On LA City Hall scandal, Democrats it’s time to meet the moment
When the top leadership calls a Black boy a monkey, & accuses a colleague of being with “the Blacks,” what more do you need to know?
By Jasmyne A. Cannick | Los Angeles has seen its fair share of political scandals over the decades, but the leaked audio of Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera making disparaging and racist remarks about Black people, their colleagues, and conspiring to commit voter suppression takes the cake.
In one single instance, the worst fears of Blacks in Los Angeles were confirmed in graphic detail — the top Democratic political and labor leaders of the city are anti-Black and are actively conspiring to dismantle what is left of the Black community in Los Angeles.
Famed author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”
From referring to a white councilmember’s Black son as an “accessory” and describing him as a monkey in Spanish to wanting to physically beat that same little boy, colluding to replace one Black councilmember with another who can be depended on to vote in favor of Latinos, conspiring to commit Black voter suppression, even seemingly writing off Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón because “He’s with the Blacks” — no one should ever be confused about where Black people stand with Martinez, Cedillo, de Leon, and Herrera.
Now that their plotting and planning and blatant racism have been exposed, usher in the carefully crafted public apologies.
At the risk of never working at city hall or in politics again, I am going to speak the truth about this situation.
There are some instances where apologies just won’t cut it, and this is one of them.
The only acceptable resolution to this scandal is for the immediate resignation from public office of all four people involved. Period.
This is not a situation where thoughts-and-prayer-like statements mean a damn thing.
The only statement that needs to be crafted is a resignation statement, and as a seasoned political strategist, I’ll write it for them for free.
Let’s be clear, had the leaked audio been of a group of Black leaders or Republicans saying racist and derogatory comments towards any other race or group of people and it would have been a “Do not pass Go and do not collect $200” type of situation that would have resulted in the immediate calls for resignations of all involved.
This situation deserves the same treatment, and anything less says that it’s open season on Blacks and that there are no real long lasting consequences.
The deafening silence from alleged allies of the Black community on this situation, including the Democratic Party, is just as bad as the strongly worded statements that say everything except for the Martinez and Co. to resign.
This is a s — t or get off the pot moment. There is no sitting on fence or tap dancing around the elephant in the room.
Either you support racists or you don’t, and from where I am sitting, the Los Angeles County and California Democratic Parties, along with dozens and dozens of political leaders, seem to be siding with the racists, which makes them all hypocrites.
This is not a situation where folks get off the hook by apologizing, followed by meeting with leaders in the Black community, and we’re back to holding hands and singing kumbayah.
Any so-called Black leader that isn’t calling for the resignation of these four people is aiding and abetting in the oppression and suppression of their own people, most likely for personal gain.
Fact. All four of the people involved in the leaked audio get paid from money that comes from all Angelenos — not just Latinos. Nury Martinez offering to resign as council president leaves her paycheck and position as a councilmember in place. And in the case of top labor leader Ron Herrera, he actually conspired to use the dues from the paychecks of hardworking Black folks against them to dilute their power in the 10th council district.
It is because of years of behind-the-scenes anti-Black politicking by people who share the same views as Martinez, Cedillo, de Leon, and Herrera that Black people have been pushed out of the city to the point that there is no real Black political power in the city of Los Angeles. Because of the high cost of living and years of the very same tactics discussed in that audio, Black people make up less than 9 percent of the city’s population. Any power that we think we have in Los Angeles almost always requires the buy-in and support of allies. We have a 15-member city council with three Black members, of which one’s credibility has been called into question given the comments heard in the audio about why she was appointed to the position.
For those of us who love this city and fight every day just to be able to afford to live here, this hurts deep down. The release of the audio is an in-your-face reminder that many of the powers that be don’t care about us or want us here and are actively working against us — sadly, in some ways, with the help of other Blacks.
The audio also validates why the only zip code in the city that has seen an increase in its Black population is the one that encompasses Skid Row — an area of Los Angeles that Kevin de Leon represents. We know how he feels about Black people. It explains why Black people make up most of the homeless and cannot access city services in the ways others can. It explains why so many of the councilmembers don’t have any Black people on their staffs. Why Black consultants aren’t hired by labor unions in the way that other races are? Why there is a lack of Black leadership at the executive level in many of the labor unions in Los Angeles. The audio explains a lot.
When the top leadership of the city council calls a Black boy a monkey, says she wants to beat him, and accuses a colleague of being with “the Blacks,” what more do you need to know? Remember what Maya Angelou said.
Given the revelations exposed, every vote that was ever cast by Martinez, Cedillo, and de Leon that had anything to do with Black people needs to be re-examined. Department heads, starting with the chief of police, need to be interviewed on the record to see if members of the city council gave them directives to target, ignore, not hire, arrest, deny, not rent to, not contract with, not buy from Black people.
Pandora’s Box has been opened.
Add to all of that, the federal government needs to step in and investigate the city’s redistricting process, now.
If known racists are allowed to stay on the city council after being exposed, then we, Black people, deserve everything we get in this city moving forward.
Democrats love to talk about meeting the moment. What are they waiting for?
A political strategist & contributor to the Los Angeles Blade, Jasmyne Cannick is a former Special Assistant to previous Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, a delegate in the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and a proud member of The Blacks.
Judy Heumann helped so many of us with disabilities to be out and proud
‘Like the color of my eyes or the color of my hair, it is a part of who I am’
When I was growing up, people like me, who were disabled, were usually met with scorn, pity and exclusion.
On March 4, Judith (Judy) Heumann, a founder of the disability rights movement, died at 75 in Washington, D.C.
For decades, Heumann, who contracted polio when she was 18 months old, was a leader of a civil rights movement that changed the lives of millions of folks like me.
Judy (so many of us, whether we knew or not, connected with her on a first-name basis), was known as the “mother” of the disability rights movement. She was the Harvey Milk of our struggle.
You might think: why should LGBTQ people care about the passing of a disability rights leader?
Here’s why: Nearly, 20 percent of people in this country have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes LGBTQ+ people. An estimated three to five million people are queer and disabled.
Studies, including a study by the Map Advancement Project, reveal that queer people are more likely than non-queer people to become disabled. We face the double-whammy of anti-queer and disability-based discrimination. The MAP study reported that of the more than 26,000 transgender people surveyed, 39 percent reported having a disability.
