amfAR’s Dr. Mathilde Krim dead at 91
AIDS pioneer’s life reflects LGBT/AIDS history
Dr. Mathilde Krim, a wealthy, straight, scientific researcher who devoted her life to fighting HIV/AIDS, died on Monday (Jan. 15, 2018) at her home in Kings Point, N.Y. at the age of 91.
“The board of trustees and staff of amfAR mourn the passing of our beloved Founding Chairman, Mathilde Krim, Ph.D. A pioneer in AIDS research and activism, Dr. Krim was at the forefront of scientific and philanthropic responses to HIV/AIDS long before the world fully understood its catastrophic global reach,” reads amfAR’s statement issued Tuesday morning.
“As amfAR’s founding chairman, and chairman of the board from 1990 to 2004, she was the heart and soul of the organization. She helped create it, supported it, kept it afloat more than once, and guided it with extraordinary dedication. She testified on Capitol Hill on several occasions, and was a driving force behind legislation that expanded access to lifesaving treatment and behind efforts to scale up federal funding for AIDS research. In August 2000, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the United States,” the statement continued.
“Dr. Krim had such a profound impact on the lives of so many. While we all feel a penetrating sadness at the loss of someone we loved so deeply, it is important to remember how much she gave us and the millions for whom she dedicated her life. There is joy to be found in knowing that so many people alive today literally owe their lives to this great woman,” amfAR concluded.
New York-based Gay USA co-host and co-producer Andy Humm and longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley were the first to note Krim’s passing on their Facebook pages Monday night.
“My greatest AIDS hero died a few hours ago,” Staley wrote. “Dr. Mathilde Krim, founder of amfAR, warrior against homophobia and AIDS-related stigma, dedicated defender of science and public health, and mother-figure and mentor to countless activists, will leave a deep hole in the continued fight against AIDS — a fight she dedicated her life to. She was 91.”
“All honor to the great Dr. Mathilde Krim, founder of AmFAR (started as the AIDS Medical Foundation in 1983), who died today at 91–a giant in the fight against HIV and AIDS bringing both scientific and fundraising savvy and celebrities to the cause in the worst years of the AIDS pandemic. A tireless brilliant, calm, steady voice for healing, research, compassion and justice. Millions owe her their lives,” Humm wrote.
Krim’s passion to help people with AIDS was fueled by seeing newsreel footage as a teenager of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. “What it did was to sensitize me against injustice. It’s really basically that—cruelty and injustice. And it’s a theme in my life,” Krim said in a 1990 interview.
”I volunteered for the [AIDS Medical Foundation] because I was incensed!” Krim said in a Nov. 1984 interview with the New York Times in her interferon laboratory at Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, promoting the foundation’s first fundraiser—dinner and a fashion show headlined as Fashion Affair ’84. ”So many young men were dying, mostly intelligent and sophisticated young men, some of the city’s best products. And many would be dying abandoned or alone because they were afraid to contact their families.”
Krim’s life reads like a movie script with multiple odd juxtapositions—fashion, science, young gay men dying of AIDS while also being a “traditional wife” of a Hollywood studio head.
Krim was born Mathilde Galland in Cuomo, Italy in 1926. Her Swiss father was an agronomist and her mother, who was of Austrian descent, had grown up in Czechoslovakia. Her father moved the family to Geneva, Switzerland when she was 6.
As World War II started to break out in Europe, Krim heard stories about “sinister-sounding people called the Jews.”
At one point one summer, Krim worked as a gopher in the office of a lawyer who represented the United Jewish Appeal in Geneva. She saw the influx of Jewish refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland, only to be scoffed at and turned over to the Nazi-aligned Vichy French if they had no bank accounts.
“It made me sick. I was 16, 17, you know; one is impressionable. I was indignant. I decided, ‘Oh, no, I`m not going to live in a country that does this,’” she told an interviewer in 1990.
