The iconic slogan first appeared in a 1969 ad campaign for what is now Virginia Tourism Corporation. It was created by Martin and Woltz Inc., which later evolved into The Martin Agency, and has been in use ever since.
Initially positioning the state as a destination for romance, “Virginia is for Lovers” soon gave way to various interpretations. With so much to experience, Virginia has become a welcoming place for history lovers, food lovers, nature lovers—all kinds of lovers. That’s the premise behind a new national campaign, “Virginia is for…”, developed by The Martin Agency, that launched this spring.
“Virginia is for Lovers” resonates deeply with many—myself included. It’s an example of the power that emotionally driven branding can have on our psyche. In an interview earlier this year, Virginia Tourism brand director Lindsey Norment said the slogan’s popularity remains because “it allows Virginians to make it their own and feel prideful of that.”
Indeed, love is a powerful driver when it comes to persuading people. Love is inherently welcoming, positive and inclusive.
Love is also apolitical, which is why I was disheartened to see a new Virginia Tourism video prominently featuring Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The stand-alone 60-second promotional piece, titled “Welcome to Virginia,” seems to take cues from The Martin Agency’s flagship campaign, but the format and overall tone are entirely different. More anthemic in feel, it highlights different people speaking directly to camera. The sole elected official, Gov. Youngkin, is a central figure in the video and its primary narrator.
Not long after it begins, Youngkin makes his appearance on camera. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up and navy slacks, he walks with a confident stride along the track of the Richmond Raceway. Looking directly at camera, he smiles as he introduces himself.
“In Virginia, there’s a million different ways to say welcome,” he declares. “I’m Governor Glenn Youngkin, and I want to be one of the first.” The words “Governor Glenn Youngkin” accompany him on screen.
Welcome to Virginia:
The video continues as Youngkin provides the voiceover for a series of lifestyle shots featuring an impressively diverse cast of characters. We’re welcomed by different types of Virginians: a long-haired surfer dude with his pals, an edgy millennial bartender serving up a cocktail, and a varied group of barbecue lovers, all ages and races, sitting at the same table. “Bievenido!” a Latino boy exclaims.
Youngkin appears on camera again—this time in the driver’s seat of a race car, looking cool and confident. He offers one last welcome before the video ends, signed off by “Welcome to Virginia” and the “Virginia is for Lovers” logo.
On initial glance, the video might not seem like anything out of the ordinary. To many, it will come across as a fun, upbeat tourism piece for Virginia.
But is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?
Certainly it’s not a novel idea that a governor might be in a video to promote state tourism. Last year, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska was featured in his state’s tourism marketing campaign. He touted Alaska as a Covid-safe state that was “leading the nation in all the important health metrics,” as an incentive for people to travel there. Later, though, it was revealed that when the ad ran, Alaska actually ranked 30th in the country for vaccination rates.
In 2020, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota appeared in, and narrated, a state tourism ad airing on Fox News. The 30-second ad, which ran for two weeks, cost taxpayers over $800,000. Noem received national publicity upwards of 85 million views, but it’s debatable if state tourism increased. AP News reported that while Google searches for “Kristi Noem” peaked, terms like “South Dakota tourism” and “visit South Dakota” remained stagnant.
But it’s a tourism campaign involving Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey that’s particularly noteworthy.
In 2013, coming out of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie got star billing in his state’s tourism ads. The “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign ran leading up to the gubernatorial election in New Jersey. The campaign itself, along with where it aired and the timing of its release, gave Christie an unexpected platform to hone his brand image and gain greater exposure across key Northeast states.
His opponent, Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, said the ads gave him an unfair advantage, calling it both “supremely arrogant and wildly inappropriate.” Buono lost the election. Two years later, Christie announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
There are important parallels to draw here.
Last year, Youngkin became the first Republican to win a statewide election in Virginia in over a decade. The former businessman, who had never held elective office, ran a successful campaign by cultivating his own distinct brand, positioning himself as an enthusiastic, moderate candidate who appealed to both forever Trumpers and never Trumpers.
With his can-do attitude and signature red fleece vest, Youngkin portrayed an affable, everyman image—positive, charismatic and relatable. He kept his messaging simple and concise, advocating for broad issues like safety, education and cost of living.
But many claimed that two faces of Glenn Youngkin emerged once elected. Just 10 days into office, he began receiving blowback over new policies in his conservative agenda which didn’t appear to align with his calls for unity or moving the state forward.
