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Obama fails to protect gay Saudi diplomat

Gulf States immune to criticism from this administration

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John Kerry, State Department, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, gay news, Washington Blade
John Kerry, State Department, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, gay news, Washington Blade

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. (Photo public domain)

By ALI AL-AHMAD & MATTHEW MAINEN

The United States must demonstrate that when Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of America’s commitment to defending the rights of “our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world,” he was serious. No stronger message can be sent by granting asylum to former Saudi diplomat Ali Asseri, who has been unable to return to Saudi Arabia since being outed by colleagues at the Los Angeles consulate in 2010.

Protecting the rights of foreigners under the jurisdiction of their respective states is a daunting task, but when those foreigners find themselves in the United States, protection is relatively straightforward and imperative. Those from the Gulf States, however, often find that foreign policy considerations can dangerously encroach upon domestic decisions.

The United States rarely takes steps against the Gulf’s status quo, which includes refusing the presence of those perceived as disrupting or otherwise failing to conform to the regimes archaic social orders. This is perhaps best evidenced by the cases of three of Bahrain’s most prominent civil rights activists: Hassan Mushama, Abdul-Hadi Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil al-Signace. The former two were outright stripped of their U.S. visas while the latter’s visa was not renewed. All three now sit in jail with life sentences and have fallen victim to torture.

Whereas some allies, such as Israel, can expect prominent and harsh public criticism, the Gulf States are virtually immune. Substantial criticism is almost exclusively buried in ponderous and largely ignored State Department publications.

This is intentional. For too long, Washington has operated under a flawed belief that pushing for modest social reform in friendly despotic regimes will lead to a rupture in relations. Even if this line of reasoning had a modicum of credibility in the past, the Gulf States now find themselves so dependent on the United States in balancing Iran that they cannot afford retaliation.

Just as successive administrations have comfortably applied pressure on Israel regarding matters related to its internal affairs, so too can the Obama administration apply this strategy elsewhere in the region. Making clear to Saudi Arabia that sustaining a threatening environment for LGBT people will not bring about an unfriendly coup.

In fact, an argument could be made that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can partially be attributed to a lack of Western support for organizations espousing liberal values. Granting Asseri asylum would demonstrate to Saudi Arabia that it can no longer expect most favored nation status in avoiding censure.

Rather than doing this, however, the United States has gone out of its way to deport Asseri, the first Arab and Muslim diplomat to come out as gay. At his mid-February hearing in Los Angeles, the U.S. government attorney insisted on deporting Asseri to Saudi Arabia and promised that she will appeal any decision by the judge to grant him asylum, a rare act in such cases.

When the judge was about to begin the hearing, the government attorney claimed that she was not ready as she was allegedly missing some relevant documents. This appears to have been a deliberate attempt to delay the case at least one more year. The court date was set more than two years ago, enough time for the U.S. government to be more than ready.

The United States simply does not want to make a move that would embarrass the Saudi monarchy, especially at a time when relations are tense due to Obama’s decision to pursue negotiations with Iran in addition to failing to attack Syria.

It is no secret that consecutive American administrations have been ignoring the various human rights violations by the Saudi monarchy, but to ignore American laws to please an autocratic monarchy that kills gay people is beyond reprehensible.

Asseri’s case does not bode well for Americans if their government places a greater importance on pleasing a foreign power than upholding domestic values. This case has been a failure for Obama’s personal credibility on gay rights issues and human rights in general.

Ali al-Ahmad is director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. Matthew Mainen is a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

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Opinion | Anti-trans legislation has ripple effects in D.C.

All people deserve high-quality health care

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With the introduction of at least 117 bills targeting the transgender community, 2021 is shaping up to be the worst year in modern history for anti-LGBTQ state legislation.

Many of these bills target transgender and non-binary youth by making it illegal to access or provide gender affirming medical care and denying the best equipped healthcare providers the ability to provide appropriate care for the trans community. This will result in wasteful spending, increased healthcare costs and worse outcomes.

Gender affirming care is an essential component of inclusive, comprehensive transgender health care. According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide. Conversely, affirming gender identity among transgender and nonbinary youth is consistently associated with lower rates of suicide attempts.

While we are fortunate to live in a jurisdiction that is not considering similar legislation, bills like this impact young people in our region. Trans youth are tuned in, and they hear these conversations questioning the very validity of their identities and existence.