The epiphany came one day when she saw newsreel footage about the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. “I went home and cried and told my parents. They said, ‘Oh, it may be exaggerated; it may not all be true.’ I kept crying; I was in a state of shock. And that lasted several days. To be young and to be unprepared for something like that-it was a terrible psychological shock,” Krim said. “I had never ever seen somebody die or dead, you know, and there I see human bones-most horrible pictures-being dumped from a truck into a hole in the ground, and this kind of thing.”
”I grew up not really knowing what was going on in the camps,” Krim said in 1988, ”though I knew that there was a good deal of anti-Semitism in Europe. My parents were no worse than the others, but they were like the others.”
But the “idea that people of my society were responsible for what had happened—it was very shocking to me. And I became very interested in knowing who were those Jews whom everybody had been after. Because I heard those terrible stories, that they were exploiting others, and I wanted to see for myself.”
In 1945, Krim went to the University of Geneva and met Jews from British-controlled Palestine. ”They were totally different from what I was told,” she said. ”I thought, ‘My God, if anything, I want to be like them.’ ”
Mathilde converted to Judaism and started working with a militant anti-British underground movement called the Irgun, run by a radical Zionist named Menachem Begin. Mathilde helped smuggle weapons to Begin from old French Resistance sympathizers. (When Begin became Israeli prime minister years later, he would be Krim’s houseguest.)
During this time, Krim studied biology in Geneva and, in 1953, received her Ph.D. She also fell in love with fellow Jewish radical David Danon and took his medical courses when he was away. The couple married and moved to Israel in early 1953. “We were in perfect harmony as long as the world was against us. But as soon as the pressure was off, we divorced,” she said.
Krim became a junior researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science and in 1956 was asked to give a tour to a honcho on the institute’s board of directors—New York movie executive Arthur Krim. They married in 1958 and moved to New York. Krim’s 7-year old daughter Daphna adjusted better than her mother. But eventually, Krim found a job at Cornell University Medical School where she studied virology, with the added benefit of being able to speak German, French, Italian, English, Hebrew and ”some Spanish.”
In 1962, Krim transferred to Sloan Kettering to pursue research into whether cancer might be caused by viruses. Her lawyer husband Arthur Krim, meanwhile, became chair of Orion Pictures and a prominent Democratic fundraiser and senior advisor to three Presidents—John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter. Mathilde Krim was the gracious hostess in their art-filled townhouse on East 69th Street when a president or presidential contenders such as Walter Mondale held court or stayed over.
Her husband was also a big fan of Democrat intellectual Adlai Stevenson, which spurred the couple’s interest in the civil rights movement in the US and Africa. With her passion to fight injustice, Krim became a member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and in 1966, joined the National Urban League. Meanwhile, from 1966 to 1968, Arthur Krim served as chair of the Democratic National Finance Committee.
By 1970, while writing a research report for a panel studying the history of cancer—a report that played a significant role in passage the National Cancer Act of 1971—Krim discovered an account of interferon, “a naturally occurring protein that seemed to ‘interfere’ with viruses, including those that caused tumors. Some experiments even indicated that interferon was effective against the tumors themselves,” according to the New York Times.
Krim was hooked on the possibility that interferon could lead to a more humane biological treatment for cancer, though other researchers were considerably less impressed, calling it ”imaginon,” accusing her of letting her heart rule her head. She was soon dubbed the Interferon Queen—a nicknamed she earned, using guile to get funding from the National Cancer Institute after being turned down. In 1975, she convinced the institute to sponsor an international conference on interferon and the night before she and her Hollywood-connected husband threw a party for 100 at their swank Manhattan townhouse.
”She more or less singlehandedly rescued the field from oblivion,” Martin S. Hirsch, an interferon expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the New York Times.
The institute gave her funding, as did the American Cancer Society, and by 1981, Krim had $6 million for her research, in addition to what she could raise from outside foundations and donors. Though touted as a possible cancer breakthrough, the research initially yielded mostly disappointments, treating only a rare form of leukemia. Her reputation as a detached scientist was questioned.
