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Creating Shame: Anti-Israel protest misguided, offensive

Task Force should revamp its conference, apologize to attendees

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Creating Change, gay news, Washington Blade
Creating Change, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters on Jan. 23, 2016, gather outside reception at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference in Chicago that was to have featured two LGBT rights advocates from Israel. (Photo courtesy of Andy Thayer/Gay Liberation Network)

While the East Coast was coping with this weekend’s blizzard, another storm was raging in Chicago at the site of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference.

About 200 protesters forced the cancellation of a presentation by A Wider Bridge, an organization seeking to bolster “LGBTQ connections with Israel.” It was to have featured remarks from Sarah Kala-Meir and Tom Canning, leaders of Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, an LGBT community center. Protesters held signs that read, “No pride in apartheid,” to draw attention to the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians. They also spoke out against efforts to promote Israel’s LGBT rights record, which they regard as “pinkwashing,” or distracting attention from the plight of the Palestinians.

Kala-Meir, executive director of Jerusalem Open House, told the Blade that the protesters began shouting at her and Canning. She said they left the room through a back door. “We did not feel safe in that environment,” she added.

Tony Varona, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at American University Washington College of Law, attended the event.

“The protestors stormed the doors, shut down the event, and basically blocked those of us who wanted to leave from exiting,” Varona wrote on Facebook. “I was able to squeeze past the crowd blocking the hallway and exit through a back doorway and stairwell but after only considerable effort and, frankly, what can only be described as harassment.” He also claims that Task Force staff watched helplessly from the sidelines as this sorry scene unfolded.

The ugly incident began last week when the Task Force initially cancelled the panel featuring A Wider Bridge after some LGBT critics accused Israel of engaging in “apartheid” and “pinkwashing.” Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey later reversed that decision and reinstated the presentation, after pro-Israeli critics pounced. That set the stage for what transpired Friday.

Staff from the Windy City Times posted videos to YouTube of the protest. Protesters can be heard chanting, “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.”

It’s not clear whether they understood the context of what they were chanting or if they were merely caught up in the moment. That genocidal chant is an overt call for the destruction of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, told the Windy City Times he felt there was “a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism” at the protest.

There is so much wrong with what transpired that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The irony of one underrepresented group shouting down and harassing another is sickening to watch. If you want to promote understanding and “intersectionality” of causes, then you must listen to others and respect their views. Silencing those you dislike isn’t the answer. This sort of group-think creates a mob mentality in which dialogue is impossible.

The organizers of Creating Change had to know something like this was brewing. Yet they had no control over the protest, which easily could have devolved into a dangerous situation.

“The Task Force did very little to ensure that the program …could go on as planned, safely and without disruption,” Varona reported. “Instead, the protestors were allowed to bully the speakers off the stage, and then to bully and harass the attendees out of the room.”

When your invited speakers are forced to flee out a back door, you have failed in your responsibility to ensure the safety of attendees. Task Force staff must do a better job of providing security and of maintaining control over their own events. Ceding the stage to protesters sets an irresponsible precedent.

Perhaps the most regrettable outcome: Kala-Meir and Canning from JOH were silenced and mistreated. Two years ago, I traveled to Israel with a delegation of LGBT leaders from the United States (the trip was not sponsored by A Wider Bridge) and several of us spent an evening at JOH with Tom and others. They were kind and hospitable and even took us out to dinner and to a small gay bar after our meeting. There we saw the important work that JOH is doing, from providing HIV testing services to creating a safe space for Jews and Arabs alike to meet and socialize. Their work is changing lives, but they face grave obstacles. Just five months ago, an Orthodox Jewish man stabbed a 16-year-old girl to death and injured five others during an attack on a Jerusalem Pride march organized by JOH. Sarah, Tom and their colleagues bravely carry out their work amid threats of violence from extremists on both sides of the conflict. They are good people who deserved better from their U.S. hosts.

So why all the fuss targeting these fellow LGBT activists? The misguided protesters don’t like that A Wider Bridge partners with the Israeli government, “including its most violent, right-wing, racist elements — to promote media favorable to Israel,” according to Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network. But this assessment ignores the good work of both groups.

Even a cursory look into the organizations’ respective missions, alliances, donors, and activities will show that they are far from puppets of the Israeli government, are expressly pro-Palestinian in their positions, and both serve and include LGBTQ Palestinians in their work,” Varona rightly observed.

And would it be better if Israel treated its LGBT citizens like its neighbors in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Syria? There’s a lot to criticize in the Israeli government these days, but its treatment of LGBT people isn’t among the problems. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative policy of building new Jewish settlements has helped derail peace efforts. He has openly opposed a two-state solution. Progress will only come after he leaves office.

I have been to Ramallah and to the edge of the Gaza Strip and even met with a Palestinian negotiator. Life for hard-working Palestinians is undeniably difficult. Many can’t get to work without navigating long lines at dehumanizing checkpoints. This situation should not be allowed to persist and we are right to protest Netanyahu’s tactics that undermine peace.

But things aren’t much better on the other side. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, but his term expired seven years ago. How can Israel negotiate a peace agreement with a partner who isn’t empowered to implement terms of a deal? The leadership vacuum has emboldened Hamas, which has further destabilized the region. The Israeli towns that border the Gaza Strip endure regular — sometimes daily — rocket attacks. There are bomb shelters on every street corner and residents all suffer some form of PTSD.

