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Atticus Has Left the Building

America’s white-centered historical narrative is on thin ice

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

With people spray-painting rebukes on statues of John C. Calhoun and Robert E. Lee across the South, who would have thought the first icon to be pulled off his pedestal would be Atticus Finch?

Until a few days ago, Atticus was the moral pillar of fictional Maycomb, Alabama. His children are endangered when he defends a black man falsely accused of rape. He tells his tomboy daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

That was in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s beloved 1960 novel of Depression-era children encountering racial injustice. Now comes Go Set a Watchman, written in 1957 but only published this week, in which an older Atticus says, “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?” Scout has grown into 26-year-old Jean Louise, and returns home from New York to find disillusionment.

Real people are full of contradictions. Genteel racism is harder to confront than the crude variety. In Mockingbird, when Mayella Ewell broke a taboo by kissing a black man, it was taken out on him to prove that he was lower even than poor white trash. Modern racists seldom admit to being bothered by a mixed-race president, but they act to thwart him every day.

The climax of Mockingbird is the attack on Scout and Jem, whereas Tom Robinson dies offscreen. I was struck as a child by the beauty of actor Brock Peters. Only later did I realize the injustice of his character’s requisite saintliness. In another Sixties movie, In the Heat of the Night, it was a breakthrough when Sidney Poitier slapped a white plantation owner back.

While millions fretted over Jem and Scout, real black children were being attacked, like the four little girls killed in a Birmingham church bombing in 1963. This un-romanticized reality is familiar to anyone not swathed in myths of whiteness cleansed of the supporting brutality. The whitewashing continues today: new social studies textbooks in Texas downplay the role of slavery in the Civil War and are silent on the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic, “The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.”

One of my mottos as an activist is “It’s not all about you.” For whites to insist on being at the center of everyone else’s story is pathological. We are too eager to declare problems solved, like the biblical false prophets who “have misled my people by saying: Peace! when there is no peace. Instead of my people rebuilding the wall, these men come and slap on plaster.” (Ezekiel 13:10)

Removing the Confederate battle flag does not rebuild black communities destroyed by white mobs. It does not restore the lives of lynching victims. It does not repay those cheated by redlining and vote suppression. It does not bring justice to adults or children murdered by police. It does not clear away the Spanish moss from paternalistic media narratives.

Chauncey DeVega describes in Salon how America is poisoned by the toxic masculinity embraced by Dylann Roof and other mass murderers, rooted in aggrieved privilege and rape fantasies and fueled by gun manufacturers (see the ad for Bushmaster assault rifles with the tag line, “Consider your man card reissued”). Yet some people appear to be bothered more by a smartphone in the hands of social media activist DeRay Mckesson (@deray), and mock him with hashtags like #gohomederay.

Despite the noise, social media activists are exposing white supremacist violence, whether from lone wolves or police departments, and organizing to demand accountability. Others are gathering support for black and brown women filmmakers (@AFFRM). They bypass traditional industry gatekeepers. They are not bound to follow another’s blueprint. As Alice Randall writes in The Wind Done Gone, “It’s easier to live where fewer dreams are buried.”

We can live with our disillusionment. We can confront our history’s uglier ghosts even as we fondly recall fictional heroes. And we can heed our neighbors of color who have had enough martyrdom.

DeRay is not going home, and Atticus has left the building.

 

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2015 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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CPAC attack on trans rights is a pathway to authoritarian gov’t

Speaker advocated eliminating ‘transgenderism’

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on March 4. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Earlier this month, activists and thought leaders from across the country met in Maryland for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly called CPAC. Speakers and presenters from all walks of conservative life, including former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and former Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro, met across several days and spoke on a multitude of issues impacting conservatism today.