Youngkin immediately signed an executive order to root out critical race theory in Virginia, which isn’t mentioned in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum (Politifact). Asserting protection of “parental rights,” he also supported measures to regulate explicit content in schools, force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students, and most recently, restrict the rights of trans students.
Despite publicly distancing himself from Trump during his campaign, he has since hired many veterans of the Trump administration, including a former Trump EPA head who has repeatedly minimized the threat of climate change. Youngkin also plans to withdraw Virginia from a greenhouse gas initiative established to help fight climate change regionally.
And when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Youngkin reinforced his stance as a “pro-life” governor by pursuing a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia and headlining a pro-life gala in Washington, D.C., for a prominent anti-abortion group.
None of these policies seem to suggest Virginia is moving forward.
In fact, an opinion piece in The Washington Post states that Youngkin’s culture wars are good for him but bad for Virginia business, causing the state to be viewed as a less welcoming place—an insight that seems to be the antithesis to the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.
I reached out to Virginia Tourism to get more information, which left me with more questions than answers.
For starters, the video was not created or produced by The Martin Agency, Virginia Tourism’s current agency of record. According to a spokesperson at Virginia Tourism, the concept for the video was developed by Virginia Tourism and produced by POOLHOUSE, the agency behind Youngkin’s winning brand campaign when he ran for governor.
On its website, POOLHOUSE says it creates “bold campaigns that win elections and move people to action.” A Google search reveals the agency has been referred to as a “GOP-focused political ad firm” and a “scrappy Republican ad agency.” Its Instagram feed includes congratulatory posts for Republican politician wins, a recap of its favorite ads for Youngkin, and a quote that speaks to its desire to be “the best political agency in the business.” This year, POOLHOUSE plans to open a D.C. office to pick up advocacy clients and more congressional business.
Officials at Virginia Tourism did not directly respond when asked if they were aware POOLHOUSE was the political ad agency behind Youngkin’s campaign. Instead, they provided the following statement: “POOLHOUSE was selected because of their outstanding creative work and reputation, not only in Virginia but across the country, for producing beautiful videos.” Yet Virginia Tourism also said that when the project was put out to bid, they only received one offer, which resulted in the contract with POOLHOUSE.
POOLHOUSE did not respond to inquiry by phone or email by the time this article was published.
As for the purpose and timing of the video, Virginia Tourism said it is “an evergreen piece to showcase the beautiful state of Virginia and to welcome travelers to Virginia” and it launched on Labor Day weekend “to coincide with a high-impact travel weekend.”
However, its release also coincides with the lead-up to this year’s midterm elections on Nov. 8. Most of the country is holding state legislative elections and there are 36 gubernatorial seats on the ballot. A week after Youngkin shared the “Welcome to Virginia” video in a retweet, he posted a political ad in which he appears promoting Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega. According to her website, she is working with POOLHOUSE as well.
While only in office a few months, Youngkin has been spending a lot of time outside of the state he’s supposed to be governing.
Many news outlets report that he’s actively endorsing Republican politicians running for office in key swing states. So far, he’s expressed support for GOP gubernatorial candidates Paul LePage of Maine, who has an extensive history of racist remarks; Kari Lake of Arizona, who has appeared with Nazi sympathizer and QAnon-linked activists; and Tudor Dixon of Michigan, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape because she believes there’s “healing through the baby.”
These candidates are all part of an alarming trend of election deniers running for governor this year as well.
In preparation to wade into national politics, Youngkin established two political organizations, America’s Spirit and Spirit of Virginia (the latter of which paid for Vega’s ad mentioned above). Both groups can accept contributions of any size to fund Youngkin’s political efforts, which include his campaigning for other GOP candidates, as well as his own self-promotion.
This summer, Youngkin met with Republican megadonors amid hints he’s mulling a White House bid. One of his midterm stops will include Nevada, a 2024 early state for presidential candidate nominations.
After the upset in Virginia, many believe Youngkin’s win gave the GOP a winning blueprint for 2022 and beyond. Part of his strategy included establishing an early media spend to introduce himself and begin building his brand in a campaign as soon as possible.
That campaign, into which Youngkin put $20 million of his own money, was fueled by a robust media buy including 40 TV videos and hundreds of radio, digital and design advertisements, including bumper stickers in multiple languages. Incidentally, Youngkin is considered one of the nation’s richest politicians, with a net worth of $470 million.