‘I probably could have done more if I had a husband less involved in things,” Krim told The New York Times in 1984. “Research is such a competitive life, and most of my colleagues are men who have wives who do everything at home. I know if I have to give a dinner for 100 people and be all dressed up and have my hair done, I can’t concentrate completely on my work.”
But in 1980, Krim’s attention was diverted by mysterious symptoms impacting patients of her research colleague, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, who practiced medicine in Greenwich Village. Gay men were coming to him with enlarged lymph nodes, enlarged spleens and infections that failed to respond to treatment—and they had seriously compromised immune systems.
“Clearly, it was a biological infectious agent that was causing this disease and we also concluded that it must be sexually transmissible. My friend started using his medical practice as a source of clinical (blood) samples; he would send them around to experts to try to find another link, but nobody would figure out anything,” Krim later recalled. “In the spring of `81 Dr. Sonnabend came to tell us that some of his patients were dying, and our research activities were intensified.”
By then, Krim was the director of the interferon laboratory at Sloan-Kettering. “It was totally mind-blowing for a scientist who thinks she knows something to realize that, here in the middle of New York in the 20th century, a new disease could occur,” Krim said. “I personally didn’t believe for a minute that being gay could cause it. It was a scientific and medical puzzle that attracted my attention.”
Krim and Sonnabend worried that the mysterious disease was spreading but no one seemed to listen. The disease was killing those who “deserved it.”
Though her husband had gay friends, Krim told POZ Magazine, “I knew nothing about the gay community in 1981. Dr. Joseph Sonnabend sent me his patients, including Michael Callen, who told me what gay life was. That was quite an education! I was disgusted by the way society accused gay men of having created something terrible. When you think of it, the promiscuous life was caused by society—it didn’t allow gay men to get married or to have honest relationships. They had to hide.”
Krim’s compassion and hatred of injustice set in.
“In those early days, they were literally dying in the streets,” Krim told the Los Angeles Times in 2000. “[Gay men who had AIDS] lost their jobs, their apartments–their families turned away from them. It turned my stomach, it really impacted me and I decided this was something not to be tolerated.”
Unable to raise funding for their research, the colleagues decided to start their own organization in June 1983. The AIDS Medical Foundation (AMF) was co-founded by Krim—then 57 years old—Sonnabend, Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr. David Baltimore, singer, Sonnabend patient and AIDS activist Michael Callen (co-founder with fellow Sonnabend patient Richard Berkowitz of the People with AIDS Coalition), and respected philanthropist Mary Lasker.
The foundation was created to serve as a “scientific venture capitalist” to give provide seed money to researchers and scientists with promising AIDS-related projects that had been turned down for government grants. They wanted to be the AIDS version of the American Cancer Society. Arthur Krim kicked in the first $100,000 and within 90 days, Mathilde Krim had raised an additional $550,000. She also continued her interferon research, oversaw AMF operations, visited hospitals and clinics, and hosted fundraisers. Nothing was easy with efforts hampered by stigma. The AIDS Medical Foundation could not even list its full name in the lobby index in the Helmsley Building at 230 Park Avenue, having to list its office as A.M. Foundation.
Working together wasn’t easy, either. When Callen and Berkowitz wrote the first risk-reduction pamphlet under Sonnabend’s oversight entitled “How to Have Sex in an Epidenic: One Approach” espousing condom use, they approached Krim about publishing the safe sex guide through AMF. However, POZ founder Sean Strub writes in his book Body Counts, “Krim balked, fearing the frank language about anal sex was too risqué and would turn off potential donors. She did agree to let the foundation serve as a fiscal pass-through, so donations to print it would be tax-deductible.”
It was a serious concern, with donors from large corporations and Wall Street investment houses buying into the mythology of homosexuality.
”They felt that this was a disease that resulted from a sleazy life style, drugs or kinky sex—that certain people had learned their lesson and it served them right,” Krim told the New York Times in 1988.
