The Washington Blade recently spoke with bisexual activists in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, China, France, Kenya, New Zealand, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and the U.K. They all said they are fighting stereotypes while seeking more visibility.
Here is what they said.
Connecting with the global bisexual movement is often difficult for Australian advocates because of their relative isolation compared with many of the other major cities in the world, according to Sally Goldner, who is a bisexual and transgender advocate.
“It’s one of those sad things of how this planet formed that Australia seems to be a large way away from major population centers,” said Goldner. “It’s hard for us to get somewhere else and for everyone else to come here, but it’s really cool when either happens.”
“Legally, bisexual people have it as well as gays and lesbians in Australia,” added Goldner. “But it’s about making sure that people realize bisexuality is separate and that researchers separate it out from gay and lesbian.”
Goldner is the treasurer of Bisexual Alliance Victoria, a Melbourne discussion group born out of Bi Victoria, which had mainly focused on social events.
“I block out our discussion group every month to make sure I go there. It’s a safe space,” said Goldner. “I’ve heard bi people say that this is the only space I can be myself. We’ve had people talk about deep personal stuff because they know it’s safe.”
Misty Farquhar, another Australian advocate, is based out of Perth, which is across the continent from Goldner. While they often collaborate and share stories, Farquhar says Perth is quite different from the “equality bubble” of Melbourne.
“There is no funding for LGBTI issues anywhere in Western Australia,” said Farquhar. “The idea of getting funding for a bi-specific program is just not happening.”
Farquhar’s work centers around bringing people together to connect and offer each other support.
“We’re all really keen, but no one has funding,” said Farquhar. “I want people to feel like they’re not alone.”
Natasha Avital was the second person that Daniela Furtado contacted in forming Bi-Sides, a collective of bisexual people working to empower each other in São Paulo.
Bi-Sides was formed out of a frustration and anger about the lack of representation for bisexual people in LGBT spaces.
“Building our community is the most important thing for us right now,” said Avital.
“When bisexual people try to work only in LGBT groups, we get worn out really fast,” added Avital. “It feels like screaming in an empty room if you’re only working in groups that are not specific to bisexuals.”
Avital said one of the most important events that Bi-Sides has organized brought together psychologists to break myths and destroy a lot of the “pathologization of bisexuality” which is often made the scapegoat for misdiagnoses.
“There have been stories of people’s therapists who say things like ‘Oh, you only think you’re bisexual because of this trauma you faced’” said Avital, touching on the issue of sexual violence. “We’re empowering each other to be able to answer biphobia. I think a lot of people did not expect that we were not going to take it anymore.”Social media has made the work of Bi-Sides much easier. Before Facebook, they often struggled to get more than 10 people to an event or meeting, but now their reach has grown rapidly.
“People tell me that this is the only place they feel safe to talk about this,” said Avital. “I think a lot of the best discussions thinking critically about bisexuality come from Facebook and blog posts than from academic places. It makes things easier to share stories and ask questions.”
Stephanie Wang is one of the Chinese advocates behind the country’s first handbook of bisexuality created to educate LGBT and non-LGBT spaces about what it means to be bisexual.
“Being LGBT in China is actually a very foreign concept,” said Wang. “We have a very long history of same-sex eroticism in China’s dynasties, but we never really had a name for it. LGBT as distinct identity categories has a distinct political meaning.”
A lot of the work for advocates is simply around education about the existence of LGBT identities.
“One of the main challenges for the bisexual movement in China is that I think identity politics cannot work for bisexuals,” said Wang. “Bisexual as an identity category is considered as ambiguous, as a phase to either being straight or gay. Bisexuality is not really considered an essential identity by many people.”
Bisexual people face prejudice from both conservative and liberal communities who deny its existence, explained Wang.
Chinese bisexual advocates are focusing on collaboration with other community groups and in online forums to clear these rampant misunderstandings about bisexuality. They are starting to collect oral histories of bisexual people in China to share their stories and the diversity of their experiences.
“In our group, we don’t define bisexuals. We don’t define pansexuals. We have multiple meanings for people to be themselves,” said Wang. “I think the next step is to continue to welcome more stories and more experiences that cannot be shared within lesbian, gay communities which will stigmatize them for their sexual adversities.”
