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India reminds us of need to be vigilant

We must never take our right to love for granted

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Supreme Court of India, gay news, Washington Blade

Supreme Court of India. (Photo by Legaleagle86; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re like me, you’ve come close to being not only out and proud but complacent about being queer. With same-sex weddings, LGBT families and more gay celebs coming out than you can count, it’s easy to feel that worrying about LGBT rights is passe – that homophobia is only a sad memory from back in the day. Until we read in the Blade that on Dec. 11 India’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that criminalized homosexuality. In that decision, as the Blade and other news outlets reported, the top court reinstated an 1861 law that says you can be imprisoned for life for ”carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal.”

In 2009, human rights advocates rejoiced when India’s Delhi High Court  declared this 1861 law, known as Section 377 and enacted when India was a British colony, unconstitutional. The Supreme Court said that the Delhi Court acted wrongly when it overthrew Section 377 and that only India’s Parliament could strike down the law.

The reinstatement of Section 377 is a sucker punch not only to LGBT people in India but to everyone worldwide who believes in human rights. The ruling is a wake-up call to all of us who’ve become a bit too comfortable in our queer skins. Yes, it’s the 21st century. Yet, our human rights – our freedom to be who we truly are – can be set back anywhere – from India (the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.2 billion) to the United States to Russia to South Africa (where people worry that LGBT rights will be lost with the passing of Nelson Mandela).

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if the clock were set back 40 or 50 years. Suddenly, we’d return to a pre-Stonewall world where you could be arrested for gay sex and police could harass you for merely appearing to be queer. Yet, that’s where Section 377 leaves LGBT people in India.

“The India Supreme Court has denied my freedom as a gay man, upholding a 153-year-old colonial law that could result in my own imprisonment,” said Tushar Malik a fellow with the Human Rights Campaign’s Global Engagement program and an LGBT advocate in India on the HRC website. “But I refuse to retreat.”

With the Supreme Court ruling, India became the 77th country worldwide to criminalize being LGBT, Malik said.

The Indian Parliament should reform India’s colonial-era sodomy laws, Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch, emailed the Blade. “The government will need to draft an amendment that decriminalizes same-sex conduct between adults, while preserving protection for male rape. The other option is that the government seek a review by the Supreme Court.”

It’s good that senior Indian government officials have spoken up against criminalizing homosexuality, Reid said, “If not anything else, it will discourage police from abusing the law.”

T. Kumar, international advocacy director, Amnesty International U.S.A., in a telephone interview with the Blade offered some hope that the Indian government would decriminalize homosexuality.

“There is enough support in India to move forward by treating everyone equal despite their sexual orientation,” Kumar said. “… The real India is moving against violence and discrimination against women. This is the next step.”

India has states like the U.S. has, Kumar said. “India’s state governments can pass resolutions against discriminating against segments of the population – such as LGBT people,” he added, “though not binding, these resolutions send a powerful signal. State resolutions have a major impact on the thinking of legislators in Parliament.”

On Dec. 15, thousands worldwide in a Day of Rage protested India’s Supreme Court ruling, reported the Blade. These protests remind us that we can never take our right to love for granted.  We must work to protect our freedom.

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Opinion | Why LGBTQ people should fear new Texas abortion law

Slippery slope measure turns private citizens into enforcers

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Texas State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

I worry about everything from climate change to violence against transgender people to racism to reproductive freedom for women. But, until recently, I didn’t have to worry that a “$10,000 bounty” could be collected from me if I helped a woman to have an abortion.

Yet, this is now a terrifying concern for abortion providers, advocates of women’s reproductive rights and those who value civil liberties. Especially, for people in Texas.

If you value the right to privacy and are LGBTQ or a queer ally, you should be terrified.

Here’s why everyone with a sense of decency should feel the hair standing up on the back of their necks: It’s no secret, that the Supreme Court, more conservative since the court of the 1930s, is likely eyeing the chance to overthrow or gut Roe V. Wade.

In May, the Supreme Court said that, in its next term (beginning in October 2021), it would consider an abortion case involving a Mississippi law that would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (about two months earlier than permitted by Roe v. Wade).

The Court’s decision to consider this case gives hope to anti-abortion activists seeking the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.   

States with Republican-controlled legislatures, aware of the make-up of the Supreme Court (with its conservative 6 to 3 majority), have acted quickly to severely weaken abortion rights. This has been especially true this year.

“More abortion restrictions — 90 — have already been enacted in 2021 than in any year since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973,” according to a Guttmacher Institute report.

On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a draconian abortion bill into law. This measure, known as a “heartbeat law,” bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Many women, at the six-week point, have no idea that they’re pregnant.

This is bad enough. Other states, including Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina have passed “heartbeat” laws banning abortion (when a fetal heartbeat can be detected).

But the legislation signed into law this spring by Gov. Abbott is even more insidious.

The legislation, scheduled to take effect in September 2021, gives private citizens the right to sue doctors and abortion clinic employees.