”That was the attitude, even on the part of respectable foundations that are supposed to be concerned about human welfare.”
It sounded like the anti-Semitic propaganda she heard about Jews from the Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. ”I thought we had to enlarge our board and diversify—load it with straight people so that it’s not one more gay organization,” she said. To that end, she brought on board Elizabeth Kummerfeld, whose husband, Donald D. Kummerfeld, was president of Magazine Publishers of America. They set about planning for a $150-a-ticket November 1984 fashion show at the Tower Gallery, 45 West 18th Street, for which 50 designers, including Pauline Trigere, Bill Blass, Zandra Rhodes, Adolfo Galanos and Calvin Klein, and other designers agreed to donate dresses and gowns. The show as narrated by Arlene Francis, followed by an auction and a buffet planned by Craig Claiborne. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a friend of the Krims, attended.
Funding for Sonnabend’s research and perhaps a clinic was imperative. “We need such a clinic,” Krim told the New York Times in 1984, ”because it’s a place where patients can come without fear of discrimination. We deal with a population afraid of discriminatory practices, and that is not only gay men but drug users as well.”
The AIDS situation as ”very worrisome,” she continued. ”It’s not going to remain in the high- risk groups. All the evidence shows the disease is spreading in all directions, but people just aren’t worried anymore.”
At the same time, on the other side of the country in Los Angeles, pioneering AIDS researcher and immunologist Dr. Michael Gottlieb, was working with actress Elizabeth Taylor to create a foundation using $250,000 in start-up funding contributed by the late actor Rock Hudson, close friend of Taylor’s and a patient of Gottlieb’s. Krim called them about joining their efforts in the summer of 1985.
“Elizabeth Taylor and others were forming a like-minded organization on the West Coast, and I went out to visit her. She invited me to her house, and was immediately interested in working together, so we joined our organizations to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research,” Krim said in a 2015 interview. “From then on, Elizabeth dedicated herself to doing public speaking and even testifying in front of Congress.”
‘It was a shotgun marriage,” Gottlieb told Vanity Fair in 1992, a marriage of necessity between science and show business.
“It did occur to me that having AmFAR on the East and West coasts might dilute it,” Taylor said. “Then I realized that Mathilde is a very powerful lady with a background that couldn’t have been more suitable. So it seemed like a very large and powerful decision.”
Mathilde Krim is “a smart woman and one of the most powerful I’ve ever met,” says Bill Misenhimer, who became amFAR’s first executive director, told the magazine. “You don’t fight her because she always wins. And AIDS is her life.”
“We complement each other very well,” Krim told VF, shrugging off questions about clashes. “I have a professional education in biology and medicine, and because I’m not a public figure I can work at the desk long hours. I mind the shop. Elizabeth contributes to projecting an image of the organization. She deals with the public very well.”
That was a quick lesson learned for the new national organization when Taylor appeared at the second amFAR fashion show in 1985 in Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. “We’d dutifully set in place security protection, but we didn’t make sufficient arrangements,” Krim recalled. “We didn’t realize she’d be mobbed by the crowd. She was atop a staircase with all the paparazzi and the public pushing behind—they almost threw her down.”
While Krim was gaining momentum with AMF, she was being unfavorably scrutinized at Sloan-Kettering by new president Paul A. Marks.
”I was told very clearly that I should tone down my visibility,” Krim told the NYT in 1988. ”He didn’t want his institute to become known as an AIDS hospital. Bad blood developed and at one point I decided, ‘This is enough.’”
(A spokesperson told the NYT that Sloan-Kettering continued to contribute to research on AIDS and interferon therapy.)
Krim left Sloan-Kettering in 1985 and subsequently became an associate research scientist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt. But she was finished as a research scientist. In 2000, the Los Angeles Times noted that her besmirched, dogged research into interferon were vindicated: “Interferon has proved effective in inducing remissions in hairy-cell leukemia, and now is used to treat a long list of serious maladies: bladder cancer, renal cell cancer, hepatitis C, malignant melanoma, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma.”
