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N.Y. protesters see importance of LGBT economic issues

As demonstrations spread, so does gay visibility in movement

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Jonathan "J.C." Lopez

Jonathan "J.C." Lopez of Brooklyn, N.Y. has been 'camping' in Zuccotti Park with his boyfriend for nearly two weeks with the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests. (Washington Blade photo by Phil Reese)

NEW YORK — The Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York City on Sept. 17 as an outpouring of frustration over the economy has captured the attention of the nation and spread to Washington and other cities.

Many protesters have decried government bailouts for financial institutions whose leaders escaped accountability for the recession. Others have focused on local issues and many LGBT advocates have joined the demonstrations. In New York, there is frustration among LGBT youth over cuts to programs like homeless youth shelters and HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs.

Jonathan “J.C.” Lopez of Brooklyn has, like many of these “campers,” been sleeping on the ground in Zuccotti Park in a sleeping bag with his boyfriend for nearly two weeks.

“I experienced a lot of messed up things, and a lot of good things that come along here, like how the cops were,” Lopez said about clashes with police that triggered widespread criticism. “They messed up and I’m glad that what they did is on camera.”

He hopes that the protests bring change to the New York Police Department.

“The good thing is that everybody works together for one thing and one thing only: Stand up,” Lopez said about the actions in New York’s financial district. “Everybody is tired of not speaking. The protest here is mainly for helping everybody. You know, the homeless, the justice, everything to make a change.”

Lopez sees unique economic challenges for LGBT youth and sees the protests as a catalyst to fix those problems.

“Certain people are just stranded in the street because of what they are,” he told the Blade as the sun was setting over his campsite. “Changing the whole economic system, changing people that are homeless, putting the programs back on, like the shelters and so on and so on, so people can get a job, people can get a home. I hope that will change.”

“Queer economic justice can mean several things,” Jake Goodman of New York activist group Queer Rising told the Blade. “On a very literal level, corporations — to my knowledge of which most have changed their employment policies to be favorable to at least gays and lesbian people — still donate a majority of their donations to candidates and to political parties that actively pursue policies that take away our rights or block us from our rights. So queer economic justice is to stop funding those people.”

“Also queer economic justice is to remember that gay people are not the only queer people — there are transgender people that need help with housing [and employment protections] and we need to remember our other brothers and sisters and ensure economic justice for them,” Goodman said, as a crowd gathered below the red “Joie de Vivre” statue towering over Zuccotti Park. “Economic justice for them is providing protection for [homeless queer youth] while they’re on the streets because families kick them out,” Goodman continued. “[Queer Rising is advocating] for additional $3 million per year in the budget every year, which would provide 100 additional beds per year until everybody has beds and protection.”

The Blade spent Monday and Tuesday in New York and LGBT protesters were found at every turn.

Diego Angarita of Massachusetts sees LGBT issues wrapped up with many of the other issues being addressed.

“As you saw in the declaration for Occupy Wall Street, there is still discrimination based on your sexual orientation and gender,” said Angarita, who was the sole marcher carrying a rainbow flag in a procession around the park. “Transgender people are discriminated against all the time. Imagine if there was a transgender stock trader. Are you kidding me that would never happen.”

“There are gay people who were immigrants, gay people who are undocumented, gay people who are on welfare, I mean gay people who are environmentalists, gay indigenous folks,” Angarita continued. “Being gay is so integrated into every form of identity that is out there and being the particular gay angle I guess is just discrimination for gender inequity and forms and in the sense of identity in general.”

Sunlight Foundation organizer Bridget Todd has been marching with the Occupy Washington protests in Lafayette Park since the start of the demonstrations and said the D.C. branch of the movement is only getting started.

“I don’t think that cops are going to force them to get out and they’re going to see if it peeters out on its own; but I actually don’t think it will, I think it’s only getting stronger,” Todd said of the D.C. demonstrations. “We were there just the other day on Sunday doing a teaching and trying to find ways to help them strengthen their movements and strengthen their ideas and really engage them.”

“I got laid off in April and we’re all suffering,” said Kristin Ridley, who traveled from Occupy L.A. to join the New York protest. “We’re all suffering and this is a basically becoming a plutocracy in this country, being ruled by the wealthy, and it hurts all of us.