If you’re queer and have a disability (blindness, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, psychiatric disorder, etc.), you’ve likely run up against employers who don’t want to hire you or restaurants who don’t care to serve you. If you’re a queer parent of a disabled child, you’ve probably had to fight to get your kid the education they need.
These battles are hard. But, thanks to Heumann and the movement she led, there are ways — from the Americans with Disabilities Act to working the media — to fight this injustice.
Heumann, who at 29 led a month-long protest that was the Stonewall of the disability rights movement, and in her 70s was the star of the fab, Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp,” was a powerhouse of energy, discipline, hard work and humor. She was a quintessential bad ass who worked for justice 24/7, and kicked your butt if you didn’t.“Kathi, get your self together!” commanded the voice over the phone, “or you won’t get anything done.”
It was 1987, and I was writing my first news story. I was interviewing Heumann about an historic protest that she’d led a decade earlier. It was the 10th anniversary of what is believed to be the longest non-violent sit-in a federal building.
In April 1977, more than 100 disabled people took over the (then) Health, Education and Welfare building in San Francisco. President Richard Nixon had signed the Rehabilitation Act into law in 1973. But, regulations, known as “504,” a section of the Act that prohibited discrimination against disabled people by institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.) receiving federal funding, hadn’t been signed. After protesting in the San Francisco building for a month and in Washington, D.C. (including at then President Jimmy Carter’s church), the “504″ regulations were signed.
Heumann, who was an official in the Clinton administration and a special adviser in the Obama State Department, was tough, kind, and proud of herself and the movement that she founded.
For Heumann, who is survived by her husband and brothers, disability was a normal part of life, not a tragedy.
“I never wished I didn’t have a disability,” Heumann wrote in her memoirs “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.”
When Heumann was a child, disabled children were often institutionalized. Like being queer, being disabled wasn’t considered to be normal then.
Doctors advised Heumann’s parents to send Judy to an institution when she was a child. But her parents, who were Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany, refused. This experience turned her mother and father against institutionalizing her, Heumann wrote in her memoir.
“If I’d been born just 10 years earlier and become disabled in Germany, it is almost certain the German doctor would also have advised that I be institutionalized,” Heumann wrote, “The difference is that instead of growing up being fed by nurses in a small room with white walls and a roommate, I would have been taken to a special clinic, and at that special clinic, I would have been killed.”
Just as it is if you’re queer, if you’re disabled, if you want to respect yourself, you need to be out and proud.
Judy more than anyone I’ve ever known, helped so many of us with disabilities to be out and proud. She taught us that being disabled isn’t something to be ashamed of. That it’s an important aspect of who we are.
Her disability, Judy often said, is, “Like the color of my eyes or the color of my hair, it is a part of who I am.”
I knew Judy only from interviewing her over the years and being on an episode of her podcast “The Heumann Perspective.” But Judy, whether you’d known for decades or just a few months, made you feel like you were a friend. She’d advise you, cheer you on and challenge you over the phone, in texts and on Zoom.
She almost got me, a non-make-up wearing lesbian, to wear lipstick (so I wouldn’t look like a ghost on her podcast). Earlier this winter, Judy wondered why I didn’t put my disability on my resume. Being nervous could be good, she said, when I was scared of reading at a poetry festival.
“If you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t demand what you believe in for yourself, you’re not going to get it,” Judy said.
Thank you, Judy for teaching us to respect ourselves and to demand our rights! R.I.P., Judy!
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
Latest Uganda anti-homosexuality bill incites new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ hate
Mbarara Rise Foundation appeals to international community for help
To the international community,
I write to you today on behalf of the organization I lead, Mbarara Rise Foundation.
Since the year began, our rural grassroots LGBTQI+ communities have faced life threatening problems including an increased number of mob attacks, individual threats, police arrests and non-stop fears and insecurities arising from the homophobic campaigns happening in Uganda. Sadly, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was introduced on March 9, inciting a new wave of anti-LGBTQI+ hatred.
This anti-homosexuality bill is worse than previous bills because, under this new law, simply identifying as LGBTQI+ means you have committed a crime. Even before the bill has passed, this homophobic action in Parliament has encouraged more of the general population, bloggers, celebrities and politicians to increase their hate campaigns all over the country. More than ever, Uganda is not a safe environment for us now.
Currently, attacks are happening all over Uganda. Our communities have faced mob “justice” scenarios, threats and arrests and we have no legal recourse. Many of our constituents have received death threats, and in fact some have gone into hiding. This all increased dramatically when the bill was read in the Parliament and homophobic people are using it as a new excuse to inflict harm upon us. In just one of many examples, a transgender woman associated with our organization was beaten, publicly, by a group of cis men and she now sustains serious wounds. The police do not care.
Your voices are needed to speak out against these human rights abuses in Uganda. Your kind support is crucial and timely for us because we need protection, visibility and defense of our basic human rights. Mbarara Rise Foundation is working tirelessly to help LGBTIQ persons through building the capacity of the LGBTQI+ community, by documenting and advocating against violence, and through providing safety and security where we are able. We are fighting to increase access to legal counsel and justice and working to repeal homophobic laws and transform the attitudes of duty bearers towards LGBTQI+ persons. We cannot do this work alone.
These matters are urgent because Uganda needs interventions to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons amidst escalating violence and homophobia given the limited capacity of LGBTQI-led organizations, a shrinking civic space. In short, we need your outrage, your voices, and your support and we need it now.
Mbarara Rise Foundation
Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ+ community
Proposed reforms of country’s judiciary have sparked widespread protests
WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Thursday was another record day for the protests against the legal revolution that members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are trying to carry out. High-tech employees and business owners, doctors and nurses, professors, teachers and students, economists and intellectuals, parents and children, security personnel and activists have united in the protest movement and the number of weekly demonstrations against the coup d’état have increased.
What began as a single demonstration in Tel Aviv 10 weeks ago turned into a huge demonstration of about 300,000 people in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem about a month ago. This movement two weeks ago turned into a Day of Disruption throughout the country and reached its peak on Thursday with the declaration of a National Day of Resistance.
LGBTQ+ and intersex people and organizations have joined the struggle.
