Recently, walking onto an elevator in a medical office building in New York, I overheard two respectable-looking men in suits talking and laughing about rape. “That bitch was so ugly!” one of them said to his colleague. “You should have raped her!” his pal said, stifling his laughter on seeing me. “We were just joking,” he said.
During such moments, I often think of “Thelma & Louise,” the iconic 1991 movie, starring Susan Sarandon (Louise) and Geena Davis (Thelma) and directed by Ridley Scott, that became a cultural landmark and a life-changer for so many women. Nearly 25 years later, I know few women who haven’t fantasized with their BFFs about being Thelma and Louise or many men, even self-identified feminists, who aren’t just a bit edgy about these fantasies.
“Thelma & Louise” still has so many aficionados that, according to the Associated Press, Sarandon and Davis, who are friends, are mulling over how to mark the movie’s 25th anniversary in 2016. They’re thinking of doing a “live show or a tour,” Davis said. “There’s still so much affection for the movie and we loved it,” she said. “It seems like there should be some girl power celebrating going on.”
The film, a riveting story of a girls’ road trip in Louise’s 1966 Thunderbird that morphs quickly from a vacation into a girl outlaw journey, created a frisson on its release. Starting out, Thelma and Louise, who works as a waitress, stop at a bar. Thelma, married to her controlling, unloving husband Darryl, has had it “up to my ass with being so sedate” and dances with a man named Harlan. Later, in the parking lot, after Harlan tries to rape Thelma, Louise shoots him. Because Thelma’s danced with Harlan, they know the criminal justice system won’t believe that he attempted to rape her, and flee. Though, the movie ends with them driving over a cliff, the women are transformed by their journey.
Coming out a few months before the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, “Thelma & Louise” entered the zeitgeist as sexual harassment, perhaps for the first time, had become not just a subject to be whispered about in secret, but a hot topic in offices, colleges, churches and living rooms nationwide. As a spellbinding, touching film laced with humor, “Thelma & Louise” highlights women’s lives and sexism as no feminist manifesto or public policy report can.
I’d wager that most women don’t believe in violence. I can’t imagine myself shooting anyone. Yet, watching “Thelma & Louise” last night, I clapped when Louise shot Harlan, as I did when I first saw the movie nearly a quarter of a century ago. And I confess to chuckling when, later on the trip after she’s robbed a bank to get them some money, Thelma tells Louise, “I know it’s crazy, but I just feel I got a knack for this shit.”
I don’t condone murder or armed robbery. But, like many of the film’s fans, I’m on board with Thelma and Louise as they try to live on their own terms in a world that far too frequently rapes and demeans them. In 1991, critic Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times that the film offended some viewers and critics because of “something as simple as it is powerful: the fact that the men in this story don’t really matter.”
Progress has been made, but there’s a long way to go before women have full equality. Violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations report released on March 9. Nearly 35 percent of women worldwide said they had experienced physical violence, the U.N. found.
“Thelma & Louise” remains timely and transformative today. After seeing it, you’ll feel, as Thelma feels in the movie, “really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake.”
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
A Revolution for Women in Baseball
Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball.
The Yankees were late on introducing an African-American player to their roster, adding Hall of Famer Elston Howard to the team in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees seem determined not to repeat that bad history. Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball when she takes the helm of the Tampa Tarpons this spring.
It has been just over ten years since Justin Siegal threw batting practice to the Cleveland Guardians and five since she was the first woman to coach a MLB squad with the Oakland Athletics. Two years ago, Kim Ng became the first female General Manager of any of the four major professional sports when the Marlins hired her to run their team. In the two years since then, the dam has burst. Women have been hired to important on-field positions with professional baseball at an impressive clip. As baseball has lagged behind other professional sports in bringing women into the game, the current pace of hires indicates that baseball’s embrace of analytics and objective measures have finally penetrated the walls of one of the most enduring old boys clubs in the U.S. and given talented women opportunities they have long been denied.
Ten women will be coaching with major or minor league teams in 2022. In 2021, Bianca Smith became the first African-American woman to coach in the minors when the Red Sox hired her. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in uniform during a Major League Baseball game when she coached first base for the Giants in a July 2020 exhibition against the Oakland A’s. Her jersey now belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Cuban-American Veronica Alvarez is not only the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball team, she also served as a spring training coach for the Oakland A’s.
The proliferation of women in baseball is not an accident. More girls than ever are playing baseball. Here, in the DC area, 160 girls participated with D.C. Girls Baseball in 2021. Baseball for All, an organization that supports and promotes girls in baseball, held a tournament last summer that drew nearly 600 girls who play baseball. There are more women than ever on collegiate baseball rosters. Major League Baseball has also devoted significant resources to girls and women in baseball, running several development camps for girls in baseball. Six of the women now coaching professional baseball participated in MLB’s Take the Field initiative, which is designed to help place women into baseball positions. To top it all off, the classic film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own, is getting a reboot on Amazon Prime this year.