We believe that all people deserve high-quality health care and compassionate, nonjudgmental health information, no matter what. Following the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (May 17th), we ask that you reach out to loved ones across the country and have a conversation to help move the issue out of a political debate and into a conversation about the lives of real people. Just one conversation can make a huge impact.

Dr. Oye I. Owolewa is the U.S. Representative of Washington, D.C. Dr. Laura Meyers is CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Sultan Shakir is executive director of Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL).

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Opinion | Pulse shows that out of tragedy, there can be triumph

Gun reform now a top priority of LGBTQ movement

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The Pulse nightclub (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

It’s been 5 years since 49 people were killed and 53 others were injured when a man armed with an assault rifle, large capacity magazines, and a heart full of hate attacked the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On June 12th, 2016, Pulse became the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

It’s been 5 years since the families and friends of those taken that night have heard their laughs, seen their smiles, or held their hands. It’s been 5 years that the survivors have had to relive their trauma of that fateful night. Saturday marks 5 years since this deadly attack and it is a time we can reflect on the lives lost, those injured, the progress made since the attack, and what we all can do to fight for commonsense gun reform to make our country a safer place.

This tragedy struck at the heart of the LGBTQ community, both in Orlando and around our country, happening right in the middle of Pride month. While this is a somber anniversary that we must honor and remember the tragedy, it is also a time to reflect on what our community has accomplished as a result of this horrific event. While we grieve for those we lost, today there is hope. Out of the tragedy, a movement was born in the LGBTQ community to fight for gun reform, led by groups such as the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, which was established within days of the shooting. It includes Pulse survivors, family members of those killed in the attack, and key stakeholders. Working at the state and federal level, this new generation of activists are mobilizing and advocating for change to honor those lost with action. Through political action, advocacy, and recruiting new activists to the gun reform fight, the Pride Fund, other groups, and the LGBTQ community as a whole are honoring the legacy of the Pulse victims through meaningful action. The mission of Pride Fund is year round, working daily to enact gun reform, elect gun safety champions at the state and federal level, and advocating for change all over the country.

As we look back over the last five years there have been some significant accomplishments that reflect the hard work that has been done since the tragedy.

First, prior to Pulse, gun reform was not one of the top priorities among the LGBTQ community. Immediately following the shooting, our community began to have conversations about this critical topic and learn about the current efforts underway to change our gun laws. I created Pride Fund to End Gun Violence as an organization to spearhead our community’s efforts and harness the political power of the LGBTQ community to create change. Whereas gun reform was not a top priority before, public polling has shown in the years since that gun reform is now a top priority for LGBTQ voters. We are holding our political candidates to a certain standard and pushing them to make gun reform a priority. As a community, we are targeting some of the worst elected officials at the state and federal that are NRA backed cronies who stand in the way of legislative change. Pride Fund has been involved in over 125 political races around the country since our creation, and we have helped kick some of the worst Republicans out of office, replacing them with gun safety champions.

Second, we have witnessed many of those personally impacted by the tragedy, the survivors, the family members and friends of those killed, and key stakeholders like the owner of Pulse, become national activists in this cause. They have stepped beyond their own personal pain to take on leadership roles, speak about their experiences and the need for change in the media, in public forums, political rallies, and in meetings with elected officials. These individuals have refused to sit on the sidelines, they have wanted to honor those lost with action, and they have been doing a stellar job.

Third, Democrats have seized on the issue and made it one of their top priorities – in their campaigns and in elected office. The 2018 election was the first time gun reform was a key issue, not only on the campaign trail, but by voters. With Democrats winning the House of Representatives, bills started to finally pass to address gun reform, however the Senate stopped its movement. Now with Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and White House, we are in the greatest position to enact change. We just have to work hard in the Senate. For the first time in recent history, the CDC has received funding to study gun violence. A major win! With the election of President Biden, he is acting within his power to make our country safer. He has announced a series of initial actions and subsequent items have taken place. Most recently, the ATF has issued a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” and in his budget request for next year, he has included a $232 million dollar increase in funding for the DOJ and HHS to tackle gun violence.

Fourth, in a significant move by Congress in recent days, the House and Senate have voted to designate a Pulse National Memorial site.