LGBTQ+ and intersex organizations on Thursday morning held their own protest in Tel Aviv’s Culture Square before they marched with Israeli and Pride flags and joined other protest groups in front of the city’s government building.
These organizations took part in the first demonstrations that took place more than two months ago. They formed a larger LGBTQ+ group and marched together as one, with gay party promoters joining them later. The Aguda, Hoshan, IGY (Israel Gay Youth), the Gila Project and Maavarim rented buses for LGBTQ+ and intersex people who wanted to go to Jerusalem and demonstrate in the capital.
Next step: Cancelling the right to LGBTQ+ parenthood
One of the largest protests to date is the Day of Disruption that took place on March 1.
The day, which began as protests that took place in dozens of cities across Israel as MKs passed bills, for the first time during the protest movement saw violent scenes between protesters and police officers, who used stun grenades to disperse them.
The Aguda and Hoshan before the Day of Disruption hung signs in the train stations that simulated a train route. Bills that would discriminate against the LGBTQ+ and intersex community and simulating life after the legal revolution’s approval in the Knesset were written in place of station name: The first stop was the cancellation of Pride parades, followed by the cancellation of Transgender pregnancies, a ban on discussing LGBTQ+ and intersex issues in schools and in the media, repealing the discrimination ban removing children from same-sex households and approving so-called conversion therapy.
“The State of Israel is speeding down a path of direct discrimination, and that is our red line. When the first stop is crushing the justice system, the next stops are canceling the right to gay parenthood and allowing discrimination in businesses, just like what happened in Hungary and Poland,” wrote the Aguda and Hoshan in their campaign. “This is exactly the time for everyone to ask themselves where his red line cross — because when the legal revolution leaves the station, it will be very difficult to stop the violation of the rights we fought for years.”
Lesbians on motorcycles at the beginning of the Day of Disruption blocked traffic throughout Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv while on their way to Jerusalem. The Israeli “Pride and Ride” Dykes on Bykes movement led the protest. Dykes on Bykes has existed since 1976, and has emerged as a significant part of the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights movement and as a symbol of female strength and Pride for every lesbian woman.
At the same time in Jerusalem, writer Ilan Scheinfeld arrived at the Western Wall plaza with his two sons who were born by surrogacy and waved a large pride flag in front of the Western Wall.
Israel’s LGBTQ+ and intersex families have launched a campaign aimed at Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a proud father of twins, in which they tried to appeal to his heart as a gay person who started a family thanks to Supreme Court rulings, and to explain to him what the consequences of a political revolution might be on gay parenting.
Aguda Chair Hila Peer in the evening spoke at the central demonstration in Tel Aviv.
“They think they will push us back into closets. This government has a clear agenda and the LGBTQ community is one of the first in line. This is not legal reform, it is a gun that is being held to the head of the LGBTQ community. They are destroying the only body that protects human rights, so that later they can enact whatever they want against us,” said Peer. “This government has brought up the worst haters of freedom, of equality and of the LGBTQ community, It gave them power over our families, over our rights. We faced crazier, meaner, more violent and broke every closet they ever dared to try build for us.”
“The year is 2023 and we are going nowhere but forward,” added Peer. “Even if you take the court, even if you threaten us in the streets. Even if you deny us right after right, we will not stop. We will not disappear. The LGBTQ community was born out of a revolution, and the LGBTQ community will bring the next revolution.”
Opposition community representatives also tried to disrupt the Constitution Committee’s proceedings, or at least create actions that would cause them to become illegitimate. MK Yorai Lahav Hertzno from Yesh Atid party during one of the debates came up to the table and began chanting “shame” while pointing an accusing finger at MK Simcha Rotman, who chairs the committee The demonstration caused a lot of criticism and the Knesset’s Ethics Committee punished Hertzno.
Why is the LGBTQ+ and intersex community afraid?
The absolute majority of the rights of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community in Israel today came from Supreme Court rulings. From treatments for HIV carriers to surrogacy and parentage registration, all achievements were achieved as a result of battles waged in court against the decisions of the government and the Knesset.
The regime change that includes the weakening of the Supreme Court’s power and allows the Knesset to overrule any Supreme Court ruling with a simple majority allows the cancellation of any Supreme Court decision with relative ease. Although laws against the LGBTQ+ and intersex community are not currently on the agenda, the potential for change is clear such possibility.
If the legal revolution passes, the government will be able to enact laws that directly harm LGBTQ+ and intersex people — and without an independent court there will be no one to protect them or the rights we have already received.
Already now, under the auspices of the public atmosphere, there is an increase in the number of reports of cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ and intersex people in businesses and in the public sphere. This discrimination would be legal if some extreme MKs succeed in their efforts. LGBTQ+-phobic members of Knesset are already spreading their dangerous agenda today and promote bills that will harm LGBTQ+ and intersex youth and the creation of safe spaces in schools.
The LGBTQ+ and intersex community and its rights are under attack, and LGBTQ+ and intersex people will be among the first groups to be harmed when the checks and balances are removed from the government. Silence and complacency are not an option for Israel’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community.
George Avni is the editor of WDG, an LGBTQ+ and intersex media outlet in Israel.
LGBTQ+ Puerto Ricans are making history in 2023
U.S. Senate last month confirmed Gina Mendéz Miró as federal judge
Representation matters even more to three of the most historically marginalized and underrepresented groups in the last century in the U.S.: Women, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans since then have struggled to get worthy representation in the states and internationally. But if being a Puerto Rican is already tricky because of the historical unfairness of the “relationship” between the island and the U.S., being a member of the LGBTQ community is even more challenging.
Puerto Ricans are treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. by receiving less federal aid and benefits than the 50 states and being underrepresented in each political, social, cultural, economic and governmental position within the mainland. Puerto Ricans’ federal and constitutional rights are not guaranteed like ordinary Americans. Puerto Ricans, like women and Black people, have mainly and throughout U.S. history received their federal and constitutional rights one by one through the U.S. Supreme Court. And why is it so important to give all this background if we are here to talk about Puerto Rican LGBTQ women? Well, because a famous saying says: “… people who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it …” and it’s always essential to understand the historical background of our LGBTQ representatives and put ourselves in their shoes.
The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Gina Méndez Miró, the first openly lesbian Puerto Rican woman, to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico. The Senate voted 54-42 to approve the previous Puerto Rico appellate judge.
