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New smugness of ‘take no prisoners’ politics

Attempts to criminalize dissent will eventually make outlaws of us all

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free speech, gay news, Washington Blade
free speech, gay news, Washington Blade

A desire for dominance has suddenly veered toward castigating those who dare dissent and shaming them as ideological offenders.

Frustration among the advocate elite is understandable. Indefensible, however, are attempts to criminalize differing political viewpoints.

A growing smugness about “acceptable” attitudes will eventually make outlaws of us all.

In politically “progressive” environs with a dominant thought-conformity such as Washington, a ‘why doesn’t everyone agree with us?’ mentality is particularly palpable. It’s what much of the rest of the country considers among the most distasteful about us.

A now-entrenched national dichotomy of public opinion on many issues, reflected in an even-split between equally unpopular political parties from which voters are forced to choose, tempts partisans on both sides to seek an advantage by declaring opponents out-of-bounds. A desire for dominance has suddenly veered toward castigating those who dare dissent and shaming them as ideological offenders.

Nowhere are these antics more egregiously and, if one can manage a detached lightheadedness about it all, hilariously played out than on college campuses across the country. It has become a caricature of modern scholarship to witness student protesters demanding that certain words not be used, particular opinions not be expressed, specific beliefs be denounced, and remaining freethinking faculty not fearful of thought provocation be fired.

Academia’s grassy quads have devolved to being emblematic of a town square stockade intended for heretics.

Lest gays and lesbians consider ourselves immune from essentially burning nonconformists at the stake in a modern-era witch hunt, there is a broadening tendency among LGBT activists to equate expansively defined “hate speech” with “hate crimes” and to demand classifying disagreeable attitudes as punishable offense. Radical activists countenance little, if any, distinction between illegal actions and protected speech.

That whooshing sound you may have heard when reading Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson’s interview last month with Chad Griffin was likely the air being sucked out of the room due to gasps by First Amendment adherents. The Human Rights Campaign president offered a shockingly stark strategy for avoiding future ballot defeats on nondiscrimination measures such as the recent loss in Houston.

“In politics, there’s often two sides to a debate,” Griffin acknowledged, before dissecting the degree of debate he would tolerate. “There’s also right and wrong, and there’s lies, and there’s defamation of an entire population of people. And that’s what happened in Houston. And so, I am hopeful that in the go-forward we as a community, as an organization, local campaigns can be more aggressive with station managers, quite frankly.” Griffin’s “solution” to losing seems to be roughing-up news stations running opposition ads or reporting on opponent positions, rather than winning hearts and minds. Sort of similar to something Donald Trump might say.

We are collectively losing sight of the fact that the defense of liberty and free speech only matters when protecting the right to expression of unpopular opinion.

To illustrate illegitimate reaction to an outlier position most concur borders on lunacy, let’s use a notion argued by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse as an example. Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat once ranked as the second most liberal member of the upper chamber, suggested last summer that climate change deniers should be prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute for “misleading” the public on the issue. His posture is echoed in continuing calls by some prominent environmental activists for global warming naysayers to be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed or fined.

After all, as “we” all know, “they” must be stopped and, of course, punished. Why waste a good pair of shackles without also throwing in a public flogging and incarceration for good measure? Dispatch dissenters to the pokey for being so damn disagreeable and espousing obviously outrageous opinions.

George Orwell must be screaming from beyond his grave knowing that thought-policing “thinkpol” in the Newspeak of his dystopian novel “1984” are slowly gaining ground in combating “crimethink” as evidenced by the rapidly rising impulse to prosecute “thoughtcrimes” today.

Especially when lesbians and gays, once outcast ourselves, are among the bullies.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow him on Twitter, @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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Commentary

1970-1975: How gay liberation movement grew after Stonewall

Converging with civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war movements

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Members of the Gay Liberation Front at their communal house, 1620 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., circa 1971. From left to right: Kashi Rahman, Andy Hughes, Guy Charles, Reggie Haynes, Ronnie, David Aiken, Tim Corbett, unknown, Shima Rahman, unknown, Joseph Covert. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow History Project, Inc./David Aiken Collection)

In conjunction with WorldPride 2025, Rainbow History Project is creating an exhibit on the evolution of Pride: “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington.” This is the second of 10 articles that will share research themes for the exhibit. In “Gay and Proud,” we discuss the period between 1970-1975 and how the fledgling gay liberation movement burst on the scenes after the Stonewall Riots, converging with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the anti-Vietnam movement.

