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White supremacy, racism killed Sandra Bland

Constantly being stereotyped, marginalized, vilified eats away at us



Sandra Bland, gay news, Washington Blade
Sandra Bland, gay news, Washington Blade

Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail after what should have been a routine traffic stop. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Ever since Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail cell earlier this month, her case has been on my mind. I noted in my January column titled, “Black Women’s Lives Matter, Too,” that black women are subjected to police brutality and have been murdered by the police, but the community never rallies around those cases, and are often not even aware of them. Until now, none of those cases had garnered the amount of attention or outrage as the deaths of black men by law enforcement.

For whatever reason, people could not wrap their heads around women being brutalized, so the dashboard camera plays a major role in allowing people to see much of the interaction between Bland and the officer. Bland was also an outspoken, attractive, college-educated, Black Lives Matter activist. This matters in terms of folks who only like to fight for “the right kind of people,” which is also known as the “respectability” mantra.

Most people who feel Sandra Bland was unjustly killed believe she was murdered by the police and are demanding accountability for that murder. It matters if the police murdered her in terms of getting the harshest sentence for the perpetrators. However, it’s already clear, whether Bland died by a police officer’s hand or her own hand, they killed her. White supremacy and racism killed her the same way it slowly kills millions of African Americans in this country. Constantly being stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, and, all too often, working harder than most for a meager subsistence gets to you. Each day, it kills a part of your spirit.

Take, for instance, the stereotype of the “angry black woman.” Although I’m soft-spoken and though I sometimes hate to admit it, shy, I have recently been stereotyped as an angry black woman by some white people in the local political and media scene. My ethnic features have been used as a source of disdain and derision as these mean-spirited, racist bullies have spread rumors that I’m always angry and walk around with my bottom lip sticking out. Um, I have thick lips and, yes, my bottom lip protrudes out further than my top lip. But no, I’m not poking out my lip in anger, my bottom lip just sticks out—and many of my African brothers and sisters happen to think I’m quite cute, I may add. The fact that this, and other, malicious gossip has been spread continuously by people who don’t look like me, don’t share my culture, and apparently have no knowledge of or respect for African features, is just one illustration of what it’s like to navigate a society that constantly kills your spirit. This is the type of stuff that eats at you each day.

It also lets me know that the “angry black woman” stereotype is so pervasive and so believable to white folks that all actions can be made to fit into the stereotype when displayed by black women, even if those actions contradict one another. Thus, if you are a passionate vocal advocate, you’re angry. If you are soft-spoken, you’re not overly vocal because you’re angry. If you look people directly in the eyes, you’re angry. If you take a more subservient demeanor and divert your eyes or look down, you’re angry.

To be a black woman in America often means that a piece of your spirit is crushed each day. You graduate from college and maybe even get an advanced degree, but none of that shields you from the daily indignities that you will face.

A few years ago, in the Eastern Market area, I pulled behind a minivan as the minivan’s occupants were getting into the car. Happy to find a parking space, I patiently waited as they got into the vehicle and put the kids into the car seat. There was a white male police officer on the other side of the street. I didn’t think anything of it when he walked over to my car. I let my window down, so I could hear what he wanted to tell me. He then started to berate me about parking illegally and I calmly explained that I was not parked, I was waiting for the car in front of me to pull out of their parking space, so I could park there. He then starts speaking in a very aggressive and hostile tone, and when I try to respond, he snaps back, “shut up, don’t say a word.” He then goes on about whether I can afford a $200 ticket. After he finished his rant, I pulled into the parking space and he walked away. His hostility was unnecessary and I was boiling inside. I was too taken aback at the time to get his name or badge number. After I got out of the car, I saw him standing on the corner, but I chose my personal safety over confronting him to get his badge number. On Inauguration Day in 2008, I also experienced this same hostility from a white male police officer, whose hostile tone and aggression startled me so much, I dropped and broke my camera.

So, when the officer started speaking in a hostile tone toward Sandra Bland, I recognized the tone immediately. It is the same demeaning, hostile tone that white male officers have used toward me on several instances.

