The Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri has been thrust into the national spotlight following comments he made suggesting a woman can resist becoming pregnant after a “legitimate rape” — prompting LGBT advocates to decry not only his views on women but also his long history of opposition to LGBT rights.
Todd Akin, who’s seeking to oust Democrat Claire McCaskill from her seat representing Missouri in the U.S. Senate, raised eyebrows when he made comments in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI-TV after being asked if women who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault should have the option of abortion.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
The remarks ignited a media firestorm, particularly over the notion of what Akin would consider a “legitimate” rape. The next day, Akin apologized on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s radio show, saying his earlier remarks were “ill-conceived, and it was wrong.” Amid speculation that he would drop out of the race, Akin said he had no intention of quitting.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s leading Republican efforts to take control of the U.S. Senate, said Akin’s comments were “wrong, offensive and indefensible” and over the next 24 hours the candidate should consider what is best for him and people he’s seeking to represent in public office. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race.
Akin has an anti-gay record as a six-term congressman representing Missouri in the U.S. House, where he has not only supported, but taken the lead, on measures targeting the LGBT community. He has consistently scored a “0” on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual congressional scorecards.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Akin proposed an amendment in May — which the Republican-controlled panel adopted as part of major Pentagon spending legislation — to institute a “conscience clause” in U.S. code to allow service members to object to openly gay people in their ranks in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“The president has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and he’s now using the military as campaign props to advance the gay agenda,” Akin said. “My sons and our sons and daughters didn’t volunteer to be part of some political agenda; they volunteered to protect our freedom in America.”
Last year, Akin introduced a committee amendment to expand the Defense of Marriage Act to prohibit military chaplains from officiating over same-sex wedding ceremonies and to bar same-sex marriages from taking place on military facilities. A similar amendment introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) this year was attached to pending defense legislation. Palazzo said during the markup that Akin helped write the legislation.
On the House floor, Akin has a significant anti-LGBT record. The lawmaker twice voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment when it came to the House floor in 2004 and 2006. In subsequent years, Akin voted against hate crimes protections legislation, a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
In 2006, Akin came to the House floor to decry same-sex marriage and suggested that countries that have allowed it have vanished as a result of that decision.
“From a practical point of view, to preserve our civilization and society, it’s important for us to preserve marriage,” Akin said. “Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.”
When legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came to the House floor in December 2010, Akin was among the House Republicans who were vocal against any attempt to repeal the military’s gay ban, saying the vote on repeal represented an attempt to impose a “social agenda” on the U.S. military during wartime as operations continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the course of the current Congress, Akin has voted for amendments affirming DOMA that have come to the House floor: the one offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) last year as well as one offered by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) this year. He didn’t vote on the one offered by Steve King (R-Iowa) a few months ago.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Akin in a statement, calling him “one of the leading voices in the House working against the best interests of LGBT people.”
“He’s against any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples; he’s made remarks that are demeaning to LGBT families; he voted against the historic repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and he refuses to support workplace protections,” Griffin said. “Todd Akin is no friend to anyone who has experienced discrimination and is looking to their elected officials to protect their rights under the law.”
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of Missouri’s statewide LGBT group PROMO, said the endorsements that Akin has earned are reflective of anti-gay views that the candidate will act upon if elected to the Senate.
“His endorsement list includes foes of not just choice, but also LGBT equality — such as Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly and Mike Huckabee,” Bockelman said. “Make no mistake, while Akin will attempt to back-peddle in his statement, when one examines his record and past statements, Akin is simply restating his beliefs loud and clear.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said it’s time for Akin to not only abandon his campaign, but “resign from office with all due haste.”
“If he truly believes there is some sort of classification system for rape and that only certain types of rape can result in pregnancy, he is unfit for public office and has no business voting on issues he clearly cannot comprehend,” Davis said.
McCaskill was among the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 even before the Pentagon produced its report on the issue later in the year.
On same-sex marriage, McCaskill hasn’t yet expressed support, but instead of outright opposing marriage equality has deferred to the states. Following President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, McCaskill’s office said she opposes discrimination against gays and lesbians, but believes states should “take the lead in determining marriage equality.”
“The state of Missouri’s position on this issue has been clearly established since 2004 and nothing about today’s announcement changes that,” McCaskill spokesperson John LaBombard was quoted as saying in the Springfield News-Leader.
The Missouri race is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the nation and could determine control of the Senate. Most polls gave Akin a slight lead. A poll published last week by SurveyUSA gave Akin an 11-point lead over McCaskill. But that poll was taken well before Akin made his controversial remarks.
Gay Republican groups had differing views on what consequences Akin should face as a result of his remarks.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization backs Cornyn’s decision to call on Akin to reconsider his campaign.
“Log Cabin Republicans support Chairman Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee decision to pull resources from Akin’s campaign,” Cooper said. “There is no such thing as ‘legitimate rape’.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said his organization would defer to the Missouri GOP on what should happen with its U.S. Senate candidate, but expressed concerns.
“We are going to leave it up to the Missouri Republican Party to determine who their nominee is in the U.S. Senate race,” LaSalvia said. “GOProud hopes that Sen. McCaskill is defeated this year, and we are seriously concerned about Akin’s ability to defeat her in November.”
In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries
The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date
DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.
The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.
“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).
In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.
The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.
Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”
The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple.— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) September 15, 2021
After 18 years together, we couldn’t be happier to be married at last. pic.twitter.com/psBhfEoEny
Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.
In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.
Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds
U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections
Joint statement says church teachings support equality
More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.
The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.
“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.
“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.
The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.
“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.
“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said.
DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.
He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.
Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Fairfield, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.
Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”
The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.
Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence
Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick
The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.
For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.
The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future.
Uplifting voices often silenced
Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C.
Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches.
“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.
Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests.
“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.
Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community.
“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick.
Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.
What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?
The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.
“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”
“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick.
She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news.
Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments.
“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago.
Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”
“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.
As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.
The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi.
“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago.
“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.
He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles.
Cannick’s focus is on the Black community.
“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.
She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces.
She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils.
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