flooded NCLR’s Legal Helpline.

We at NCLR have done our best to help, including by creating a post-Dobbs FAQ for LGBTQ+ families. We pledge to continue working toward a future in which every person is free to choose how, when, and whether to have children, and remains free to make private decisions about their lives and their bodies. 

But lawyers alone cannot win this fight. Americans’ right to safe, legal abortion across the country must be restored, not in a courtroom, but at the ballot box. In that sense, the Supreme Court is not, and never has been, the highest court. In a democracy, the true court of last resort is the court of public opinion. And that “court” has seemed hopelessly deadlocked for decades. 

In our increasingly polarized nation, abortion rights have long been an especially divisive issue. According to Gallup, when asked whether they are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” just five percent of Americans described themselves as “mixed” or “unsure.” The gradual growth of the pro-choice opinion appears to reflect generational, not individual, shifts.  

And yet, after the Dobbs draft leaked in June, fifty-eight percent of Americans described themselves to Gallup as pro-choice – an unprecedented jump of six percentage points in just one year. Minds can change on abortion rights – rapidly.

Anti-abortion rights advocates long enjoyed an advantage in the stories they told. Before Dobbs, pro-choice stories of life without abortion access were less immediate, less compelling, less relatable – Secret networks. Coat hangers. Herbal concoctions. Sinister quacks. Back-alley butchers. Those stories, from faraway times and places, felt like fiction. Abortion is far safer than pregnancy and childbirth; most people suffer no complications, but some do. The vast majority of people who have abortions do not regret their decision, but some do. Children of unwanted or forced pregnancies, and their parents, often suffer – but some live in joy.

While the many whose abortions were uncomplicated, un-regretted, and un-traumatic rarely were heard, anti-abortion rights advocates used the painful stories of some to justify revoking the rights of all. Stories were the ribbon atop a package of lies: that our country has changed so much since Roe that abortion is no longer needed, that because of sonogram imaging everyone believes that personhood begins at conception, that “unwed mothers” are legally protected and socially accepted, that pregnant people have access to medical care and parental leave, and that safe-haven laws and demand for adoptable infants guarantee there will be no such thing as an unwanted child, or an unwilling parent. 

Now, the tragic tale of Ohio’s ten-year-old rape victim will be the first in an anthology of new American horror stories – unless we elect representatives committed to restoring our reproductive rights.

The history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement illustrates the power of storytelling. When LGBTQ+ Americans began cautiously sharing their stories, many encountered rejection and discrimination. Some still do – but many find acceptance and love. As people realized that LGBTQ+ people were their relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, they discarded the lies they learned – that we were sick, dangerous, predatory; that we could, or should, be “cured”; that allowing same-sex couples to wed would cause the death of marriage, the end of religion, and the collapse of civilization. Surveys have confirmed that personal relationships greatly impacted Americans’ views on LGBTQ+ rights.

Until the November midterm elections, the most important thing we can do is to share our stories, and to listen. Intellectual arguments rarely change minds – but empathy changes everything. Our neighbors need to hear stories that challenge common myths about who has abortions, and why. They need to hear stories from people whose views do not fit neatly into political boxes – including the voices of those who believe abortion is immoral, and yet believe that it should be legal. Most importantly, voters need to hear the stories of people they know, respect, and love who have had abortions.

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Nesta Johnson is the Family Law Staff Attorney for NCLR, a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of LGBTQ community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

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