“We need to go out and show support for a populist movement,” she continued. “And wrapped up into that are also a lot of the individual things that help people, for example, advancing equal rights based on things like sexual orientation, it just fits right into it.”

Though many members of the swelling group repeated that all were welcome, and that LGBT issues were not specifically being singled out because the economic policies being advocated would help all, some gay participants said they saw opportunities to educate passersby and others on unique LGBT economic issues. Paula Cambronero had an exchange with a man who approached her near the food trucks where interviews with protesters were being conducted.

“He was interested in what was going on … and he didn’t feel he understood what people were here for, so he started asking me a few questions,” Cambronero said. “He asked me what ‘real’ democracy meant, whether we thought we had a fake democracy now, where we were going, and he also asked me what we thought social justice meant. I said I thought it meant that everyone should have the same opportunities and the same rights, and he said that everybody already did.”

Cambronero used the inability of same-sex couples to marry as an example of inequality, which led him to proclaim all gay people can marry, as long as they marry the opposite sex.

“We had an interesting discussion where he shared his viewpoints of why he thought the law should not change, and I shared my opinion of why it should,” she told the Blade. “I hope I got him thinking.”

Rev. Magora Kennedy — whose hat was decorated with a rainbow flag — was in the Stonewall Inn the night that the police raid on the gay bar sparked three nights of unrest in New York City, leading to the dawn of the modern LGBT rights struggle.

“We were in the streets from that Friday until that Monday,” Kennedy said. “That weekend, there was very little ‘salt in the pepper.’ Most of us that were out there were people of color. The thing that happened with Stonewall, as the movement went on, it got whiter and whiter. Most of us that were involved with Stonewall, there’s not many of us that are alive today.”

Kennedy, a lesbian, was married to a gay man in the military. The two married to prevent Kennedy’s husband from being kicked out of the military. They had four sons. Kennedy now has 14 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren and calls herself the “gayest great-grandmother out of the closet.”

“I’m so sorry that he’s not alive today to know that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed and that gay people can openly join the services now.”

Kennedy sees the LGBT rights movement and the Occupy Wall Street protests as extensions of the civil rights movement.

“This whole thing is something that we’ve all been going through from the time of the civil rights movement,” she said above a chorus of protesters and drums rising from the center of Zuccotti Park, just steps from the site of the World Trade Center. “When they were putting together Wall Street … it was very, very white; no women and no people of color.”

She continued, “today … the people of color — the blacks, the Puerto Ricans, and just people of color in general — they gave them good salaries so they’d shut up. These people are making millions of dollars and as long as they stay quiet it’s a brand of new slavery and it’s economic slavery.”

Ethan Lee Vita, a pansexual polyamourous anarchist activist, was a part of the Occupy Kansas City protests before traveling to New York to join the Occupy Wall Street protests last week to protest corporate intervention in the government. He believes that anarchy holds the key to LGBT liberation and freedom.

“The state is a central organized power of violence, and that’s what forces violence against queers and everything else,” Vita told the Blade. “Queers in particular face violence and pressure from the state. For example, the issue of marriage. I’m not necessarily pro-marriage, I’m for getting the government out of marriage so there’s no bias either way for straight, gay or anybody.”

A local nanny who wished to remain anonymous came to the rally on Sept. 18, initially to support “the vague sentiments being expressed at the beginning, the sense of dissatisfaction with injustice.”

She decided to stay and has taken on the role of medic for the community of occupiers because she enjoys the community developing at Zuccotti Park.

“I think that what’s being built here is a revitalization of progressive politics and the labor movement and a lot of other things that I feel really needed some new energy.”

“The energy’s definitely gone up,” she said among the clamour of a call-and answer chant making its way across the park. “When it started it was maybe a couple hundred people, and it was a pretty consistent group of people, so we all knew each other. That’s changed.”

“One of the best things about this community is that everybody here is listening all the time,” the New York nanny-turned medic said. “so when we do things like, for example, saying ‘let’s go around the circle and say our names and our preferred gender pronoun,’ and somebody says ‘why should I need to say my preferred gender pronoun,’ we can explain, ‘not everybody here is going to prefer the pronoun that you may assume based on their body.’ And they sort of listen and go ‘oh, OK. I didn’t know that, and now I do, and now I have a new way to think about gender, and a new way to think about how people present themselves,’ that they can not only take into their interactions with people here, but hopefully take back home with them into their communities.”