Inspired by the Black civil rights movement’s affirmation “Black is Beautiful,” the Mattachine Society of Washington coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” From 1965-1969, the Mattachine Society of Washington coordinated some of the first public demonstrations for LGBTQ equality – pickets on Independence Day called the Annual Reminders. The Gay Liberation Front wanted the 1970 Annual Reminder to be held in New York on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thus, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Signs in this first CSLD March read “Gay and Proud,” a motto that would come to label the annual Stonewall celebrations. Gay Pride has evolved into what President Biden just proclaimed “LGBTQI+ Pride Month.”

Despite the power shift from D.C.’s pickets and Philadelphia’s reminders to New York’s march, Washingtonians remained central to planning the march and its political demands, while also fostering a sense of community among homosexuals, who were starting to call themselves gays. In October of 1969, Nancy Tucker and Lilli Vincenz created The Gay Blade as a newsletter to be distributed in bars. Now called the Washington Blade, Tucker said this about its founding in a 1998 oral history with Rainbow History Project:

“Sometime after that last Fourth of July picket, the people in Mattachine must have begun to talk about how Mattachine could reach out to the gay community, as a whole in Washington, which they had never done before.”

The Gay Liberation Front DC formed in August 1970 with a communal house at 1620 S St., N.W. Its purposes, laid out by David Aiken, were “to establish a sense of community among gay people, build gay self-awareness, and educate the straight community.” GLF-DC and another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, participated in the 1971 May Day protests, which were large-scale anti-Vietnam War civil disobedience actions.

The following year on May 2-7, 1972, to commemorate May Day, GLF-DC coordinated Washington’s first Gay Pride Week. “Across the country these past two years, gay people have been getting it on for a gala spring festival celebrating the fact that we’re gay, we’re proud and we’re together,” its Gay Pride Bulletin No. 1 said. “Parties, shows, rap sessions, platform speakers, gala public picnics — all designed around the theme of GAY TOGETHERNESS — are being staged to show that gay is good and gay is here to stay!”

The goal: “rich, poor, black, white, male, female, in business or in school, in leather or in drag, in ‘the movement’ or in the closet: Gay Pride will be a time when everybody who’s gay in Washington can come to meet on common ground.” Oral history recordings and documents in the Rainbow History Archives show the event was a success, however, it was the only one that GLF-DC planned. Another “Pride” in DC didn’t occur for several years.

Between 1970-1975, countless D.C. gay organizations formed, and they showed up gay and proud in other events: the Black Panthers Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, the American Psychology Association’s annual meeting and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also disrupted conferences at Catholic University and carried anti-Nixon banners at his second inaugural. Our WorldPride 2025 exhibit, “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington,” centers the voices of the event organizers and includes the critics of Pride and the intersection of Pride and other movements for equal rights and liberation. But we need your help to do that: we are looking for images and input, so look around your attic and get involved.

Vincent Slatt volunteers as the director of archiving at the Rainbow History Project; Elinor Aspegren is a member of RHP. Visit rainbowhistory.org to get involved.

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Trans people still face uphill battle in finding employment

We must combat transphobia in the workplace

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Transgender people face a major crisis and have faced this crisis for a long time: not being able to find meaningful employment. This is nothing new to think about or say. Trans people have historically been unemployed since the beginning of time.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, trans workers experience unemployment at twice the rate of the normal population (14% versus 7%). Moreover, 44% of trans people who are currently working are underemployed. Lastly, according to this project, trans people are about four times more likely than the average population to have a household income of under $10,000. These numbers are alarming and should be studied closely.

There are many reasons why employers hire fewer trans workers. For one, trans people who don’t fully pass as the gender they want — and nonbinary people — don’t fit the traditional mold of someone who companies want in their office. Most companies prefer to have individuals who either look rigidly male or rigidly female, and don’t want workers who look somewhere in between.

Secondly, employers might be conscious of the fact that trans people face mental health challenges, such as a suicide rate of around 50%, and are at risk for greater depression, anxiety, and other issues. Our mental health problems might get in the way of work, or cause us to take more leave than others.

Thirdly, many company recruiters might just straightforwardly be transphobic, and view the trans population as strange, weird, or, at worst ugly — as if we are people to look down upon and not people to uphold. They might not recruit us out of a pure disdain for our identity and willingness to change genders.

Fourthly, recruiters might realize that current employees in their company are transphobic and would not get along with a trans employee. This leads them to avoid recruiting trans people out of the intention of keeping their office space rid of debate and interpersonal conflict.