Out of tragedy, there can be triumph, and the Pulse tragedy has certainly shown this to be true.
As we reflect on this 5th anniversary, take a moment to think about this loss of life, remember the victims, and think about all of the people around you that you want to protect from gun violence, then take action by getting involved with Pride Fund to End Gun Violence by visiting www.pridefund.org. 
To get involved, volunteer, or donate to help enact real gun reform, visit our website at PrideFund.org.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @Pride_Fund.

Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a PAC that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. Lindsay is a seasoned political operative with 16 years of experience working in politics, government, and campaigns. He also served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

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Opinion | LGBTQ youth face mental health challenges amid pandemic

We must assist with legislative remedies, resources

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The mental health of many has suffered amid the coronavirus pandemic, with rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses steadily rising since March 2020. Youth, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, are being hit especially hard by these manifestations. 

The Trevor Project’s 2021 Youth Mental Health National Survey found that 72 percent of LGBTQ+ people between the ages of 13 and 24 experienced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and 62 percent experience symptoms of major depressive disorder — a steep increase since the 2020 survey. This uptick can be attributed to the lack of support that two out of every three respondents to the 2021 survey experience in their homes. 

Due to the pandemic and resulting restrictions placed on social gatherings, LGBTQ youth are unable to participate in in-person activities where their identities are affirmed, and forced to endure misgendering and other discriminatory situations within their homes that are confirmed to increase feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Online crisis lines, LGBTQ organizations that offer online events for youth, and other resources that support young LGBTQ people are especially vital to their mental health during this time when school-wide Gender and Sexuality Alliances and counseling aren’t as widely accessible. 

Before the pandemic, LGBTQ youth were already suffering from mental illness at extremely high rates. The Trevor Project’s 2019 Youth Mental Health National Survey reported that 39 percent of respondents had seriously considered suicide, more than double the national statistic encompassing both LGBTQ and cisgender, heterosexual youth found in a CDC study the same year. 

The culture surrounding many LGBTQ students in their homes and schools contributes to their alarming rates of mental illness. 

The lack of positive representation of LGBTQ identities in books, on screen, and in classrooms leads youth to believe that there is no hope to ever have successful lives as openly LGBTQ people. 

The LGBTQ characters that young people do have to look up to are often unnecessarily killed off when the “bury your gays” trope is employed, or their storylines center around their LGBTQ identity and disregard any other part of their humanity; tricking them into thinking that they’re nothing beyond their sexual orientation or gender identity and can’t be functioning and productive members of their communities because of it. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index, only two U.S states have laws addressing discrimination against students based on sexual orientation, and only one state has legislated protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Six states specifically restrict the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in curricula. 

The institutionalized exclusion of LGBTQ students from school curriculum further alienates them in spaces where they should feel comfortable and accepted for who they are and helps to facilitate a breeding ground for further discrimination. 

Students internalize the stereotypes, tropes, and other ways in which homophobia and transphobia permeate society and are poisoned with beliefs that they’re abnormal, perverted, and disgusting. Over time, this brainwashing eats away at the psyche of youth as they grow and leads to the high rates of mental health issues in LGBTQ youth. 

Straight and cisgender students are also affected by these failings and in turn, affect the mental health of their LGBTQ counterparts. They absorb the same falsehoods about LGBTQ people and their identities, and lash out at those who they’ve been taught are lesser than them, including their friends and classmates. The internal struggle that manifests in LGBTQ youth as well as external attacks from their peers results in the unique mental health crisis they face. 

LGBTQ youth have also been affected by the pandemic at a higher capacity than other groups. A 2017 study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that LGBTQ youth are over 100 percent more likely to report homelessness than straight and cisgender youth. 

Many LGBTQ people, especially members of the transgender community, avoid seeing doctors or mental health professionals due to the absence of protections for LGBTQ people and hostile experiences with medical personnel. 

Without access to spaces where they can interact with other LGBTQ youth, shelters in which they feel safe, LGBTQ affirming doctors, and policies in place that protect LGBTQ workers and patients, LGBTQ youth are struggling mentally in high volume that increased during the pandemic. 

The lives and futures of LGBTQ youth are not expendable, and it’s time that they stop being treated as such. Legislated protections for LGBTQ students and resources that are available to youth are necessary to combat the daunting rates of mental illness within the young LGBTQ community.

Maeve Korengold is a freelance journalist and student ambassador for Safe Space NOVA.

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