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Media must address growing crisis of anti-LGBTQ violence

Mainstream outlets ignoring plight of trans people of color

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anti-LGBTQ violence, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenne McFadden (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Alphonza “Peaches” Watson’s mom called her “the sunshine of our family.” In her mom’s words, she was “a very caring, passionate, fun person to be around, always in a talkative and playful mood.” Alphonza was a black, transgender woman, and in March 2017, she was shot in the stomach and killed.

Kenne McFadden liked to post videos of herself singing on Facebook and was called the “friendliest person ever” who could “be assertive when the time came” by one of her friends. In April 2017, her body was found floating in the San Antonio River. Kenne’s killer admitted to pushing her into the river and repeatedly misgendered her in his confession — but on March 8, a judge ruled that he will not be tried for her death. LGBTQ advocates are now calling for justice, because like Alphonza, Kenne was also a trans woman of color.

Alphonza’s and Kenne’s deaths were two in a staggering 22 reported hate violence-related killings in 2017 of transgender women of color, who are disproportionately the victims of anti-LGBTQ violence. According to a January report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, there were at least 52 reported hate violence-related homicides of LGBTQ people last year. That’s an 86 percent increase from 2016, nearly double the number. But if you get your news from national TV news, you probably haven’t heard the victims’ names or heard reports about the growing trend of violence that has scourged the LGBTQ community.

Media Matters analyzed broadcast and cable TV coverage of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2017, and what we found was simply unacceptable. Even though 2017 saw the fifth consecutive annual increase in anti-LGBTQ hate violence, cable and broadcast TV news spent a total of less than 40 minutes covering this disturbing growing trend. Sometimes coverage didn’t even mention the LGBTQ identities of the victims, and it rarely featured voices from the queer community. What’s worse, more than half of the coverage was about just two individual cases, and those reports largely failed to connect these individual cases to the larger trend of anti-LGBTQ violence.

These deaths are not occurring in a vacuum, and they’re not isolated incidents. This is an epidemic, and it’s not showing signs of slowing down. This year already, at least six trans women have been killed in the United States alone. In January, a 19-year-old gay University of Pennsylvania student named Blaze Bernstein was allegedly murdered by a neo-Nazi associated with an extremist group that has been increasingly responsible for violence and whose racist ideology is growing in the U.S. There were four times as many gay men killed in 2017 as in 2016.

It’s no coincidence that violence is increasing at the same time that the Trump administration has prioritized eroding the humanity of LGBTQ people. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have unprecedented influence over policy at every level. With the help of ADF, the Trump administration has issued a guidance policy that makes it easier for people and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and ADF has worked tirelessly against transgender student equality in schools. In fact, it doesn’t seem like there is any part of LGBTQ life that opponents of equality won’t go after, from adoption rights to prison policy. And now, for the first time in years, an annual report on attitudes toward LGBTQ people has found that straight adults are less likely to accept them. The full-out assault against LGBTQ people is trickling down from the top.

The media have a distinct role to play in talking about the depths of this problem, which is, quite literally, a life and death issue for the LGBTQ community. The fight for queer, and particularly trans, equality did not end with marriage, and LGBTQ people are increasingly becoming targets of violence amid an ever-growing movement to dismantle our rights. Trans women of color have been attacked just for walking down the street. Gay men have been lured to their deaths on dating apps. One man, Juan Javier Cruz, was shot and killed after he defended his friends from homophobic slurs and threats. TV news helps set the agenda for public discourse, and policy and cultural changes that can protect this community cannot happen without an informed public. The media have a responsibility to inform this community and our allies that our rights — and, in fact, lives — are at stake. And connecting the dots between vicious rhetoric and policies and the actual safety risks LGBTQ people face could show those in the middle, or even our opponents, that there are consequences to such vitriol.

And when TV news does cover anti-LGBTQ, and particularly anti-trans, violence, it’s crucial that it provide context about this epidemic. We found that less than a third of the segments discussing anti-LGBTQ violence drew a line from individual cases to the growing trend, with the rest of the coverage completely failing to contextualize the cases as anything other than isolated incidents. This community is a target, and victims’ identities should not just be an afterthought.