One of them, a commentator and host with The Daily Wire named Michael Knowles, plunged the audience head-first into the culture war. Speaking to a crowd, he said, “for the good of society […] transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Shortly after Knowles’ speech, social media lit up, and prominent advocates for the trans community and several media outlets criticized him for wanting to eradicate the transgender community. Knowles denies these claims and has called on media outlets to retract articles stating as such. Meanwhile, conservatives supportive of Knowles and transgender individuals have fought over the overarching meaning of eradicating “transgenderism” from public life.

So what is “transgenderism,” and does it truthfully differ from transgender people? Above all else, why does this language matter so intensely? 

The term “transgenderism” is not a formal medical category or classification. The phrase for transgender people has evolved over the years to include such words as transsexual and gender dysphoria, but never “transgenderism.” 

It’s also not a social term actively embraced by most—if virtually any—recent transgender individuals due to its implicit politicization. Transgender history is full of stories detailing identity and self-discovery, many erratically spread across books, zines, and personal stories. For those instances where the term “transgenderism” does appear, it is significantly more descriptive. For example, in the 1994 text “Transgender Nation” by Gordene Olga MacKenzie, “transgenderism” acts as a term similar to how homosexuality is applied to the gay and lesbian community and encompasses the general state of being a person who is transgender.

Meanwhile, a simple Google Books search from the past several years using the phrase yields a plethora of charged texts, many of them highly critical of legal and social advancements made by the trans community — and occasionally critical of transgender individuals themselves. Often, these texts portray “transgenderism” as a deliberate ideology akin to how one voluntarily upholds conservatism or libertarianism. In another literary example, the 2020 text 2+2=5: How Transgenderism is Redefining Reality by Katie Roche, the term is frequently used as a broad catch-all, including pursuing affirming medical care, publically expressing your identity, and even accessing other transgender individuals in the broader world for the sake of a sense of community.

So when Knowles says he wants the eradication of “transgenderism” yet bristles when people say that means transgender people, he is making a distinction without a difference.

Since 2015, the phrase has slowly grown in popularity, with Google Trends showing an increase in its overall consistency—incidentally coinciding with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and the beginning of the “bathroom bill” discourse. For social conservatives, the phrase has gradually taken life to strike at the heart of identity itself. From changing your legal name and amending your birth certificate to openly respecting and honoring the individuality of others, it seeks to subsume any action or concept seemingly legitimizing transgender identities in public life.

Simply stated, everything that validates the dignity and conceptual existence of a trans person is inherent in so-called “transgenderism.” It’s irresponsible not to acknowledge the colloquial use of the phrase in conservative circles. Those concerned are rightfully alarmed when used at a platform such as the CPAC mainstage during a national culture war.

On a recent episode of his show hosted by The Daily Wire, Michael Knowles justified his thinking by stating that the transgender community does not exist. “[W]e ought not to indulge the transgender false anthropology, you know, that, one is a little bit different in that transgender people is not a real ontological category,” he stated, “it’s a euphemism to describe deeply confused men and women who ought to have psychological and spiritual help.”

While everyone should take notice of these words, conservatives and proponents of a smaller government should particularly be alarmed by this way of thinking and specific use of language. Such reasoning relies on the concept that transgender people are not a real group of people—something transgender people and their families would find disagreeable—therefore, it’s not an identity to suppress but rather a social and mental deviancy to fix. To that end, all cultural development and social actions openly validating a trans person in any form encourage that deviancy and are part of the broader scope of “transgenderism” seen in public life. 

When juxtaposed with his overarching philosophy, his statement should perturb those who value the principles of tolerance and uphold the principles of limited government as it applies to government intrusion into individual identities. Moreover, it would require a degree of regression beyond the scope of the push for basic LGBTQ tolerance from several decades ago, let alone the acceptance earned in the past ten years. Such a regression would imply a society that has removed or withdrawn from all forms of social recognition, medical advancements, and institutional pathways that allow someone to transition and be what is regarded in modern culture as a transgender person.