Serving as AmFAR’s board chair suited her. ”I came to the conclusion that it’s better if I stay on the outside and help people inside the labs,” she said. ”I’m not such a genius that somebody else cannot do what I was doing. And these would be people who cannot do what I can.”
But Krim was able to use that scientific knowledge to challenge important issues that others took as fact. One of the most critical examples was in 1986—before ACT UP—when she took on the medical establishment over the testing of AZT. Per protocol, half the test subjects were given placebos, which Krim concluded would mean the placebo group could possible die by the time the effectiveness of the drug was determined. Though not a cure and saddled with harmful side effects, at least AZT could extend the dying person’s life for a few months.
”People who are on their last legs should get anything they want,” she said. ”We should just make sure we’re not killing them with it.”
Krim testfied before Congress that she opposed placebos in “double-blind” drug trials for people with full-blown AIDS. She lost out to two powerful opponents—National Cancer Institute top AIDS drug expert Samuel Broder and NIH AIDS research coordinator Anthony S. Fauci. But she eventually helped convince the NIH two years later to stop using placebos and to use AZT as the control instead. Additionally, Broder joined AmFAR’s scientific advisory committee, helping determine who gets grants.
One of amFAR’s biggest nights was the appearance of President Ronald Reagan, who had been invited by Taylor to speak at the benefit where Surgeon General Koop was among the honorees. It was Reagan’s second term in office and he had not yet addressed the AIDS epidemic. The benefit was the night before the third international conference on AIDS in Washington.
”He and his advisers must have thought that this was a good opportunity to appear in public in front of people who would behave reasonably well,” Krim told the New York Times in 1988.
A Presidential speechwriter talked to AmFAR’s president Mervyn F. Silverman, who suggested that Reagan stress compassion and avoid the controversial systematic testing for the AIDS virus.
”The President said some of the right things, but he chose to mention testing,” Krim said. ”So that was the undoing of the rest of his speech. Even in our audience some people resented it, and he was in fact hissed, which was not the polite thing to do. But he should have known better.”
In fact, that May 31, 1987 speech contained harsh words reflective of his religious right domestic policy base. As of April 1987, the Centers for Disease Control reported 33,997 cases of AIDS in the US, with 19,658 deaths, no cure and the pall of stigma hanging over the country.
“If a person has reason to believe that he or she may be a carrier, that person has a moral duty to be tested for AIDS; human decency requires it. And the reason is very simple: Innocent people are being infected by this virus, and some of them are going to acquire AIDS and die,” Reagan said. “I’ve asked the Department of Health and Human Services to determine as soon as possible the extent to which the AIDS virus has penetrated our society and to predict its future dimensions.”
He said the AIDS immigration ban, testing for all federal prisoners, and possibly testing of veterans, “in addition to the testing already underway in our military and foreign service.”
“[Reagan’s speechwriters] didn’t know anything about AIDS, so we wrote the first half of the speech, where Reagan talked about compassion, justice, care — all the right things,” Krim told Vanity Fair. “We asked them to please not talk about mandatory testing, because it was not recommended scientifically, legally, or medically. We said it would elicit a furious reaction from the public. But one of Reagan’s advisers revised the speech and put it in.”
“The president mentioned mandatory testing and people jumped out of their seats. Then they started heckling him, so I jumped up and said, ‘Don’t be rude. This is your president and he is our guest,’” Taylor told the magazine.
Krim stuck with amFar until 2005 when she stepped down as founding chair, having helped build the organization into a prominent private supporter of AIDS research. Michael Musto wrote in POZ magazine, “As Dr. Mathilde Krim ‘a.k.a. the Mother of AIDS advocacy’ passes the amfAR torch to classy designer Kenneth Cole, her once-great institution may claim it’s not losing a legend but gaining a brand name. But can its new leader see past the bottom line to make amfAR not only fashionable but relevant again?”
amfAR would argue they are exceedingly relevant with their latest grants to three young scientists working on new HIV treatments and “leveraging vaccine research to help cure HIV.”