I met Gina in 2016 when she was serving Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia’s Chief of Staff. We were both delegates for Hilary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as members of the LGBTQ community. Even though our encounters have been brief since then, I have perceived Gina’s passion for justice, gender equity and promoting a more secure world for the LGBTQ community. This appointment was a victory for our LGBTQ community, women and the Latino community in the U.S.
Another significant accomplishment in Puerto Rico happened last week when Daniela Arroyo González became the first transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe Puerto Rico.
Daniela has been chosen to compete in the Puerto Rico Miss Universe contest for the first time. I met Daniela in 2018 when we were participating in a runway fashion show fundraiser to raise money and awareness for the LGBTQ community on the island. Daniela is well known in the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico after being part of a federal lawsuit against Puerto Rico’s government, requesting the authority to change the gender designation in her birth certificate. People in Puerto Rico today can change their genders on their birth certificates. As executive director of the LGBTQ advisory board of the governor of Puerto Rico, I worked with the Department of Health’s Vital Statistics Office to create the local guidelines to allow trans people on the island this change by only bringing a medical certificate.
Daniela’s participation in the beauty pageant is another significant victory for the LGBTQ community, Latinas and women’s movement on the island. It is even more critical when Puerto Rico is the number one jurisdiction in the U.S. in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and number one in gender-based violence crimes against women. According to Human Rights Campaign’s statistics, a woman is murdered in Puerto Rico by her partner every seven days. In 2020, six of the 44 deaths of trans and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. were in Puerto Rico. These deaths represent most of the murders of trans people that happened in the U.S. in 2020.
Gender-based violence has also become even more common in Puerto Rico, with at least 5,517 female victims recorded, according to the Gender Equality Observatory. Daniela’s representation gives the strength and necessary visibility that trans women on the Island need.
Third but not least, we have Villano Antillano, the sensation of the moment. Villano is a 27-year-old trans Puerto Rican woman that has recently become one of the most iconic Spanish-language rappers by making memorable worldwide appearances in Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
In 2022, Villano launched to fame with her collaboration with Argentine producer, Bizarrap. Her music has reached the Billboard Argentina Hot 100 and Billboard Spain Hot 100, and she is the first trans and nonbinary artist to get the Top 50: Global on Spotify charts. Last week, Villano was nominated for “Premio Lo Nuestro,” becoming the first trans artist in the awards’ women’s category for Breakthrough Female Artist of the Year. The iconic Premio Lo Nuestro is a Spanish-language award show honoring the best Latin music of the year.
I met Villano a few years ago in 2015, and I witnessed her passion for music and women’s rights since day one. I had the privilege to learn from her how to become more aware of the struggles of Puerto Ricans, trans women and the necessity of creating more safe spaces for women in Puerto Rico. Congratulations Villano.
These victories send a solid message to young people everywhere: LGBTQ people, women and Latinas can dream bigger and honestly believe anything is possible. The above is a tangible reminder to our youth generations that every single vote matter and that expanding society to integrate more voices is what real democracy is all about. Seeing characters serving in power positions like judges, getting nominated for music awards, or winning beauty pageants, gives LGBTQ youth the hope that they can make it too. These three wonderful and talented women will allow future generations to dream and aspire to be anything they want.
Thank you, Gina, thank you, Daniela, and thank you, Villano, for allowing us to dream, dream of becoming, and succeed.
LGBTQ genocide is happening now in Afghanistan
A humanitarian catastrophe is occurring that must have the attention of Western governments and all LGBTQ people and their allies
By Don Kilhefner | LOS ANGELES – At this very moment, gay genocide is happening in Afghanistan. It is underreported by print and electronic media everywhere and has gained little activist traction. A humanitarian catastrophe is occurring that must have the attention of Western governments and all LGBTQ people and their allies.
Since the August 2021 Taliban takeover, LGBTQ lives there have been dehumanized and terrorized by honor killings, torture, sexual violence, and legal and extralegal extermination. This gay genocide, coordinated countrywide, has forced recognizable or outed gay men, lesbians, and trans people to go into solitary hiding to survive. Their only hope to dodge the bullet is to flee the country. Yet, they have very few options to escape.
While precise demographic statistics are unknown, the magnitude of the crisis is potentially huge. It is estimated that there are over a million LGBTQ Afghan people between 14 and 35-years old, the primary target of the Taliban.
Despite this peril, teenagers and 20-somethings in Afghanistan have been influenced by the Gay Liberation movement via cell phones and the internet.
They know about Stonewall, Pride celebrations, same-sex marriage, posting videos on Instagram and Tic Tok, Grindr, and queer culture. They state their preferred pronouns. They also know that their lives could be spared if they somehow escaped Afghanistan and found refuge in a friendly country.
Here are the desperate words of one young gay Afghan as reported by Rainbow Railroad’s “No Safe Way Out” research report: “The Taliban has taken over, they are abducting suspected gays, and you never see them again. Because of the way I talk and behave, it’s not hard to spot me. It’s hard for me to walk around now. Before the Taliban, I was just alone, and lonely, at least my life was not in danger. I have no hope. I have almost given up. Sometimes I have the urge to go public about it, with a pride flag in my hand, and scream as I walk through the streets of Kabul, ‘I am Gay.’ If my family found out they would be the ones to kill me, no need of Taliban.”
LGBTQ people have been the last to be evacuated and the first to be executed. Over 150,000 Afghans have been evacuated to Western countries since 2021, but it is estimated that less than 1% were self-identified LGBTQ people. Priority is given to families. Since the Taliban takeover, Western countries have failed to prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of queer Afghans.
Let me be frank with you. The response of LGBTQ people living in freedom to this gay genocide has been sluggish, at best, perhaps even shameful.. Western LGBTQ leaders and organizations have largely ignored the plight of queer Afghans because they are out of sight and act like they are someone else’s problem. Once more, “Silence” by liberated LGBTQ people = “Death” to young queer Afghans.
Amid the general apathy of the LGBTQ community, three U.S. gay men stand out righteously. Michael Failla, 70, of Seattle, working relentlessly, has been involved in helping more than 100 LGBTQ Afghans escape and is helping dozens more in hiding. In October 2021, he was offered 19 seats for queers on a flight out. He had to make a Solomonic decision on whose lives to save. Finally, 19 nonbinary, young gay men were selected because they were the most visible and likely to be arrested and executed by the Taliban.
