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Following the example of James Baldwin

Speaking bravely about race, culture, sexuality

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James Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

Author James Baldwin as seen in ‘I Am Not Your Negro.’ (Photo by Bob Adelman; courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

The words popped! Sitting at the E Street Cinema, it seemed as if I were hearing a devastatingly spot-on response to life in the United States at the dawn of the Trump era: where former Breitbart News chair and white nationalist Stephen K. Bannon is the president’s chief strategist; people of color are unjustly shot by police; and Hollywood, despite some Oscar noms this season, is still way too white.

Heroes, as far as I could see, were white – and not merely because of the movies, but because of the land in which I lived, of which movies were simply a reflection.

There are days when I wonder, how precisely are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here, and how are you going to communicate to the vast heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here?

Yet these incisive, viscerally true, gut-wrenching words were spoken by novelist, playwright, essayist and one of the most important mid-century public intellectuals, James Baldwin in the searing new Oscar-nominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck. (The Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Feb. 26.)

Baldwin, an African American, who was born in Harlem and lived much of his life in France, died at age 63 in 1987. Though he chafed at labels, Baldwin spoke and wrote openly about same-sex love. His 1956 novel “Giovanni’s Room” was one of the first novels (other than pulp fiction) to feature male characters loving other men.

He knew civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, all of whom were murdered. In 1979, Baldwin wrote a 30-page letter to his agent describing how he wanted to write a book titled “Remember This House” of his reflections on these men and his friendships with them. (Only 30 pages of the book were finished.) Using Baldwin’s notes for the book and his essays, clips from his TV interviews and news reports of the 1960s civil rights movement, Peck makes you feel as if you’re inside Baldwin’s head. Hearing his voice and seeing his elegant presence, juxtaposed with images from Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, you feel as if Baldwin is speaking directly to you right now – in 2017. Samuel L. Jackson reads Baldwin’s words when Baldwin isn’t talking.

I can’t speak to how people of color might feel about “I Am Not Your Negro.” As a white woman, I found this 93-minute movie to be stunning. The documentary brings you face-to-face with the cruelty and discrimination that black people encountered in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s, Baldwin decided that he should leave Paris and return to the United States after he saw a photo of Dorothy Counts, a 15-year-old black student entering a newly integrated school, Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, N.C. White people spat and hurled epithets at her as she went into the school. “It made me ashamed,” Baldwin said, “some one of us should have been there with her.”

It’s easy for me to feel that I’d never act in such a hateful way. Yet, the film’s images of Ferguson cut through my complacent superiority to my white privilege.

I thought I was an astute pop culture observer until I heard Baldwin talk about how Hollywood has shaped our cultural perceptions. “It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians,” he said, “and, although, you’re rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians is you.”

Then there is the 1966 FBI memo on Baldwin. “It has been heard that Baldwin may be a homosexual,” it says, “and he appeared as if he may be one.”

Baldwin wrote and spoke brilliantly, boldly and bravely about race, pop culture and sexuality. In an era where bigotry of all kinds is rising, let’s follow his example.

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

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Casa Ruby’s services must survive

But the organization’s name doesn’t matter

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A group of asylum seekers gather at Casa Ruby on March 5, 2019. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A judge approved putting Casa Ruby into the hands of a receiver and approved the D.C. Attorney General’s recommendation of the Wanda Alston Foundation, of which June Crenshaw is the executive director. She is an amazing person. Founded in 2008, according to its website “the Wanda Alston Foundation provides housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 and advocates for expanded city services for LGBTQ youth.” 

Contrary to what Ruby Corado said at the hearing she apparently Zoomed into from El Salvador, it is only important to have someone who knows the work of Casa Ruby and if it is someone who worked for a successful organization in the area all the more reason for them to be named. 

It’s not important that the name Casa Ruby survives. What is important is the services it once provided to the transgender community survive, and even expand. That can be done under any name. 

Taking over as receiver will not be an easy task. Crenshaw will have to unravel the mess that is there now. The receiver will have to face the fact money may have been stolen and deal with employees who weren’t paid. They will have to deal with the fact, which now seems clear, that Casa Ruby was out of compliance with the District Non-Profit Corporations Act. 

D.C. was an amazing place for me to come out and I did so after moving here in 1978.  As a political person I got involved with what was then the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which had just played a major role in electing Marion Barry as mayor. Over the years I got more and more involved in the LGBTQ community. I, along with Rick Rosendall, founded and incorporated the Foundation for all DC Families, the organization we set up to fight for marriage equality in D.C. We worked hard, raised funds and had Celinda Lake do the first major poll on the issue in D.C. We found the white community in D.C. was heavily in favor of marriage equality and the Black community was partially supportive based on age and religion. We recognized many of us who began the organization had white privilege, which made life easier for us. We never earned that privilege it was something society just awarded us. We worked hard to recruit a diverse board for the organization and involved the faith community in the fight as well. Then along with Sheila Alexander-Reid and Cornelius Baker we incorporated the Campaign for All DC Families as the 501(c)(4) to do the political work to secure marriage equality. We continued to raise some money for the organization and worked with HRC, which lent us staff and meeting space. We recruited new people. We won the fight working with Council member David Catania and the rest of the Council. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the D.C. marriage equality bill and I still have one of the pens presented to me at the signing. 