“One thing that Youngkin did very smartly was getting started earlier, particularly with media,” POOLHOUSE CEO Will Ritter said in an interview with Fox Business last year. “That means if you’re running in ’22, you need to be thinking how you’re going to get your message to people as soon as possible.”
Indeed, timing, placement and context are important components to launching a brand.
While the “Welcome to Virginia” video has no associated media buy, it will be seen extensively through state-owned platforms such as Virginia Welcome Centers and the state’s nine commercial airports, including major hubs like Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport, outside Washington, D.C. Combined, the foot traffic in these areas alone translates to millions of impressions, giving Youngkin unprecedented exposure to a broad, diverse audience made up of travelers from all over the country.
Because the video is intended to be an evergreen piece (meaning relevant for long-term purposes), it has the potential to run during the entire term of Youngkin’s office, as well as the time of his campaigning should he throw his hat (or fleece vest) into the ring in pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination. Like Christie’s “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign, the “Welcome to Virginia” video portrays Youngkin in a positive, heroic way that not only gets his name out, but bolsters his brand on the national stage.
Given all these factors, as well as continued press about Youngkin’s potential political aspirations (which are even making international headlines), it’s not implausible to think that the “Welcome to Virginia” video could be playing a role in a much larger agenda: a long game to establish Youngkin as a viable presidential candidate for 2024 or even 2028.
A recent article in Vanity Fair cautions us not to be fooled by the moderate “suburban dad vibe.” From traditional Republican to culture warrior, Youngkin has become a public advocate of Trump-backed election deniers, which not only normalizes extremists as credible representatives of this country but poses a serious threat to our democracy.
As a creative professional, it’s been horrifying to come to terms with the role branding is playing in our politics. From misleading messaging to polished image-making, the strategies around crafting a politician’s brand are getting less transparent, more insidious, and farther from the truth.
I care deeply about my country, my home state of Virginia, and my local community in Richmond, which is why I felt compelled to dig deeper into the “Welcome to Virginia” video.
I don’t like feeling that people in the video may not have been aware of Youngkin’s involvement (or his political agency), or worse, were used for ulterior motives. I don’t want my state to be represented by a polarizing political figure whose brand has been referred to as Trump Light, Trump in a red vest, and Trumpism Without Trump.
And I don’t think it’s appropriate for what I perceive to be my tax dollars helping a politician to promote himself for his personal ambitions under the guise of a tourism video—particularly a governor actively working to roll back my rights as a woman and instill countless other antiquated policies that seem at odds with the values of many Virginians, as well as the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.
When Youngkin was elected, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement that vowed to fight against his regressive agenda: “Glenn Youngkin’s anti-equality, anti-choice, racist tactics sought to sow fear and confusion, turning Virginian against Virginian for political gain,” said interim president Joni Madison. “Anti-equality extremists will continue to use bigotry to score political points. But we know that history has proven hate-filled electoral strategies ultimately stir the conscience of the nation.”
President Joe Biden also had some choice remarks about Youngkin: “Extremism can come in many forms,” he said at a grassroots event. “It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.”
Over the years, I’ve written numerous essays about the power of branding. One of the most successful tactics of brand building is to infiltrate platforms that don’t obviously translate as advertising. It’s why brands take advantage of product placement in popular movies and series television. The “soft sell” exposure not only increases awareness of a brand, it enables people to develop a deep connection to it in a much more organic, natural way.
In my essay “Canceling the Confederacy,” I explain how the United Daughters of the Confederacy found a way to shape the Confederacy brand by promoting the Lost Cause, a biased perspective of U.S. history, through an unassuming medium: school textbooks. It was an attempt at rewriting history, reinforced by the construction of Confederate monuments, and to this day, many still subscribe to its false narrative.
And therein lies the danger.
Branding, in all its nuance and subtlety, can distort our perception of what’s real. It can skew or stretch the truth and influence our thoughts on a subliminal level. After all, there’s a fine line between the power of persuasion and the art of deception. And when politicians are involved, be assured it’s even more unclear.
To clarify, the issue at hand is not about a governor appearing in a state tourism video. It’s about Governor Youngkin appearing in a state tourism video produced by his own political agency. It’s about the timing of the video’s release during the lead-up to midterm elections in which he’s actively campaigning for other candidates. And it’s about the exposure this video gives Youngkin to millions of people from all over the country amid talks of his own potential presidential run.
Again, is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?