These problems are entrenched and complicated and have bedeviled every American president for decades. It’s unfortunate they were reduced to such simplistic terms by LGBT protesters in Chicago who seemed to call for the destruction of Israel. If that wasn’t their intent, then they should educate themselves and clarify their demands. Regardless, the good people of JOH didn’t deserve to be demonized in this way. Protest organizers and the Task Force owe them an apology.

And it’s time for a thorough rethinking of Creating Change itself. It’s a long-running, important conference for grassroots LGBT activists, many of whom feel disconnected from the marriage-dominated movement of the Human Rights Campaign. I have attended Creating Change many times and served on panel discussions for several years. It’s refreshing to meet with younger LGBT advocates and Creating Change provides a safe space for them to share ideas and tactics.

But “safe spaces” should refer to protecting the physical safety of attendees. They should not be shielded from opinions and ideas they find offensive. The LGBT movement has much work ahead, from protecting hard-fought victories of recent years to combating stubbornly high rates of HIV infection to ending youth homelessness. Censoring speech and shouting down those we disagree with should not be on our agenda. Creating Change organizers must behave like the parent in the room and establish some basic rules of engagement and enforce them. And there’s clearly much work to be done in educating younger advocates on the history of Israel, the Holocaust and the plight of LGBT people in the Middle East.

Here’s hoping the Task Force can turn the ugly, unfortunate events of last weekend into a teachable moment that fosters understanding.

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

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. scottrose

    January 25, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    The editorial isn’t nearly accurate enough about the underlying conflict.

    Middle Eastern Jews accepted, while Arabs rejected, the two state plan on offer from the U.N. in 1947. Had that two state plan been accepted by the Arabs, there would have been no wars and no refugees.

    It isn’t that in theory, Netanyahu and Israelis wouldn’t be in favor of another Arab state beside it living in peace and in mutually beneficial prosperity — It’s that on the Arab side, there are endless calls for Israel to be destroyed.

    In the recent wave of jihadist stabbings of Jews in Israel and of jihadists deliberately ramming vehicles into Jews at bus stops and elsewhere, Abbas has recorded Arabic videos praising the attackers and calling for more attacks. Abbas says that the attackers are spilling “pure blood for Jerusalem,” that they will be rewarded by Allah in heaven as martyrs and he adds for good measure that the “filthy feet” of Jews will never go near their mosque.

    Israel made what it thought was a land-for-peace deal in withdrawing entirely from the Gaza strip. For the first time in thousands of years, not a single Jew lived in Gaza.

    What did Israel get in return? A majority of Gazans voting for Hamas, whose charter calls for killing Jews, eliminating Israel and replacing it with an Islamic theocracy. Abbas formed a Palestinian unity government with THAT (beside making murderous incitements against Jews himself).

    As a matter of Realpolitik, if the “Creating Change” protesters achieved their goal of eliminating Israel, what would that most likely mean for LGBTers now living in that land?

  2. sffoghorn

    January 25, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Israel is losing legitimacy and and as Israel is being delegitimated, it is losing its composure. Had Israel not been perpetrating a crime spree of titanic proportions, then it would not be facing boycott, divestment and sanctions.

    Apartheid is offensive. Zionists replicating fascist patterns is offensive. Forcing Americans to pay for this crime spree is offensive. Perpetrating a crime spree in the name of all Jews is offensive.

    • Weebal

      January 25, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      The well known Zionist Nahum Goldmann wrote eloquently and instructively on that topic.
      http://www.islamicity.org/3020/zionist-ideology-and-the-reality-of-israel/
      [http://www.islamicity.org/3020/zionist-ideology-and-the-reality-of-israel/]

    • Bryan Bridges

      January 25, 2016 at 6:17 pm

      What apartheid? What fascism? I don’t think you understand what those words mean. Arabs in Israel have the right to vote, they serve in every level of government including the Supreme Court, they are doctors and patients in the same hospitals, professors and students in the same universities, eat in the same restaurants and ride the same public transit, etc.

      Israel has repeatedly tried to hand over Gaza and the West Bank (or,more accurately, over 90% of it with land swaps) in exchange for peace (just as they returned 91% of all the land gained in 1967 when they returned the Sinai to Egypt after Nasser indicated a willingness to make peace). The majority of Israelis support a withdrawal and the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state, but that takes two sides to accomplish. Would you prefer that Israel just unilaterally separate and declare borders?

      Obviously, 0.25% of the world’s population (Jews) living on 0.0001365% of the world’s land (Israel) is a huge LBGT issue.

    • Daniel Leyva

      January 25, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Anti-semitism is offensive.

  3. Hmmm

    January 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I need to challenge the assertion that A Wider Bridge partners with the Israeli government “including its most violent, right-wing, racist elements — to promote media favorable to Israel.” There is absolutely zero evidence for that statement. A Wider Bridge just isn’t in that space, that’s not what its business is about. And believe me, the Israeli government doesn’t need any help from tiny organizations like A Wider Bridge to promote whatever media it wants. This is just one of many convenient lies used to escalate the rhetoric and whip up anti-Semitic sentiment. It plays right into that old canard of Jews allegedly controlling the media. It’s offensive and just plain bigoted.

