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Council’s questionable budget recommendations

City spent $80,000 to bring anti-gay gospel singer to D.C.

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Muriel Bowser, David Catania, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade
Muriel Bowser & David Catania Washington Blade photo by Michael Key

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and openly gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large). (Blade photo by Michael Key)

There are some budget shenanigans going on in D.C., which should come as no surprise since many on the Council plan to run for higher office or are up for reelection.

The Council’s role is to pass a budget and do oversight of city agencies. When four members of the Council who chair committees have announced they are looking at running for mayor next year, then things can get a little crazy.

As of last week, Muriel Bowser, chair of the Economic Development Committee, and Tommy Wells, chair of the Public Safety Committee, have officially announced plans to run. Wells apparently finished his listening tour. At-large Council member David Catania, the Education Committee chair and Ward 2 Representative Jack Evans, Finance Committee chair, have also indicated interest in higher office.

Bowser moved to take money from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Economic Development, which may lead to some projects not being monitored. She has also recommended refunding the Neighborhood Investment Trust (NIF) which former Mayor Fenty and others agreed wasn’t needed. It has been said she is taking some of this money from the mayor’s proposed $15 million One City Fund for non-profits. This is the fund that would allow small non-profits to apply for grants and it would be administered by the non-political Community Trust. The NIF that Bowser wants to refund would put money back into the realm of political manipulation. There are hundreds of non-profits across the District that see the One City Fund proposed by the mayor as their salvation. Many don’t fit current agency guidelines for funds and don’t have the manpower to fill out some of the very detailed applications that large agencies are required to fill out for big money. With this new fund, small HIV/AIDS, education, housing and others groups could apply for competitive grants of up to $100,000, small in terms of the big picture, but enough to keep them functioning and serving their clients.

Catania appears to be moving us back to the politicization of the schools that Mayor Fenty moved us away from. School reform placed the control of education policy and approved funding in the hands of the mayor’s office and the chancellor who was confirmed by the Council. They are responsible for moving reform ahead. Since reestablishing the Education Committee instead of leaving it as a Committee of the Whole, we see the committee trying to decimate the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and putting in jeopardy programs they are helping to plan and monitor. If the committee gets its way, the Council must be prepared to assume the blame when things don’t go as they hoped. Fights over issues like foreign language or arts initiatives shouldn’t be determined by who can get to their Council member first.

Council member Jim Graham continues to fight for TANF funding for families beyond the five-year maximum and in many ways instead of helping people become independent he is giving them more ways to remain dependent on government. He is attempting to micromanage the Human Service budget. The Council is also drafting some new initiatives, calling them competitive grants, but writing them in a way that is simply providing earmarks for favored groups.

Council member Orange is looking to get $100,000 more, for a total of $350,000, for his favorite project, the Emancipation Day celebration. I respect the Council member and support this celebration but question how some of that money is being spent. According to the Washington Post, $80,000 was used last year to pay costs associated with a performance by gospel musician Kirk Franklin. The Post reported that, “Franklin traveled to the District with a 16-person entourage, including backup singers, according to budget documents. In addition to Franklin’s $55,000 booking fee, city taxpayers spent $8,758 for airfare, $1,557 for his limousine and $8,721 to put Franklin and his entourage up at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, including $2,600 for Franklin’s VIP suite. Records attributed $4,215 in food and beverage costs to the entourage.” Franklin is a homophobe who believes that part of his role as a Christian is to convert gays to a straight lifestyle. That isn’t what I want my tax money used for. In addition, according to the Post, “$3,891 was used for an honorarium and lodging for Al Sharpton.” I would think this celebration is something he would want to participate in without a fee and if not there are many others who would.

The mayor submitted a balanced budget to the Council that included no new taxes and in fact reduced some. The Council has the right to review it and make their changes but the people of the District need to feel confident that these changes aren’t made for purely political reasons. The budget shouldn’t be used only to advance their campaigns or for personal projects.

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Queer kids are not brainwashed

Trans children are real transgender people, not trend chasers

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In some conversations with progressive friends, my peers, despite their proclaimed liberal attitudes, voice concern over the fact that children can experiment with gender and sexuality. They say things like “kids are too young to question their gender…that seems dangerous” or “a lot of children are just following gender trends and are not actually trans.” Other friends state that they don’t believe that transgender children should have access to hormone blockers. 