This hostility comes from a place of interacting with someone who you don’t deem to be equal. When you are black, a woman, and either young or young-looking, my experience has shown that some white male officers take any assertion that you are their equal as a personal affront. This belief extends far beyond interactions with law enforcement and the repercussions of this mentality often manifest itself in hostile behavior from some white men in other settings.

My situation with the police officer in Eastern Market could have escalated if I did not swallow my pride and allow this hostile officer to disrespect me. However, I wanted to respond as Sandra Bland did. You can’t imagine how demeaning it is for someone to yell “Shut up” in your face and to say nothing back because you’ve decided it’s the “practical” way to deescalate the situation and not get arrested or an unwarranted ticket. We go through this type of blatant hostility and disrespect every day and it gets to you.

Bland chose a healthy way of addressing the societal and systemic racism by connecting with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, she still found herself demeaned and in jail for a minor traffic offense, after, if her experiences have been anything like mine, a lifetime of pushing to persevere and thrive in a hostile society.

We may never truly know if the police murdered Sandra Bland or if she technically died by her own hand. But one thing is abundantly clear: No matter the circumstances, white supremacy and racism killed her.


Lateefah Williams is a regular contributor to the Washington Blade.



Is Nigeria’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown only meant for the poor?

Wealth and fame can shield one from prosecution in the country



(Bigstock photo)

The Nigeria Police Force in Delta State a few weeks ago arrested more than 67 suspected gay men for attending an alleged gay wedding. Authorities received a tip, they interrogated those arrested and suspicions were cemented on the basis that some of these young men crossed-dressed. 

“We’re bringing this out to the world to note, especially Nigerians, that we’re in Africa and Nigeria. We cannot copy the Western world,” Deputy Police Supt. Bright Edafe said. “We’re in Nigeria, and I can guarantee that the suspects will be charged to court.” 

Although these young men have since been released, this situation in Nigeria underscores a glaring paradox: A country that boasts a growing number of queer celebrities — many of whom have embraced crossdressing as part of their persona — maintains harsh legal actions against less privileged queer youths who express their identities. This unequal treatment sends a damaging message to the broader queer community; perpetuating a cycle of discrimination, fear and inequality.

In a nation marked by its vibrant culture and diversity, Nigeria’s anti-gay laws stand as a stark contradiction to the principles of tolerance and inclusivity. These laws not only criminalize same-sex relationships, but have also given rise to a troubling disparity in their enforcement. It has disproportionately targeted the poor, transgender individuals and crossdressers, while seemingly ignoring high-profile celebrities who freely express their identities.

Bobrisky, one of Nigeria’s most popular crossdressers who built a large following off of this lifestyle, went on their social media to probe the arrested crossdressers for openly presenting that way. 

“I strongly believe you guys can learn from those A-list,” they wrote. “Firstly, there’s a law passed against you guys that you can’t marry yourselves in this country, why the hell did you call yourselves together to organize a wedding?”

“That is the dumbest news I have ever read this week. You all deserve how you all were treated, sad truth. If you feel you are in love with your partner and you want to be together, why not relocate to where you are welcome,” they continued. 

One would think that they were able to make comments like this because they didn’t crossdress; but when you have enough financial and social privilege to wriggle your way out of situations for which your counterparts would otherwise be prosecuted, you would think that the law doesn’t apply to you. 

Then-President Goodluck Jonathan in February 2014 passed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which legalized the prosecution of anyone who shows sexual relations with the same sex. Nigerian MPs in April 2022 pushed to update the SSMPA with a bill that would essentially criminalize crossdressers and force them to face six months in prison, or pay a fine of $1,200. 

The measure has yet to become law.

This targeting of transgender people and crossdressers by the Nigerian government is a distressing reality. These individuals often find themselves marginalized, not just socially, but also legally. Raids, arrests and harassment are commonplace for them, making it a daily struggle to live authentically. In a nation where gender expression should be celebrated as a testament to its cultural diversity, it is disheartening to witness these citizens ostracized and penalized for embracing their true selves.