Krim does not leave this earth a saint—she disagreed with Taylor about going international, for instance, a debate Taylor won with the organization being renamed the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR, versus amFAR). To date amfAR has raised and invested an estimated $517 million for thousands of programs, according to the New York Times obituary on Krim.
And Taylor was not the only one with whom Krim disagreed, especially over political issues. In 1990, New York Mayor David N. Dinkins asked Krim about naming a city health commissioner. Krim recommended Indiana’s commissioner, Dr. Woodrow A. Myers Jr., who advocated names-reporting and possible quarantining of people with AIDS. Krim and others thought about it, stepped back, then re-endorsed Myers, then withdrew the endorsement. Myers was eventually appointed anyway and Krim was out in the cold.
“I think she’s exceptionally naïve politically,” playwright Larry Kramer told The Times. “We are all very angry with her, so far as one can ever get angry with Mathilde, because we love her so.”
But in 2000, Krim received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton for her decades of AIDS-related work. And the National Portrait Gallery accepted two photographic portraits of Krim into its permanent collection in recognition of her leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS—portraits by leading American photographers Annie Leibovitz and Joyce Tenneson.
”Everybody thinks of at least one person whom he has lost or is afraid for,” Krim told the New York Times in 1988. ”And I am no different. I have my little list.”
And now it’s Mathilde Krim who is on the list of AIDS heroes who have died.
“Dr. Krim was a close friend and mentor, and I am deeply saddened by this news. She dedicated her life to understanding the science behind the epidemic, and was a force to mobilize research around the globe that helped to save millions of lives and reduce the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS,” Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF). “The legacy of Dr. Krim’s deep commitment to ending HIV/AIDS will live on in the advocacy, action, and compassion of those that follow her lead. We would not be where we are today without her, and we must continue to work tirelessly to further understand and prevent the disease. My thoughts are with her family at this time, she was a true hero.”
“For over three decades, I have witnessed one of the most remarkable women in my lifetime fight against the plague of HIV/AIDS,” longtime LGBT rights activist/author David Mixner, who was honored by amfAR. “Dr. Krim was there when no one else would even touch us. There was not one day in the fight against this epidemic that she wasn’t working by our side. Dr. Mathilde Krim was a true legend, heroine and a dear friend.”
“We have lost an inspirational, tireless, and catalytic leader of our movement,” said Mark Harrington, Treatment Action Group’s Executive Director. “Dr. Krim understood the gravity of the epidemic, in its earliest and darkest days, and was driven by her own remarkable intelligence, fierce commitment to civil rights and social justice, extraordinary social and political networks, and true grit to galvanize funders, scientists, policy leaders, and activists toward a single cause: ending HIV and AIDS as a threat to humanity.”
“I genuinely believe that we wouldn’t be where we are today without Dr. Krim’s brilliance, determination, and mobilization,” said Tim Horn, Deputy Executive Director of HIV & HCV Programs at TAG. “Beyond her unparalleled contributions to HIV/AIDS research fundraising and awareness, she was an interminable source of strength, support, and wisdom for countless activists over the years.”
“TAG has lost a matriarch of our family, a leader in our movement, and a steadfast supporter of our work,” said Barbara Hughes, President of TAG’s Board of Directors. “We mourn Dr. Krim’s passing and join amfAR and so many leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS in remembering her work and life.”
“Matilda Krim was a pioneering legend. Her compassion and foresight at the very beginning of the epidemic played a crucial role in mobilizing support to fight the battle against AIDS,” says Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“Even though Mathilde has been gone for a while from any active Public role, it does feel like the end of an era,” says Sean Strub, founder of POZ Magazine and out HIV-positive mayor of Milford, Pennsylvania.