    • uhhuhh

      January 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      A Wider Bridge’s own website makes clear what it’s primary mission is: suppressing any boycott action toward Netanyahu. So it’s a tool for limiting critics to mere “talking” while Netanyahu completes the colonization and settlement of the West Bank.

      • Daniel Leyva

        January 25, 2016 at 9:45 pm

        Who’s paying you to troll this page?

        • Ryan Perry

          January 26, 2016 at 12:52 am

          It’s not trolling to challenge specious assertions with facts.

      • scottrose

        January 26, 2016 at 1:39 am

        You lying sack of antisemitic excrement.

        HERE is A Wider Bridge’s mission statement, copied from its website:

        OUR MISSION

        A Wider Bridge is the pro-Israel organization that builds bridges between Israelis and LGBTQ North Americans and allies.

        We focus on programming that builds personal connection, providing individuals and organizations, both in Israel and America, with opportunities for engagement, education and experience.

        We believe two kinds of outcomes will result from this work. First, through this unique LGBT path to Israel, more LGBT people in North America, both Jews and non-Jews, will find meaningful connection with Israel and Israelis. Second, through communication, learning about each other, and sharing of knowledge and best practices, the LGBT communities in both Israel and North America will grow stronger and better capable of advancing their goals.

        OUR VALUES

        Israel – We believe, that all Jews, both straight and LGBT, have a stake in Israel, in learning about its past, experiencing its present, and helping to shape its future. We believe there is a unique and powerful connection that LGBT people, both Jews and non-Jews, can have with Israel.

        Engagement – We believe in the intrinsic value of being in the conversation, of building relationships, of people learning about each other, sharing, and working together.

        Pluralism – We are open to a wide range of political perspectives and religious views. We promote the welcoming and inclusion of people of all sexualities and gender identities. We aspire to a world in which the lives of all people are celebrated.

        Communal Responsibility – Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh BaZeh (All Israel is responsible for one another) – We believe all Jews share a fundamental connection, and we see our work as part of the broader project of building creative new relationships among the Jewish people globally.

        Justice – We believe we are all obligated to do our part to create a better world, and we seek to empower LGBT Jews to be agents of social change in Israel, throughout the global Jewish community, and beyond.

        NOT A WORD ABOUT “suppressing any boycott action toward Netanyahu.”

      • scottrose

        January 26, 2016 at 1:39 am

        No, the website says no such thing.

        Have you ever heard of fact checking?

  4. Daniel Leyva

    January 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    This type of anti-semitism is dangerous. No one of us would like a group of conservatives to come and close your event, and take away your right to talk, just because you don’t like the people or the cause. This is reprehensible and the Task Force better conduct an investigation. Preventing anyone from exercising their first amendment rights is disgusting.

    • uhhuhh

      January 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      You repeating talking points straight from the Netanyahu-loving AIPAC is offensive.

      • Daniel Leyva

        January 25, 2016 at 9:43 pm

        LOL, I just don’t like anti-semitism. You know well who the anti-semites were in Germany, and this kind of action makes one wonder who really is behind all this… just saying. If you are trying to insult me, you gotta get better, because there is nothing worse than hating an entire group the way you people do.

        • Ryan Perry

          January 26, 2016 at 12:51 am

          “You people”? Who people? You are equating criticism of Israel’s practices and policies with hating. That’s absurd, really. Where did you find hate?

          • scottrose

            January 26, 2016 at 1:34 am

            Intimidating a gay rights group out of giving a presentation it was invited to give, and which nobody was being forced to attend, is not “criticism of Israel.”

            It’s harassment and intimidation of the gay rights advocates who were harassed and intimidated.

            The Nazis doing the protesting made clear that they want Israel eliminated. As a group, they chanted “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”

            That is not criticism of “policy” or “practices.”

            That is siding with Hamas and Islamic Jihad against Israel.

  5. uhhuhh

    January 25, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    What an intelligence-insulting piece of AIPAC propaganda.

    • AMartin123

      January 25, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      You can’t respond with facts, so you just get angry. Here’s a fact: Israel is heads and shoulders more free for gays and women and Christians and Arabs too, not to mention Jews, than any other place in the Mideast.

      • Ryan Perry

        January 26, 2016 at 12:47 am

        …”more free” unless you happen to be Palestinian. In that case, Israel is as barbaric in its repression of ‘the other’ as any other repressive state has been throughout history. Comparing Israel in this way, as a means of justifying its horrendous human rights record…is like saying in 1980 that South Africa is more advanced than the rest of its neighbors in the way it treats gays and women and so therefore…what, exactly? It gets a pass on its apartheid policies?

        • scottrose

          January 26, 2016 at 1:44 am

          Israel does not kill known homosexuals only for being homosexual; Hamas does that, Hamas in the West Bank also does that sometimes in the West Bank.

          This is the insanity of your position.

          There is an enemy that wants to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic theocracy.

          In your opinion, Israelis should just sit down with folded hands and wait for jihadists to eliminate them.

          Anything other than that, is cause for you to lambaste Israel.

          Meanwhile, although the topic of the post was something that happened at a LGBT rights conference, you haven’t said anything at all here about LGBT rights.