Everyone will draw their own conclusions, but it’s my hope that by raising awareness on the role branding plays in our politics, we can better understand the impact it has on our elections and the candidates who are running.
More than anything, I hope this knowledge empowers us all to make informed choices at the ballot box. The preservation of our democracy may very well depend on it.
Rachel Scott Everett is co-founder and creative director at EVERGIB, a nomadic creative studio specializing in strategically led advertising and branding. A champion of big ideas and the power of storytelling, Rachel believes creativity can be used as a force for good to improve the world we live in.
The preceding commentary was originally published at Muse by Clio and is republished by permission.
Underfunded, undermined & unabashedly victorious in Brazil
Country’s LGBTQ politicians are bringing diversity to democracy
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.
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
WEST HOLLYWOOD – Thank you, Speaker Nancy Pelosi! Let me add my gratitude to the praise that’s poured in since Pelosi announced she would stay in Congress but was not seeking re-election as Speaker to make way for a younger generation.
In typical Trumpian fashion, CA GOP colleague Kevin McCarthy rudely absented himself as commentator after commentator – including some Republicans – called Nancy Pelosi the best Speaker in American history as she gave her “future plans” speech from the Floor of the House of Representatives.
Some commentators applauded how many extraordinary pieces of legislation she got passed – key among them ObamaCare, about which Pelosi repeatedly said: “Because of the Affordable Care Act – and I hope that every woman in America understands this – being a woman is no longer a preexisting medical condition. As a mother of five children, four daughters and one son, I’m very excited about this.”
Thanks to one of those daughters, Alexandra Pelosi, who caught her mother’s brave, caring and powerful reactions during the Jan. 6th insurrection when domestic terrorists where hunting her down, the world got to watch America’s top Congressional leadership demur to the woman who is third in line of succession as she essentially served as Acting President of the United States and helped effectuate the Constitutional transition of power from Trump to Joe Biden.
I’d met and photographed Nancy Pelosi very briefly over the years when she came to Los Angeles for an event I was covering. But after the #ResistMarch in 2018, it occurred to me that so many of the young people raising their fists in exuberant agreement with her remarks probably had no idea who she really was. I got in touch with her terrific out deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill and asked for an interview. We were slated for 15-20 minutes but she wanted to go longer.
It was May 2018. We talked about Donald Trump and his threat to democracy; the looming midterm elections; how Republicans brand her as being from San Francisco – a “coded” gay slur; the Equality Act; and her Catholicism in the context of a Church that worked hard to oppose Prop 8, calls homosexuality “intrinsically evil,” and excluded her from taking Communion in SF because of her views on abortion.
“As a Catholic, I was raised to respect every person. We’re all God’s children. In my family, there was never any question about that,” Pelosi told me. “In Baltimore, we did have a growing LGBT community—we didn’t call it that then but it was part of our lives and it was not any question that we would be any more respectful of one person than another. It wasn’t even an issue with me and I didn’t ever even describe it or associate it with Catholicism because Catholicism taught me something different. It didn’t teach me discrimination. It taught me respect. And so it prepared me very well, my Catholicism, for being a representative in San Francisco.”
“There’s no question the Catholic Church in California was a participant in Prop 8 in a negative way,” Pelosi said. “We were on the other side of that. But to me—it was their problem. It wasn’t anything that was any moral imperative to me for me to follow the Church in enshrining discrimination in the law in California.”
Ironically, in San Francisco, the Church “was more sympathetic to people when they had HIV/AIDS because they needed help then they were to people who weren’t infected. It was the strangest, strangest thing,” Pelosi said.
AIDS was – and is – deeply personal to the Speaker of the House.
“Some people criticized me for talking about AIDS on my first day in Congress (in 1987) and I realized that it was not just about getting funding for AIDS research and prevention and care but it was about ending discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS,” Pelosi told me.
More from the my cover story:
Pelosi responds viscerally when asked about losing friends. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. A little flower girl in my wedding. My dear, dear friends in the community in San Francisco. We were going to two funerals a day. I was visiting people in the hospital all the time and quite frankly, when I say losing people,” Pelosi says, “I lost friends because I just walked away from them because they were not treating people with HIV and AIDS with respect. They would say to me, ‘I don’t know why you hire that caterer – don’t you know that everybody there has HIV?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t bother to come to my house anymore if that’s your attitude.’ It just changed my whole view of them.”…
“I’ll never stop missing some of my dearest dear friends from then,” she says. “Of course, we went from funerals to people saying help me make out my will because this is going to end soon, to those very same people looking for a job and then wanting to get married. So, everything has improved but I would never have thought 30 years ago when I started all this in Congress that we still wouldn’t have a cure for AIDS. We’ve improved the quality of life, we’ve sustained life. Everything is better but it’s not over, not finished.”
