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Juvenile attacks hamper effort to pass Md. trans bill

Gender Rights Maryland fighting for non-bias protections

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transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade, trans

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Recently there was an op-ed in the Washington Blade entitled “Maryland advocates must unite to pass trans bill” by a “guest columnist.” The author, who chose not to offer her full name, made several allegations about trans advocacy organizations in the state.

Unlike the author, I will identify myself as the current board chair and a founder of Gender Rights Maryland (GRMD), the state’s only organization founded specifically to pass legislation in Maryland to protect trans rights. Unlike the author, I am happy to name organizations as my group and I were intimately involved in this past year’s efforts in Annapolis to pass the gender identity antidiscrimination bill, SB449.

I am not going to explain at length the differences between GRMD and any other state or local organization seeking passage of these protections for gender non-conforming persons, but I will address the specifics as charged by the author.

GRMD is not a member of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality (MCTE), even though we instigated, with PFLAG National, the creation of the forerunner of that organization in late 2011. We left the organization in the spring of 2012 for a variety of reasons that will be revealed in coming weeks in various public forums and publications. GRMD makes no apologies for that decision.

As to the author’s “first hand” witnessing of events it is pretty clear from her writing that she was, at best, a second-hand witness, and has surprisingly little evidence to back up her allegations.

My organization, GRMD, did not support the lobby day, which was organized and promoted by Equality Maryland and the MCTE.

Long before lobby day, SB449 had 23 Maryland Senate sponsors, including Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman. For those unaware, 24 votes are required to pass legislation in the Senate. In addition, Senate President Mike Miller asserted on a number of occasions that he would support the bill (bringing us to the magic number of 24). Thus, if the bill were to make it out of committee to the floor of the Senate, it most assuredly would pass. Alas, there were three Democratic senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee who voted “no;” had only one of them voted “yes,” the bill would have proceeded to the Senate floor. The reasons for those “no” votes were personal for each senator, and had nothing to do with any disagreement among the advocates.

The purpose of a well-organized lobby day would be to show support to legislators and apply pressure to those who were impediments or on the fence.  Aside from those three senators on the JPR committee there was no point in raising the profile of the bill in the Senate, a position supported by the chamber’s leadership. GRMD’s position was that the focus should be on those three senators, and not the entire Senate. The best way to achieve this, in our opinion, was by one-on-one, face-to-face, scheduled meetings. If those efforts were coordinated with a keen legislative focus then perhaps we might have had another opinion. That is why we did not support the lobby day effort.

As to undermining the bill, it is interesting to note that not supporting something these days is perceived as “undermining.” I dare the author to produce a single document, social media post or email solicitation urging the public to not attend. Please, bring forth such evidence.

The second charge, for which I have evidence, is that a ranking member of the MCTE did indeed engage in a campaign to convince members of our board of directors and policy advisory board to resign. At the request of the board members I will not reveal the details of that exchange; however, I will provide an excerpt of a message received by at least one board member to authenticate the event. I have purposely removed the most offensive language (which was directed at one of our board members who is well respected in the community of color).  The typos are in the original message and retained here. The last bit, of course, was directed at me.

“I am disappointed with your sitting on the Policy Advisory Board of a transphobic organization. … This is NOT an organization poised to lead. This is not an organization seeking to serve. the community. It is an organization to serve its board’s insatiable egos…..

“They participate in ‘whisper’ campaigns and spread ‘platitudes’. There are 33 people sitting on various boards. All chefs and no cooks. EVERY single one of their primary boards were in favor of compromising before negotiations, believed a partial bill was a pathway, in spite of history showing it had never been done. there is no leadership, and a fish rots from the head back …”

For the record, GRMD — this “poorly led,” all-volunteer organization — went on to spearhead passage of comprehensive bills in Howard and Baltimore counties within six months of incorporation. While we chose not to make any public pronouncements at the time, this person has repeatedly made attacks on my organization and our leadership, many of them personal. We have never called this person out and even now will not name names. We will let the MCTE police their own, or not.

I am happy to note that our organization does enjoy an active set of working boards with representatives from all persuasions, including LGB, straight and most assuredly trans communities.

It is unfortunate that the tactic here is the same one taken from the GOP playbook as of late where you blame everybody instead of the instigators. It is like saying the U.S. House is broken when the reality is there is a collection of bad actors in one party doing the damage and blaming all. We have remained largely silent on many of these antics, working to be the adult in the room. But there comes a time where you can only stand so much. That would be now.

So as for the author’s plea for unity, that sounds great. But the notion that the marriage equality effort was without differences is nonsense. Standing together cannot occur as long as there are juvenile attacks underway. GRMD has one goal — to pass antidiscrimination legislation. Pass it efficiently, quickly, quietly and comprehensively. That is all we do. Period.

Sharon Brackett is chair of Gender Rights Maryland.

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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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Casa Ruby folds — was money stolen?

The community deserves answers and accountability

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Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It is both sad and frustrating when what was once considered a great organization folds for what appear to be questionable reasons. 

That is the case with Casa Ruby. It is sad for all the people who worked for and were served by the organization. It is my hope other organizations will take up the slack and the transgender community will continue to be well served in the District of Columbia.