The pace of hiring is exhilarating. Unfortunately, every report of a woman being hired is followed by predictable hateful commentary on social media. Many cannot imagine that a woman may be hired for a baseball position on merit and resort to making sexist and derogatory comments. As women in baseball, the coaches are used to that vitriol and have developed thick skin and sophisticated defense mechanisms. However, also reading are thousands of girls who are inspired by the achievements of these women and they are, sadly, learning that to achieve in baseball means enduring the sexist taunts, gross come-ons, and hurtful comments.
Baseball has a long way to go. Other leagues have women officiating games, so it should be reasonable to expect that baseball will have women umpires in the near future. The possibility of women playing professional baseball is tantalizingly close as 17 year old Genevieve Beacom made history last week as the first women to play Australian professional baseball, when she threw a scoreless inning against the Adelaide Giants.
We are watching a revolution in baseball unfold before our eyes.
Three choices: Work to elect Dems, vote GOP, or stay home
Let us not engage in a circular firing squad
I write this column as a Democrat. One who’s afraid our democracy is at risk and believing the Republicans in Congress are taking us to the abyss and leading a retreat on all the progress we have made in the areas of civil and human rights over the last 50 years.
There are three choices American voters have in the 2022 mid-term elections. The first option is to work hard to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. The second is to vote for Republicans, and the third is to stay home. If you believe LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, DACA, and voting rights are crucial issues to move forward, then choosing anything but the first option is like the old cliché about ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face.’
We are seeing a spate of attacks on the president from various interest groups saying “he didn’t do enough or speak out enough on my issues.” In the LGBTQ community it’s the cover of last week’s Washington Blade and James Finn’s column ‘Biden’s empty political theater on LGBTQ equality.’ He gives short shrift to all Biden has done through Executive Orders, regulation and the hiring of countless members of the LGBTQ community, all of which the Human Rights Campaign recently highlighted in praise of the president.
Among the actions HRC mentions are: within the first week in office an executive order repealing the Trump-era ban on transgender military service; having the Department of Housing and Urban development withdraw a Trump-era proposal to gut the equal access rule; having the State Department make changes to passport gender markers to include intersex and non-binary people; have the administration form an interagency working group to focus on the safety, inclusion, and opportunities for transgender persons; appoint as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg who became the first Senate-confirmed gay member of a president’s Cabinet and had Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS and then seeing her promoted to four-star admiral.
In his column, Finn counters his own claim Biden speaking out more could have seen the Equality Act pass when he admits without a change in the Senate filibuster rule it won’t. He agrees Biden doesn’t control either Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) who along with every Republican won’t vote to change it.
Then Finn tries to speak for the LGBTQ community and threatens, “We won’t vote for Biden again.” First, Joe Biden’s name is not on the ballot in 2022. Yes, he will have a clear impact on the elections and understands that. During his recent press conference he said he would be “on the road” talking about the positive things he and the Democratic Congress have accomplished and why voting for Democrats is so important to all he still wants to accomplish. It is my fervent hope Finn and others like him in various communities understand instead of attacking Biden at this time they should be out in the community at a minimum explaining to Democrats and independent voters who support more progressive issues, including all those who understand how important it is to act now on climate change, “if you want to get anything on your issue done in the next two years of the Biden/Harris administration, you must get out and vote for Democrats up and down the ballot.”
It is important to recognize how we must view the Biden administration and this president. Since the day he was inaugurated, the country has been in the midst of a pandemic. So yes, the president was forced to spend an incredible amount of his time dealing with and speaking about COVID. He was right to do so as millions of our fellow citizens were, and still are, getting sick and dying. While he was doing this, President Biden moved Congress to pass legislation totaling over $3.1 trillion to help the American people. This included both the American Rescue Plan, which Democrats passed using reconciliation, and the infrastructure bill, which got passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.
The American Rescue Plan’s goal was to give the American economy a boost, which it did. It included more than $569.5 billion in direct Economic Impact Payments for Americans in need. It also had $350 billion earmarked for emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The infrastructure bill “included among other things $312 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, airports, ports, waterways and other transportation-related needs and $266 billion for items including improvements to the power grid and developing broadband internet access for most Americans.”