Joe, 62, of San Francisco and Frank, 57, of Los Angeles (their last names have been redacted so as not to endanger their rescue work) have started a volunteer rescue effort called “Freedom Connection USA.” Through trial-and-error learning over the past 18 months, they have mastered how to work through underground systems, sneaking at-risk LGBTQ young people out of Afghanistan and housing them, sometimes as long as a year, until they are assigned refugee status and resettled. Recently, I interviewed one of the young men whose rescue Joe and Frank narrowly engineered with the Taliban in hot pursuit. Near the end of our talk, he burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably as he choked out the words, “I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Joe.”
Rainbow Railroad, a well-known nongovernmental organization anchored in Canada and modeled after the ante-bellum “Underground Railroad” in the U.S., has also turned its focus on LGBTQ Afghans. In 2022, this NGO brought 220 queer Afghans to Western countries and recently announced the resettlement of 600 more LGBTQ Afghan refugees in Canada. However, the current effort is minuscule compared to the need. It has 6,000 requests for help. Canada and Germany have excellent records of resettlement for queer Afghans. The U.S. record is dismal.
For LGBTQ Afghans who cannot escape the country, self-deliverance—suicide—can be a way to escape the genocide. It happens often. It was reported to me recently, that the Taliban had jailed the beloved father and younger brother of a young gay man. He knew they had been arrested so he would turn himself in to the Taliban for their release, which meant his certain death by the Taliban. So, he took his own life instead.
The gay genocide in Afghanistan is based on the religious authority of the Qur’an, hadith (the words and actions of the prophet Mohammed while alive) and sharia (codified Islamic law)—kill all homosexuals. In Afghanistan, sometimes these executions are public as warnings, but the Taliban usually does it privately in a prison—out of sight, out of mind.
I recently viewed a several-minutes-long video montage of young, Muslim, gay men being executed—one hanging from a bridge with a noose around his neck, another being stoned to death by a frenzied mob, another being beheaded, and several being bound and pushed off tall buildings as bystanders rejoiced.
It’s time to hear the cries from Afghanistan. It’s time for every sector and strata of the LGBTQ community to unite around this issue with sweat and dollars—saving the lives of young queer Afghans. As Existentialism teaches us, who you are is determined by what you do.
Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., 85, a pioneer Gay Liberationist, has been a gay community organizer in Los Angeles and nationally for over half a century, including as co-founder of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the world’s first and largest.
Our current asylum system denies thousands from living their truth
I fled Syria, came out once I received refuge in U.S.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Growing up in Syria, life was relatively stable — until it wasn’t. My world turned upside-down in 2011 when civil war ravaged the country, separating families, destroying buildings, schools and parks and displacing millions of innocent people who were forced to begin life anew in strange lands with virtually no supportive services.
I remember seeing videos of queer people being thrown from the top of buildings in areas controlled by ISIS and similar groups. Life was never easy for queer people in Syria to start with, but threats to one’s life grew exponentially amid the chaos and rise of religious extremists. I was closeted at the time; a young doctor eager to start a career in saving lives. I remember hearing the sounds of sirens, gunshots and blood-curdling screams echoing from a distance, and realizing that I had no choice but to flee.
This is the reality for many LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the United States who are escaping countries where homosexuality is criminalized, but what many Americans don’t realize is that seeking asylum isn’t as easy as filling out paperwork. The current asylum process is a tangled web of bureaucracy, politics, and legal barriers that traps asylum seekers in limbo for years.
In the U.S. today, there are 1.6 million people with pending asylum cases. Among them are doctors, students and other professionals who fled war, violence and persecution in search of safety. Now that they have found it, they face up to a 6-year waiting period before learning their fate. Asylum is a notoriously complex and discretionary system. Each case is determined on its merit by the subjective opinion of the presiding judge or immigration officer. Unfortunately, many applicants lack adequate representation, and more than half of asylum cases are denied each year. Tens of thousands struggle with coming out and living their truth against the threat of potential deportation, should their case be denied years later.
While a process to vet cases has to exist, there is no reason it should take this long. The system wasn’t always like this. In fact, over the course of a decade, the backlog in asylum applications increased seven fold — from 100,000 in 2012 to nearly 788,000 by the end of 2022.
At best, the current system is a careless abdication of responsibility by our government. At worst, it is intentionally weaponized to discourage asylum seekers from coming to the United States. This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on being a beacon of hope and opportunity, which I know firsthand. I credit my ability to freely live life as my authentic self to the ideals this country is built upon. It is our duty to ensure all asylum seekers have the same opportunity.
Last week, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary of moving to the U.S. Five years ago, I became an American citizen. It wasn’t until that point that I felt I could finally embrace my true identity. I was fortunate to have pre-existing familial ties to the U.S., which helped me bypass the complicated asylum system, but many of my queer siblings don’t have that luxury.
Since moving to the U.S., I’ve been plagued by survivor’s guilt. Three of my medical school classmates lost their lives, and some are still missing to this day. Why them, and not me? I’ve often wondered. The news of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey earlier this month, killing over 46,000 people to date, triggered many memories I thought I had long buried deep. It has also reminded me that, despite the hell I’ve been through, I made it to the other side whole. I never had the chance to be whole before calling the United States my home. Other people who were forcibly displaced, like me, deserve the same.
I want the images of destroyed buildings and the sounds of falling bombs to be replaced in their minds by those of Pride parades and drag shows — as it was for me. I want them to experience the excitement of holding another person’s hand without looking over their shoulders in angst. I want them to know what it’s like to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day with the person they love, a milestone I recently achieved this year for the first time.
This is what I fight for, and what every American should fight for.
I am unrecognizable from the person who stretched his shaky hands to give his Syrian passport to the CBP agent at Boston’s Logan Airport a decade ago. I am now an openly gay DEIB professional, human rights and LGBTQ+ advocate who is in a loving relationship. I am now a proud American citizen and a living testament to the power of compassion. It is our responsibility to ensure that the same opportunity is afforded to all those seeking asylum in the United States. The time for change and to fix our broken asylum system is now.