“Mathilde used her resources, curiosity, tenacity and heart to provide leadership and build support to fund AIDS research at a time when few of her peers were willing to do so. The history of the epidemic is intertwined with her own; she was persistent, unflappable and prescient.”
“I became aware of Mathilde Krim around 1988, while I was working as the staff writer for the National AIDS Network, a coalition of community-based AIDS service organizations in Washington, D.C. By then Dr. Krim was already legendary in the HIV-AIDS community,” says John-Manuel Andriote, author of Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of Dr. Krim and Elizabeth Taylor’s “mainstream” (and heterosexual) cachet in helping to ratchet down the fear and stigma associated with what then was a deadly new illness perceived as mainly afflicting gay men.”
“As an HIV positive man who has been living with the virus for over 13 years, I know that I would not be alive today without the efforts of Dr. Mathilde Krim,” says out New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “I met her during my first trip to New York City, at age 18. Little did I know the important role she would play in my life. My thoughts and prayers go to the family and friends of Dr. Krim. Her legacy will live on in the countless lives she saved.”
New Supreme Court term includes critical LGBTQ case with ‘terrifying’ consequences
Business owner seeks to decline services for same-sex weddings
The U.S. Supreme Court, after a decision overturning Roe v. Wade that still leaves many reeling, is starting a new term with justices slated to revisit the issue of LGBTQ rights.
In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the court will return to the issue of whether or not providers of custom-made goods can refuse service to LGBTQ customers on First Amendment grounds. In this case, the business owner is Lorie Smith, a website designer in Colorado who wants to opt out of providing her graphic design services for same-sex weddings despite the civil rights law in her state.
Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, said in an interview with the Blade, “it’s not too much to say an immeasurably huge amount is at stake” for LGBTQ people depending on the outcome of the case.
“This contrived idea that making custom goods, or offering a custom service, somehow tacitly conveys an endorsement of the person — if that were to be accepted, that would be a profound change in the law,” Pizer said. “And the stakes are very high because there are no practical, obvious, principled ways to limit that kind of an exception, and if the law isn’t clear in this regard, then the people who are at risk of experiencing discrimination have no security, no effective protection by having a non-discrimination laws, because at any moment, as one makes their way through the commercial marketplace, you don’t know whether a particular business person is going to refuse to serve you.”
The upcoming arguments and decision in the 303 Creative case mark a return to LGBTQ rights for the Supreme Court, which had no lawsuit to directly address the issue in its previous term, although many argued the Dobbs decision put LGBTQ rights in peril and threatened access to abortion for LGBTQ people.
And yet, the 303 Creative case is similar to other cases the Supreme Court has previously heard on the providers of services seeking the right to deny services based on First Amendment grounds, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In both of those cases, however, the court issued narrow rulings on the facts of litigation, declining to issue sweeping rulings either upholding non-discrimination principles or First Amendment exemptions.
Pizer, who signed one of the friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to 303 Creative, said the case is “similar in the goals” of the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation on the basis they both seek exemptions to the same non-discrimination law that governs their business, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, or CADA, and seek “to further the social and political argument that they should be free to refuse same-sex couples or LGBTQ people in particular.”
“So there’s the legal goal, and it connects to the social and political goals and in that sense, it’s the same as Masterpiece,” Pizer said. “And so there are multiple problems with it again, as a legal matter, but also as a social matter, because as with the religion argument, it flows from the idea that having something to do with us is endorsing us.”
One difference: the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation stemmed from an act of refusal of service after owner, Jack Phillips, declined to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple for their upcoming wedding. No act of discrimination in the past, however, is present in the 303 Creative case. The owner seeks to put on her website a disclaimer she won’t provide services for same-sex weddings, signaling an intent to discriminate against same-sex couples rather than having done so.
