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Merry Christmas from a Jewish guy

Make a donation to charity and make a difference

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Merry Christmas, gay news, Washington Blade
Merry Christmas, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I love the holiday season and last weekend was finally cold enough to make it feel real. Walking around Dupont and seeing the blinking lights on Christmas trees shining through so many windows you just couldn’t help but get into a holiday mood.

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah, which always falls within a few weeks of Christmas, honors the struggle of ancient Jews to restore the Temple of Jerusalem. They wanted to clean the Temple and found enough oil to light a lamp for only one day. They lit the oil and the miracle was it lasted for eight days. Today, we celebrate this miracle by lighting candles in a menorah each night in a simple ceremony for eight nights. Lucky children get a gift each night to celebrate and it is a beautiful holiday.

This year, I was lucky to be invited to a Chanukah party at the White House and what I predicted would happen came true. Everyone appreciated the lighting of the candles on the menorah and the sentiments expressed by President Obama and Israeli President Rivlin. But all the pictures posted on Facebook during and after the party, including mine, were taken in front of the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the house, which made it appear magical.

The decorations on the tables laden with food were gumdrop and candy cane trees beautifully decorated by the host of volunteers who help each year. After the party each person was given a small booklet, “A Timeless Tradition, Holidays at the White House 2015,” with a description of the designs and Christmas decorations in each room.

Each year, the First Baptist Church on 16th Street has a beautiful Christmas concert and a friend in the choir graciously extended an invitation to me and some friends. It was a wonderful hour of music in a beautiful setting. My companions were a Methodist and another Jewish friend and his wife and we all felt welcome. Turns out the national PBS show “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” shot some B-roll for a story on Christmas music and candlelight carols this year; it was the two Jewish guys who got featured in one shot; couldn’t be prouder to be part of that setting.

Like so many holidays in all religions there are traditions at Christmas that revolve around family and food. I am lucky to be able to join good friends and their kids each year for Christmas dinner. There’s nothing like watching children open gifts and seeing their wide-eyed delight at getting a gift they asked for or one they didn’t expect.

Each of us who has the opportunity to be part of such a family and friends celebration must remember how lucky we. Not everyone has that in their lives. The holiday season should be a time to think about those less fortunate. We need to make it one of our traditions to give a toy to Toys for Tots, or help at a church or shelter where meals are prepared for the homeless or others in need.

Time to think about year-end donations. Think about a non-profit whose work is important and make a donation. There are so many worthwhile organizations doing great things in the LGBT community like SMYAL, Whitman-Walker Health, MetroTeen AIDS, Casa Ruby and US Helping US, to name just a few. Then others like the Southern Poverty Law Center or Habitat for Humanity make a real difference in people’s lives. Each of us will have a favorite charity and it doesn’t matter which one you choose but that you choose and give. There is no better feeling than giving and knowing you are helping to make someone else’s life better.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime Democratic Party and LGBT rights activist.

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Blade Blog

Cruising into Pride

Celebrity holds firm as a proud corporate supporter of LGBTQ community

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Celebrity APEX (Photo by Peter Rosenstein)

As you know if you have read my columns and blog posts, I love cruising. The kind where you are on a river or the ocean. Today in both the United States and around the world the LGBTQ community is facing difficult times. Attacks are coming fast and furious. There are few places where members of our community can feel totally safe these days. 

One of those places is on a cruise ship that values the community. That is what I have found whenever I travel on a Celebrity ship. Today, they are going even further in letting the world know about their respect for the community. They happily advertise Pride at Sea. Of course, they are doing it to attract LGBTQ passengers and their dollars, but that’s great in this day and age, when a company is willing to step up proudly, wants our business, and will do everything they can to make us feel both wanted and safe. That is what Celebrity Cruise Lines is doing. 