          It seems as though you are exclusively interested in Israel bashing, and have no other motivation to be commenting here.

    • Daniel Leyva

      January 25, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      You are just a hateful troll, nothing else. People like you give a bad name to the LGBT people.

      • Ryan Perry

        January 26, 2016 at 12:52 am

        Ad hominem attack contributes nothing to a discussion of issues.

  6. WorldPeace46

    January 25, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Of course, if the conference in Chicago had been of a National LGBTQ-P Task Force, the A Wider Bridge organization would never even have considered bolstering LBGTQ-P connections with Israel.

  7. lyn17

    February 7, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    A Wider Bridge promotes rights for Jews only (this from their web site). Yes, it promotes rights of Jewish women to pray at the the Wailing wall, but in supporting Israel it excludes the rights of Palestinians to pray in any part of Jerusalem. It promotes Jews coming and supporting Israel and becoming citizens, by I, as a non-Jew, am excluded because I’m not a Jew (not that I actually want to leave my country). However much I favor all rights for gays, I also favor equal rights for all persons regardless of ethnic background. A Wider Bridge is only about crass ethnic supremacy, and when Naff repeats the pro-Israel tropes, it merely proves he’s dishonest.

  8. ChrisBarghout

    February 8, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Ok, I’m here as a gay Palestinian to share my views on this post. Pink washing is when one elevates Israel in an attempt to “Build bridges between the US LGBTQ community and Israel” in such a way to obscure Israel’s mal-treatment of Palestinians.
    Does this article do that? Where are how? At the center of the protest are two organizations , A Wider Bridge, based in the US and trying to build stronger relationships with Israel as mentioned above, and the second group, Jerusalem Open House, which is located in Jerusalem. So here is the where and how. Jerusalem Open House is allowed to maintain that it “serves and includes Palestinian LGBTQ people” without a rebuttal. No, Palestinian LGBTQ persons are served by our own organizations such as Aswat, that have a strongly negative relationships to Jewish supremacist organizations such as the JOH. We don’t work with them as they work with and for Israel’s apartheid policies that deny us virtually all human and basic rights. It is right and correct to boycott and demonstrate against their events, not because they are Jewish or Israeli, but because they work with and undermine the basic human rights of other LGBTQ people. Not all Jewish people and indeed many Jews question Israeli actions against non-Jews, and to level racism charges against 200 protesters with plenty of video footage but no evidence is a low smear.
    This article falsely claims that these two organizations “missions, alliances, donors, and activities are not a puppet of Israel and are even Pro-Palestinian. That is about as funny as saying the KKK is a pro-Black organization. Their donors, alliances, and activities are expressly and blatantly hostile to my human rights, both as a gay man and as a Palestinian. This is why we would ask our allies to protest JOH and A Wider Bridge and would again ask the task Force to not allow either of them to present at future events.
    Last example, is a point of agreement. Egypt or Saudi Arabia do treat their minorities among them LGBTQ people with torture and even execution. This is true but one has to ask, is anyone trying to bring representatives of Egypt or Saudi Arabia to help Pink-wash their governments equally horrendous human rights records at an American LGBTQ conference? The answer is no, and if they were to try, a protest by Saudi and Egyptian human rights supporters would be appropriate and correct. A Saudi official screaming Islamophobia because of his government treatment of minorities? It’s silly.
    It’s about time that our GLBTQ community stood up to racism within our own ranks. This includes but is not limited to Transphobia, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and yes, pink washing of a foreign governments apartheid activities and acts of racism. From this event, it is clear that events supporting racial supremacy that laughably claim to be anti-racist have their advocates and very powerful supporters.

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What do the gays do about Facebook?

We are hopelessly hooked on dangerous social media

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Let me just put all my cards on the table — I enjoy Facebook. I get a lot out of it. Instagram, not so much. But I think that’s more of a generational thing. But after recent events, I just feel a little icky about it all. I mean, don’t you? 

After the damning and didn’t-we-know-all-along Senate testimony by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, being on Facebook just seems, well, a little gross. Yes, I know the irony that I am criticizing Facebook via a column that will ultimately be shared on Facebook, so don’t bother pointing that out. 

The long and short of it — evidence shows that Facebook is lying to us all about making any real progress against hate speech, violence, and the spread of misinformation. And aren’t those all red flags for the queer community? Essentially, Facebook isn’t just harmful to the self, but to whole groups and even societies. The parallels between this and the queer community are obvious ones. Again, aren’t our physical safety and overall wellbeing fairly paramount issues for the queer community? 

Take this one point for example: the evidence of harm to ourselves by ourselves. According to the documents Haugen supplied, Facebook’s sister company Instagram essentially makes 13.5% of teen girls have thoughts of suicide. Have there been any thoughts on how social media might be impacting LGBT teens? According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 study, 15% of LGBT teens attempted suicide in the past year. Forty percent had thoughts about it. Both numbers are staggeringly high on their own and also staggeringly higher than for their straight counterparts. I would like to know what role social media plays in this. But, like Haugen’s Senate testimony, I think we all know the answer to that already. What with bullying and the spread of hate speech, it simply can’t be good. 