There are many other reasons why companies don’t hire trans people, too many reasons for me to consider or explore. Maybe companies feel that trans people are historically undereducated, and poor to begin with, and will have a hard time acclimating to prestigious white collar work environments.

Either way, the unemployment crisis in the trans population has been going on for a quite a while, and needs to be addressed.

Luckily, trans people find some outlets for success in certain industries. The nonprofit industry has been relatively kind to trans folk, as have creative communities, like some parts of the music industry, and the visual arts industry. Filmmakers are constantly looking for a new story about trans people. The publishing and education industries are also somewhat kind to us.

Certain Democratic political campaigns will also hire us and other progressive and liberal causes. But there are still many industries that look down upon us, and frown upon our identity. Donald Trump instituted a transgender military ban, and the Army, Navy, and other branches have historically been transphobic places to work and reside in.

Overall, trans people face a steep uphill battle in finding adequate and meaningful employment. This is a crisis that has been going on for decades. I’m not sure how to fix this problem – both states and the federal government can surely implement more legislation that convinces companies to hire trans people just as equally as they would hire anyone else. More provisions need to be put in place to sue companies for firing a trans person just solely based on their gender identity.

Ensuring employment for all gender nonconforming folk will make our lives infinitely better, and ensuring that we don’t face transphobia in the workplace will make them even better as well.

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution.’ He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi.

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Trump and his MAGA cult just got scarier

GOP platform, selection of Vance reinforce his extremism

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) attend the Republican National Convention last night. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump and his MAGA cult getting scarier, but they just did with his naming of Ohio Sen. JD Vance as his running mate, and approval of the GOP platform.

When Trump was shot, Vance said, “Today is not just some isolated incident. The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs. That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.” In essence, because Biden told the truth, it’s his fault. Vance is a radical MAGA Republican.

Then the platform was passed on the first day of the Republican National Convention. It protects white Christians, attacks transgender people, and says states can make any anti-abortion laws they want. It is an agenda that will hurt everyone who isn’t white, straight, and Christian.

Then, on the same day, the Trump classified documents case was dismissed by MAGA judge Aileen Cannon. The only thing good one can say about Judge Cannon dismissing this case, for a reason all legitimate legal scholars say is nonsense, is she proves beyond a doubt she is in Trump’s pocket. While I am sure this will eventually be overturned, the only way to ensure it gets tried is to defeat Trump, and all his sycophants, at the polls. Between the Republican Supreme Court, and unqualified judges like Cannon, the country must understand what re-electing Trump would do in the long run. It will destroy our democracy, including our judicial system.

The time for decent, democracy-loving people, to stand up is now, before it is too late. I am reminded of history when the German people believed Hitler could be dealt with, and they didn’t believe what he said he would do. Many Jews, and members of the LGBTQ community, believed they could get by and survive him. They were wrong. Here in America Trump has already proven he will go after women, and the LGBTQ community. He brought out troops to shut down Black Lives Matter protests. He has pledged to deport millions of immigrants, and make life intolerable for the young as he denies climate change. He asked to be bribed by oil executives so they can drill for more oil. The only way you could be OK is if you are white and rich. He will give you more tax deductions. He threatens more widespread tariffs, which will increase inflation, falling heavily on the poor and middle class.

His advisers are pledged to enact Project 2025, which among other things, does away with the Federal Deposit Insurance Program, so your bank accounts will no longer be insured. He commits to getting rid of the Department of Education. He doesn’t support relief for any college debt, and will continue the absurdity of not allowing college debt to be included in a bankruptcy, all things that will make life even more difficult for young people. Believe it will happen, just believe what Trump and his acolytes say. Read Project 2025 and believe what you are reading. Believe when Trump says he will be a dictator, and use federal agencies to get back at his enemies. And you are the enemy if you are not white, Christian, and straight. Remember when Trump was president, you woke up every morning afraid of what he dreamt up during the night. Those rantings will now appear on Truth Social, his media company, each morning.

He will feel free to call out the troops to the border, or to stop any demonstration he doesn’t like. He admires Hitler and Putin, and wants to be like them. Does reading this scare you? Good, it should, as it’s the truth. Even if you only think half of what I write is the truth, that should be enough to frighten you away from Trump and Vance. His appointed Supreme Court has now given the president carte blanche to do as he pleases, without worrying about ever being held to account. Know that Trump will use all that power, and make our lives hell.

If you don’t feel attacked now, just remember a poem written by German clergyman, Martin Niemoller. Its idea is appropriate today. It reads: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

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

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