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Carol Schwartz for mayor, ‘intolerant of intolerance’

Candidate’s daughter, daughter-in-law on why Mom is best choice for city

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Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade
Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz learned the harsh lessons of discrimination growing up Jewish in West Texas. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

By STEPHANIE SCHWARTZ & JACKIE BRYKS

One of my proudest moments occurred when my mother, Carol Schwartz, won the National Capital Area Leadership Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2002. In her acceptance speech, my mom told a story I had never heard. In high school and college, she had two friends who were gay. A few years after graduating, both committed suicide. It’s rare that my mother doesn’t share what’s on her mind, but I guess in this case, her friendships with these two men and their endings had weighed on her mind, silently until then.

I think my mother’s early experience with discrimination made her particularly empathetic to those who face it. Though nothing like many LGBT youth or other minorities endure, she did face anti-Semitism while growing up in West Texas. During the only snow day of her childhood, she got out of school early and a group went to a friend’s house. But the mother wouldn’t allow a Jewish person in her home so she stood outside in the snow for hours, waiting for the others. This incident of prejudice was not the first or the last—and they scarred. In addition, her only sibling Johnny, 18 months older, had intellectual disabilities, and she had to protect him from taunts and ridicule. That, plus the racism she observed in that place and time, made her “intolerant of intolerance” — a phrase Mom uses. I am sure that feeling has fueled her work in public and community service, starting as a special education teacher.

It is fortunate that in the last decade many people have joined the LGBT cause. But Carol Schwartz was there early on, fighting for our rights 40 years ago. When she was on the D.C. Board of Education in the mid-1970s, she pushed through the law that forbade employment discrimination against DCPS teachers and other personnel based on sexual orientation.

During her four terms on the D.C. Council, that commitment continued. She introduced the law that prohibited the harassment of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She provided additional funding for the Office of Human Rights. She spoke out against the effort to exempt transgender people from certain protections under the D.C. Human Rights Act. She was instrumental in pushing the domestic partnership law—the strongest in the country—and had she been on the Council in 2009, would have voted for same-sex marriage. She was an active proponent of and a contributor to needle exchange programs and co-sponsored medical marijuana legislation, and lobbied Congress to stop the hold-up of both.

She also protected workers by putting forth the strongest Whistleblowers Protection Law in the country, which the federal government replicated, and made D.C. the second jurisdiction in the country to give sick and safe leave to workers who did not have that human benefit—and lost her Council seat because of it.

What someone chooses to do outside their role in elected office is also revealing. My Mom has chosen to lend her leadership skills to a host of volunteer community service organizations. To name just a couple, she was a member of the board of the Safe Haven Outreach Ministry, a service provider for low-income and homeless adults, who are substance abusers living with HIV/AIDS. And she was elected to be a 17-year member of the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, including during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, and was elected its vice president.

Her work, both elected and volunteer, earned her Best Straight Ally three times from Blade editors and readers as well as the Blade’s Local Female Hero.

One of my mom’s proudest moments was when she walked me down the aisle as I married my spouse Jackie in October of 2012 in New York. Years before, I had been engaged to a man. Soon after my broken engagement I became involved with a woman, then a man, then a woman again on my journey to where I belonged. But through it all, there was my mom, always supporting me. That support wasn’t a surprise. She had already been a member of PFLAG as a friend for decades before she knew she would qualify in every category.

As her daughter I have gotten the unique perspective on relationships she’s formed. Friends can’t have a birthday without getting an off-key birthday song on their voicemail. She looks after numerous seniors. And like many, she’s lost too many friends to AIDS, but there she was saying goodbye during their last moments, lying in bed with them, holding them. The faces of those friends are still displayed in photos in her home.

A good gay friend of hers often asks, “Do you ever spend time with people who aren’t gay?” “Yes,” she answers, “When I have to.”

She’s been a good role model. I have tried to follow her lead in my own career — working in a group home for people with cerebral palsy, serving as criminal defense attorney for Legal Aid, and advocating on behalf of victims of child abuse as a Children’s Services attorney for NYC in the Bronx.