Hilde Vossen has become one of the threads weaving together a network for the global bisexual community. So many of the advocates who responded to the Blade’s request for interviews were sent by Vossen, a fact of which they are quite proud.
“I see that there are people longing for a global bisexual movement that is a serious exchange of information,” said Vossen. “I started typing, and I did not stop.”
Vossen has been coordinating the European Bisexual Network for more than 15 years, and is the Alternative Bisexual Secretariat for ILGA World via the Dutch Bisexual Network. But they’ve been involved in the movement for over 25 years.
“I like to get to know people better and see what they like to do, to see their creativity and see the fun they make out of their bisexual activism,” said Vossen. “That’s also very inspiring to me.”
Vossen came out while they were in university, and has not stopped working for the community since.
“I started off with simply preparing sandwiches and ended up speaking for the United Nations,” laughed Vossen, who uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themself.
While the Dutch bisexual community itself is still small, it have been ambitious in connecting with the broader European network.
“We had the first European bisexual conference in Rotterdam in 2001, and we had the third in 2016 in Amsterdam,” said Vossen. “So we are a bunch of crazy people here.”
“I still like to do it, because the work keeps on renewing itself,” added Vossen. “And I can do what I’m good at, which is connecting people.”
While she lives in France, Soudeh Rad’s work crosses borders to reach out to Farsi speakers around the world. She started in the feminist movement, but quickly found herself needing to carve out a space for her bisexual identity.
“Being a feminist means being active and having this belief in gender equality which comes with sexuality and all identities,” said Rad. “I constantly had to justify myself.”
Rad helped to launch dojensgara.org, which provides resources in Farsi around topics facing bisexual people.
“When we wanted to launch the website, we realized that there was absolutely no information about bisexuality and pansexuality,” said Rad. “Everyone was talking about monosexuality as though people are either homosexuals or heterosexuals, and bisexuality did not exist.”
Because of her background in the feminist movement, Dojensgara launched on International Women’s Day three years ago, but the backlash from the feminist movement was intense.
“We had an activist coming out,” said Rad. “The first reaction was to question, ‘Oh so these people are leaving our movement and launching their own thing right now? What kind of expert are you?’ I’m just a person. I didn’t change anything.”
Rad’s work covers a multitude of topics from sexual health education to training professionals around bisexuality. Her goal is to get people talking about bisexuality so that larger issues such as the stigma facing bisexual asylum seekers can be addressed.
“Bisexual and nonmonosexual asylum seekers are the people who need the most help,” said Rad. “They come from societies where bisexuality is erased and people do not know about it. We have cases where they have to say that they’re gay or lesbian so that they are sure they’re going to get their asylum accepted.”
“We should recognize that bisexuals and other nonmonosexuals are the minority being put into the minority again and again,” said Rad. “This is happening in all countries. This is the asylum-seeking and immigration crisis we are facing.”
Bisexual is a political label that Jackson Otieno has had to take on as an activist in Kenya doing work for the LGBT community.
“I and many others find ourselves in a situation to use that label until people understand it,” said Otieno.
The bisexual community in Kenya does not yet have organizing power in large part, said Otieno, to the work still remaining for the LGBT community as a whole.
“There have been attempts to organize around bisexuality but the timing is not right,” Otieno said. “It has taken a backseat but there is a bisexual community.”
“Like most former British colonies, sodomy laws are still in Kenya’s criminal codes,” said Otieno. “We are currently petitioning the government and constitutional courts to have it removed.”
Otieno sees the work needing to encompass not just laws but also begin at the grassroots level of villages to address the homophobia and violence that LGBT Kenyans face which is often religiously motivated.
“As much as these faiths don’t agree on a lot of things, anti-homosexuality is one they can agree on,” said Otieno. “They are really just scapegoats being used in this rhetoric.”
“All of the progress has been slow, but the effect is that one victory builds onto the next,” he added.
“I just have this general feeling from a lot of observation that from the minute we start organizing around bisexuality, I think we will have such a huge number of people willing to get on board,” said Otieno. “Our biggest challenge will be motivating people who do not want to engage politically in anything.”
Hattie Plant is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, and still new to the “movement.”