Whether comforting a friend with AIDS or pointing a powerful accusing finger at Trump, Nancy Pelosi exemplifies the humble nobility of servant leadership with a touch of classy swagger.
Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for representing so many of us who still haven’t found our power
Read the entire story here:
Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.
Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.
Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb joined Public Justice in March of 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.
She lives in West Hollywood, California with her two rescue dogs.
Observations on the Brazilian, U.S. elections
Polls in both countries proved inaccurate
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.
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.
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.
Trans people: Let’s show this country who we are
“If you’re trans or nonbinary, we urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5”
By Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen | WASHINGTON – We have a political climate that has exploded with anti-trans legislation, policy, and rhetoric. In the leadup to last week’s election, TV ads and political mailers spread lies about trans people, denigrating our community and stoking fear in people who simply don’t understand what it means to be trans.
Now, when there is a glaring spotlight on trans people in America, we have an opportunity to show the country who we are. Telling the truth about what it means to be trans, using real data, can counter the misinformation being spread about our community. It is important that we tell our own stories and that we are heard loud and clear.
Right now, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and partners are conducting the U.S. Trans Survey, the largest ever national survey of the lives and experiences of transgender people. Whether you’re trans, nonbinary, or otherwise not cisgender, the time is now to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes. The last survey was conducted in 2015, and a lot has changed since then.
Since 2015, many states have advanced policies that ban gender-affirming care or ban trans youth from playing sports. Others have made it easier to change the gender marker on our identification to match who we are. Violence against trans people has gone up over the past several years, and we know from the data that Black trans women face a disproportionate amount of that violence.
Next week, Trans Awareness Week, we honor the loved ones we’ve lost to violence and celebrate those who are still here. We speak up loudly about the disparities we face in hopes that others will see and understand. We lift up the voices of the most marginalized in our community, understanding that together, we will all rise.
Much of the political focus right now is on trans youth – their right to transition-related care, their right to play sports with their friends, and their right to use the restroom. Now, more than ever, it is important to hear from young people about their experiences. That’s why this time around, youth as young as 16 years old can take the survey and share their stories.
There is a concerted effort by certain politicians and political organizations to deny that trans people are real. There is a false narrative that trans youth are “too young” to know that they’re trans, that people who transition at a young age, whether socially or medically, later regret it.
But we know from the data that this narrative is simply not true. A study came out in May this year revealing that for young people who socially transitioned, only two percent of them “detransitioned,” or went back to identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth. And another study published just last month found that at 98% of youth who were prescribed puberty blockers went on to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy after turning 18. Meaning, trans youth continued to be trans.
This is the importance of research. And we need this research to inform the decision makers, educators, elected officials, health care providers, and the general public about who we are and what we experience in life.
We know that trans people exist and that our lives and experiences are valid. By making this the largest trans survey in U.S. history, we can show that how strong, diverse, and how real of a community we have. And we aren’t just young people in New York and California; trans people from Wyoming to Alaska, from youth to elders; trans folks who are Indigenous, Black, Latine, white, multiracial. Every voice must be represented in the U.S. Trans Survey.
The survey in some places covers some heavy topics: mental health, experiences with religious institutions, and experiences with the police. But it also helps us reveal answers to questions like: Has having access to transition-related care improved your life? How has coming out as trans affected your mental health? Does your family accept who you are, and how does that impact you?
There are hundreds of questions in the survey to examine the details of our lives, so we recommend setting aside about an hour to take it. Tens of thousands of you already have, but we know our community is even larger. There is strength in numbers, and the more people who take the U.S. Trans Survey, the harder it is to deny that we exist and that we are real.
If you’re trans or nonbinary, I urge you to take the U.S. Trans Survey before it closes on its new deadline of December 5. Let’s show this country who we are. Let’s show them that we won’t go away.
Visit www.ustranssurvey.org to learn more and take the survey today.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
New Public Justice President Tom Sobol is taking on Big Pharma
In March of 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against a California based Big Pharma giant
By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – If there is a star of the 7,359-word, June 2004 Atlantic article “Greed on Trial” about the $1.3 billion Massachusetts Big Tobacco-fee trial, it’s attorney Tom Sobol.