White privilege made it easier for me to be out. Because of this over the years I supported groups like the Wanda Alston Foundation, and Casa Ruby, because there are so many members of the LGBTQ community who still struggle in the District, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly our laws are. We must all work to ensure no one falls behind due to homophobia, transphobia, racism, or sexism. Again, I will continue to support the services for the transgender community, which Casa Ruby provided, but don’t care what the organization providing them is called. 

The problem I have with Ruby Corado was compounded when I read in the Blade what she said at the virtual hearing disputing “the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a misconception.”

If Corado cares about the people Casa Ruby served, why is she in El Salvador? Who has she been in touch with — which board members, and will they confirm this? If she cared about the organization and people it served, and has done nothing wrong, why is she not here in the District fighting for the employees, calling a board meeting (if there is a board)? Non-profit boards hire executive directors and oversee their work. I don’t think Casa Ruby ever had a real ‘working’ board overseeing Corado’s work. We need to question and get affidavits from former ‘board’ members as to what they did and what they know about what Corado did.

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

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Supporting LGBTQ rights is good for business and the right thing to do

Equity and inclusion must be a corporate imperative

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Brad Baumoel is the Global Head of LGBT+ Affairs at JPMorgan Chase.

In communities across the United States, LGBTQ+ people and their families are facing a growing number of significant barriers to equal rights and protections. In 2022 alone, at least 30 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with a majority targeting transgender and non-binary youth, on top of continued anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and bias in various states across the country. Despite progress toward equity and inclusion, the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly struggling for equality and basic human rights.

I’m truly concerned for members of my community, given the impact these actions are having on our mental health and wellbeing. Several of my LGBTQ+ colleagues and colleagues with LGBTQ+ family members have expressed fear for themselves and their children. Some are scared their transgender child will be taken from them and placed in foster care. Others feel they might be personally prosecuted for seeking gender affirming care for their child. Many are worried they’ll need to move to a different state just so they can continue accessing essential forms of health care.

I feel lucky to work for a company that opposes discriminatory actions that could harm our employees, customers, and the communities where we do business, and has equally advanced policies, practices, and benefits to support our LGBTQ+ workforce. It comforts me to know my employer supports a society that serves all Americans, including the LGBTQ+ community. But not everyone has the same assurance when they go to work.  

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion must be a business imperative. Business leaders must use their voice to condemn the hate, bias, transphobia and homophobia that sadly exist in our communities. We also need businesses to take meaningful and measurable action in promoting and advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community year-round, not just during Pride month. While it starts with inclusive benefits, policies and networks of support, this commitment requires businesses to lead with the values of acceptance and belonging in every decision they make. It’s only then that your LGBTQ+ employees, customers and communities will truly feel included and equal. 

Since the first LGBTQ+ Business Resource Group at JPMorgan Chase was created in the 1990s, many, like me, have worked hard to make our company a place where LGBTQ+ employees feel they can be their authentic selves when they come to work. Last year, we strengthened this commitment by creating the Office of LGBT+ Affairs, a full-time, dedicated team focused on advancing equity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees, customers, clients, and communities. It’s my sincere hope that we don’t see our efforts slowed down by attempts to threaten the rights of people for who they are, whom they love or how they identify.

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Queer kids are not brainwashed

Trans children are real transgender people, not trend chasers

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In some conversations with progressive friends, my peers, despite their proclaimed liberal attitudes, voice concern over the fact that children can experiment with gender and sexuality. They say things like “kids are too young to question their gender…that seems dangerous” or “a lot of children are just following gender trends and are not actually trans.” Other friends state that they don’t believe that transgender children should have access to hormone blockers. 

All of these statements are bogus and harmful. Many people who question gender fluidity in children don’t realize that they themselves have been brainwashed into thinking, from a young age, that being cisgender and straight is the norm. It should not be the norm. In fact, queerness is ever more common now among Gen Z’ers, and this is because the youth of today are feeling more and more comfortable opening up about their different sexuality and gender from an early age. 

Being able to safely come out as trans or gay in high school is an extremely healthy process and greatly improves the mental health of kids who would otherwise struggle. In red states, and conservative high school districts, this kind of coming out is still difficult, and might even be banned in the future, if Republicans continue with their cruel agenda. But there is hope in progressive cities like Portland and New York, where students feel free to question cishet and straight standards. 

Much research points to the fact that trans children are who they say they are: real transgender people, and not trend chasers. Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, started running a long-term study on trans youth in 2013. Olson eventually amassed a group of more than 85 trans kids. Olson kept in touch with both the children and their parents over the years. Her team ultimately found that an overwhelming, vast majority of the children stayed consistent with the gender nonconforming identity they chose in childhood. In other words, these trans children were correct about their gender identity from a young age. The notion that children pick up trans identities as a “fad,” or are wrong about them, is outdated. 

We already know that Republicans are dangerous to trans children, and have already prevented them from receiving health care or playing sports in many red states. But what we need to stop is dialogue from progressive voices that discourages gender fluidity in youth. These statements from otherwise liberal leaning people are contradictory to the very values that Democrats stand for. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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