“I only worked out that I was bisexual last year, so I’m still easing into it,” said Plant. “I’m very much a small-scale person.”
Victoria University’s LGBT group called UniQ has provided a sense of community for Plant, even if she hasn’t been able to make it to a meeting yet due to class schedules.
“I’m active on their Facebook group,” said Plant. “There’s a lot of people on there who post questions asking our opinions – or if they’ve got questions about an identity that isn’t theirs.”
“It’s a mix of activism and community,” said Plant. “They have alternating movie nights and discussions around stuff. It’s more serious than just hanging out as a casual, like-minded group.”
Plant hopes to work with high school students one day to provide support around issues of LGBT identity and mental health.
“My teachers were no help at all,” said Plant. “I currently work with students just tutoring them, so I think it would be nice to be that voice that’s just slightly more relatable in a lot of ways.”
Fire Sia is one of three co-founders of Side B Philippines, an organization of bisexual people working to educate and advocate for the bisexual community.
“We are a young organization, just a year old but we have gained strong visibility in the LGBT activist space in Manila,” said Sia.
A lot of Side B’s work is focused on combating the widespread misunderstanding of bisexuality as an identity, even from other LGBT people.
“In the gay community, they see bisexuality as some sort of a dress code,” said Sia. “This means that many gay men identify as bi because they are masculine or straight-acting.”
“Many believe that it is a phase, which I am certain it is not — at least in my case,” said Sia.
“Being bi is also seen as a ‘single phase,’” added Sia. “This means that we are only seen as bi when we are single. Our identity and orientation is expected to change depending on the sex of our partner.”
Side B is focused on education and advocating for employment equality for bisexual people in the Philippines.
“We have a long way to go, but we feel like we’re on the right track,” said Sia.
Radica Hura is a bisexual activist taking a break from organizing.
“It’s an activist burnout,” said Hura. “People were not cruel, but they were asking me all these questions about how can you be bisexual and be from Serbia? Isn’t it a cultural thing?”
She organized two bisexual visibility days, but bisexuality is still incredibly misunderstood in Serbian society. Serbia has some laws that protect LGBT people and just elected an openly lesbian prime minister, but at the fundamental level, Hura says that there are a lot of problems.
“If you’re a non-heterosexual man living an ordinary life, then you will struggle,” said Hura. “People here accept their sexual side of their bisexuality, and they’re okay with having sex with the same sex and meeting the same sex, but they have problems accepting that it’s a part of their identity.”
“When it comes to women, [bisexuality] is not even observed seriously,” added Hura. “In their sexual identity, it is accepted because it is part of the male gaze. It is nice to see two girls kissing, but if women are accepted as sexual beings who are attracted to other women and fall in love, then they are starting to lose their mind because of it.”
“When I see how they are not observed seriously, I even start to doubt myself,” said Hura. “In one period in my life I was asking myself if I am really bisexual. People are asking that question all the time.”
“I’d like to see more bisexual people in Serbia actually say it — even just to their families and friends. Without saying it publicly, there is just silence,” said Hura. “There are so many couples who are actually bisexual, but they’re not saying it. Saying it is enough for me, it’s a step ahead.”
When Werner Pieterse came out as bisexual, he could not find any spaces that specialized in serving the bisexual community in South Africa.
He decided to create his own.
“I started by reaching out to places in South Africa that might know where i could meet other bisexual people, but no one knew of anything,” said Pieterse. “I started reaching out to support groups in the USA and Canada, which was such a liberating experience but Skype is not the same as someone that’s literally here that you can touch.”
“I’d like to believe that this support group is the first of its kind,” said Pieterse.
The group’s first meeting was in May, and they welcome people of all identities to the space to talk about issues unique to bisexual identity.
“The amount of people that are interested is just overwhelming,” said Pieterse.
Pieterse described a large gap in education and knowledge of the LGBT community due in large part to the massive jump in legislation within the last twenty years. In just 1996, the country decriminalized homosexuality. Only 10 years later, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
“So many of the bisexual people in South Africa are still closeted, and I think that’s because it’s still stigmatized,” said Pieterse. “We are ahead in some cases, but society has a lot of catching up to do as well. I think if you give it another 10 to 15 years, it will be a much different landscape.”
