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The uncomfortable ride to progress

Understanding privilege and diversity in a changing culture

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privilege, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo public domain)

What if I told you that a train was pulling into the station that would take you to a destination that possessed all the resources you needed to be wealthy, to find true love, to live a long and fulfilling lifeyou’d run to make that train wouldn’t you?  But what If I also told you that the ride was long, you would not have a seat, the cars were hot and crowded, there would be no food or drink, etc. would you still get on? Would you stay the course to reap the reward at the end? In other words, how uncomfortable of a ride would you be willing to endure in order to reach a better destination?

Athletes learn very early in their careers that most of their days will be filled with doing things that make them uncomfortable. But they adapt, and get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. They are called upon to confront issues beyond the scope of sports, and learn to stand by their actions and very publically live their truth.

Most members of society never face that type of scrutiny. They form opinions, and very often compartmentalize their views and beliefs in ways that are comfortable, and often contradictory. Many share these opinions on social media, but beyond Facebook posts or Tweets, how are we actually held accountable for what we believe, or the consequences for acting on those beliefs?

The problem is that we have become a society that fights for our own, and if a particular fight doesn’t directly impact us, we do not think to fight it. If I am a wealthy woman on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, why bother caring about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri? If I am a straight man in corporate America, why should I expend my time and resources to help the LGBTQ community?

This mindset is what has led to the terms “privilege” and “entitlement” being thrown around so much these days. If you want to know the meaning of privilege, I would say that if you possess the rights that you would expect to have in a democracy, then you have privilege. Don’t get me wrong; I believe that there is no shame in having privilege — you are either born with it or you’re not. However, if you take your privilege for granted, and become complacent in your own comfort, doing nothing to help those without it, that is when you become entitled.

I believe that sports are yet another glaring example of our entitlement. The sports industry is one of the most profitable and powerful in this country. Sports have always been a way to engage and unite people, but to what end? As a player, when you are offered a scholarship or contract, you develop a sense of loyalty to your teammates, your university, the city you play for you devote yourself to them. Now undoubtedly, the fans pledge that same loyalty back to your team, but do they pledge it to you? Do they care where you come from, your stance on social issues, what your political affiliations are? Would they support you if you spoke out on an issue that made them uncomfortable?   Moreover, are they cheering for their team to win, but supporting laws and societal norms that continue to marginalize the majority of the players that comprise the team?

Let’s look at the universities that make the most money in college sports. The top five grossing universities are Texas A&M ($192.6 million), University of Texas ($183.5 million), Ohio State University ($167.2 million), University of Michigan ($152.5 million), and University of Alabama ($148.9 million).  In fact, across the country, if you look at college football alone, $3.5 billion is generated annually by these disproportionally Black teams. I say disproportionally because when you look at the data, you quickly begin to see a pattern. In 2012, only 14 percent of undergraduates were Black. In a 2013 University of Pennsylvania study, a mere 2.8 percent of full-time degree-seeking undergraduates were Black men. Now, let’s have a look at the number of Black players on the football teams. Black men account for an average of 57 percent of college football teams across the country, while at certain universities, that percentage reaches far higher. The 2016-2017 basketball team at the University of Kentucky has a roster that is 80 percent Black. These universities are raking in money from the students on their teams, while these “amateur” players see almost none of it.  In fact, many of these players have to scramble to find money for housing, books and food.

Consider how many people attend and watch these games, surrounded by people who look like them, think like them, live like them. This is a culture we created over time, where Black people can entertain our country and people can enjoy the entertainment, but never actually have to interact with them, let alone consider their views or their experiences. So when do we become accountable for our entitlement, and make changes that will begin to unite and engage us beyond the sports arena or entertainment?

As both the idea and the reality of diversity continue to expand in our country, we all need to catch up, or we will get left behind.