It doesn’t stop there. The new law permits a private citizen (from a pastor to an Uber driver to a friend, family member or perfect stranger) to sue anyone who performs or helps anyone to get an abortion. Even private citizens not living in Texas could sue people performing or helping someone to get an abortion.

Each private citizen could potentially be awarded $10,000 for every illegal abortion.

The law doesn’t allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. Though it would permit abortions in rare medical instances. Thankfully, on July 13, a coalition of abortion rights and civil liberties advocates, including abortion clinics, doctors, clergy, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge this new law.

Six-week abortion bans passed by other states have been successfully challenged because abortion rights advocates sued government officials.

But Texas’s new law prohibits state officials from enforcing it. It’s set up to be enforced by private citizens.

“We had to devise a unique strategy to fight this subversive law,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We will pursue every legal avenue we can to block this pernicious law.”

This new law sets up a dangerous slippery slope for LGBTQ folk.

If a private citizen is allowed to sue anyone assisting a woman having an abortion, what, for example, would prevent anyone (from a minister to a friend to a cab driver) who helps a queer couple to adopt a child? Or suing anyone helping a transgender person to get health care.

Let’s do all we can to support the effort to block this dangerous law.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Opinion | LGBTQ victories are largely legal, not legislative

Leading lobbying groups ineffective as we face hostile Supreme Court

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anti-discrimination laws, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The recent conclusion of last month’s Pride month celebrations marked an annual milestone in both the history and advancements of rights for the LGBTQ community. The progress for LGBTQ rights over the last two decades has been groundbreaking – oftentimes described as an exemplary movement obtaining rights for a marginalized community. It was less than 20 years ago the United States Supreme Court struck down the country’s first real gay rights test in Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing “homosexual conduct” among consenting adults. 

Even in the most recent years, we all recognize how major achievements like marriage equality to the protection of gay adoption – to the recent action ensuring a fully inclusive military with transgender service – have benefited the community. But with new attacks arising daily in state capitals around the nation, like transgender sports becoming the new “bathroom bill,” LGBTQ future generations are counting on the leading LGBTQ rights and legal organizations to secure more equality.

Almost unanimously, these groundbreaking rights – while being achieved at almost lightning speed (although not fast enough for the millions of LGBTQ Americans whose lives have been, and still being impacted) – have been won in American courtrooms, not the halls of Congress. 

While the first federal LGBTQ rights bill was introduced in Congress in 1975 by former Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, it was simply referred to the Judiciary Committee and died. Forty-six years later barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, part of today’s Equality Act, has still not been passed into law by the LGBTQ lobbying organizations – and faces a similar fate this year in the U.S. Senate. 

The Equality Act, the chief legislative target for Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ lobbying organizations is dead in Congress despite the ripest political environment with a Democratic House, Senate and White House. The Senate’s filibuster and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are major structural problems for the legislation, but there is not even serious discussion or demands from the LGBTQ lobbying community to insist on passage through filibuster reform.  

Must we automatically presume the LGBTQ community is so low a priority we are essentially beholden to prejudice of the minority in the Senate? When, therefore, can we ever expect any action? If not now, then when will gay lobbying succeed?

As an LGBTQ researcher at the University of Sydney in preparation for a new academic piece, I wanted to find out how groundbreaking LGBTQ rights could be won in courtrooms while lingering in Congress for half a century. The central question this research tried to answer was, “what factors contribute to LGBTQ lobbyist and advocate perceptions of movement success by LGBTQ organizations?”  The answer became pretty clear when surveying the top LGBTQ lobbying and government affairs professionals, the ones with the most intimate, front-line view of congressional outreach. 

Overwhelmingly, the research concludes the leading mainstream legal organizations have been primarily responsible for the community’s progress – not the LGBTQ organization’s lobbying efforts. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the wealthiest LGBTQ organization with a $48 million a year budget based in Washington, D.C. and founded 41 years ago, was ranked 10th most effective out of 17 organizations ranked. Since 2018, HRC has fallen six additional positions since the original research was published. In contrast, Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ community’s foremost legal rights organization, followed by the legal powerhouse, the ACLU, have moved ahead of them ranking as the most effective LGBTQ organizations.

The research clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the LGBTQ lobby, which has largely focused on gaining access to power structures instead of winning legislative victories.  Fundraising models of these organizations, built largely around monetizing their access to power, has left little evidence of their effectiveness and in turn, has strengthened systems of oppression against an overwhelming number of LGBTQ people of color, transgender individuals and lower-income members of the community. The “access to power” model of LGBTQ lobbying has essentially commercialized gayness (white, cisgender, English-speaking, middle and upper class gayness) as a consumable product that most often benefits those in power. It’s a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” system of lobbying that shuts the door on the most marginalized LGBTQ people – those most in need of legislative victories to protect their lives.

Today, regardless of all of the progress in LGBTQ legal victories over the last two decades, the community is in the most dangerous place it has been in 25 years. LGBTQ lobbying does not work, and LGBTQ legal avenues have catastrophically changed. The 6-3 Supreme Court is poised to undermine Roe, which some say undermines Lawrence, which undermines Obergefell (the groundbreaking 2015 marriage equality decision). A house of very successful, but delicate legal cards, may begin to fall. The LGBTQ community is holding its collective breath against an anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court majority, and the spotlight is now shining brightly on the LGBTQ lobby and their ability to produce legislative success. 