And that’s just the issue of self-harm. What about the other issues of hate speech and misinformation? Yes, the queer community has enjoyed greater social acceptance in America. But that is by no means universal. Take the plight of trans teens, last year one of the far right’s go-to punching bags and boogey men — this time for the non-issue of high school sports. Talk about the spread of misinformation. I could enlighten us all by doing a deep dive on the right’s social presence, spreading their general talking points on the trans community, but such an exercise would be both stomach churning and time consuming. 

As for queer adults, I’m not sure if things can be much better. You sometimes hear that life is just high school with money. To that I would add: then gay men can be at times that mean group of eighth grade girls. Yes, it’s true. We can be pretty damn ugly to one another. Facebook and Instagram clearly aren’t helping any of this. But can we let it go? Aren’t we all hooked? Sometimes you’ll hear when someone snaps a picture of a group event or party, post it on Facebook ‘or it didn’t happen.’ Granted you don’t hear this much anymore as so many folks, especially younger gays, have drifted off to other platforms, but honestly is there much of a difference? And to post it or it didn’t happen? Who is that for but those who weren’t there?

Who knows what will happen? I mean, what with octogenarian superstars Sens. Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein on this, I’m sure meaningful reform and oversight are just over the horizon. Maybe it’s time we start policing ourselves? Demanding better from our community on social media first? I’m wondering what that might look like. Until then, I guess we’ll just keep scrolling, like we have been doing. Over and over and over. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.

Youngkin is a stand-in for disgraced former president

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Terry McAuliffe, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vote Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia because he will be a great governor. Reality is the alternative is Donald Trump who may be calling himself Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, but don’t be fooled, Youngkin is only a stand-in for Trump.

Virginians know and respect McAuliffe. He was a successful governor in his first term and is a decent and honorable man. Had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. He has a stellar record of moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. 

The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. He vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board, and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.

He recently said, “As governor, I will fight my heart out to make Virginia the most open, welcoming and inclusive state in the nation, and break down the disparities that LGBTQ communities, and particularly communities of color, face in education, health care, the economy and more. Together, we’ll move Virginia forward into a better, brighter future for all.”

When it comes to women’s rights McAuliffe staved off attacks by extreme Republicans who controlled the Virginia Legislature during his tenure. He fought for women’s health care rights and fought to keep open every women’s health clinic in the state. He vetoed legislation that would have harmed women, including a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia. 

On civil rights he said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to reverse a racist Jim Crow law disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians. McAuliffe restored the right to vote to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions allowing them to fully participate in democracy after serving their time.

He was good for business and during his term as governor had a record of bringing more than 200,000 good paying jobs to the state and oversaw a lowered unemployment rate and an increase in personal income of over 13 percent. McAuliffe understands early investments in the state’s infrastructure helps the state to be a national leader in clean energy. 

These and so many other positive reasons are why Virginians should vote for Terry McAuliffe. 

But there are also many reasons to vote against Trump stand-in, Glenn ‘Trump’ Youngkin. The first is Trump saying, “he has my complete and total endorsement!” 

Youngkin continues to spread the Trump lie by still fighting the 2020 election and calling for an audit of Virginia election machines. He regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He got caught on tape behind closed doors telling donors he won’t “go squishy” on banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He added, “As a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.” Then he is still casting doubts on the COVID vaccine. He claims he is telling people to get vaccinated against COVID and then is recorded telling others it is their choice. He is against mandating vaccines for teachers and healthcare workers. His ads feature a teacher, who is a Trumper, endorsing his education program (a disaster) but who is opposed to mandating vaccines for teachers. They feature healthcare workers endorsing him who are against a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.  Youngkin is trying to buy the Virginia election saying he would raise $75 million but most from his own vast fortune, actually trying to buy it for Trump. 

Virginia Democrats and right-thinking independents and Republicans must come out in large numbers to repudiate Donald Trump once-and-for-all by casting their votes for Terry McAuliffe. 

Let’s hope Trump voters in Virginia stay home this year. But McAuliffe can’t count on that to win. It will take Democrats in huge numbers to give McAuliffe the same big win Joe Biden had over Trump in Virginia in 2020. If that happens Democrats will also keep the House of Delegates and win the other statewide races. 

Remember, when you vote for McAuliffe you vote for the man named “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine in his last term. Virginians should give him a well-deserved second term.

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

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Blogging my first overseas vacation since COVID

Chronicling life aboard Celebrity APEX

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I will be blogging a number of times during my two-week transatlantic cruise and sharing my thoughts and experiences. 

The first thing I found is boarding during a pandemic is a little different. People were given specific boarding times yet most arrived at the port when it was convenient for them as many had early check-out times from their hotel or Airbnb in Barcelona. Celebrity didn’t turn anyone away. There was no Wi-fi at the entrance to the terminal so things got a little complicated as many had the information needed on their iPhone Celebrity app. It worked out and when you got inside to the counter they shared a Wi-fi connection. 

I knew in advance from a Facebook connection, some childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years were going to be onboard. We ended up arriving at the terminal at the same time and caught up for the next hour and a half as we progressed through the boarding process. We all had to take a Covid test and only those with negative results could board. Of the approximately 1,300 people boarding, less than half the possible number for a full ship, I didn’t hear of anyone getting a positive result. 