I want Pride to be celebrated not just in June, but every month. But I am excited about the June celebrations whether hosted in D.C. by Capital Pride, or on the high seas. While many of us will be at the D.C. Wharf, on June 10 to help the Washington Blade celebrate Pride on the Pier with spectacular fireworks, those who miss that and are on a Celebrity ship will be part of a Pride celebration as well. Their ships will all celebrate the month in various ways including flying a LGBTQ Pride flag. 

Celebrity has invited my friend, entertainer extraordinaire, Andrew Derbyshire, to lead the celebration on the Edge on June 13, in Ibiza. He recently quoted Celebrity, “In honor of Pride month and our continuing commitment toward fostering positive and authentic partnerships within the LGBTQIA+ community, Celebrity Cruises is raising the Pride flag to celebrate acceptance, unity, and support for the community. Each June, Celebrity Cruises hosts our annual Pride Party at Sea. Every ship takes part in the celebration that brings our crew and guests together to honor and celebrate Pride.” Andrew added, “I am happy to announce I will be flying to Ibiza on the 13th of June for a few nights, to host Pride on the Celebrity Edge, with my friend and captain, Captain Tasos, and the amazing team on board.” Andrew, like many of the entertainers I have seen and met on Celebrity ships, is encouraged to be who he is, ‘out’ and proud. 

The Edge will kick off Celebrity’s fifth annual Pride Party at Sea during its June 10, 2023, sailing. “The party will take place in tandem across the award-winning Celebrity fleet, with each ship ‘handing off the party baton’ to the next, to keep the festivities running across hemispheres and time zones. A variety of multi-generational LGBTQ+ focused programming will take place throughout the month of June. Together, officers, staff and crew around the world will participate in Celebrity’s signature Pride programming.”

You should know one of the things straight couples could always do on a Celebrity cruise is have the captain marry them. Now, since same-sex marriage became legal in Malta, where most Celebrity ships are registered, their captains can legally marry same-sex couples. After this happened the first legal same-sex marriage at sea, on a major cruise line, occurred on board Celebrity Equinox in January 2018 when the captain married Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray.  

Celebrity is a Florida-based company, and along with Disney, they are standing up for the LGBTQ community. They have been a Presenting Sponsor of Miami Beach Gay Pride for four years in a row. They continue to advertise their collaborations with gay cruise companies like VACAYA, which has charted the Celebrity Apex for a cruise of the Caribbean in 2024. The ship will be sailing with a lot of happy LGBTQ cruisers on Feb 17-24, 2024 for seven nights from Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Antigua. For anyone who hasn’t been on the Apex, it is an amazing ship. While not during an official Pride month I will show my Pride along with many other LGBTQ travelers on Celebrity Beyond this October out of Rome, and on Celebrity Ascent in October 2024 out of Barcelona. The Ascent hasn’t even set sail yet. 

Let’s hope other companies will follow Celebrity’s lead and value the LGBTQ community. We are entitled to live our lives safely and to the fullest, as who we were born to be. 

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

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DeSantis is public enemy No. 1 of the LGBTQ community

Stopping craven Florida governor’s bid for White House should be our top priority

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Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) (Screen capture via ABC15 Arizona YouTube)

There’s a cloud over this year’s Pride celebrations following the introduction of more than 500 state bills targeting LGBTQ rights and the ominous rise of Ron DeSantis as a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

Sure, let’s party a bit and celebrate the LGBTQ community’s tremendous progress, but then we must recommit to the many battles ahead, chief among them the 2024 race.

The Florida governor is the LGBTQ community’s public enemy No. 1 after spearheading draconian attacks on access to affirming healthcare for trans residents and expansion of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law through 12th grade. Apparently, DeSantis hasn’t heard of smartphones, Google, or the internet because blocking young peoples’ access to information is straight out of Communist China or Russia and absurdly impossible in the era of mobile devices and social media. 

Let’s be clear about the origins of his “Don’t Say Gay” law — it’s a page ripped directly from Vladimir Putin’s playbook. 

