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The dangers of pointing the ‘Pinkwashing’ finger

Simplistic accusation risks distracting from underlying problems

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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)

Controversy erupted at the recent annual Creating Change conference, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, when protesters shut down a reception featuring Israeli LGBT advocacy groups A Wider Bridge and Jerusalem Open House.

The Task Force had originally cancelled this reception after vociferous criticism from one segment of the LGBT community and reinstated it following uproar from another segment of the LGBT community (including many LGBT Jews). The complaint against the reception: a charge of “pinkwashing,” the belief that Israel was holding out its positive record on LGBT equality as a way to distract from its otherwise poor human rights record.

“Pinkwashing” may be a relatively new term but the phenomenon it describes is not new at all. Governments have always downplayed areas where they fall short on human rights by highlighting areas of progress. The idea that countries are advancing human rights unevenly is nothing new. Look at most human rights reports from around the world.

It is still relatively uncommon, however, for LGBT issues to be an area where a country is improving against a backdrop of serious human rights concerns. More often, countries that are “bad” on human rights in general tend to be “bad” on the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is no longer the case. Interestingly, we can also see examples where some portions of the LGBT community are gaining where others are not—for example, the emergence of “third gender” categories in parts of Asia where same-sex sexual activity remains illegal.

“Pinkwashing” is most typically raised in association with Israel, but one could also make a case that a variation of this happens in Cuba where legislation protects LGBT people from discrimination but there remain serious human rights concerns on issues like arbitrary detention and the right to free expression. As the use of this term increases, it is an important moment for us to decide how we as a human rights community want to react to this type of uneven progress.

This situation raises another question, which is why the activist community responded to the NGOs as if they were responding directly to the government itself. As an activist based at an NGO in a country that has an imperfect human rights record, I worry when I see critics make that leap.

While I stand with any community that is shining the spotlight on human rights abuses and even pointing out hypocrisies that exist among the governments perpetuating those abuses, I would argue that over-investment in the concept of “pinkwashing” does little to help advance human rights for anyone. We should rethink our approach on this issue as it is likely to continue to come up in other settings around the world.

For a government that has made significant advances for the human rights of LGBT people, but has lagged in other areas, charging Israel with pinkwashing does nothing to promote additional positive action. Legitimate gains should be recognized as such. For a government to muster the political will to make the lives LGBT people better only to have those advances ignored or belittled does not provide an incentive for it to continue its progress.

We sell activists in such countries short by dismissing the gains they have made, which have often come at great expense to their personal lives and safety. Refusing to acknowledge their accomplishments because others have been left behind ignores the intersectionality of those who may face multiple forms of oppression and sets up the exact types of “rights hierarchies” we would otherwise find problematic.

We also sell ourselves as a human rights community short by imagining that we will be so dazzled with progress on LGBT issues that we will somehow overlook other human rights issues. I believe that human rights activists can walk and chew gum at the same time – that we can, in a particular country, recognize those human rights situations that have improved alongside those that haven’t, or that have become worse. I worry that a focus on pinkwashing will also divert precious resources from the real challenge of fighting the underlying human rights abuses that give rise to the charge in the first place.

When I was in Cuba in 2014, I met many members of the LGBT community and learned about their daily lives. They were grateful for the advances that had occurred in their country but they still recognized the challenges they faced in organizing political opposition or even just accessing information online. They were quite aware of the uneven way in which their rights had been affirmed but they weren’t ready to throw out the gains they’d made just because they hadn’t yet achieved everything they would like to achieve.

To varying degrees, you can see a lot of other countries with similar patterns. Here in the United States we now have nationwide marriage equality — yet people are still regularly sentenced to death in U.S. courts. We still hold detainees indefinitely without charge or trial in Guantanamo. We still have a problem with impunity among law enforcement. Rather than denigrate the advances we’ve made because we still have problems in other areas, we should point to these advances as a way to prod the United States to further action.

It would be easy to classify this argument as naively optimistic — but I don’t believe that it is. The human rights abuses the activists at Creating Change called out are real, and I recognize that activists will and should use every opportunity to call attention to them. But I believe that reducing all of the controversy to a claim of “pinkwashing” is too simplistic and risks distracting from the underlying human rights concerns.

In a world where some 80 countries still criminalize homosexuality and it’s still possible to be executed for one’s sexuality, we cannot afford to ignore important progress when we see it.

Shawn Gaylord is Advocacy Counsel, LGBT Rights at Human Rights First. Follow him @shawngaylord.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

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

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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Elon Musk is a danger to society

X has become a warped platform that spews anti-trans hate

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

Elon Musk is officially a danger to society. As of mid May of 2024, X.com, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has started banning accounts that use the word “cisgender” or “cis,” deriding it as a slur. For those who don’t know, “cisgender” refers to any person whose gender aligns with the genitalia they were assigned at birth. Erasing the word “cisgender” from tweets, or X.com remarks, ensures that gender nonconforming people can’t articulate the bigotry they feel in this world. 

Musk has been notorious for his transphobia. It didn’t just start in mid-May of this year. In June of 2023, during Pride month, Musk liked a bunch of transphobic tweets. For instance, he promoted the Matt Walsh documentary, “What is a Woman?”, which was a film in transmisogyny. 

Moreover, in July of 2022, Musk’s transgender teenage daughter sought separation from her father because he was hateful toward her and bullied her because of her gender identity. In December 2022, Musk tweeted “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” mocking the words that transgender people need to enunciate who we are. This wasn’t the first time that Musk mocked pronouns. 

Musk is becoming increasingly dangerous toward trans people, especially as X.com takes on a new dimension — turning into a warped platform that spews conspiracy views, including right-wing thoughts that trans people shouldn’t exist, and other ultraconservative opinions. 

What adds heavy weight to the danger that Musk poses is the relative success of his companies and the wealth, measured in dollars, that he carries on his shoulders. SpaceX is valued at around $180 billion, and Tesla is worth approximately $571 billion. The more wealth Musk accumulates, the more power is attached to his transphobia. Already, he is consciously allowing employees within his companies to mock transgender people. Having a CEO who openly teases a marginalized population is a recipe for that company to tease said population as well. 

As a former small business owner, I’m actually a huge fan of Musk’s work. The billionaire is brilliant beyond belief, and, after being bullied in school in South Africa, earned degrees in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point, he was working so hard on one of his first startups that he often slept in the office and showered at a local YMCA. In interviews, it is clear that Musk borders, if not embodies, genius. His intellectual prowess is second to none. 

Additionally, the mogul has been open about his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. It’s impressive, to say the least, that Musk has racked up all of these accomplishments despite having these diseases of the mind and body. He has vocalized his use of ketamine therapy, for instance, in treating his bipolar, which is a ballsy move to make as CEO. 

Unfortunately, though, Musk just won’t stop with his transphobia. He is making X.com a non-democratic place for sponsored conspiratorial speech, and banning words is the farthest thing from freedom, which is a virtue he claims to embody. 

Many scholars of Elon have noted that he lives in a distorted reality, and I have to agree with that sentiment. Banning “cisgender” from X.com is certainly a distorted thing to do, and should be looked upon as a danger to society. 

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” documentary. 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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