“Both on and off the stand, the forty-six-year-old Sobol cuts a bold figure, closely resembling Bruce Springsteen before the Boss started showing his age,” contributor Alex Beam wrote in about the recently installed Board President of Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization.
The intricate, complicated and fascinating story about the legal wrangling over attorneys fees following the landmark longshot 1998 victory over Big Tobacco posits Sobol as a hero, “the One Just Man in the eyes of the state’s lawyers” grounded in ethics, willing to publicly call out his former law firm, Brown Rudnick Berlack & Israels, over their corporate fee greed. Sobol, who “led all the private attorneys in the Massachusetts case,” actually asked the court to determine whether Brown Rudnick’s claim violated a rule of professional conduct that “bars a lawyer from charging or collecting a clearly excessive fee” after the $775 million arbitration award, Beam reported.
“Here was the real problem looming for Brown Rudnick: in the bloodless world of corporate law, Sobol was an unabashed crusader who exuded passion for his adopted causes” through his work as a public-interest lawyer.
Eighteen years later, Sobol is now a Partner & Executive Committee Member at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the lead negotiator in court-approved settlements totaling more than $2 billion, with recent successes totaling $649.75 million in direct purchaser class settlements and named by LawDragon last February as one of the 500 Leading Lawyers in America.
For 25 years, much of Sobol’s practice has focused heavily on pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical pricing and pharmaceutical misbehavior. On March 23, 2023, he is going to trial before Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco in a case against Big Pharma giant Gilead, In re HIV Antitrust Litigation, which was initially brought by AIDS activist Peter Staley.
“We allege that Gilead has been able to jump from one patented product to another patented product to another patented product by putting products together in [Pharma packaging] and thereby prevent less expensive, equally effective generic HIV drugs from being on the market in any meaningful way,” says Sobol. “And they’ve done that by, we allege, either paying off the competition by, for instance, befriending them, bringing them into a deal where they agree that they will not do licenses with anybody else, and therefore encourage that generic company to stand down on a patent challenge. Or they have done explicit agreements with some companies simply that they won’t release a generic drug if they do another business deal with them on a similar product.”
Staley was “one of the original lead plaintiffs who, among other things, was alleging at these agreements and seeking to essentially get injunctive relief against Gilead from continuing this kind of actions that delay generics. He has since had his claim dismissed out of the case for some technical standing reasons,” says Sobol, “but he still legitimately should be credited as being an originator of this case and fully behind this case.”
There is something metaphysically ironic having this Boss from Massachusetts suing a pharmaceutical company for putting corporate greed over the anguish of people with AIDS, so movingly described by New Jersey Boss Bruce Springsteen in “The Streets of Philadelphia:” “I was bruised and battered/I couldn’t tell what I felt/I was unrecognizable to myself/Saw my reflection in a window/And didn’t know my own face/Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away/On the streets of Philadelphia?”
“My father instilled in me a belief that hard work is in and of itself something of tremendous high value. My mother taught me that there isn’t anybody who you can’t find value in,” says Thomas Matthew Sobol, born January 6, 1958, in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Sobol graduated from Clark University in Worcester in 1980 and from Boston University School of Law in 1983. He then worked for Allan Hale, chief judge of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, for a year before joining Brown, Rudnick, Freed, and Gesmer where he was chair of their pro bono program, on the hiring committee, and practiced criminal and white-collar defense and civil litigation, before departing in 2000.
At his core, Sobol draws from ethics and being tougher than the rest to fight injustice.
“Earlier this year, the board of Public Justice voted approval of a strategic direction document. I see this strategic document as constitutional to this organization. And as president, it is my job to see that the board delivers on this promise,” Sobol said at the organization’s 40th Anniversary Gala last July. “At Public Justice, we see two interlocking problems that reinforce and perpetuate systems of oppression, exploitation, and inequality: predatory corporate power and ideologies of white supremacy. Together, these evils harm people and continue to warp and shape many of our laws and institutions. Some people deny that these systems ever existed or insist that they are historic relics. We believe that they are central drivers of injustice. To meet these challenges, what is Public Justice’s work? We are strategic and proactive. We are focused on changing inequitable institutions and systems, and we are driven through structured managed resource programs capable of delivering the change we seek to deliver the mission of Public Justice.”