“It’s one of the reasons why I want to be as out as possible,” added Pieterse, showing off the pockets of his jean jacket that he had embellished with the bisexual flag. “A year ago I wasn’t even thinking about what I’m doing right now, and I’m so grateful that it happened.”
Carlos Castaño says he was one of about five bisexual advocates behind organizing the year of bisexual visibility for the LGBT Federation in Spain last year.
“None of us realized the impact this year would have on our lives,” said Castaño.
The federation had a bisexual network, but it had collapsed in part due to anger about the lack of bisexual visibility in their work.
“The bisexual network is incredibly weak and we are working to bring it back to life again,” said Castaño. “In Spain, right now, there is a lot of individual work for bisexual visibility, but there are not many groups organized for their activism.”With the help of the larger federation, Castaño and the other advocates organized events throughout the year from round tables about bisexual visibility to events that taught people inclusive sexual health.
“It was in this year that I felt that I was a part of the LGBT community which I have never felt before,” said Castaño. “When we started the bi year I felt a lot of skepticism, but month by month I could see how the main coordinators of the federation realized the importance of bi visibility.”
“Being a bisexual activist has made me feel like I’m a part of something bigger,” added Castaño.
“It’s also a lonely task. It feels lonely when there’s such a massive amount of work,” said Castaño. “Sometimes it feels like you’re working in the dark because you don’t know the needs of all the bisexual people in Spain. I didn’t know if I was the only one who was interested in all of these things that felt historical for the movement.”
For a long time, Edward Lord was afraid to come out as bisexual. He clung to a gay identity, having what he refers to as “surreptitious affairs” with women.
“I went to an all male school from the age of seven through eighteen, and my initial sexual and romantic experiences were with guys of my age. So, when I arrived at University in 1990, I immediately openly identified as gay,” said Lord.
Because of the rampant biphobia in LGBT activist spaces in which he was working, Lord remained closeted about his bisexuality.
“I vividly remember attending a national LGB students’ conference, the first one where bi people were included, and the biphobia was horrific,” said Lord. “The women’s caucus had morphed into the lesbian caucus with a clear statement that ‘we don’t want any dirty bisexuals in here.’”
Fast forward to 2017, and Edward Lord sits on the board of BiUK and is councilman and justice of the peace in London. He has been responsible for increasing diversity and inclusion work within the government, which saw him recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011.
Lord also serves as deputy chair and bisexual representative on the advisory board for London Pride.
“Pride in London is a day of mixed emotions for me,” said Lord. “Part of that is because the organizers simply don’t recognize that it is harder for some LGBTQ+ people to participate in events like Pride than others. And that includes bi people.”
“It remains the case that bi people of color are less likely to attend LGBT or bi specific events, and that bi spaces are often dominated by middle class and highly educated folk,” said Lord. “This has to change and I am committed to supporting that change where I can.”
Laya Monarez, a bisexual and trans activist and artist, has experienced her bisexuality through a lot of different struggles. As a trans Mexican American woman, she grew up in a culture they describes as “super machismo.”
“Growing up was difficult because I didn’t even completely understand myself because I had so much going on,” said Monarez. “I wasn’t sure if I was gay or straight, but even more complicated than that I was also trans. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body. There was a lot of confusion.”
“The thing about Latinx communities is that our entire culture is very gendered. Even our language is gendered, and it’s deeply rooted in us,” said Monarez. “When you’re a woman, you’re expected to be a certain type of woman. When you’re a man, you’re really expected to be a certain type of man. So when you come out as bisexual, it’s really strange because people don’t know where to put you.”
If you asked Lynnette McFadzen six years ago what they would be doing in 2017, it would not have included speaking on a panel about bisexual representation at San Diego Comic Con. Nor would it have included being among the co-chairs of the National Equality March for Unity and Pride that took place last month in D.C.
“I call myself a worker bee,” said McFadzen. “It’s quite amazing with all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the accidents that have led me to this.”
McFadzen, host of a podcast called “The BiCast” and president of BiNet USA, started coming out just five years ago after a lot of soul-searching. They started a podcast about bisexuality in part because it had been really difficult to find information about bisexuality during their coming out process.