In his recent press conference, Biden agreed that without a change in the filibuster rule some of his proposals will not be passed. He said he will continue to fight aggressively for all of them but at the same time will work with Congress to try to get some of his Build Back Better bill passed in smaller chunks. Even that won’t be easy. But he committed to continue to fight for what he believes in and what he ran on. Let us give him credit for an amazing first year, better than any president since Franklin Roosevelt.
Let’s focus on keeping the House of Representatives in Democratic hands and adding to Democratic numbers in the Senate. That will give Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) a better chance of passing legislation Biden supports.
It is time to stop the attacks on President Biden and Democrats for not doing enough and changing tactics to focus on attacking Republicans who are doing nothing and worse are committed to taking us backwards on a host of issues including Roe v. Wade, voting rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights. Let those of us committed to progress be unified in attacking Republicans instead of forming a circular firing squad attacking Democrats, and participating in our own defeat.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
A second Trump administration would be disastrous for LGBTQ people
We cannot afford to go backward
The morning after the 2016 presidential election, GLAAD’s leadership team gathered in my office to assess the results of the night before and begin to process the reality that Donald J. Trump would be America’s next president. Though emotions were running high, we quickly agreed that the LGBTQ community would be in grave danger for the next four years, and that GLAAD must pivot its priorities and its resources to react and respond to the new administration.
Trump had spent the better part of his campaign having it both ways. He professed to be a friend of our community to the point of literally wrapping himself in the Pride flag at an event, while surrounding himself with some of the most virulent anti-LGBTQ activists and politicians of our era — led by the incoming Vice President Mike Pence. The message was clear — LGBTQ people and our hard won progress would be in the Trump administration crosshairs at every level and in every way possible.
Our charge was not an easy one. The cable news cycle was well into its around-the-clock, obsessive, and incessant 24-hour coverage of Trump and his followers, so we couldn’t depend on them to research, dig up and bring to light the nefarious actions that were inevitable. On top of that, we would need to ensure that the LGBTQ community was on high alert and that we were ready to fight back with every weapon in our movement’s arsenal.
So on that morning of Nov. 9, 2016, GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project was conceived and launched. For the next four years, we tracked more than 200 attacks in policy and rhetoric coming from the Trump administration. Some of the most egregious include the complete removal of all LGBTQ references from the White House web site on the day of his inauguration; the shameful ban of qualified transgender Americans from military service; the support for businesses to legally discriminate sanctioned by the Justice Department and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court; removal of LGBTQ identifiers from the 2020 U.S. Census; the stripping of protections for transgender people in schools and in healthcare; and a slew of extreme judicial nominees to the federal bench whose anti-LGBTQ views will have a decades-long impact. The list is extensive, and it is sobering now, even in retrospect.
I invite you to fast forward five years and juxtapose that record against that of President Joe Biden as he crosses the one-year mark of his presidency. Just as we did with Donald Trump, it was important for GLAAD to track the actions of President Biden in order to hold him and his administration accountable for delivering on the campaign promises he made to the LGBTQ community.
The results are undeniable and unparalleled by any president in the history of this country. In his first 365 days in office, GLAAD’s Biden Accountability Tracker has just documented its 100th item in a quickly growing list of appointments, policies, and statements that advance equality.
- Nominating the first out lesbians to the federal bench — Alison Nathan, Beth Robinson and Charlotte Sweeney — among a record 40 first-year judicial confirmations.
- Nominating the first out Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; first out transgender person confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health and first female four-star admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. Rachel Levine.
- Issuing the first U.S. passport with a gender-neutral ‘X’ marker, an option offered to all routine passport applicants in early 2022.
- Reinstating of transgender military personnel, as well as expanding coverage for transgender vets’ healthcare.
- Reversing rollbacks and expanding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in healthcare, adoption services, and employment.
In a single year, with so many competing priorities, President Biden and his administration have opened doors for LGBTQ Americans and demonstrated unprecedented commitment to ending discrimination and pushing toward full equality in every area of society. Indeed, it’s a 180 degree turnaround from the previous administration’s attacks on LGBTQ Americans.
There’s a good deal of speculation that Donald Trump may once again run for president, and one thing could not be clearer — a second Trump Administration would be disastrous for LGBTQ people. We cannot afford to go backward. Democracy is on the line. Our equality is on the line. And it’s not hyperbole to say — our lives are on the line.
This is not a partisan political fight. It’s an American imperative. LGBTQ and our allies must not be complacent in 2022. Our work to ensure pro-equality leaders are elected to office — and remain in office — begins now. We cannot skip the midterm elections. We cannot stop paying attention and holding our elected leaders and candidates accountable.
We learned in 2016 and for four years afterward that the train of progress can be reversed, and there are anti-LGBTQ extremists working day and night to do it again. The power is in our hands to not let that happen again.
Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD.
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