On the other hand, the celebrities who have made crossdressing a part of their public image appear to exist in a different realm. They enjoy a level of visibility and fame that grants them an element of protection. Whether it’s due to their financial resources or their connections, they often escape the legal consequences that ordinary queer Nigerians face. This glaring contrast between the treatment of high-profile celebrities and everyday individuals exposes the systemic inequalities that persist in Nigeria’s legal system.

The implications of this disparity are profound. It sends a troubling message that wealth and fame can shield one from persecution, while those without such privileges bear the brunt of discriminatory laws. This perpetuates a culture of fear and silence among the less privileged queer community, preventing them from fully expressing their identities and participating in society without the constant threat of persecution.

Nigeria must engage in a profound societal dialogue surrounding the unequal treatment of its queer citizens to address this issue. It is crucial to question the legitimacy of laws that infringe upon the fundamental human rights of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. By sparking these meaningful conversations, we can begin to dismantle the harmful stereotypes and prejudices that fuel this disparity in treatment.

Nigeria’s anti-gay laws not only defy the principles of tolerance and inclusivity, but also expose a disconcerting imbalance in their enforcement. The stark contrast between the leniency shown to high-profile celebrities who embrace crossdressing and the harsh legal actions taken against less privileged queer youths sends a damaging message to the broader queer community. It is time for Nigeria to address this injustice, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society where all its citizens can embrace their identities without fear of persecution.

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Medicaid cuts will lead to an uptick in STIs

Move threatens progress to end HIV epidemic



We have come a long way from the days when HIV was an almost certain death sentence. But our work is far from over. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an uptick in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and low-income communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities of color continue to be impacted at alarming and disproportionately high rates.

These communities are also more likely to be served by Medicaid. Medicaid is the largest source of insurance coverage for people living with HIV in the United States, covering an estimated 40 percent of nonelderly adults with HIV, and Medicaid accounted for 45 percent of all federal HIV spending in 2022. During September, Sexual Health Awareness Month, it is worth examining the crucial ways Medicaid works to keep people healthy — and what threatens our progress today.

In recent weeks, we have seen a troubling trend develop. Five million Americans have been removed from Medicaid rolls, and many millions more are on the verge of losing coverage as a result of the Medicaid enrollment cuts. This represents the single greatest threat to our progress toward ending the HIV epidemic in years.   

During the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment grew by an estimated 20 million people, contributing to the uninsured rate dropping to the lowest level on record in early 2022. But, after a three-year period during which states provided continuous enrollment in exchange for enhanced federal funding, some states resumed dis-enrolling people from Medicaid on April 1. A recent KFF survey found that 17 million people could lose Medicaid coverage as a result of this process, referred to as the Medicaid “unwinding.”

Many states are not doing enough to ensure that Medicaid-eligible residents don’t lose their coverage. While some have been removed from the rolls because they are newly ineligible, procedural issues account for 74 percent of people losing coverage. An unacceptably high number of FloridaTexas, and Virginia residents who are still eligible for Medicaid are losing coverage because of procedural reasons, such as failing to confirm proof of income or household size.

Our goal should be to ensure that no one who qualifies for Medicaid loses their coverage. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave states the option to use a 12-month grace period, along with other flexibilities, to prepare for the unwinding and make sure residents had what they needed to recertify. So why are some states so eager to remove their residents from Medicaid rolls?

New York, on the other hand, has made equity a cornerstone of recertification work and provides a template for what states can do to help their residents remain covered. The state maximizes the flexibilities offered by CMS and works directly with providers, health plans, and recipients to minimize procedural disenrollments and ensure that people retain health care coverage, either through Medicaid, the state’s health exchange, or private insurance. New York is among the nation’s top-performing states in terms of call center wait times, call drop rates, and average time it takes to make an eligibility determination, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. New York’s call center is also able to produce materials in 26 languages. In June 2023 alone, New York State certified renewals for more than 400,000 residents.