“If I could just reach a couple of people and let them know that they’re okay and there’s nothing wrong with them, then it would be so worth it,” said McFadzen, who also uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themselves.
“Our power is that as bisexual people, we see all of these intersections. We have to see that the black community is our community, and their struggles are our struggles,” said McFadzen. “A large population of black and brown, Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, and people of all genders and no genders have suffered in our community.”
“We cannot be exclusionary of anyone because we will be excluding ourselves,” added McFadzen. “As bisexual people, we know what it feels like to be left behind.”
Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis
Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move
Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.
Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.
Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.
The full interview follows:
Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?
Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.
Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?
Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.
I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.
The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.
I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.
Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?
Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.
The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.
Blade: What will that look like?
Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.
Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?
Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.
We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.
That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help
Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?
Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …
They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.
But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.
Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”
Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.
I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.
Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?
Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.
Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?
Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.
I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.
Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?
Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.
Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?
Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.
Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?
Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.
Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.
Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.
I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.
Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?
Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.
Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —
Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.
And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.
That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.
So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.
Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.
There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?
Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?
Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.
A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.
Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.
Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.
Blade: That’s pretty succinct.
Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.
Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?
Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.
Blade: Wow, okay.
Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.
Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?
Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.
I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.
Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says
Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court
Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.
The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower. That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.
“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”
The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.
The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.
Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.
Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.
Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.
The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.
The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.
Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.
The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.
Human Rights Campaign’s ex-president sues over termination, alleges racial discrimination
Alphonso David alleges he was terminated unfitly
Alphonso David, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign terminated by the board after he was ensnared in the Gov. Andrew Cuomo scandal, sued the nation’s leading LGBTQ group on Thursday, arguing he was fired as a result of racial discrimination “amid a deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees” and was explicitly told he was paid less because he’s Black.
David, speaking with the Washington Blade on Thursday during a phone interview, said he came to the decision to file the lawsuit after practicing civil rights law for 20 years and “never thought that I would be a plaintiff.”
“But I’m in this chair, I was put in this position,” David said. “And as a civil rights lawyer, I couldn’t look the other way. It would be anathema to who I am and it would undermine my integrity and purpose for the work that I do. And so I have to go through and make a very, very difficult personal decision to file this lawsuit.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses the Human Rights Campaign of violating new state and federal laws for terminating David, who was the organization’s first person of color and Black person to helm the LGBTQ group in its 40-year history. The lawsuit also contends the Human Rights Campaign contravened equal pay law in New York by paying David less than his predecessor, Chad Griffin.
After a public dispute with the board in September amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair, the Human Rights Campaign boards unceremoniously fired David and shortly afterward announced a still ongoing search for a new president. David was named nearly a dozen times in the damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James, suggesting David assisted in efforts by Cuomo’s staff to discredit a woman alleging sexual misconduct in Cuomo’s office. David has consistently denied wrongdoing.
But the lawsuit is broader than the termination and describes an environment at the Human Rights Campaign, which has faced criticism over the years for being geared toward white gay men, as a workplace where “non-white staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.” After a speech David gave on issues of race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission, the lawsuit claims a board member complained about him referring too much to being Black, but faced no penalty from the organization.
Specifically named in the report is Chris Speron, Senior Vice President of Development, who expressed concern about “alienating” white donors and specifically “white gay men” after David issued a statement on the importance of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit claims Speron pushed David to “stop mentioning in his public statements and remove from his bio the fact that he was HRC’s first Black President in its history.” Speron also was critical of hiring a Black-owned consulting firm and “criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” the lawsuit claims. Speron couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.
In terms of equal pay, the lawsuit says HRC’s co-chairs informed David he was underpaid compared to his predecessor because he’s Black. But the lawsuit also acknowledges in 2021, just before news broke about the Cuomo report, the Human Rights Campaign in recognition of David’s work renewed his contract for five additional years and gave him a 30 percent raise.
David, speaking with the Blade, said he was in “shock” upon experiencing these alleged incidents of racism, maintaining he had kept quiet at the time out of concern for the greater good of the aims of the Human Rights Campaign.
Asked whether as president he considered implementing racial sensitivity trainings for his subordinates, David said “yes,” but added many trainings aren’t effective and said the power in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign is often spread out.