Additionally, TV news should work to include LGBTQ voices, particularly trans voices, in coverage. When MSNBC hosted a panel of transgender guests to talk about the Trump administration’s attacks on their rights, the guests used personal experiences to connect the dots between administration policies and rhetoric and the increased violence facing the community.

We owe it to Alphonza Watson, to Kenne McFadden, to Juan Javier Cruz — and to the 49 other members of the LGBTQ community killed in 2017 simply for being who they were — to say their names and tell their stories. The media has a job to do to help keep the rest of the LGBTQ community and its allies safe and informed. Covering their stories, and the environment that led to their deaths, isn’t just a matter of honoring their lives; it is what we must do to save others.

 

Brennan Suen is LGBTQ program director for Media Matters For America.

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Opinions

Thank you, President Biden, for putting the nation first

Now all decent Americans must unite to defeat Trump

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

We certainly owe a major debt of gratitude to President Joe Biden for putting the nation before himself. Not many politicians would do that. We must thank him for understanding that for the country, the imperative is to defeat Donald Trump and his MAGA vision for the United States. A vision we have seen in his first term, his attempt at staging a coup, and now in his platform, and Project 2025. It is so frightening I believe it is what got President Biden to step aside. I am also thankful President Biden endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. She is ready, and will make a great president. 

This is a seismic moment for our nation — the first time since 1968 that a sitting president decided not to run for a second term. It is much later in the process than that was. But it is the right thing to do. Biden will continue to be our president for nearly six months. He has work to do. He already has a great legacy of 50 years of service to the nation, and he will only add to it before he leaves the presidency. He will work to end the Israel-Hamas war, and to see that Ukraine has what they need to beat back Putin. He will work to strengthen our ties with all our allies. 

I think Biden’s action will energize American voters, and take the focus away from Donald Trump while Democrats refocus the campaign and their message. The focus must be on the evil that is Trump, and those around him. While time is short, the American people do know Kamala Harris. They now will see more of a feisty former prosecutor, senator, and brilliant woman, who will be able to challenge all of Trump’s BS. 

Harris can proudly run on the successes of the Biden/Harris administration. Those include passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package to increase investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport and national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems. Stopping a 30-year streak of federal inaction on gun violence by signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Making a $369 billion investment in climate change, the largest in American history, through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Providing $10,000 to $20,000 in college debt relief to Americans with loans who make under $125,000 a year. Cutting child poverty in half through the American Rescue Plan. Capping prescription drug prices at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare through the Inflation Reduction Act. Passing the COVID-19 relief deal that provided payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens while supporting renters and increasing unemployment benefits. Achieving historically low unemployment rates after the pandemic caused them to skyrocket. Imposing a 15% minimum corporate tax on some of the largest corporations in the country, ensuring that they pay their fair share, as part of the historic Inflation Reduction Act. Recommitting America to the global fight against climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement. Strengthening the NATO alliance in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion by endorsing the inclusion of world military powers Sweden and Finland. Authorizing the assassination of the Al Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became head of the organization after the death of Osama bin Laden. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices through the Inflation Reduction Act while also reducing government health spending. Holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his invasion of Ukraine by imposing stiff economic sanctions. Boosting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by nearly $80 billion to reduce tax evasion and increase revenue. Creating more jobs in one year (6.6 million) than any other president in U.S. history. Reducing healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act by $800 a year as part of the American Rescue Plan. Signing the PACT Act to address service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Signing the CHIPS and Science Act to strengthen American manufacturing and innovation. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act through 2027. And halting all federal executions after the previous administration reinstated them after a 17-year freeze. It’s a record to be proud of. 

It is now time for Democrats, independents, and all decent Americans, to unite to elect the Democratic ticket and a Democratic Congress. If we do, we can try to unite people, instead of dividing them like Trump and his acolytes are doing. We can win on Nov. 5 and then honor President Biden for his selfless act as the government transitions to our 47th President, Kamala Harris, at noon on Jan. 20, 2025.