So, what if we all started to stand up for diversity — not out of moral obligation, but because we took a look at what it means for the bottom lines of the corporations and teams that we value so dearly. We need to begin to think of diversity as a competitive advantage. Whether we are examining a Fortune 500 company or a Big Ten football team, one constant is that the future lies with a new generation of talent. This is a generation of transparency, of people living their truths, one that sees the spectrum of color, that is comfortable with gender equality. The message of this generation is no longer ‘tolerance’ of diversity but rather, embracing it.

This spring, the Arizona Wildcats became the first NCAA football team to grant a scholarship to an openly gay football player. In fact, when My-King Johnsona 6’4”, 225 pound high school player with a 3.8 GPA told his recruiter, Wildcat’s defensive line coach and former NFL player, Vince Amey that he was gay, Amey’s response was simple, “Look, you are who you are, I am who I am, and I’m going to coach you the same way. I’m going to treat you the same way…You do what you do…When the players find out, especially my room, I’m going to tell (those) dudes: “look, you gotta have his back.” ‘ “ I applaud Amey and the Wildcats for making a decision to recruit Johnson.  However, I am still disheartened that his sexual preference remains a factor in the decision at all. But we must begin somewhere.

We have entered into a period of time where people want to prove discrimination does not exist by pretending that they do not see diversity. But I would argue that people do this because they do not want to be made to feel uncomfortable by actually having to confront it.

If you are reading this, and feeling uncomfortable, or maybe thinking that I am discriminating against you but still reading then first, let me thank you for proving my point, and second, GREAT, you’re on the train — now the ride can begin.

Sean James is executive director of Sports & Entertainment for Pinnacle, and a former NFL player. Follow him on Twitter/ Instagram: seanjames23.

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McAuliffe for governor of Virginia

His leadership has made a positive difference for so many

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Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

I support Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia. He is the best choice for Virginia Democrats in their primary and has the best chance of defeating any candidate Republicans choose to run against him.

Virginians know and respect him as a successful governor and a decent man. It was clear had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. His stellar record moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights make him the right choice.

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

He recently released his platform on LGBTQ rights and in a statement to the Blade said: “LGBTQ+ Virginians have faced discrimination and inequities for too long because of who they are or who they love. I am proud of the progress Virginia has made in protecting the LGBTQ+ community over the past eight years, but our work is far from over. 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, as governor, 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.

He was good for business and during his one 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%. McAuliffe understood early investments in the state’s infrastructure would help the state to be a national leader in clean energy.

There is some discussion about whether McAuliffe should have stayed out of this race since there are two African-American women running. Some suggest he should have instead supported one of them. But like Joe Biden in his presidential race, McAuliffe has the support of a huge number of African Americans because they know him and many have personal relationships with him. A recent NBC news column quoted some African-American leaders who support McAuliffe. “I asked him to run,” said Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas, a leader of the state’s Black political establishment and a co-chair of McAuliffe’s campaign. She described McAuliffe as a “comfort level” choice in the midst of a pandemic.

State Del. Don Scott, who has a felony in his past said “McAuliffe encouraged him to run for the legislature two years ago at a time when others were counseling him against a campaign. He hasn’t forgotten that favor. He had my back, said Scott, a staunch McAuliffe supporter. He may have thought he was running [for governor in 2021], but nobody else came down here. He put in that work and built those relationships. And if he did that with me imagine the type of relationships he’s been able to build and relationships matter.”

Politics is often about the possible and yes one needs an inflated ego to feel “I am the best person to lead.” But in the case of McAuliffe his successes match his ego. His leadership has made a positive difference for so many people. It is those people who are responding to his candidacy and giving him a huge lead in the polls. They understand why in December 2017, McAuliffe was named “Public Official of the Year” by GOVERNING magazine. Virginians should give McAuliffe a second term.

 

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

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Opinions

Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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Opinions

Biden’s big gay opportunity

The best friend LGBTQ Americans have yet had in the White House

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President Joe Biden (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz; public domain)

President Joe Biden faces many tough challenges. Foreign adversaries are preparing to test him, rancorous political divisions confront him at home where COVID-19 has ravaged the American economy and spirit. With Washington gridlock threatening to block his most ambitious plans, opportunities for legacy achievements may prove scarce.