“One of the reason that I’ve always opposed people like the Log Cabin Republicans, its not just that I’m a progressive, but I don’t believe that a conservative outlook — even a conservative economic outlook — can be consistent with gay rights,” the anonymous medic said. “I believe that the conservative political mindset is founded on elitism, its founded on special privileges, so it will never create a society in which LGBT people can live as equals to straight people and cisgender people. So if LGBT people want a society where they can be treated as the legal and cultural equal of the majority, they need to be part of a community that is working toward change and working toward more a equal rather than less equal community.”

Kat Adams, a queer minimum wage worker from Staten Island works with the medics at Zuccotti Park. He is eager to have a family some day, but as his salary barely pays his rent, he is reticent to start his family.

“Not by a long shot,” he said about whether or not minimum wage is a living wage. “I will not bring a child into a situation where I can’t even provide shoes.”

“Most of us have full time jobs,” he said of criticism of the protesters.

“What brought me here was just medical. I came down here with no interest in the politics, very little knowledge of what was going on, and honestly I didn’t think it would work, I didn’t think it mattered, and thought it would all fall apart within a couple weeks.”

“After seeing what happened Wednesday with the police confrontations and all the chaos, I consider myself part of it now,” Adams said, recalling an ugly injury he helped treat, of a camper who was hit so hard by a police baton he required EMT attention.

“You’ll see the rainbow flag out, you’ll see a lot of people, but its such a diverse group, but everyone looks so ‘weird,’ that you’re not going to find us.”

Many protesters believe that mainstream media outlets have been resistant to fairly portraying the actions in New York’s financial district.

“You haven’t seen nearly as much coverage [of the protests] as you would think there would be of something like this big and loud and widespread, say, compared to the Tea Party where fifty people show up and it’s and it’s backed by a political party and they get a lot of attention,” said Kristin Ridley. “But when its this big, widespread, truly grassroots movement it doesn’t get nearly the same amount of attention.”

Though their goals are intentionally abstract, according to the back page of the protester’s daily newspaper, ‘The Occupied Wall Street Journal,’ many of those that spoke with the Blade feel that progress will spark from the colorful demonstrations.

Kat Adams notes that many groups from across the political and economic spectrum, from libertarian Ron Paul supporters to communists to anarchists have assembled at the park to exchange ideas and express frustration with a political process that has made them feel left behind.

“You see arguments that spring up, but I think that’s good,” Adams continued. “A lot of people talk about how aimless this is, but that really is expressive of the idea here. Its all these different groups who would never talk to each other, let alone hang out like this, have come together because they all see the same problem.”

“I think they’re actually constructive arguments, people are trying to understand one another, and help others understand them.”

“What we want to happen here is a change to the way the process works, is a change to the way society is ordered,” The anonymous medic summarized the goals of the occupation. “So that it is not the richest part of society that has all the political power, so its not the richest part of society that has all of the economic power, so that wealth is more fairly distributed, and so that things like education, food, health care, housing are recognized as basic human rights are treated as basic human rights by the government and by society.”

Ethan Lee Vita agrees that the Occupy Wall Street protests and the dozens more that have began to appear all over the nation, are a good opportunity for a wide-range of like-minded individuals to network and exchange ideas.

“I’m not entirely sure if the occupation itself will forge anything, but the bonds that are built within it, and the ideas exchanged will be very helpful down the line,” Vita concluded.

Bridget Todd supports the Wall Street group, but thinks that the Washington contingency will be even more successful at initiating change.

“I think Wall Street is important but I think K Street is arguably more important; that’s where a lot of the money goes and that’s where a lot of it happens so I think it’s very important and I’m glad to see that this is a sort of countrywide movement but especially DC and New York.”

Stonewall veteran Reverend Magora Kennedy believes uniting different movements against injustice is vital.

“We’re all in this together. Whether you’re gay or straight, white, black, blue, green, whatever; we’re all in this together because if we don’t come together and unite and do something about this we will perish.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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