And then there’s tilting at windmills — taking seemingly unwinnable cases without necessarily seeking a profit or even winning. “Look what Karla Gilbride (co-director of Public Justice’s Access to Justice project) achieved this year in her unanimous Supreme Court victory — that was tilting at a windmill. Who would’ve ever thought it would make sense to go to this Supreme Court on that [pro-employee] issue and have any level of success, right?” Sobol asks. “She and the rest of the team went for it and got it. Tilting at a windmill also means that you’re pointing True North — you have a true objective, a socially conscious objective, which Karla had. Over the years, I’ve tilted at my own windmills and I’ve lost more than I’ve won. But sometimes I’ve won.”
Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.
Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.
Ocamb joined Public Justice in March 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues. She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog, Pepper.
LGBTQ+ youth are target of a massive fear-mongering campaign
Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests
By Editorial Staff | LINCOLN, Ne. – With the impending midterm elections, and a view toward 2024, transgender issues have received a lot of attention in campaigns and the media recently. Particularly at question is the treatment of minors with gender dysphoria and whether or not public schools should support transgender kids.
However, the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up in the national conversation. Transgender kids existing isn’t a real problem — and certainly not one at the scale which the panic mongering suggests. To be clear, we at Seeing Red Nebraska fully support trans-inclusive education and policies and reject fear-mongering moral panic attacks that harm children and public schools alike.
But considering the wide attention this issue is receiving in campaign events and the media, we wanted to look into how big of a “problem” transgender identity in schools really is (spoiler: it’s not). Instead, we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children. Both parties with their rich donors benefit from keeping us distracted from the actual, big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change for all. We spend our time discussing a right-wing manufactured panic campaign that allows the GOP to attack schools and teachers at the same time as spreading trans-hate.
If one listens to right-wing moral panic campaigns, they’d be under the impression that today’s schools are overrun by children identifying as a variety of people, including as not people at all. Please note that the “furry” panic by far-right extremists is a deliberate attempt to dehumanize trans people by equating trans identity with animals.
Further, equating a sexual kink community with trans identity serves to sexualize children’s identity and portray LGBTQ individuals as sexual deviants. (Adult) kinks are not an identity, and (gender) identity is not inherently sexual.
Yet, the (completely debunked) furry panic about litter boxes in schools functions neatly to malign the LGBTQ community in general, and transgender individuals in particular, as non-human sexual perverts that target children — a narrative with a long homophobic history which, in the US, dates back to the 1800s and is also strongly informed by German Nazi propaganda in the 20th Century. And where do most children congregate outside their parent’s direct supervision?
Of course, at (public) schools, which right-wing extremists can malign as corrupting our children — sexually as well as intellectually — with the convenient side effect of also making defunding and school privatization more palatable to the public.
Our writers at Seeing Red Nebraska were curious how prevalent gender transitions among minors in the US really are.
Reuters recently published this analysis of gender dysphoria and its corresponding treatments among minors nationwide. The study found rising numbers of both gender dysphoria diagnoses and treatments for it. However, to put the numbers into perspective, according to childstats.gov, 50.7 million kids aged 6-17 lived in the US in 2021, meaning that a grand total of 0.08% of all children nationwide received a gender dysphoria diagnosis that year.
Our writers immediately wondered if this rise is due to new generations of kids being comfortable playing with gender to see what fits (which is AWESOME) and expressing themselves in all kinds of ways using gender, sex, fashion, pronouns, and other identifying tools. Trans Actual UK similarly explains the seeming rise in gender dysphoria in young people by pointing out that, thankfully, there are increasing support systems available to trans youth.
In other words, the rise in gender dysphoria diagnoses in minors can rationally be explained by increased societal awareness and acceptance of non-binary identities which allows kids to “come out of the closet” and explore their identity more freely. Further, kids with gender dysphoria now have increasing (yet still woefully inadequate due to various red tape obstacles) access to often life-saving medical intervention and social support including inclusiveness in schools.
Yet, how many minors with gender dysphoria diagnoses actually seek and receive medical treatment? According to the Reuters study, a mere 3.5% on average of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria (remember, this is 3.5% of the 0.08% of all children nationwide) in the US initiated the extremely maligned puberty blocker treatment — which is completely reversible. In 2021, the latest year for which data is available, this means that 1,390 minors NATIONWIDE started on puberty blockers.
