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A journalist’s convictions and a lawyer’s fire

Remembering NLGJA’s Michael Triplett, who died at 48

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Michael Triplett, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, gay news, Washington Blade, obituary
Michael Triplett, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, gay news, Washington Blade, obituary

The late NLGJA President Michael Triplett (Photo courtesy of NLGJA)

By MATTHEW E. BERGER

There are people who are constants in your life, arriving at an undefined moment and in the background for the large and small milestones. And then there are those who are with you for just a short time, but leave an impression that is everlasting.

Michael Triplett, president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, died last month, losing his battle with oral cancer. He was too young—48—and had too much left to give. Michael had a journalist’s convictions and a lawyer’s fire. He was a strong advocate for the communities he cared for. But what he taught me was that quiet, persistent passion can often be more effective than being the loudest voice in the room.

I first met Michael six years ago when, as president of NLGJA’s D.C. chapter, I sent out a notice seeking a treasurer. Michael responded that he knew how to balance a checkbook. We’d meet for coffee regularly, choosing our Starbucks based on the attractiveness of the baristas. It was there that I realized that Michael was not like many other journalists. He was stoic and focused in a fast-paced environment. Nothing seemed to faze him.

Michael succeeded me as chapter president and helped organize forums on the 2008 elections. He soon became a member of NLGJA’s national board and then its vice president. Our friendship was upgraded as well, as we started meeting for brunch in Clarendon, at a spot chosen for its buffet (as well as the large number of cute, young suburban dads).

In the short time we were friends, Michael changed in my eyes. He became more outspoken, more comfortable in his own skin. He seemed to be hitting his stride. He found a partner, was promoted at work, was doing charity work overseas. Michael seemed happy, well adjusted, successful, as if he had the whole world in front of him.

On Michael’s 47th birthday, he started a Tumblr page – My 48th Year. There, he spoke of his happiness at home and at work. “But I also get to see a doctor today about my cancer,” he wrote. “A week after it being diagnosed, Jack and I are going to see a head and neck oncologist to figure out what to do about this little tumor on my tongue. Well, I hope it’s little. I pray it’s little. We will see.”

Michael saw opportunity in everything, even cancer. He blogged often about the indignities of his treatment, how he lost the taste for food and found it difficult to shave. He wrote essays on oral cancer, its link to the human papilomavirus (HPV) and the potential for it to be spread through oral sex. And he showed the lighter side as well, how he may have been the only person who could thank cancer for making him look younger and thinner.

As he fought cancer, Michael pressed on. He rarely missed a meeting or an email exchange. He kept chairing committees and blogging for our website. When NLGJA was asked to join an alliance of minority journalists known as UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, Michael was the voice that brought calm to sometimes contentious meetings. He was the leader we needed, and he soon became our president.

Throughout the fall, it seemed Michael kept being told he needed one more treatment or surgery. When he got the news he had been dreading, that the cancer was terminal, he took to Tumblr to share the news and his thoughts—a writer to the end.

Michael showed me that advocacy can take many forms. He fought for what he believed in because he knew his thoughtful words and sweet nature would get his point across. He knew a good writer uses his pen for everything, from advocacy to therapy.

But more importantly, Michael showed me there is more than one way to make an impression. Michael left many, and our community is better for his efforts and his passion.

A memorial service will be held at noon on Saturday, Feb. 2 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 4900 Connecticut Ave., N.W. A reception will follow. Memorial contributions may be made to NLGJA (2110 L St., N.W., Suite 850, Washington, D.C. 20037); St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; or to Hospice Family Care (3304 Westmill Dr., S.W., Huntsville, Ala. 35805).

Matthew E. Berger is vice president of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis communications firm, and a member of NLGJA’s board of directors.

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Trump thinks he can say anything — even quote Hitler — and win

Listen to his words and be very afraid

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President Donald Trump

Trump believes he can say anything, even using Hitler’s words, and be elected. My faith is in the decent people in America; they will reject him. It was reported “a video posted on Trump’s social media profile featured mock-up headlines and newspaper clippings envisioning coverage after a Trump victory. One headline read: ‘What’s next for America?’ with text underneath that referred to “the creation of a unified Reich.”

The word “Reich” is associated with Germany under Adolf Hitler, who designated his Nazi regime the “Third Reich.” Then it was reported in an interview with political analyst Jon Delano on KDKA-TV of Pittsburgh, “Trump was asked whether he supports any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception?” He responded, “We’re looking at that, and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly, and I think it’s something you’ll find interesting. I think it’s a smart decision. We’ll be releasing it very soon.” 