All of these statements are bogus and harmful. Many people who question gender fluidity in children don’t realize that they themselves have been brainwashed into thinking, from a young age, that being cisgender and straight is the norm. It should not be the norm. In fact, queerness is ever more common now among Gen Z’ers, and this is because the youth of today are feeling more and more comfortable opening up about their different sexuality and gender from an early age. 

Being able to safely come out as trans or gay in high school is an extremely healthy process and greatly improves the mental health of kids who would otherwise struggle. In red states, and conservative high school districts, this kind of coming out is still difficult, and might even be banned in the future, if Republicans continue with their cruel agenda. But there is hope in progressive cities like Portland and New York, where students feel free to question cishet and straight standards. 

Much research points to the fact that trans children are who they say they are: real transgender people, and not trend chasers. Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, started running a long-term study on trans youth in 2013. Olson eventually amassed a group of more than 85 trans kids. Olson kept in touch with both the children and their parents over the years. Her team ultimately found that an overwhelming, vast majority of the children stayed consistent with the gender nonconforming identity they chose in childhood. In other words, these trans children were correct about their gender identity from a young age. The notion that children pick up trans identities as a “fad,” or are wrong about them, is outdated. 

We already know that Republicans are dangerous to trans children, and have already prevented them from receiving health care or playing sports in many red states. But what we need to stop is dialogue from progressive voices that discourages gender fluidity in youth. These statements from otherwise liberal leaning people are contradictory to the very values that Democrats stand for. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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A rare misstep for the amazing Nancy Pelosi

Taiwan trip a distraction amid good news for Democrats

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads a U.S. delegation in Taiwan. (Photo via Speaker Nancy Pelosi's official Twitter)

I have always supported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and continue to do so. She is an amazing woman. She has championed women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rights of all minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities. She has worked hard to make our country a better and more equal place for all.

So seeing the repercussions of her trip to Taiwan playing out, with even the South Korean president avoiding a meeting with her, she must now realize the visit may have been ill timed. Speaker Pelosi is a smart woman and politician. I assume her insistence on the trip may have been a response to some promises she made to the Chinese community in her district and around the nation. She has always been a strong supporter of human rights and has criticized the Chinese government in the past. She recently tweeted, “28 years ago, we traveled to Tiananmen Square to honor the courage & sacrifice of the students, workers & ordinary citizens who stood for the dignity & human rights that all people deserve. To this day, we remain committed to sharing their story with the world. #Tiananmen30.” 

The question some are asking is did this trip do anything for the people of Taiwan or could it potentially hurt the people there and here if China decides to restrict trade and begin new sanctions?

As the Washington Post reported, “The visit lasted barely 19 hours. But Nancy Pelosi’s contentious trip to Taiwan was a defining moment in the increasingly bitter rivalry between China and the United States. A fuller picture of the Chinese response will emerge over the coming weeks and months, and there are already signs it will encompass greater economic as well as military coercion. Whatever the final shape of Beijing’s retaliation, Pelosi’s visit heralds a new phase in China’s efforts to control Taiwan’s fate — and those measures are likely to increase the risk of conflict with U.S. forces in the western Pacific.” The New York Times said,  “Ms. Pelosi’s visit was ill timed” and called it “provocative.”

I would never question the speaker’s commitment to the human rights of the Chinese people. But at this time, as the third in line to the presidency, there may have been some unintended ramifications from what she did and what the implications could be. I think the very unusual may have occurred, and the speaker may not have considered everything. The trip was likely spurred on by her knowledge this is likely to be her last year as speaker and this was the last time she could arrange for such a trip having the clout she does. I think Speaker Pelosi may be thinking about what she did and if it was worth adding this to the international problems the White House is now facing.

We are living in interesting and difficult times. With the help of Speaker Pelosi for the first time in a while the Biden administration and Democrats are having an incredible run of successes here at home. Passing the first gun control bill in decades, the infrastructure bill, the chips bill, and now the Senate has passed the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” as a reconciliation package. The nation added 528,000 new jobs in July and unemployment is at the lowest it has been, matching pre-pandemic times, at 3.5%. Gas prices are steadily going down and inflation has likely peaked. Then there is the vote on the abortion amendment in Kansas, which the pro-choice side won by nearly 60/40 in a landslide definitely not predicted in that very red state. So, poking the Chinese at this time, generating negative headlines, doesn’t make much sense. I hope it will be only a blip in time.