Basel Touchan is a Syrian American immigrant and human rights advocate. A doctor by training, he currently works as a DEIB leader and consultant. (Twitter: @Basel_Touchan)
Taliban persecution against LGBTIQ Afghans heightens
Extremist group regained control of country in 2021
NEW YORK — When Pari, a 48-year-old gay man in Afghanistan, was beaten and forced into sex by Taliban officials, his body was so badly bruised that he told his family he had been in a car crash.
Pari had tried to lay low after the Taliban captured control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021. He is a 48-year-old gay man who worked at a health clinic before the Taliban’s return to power, providing services to men who have sex with men. The clinic shut its doors and laid off its staff as the Taliban retook power, worried that some of its former clients would report their work to the Taliban. They were right to worry. A few weeks into Taliban rule, fighters showed up to the empty building and beat the security guards.
But the immediate months after the Taliban’s return to power was not the worst time for Pari and many other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Afghans. Nine months later, Pari was identified on the street by a group of Taliban who appeared to know who he was. “You are ‘izak’ and promote gay sex,” they said, using a local homophobic slur. Taliban members beat him and detained him at a checkpoint, demanding the names of his former clients.
Eighteen months after the Taliban takeover, the lives of LGBTIQ Afghans are increasingly in danger. A new Outright report demonstrates the scale and scope of violence against LGBTIQ people, who live in complete insecurity as Taliban persecution becomes increasingly systematic. In the early days after the Taliban takeover, Outright found that most threats and violence came from family members or in chance encounters with Taliban when queer people were spotted based on their appearance or identified when checkpoint guards searched their cell phones. Premeditated targeting was rare.
But Afghanistan’s de facto rulers have stepped up their persecution of LGBTIQ people over the last year. In December, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court announced individuals had been punished for homosexuality in Kabul, and public floggings for homosexuality have also been reported in other parts of the country.
Outright’s documentation suggests that much of the targeting by state agents primarily affects queer men and trans women so far. In one case, a gay activist was found dead outside a police station; a medical examiner found evidence of sexual assault, according to a family member. In another, a trans woman arrived for a dancing gig at a party to discover it was a trap, and she was handed over to Taliban officers.
For queer women and trans men, family members remain a primary source of danger, especially male relatives. One trans man we interviewed was savagely beaten by his uncle who then threatened to hand him over to the Taliban. An intersex woman who’d entered into an arranged marriage reported being beaten by her husband and forced to sleep in a cowshed. He, too, threatened to hand her over to the Taliban.
Violence against LGBTIQ people runs counter to Afghanistan’s obligations under international law and could quite possibly constitute crimes against humanity. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) stated in December that Taliban officials could be prosecuted for “gender persecution” for targeting LGBTIQ people. (Afghanistan is under the ICC’s jurisdiction, having signed onto the treaty authorizing the court in 2003.)
But the international community is doing far too little to protect queer Afghans, or to ensure that their persecutors are brought to justice. It’s almost impossible for queer Afghans to flee to safety. Foreign governments have provided far fewer visas to persecuted Afghans than are needed, and the process of resettlement requires refugees to spend months in Pakistan and other countries where LGBTIQ people are criminalized. Rainbow Railroad, an organization that help LGBTIQ refugees get to safety, has received requests for assistance from nearly 4,000 queer Afghans since August 2021. By the end of 2022, only 247 had managed to reach safe countries.
While many continue to try to leave, most queer Afghans cannot or don’t want to leave Afghanistan. They fall under the protection mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). But UNAMA has not made any public statements regarding LGBTIQ Afghans’ human rights and safety, even omitting reference to such abuses against LGBTIQ people in a human rights report issued in July 2022.
Creating safe space for queer people to connect with UNAMA and other international organizations will require a long process of trust building with the community in a country where being LGBTIQ is so stigmatized. Afghanistan is so dangerous for LGBTIQ people that many fear leaving their homes; the idea of outing themselves to an international agency is terrifying, especially if it requires the involvement of an Afghan interpreter who may share widely held anti-LGBTIQ attitudes.
But the U.N. tasked UNAMA to protect all Afghans when it was created in 2002, and UNAMA must find ways to fulfill that obligation, including by recruiting staff trusted by LGBTIQ people and beginning the crucial work of documenting violence against a deeply marginalized community.
For now, Pari has nowhere to turn for help. He ultimately escaped Taliban detention after agreeing to have sex with a man in exchange for his freedom. He thought about leaving Afghanistan, and secured a passport. But even if he could find a way out, he doesn’t want to abandon his children. To survive, he does everything possible to avoid leaving the house.
Stories like Pari’s are far too common in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. They will only grow more common unless the international community takes action. And with no safe way for most LGBTIQ Afghans to report these abuses, their stories may never be known at all.
J. Lester Feder is Outright’s Senior Fellow for Emergency Research. He researches the situation of LGBTIQ people in significant crises. He is a journalist and photographer who has reported in more than 40 countries, whose work has appeared in outlets including Rolling Stone, the New York Times and Vanity Fair. From 2013-2020, Lester was a senior world correspondent at BuzzFeed News, where he pioneered a first-of-its-kind international LGBTQ rights beat. Lester was named Journalist of the Year in 2015 by NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and received a GLAAD Media Award in 2016.
Lester holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.A. from the Columbia Journalism School.
McGill Uni gives transphobe platform despite its “queer allyship”
“I hope those considering themselves trans allies feel embarrassed- transphobic faculty feel ashamed, & the university feel disgraced”
By Eric Tannehill | MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada – Hi! I’m Eric Tannehill. The last time I contributed to the LA Blade about Trans students related issues was in 2020. I was in my senior year of high school and wrote about the importance of trans inclusivity in youth sports as a wave of anti-trans laws targeting kids were being passed around the country.
It was a hard decision to leave the U.S., but as I saw my rights so continually threatened, I chose to apply to exclusively Canadian universities knowing I would have to leave all my friends, family and support system back in Virginia because I would still be safer in a country I had never lived in before.
McGill University was my reach school. It is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Canada and is typically ranked as one of the top 50 universities in the world. Obviously, I was overjoyed when I got my acceptance letter. But, my first thought when I was accepted was not about McGill’s reputation but was remembering a moment from my campus tour. The guide proudly pointed out the building which housed the office of the Queer Student Union and spoke about the university dedicating funds to its queer community. When I got my acceptance letter, I let out a sigh of relief: I would be somewhere safe where my rights as a queer person would be embedded within the institution itself.