Unfortunately, the organizations responsible for shaping the community’s relationship with states and the federal government are largely seen as ineffective and oftentimes harmful to progress. This ineffectiveness leaves the LGBTQ community in a dangerous and perilous moment in the movement’s history.  

To be successful, a radical transformation of the movement’s lobbying must happen immediately by shifting to a much more state-based movement, where anti-LGBTQ opponents are already attacking the identity and existence of transgender people with the introduction of more than 100 bills aimed to curb the rights of transgender people nationwide. Secondly, the danger to the lives of LGBTQ people from these legislative harms must be amplified and ready to be fought against. And lastly, a new model of investment is required that prioritizes the lives of transgender individuals and people of color and embraces an intersectional approach to lobbying. 

The LGBTQ movement is about to face darker days ahead. Leaders in Washington’s premier gay rights groups, including their lobbyists, must figure out how to protect our children, protect the poor, and lift up the marginalized or face disastrous consequences in the next few years in legislative bodies from city halls to the U.S. Capitol. Otherwise our hopes to tackle issues like transgender sports and equality will rest solely on the LGBTQ legal apparatus.

Christopher Pepin-Neff, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, is the author of ‘LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States.’

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Opinion | Macha, Byrne for Rehoboth Beach Commission

Aug. 14 election critical after reckless vote on Clear Space permits

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Double L, Diego's Hideaway, Fourth, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

On Saturday, Aug. 14, voters in Rehoboth Beach, Del., have an opportunity to make a strong statement on what they want their city to be in the future. During last year’s election for mayor and Commission, I suggested a vote for Stan Mills, Susan Gay and Patrick Gossett would take Rehoboth back to the Sam Cooper years and put anti-business candidates in control of the City Commission. My prediction has sadly proven accurate. The latest fiasco is the vote to turn down the city’s Planning Commission recommendation for the second time and potentially force the iconic Clear Space Theatre out of Rehoboth.

While voters of Rehoboth Beach can’t turn around the Commission with one election their votes can make a huge difference. That is why I urge support for Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne who have both shown an in-depth understanding of what Rehoboth Beach needs to flourish and promise a fair and balanced look at the future of the city. They understand to be successful for years to come Rehoboth must fairly balance the needs of its residents, businesses, and visitors.

Rachel Macha and her husband Rich have owned property in Rehoboth Beach for more than 21 years. They have a great loving family, 23-year-old triplets and 21-year-old twins. Macha is proud of the fact that since her kids were 14, they have held summer jobs in Rehoboth at Funland, Royal Treat, Jungle Jim’s, Bin 66 and Big Fish Restaurant Group.

She understands Rehoboth’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and that within the next year the updated CDP will set forth a strategic vision for Rehoboth Beach. Macha said “It will be the Commissioner’s guide to navigating the way to a sound future to achieve its key strategic objectives, including preserving our sense of place, infrastructure, arts and culture, strategic projects, and safety. As a member of the Planning Commission, I focused intensely to carefully analyze and understand the concerns, desires, and suggestions of residents, businesses, and tourists before, during and after COVID.”

Her professional experience is in the area of improving customer service and customer experience in the technology, software, and service industries. She has spent years serving on various school, church, company, and non-profit boards and committees. For the past three years, she leveraged her experience serving Rehoboth on the Parks, Shade Tree Commission, and Planning Commission.

Macha also understands the future of the city depends on fiscal responsibility and enhancing the sense of community that Rehoboth Beach was developing before the current mayor’s efforts, intentional or not, destroyed it. To foster that sense of community Macha has proposed launching a Customer Experience Committee comprised of residents, organizations such as RBHA and CAMP, and local businesses to generate and openly discuss ways to move Rehoboth forward positively with a unified sense of purpose.

Richard Byrne and his wife Sherri have been coming to Rehoboth for more than 25 years. They bought their home in 2002 and have lived in Rehoboth full-time since 2009. Byrne has more than 30 years of experience in education, running university extension programs in Maryland and Minnesota. Those programs required collaboration among citizens, volunteers, youth, community organizations and working with county and state agencies. He has served in many ways including being a member of the Rehoboth Beach Commission for the past three years and is proud of his many accomplishments during that time.

He authored legislation creating Steve Elkins Way; created the environment committee; and promoted endeavors to take care of the city’s natural environment. He led the review of the city’s wireless communications facilities ordinance; has been involved with bringing back recycling to the boardwalk; brought forward several measures to improve pedestrian safety; and secured a grant to support the beautification of the public triangle on State Road.

He said, “If I am re-elected I will continue to preserve residential neighborhoods, protect the city’s natural environment and promote ethical, open, fair, and transparent government. I will continue listening to concerns of residents and business owners and look for new ideas for improving our city.” So on Aug. 14, vote Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne for a better Rehoboth Beach.

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

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