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No LGBT history, no equality

Canada apologizes while U.S. ignores discriminatory past

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Lavender Scare, gay news, Washington Blade

The government sought to fire gay and lesbian workers in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Historical Society)

Justin Trudeau’s epic apology to sexual minorities in Canada for decades of “systemic oppression, criminalization and violence” stands as a stark reminder for LGBT Americans that our history of ruinous discrimination remains officially unrecognized —much less apologized for — in the United States. LGBT political history here is either ignored, mocked, rewritten or simply erased.

For Canadians, this is an exciting time of “truth and reconciliation,” an honest recognition by the government of a terrible history so that it may not be repeated again and society can move on.

For LGBT Americans, confronted by the hostility of the Trump/Pence administration, we must insist that our history, in all of its shameful dimensions, be recognized at least by legislators and the judiciary. Only in this way, may we lay the groundwork for a formal federal recognition in years to come. Our equality depends upon it. No history. No equality.

All of us must answer the fundamental question faced by citizens when it comes to “Truth and Reconciliation”: Do you want to remember? Or do you want to forget? In her authoritative book on non-judicial truth seeking, “Unspeakable Truths,” Priscilla Hayner asks leaders of countries who have suffered the worst state-sponsored crimes, this direct question. It is easy enough to forget. Most recently, here in Washington, our major LGBT film festival Reel Affirmations declined this year to screen the award-winning documentary “The Lavender Scare,” the story of a homosexual witch-hunt at the State Department. The investigations and terminations rose in part from Sen. Joe McCarthy’s and his Counsel Roy Cohn’s vile demagoguery. Even today, we live in the shadow of Cohn, President Donald Trump’s attorney and closeted mentor who died of AIDS in 1986. Do we want to remember or forget Roy Cohn in Donald Trump’s Washington?

Do we want to remember or forget the fate of tens of thousands of federal workers investigated and fired, professional lives ruined, personal lives shattered by the animus administered by the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Office of Personnel Management attorneys? Want to remember or forget J. Edgar Hoover’s “Sex Deviate” national investigation program? Do we want Chief Justice John Roberts to remember or minimize this awful era of animus, as when he mocked our history by characterizing it as mere “snippets” in his dissent in the same-sex marriage case U.S. v. Windsor?

Compared to Canada, we have taken baby steps. When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry officially apologized in 2009 to gay civil rights pioneer Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, he delivered a heartfelt and personal statement, but without reference to the thousands of LGBT Americans who were branded perverts, investigated and ruined right there in the OPM building.

Years later, in 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a strong formal apology to those State Department employees who were investigated and fired during the “Lavender Scare,” but that was only about the couple of hundred employees fired by the State Department.

Taking a different route, in 2015, The Mattachine Society met with the OPM General Counsel. We briefed her on the ugly story revealed by hundreds of pages of never-before-released memoranda, legal briefs and correspondence from the Office of the General Counsel of OPM and its predecessor the Civil Service Commission. These documents revealed massive legal resistance to LGBT civil equality, laden with vile insults about “nasty” homosexuals.

We asked for a statement of recognition and apology. No such statement was ever issued. We later learned that such a letter had been drafted and approved. However, due to an unprecedented hacking of OPM records in 2015, a new leadership team was brought in, who along with career attorneys, killed the letter of apology altogether.

As part of its Truth and Reconciliation initiative, Canada will construct a memorial to the many individuals who suffered the animus and discrimination of a hostile government. Can you visualize such a memorial here? Would it be a lavender splash of paint splattered onto the exit of the Office of Personnel Management where so many thousands were ushered out? Or might it be a picket carried high by Frank Kameny, Lilli Vincenz and other members of the Mattachine Society who picketed their way into a meeting with hostile government lawyers? Might our best Truth & Reconciliation project be a renewed determination by all of us to simply learn and remember?

 

Charles Francis is president of The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., mattachinesocietywashingtondc.org.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. MichaelBedwell

    December 7, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    BRAVO, Charles!

    • Ruth

      December 8, 2017 at 9:04 am

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  2. Jim Driscoll

    December 8, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Kudos, Charles! Truth and reconciliation is the most important challenge facing our community. It is the key to restoring full rights and dignity, the elixir for healing wounded souls and hearts. Until recently LGBTs were routinely denied equal protection, which is implicit in “all men are created equal” and political extension of “do unto others.” Those who suffered by the denial of God given and constitutionally guaranteed rights are entitled to the truth of their suffering and of their lives, to the truth about who we are. There must be no statute of limitations on truth, on violations of human rights and dignity. Unless the truth is acknowledged, there can be no healing, and there will be no forgiving or forgetting. The oldest among us have suffered most. Past discrimination in government hiring is just the tip of an iceberg in archipelago of festering evils. Decades ago my academic career was destroyed by a tenured bigot who believed no gay should be allowed to teach in a university. At least one of his other victims committed suicide. I have survived, but that university has steadfastly refused truth and reconciliation against his and its LGBT victims. Par for the course throughout society today. Charles, your call needs to go out to the world. Your Blade piece is great, but the message should also be in the Post, NYT and WSJ! All areas of American life need to be challenged to give LGBT people truth and reconciliation. As long as LGBTs are denied the truth of who we are, what we have suffered, we fail in our great national struggle to treat all our citizens equally.

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Opinions

Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinions

Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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