Her empathy helps her build bridges. One of the reasons my Mom stayed a Republican all those years was because she was better able to lobby Congress on behalf of D.C. When a member of Congress put forth a rider that banned gay and lesbian adoptions, she and activist Carl Schmid were able to get an appointment. In that meeting, she spoke about her LGBT friends who had adopted children and the vibrant and loving families that exist for these kids who barely had hope for one — and cried. Later that day, the rider was withdrawn. This is what D.C. needs — someone who can be tough when called for but is always compassionate and unifying.

As D.C. is economically booming, it’s too easy to forget those who are left out. What we need now is a strong caretaker who has proven she can take care of business and people, and who will also continue the fight for LGBT — and voting — rights. I know of no better leader—or person—than my mom to be your mayor.

Stephanie Schwartz, Democrat

 

Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Longtime LGBT ally Carol Schwartz at Gay Pride Day in 1986. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Proud of my mother in law

 

Soon after meeting my now wife, I made the charged pilgrimage from my home in New York for the first meeting with her mother, Carol Schwartz. You know the deal, everybody on their best behavior trying to make a good impression. Carol seemed to like me a lot, but I can say for certain that she blew me away. All I knew going into that first meeting was that Carol was some sort of local D.C. politician, a Republican no less. This meeting took place more than six years ago — a time during which the national Republican Party was less than welcoming to gays and lesbians. So let me be frank: As a lifelong gay rights advocate, I had some misgivings, apprehension even. But the reality upended all my preconceptions (a life lesson against pigeonholing people if I ever saw one).

Because what I found was the most progressive, most welcoming, most gay-positive person I had ever met. And these many years later, after marrying Carol’s daughter, Stephanie, I have been proud to learn — and not just from the family — that Carol, being Carol, used her estimable energies over decades to transform this progressive instinct into concrete policies supporting the LGBT community.

I was also proud that when the Republican Party continued to drift further and further to the right on social issues — notably on women’s health and LGBT rights — Carol, though usually loyal to a fault, decided to leave the party and register as an Independent. To me, that label suits her to a tee.

Jackie Bryks, Democrat

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Examining the ‘Prejudices’ of Jane Austen

Cancel culture run amok or an honest assessment of author’s biases?

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Recently, I listened to “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen on Audible. Savoring every word, I was transported to 19th century, Regency-era England. Immersed in the world of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and formal balls, I almost escaped from our troubled 21st century universe. As I sipped tea, racism, transphobia – past and present injustice – slipped from my mind.

Until a headline from The New York Times flashed on my screen: “A Jane Austen Museum Wants to Discuss Slavery. Will Her Fans Listen?”

This Jane Austen fan is listening. Nothing pricks up your ears more than seeing one of your favorite authors (a literary icon, no less) connected with slavery.

Last month, Jane Austen’s House, a museum on the life and work of Jane Austen, said that it would update its displays to include information on Austen’s and her family’s connection to slavery. (The museum in the English village of Chawton, has been only open virtually during the pandemic. It reopens for in-person visitors on May 19.) Austen, who lived from 1775 to 1817, resided in Chawton from 1809 until shortly before she died at age 41.

The exhibits reveal that George Austen, Jane Austen’s father, before he became a pastor, was a trustee of an Antigua sugar plantation. The displays note that Austen and her family, by drinking tea, eating foods with sugar and wearing clothing made of cotton, enjoyed products of the Atlantic slave trade.

Information is included on Austen’s views of abolitionists: Some scholars believe that Austen was against slavery. In 1807, the slave trade ended in the British Empire when King George signed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade into law.

Reaction to the new exhibits was fast and furious, The New York Times reported. “Woke madness,” thundered The Express. The Daily Mail said the museum had launched “a revisionist attack” and a “BLM-inspired interrogation” of Austen’s ritual of imbibing tea.

If you believe these rants, you’d think that Jane Austen’s House was trying to cancel Jane Austen: that we should stop appreciating her work because she drank tea and her family was connected to the slave trade.

Of course, this isn’t the intention of the museum that celebrates Austen’s work. Visitors increasingly ask about Austen and her family’s connection to the slave trade, Jane Austen’s House says in a statement. “It is therefore appropriate that we share the information and research that already exists on her connections to slavery and its mention in her novels,” the museum says.

It’s tempting to dismiss this dust-up as a tempest in a teapot. But that would be wrong.

This controversy calls our attention to one of the pressing issues of our time: How do we examine the prejudices of our icons, and should we cancel them and/or their work?