When my negative result came back I was allowed to board and went to find my stateroom on deck 11. The key was at the door with all my information on it. Celebrity was doing everything to limit crew-to-passenger contact. We were asked to keep masks on in all indoor spaces except when eating or drinking, which on a cruise is often, and the crew are all wearing masks. Luggage was delivered to the door. 

Shortly after entering my beautiful stateroom there was a knock at the door and my stateroom attendant, Lenie, had come to introduce herself. She didn’t come in but explained how I could reach her anytime and for safety she would only come into the room when I was out. We chatted for a few minutes and I found out she was from the Philippines, had three children, and had worked for Celebrity for 20 years. She was both charming and efficient. 

I then took a walk around the ship and was duly impressed. It is beautiful. I walked through the huge buffet where people were happily eating lunch and saw instead of serving yourself there were servers behind each station filling people’s plates. All passengers had on their masks when getting food, as did the crew serving them. It made for a very safe feeling. 

Instead of a group muster each passenger was asked to go to their assigned muster station where you were met by staff who explained emergency procedures. You also had to look at a video on the Celebrity app and were then logged in and confirmed you had done so. All efficiently and safely done. 

Then I headed to the sail-away party my travel agent, and friends, Scott Moster and his husband Dustin, were hosting in the Iconic suite. The suite has everything from a peloton cycle to a hot tub for eight. It is incredible. I had the chance to catch up with old friends I had sailed with before the pandemic. Then it was a quick tour of the spa and gym open twenty-four hours a day. A way to assuage guilt over all the food and drink. Then back to the stateroom to finish unpacking and change for dinner with good friends in one of the specialty restaurants, EDEN. That meant long pants and a shirt with a collar. That’s as formal as required on this cruise. 

The food was superb and we got to meet the chef, Nicholas. An interesting guy who I will interview during the cruise. The menu was a combination of fresh fish, lobster, to filet mignon, all interestingly prepared. 

After dinner it was a stop at the Martini bar where a large group of LGBTQ friends had gathered along with some who would become friends. I was surprised when a guy came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t recognize him with his mask on but turned out he was another friend from my past I hadn’t seen in years. It is clearly a small world and the gay world seems even smaller. 

Finally headed to my stateroom around midnight, where turndown service had been done, to get some sleep and prepare for day two, and our first stop, Alicante.  

Day two and three on the Celebrity APEX

Time flies when on a cruise; maybe it’s the endless food and drink. All passengers received a letter in their room telling us we would need to report for a Covid test on day 5 the first at-sea day before we get to the Canary Islands. I pre-scheduled mine just before what I planned as my first hour at the gym. I expect to go to the gym on all sea days and there will be eight of those.

Each morning I have had coffee, a bagel and orange juice delivered to the stateroom.  I always miss that knock on the door each morning when I am home but then I would miss my daily coffee at Java House so I guess it’s OK. 

On day two we stopped at our first port, Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. I was truly surprised at how beautiful the city is. I joined friends for what turned out to be a three and a half hour walk as we were allowed off the ship on our own without booking a tour. We visited churches and the main market in town. We strolled along the beach and the harbor with great walking and bicycle paths. Alicante is a wonderful mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. One friend ventured up to the castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara, but since the elevator (the easy way up) wasn’t working and it’s a very long, steep climb up the mountain I passed. We arrived back at the ship around 1 p.m. and headed to the Mast bar on deck 14 for burgers and fries. Then some time back in the stateroom before heading to the martini bar for a drink and then to the beautiful APEX theater to see the Shamrock Tenors, four Irish performers who are not only talented but cute to boot. 

We decided to try one of the regular restaurants, those not needing reservations and chose Normandy. The food was good and I had shrimp cocktail, rigatoni, and cherries jubilee for dessert. 

After dinner it was up to the Rooftop Garden for ‘Silent Disco’. That is where you get a set of headphones with a few channels of disco music, and you dance to the music only you can hear. It’s really fun but by 11:30 my knees gave out and it was off to bed. 

Day three dawned nice and sunny and we were docked in Cartagena, located in the autonomous of the region of Murcia. I had an 8:45 excursion and again had breakfast delivered to the room. We were instructed to head to the theater to meet the tour group and sign in for our ‘Journey to Murcia’. Murcia is a city in south-eastern Spain, the capital and most populous city of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, and the seventh largest city in the country, with a population of 447,182. It is about a forty-minute drive from the port. It is a fascinating city with an incredible history from the Romans to and Moorish influence. There is a beautiful cathedral, isn’t there one in every Spanish city? This being a national holiday in Spain most of the shops were closed saving some on the tour a lot of money. We strolled around the city with our guide giving us a running commentary on its history for about an hour and a half. She was a little hard to understand because not only did she have a heavy accent but she spoke really fast. But it was still fun and we did learn a lot. We made a second stop outside the city at another church where a wedding was being officiated. The bride was beautiful. Then we headed back to the ship for an early departure. Our tour was the last onboard and we sailed not more than thirty minutes after we got there. 

Then it was off to the captain’s reception. I had the chance to chat a few moments with the Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, who is as charming as are most Greek men. We also met the rest of the senior crew who run the ship. Many said they would be more than happy to sit and get a cup of coffee with me during our at-sea days so I can interview and write about them.