This despite polls showing nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe contraception should be legal, and available. After the backlash, he appeared to backtrack. Blaming someone else for the post on his website, and saying he supports contraception, but adding, it should be left to the states. I say believe what he says first, and be afraid. Women should be very afraid, if Trump is elected. Leaving it to the states gets you this: Louisiana lawmakers voted to classify abortion pills as controlled substances. This would make possession of the drugs without a prescription a crime in Louisiana, punishable by jail time. This when the Guttmacher Institute reports 63% of all abortions in the U.S. in 2023 were medication abortions. Yes, Trump is scary. 

While Trump continues to say these crazy things and seems to get away with it, the mind-boggling thing is most of the media continue to focus on Biden’s age, and a few misspoken words. Where is the rationale for that? We see misleading polls in this election cycle, in every race. Recently, Joe Scarborough had major questions about the New York Times/Siena polls, and the methodology used. It appears some respondents listed as most likely voters, actually hadn’t voted in a couple of years. Many of the polls where Trump is leading are within the margin of error. If we look at polls over the last couple of years on legislative races, and abortion, they have been wrong. Democrats ended up winning even if the polls said they were even, or behind. Maybe people just don’t want to talk to pollsters anymore, or maybe even lie to them. I haven’t responded to a pollster for at least five years. I get calls from pollsters on my land line (yes, I still have one), my cell phone, and get surveys and polling questions by email. I never respond. My advice is to disregard the public polling. 

I know candidates do internal polling, and that is fine for their purposes. But the general public would do better to listen to the candidates, hear what they say, read what they write, and believe them. Trump actually says he wants to become a dictator, and uses terms like ‘The Reich.’ He watches what states are doing about abortion and contraception and continues to say that’s fine by him. He calls the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, great patriots, and says he will pardon them. He invites a known white supremacist, Nick Fuentes, to dinner with him at Mar-a-Lago. He opposes doing anything about the border now, telling members of his party to vote against the first bipartisan bill to do something about immigration in years. He uses the slogan ‘America First’ and thinks naively, in this world, we can pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. He wants to cozy up to Putin, and thinks that is good for America. 

Young people need to be scared because he is a climate denier, and they will live with the results of that the longest. Just look at the estimate of the hurricanes for this coming season, you see what will happen if we do nothing. Trump promises a group of energy billionaires if they raise a billion dollars for him, they can “drill baby drill.” Bloomberg reports, “A victory by Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election threatens $1 trillion in energy investments and future support for low-carbon energy sources,” according to a Wood Mackenzie report.

Americans must simply listen to what Trump says. That should scare, at a minimum, every woman, African American, Latino, member of the LGBTQ+ community, and young person. If we hear him, we must believe him; and we must soundly defeat him.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Urgent concerns arise when congressional staff face ethics investigations

We need safeguards to mitigate risk of unfair outcomes

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Congressional staff tend to avoid engaging in conduct that could reflect poorly on the members they represent or that which would otherwise bring them out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight.

Last week, however, was the second time in which I broke a story about a chief of staff on Capitol Hill who found himself the subject of a complaint to the U.S. House Ethics Committee, the body whose primary responsibility is investigating reports of unethical and unlawful conduct by America’s elected representatives.

In the first, Marjorie Taylor Greene filed a report against Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss’s top aide because he had placed stickers over a transphobic sign that the far-right Georgia congresswoman had displayed outside her office. 

The second complaint came from an official with the Biden-Harris administration over an especially combative and anti-trans email that was sent by the highest-ranking deputy in a West Virginia Republican’s Congressional office.

The two cases are not otherwise analogous. As the emissaries of lawmakers who are responsible to their constituents, staff should be held accountable for out-of-bounds behavior like sending offensive emails to harass colleagues on Capitol Hill or in the federal government. 

By contrast, decorating a poster in the Longworth House Office Building without permission is hardly a crime that should be escalated to the Ethics Committee, particularly not when the poster is offensive to members of a marginalized community and was hung in the first place to provoke a colleague across the hall who has a trans daughter.

If a monthslong probe exploring whether a career Hill staffer had brought discredit upon the House of Representatives with his stickers was not absurd enough, it was kicked off by none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been guilty of that charge virtually every day since she was elected. (Recall, for instance, that she has called for violence against her political opponents, including by publishing a video on social media in which she said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves the death penalty.)

A member of Congress wields a tremendous amount of power relative to even the seniormost Capitol Hill staff, a fact that was brought into sharp relief for Auchincloss’s chief of staff as he sought to defend himself against not just the committee’s investigation but also an affidavit by the Capitol Police in support of an arrest warrant along with threats and harassment so severe that his home was monitored by law enforcement.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment when I reached out last week to confirm receipt of the complaint filed against the GOP staffer, just as they had refused to provide information about the status of the case initiated by Greene’s report.

The committee’s Senate counterpart is even more of a black box.

An article by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government accountability group, notes that in the recent indictment of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, “the shocking details revealed by the allegations seemingly had no end.”