Yesterday, I skipped class to protest McGill giving a platform to Robert Wintemute, a member of a transphobic hate group The LGB Alliance. Here are pictures of the protest fliers:
McGill’s Faculty of Law’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) announced they would be hosting an event titled “The Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T,” hosted by Robert Winemute, who is a board member of the LGB Alliance, which has been designated a hate group in Ireland. The backlash was immediate; individuals and organizations started signing an open letter and sending emails demanding the CHRLP cancel the event.
Eventually the Faculty of Law responded:
The images come from a since deleted CHRLP web page. CHRLP’s online listing of events and how it decided to address the controversy was removed once the Montreal Gazette covered the protest. CHRLP did not respond to a request for comment.
So, knowing full well that they were hosting an event which would promote hate speech and anti-trans legislation and encourage the same sorts of stochastic anti-trans violence seen today in the United States, the CHRLP decided to hold the event…
The halls were so crowded with protesters it was hard to move. I would say most protesters were in some way directly affiliated with McGill as students, staff, or alumni but there were also protestors from CÉGEP (Quebec’s publicly funded college program) and Concordia (McGill’s rival school for almost half a century).
We chanted, stomped, yelled, waved signs, and managed to gain entry into the room where the event was being held. The event had to be prematurely canceled. We won and as of writing this article impatiently await McGill’s apology and preferably the resignation or firing of those who decided this was a good idea, namely: Frédéric Mégret and Nandini Ramanujam. Wintemute had his own Anita Bryant, as he was pelted with flour.
A trans man I spoke with at the protest (who wished to remain anonymous) stated: “They will try to blame trans women to paint them as intimidating but let it be known, trans men, non-binary people, and AFAB people were all here.” He turned to the door where the event was being held and then yelled “and we all fucking hate you.”
I asked McGill law student Jordan Prentice for their thoughts. They said it was “heartening to see the turn out and solidarity” and how it showed “TERFs are not a silent majority but an extremely loud minority.” The event represented “an attempt to shift the political window of acceptability further right” which has been used in the past “to justify genocide”. Jordan also spoke on camera with the Montreal Gazette.
Jacob (he/him), a member and organizer for McGill’s Trans Patient Union (TPU), stated “This is not an honest or good debate. It is hate speech vs. unknowledgeable staff”. No matter what the CHRLP claimed “paying and platforming a speaker legitimizes their views.” Whilst using a megaphone to address the event organizers “Today you have made a mockery of debate”. TPU’s stance on the speech and an open letter to the CHRLP demanding an apology were reiterated during the protests..
After the protest, I continued going to classes, but it was hard to concentrate. That night I met with a friend. We’re both international students and we commiserated about the betrayal we felt. We both came from countries and high schools which made us feel unseen or unsafe in our queer identities. We chose McGill because we thought it would be better. They asked me, point blank, “Was I naive? I just thought things would be better here.” I didn’t know how to answer. I still don’t really.
Unsurprisingly, I’m angry. I’m furious. My voice was hoarse for most of the day after yelling in the protest. What does surprise me is the deep disappointment I feel. For the most part, my experience as a queer person at McGill has been positive. I’ve planned, attended, performed at, and even brought cookies for events focused on creating an inclusive environment for McGill’s queer students. I feel violated, like I’ve been lied to like this was some long con lulling me into a false sense of safety. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel the same as a trans person at McGill. They have sown a mistrust where I will always doubt their claims of inclusivity as performative. Jacob said it best: “McGill’s branding of inclusivity is all bark and no bite”.
McGill staff clearly seem to have difficulty understanding the demands of their trans students so I will try to keep my language as simple as possible. Giving someone associated with a transphobic hate group money to speak in an official capacity is transphobic. These hate groups believe that the ideal number of trans people is zero, the same way Nazis believe the ideal number of Jews should be minimized. Holding an event whose title contains transphobic dog whistles tolerates transphobia and hatred. Ignoring trans people telling you something is transphobic and harmful is transphobic and demeaning.
Those who would orchestrate such events are either transphobic and should not be allowed in an ‘inclusive’ institution or lack the critical thinking skills and basic understanding of the modern political landscape to be competent professors, much less in charge of a department dedicated to human rights. If you’re platforming people with the same views on trans people as literal, self-avowed Nazis, you fail to grasp the actual dynamics of the situation, and lose any claim to be a proponent of human rights.
I hope those working for McGill who consider themselves trans allies feel embarrassed, the transphobic members of faculty feel ashamed, and the entire university feel disgraced.
Eric Tannehill is a student & trans activist living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
When will LGBTQ people be safe in America?
We endure. We must. Yes, we are still afraid. But we reach for each other and embrace inspiration where we can find it
By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Pulse. Club Q. Everyday life for drag queens, trans and non-binary folk. When, oh, when will LGBTQ people be safe in America? When will we get to be full human beings free to create, develop and explore our authentic selves without always having to worry about making some straight person uncomfortable?
I am tired of having my life defined by other people’s prejudices. But I’m mindful, too, that I must always be on guard since — as we learned again with the mass shooting at Club Q last weekend in Colorado Springs — straight fear is fatal.
Why are straight people either unable or blindly refuse to see LGBTQs as real people. We are, collectively, like the Black people Ralph Ellison wrote about in The Invisible Man: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
But they do see us when we celebrate, protest or die en masse. And then we are dubbed a “community,” as if we all know each other and think alike. The late singer, writer and AIDS activist Michael Callen used to say: “the gay community is a useful fiction,” because it enabled us to organize and try to get resources we needed.
That local organizing for civil rights and later to combat AIDS gave rise to the political Religious Right through Rev. Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant and the right-wing “think tanks” that considered us a convenient scapegoat and fundraising convenience, leading to the cruelty of the Reagan years and anti-gay Republican populist Patrick Buchanan — who paved the way for Donald Trump.
Buchanan’s dark, divisive “culture war” speech at the 1992 convention gave permission to the nation’s bigots to disregard the traditional boundaries of good taste and civility and take off and discard the old KKK sheets and hoods in the name of “free speech” and saving America for straight white men.