Then it was back to my stateroom again to prepare for another tough night of food and drinking. We went to see Andrew Derbyshire in the theater for the 7:30 show and then to dinner at Cyprus.   After dinner Celebrity hosted the first LGBTQ+ event of the cruise at the EDEN bar. A large crowd showed up, not all gay but they all knew where the fun people would be. The entertainers all showed up there as including the Shamrock Tenors, four talented Irish guys and Andrew Derbyshire, a British actor and singer. We chatted and I will meet him for coffee to do a column on him. 

Then about midnight it was back to the stateroom for what some of my friends on board called an early night. Morning would have us docking in Cadiz and we had a private tour planned for over 20 of the people who had booked the trip with Scott Moster, travel agent extraordinaire, taking us to the city of Seville.  

Days four and five on the Celebrity APEX

Day four dawned warm and partially sunny as we docked in the port of Cadiz. This was the day we had our private tour of Sevilla planned. The itinerary had been set by two of my friends, Rob Robertson and his husband Carlos Taylor. Carlos lived for a time in Sevilla as a child and has a big family still here. Celebrity, by agreement with our travel agent Scott Moster, made the planned itinerary a formally sponsored tour. 

At 8:45 our group of mostly gay and lesbian travelers left the ship for the hour and forty-five-minute bus ride to Sevilla. Our guide described the city and gave us its history as we traveled to our destination. Scott also had the foresight  to bring along a few bottles of champagne and orange juice and we were treated to mimosas along the way. 

Once in Sevilla were met by a second guide and given electronic devices and earphones so we could follow along as we took a two hour walk to see the sights which included the incredible Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a landmark example of Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles of Spanish architecture. Plaza de España has been used as a backdrop in a number of films including Starwars. It is very impressive. 

From there we headed to the Royal Palace and its beautiful gardens and then it was off to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, better known as, Seville Cathedral. It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a world heritage site along with the adjoining Alcazar complex. It is the fourth largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church and is particularly ornate with over forty-five individual chapels and two huge organs. Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are buried in the cathedral. 

Because we spent so much time at these sites we were very late for lunch at the restaurant Carlos had chosen; one owned by friends of his family. They welcomed us with charcuterie and cheese plates, wine, beer and sangria. However, the rest of lunch ended up as takeout as we were really late and our ship was scheduled to leave port at 4:45 and we had been told to be on board no later than 4:30. We double-timed it back to our bus and headed for the port. All went well until we hit a traffic jam and sat for about fifteen minutes. It was increasingly clear we wouldn’t be on-time. Our guide was getting nervous and he called the ship and someone erroneously told him they would sail without us. 

Meanwhile our trusty travel agent Scott was on the phone with his Celebrity contact who confirmed as this was an official tour they couldn’t leave without us. Once again we were the last people up the gangway and about five minutes after the last person was onboard the engines started up. The Captain had made an announcement to all the reason they may be leaving late was us. After that excitement it was a great evening with dinner at Cyprus and then a show. The hard life onboard ship continued.

Day five was our first sea-day. No tours and no rushing. For me it was early morning writing and coffee delivered to the room. Then my required covid test and off to the gym. The half hour on the Lifecyle was easy because I was looking out at the sea. The gym isn’t large and because of covid you could only use every other machine. But with only half the number of passengers on board that worked. The gym is open twenty-four hours a day. After my workout I met friends at the buffet for a lite lunch because of course it was crucial to gain back the few calories I may have lost working out. Then it was a lazy day, the kind I love when cruising. I had arranged coffee with Andrew Derbyshire, one of the talented entertainers onboard, to interview him for a column I will write. He is a really nice guy who will be getting off the ship in the Canary Islands; not being an American citizen, he wouldn’t be allowed into the US even though fully vaccinated until November 8th and we dock on October 24th. 

Evening began with a Celebrity scheduled  LGBTQ+ happy hour and then a nice dinner at the Rooftop Garden, another of the specialty restaurants. Then on to The Club, one of the entertainment venues, to hear Andrew sing. He had the whole room up and dancing, even me.  All-in-all another great day onboard Celebrity APEX.

Day Six begins my sea-days on the Celebrity APEX

I woke on day six to a hazy sky and our ship heading to dock in Tenerife. I had been there before and was sad that we were not going to be allowed to head out on our own. There were a number of tours scheduled but I decided to stay on the ship. It was a wonderful lazy day of writing, the gym, and just finding a nice place to sit and read. First though I would have a long lunch with Cheryl and Jeff in the Café, which is the buffet. They are my childhood friends who are onboard. We exchanged old pictures from our iPhones and talked about people we grew up with.  

The EDGE series of Celebrity ships, which includes the EDGE, the APEX which I am on, and the upcoming BEYOND scheduled to make its inaugural sail next April, have what is called the Magic Carpet. It is a lounge that can be moved up and down on the side of the ship. On day six it was on deck 14 and it was the perfect place to sit and read. This would be my life for the next seven days at sea. It is the part of the cruise I like the best.