As such, expect issues of standing — whether or not either party is personally aggrieved and able bring to a lawsuit — to be hashed out in arguments as well as whether the litigation is ripe for review as justices consider the case. It’s not hard to see U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to lead the court to reach less sweeping decisions (sometimes successfully, and sometimes in the Dobbs case not successfully) to push for a decision along these lines.
Another key difference: The 303 Creative case hinges on the argument of freedom of speech as opposed to the two-fold argument of freedom of speech and freedom of religious exercise in the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation. Although 303 Creative requested in its petition to the Supreme Court review of both issues of speech and religion, justices elected only to take up the issue of free speech in granting a writ of certiorari (or agreement to take up a case). Justices also declined to accept another question in the petition request of review of the 1990 precedent in Smith v. Employment Division, which concluded states can enforce neutral generally applicable laws on citizens with religious objections without violating the First Amendment.
Representing 303 Creative in the lawsuit is Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that has sought to undermine civil rights laws for LGBTQ people with litigation seeking exemptions based on the First Amendment, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
Kristen Waggoner, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote in a Sept. 12 legal brief signed by her and other attorneys that a decision in favor of 303 Creative boils down to a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment.
“Colorado and the United States still contend that CADA only regulates sales transactions,” the brief says. “But their cases do not apply because they involve non-expressive activities: selling BBQ, firing employees, restricting school attendance, limiting club memberships, and providing room access. Colorado’s own cases agree that the government may not use public-accommodation laws to affect a commercial actor’s speech.”
Pizer, however, pushed back strongly on the idea a decision in favor of 303 Creative would be as focused as Alliance Defending Freedom purports it would be, arguing it could open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“One way to put it is art tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” Pizer said. “Is something of a craft, or is it art? I feel like I’m channeling Lily Tomlin. Remember ‘soup and art’? We have had an understanding that whether something is beautiful or not is not the determining factor about whether something is protected as artistic expression. There’s a legal test that recognizes if this is speech, whose speech is it, whose message is it? Would anyone who was hearing the speech or seeing the message understand it to be the message of the customer or of the merchants or craftsmen or business person?”
Despite the implications in the case for LGBTQ rights, 303 Creative may have supporters among LGBTQ people who consider themselves proponents of free speech.
One joint friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, written by Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who’s written in favor of LGBTQ rights, and Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues the case is an opportunity to affirm the First Amendment applies to goods and services that are uniquely expressive.
“Distinguishing expressive from non-expressive products in some contexts might be hard, but the Tenth Circuit agreed that Smith’s product does not present a hard case,” the brief says. “Yet that court (and Colorado) declined to recognize any exemption for products constituting speech. The Tenth Circuit has effectively recognized a state interest in subjecting the creation of speech itself to antidiscrimination laws.”
Oral arguments in the case aren’t yet set, but may be announced soon. Set to defend the state of Colorado and enforcement of its non-discrimination law in the case is Colorado Solicitor General Eric Reuel Olson. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would grant the request to the U.S. solicitor general to present arguments before the justices on behalf of the Biden administration.
With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that has recently scrapped the super-precedent guaranteeing the right to abortion, supporters of LGBTQ rights may think the outcome of the case is all but lost, especially amid widespread fears same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block. After the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against 303 Creative in the lawsuit, the simple action by the Supreme Court to grant review in the lawsuit suggests they are primed to issue a reversal and rule in favor of the company.
Pizer, acknowledging the call to action issued by LGBTQ groups in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, conceded the current Supreme Court issuing the ruling in this case is “a terrifying prospect,” but cautioned the issue isn’t so much the makeup of the court but whether or not justices will continue down the path of abolishing case law.
“I think the question that we’re facing with respect to all of the cases or at least many of the cases that are in front of the court right now, is whether this court is going to continue on this radical sort of wrecking ball to the edifice of settled law and seemingly a goal of setting up whole new structures of what our basic legal principles are going to be. Are we going to have another term of that?” Pizer said. “And if so, that’s terrifying.”
Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign
Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.
Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.
“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”
The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”
The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.
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.
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