This week we will see Pelosi do what she does best. She will move the House of Representatives to pass impactful legislation. She will keep her small Democratic majority together to pass the ‘Deficit Reduction Act of 2022’ and send it on to the president to sign. In 2018, she cut a deal to become Speaker for two more terms. That time is now coming to an end. If the Democrats manage to hold the House of Representative much of the credit must go to her. Should she then actually leave the speakership, the next speaker will have the unenviable task of trying to fill those four-inch stiletto heels. 

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

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Monkeypox is a gay thing — we must say it

Will there be stigma, judgments, and homophobia? Of course

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The mainstream media and public health officials are being so damn careful not to label monkeypox “a gay disease” that they’re doing a disservice to the gay men who most need important information about the outbreak – while misleading everybody else.

In a July 28 New York Times story of the excruciating symptoms and lack of care available for those with monkeypox in that city, the sexuality of the men profiled isn’t referenced until 11 paragraphs into the story, and even then it refers to them as “men who have sex with men,” which is technically correct but dodgy. Moreover, the article, which supposedly addresses barriers to care, ignores the fact that gay men routinely experience apathy and even judgment from health providers.

Other media stories, and statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have mentioned monkeypox cases in the context of “the LGBT community.” Really? Should lesbians be lining up for a monkeypox vaccine, whenever the heck they become widely available? This is happening to gay men. Say it.

Journalist Benjamin Ryan, in his excellent Washington Post opinion piece, draws a hard line between attempts not to unnecessarily stigmatize gay men and the importance of telling the truth about monkeypox, writing that “public health officials cannot be expected to police the public’s reactions to epidemiological facts.”

Ryan lays out those facts plainly:

Here is what we can discern from data collected about monkeypox so far: This viral outbreak isn’t just mostly occurring among men who have sex with men. The confirmed cases, at least to date, have consistently almost entirely occurred among this demographic, which accounts for 96 percent or more of diagnoses where data are available.

Per capita, the few monkeypox cases in women and children remain minuscule compared with the rate among gay and bisexual men. Of course, substantial transmission could always occur among such other groups. But researchers at the WHO and elsewhere have speculated that the monkeypox reproduction rate will likely remain significantly lower in such demographics — meaning the virus will more likely hit transmission dead ends among them than among gay and bisexual men.

An uncomfortable truth, one documented in peer-reviewed papers, is that sexual behaviors and networks specific to gay and bisexual men have long made them more likely to acquire various sexually transmitted infections compared with heterosexual people. This includes not only HIV, but also syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted hepatitis C.

Global public health experts agree that skin-to-skin contact in the context of sexual activity between men has been the principal driver of the monkeypox outbreak, at least thus far.

Such experts have also asserted that the risk of monkeypox to the broader population not having multiple sex partners remains low — even “very low.” This is hopeful news, and the wider public deserves to be reassured accordingly. Assuaging fears of contagion will help fight unhelpful hysteria and prevent gay and bisexual men from being subjected to even greater stigma should they be painted as culprits of the spread of virus to others.

Monkeypox didn’t begin with gay men, that much is true. As Yale infectious disease expert Gregg Gonsalves explained to the New York Times, “This is not a gay disease; it has been circulating in West and Central Africa for many years… What likely happened, in this case, is that somebody who had monkeypox had a lesion and showed up at a gay rave in Europe, and it spread to those in that social and sexual network.”

Whatever the origins, we’re now dealing with an outbreak almost entirely limited to gay men in the United States and Europe. And that is worth saying explicitly.

Why? Because identifying those at risk and getting information to them is a basic public health strategy for containing an outbreak. Gay men are getting monkeypox and suffering greatly. When gay men understand the threat, we are more likely to take precautions, get vaccinated, or be informed about treatment.

Will there be stigma and judgements and homophobia? Of course. And we’ll have to deal with that. But that doesn’t mean we bury crucial facts in vague, evasive messaging.

Monkeypox is a gay thing. That’s the truth.

Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, speaker, and HIV/AIDS activist who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985.

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