“The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country,” Buchanan said. “My friends, this election is about more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe, and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.”
Yes, in 1991/92, Bill and Hillary Clinton were on our side: they promised to stop the massive dying and end the AIDS crisis. So yes, the “gay community” raised more than $2 million of identifiable “gay money” and created the first gay voting bloc for dark horse presidential candidate Bill Clinton. But behind the scenes, our gays at the Democratic convention had to threaten a walkout on live TV if Clinton didn’t deign to utter the words “gay and lesbian” in his acceptance speech.
I thought about this a lot as this year’s midterms approached. Since 1992, the Democratic Party has done specific outreach to the LGBTQ “community” for fundraising, engagement and get out the vote efforts. But with so much on the line – with democracy on the line – the Democrats were nowhere to be seen this year – ironically, even though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was headed by a gay guy who wound up losing his own seat.
No one was stepping up to educate our people about the issues, the candidates and why this election was so important. So my Millennial ally friend Max Huskins and I used our own money and time to produce the YouTube Race to the Midterms series, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Blade.
When I approached my potential guests, I noted how afraid so many of us were of going to a voting site and being humiliated or beaten up for being or being perceived as LGBTQ. I don’t know if my guests really understood the fear we face walking out the door each day. Perhaps that’s a lot clearer today.
And with proudly gay Jared Polis serving as Colorado governor since 2019 — it is easy to forget that Colorado Springs has been a Mecca, a haven for anti-LGBTQ Evangelical Christians since the late 1980s, with more than 100 evangelical groups headquartered there. Focus on the Family is so large, sending out 4 million pieces of mail every month, it has its own zip code, according to a 2013 NPR report.
Last Sunday, Polis called the attack on Club Q an “act of evil.”
“This was just a place of safety for people,” Polis told CNN. “It was a place where people could, in a conservative community, often get the acceptance that too many of them might not have had it at home or in their other circles and to see this occur is really just put us all in a state of shock here in Colorado and across the country.”
Across the country, indeed. And in every drag bar or club, LGBTQ people and allies are bravely refusing to back down, despite knowing there are lone gun domestic terrorists out to kill us in the name of Trump or God.
We endure. We must. Yes, we are still afraid. But we reach for each other and embrace inspiration where we can find it – such as in Jennifer Hudson’s version of Sam Cooke’s amazing 1963 song “A Change is Gonna Come.”
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.
The law is so broad and vague that it would affect transgender people and businesses that don’t normally host drag events
By Eric Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – On Tuesday November 15th, Texas Representative Jared Patterson introduced House Bill (HB) 643 which would classify any business that hosts a drag show under the state’s statutory definition of “sexually oriented businesses.” The current legal definition of “sexually oriented business” is any venue where two or more people perform nude and alcohol is allowed.
Patterson’s bill would change this definition to include anyplace where a “performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment.” The bill would also add a five-dollar cover charge to all venues where drag is allowed.
This would functionally ban drag acts in Texas, since there is little overlap in clientele between strip clubs and gay bars. Nor would venues that host drag events add a $5 cover charge when there isn’t a drag event happening.
However, the law is so broad and vague that it would affect transgender people and businesses that don’t normally host drag events. Under this law if a transgender person does any sort of performance at any location where alcohol is allowed, it will fall afoul of the law. Here are just a few of the sorts of things that would be illegal under this proposed law:
- A transgender soldier from Fort Bliss singing the National Anthem before a basketball game at the University of Texas El Paso
- A bring-your-own-beer performance of Twelfth Night at a Shakespeare in the Park festival
- A screening of the 1959 movie “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon at an Alamo Draft House movie theater
- A transgender person singing Karaoke after work with friends
- A performance by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Beethoven’s 9th Symphony where drinks are served at intermission, and the third-cellist happens to be transgender
- Any performance by the band “Against Me!” (with lead singer Laura Jane Grace) or gender non-conforming artist Harry Styles in the state of Texas at a venue where alcohol is allowed
- A local theater performance of the 1938 play “Our Town”, where one of the extras in the graveyard scene is transgender.
The definition of performance is so broad that it could technically be anything where people watch a transgender person do anything: if two people holding a beer watched Laura Jane Grace play solitaire in her street clothes it would qualify as a drag event under this law.
According to Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard law school, the purpose of this law isn’t to get a lot of convictions, but to have “a chilling effect on the LGBT community”. It would make businesses of all types unable or unwilling to host drag shows, as well as make others reluctant to let transgender people use the facilities, such as a karaoke bar refusing to let anyone who looks gender non-conforming in any way into the facility.
The other side of it is to make transgender people afraid to participate in public activities. For example, would a hypothetical trans person risk violating the law to continue performing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra? Would the orchestra let them continue to perform? Would the trans person who is an extra in a community theater project risk being charged with a crime to just silently stand on-stage for half an hour?
The law’s being broad and overly vague is a feature, not a bug. It is part of the goal of making life for transgender people so difficult and unpleasant that they will leave. This was the initial goal in Germany, where Jews were both encouraged and allowed to leave in the early days of the Third Reich. Hundreds of thousands sold their possessions and fled between 1933 and 1939. One of the earliest things Germany did to “encourage” them to leave was a law passed in early 1934 that banned Jewish performers from appearing on stage or on-screen. It’s also worth noting that Texas has led the charge on banning transgender people from participating in athletics while insisting they can get their own leagues, (which Germany did with Jewish athletes prior to the 1936 Olympics).
It is uncertain if this bill will ever get a hearing, given it has no co-sponsors yet. Even if it does pass, not every law enforcement official, from police, to judges, to Attorney Generals will be willing to enforce it to its illogical conclusion (e.g. prosecuting the extra in “Our Town”). And if they do try to enforce it, there’s no guarantee that it will survive judicial scrutiny under the 1st and 14th Amendments. But it shows intent, and a way forward for other states looking to “encourage” transgender people to leave, thereby minimizing their population. Tennessee has introduced its own bill, which is also broad and vague enough to charge transgender people with felonies.
The fact that so many states are ready to go down this road, and what we know lies at the end of it, should be a giant red flag for anyone who means it when they say, “never again.”
Eric Tannehill is a twenty-something queer activist and university student.
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