Similarly, 4,231 minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria initiated hormone treatment in 2021 — again, this is nationwide. This constitutes an average of 11.25% over the five year course the study covers of those youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The discrepancy between the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments is likely due to the limited applicability of puberty blockers (they only work for kids diagnosed and treated BEFORE the onset of puberty) and the fact that hormone therapy is often used IN ADDITION TO puberty blockers — meaning that many youth are counted BOTH in the hormone therapy graph and the puberty blocker graph.
As Reuters further notes, “[t]he ultimate step in gender-affirming medical treatment is surgery, which is uncommon in patients under age 18.” The Reuters analysis explains that many hospitals do not provide surgical intervention to minors at all, and consequently found records for only 56 genital surgeries on minors between 2019 and 2021. Unfortunately, their analysis is unclear about whether certain intersex conditions are included in this count. As to the more common “top surgery” (the surgical removal of breast tissue), the study found records for 776 mastectomies within the same time frame.
This constitutes 0.8% on average of minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria within the same timeframe (although medical treatment of gender dysphoria is a years-long process, so these individuals were likely diagnosed much earlier).
One caveat of the Reuters data is that it is based on insurance data, so that surgical procedures paid for out of pocket (or performed abroad) are not counted here. Also, the data provided is not clear on whether the count of “top surgery” includes treatment of gynecomastia (the growth of breast tissue in boys and men which can induce gender dysphoria in otherwise cis-gender males).
In general, the data suggests that surgical intervention in minors is extremely rare, and transgender individuals tend to wait until adulthood until seeking gender-affirming surgery — probably to no small degree also due to the prohibitive cost out-of-pocket, even if insurance covers a portion.
We’d like to note here that ANY medical treatment on minors for gender dysphoria requires parental consent, which sadly may be a significant barrier for at-risk transgender youth. This, of course, goes counter to the far-right extremist non-sensical claim that SCHOOLS push medical treatment on children.
Schools are obviously not medical facilities capable of either diagnosing nor offering treatment to medical conditions. And even if youth with gender dysphoria are lucky to have the support of their parents, the medical process of finding a trans-inclusive medical facility and appropriate psychologist can be daunting.
It’s incredible to see how very few children actually have these medical interventions compared to how much we hear about it from both the right and the left. Since trans kids are basically the entire conversation these days, we certainly assumed these numbers were a lot higher.
The larger point is that the numbers don’t make sense for how much space the issue is taking up. This isn’t a real problem and we need to use our precious time on what actually harms children.
For some more perspective on these numbers, the number one cause of death in children aged 0-18 is now firearms, with 3,219 children shot to death in 2020 alone (and many more injured).
Just over a week before an election that will determine student debt, abortion rights (and whether pregnant women are full people), whether we can slow the burning fire of the planet, and whether the United States of America will continue to stay a democracy, the trans issue takes up astronomically too much space in the national political conversation.
It is not that the issue is unimportant, or that it doesn’t involve a lot of distress to people, but right-wing extremists don’t want to do a single thing about that. Instead, they are going to zero in on a rare medical intervention that medical experts have decided is in the best interest of a vanishingly small percentage of children, diagnosed with a particular kind of distress, to turn trans-hate into a politically motivated moral panic issue, while major issues such as access to healthcare for EVERYONE, income inequality, and climate change apply to virtually everyone and even have indirect effects on social issues.
To some degree, liberals have contributed to this outsized attention to moral panic issues because the disproportionate nature of the debate favors the right — foregrounding and maligning a social issue affecting a minority community over the very same widespread material fairness issues that affect us all — bodily autonomy, the right to self-determination, and equitable access to medical treatment, after all, are not *just* trans issues.
Yet, here we are playing whack a mole with the litter box canard. To give the benefit of doubt, the majority of the general public wants kids to grow up unharmed and comfortable with their bodies and identity, feeling safe in their own skin.
However, extremists like to exploit that concept and turn it into something menacing instead of a healthy and normal human feeling of wanting kids to grow up confident in their bodies and their communities.
Since both political parties primarily serve the wealthy (and politicians usually are wealthy themselves now), it is necessary to find a “safe” social issue to fight over in order to differentiate themselves and to keep larger economic issues out of the discussion.
Whatever minority group of people they choose to make their battleground, people who were almost certainly always having a rough time of it to start with suffer more when this happens. But while both parties benefit from keeping us distracted from the big issues that might unite us in pushing for real change, the GOP definitely chose this debate — it allows them to attack schools and teachers at the same time as causing panic around children. Win win for them, while trans kids — and all our kids — suffer as the collateral damage.
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