I’m thinking about two LGBTQ icons: Walt Whitman, born on May 31, 1819, and Adrienne Rich who died on March 27, 2012.

In his poetry, Whitman embraced democracy and inclusion. For his time, he wrote with remarkable openness about sexuality. If you’re queer, you feel represented in his poetry.

Yet, in his later life, Whitman believed racist pseudo scientific claims. He called Black people “baboons” and “wild brutes.”

Few poets are as beloved by the LGBTQ community as poet Adrienne Rich. Her poems have been a lifeline for queer women and gay men.

Yet, Rich advised Janice Raymond, who, in 1979 wrote the transphobic book “The Transsexual Empire.” Raymond wrote that transgender people “colonize feminist identification, culture, politics, and sexuality.”

In the face of racism and transphobia existing side by side with genius, Whitman’s dictum about the self containing multitudes and contradictions rings painfully true.

I’d be lying if I said I had a solution to this muddle.

But if we’ve learned anything since George Floyd’s death, it’s that we all have conscious and unconscious biases. If we cancelled artists who have prejudices from racism to transphobia, what art would be left?

Yet, if we don’t confront our cultural heroes’ prejudices, how will we live with ourselves or work toward justice? What type of art would be created?

I only know: we must live and struggle with these vitally important questions.

 

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

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McAuliffe for governor of Virginia

His leadership has made a positive difference for so many

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Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

I support Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia. He is the best choice for Virginia Democrats in their primary and has the best chance of defeating any candidate Republicans choose to run against him.

Virginians know and respect him as a successful governor and a decent man. It was clear had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. His stellar record moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights make him the right choice.

The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. McAuliffe vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He oversaw the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Virginia and as his campaign notes was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.

He recently released his platform on LGBTQ rights and in a statement to the Blade said: “LGBTQ+ Virginians have faced discrimination and inequities for too long because of who they are or who they love. I am proud of the progress Virginia has made in protecting the LGBTQ+ community over the past eight years, but our work is far from over. As governor, I will fight my heart out to make Virginia the most open, welcoming and inclusive state in the nation, and break down the disparities that LGBTQ+ communities, and particularly communities of color, face in education, health care, the economy and more. Together, we’ll move Virginia forward into a better, brighter future for all.”

When it comes to women’s rights, as governor, McAuliffe staved off attacks by extreme Republicans who controlled the Virginia Legislature during his tenure. He fought for women’s health care rights and fought to keep open every women’s health clinic in the state. He vetoed legislation that would have harmed women, including a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia.

On civil rights he said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to reverse a racist Jim Crow law disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians. McAuliffe restored the right to vote to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions allowing them to fully participate in democracy.

He was good for business and during his one term as governor had a record of bringing more than 200,000 good paying jobs to the state and oversaw a lowered unemployment rate and an increase in personal income of over 13%. McAuliffe understood early investments in the state’s infrastructure would help the state to be a national leader in clean energy.

There is some discussion about whether McAuliffe should have stayed out of this race since there are two African-American women running. Some suggest he should have instead supported one of them. But like Joe Biden in his presidential race, McAuliffe has the support of a huge number of African Americans because they know him and many have personal relationships with him. A recent NBC news column quoted some African-American leaders who support McAuliffe. “I asked him to run,” said Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas, a leader of the state’s Black political establishment and a co-chair of McAuliffe’s campaign. She described McAuliffe as a “comfort level” choice in the midst of a pandemic.

State Del. Don Scott, who has a felony in his past said “McAuliffe encouraged him to run for the legislature two years ago at a time when others were counseling him against a campaign. He hasn’t forgotten that favor. He had my back, said Scott, a staunch McAuliffe supporter. He may have thought he was running [for governor in 2021], but nobody else came down here. He put in that work and built those relationships. And if he did that with me imagine the type of relationships he’s been able to build and relationships matter.”

Politics is often about the possible and yes one needs an inflated ego to feel “I am the best person to lead.” But in the case of McAuliffe his successes match his ego. His leadership has made a positive difference for so many people. It is those people who are responding to his candidacy and giving him a huge lead in the polls. They understand why in December 2017, McAuliffe was named “Public Official of the Year” by GOVERNING magazine. Virginians should give McAuliffe a second term.

 

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

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Opinions

Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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