Also sad are the questions people are asking about the founder of Casa Ruby, Ruby Corado. It has appeared for a while that she let her desire for publicity — and apparent desire for the good life — to lead her in a questionable direction. A number of years ago David Perruzza and I, both early supporters of Casa Ruby, met with Ruby for lunch. We talked with her about the apparent issues at Casa Ruby and urged her to take a good look at what she was doing. We asked her to remember the reason she founded Casa Ruby, and it wasn’t about her. Her goal she said had been to help others in the transgender community.

We met with her because we cared about her and the organization and it seemed her ego was being fed by all the honors the community was affording her. Recently Dito Sevilla posted on Facebook that an associate of his found who they assumed is Corado on Facebook, under the name Jada Wilkins, now living in San Salvador. That Facebook page is very sad to see. 

It is important for the District and any other grantors to Casa Ruby to do a forensic audit to see where all the money went. I am pleased, according to the Blade, that is now happening with the D.C. Attorney General investigating and filing lawsuits. The result of the first hearing on one of the two lawsuits filed by the AG is the judge granted the freezing of all Casa Ruby bank accounts as reported in the follow-up Blade article. As a community we should know if any money was stolen. Aside from all the grants, a lot of money was donated by well-meaning individuals. If some of it was stolen, which sadly could be the case, those who stole it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

Casa Ruby is not the first organization this has happened to and it will not be the last. The LGBTQ community, which is a very generous community, must always be careful to ensure organizations we donate to, and support with our volunteer time, are well run. We should insist those organizations are not about any one person, because if they are they are more likely to fail. A solid organization is never built around one person, which is what seemed to happen at Casa Ruby. 

I know the District requires financial reports for the grants they give and there was an accounting firm involved in looking at the financial functions of Casa Ruby. That accounting firm needs to be involved in looking at what happened to the money. There were 990s filed, but were they accurate? Again, I hope the AG will find all that out and if they find illegal activity will forward that to the DOJ for prosecution. The community needs to know what happened.  

Again, if there was fraud and money stolen, the law and the community must hold the people responsible for the demise of this once valued organization, accountable. If by any chance, and I pray it’s not the case, Ruby Corado is found to have participated in stealing money from the organization, people and organizations must take the time to publicly rescind the awards and honors she was given over the years. Again, I hope that is not the case. But if it is, then we owe that to the transgender community, which will suffer because Casa Ruby is closing. 

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

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Joe Manchin: enigma to some, hated by others

New bill proves you can’t always get what you want

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post screamed: “Manchin and Majority Leader Schumer agree to compromise on reconciliation bill.” 

The bill is a 725-page, $739 billion proposal, called the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” Now they must get every Democrat in the Senate to vote for it with Vice President Harris breaking the anticipated tie, when every Republican will vote no. Then Speaker Pelosi must rally the Democratic votes in the House. If and when this bill passes it’s a huge victory for President Biden, Democrats, and the people. 

This bill was negotiated in secret and that in itself is amazing in this day and age. By keeping it secret Democrats were also able to first garner enough Senate Republican votes for the CHIPS-plus bill funding both computer chips and science. The House then passed the $280 billion ‘Chips and Science Act’ that would subsidize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and invest billions in science and technology innovation. It’s now on the president’s desk to sign.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is someone progressives love to hate. He has thwarted numerous efforts to move forward the Democratic agenda. In the last two weeks he has shown not only can he compromise, but is way better than if we had a Republican from West Virginia, which we would have without him. First there was the announcement of an agreement between him and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on a bill to update the 1887 law that governs how Congress counts Electoral College votes. Then the Wednesday announced agreement on the climate bill. 

It has been reported that bill does a lot of things Democrats have said they wanted for years. One is allowing Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices. “This could save the federal government some $288 billion over the 10-year budget window. With those savings they could lower costs for seniors on their medications.” It has been reported the bill also includes a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap for older adults buying prescriptions from pharmacies, and free vaccinations. The bill “would invest $369 billion over the decade in climate change-fighting strategies including investments in renewable energy production and tax rebates for consumers to buy new or used electric vehicles.” 

Bloomberg reports some of the other details. “The bill includes $4,000 tax credits for lower and middle income buyers to use to purchase used electric vehicles, and up to $7,500 tax credit for new vehicles. The plan has $60 billion of incentives to bring clean energy manufacturing into the U.S. … The plan also includes $9 billion for home energy rebate programs for low-income consumers to make their homes more energy efficient and $1 billion in grants for affordable housing energy upgrades. The plan would also extend to 2025 an expansion in Affordable Care Act premium subsidies that’s currently set to end at year-end. This will lower prices for millions of Americans, according to a summary of the deal.”

All this would be paid for with what some call tax increases, and Manchin calls closing loopholes. “The proposal would raise an estimated $739 billion, with the revenues going to fund climate and health initiatives, as well as to reduce the budget deficit. The Internal Revenue Service would get $80 billion to add auditors, improve customer service and modernize technology. Democrats hope to pull in $124 billion in tax revenue from cracking down on tax cheats and increasing compliance by rebuilding the IRS.” There would also be a minimum 15% tax on corporations with over $1 billion in revenue. 

When this bill passes, President Biden will be able to go to voters and tell them he did what he promised — make the rich pay more, cut healthcare costs for all, and make the biggest investments ever in fighting climate change. When I asked a friend who is one of the world’s top environmentalists what she thought of the Manchin/Schumer bill she responded by quoting the Rolling Stones: “No, you can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need.”

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

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