Still, in one critical area, Biden can earn an honored place in history: LGBTQ rights. Of all major contemporary American political figures, Biden has been the quickest to take a stand for our rights. He is the best friend LGBTQs have yet had in the White House. I do not say so lightly, I am a lifelong Republican.

From day one, Biden began rolling back the biased policies promoted by Donald Trump’s Marginalizer-in-Chief, Mike Pence. Much damage remains to be undone, especially because the media and many Democrats have gone easy on Pence and his cronies. But Joe himself got off to a fast start placing qualified LGBTQ officials in highly visible positions, including his Cabinet. Secretary of State Tony Blinken set the tone early by flying the rainbow flag at U.S. embassies and naming a special envoy for LGBTQ rights. What a welcome change to have an administration proud of, rather than wary of, its LGBTQ supporters.

Yet much more needs to be done to rid this nation of the cruel blights of LGBTQ stigma and marginalization. There can be neither equality nor equity for people who are systematically stigmatized and marginalized. The cruelty of these violations is evident in a suicide rate among LGBTQ youth five times that of youth in the general population.

A national commission studying patterns, causes, and consequences of LGBTQ stigma, marginalization, and bullying could help awaken Americans to the damage from the prejudices many of us still face. Indeed, older LGBTQs who feel comfortably protected, have a special obligation to defend gay youth who remain vulnerable.

Stigmatization is worse for minority LGBTQs who bear a double burden of bias. BGLM!–Black Gay Lives Matter! Stigma impedes HIV testing and treatment; one consequence is a shocking rate of new HIV-AIDS infections among people of color four times the rate among whites.

Even as we pursue our national struggle to end racial bias, America must recognize our equal moral obligation to expose and repudiate our ugly history of LGBTQ stigmatization and marginalization. How do we stop these evils? Most crucial, we must pass a muscular Equality Act that protects the rights and dignity of all LGBTQs wherever they live in America.

Yet to pass it soon, we must avoid “poison pills” that may doom it to failure. Protection for LGBTQ youth is urgent. Better a bill we can pass now giving us 90% of what we all need, than a failed bill promising 100% of what some wish for.

Education is essential. Students must learn about the sufferings of LGBTQ people and our contributions to humanity and to America. All should be told about LGBTQ civil rights heroes like Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Barbara Jordan, scientists and thinkers like Alan Turing, George Washington Carver, and Plato, writers like Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Henry James, composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Billy Strayhorn, and artists like Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Frida Kahlo—the full list is much longer.

Formal recognition of the sufferings and achievements of LGBTQ people is long overdue. As a starter, let’s build an Equality Museum on the Mall to celebrate LGBTQ Americans. No politician has yet ventured to suggest building one; their omission reinforces our marginalized state. President Biden could make history by stepping up.

Although Biden himself has made a strong start on LGBTQ rights, it is a serious mistake for the Democrats to take the gay vote for granted. Polls indicate Trump’s share rose from 16% in 2016 to 28% in 2020. LGBTQs followed a normal tendency to divide more evenly between the parties. In the 2020 campaign Democrats avoided reminding voters that

Trump’s number two, Mike Pence, has been America’s number one stigma super spreader. At the same time, on the QT, they reassured closet Pences among their own. They took us for granted assuming all LGBTQs are Woke Groupthinkers.

In the next election, more LGBTQs who agree with Republicans on issues like Iran, immigration, or taxes will vote GOP if the Democrats fail to raise their ante for us. More Democrats need to follow the leadership Biden is showing on LGBTQ issues.

Biden himself has a big opportunity to become America’s president for LGBTQ rights. But to grasp that opportunity, he will need aggressive initiatives to end stigmatization, celebrate our contributions, and make a crystal clear national commitment to full equality for all LGBTQ peoples.

 

James Driscoll, Ph.D., is a longtime Republican-Libertarian AIDS activist whose most recent book is ‘How AIDS Activists Challenged America.’

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