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Why Brexit vote matters to LGBT people

We must resist scapegoating of minorities



Brexit, gay news, Washington Blade

British voters have elected to leave the European Union.

“They say immigrants steal the hubcaps
Of respected gentlemen
They say it would be wine an’ roses
If England were for Englishmen again”
(The Clash, “Something About England”)

The United Kingdom consistently ranks as one the most inclusive member states of the European Union when it comes to LGBTI rights (with a whopping 81 point score on the ILGA-Europe index). Despite the local discrepancies (Northern Ireland still lags significantly behind), the UK undeniably remains a force for progress on these issues inside the European spectrum.

Living in Paris, where I co-chair Centre LGBT Paris Ile-de-France, I know for instance we yearn to have the same degree of respect from public institutions and policymakers as LGBTI groups receive in the UK.

But I am also a British citizen, and fairly involved in the British community in France. As such, I’ve seen the referendum campaign unfurl, and the subsequent debacle. And I am worried.

The in-or-out debate does not appear, at first glance, to have much to do with LGBTI rights: The EU does not directly intervene in family matters, for instance. And there have been LGBTI groups on both sides of the debate, be it through organizations such as LGBT Labour or Out and Proud, or through the interventions of various LGBT MPs in the media.

But the referendum on membership of the EU ceased to be about rights and progress some time ago, devolving instead into a heated argument about immigration and the reinforcement of national borders: Grassroots Out, one of the pro-Brexit campaigns, even came up with a poster showing huddled masses of refugees lining at the border within days of the vote (and not lining properly like only the British can).

The general context in Europe explains to a certain extent why the anti-immigration, law-and-order agenda became so prominent: refugees and dead bodies have been washing on the shores of Fortress Europe in an unprecedented way since early 2015. News reports are full of heartbreaking images of children and families trying to make their way to our shores, and of the accompanying talks and summits at European level to try to find a solution. At the same time, terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have triggered apocalyptic visions of the future.

Fear of the future, worry over the UK’s economy and place on the world stage, are key elements to explain the Leave vote. And this vote was predominantly cast by those who feel left aside by recent social and economic evolutions: white, middle-aged, English voters with secondary-level formal education or lower, unemployed or retired, and with little to no interest in politics.

EU member states are currently plagued by the explosive consequences of the unequal social and political progress of the past 30 years. Overlooked areas where public services and equipments have become swamped or obsolete, and whose jobs have left with local shops and services, are prime breeding grounds for resentment. All it takes for the mix to become explosive is for a number of political entrepreneurs to designate scapegoats.

In the space of a few weeks, Sadiq Khan got elected mayor of London, and the United Kingdom chose to leave the EU, in spite of overwhelming expert consensus that this would be a catastrophe, and just a few days after the brutal murder of Jo Cox.

As of June 27, more than 100 incidents of racial abuse and hate crime have been reported since the June 23 vote in the UK. Not only should this level of xenophobia be worrying to us all as LGBTI persons (since we frequently face the same hatred), but there is reason to think LGBTI rights, like the EU that has consistently promoted them for many years — even when Clause 28 was still in place in the UK — could very well end up next on the list of scapegoats. Not only have Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson held anti-equality positions, but Leave voters have almost equal contempt for social liberalism as they do for multiculturalism. And the hate speech may have already begun.

The beauty of scapegoating is that the game never ends. Targeting one population as a cure-all for social ills is never good; and we should bear that in mind when European populists, in France, in Netherlands, in the UK, try to push forward the argument that we LGBTI persons would be better off without migrants (seen as rabid fanatics). Many similar arguments were put forth during this nightmare of a campaign, not least when the Defence minister came to an Out and Proud rally to explain how controlling immigration would defend our way of life.

Europe today is a complex political entity, with many misgivings, but one that has defended and promoted our rights and for human rights overall. More generally, the populist drive across Europe to do away with political complexity and to target populations as scapegoats, has become an imminent danger that we must counter.

Flora Bolter is co-chair of the Centre LGBT Paris Ile-de-France.

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  1. lnm3921

    July 8, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    All the more reason why LGBT need to stop taking their rights for granted and assume that our sexual identities no longer matter and we can simply disband gay bars or other gay spaces to fully integrate into the world and become invisible. What is given can be taken away. If you think it can’t happen in America then review McCarthyism.

    Germany was extremely liberal before fascists took over and started WWII. The liberal sixties with it’s great society and civil rights struggles gave way to conservativism again in the eighties and Ronald Reagan.

    We think that because the courts and legislatures affirm our rights that a different government mindset or court ideology can’t roll them back. Laws may change but hateful attitudes are only forced underground until they can emerge again during bad times. Marriage Equality didn’t change that as we can see with all the attempts to undermine it with religious freedom laws.

    You need to be out there fighting everyday and keep reminding people you are there and why your rights matter. Being invisible in the past made it easy for people to dehumanize gay people as a concept to fear not real people with lives.

    Just like racial minorities continue to struggle for safety, equality, and justice despite the numerous laws that ban discrimination against them, we must be no less determined!

  2. John Hollywood

    July 11, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting article that gives us all something to think about. Thank you for writing this and for sharing. I agree – all of us in the LGBTQ community need to care about Brexit! We wrote about it too on our blog but your thoughts are much more expansive.

  3. Glenn Williams

    July 11, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    European populists view migrants as rabid fanatics of the community? Rabid fanatics? How so? I don’t understand. Can someone further explain?

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Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation



It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

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

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity



(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’



National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

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

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