The evidence against him was sufficiently flagrant and longstanding, the article argues, to “beg the question: Is the Senate incapable of finding and rooting out potential corruption before it becomes a crime?”

Part of the problem, according to CLC, is that the Upper Chamber’s ethics committee provides no means by which a complaint can be seen through to its investigation and resolution. The public knows very little about what the committee does, perhaps because the committee does very little: a study in 2023 found that none of the 1,523 reports that were filed over a period of 15 years resulted in any formal disciplinary sanctions.

Obviously, full transparency is impossible when sensitive information must be kept confidential to protect the integrity of an investigation. However, and especially if we are going to continue seeing complaints against Congressional staff rather than the lawmakers they serve, the committees should provide more insight into their processes and decision making.

Measures could include safeguards designed to mitigate the risk of unfair outcomes when investigations are brought by members of Congress and target those who have far less power. A mechanism requiring the investigators to share more information about cases under their review, to the extent possible, would also be wise — because even when the alleged conduct by a staffer may warrant a complaint, time and resources might be better spent rooting out misconduct by members of Congress, which is almost always far more consequential. 

We should also contend with the question of whether ethics committees are ever the appropriate place to explore and adjudicate allegations against staffers, since members are fully capable of enforcing the rules in their offices. 

As demonstrated by the long and tortured process through which George Santos was finally booted from Congress, getting rid of an elected lawmaker is far more difficult than, say, firing a chief of staff. 

Ultimately, perhaps the right question is: how can we hold elected representatives to a higher standard such that they model good behavior for their employ as well as for their constituents and Congressional colleagues?

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Biden must be more direct when talking to young people

Educate them about futility of third-party candidates

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Biden is doing a great job. But reality is, some young people are wavering in their support. I suggest when talking to young people, the president be more direct. What prompted me to write this was reading what some Morehouse College students are saying. Here is a suggested short speech.   

“I want you to know how honored I am for the opportunity to speak with you today. I will speak from my heart, and be very direct. I know you have disagreements with me. Some of you may even think I am actually too old to be president. But I am a candidate for reelection, because I believe I can still make a difference. I know you are very smart. You know only two candidates running have a chance to win. The next president will be either Donald Trump or me. 

You must figure out what issues are the most important to you. Then determine which one of us will be better for your future. Do the research on all the issues you care about. Recognize, no candidate is perfect, surely, I am not, but then no person is. I know many of you care about issues including climate change, student debt relief, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and civil rights. Issues like how the United States deals with the Israel/Hamas war, inflation, voting rights, abortion. Donald Trump and I disagree on how to handle each of those issues. We have vastly different views of the world. I believe the United States has a responsibility to lead. Our military, and our economy, are both the strongest in the world. We cannot hide, as he likes to say, behind the slogan ‘America First.’ We cannot close our eyes, and our borders, and pretend what happens in the rest of the world doesn’t impact us. 

I believe we must deal with the Iran-China-Russia axis. We must support Ukraine and continue sending weapons to help them win. If they do, we can keep our young men and women off the battlefield. Remember, we aren’t sending money, but weapons, which are made here, providing high-paying jobs to our own citizens. Some of you have issues with how I have dealt with the Israel/Hamas war. While I support Israel, I do hear you, and will do everything I can to move toward a free Palestinian state. Trump will not. He even moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, to make that point. I am pushing Israel to change its tactics, to protect the innocent women and children, in Gaza. We must do that.

I know many of you want more progress on student debt forgiveness, on fighting climate change, protecting a woman’s right to control her own healthcare and body, and equality for the LGBTQ community. You want to see an end to the structural racism in our country. You must know by my actions that I share those goals with you. I also share the feeling all this is not happening fast enough. But you are all smart. You know our government was formed with a system of checks and balances; three branches of government — legislative, judicial, and executive. While I may want to wave a magic wand to make these things happen, no one can. However, I commit to you, I will fight for them every day. 

Some of you may be thinking, ‘Third-Party’ candidate. I ask you to remember, no third-party candidate has won since 1856, and our structure of the two-party system tells you one cannot win in 2024. In fact, for 36 years, none has ended up winning more than 5% of the vote. Then remember a few facts about Trump. He was found liable for sexual abuse. He has shown by words and actions, he is a racist, sexist, homophobe, who is also a climate change denier. He opposes student debt relief. He also tried to stage a coup after losing the last election. 

Again, like it or not, it’s either me or him. And again, while you may think I am too old, remember, he is my age. If you intend to vote for Trump, that is of course your choice. But if you don’t want him, and his MAGA cult, controlling your future, your choices are to stay home, vote for a third-party candidate, or vote for me. Two of those choices will help elect Donald Trump. So, I ask respectfully, after you do the research, that you give me your vote. Again, I am not perfect, but I will never stop working to make your, and your family’s, life better. I will always work for a more just, and safer world, for all of us.  

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