In late 2022, Putin signed a law expanding an existing ban on LGBTQ “propaganda,” criminalizing the promotion of same-sex relationships. The original law bans disseminating LGBTQ information to minors — sound familiar? The DeSantis law is so broad that you could be an 18-year-old high school senior banned from learning in social studies class that an openly gay man ran a credible campaign for president in 2020. 

These efforts to render us invisible and to even criminalize trans people for using the restroom are nothing short of dehumanizing. Another measure will allow healthcare providers (and insurers) in Florida to deny a patient care on the basis of religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. So a transgender crime victim who needs medical treatment could be abandoned because a healthcare worker holds religious objections to our community. 

This is authoritarian madness. And DeSantis doesn’t stop at the LGBTQ community. His six-week abortion ban is so out of step with Americans’ views that he signed it in the middle of the night. Another of his bills allows the state Board of Governors to nix majors and minors in subjects like critical race theory and gender studies in Florida’s colleges and universities and bars public funding for such curricula.

 Make no mistake that the ultimate outcome of these reckless, cruel attacks is that women and LGBTQ Floridians will die. Trans youth are rightly frightened by the messages coming from DeSantis and his ilk and now that he is an announced candidate for president, we should all be afraid. Young people will take their own lives; trans people who need affirming care will be denied; women who need reproductive healthcare will be forced into dire circumstances; LGBTQ patients will be turned away by emergency personnel. And the demonization of trans people has consequences far beyond Florida. One mother of a trans teen told the Blade that her daughter wants to sleep with a gun under her pillow even though she lives in a supportive home in a blue state because of all the hate and bigotry coming from Florida. In New Hampshire, 14-year-old Nova Dunn, who was trans, leapt off an overpass onto Interstate 293 last month and died. 

DeSantis and his ilk aren’t just failing our kids; they are targeting them. The far right has made no secret of its desire to “eradicate transgenderism.” 

The best way to stop them is at the ballot box. With the 2024 campaign already underway, LGBTQ Americans and our allies must denounce these attacks and hold those responsible accountable. DeSantis must not be allowed to nationalize his assault on our community. It’s important that we all tune in because Donald Trump increased his share of the LGBTQ vote from 2016 to 2020. According to Edison Research, Joe Biden won the LGBTQ vote 61-28 percent over Trump in 2020; but in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the LGBTQ vote 78-14 over Trump. President Biden’s campaign must address that counterintuitive development.

So let’s enjoy the celebratory aspects of Pride month, while ensuring that we are informed citizens and engaged voters ready to reject hate in 2024.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him a [email protected].

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Reclaiming the word ‘ally’

Let’s not toss out the word; let’s focus on doing allyship right

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The word “ally” has started to rub some folks the wrong way. It’s my understanding that some of the reasons why ally has gotten a nasty reputation are that self-professed “allies” either don’t do enough (i.e. they put an “I’m an ally pin” on their backpack and that’s all they do) or they use their power and privilege to speak over the community members they’re supposed to be supporting.

Mia McKenzie, author of “Black Girl Dangerous,” writes: “I will no longer use the term ‘ally’ to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase ‘currently operating in solidarity with.’ Or something. I mean, yeah, it’s clunky as hell. But it gets at something that the label of ‘ally’ just doesn’t.” It’s true; “currently operating in solidarity with” is clunky as hell, but you may have noticed that other words have started to pop up to replace ally or to indicate people who offer higher levels of commitment and better-informed actions than the average “ally.” A few examples are accomplice, advocate, and co-conspirator.

I’m absolutely fascinated by this development. I’ve read many articles and blogs about these different terms, trying to understand what they all mean and how they should be applied, and I keep coming back to the same thought: None of these new words would be needed if allyship were being done well. “Ally” is becoming a word with negative implications because allyship is being done poorly by so many. We don’t need any more terms to describe allies or differentiate levels of action and commitment. We need to put our energy into allying better. So, if you consider yourself an ally to the LGBTQ communities, here are some tips to follow that will ensure that your ally efforts are spot on.