At Amida Care in New York, we know firsthand that gaps in care for people living with or placed at elevated risk of contracting HIV can be especially devastating. When people lose access to PrEP medication to prevent HIV, they are left vulnerable to contracting HIV, and when people living with HIV lose access to antiretroviral therapy, they risk becoming seriously ill and transmitting HIV to others. We support and guide our members through the recertification process with dedicated outreach efforts that include phone calls, mailings, text messages, and home visits to limit loss of coverage and interruptions in life-saving treatments. 

We cannot begin to address health inequity or end the HIV epidemic without strengthening Medicaid. The recent moves by some states to strip their residents of Medicaid coverage will undermine the progress we’ve made.

Doug Wirth is president and CEO of Amida Care, a Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan for people affected by HIV.

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Jann Wenner’s racist, sexist take on musicians isn’t surprising

New book ‘The Masters’ excludes Black, women pioneers



Jann Wenner (Screen capture via CBS Mornings YouTube)

I enjoyed sharing my birthday with Bruce Springsteen, until I read the bigoted remarks made by his friend Jann Wenner in a recent New York Times interview.

Then I wasn’t so glad to have the same b-day as Bruce.

Springsteen didn’t make the comments. I’m a fan of his music. But, as I write this, Springsteen, as well as some of Wenner’s other friends, hasn’t spoken out against Wenner’s hurtful comments.

As the saying goes: Some gifts keep on giving. Wenner, who was removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation board after making sexist and racist remarks in a Sept. 15 interview with the Times, keeps on giving. But what’s he’s giving isn’t a gift. Not to Black people, women, music lovers, or queer folk.

Wenner’s one of us. He’s gay. 

I’m fine with his sexuality, but you’d hope that Wenner, for decades a gatekeeper of music and culture, would be a source of queer pride. But, that’s not the case with Wenner, a co-founder of the Rock the Roll Hall of Fame.

The fallout from Wenner’s Times interview is a needed wake-up call for queers.

Too often, we give ourselves a pass. We believe that because we live with homophobia, bi-erasure and transphobia, we know the score. That we’re not sexist, racist, ageist, ableist – we’re free of prejudice. Paragons of virtue.

Wenner, with his demeaning comments, is, I hope, getting us (especially, we who are Boomers) to look in the mirror. To check ourselves (as we examine our dogs for ticks) for our own prejudices, and for our virtue-signaling.

The controversy around Wenner began when he sat for the interview with David Marchese of the Times on Sept. 15 to promote his new book “The Masters,” released by Little Brown and Company on Sept. 26.

“The Masters” is a compilation of seven interviews that Wenner conducted with acclaimed musicians who are (or were before their death) his friends: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, Bono, and Springsteen. All of the interviewees are white, male and Boomers.

“That there are no women or Black musicians in this collection is obvious,” Wenner writes, according to Kirkus Reviews, in “The Masters.” “This is reflective of the prejudices and practices of the times.”

It’s hard to describe how bigoted and absurd this is. As many have noted, rock ‘n’ roll was invented by Black people.

You have to wonder what Wenner was thinking. Had he never heard of Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin? Stevie Wonder? Joni Mitchell? Madonna?

Though too much racism and sexism exist today, the culture has gotten somewhat better. Attitudes have evolved. We’ve become more aware of our biases. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t so for Wenner. Marchese asked Wenner why every musician he talked with in “The Masters” is white and male. “Insofar as the women,” Wenner responded, “just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”

When pressed by Marchese, who wondered how he could say Joni Mitchell wasn’t “articulate enough,” Wenner said, “Joni was not a philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll.”

“I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level,” Wenner said of Black musicians.

Reading the interview, I wondered if he’d read Rolling Stone, the magazine he edited for decades. Had he missed the covers with Melissa Etheridge, Joplin, and Tina Turner (to name a few of the women and Black artists featured on the magazine’s cover)?

Sadly, Wenner’s condescending, racist and sexist take on Black and women musicians isn’t surprising. Often, people with power (rich white men) believe they’re smarter, more talented, and more entitled to be cultural gatekeepers than those from marginalized groups. They’re convinced they’re more talented and “articulate” than those who don’t have power. 

Forget “The Masters.” Check out Etheridge’s new memoir “Talking to My Angels.” That’s a good read.

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

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