And suppose you are someone who has gender dysphoria or otherwise feels your gender identity is incongruent with what was understood at the time of your birth. In such a society, your neighbor should not respect or acknowledge you as you are but rather pity you for being mentally unwell until you one day believe with as much sincerity as them that your concept of self is wrong. 

What exactly happens when minds don’t change, or individuals inevitably refuse to hold malice against their neighbors in this hypothetical society, has yet to be examined. What is known, however, is that efforts to force someone out of their identity are not well received. For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “lifetime exposure to [gender identity change efforts] was significantly associated with multiple adverse outcomes, including severe psychological distress during the previous month and lifetime suicide attempts.”

With political conservatives straining under the weight of a national culture war, allowing this form of speech to reverberate without context is a reckless pathway to a more authoritarian government. It denies the antagonistic usage of the phrase and perpetuates a misnomer. Moreover, it denigrates transgender individuals in alarming words and betrays the values of conservatives and libertarians who preach tolerance and freedom from state suppression. 

Jordan Willow Evans is a policy analyst and writer living in Goffstown, N.H. She is chair of the Libertarian Policy Foundation and treasurer of MassEquality, the leading Massachusetts statewide queer organization. 

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When Discr33t_T0P’s a discreet cop

Law enforcement creating fake profiles to trick people into revealing intimate information

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The headless torso with the cheeky username that just tapped you on Grindr might not be the person you’re hoping them to be. American law enforcement, including FBI and DHS, now create fake profiles on dating apps and social media to trick people into revealing their most intimate information. Police in Florida created fake profiles on Grindr and Scruff to arrest 60 people allegedly linked to drug sales. Black activists who organized and attended protests in Minneapolis were victims of catfish cops; a 2022 report from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights showed that the Minneapolis Police Department utilized fake social media profiles to surveil Black leaders and organizations. Police went so far as to send messages asserting they had met individuals at protests. 

These surveillance techniques are the modern incarnation of the FBI’s “Sex Deviate” program during the Lavender Scare era, only this time it’s not just the FBI you need to worry about. With the criminalization of drag in states like Tennessee, state and local law enforcement are further empowered to target the queer and trans community. For LGBTQ activists, especially those who are Black, there is a high likelihood of being surveilled through a hookup app. 

Imagine you just had a long day standing outside the local drag story hour facing down bigots calling you a groomer from behind a line of their state-sponsored protection units. James, a faceless torso messages you asking if you were also at the counter-protest. James thought it was pretty cool that a few people actually physically pushed back against the homophobes and is wondering if you know who organized the counter-protest, so you invite him to a closed Facebook group. The next thing you know, your friends are being slapped with assault charges and your Grindr conversation with James is being used as evidence against them – just like in Florida.

While some tech companies like Meta make a show of pushing against these practices, they do nothing to actually stop the abuse of their platforms by law enforcement. Without legislation prohibiting fake profiles, cops will continue to catfish and surveil you. As anti-drag protests rise with the escalation of trans/homophobic rhetoric, LGBTQ people engaging in protest of any form should remain vigilant. Protest is hot, and although it is extra titillating to imagine organizing with a potential hookup, it could be Lieutenant Jones on the other end carefully gathering information to be used against you. 

Unfortunately, law enforcement doesn’t only rely on fake profiles to get information about you. Geo-location features, which conveniently let you know that MascTop4bttm is 2ft away, are another tool that law enforcement can use to track protesters. Many companies sell this information to third parties, often to facilitate targeted advertising. Although Grindr asserts that it underwent a policy change in 2020, limiting the information they share, some think it was too little too late. Just last week, The Washington Post reported that a conservative Catholic group spent millions to track priests on gay hookup and dating apps in Colorado, sharing the data with bishops nationwide. Across many platforms, a whole host of information that can ultimately be traced back to you is still currently sold to third parties. These third parties include law enforcement who use data purchasing as a way to skirt the law and avoid obtaining warrants from judges – some of which are also unconstitutional

After a record-setting year in 2022, the attack on trans and queer rights seems to only be ramping up across the country. In New York, Senate Bill S9247 the “Stop Fakes Act” would prevent law enforcement officers from creating fake social media profiles and allow for anyone whose information was gathered through a fake profile to file a civil action against the offending agency for monetary damages. Protest is an integral part of LGBTQ history and community. Until states outlaw surveillance tactics like fake profiles, protesters must protect themselves and their data. Companies that profit off the LGBTQ community should create products that provide the highest level of protection regardless of legislation. The library may be open, but our data isn’t for anyone else to read.