Scott and Dustin invited us all to a sail-away party in their suite at 4:30 and we watched as our ship sailed out of Tenerife for the seven-day crossing to Ft. Lauderdale. Lazy days and fun nights ahead for all of us. On this day Celebrity had scheduled two LGBTQ+ events, one a meet and greet at 6 pm and a second LGBTQ+ PRIDE event at 10:30. Between the two there was a show in the Theater, UPTOWN, three talented young men dancing and singing to Motown and other music from groups who had sung in the famous New York,  Apollo theater. Then dinner at the Steak House, another specialty restaurant. 

At the evening LGBTQ+ event we met some of the new cast members of the shows replacing those who had to leave the ship in Tenerife.  I ran into another person on the ship I first met years ago in DC, Tareq Salahi, known at the time as part of the couple who crashed a White House dinner. His first wife was on the very short-lived series ‘The Housewives of Washington, DC. 

On day seven I woke up to a hazy day at sea, calm waters which we can only hope will be replicated for our whole Atlantic crossing. I started my day going to a talk given by Melinda Bates, who had written a book on the Clinton Administration where she served eight years in the visitor’s office of the White House. I had met her on a previous cruise and had lunch with her so really went just to say hello.  Then it was going to be what I looked forward to; gym, writing, reading, eating and drinking, and just being lazy in luxurious surroundings with fun people. What more can anyone ask for.

Seven Sea-days on Celebrity APEX

The sea-days on Celebrity APEX have been as wonderful as I anticipated. The knock on the door every morning at 7:30 a.m. with my coffee delivered by a smiling, at least his eyes are as he is wearing a mask, room service waiter. Then a couple of hours doing the second edit of the book I am writing. Somehow being at sea has given me the head space I needed to get back to it. Then off to the gym.

Despite the apparent incompetence of the Celebrity PR agency, I did get the chance to meet the Captain on the second day of my cruise and he agreed to sit down for a short interview. He is a charming and totally open guy willing to talk about his life. I will be doing a column on the interview shortly after I am off the ship. 

He even agreed to set up a tour of the bridge for me and friends Rob and Carlos. It was arranged by Icaro, the concierge, a charming Brazilian. We were met outside the bridge by security and wanded down. The bridge is larger than I thought it would be and the very nice 2nd mate Alex, took time to give us a detailed explanation of how they steer this beautiful ship. In some ways it looks like a little more complicated video game. But then those playing video games aren’t responsible for the lives of a crew of 1,250 and nearly 3000 passengers when the ship is full.

The days at sea pass quickly, which is sometimes surprising when you are really doing nothing but being lazy and figuring out what beautiful venue to go to for your next meal or a drink. The Martini Bar or Café Al Bacio are some of the great places to drink and relax on the ship. 

Our ever-attentive travel agent Scott and his husband Dustin hosted another party in their suite, the Iconic Suite, and I met some people I hadn’t yet seen in the past days onboard. Some of them signing up with Scott to go on next year’s October 29th APEX transatlantic cruise out of Rome. I am one of them and have even given a deposit for the October 30th 2023 transatlantic cruise on The BEYOND, Celebrity’s newest ship which will set sail on its first cruise in April of 2022. It is amazing how addictive cruising can be but I guess if you need to have an addiction this isn’t a bad one to have.

The Iconic suite is located in what is called the ‘Retreat’ on the ship. It is the more expensive suites and villas with their own restaurant, sun deck, bar and pool. While I can’t afford to book a stateroom in the Retreat I am lucky some of my friends can. They have invited me to join them there occasionally for a drink and dinner. 

Reality is the rest of the ship is just as beautiful and on this cruise, which sailed with less than 50% capacity, it is especially nice. The five specialty restaurants are fun to go to and the regular dining rooms are great. In all of them you can have filet mignon or lobster, among a wide variety of choices. One  restaurant a little different is The Petit Chef. There you have a show play out on your table and plate from cameras above showing the preparation of each course on your empty plate. Immediately after the show for each course your food is presented looking exactly like the filmed version. It is a fun two-hour dinner with everyone in the restaurant eating the same food at the same time.

The talent in the APEX theater, The CLUB and other venues including EDEN has been incredible and the entertainers are happy to mingle with the guests, which has been fun. We have seen shows with talent like Andrew Derbyshire, The Shamrock Tenors, UPTOWN, Three DIVAS, and the performers in Caravan, among others. I will be writing a column on Andrew Derbyshire after the cruise. All-in-all one couldn’t ask for more. 

On board you often feel you have escaped the world and the daily news cycle. Occasionally it does raise its head as they have BBC, MSNBC and Fox News on shipboard TV. Every once in a while, someone starts talking politics to me as they know I write about it in the Washington Blade. One of our group told me about lying on a lounge in the sun next to two women talking about how they hate Biden who isn’t the real president. So even here you can’t totally get away from stupid. Then we heard every Senate Republican voted against allowing debate on the Voting Rights Act. Depressing to say the least, disgusting in fact. 

But since we can’t do anything about it at the moment it’s back to enjoying yourself; eating and drinking without guilt. I know the people I am traveling with will go home after our two-week respite and continue to fight for equality and our Democracy. I am truly fortunate to be traveling with such a great group of people. 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my time on the ship and I will be doing some additional columns once I am back on dry land which will be in two days. Even great times have to end. I wholeheartedly recommend a cruise on the Celebrity APEX to anyone who enjoys travel.

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

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