“There are people within the organization that have a fair amount of board support because they bring in the money because they are responsible for overseeing the money,” David added.
Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed the organization is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”
“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths,” Madison said. “We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”
Madison adds the individuals accused of racism in the lawsuit “are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization,” without naming any specific individual. The boards for the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation who made the decision to terminate David, were comprised of seven independent directors, five of whom were Black.
The racist environment, the lawsuit says, culminated for David in September 2021 amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair conducted by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP at the behest of the organization. According to the lawsuit, the board co-chairs contacted David late at night before Labor Day weekend to tell him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or be terminated for cause. When David asked whether the Sidley Austin investigation had made any findings against him, or if a report would be issued explaining what he was accused of doing wrong, the board co-chairs refused to say, the lawsuit says.
As is publicly known, David declined to resign and took to Twitter to complain about the board, which subsequently issued a statement disputing his claims. He was then fired “for cause” under his contract.
The termination, the lawsuit says, signified differential treatment of David because he is Black, taking note the Human Rights Campaign under his predecessor had “endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals,” but Chad Griffin was never terminated “for cause.”
Both the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board and the Human Rights Campaign board voted to terminate David. A source familiar with the vote said no one voted “no” in either case. The campaign board vote was unanimous and there were two abstentions in the foundation board vote, the source said.
The source familiar with the vote said David never told the Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his time as HRC president nor did he disclose he was talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit says David “performed extremely well as HRC president, by any measure,” navigating the organization through the coronavirus epidemic and boosting fundraising by 60 percent. (The Blade has not yet verified this claim.) It should be noted the Human Rights Campaign cited coronavirus as the reason it laid off 22 employees, as reported at the time by the Blade.
David, asked by the Blade how he sees the alleged racist culture at Human Rights Campaign infused in his termination, said “Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization,” citing a “Pipeline Report” leaked to the press in 2015 documenting an environment in which employees of color were unable to thrive.
“And so, the fact that I’m being treated differently now, in the fact that a different standard is being applied to me is just simply consistent with what they’ve always done,” David said. “You know, we go back to the Pipeline Report: Imagine if I was leading the organization at the time, and there was a report that was issued, that said that anti-Semitic remarks were being made within the organization, and that women were being discriminated against within the organization or some other marginalized group and that one of the senior vice presidents used a derogatory remark. Do you think I would still be at the organization or would they have fired me?”
David concluded: “There’s a different standard and a double standard that they’ve applied for decades, and I’ve just now been one casualty — another in a long series of casualties based on their systemic bias and discrimination.”
Among the requests in the prayer for relief in the complaint is a declaration the Human Rights Campaign’s actions violated the law; restoration of David to his position as president; an award of the compensation he would have received were he still on the job as well as punitive damages. Asked by the Blade whether any settlement talks have taken place, David said that wasn’t the case and pointed out the lawsuit was recently filed.
Legal experts who spoke to the Blade have doubted the validity of a review by Sidley Austin on the basis it was among the legal firms agreeing in 2019 to help with the Human Rights Campaign entering into litigation to advance LGBTQ rights, an agreement David spearheaded upon taking the helm of the organization.
David, in response to a question from the Blade, said the independent investigation into his role in the Cuomo affair “is a sham and I believe it was a sham,” citing the lack of transparency of findings.
“One of the first instances that caused me concern,” David said, “is I suggested to the organization that we conduct an independent review, and they came back to me and said, ‘Here’s our press release history,’ and the press release never mentioned that I actually suggested that they do this review. And when I challenged them on that, they told me that they thought it would be better for the press to review a complaint or receive a statement that showed that they were bringing this investigation as opposed to I’m recommending and push back even more. And then they said ‘Well, we will put in the statement that you are cooperating.’ So from the very beginning, they were not honest about what they were actually doing.”
Representing David in the lawsuit is the Chicago-based employment law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. and and Chicago-based attorney Matt Singer. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a George W. Bush appointee, an informed source familiar with the case said.
The lawsuit was filed in New York as opposed to D.C. because David is a New York resident and much of the discriminatory behavior took place in New York, the source said. The pay disparity alleged in the lawsuit is expressed in percentages as oppose to hard numbers pursuant to rules for the judiciary in New York, the source added.
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