Derek Smith is a law student at the City University of New York and the Spring 2022 Civil Rights Intern at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

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Democrats, including the LGBTQ community, must stick together to win

Ensuring our campaigns resound with the most general election voters

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(Photo by chrisd2105/Bigstock)

As we watch with revulsion what Republicans are doing, both in Congress, and in state legislatures, it is clear the diverse members of the Democratic Party must stick together if we are to have any chance of winning in 2024.

To do that will require we understand, and accept, that in 2024 it will not be only about us individually, rather about ALL of us, collectively. All of us who are being demonized by Republicans. That includes the LGBTQ community, the African-American community, and Asian and Latino communities. It includes women who are being stripped of their right to control their own healthcare by Republicans. Republicans who are trying to take away voting rights, and pretend climate change doesn’t exist. Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, who want us to return to isolationism and retreat from world leadership. 

Therefore, if we want to move forward, each of us must accept our Democratic candidates may not be highlighting every issue we want them to, every day, in their campaigns. They might not mention LGBTQ issues in every speech. They might not talk about the Equality Act in every speech. They might not talk about protecting drag queens in every speech. But we must understand if they lose, and we lose Congress, the presidency, state houses and legislatures, we will all lose. 

Some Democrats questioned the response of the president and senators to Republicans in Congress going after the D.C. crime bill, asking why a Democrat would not stand strong for D.C. home rule. I have spoken out saying while their response may be a threat to home rule, and one I objected to, crime is an issue across the nation. They saw what happened to Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and determined this action on their part was needed if they are to win in 2024. If Democrats lose the presidency and Senate in 2024, home rule for D.C. will only be one of the many things we could lose. 

So Democrats must play our cards right and ensure our campaigns resound positively with the most general election voters. Those voters are becoming more moderate and crime is striking fear in them. This is not about changing the minds of the 30% of Trump voters in the party of Trump. We will never get their votes. It is about making sure the voters we need will come out and vote for Democrats. Those voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona. 

So yes, I want the Equality Act passed. After all, I was working for Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) when she first introduced it in 1974. But even more important now is re-electing a Democratic president and holding the Senate. That will enable us to continue to nominate and confirm judges, who with lifetime appointments, will protect us for decades. 

We must focus on electing Democratic governors who will protect us from Republican legislatures we might not win. There are 11 states with gubernatorial elections in 2024. Only three with incumbent Democrats and one in a red state, Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina, is term limited. Keeping that seat will not be easy. There are 33 Senate seats up for election in 2024. Of those, 10 are currently held by Republicans, 20 by Democrats, and three by independents. Clearly, we are at a disadvantage. So, we must all recognize in the Senate it is often the first vote a senator casts that is the most important. That is the vote for Majority Leader. So even a Democrat you may not like, such as Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), can cast a vote for Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and give Democrats control of the agenda, and if we have 51, control of committees. So, I say to the LGBTQ community, and every other minority community and women voters: Even if you must hold your nose when you vote, vote for the Democrat. Life for all of us will be so much worse if Republicans take control.

This is a year in which Democrats, especially in close Districts, should not be running primaries against incumbents who have shown they can win. This is not the time for progressives in the party to show they can win a primary, but then see their candidate lose in the general election. 

It is the general election results that will determine how we can live our lives. Whether we will be able to move forward, even if not as fast as we want, instead of having Republicans take us back into the dark ages.

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

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