• When you’re in LGBTQ spaces, meetings, and events, listen and learn. If you got involved in social justice work to support marginalized communities in creating the change they see as necessary, then you need to let the people in those communities lead the way in deciding what that change should look like.

• Be mindful of the fact that you’re part of the movement, not part of the community. Assume the “A” in “LGBTQIA” stands for asexual, not ally.

• Respect LGBTQ-only spaces. If you aren’t sure if allies are welcome, call and ask.

• When out on your own, do some of the heavy lifting. For example, reach out to the leaders in your school district to advocate for a single graduation gown color, rather than different colors for boys and girls.

• When you mess up (i.e. accidentally say something offensive) thank the person who brings your error to your attention and make an appropriate apology, without making excuses for your behavior or getting defensive. Few people enjoy telling others that they messed up. If someone is letting you know that you made an error, it probably means that they value your relationship, have faith that you’re interested in learning, and believe that you’re capable of listening and changing your behavior. Accept this intervention for the compliment that it is and thank the person for committing to an action that’s no fun for anyone. Then let them know you intend to do better.

• Learn as you go. Try not to get bogged down or discouraged by how much you don’t know. Look up new words, learn about new concepts, and investigate new trends as they arise.

• One final pointer is to realize that there are no hard and fast guidelines for when an ally should step in with action and when they shouldn’t. Allyship is a bit of a balancing act. Whether or not you take action as an ally should depend on the situation and the people involved.

Most folks agree that we should help carry the dirty dishes to the kitchen after dinner. Most folks also agree that we shouldn’t scrub our host’s toilet, even if it’s a mess. But loading our host’s dishwasher is kind of a gray area. Our decision is likely to depend on how well we know the host and social cues we’re picking up from the environment.

The same is true with allyship. Some actions are clearly good choices, for example, suggesting that your doctor’s office update their forms when you see the limited “M” or “F” choices. Some actions are clearly bad choices, for example, speaking over the community members you’re trying to support. And then there are gray areas.

An example of a gray area of allyship is when someone uses the wrong gendered term for (i.e. misgenders) one of your coworkers in a work meeting. In a situation like this, you’ll need to make a judgment call about whether to step in or not depending on several factors. You’ll need to consider factors like how well you know the coworker who was misgendered, whether you think the person will appreciate the support or be made uncomfortable by having attention drawn to the mistake, and how past efforts to support this coworker have been received. You’ll also need to think about who else is at the table during the meeting. Is it all folks that everyone knows and trusts or are there new people at the table? If the latter, safety and confidentiality may be at risk if you speak up.

Whether you choose to say something or not, a great ally action when you encounter a gray area is to check in later, privately, with the person who was affected. You can say something like, “I wasn’t sure how to respond when you were misgendered in the meeting today. If that happens again, how can I best support you?” Communication is key. The next time this situation occurs with this coworker, you’ll know exactly how to respond. If you chose not to say anything in the meeting, you may also want to ask if there’s a role you can play in speaking with the person who messed up. That way you can be proactive in preventing the mistake from occurring again.

In her essay “Fluid and Imperfect Ally Positioning: Some Gifts of Queer Theory,” Vikki Reynolds writes, “I am always becoming an ally. I am continually being woken up to my locations of privilege.” Thinking of the word ally as a verb, rather than who we are, helps us remember that being an ally is about action. It’s not a static identity that we wear on a badge: “Tada! I made it! Pop the Champagne! I’m an ally!” Becoming an ally is a never-ending process.

Let’s not toss out the word ally and replace it with other words that may or may not improve people’s understanding of effective allyship. Let’s simply focus on doing allyship right.

Jeannie Gainsburg is an award-winning educational trainer and consultant in the field of LGBTQ inclusion and effective allyship. Formerly the Education Director at the Out Alliance of Rochester, N.Y., she is the founder of Savvy Ally Action and author of the book, ‘The Savvy Ally: A Guide for Becoming a Skilled LGBTQ+ Advocate.’ 

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