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

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Commentary

1970-1975: How gay liberation movement grew after Stonewall

Converging with civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war movements

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Members of the Gay Liberation Front at their communal house, 1620 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., circa 1971. From left to right: Kashi Rahman, Andy Hughes, Guy Charles, Reggie Haynes, Ronnie, David Aiken, Tim Corbett, unknown, Shima Rahman, unknown, Joseph Covert. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow History Project, Inc./David Aiken Collection)

In conjunction with WorldPride 2025, Rainbow History Project is creating an exhibit on the evolution of Pride: “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington.” This is the second of 10 articles that will share research themes for the exhibit. In “Gay and Proud,” we discuss the period between 1970-1975 and how the fledgling gay liberation movement burst on the scenes after the Stonewall Riots, converging with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the anti-Vietnam movement.

Inspired by the Black civil rights movement’s affirmation “Black is Beautiful,” the Mattachine Society of Washington coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” From 1965-1969, the Mattachine Society of Washington coordinated some of the first public demonstrations for LGBTQ equality – pickets on Independence Day called the Annual Reminders. The Gay Liberation Front wanted the 1970 Annual Reminder to be held in New York on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thus, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Signs in this first CSLD March read “Gay and Proud,” a motto that would come to label the annual Stonewall celebrations. Gay Pride has evolved into what President Biden just proclaimed “LGBTQI+ Pride Month.”

Despite the power shift from D.C.’s pickets and Philadelphia’s reminders to New York’s march, Washingtonians remained central to planning the march and its political demands, while also fostering a sense of community among homosexuals, who were starting to call themselves gays. In October of 1969, Nancy Tucker and Lilli Vincenz created The Gay Blade as a newsletter to be distributed in bars. Now called the Washington Blade, Tucker said this about its founding in a 1998 oral history with Rainbow History Project:

“Sometime after that last Fourth of July picket, the people in Mattachine must have begun to talk about how Mattachine could reach out to the gay community, as a whole in Washington, which they had never done before.”

The Gay Liberation Front DC formed in August 1970 with a communal house at 1620 S St., N.W. Its purposes, laid out by David Aiken, were “to establish a sense of community among gay people, build gay self-awareness, and educate the straight community.” GLF-DC and another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, participated in the 1971 May Day protests, which were large-scale anti-Vietnam War civil disobedience actions.

The following year on May 2-7, 1972, to commemorate May Day, GLF-DC coordinated Washington’s first Gay Pride Week. “Across the country these past two years, gay people have been getting it on for a gala spring festival celebrating the fact that we’re gay, we’re proud and we’re together,” its Gay Pride Bulletin No. 1 said. “Parties, shows, rap sessions, platform speakers, gala public picnics — all designed around the theme of GAY TOGETHERNESS — are being staged to show that gay is good and gay is here to stay!”

The goal: “rich, poor, black, white, male, female, in business or in school, in leather or in drag, in ‘the movement’ or in the closet: Gay Pride will be a time when everybody who’s gay in Washington can come to meet on common ground.” Oral history recordings and documents in the Rainbow History Archives show the event was a success, however, it was the only one that GLF-DC planned. Another “Pride” in DC didn’t occur for several years.

Between 1970-1975, countless D.C. gay organizations formed, and they showed up gay and proud in other events: the Black Panthers Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, the American Psychology Association’s annual meeting and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also disrupted conferences at Catholic University and carried anti-Nixon banners at his second inaugural. Our WorldPride 2025 exhibit, “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington,” centers the voices of the event organizers and includes the critics of Pride and the intersection of Pride and other movements for equal rights and liberation. But we need your help to do that: we are looking for images and input, so look around your attic and get involved.

Vincent Slatt volunteers as the director of archiving at the Rainbow History Project; Elinor Aspegren is a member of RHP. Visit rainbowhistory.org to get involved.

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Opinions

Trans people still face uphill battle in finding employment

We must combat transphobia in the workplace

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Transgender people face a major crisis and have faced this crisis for a long time: not being able to find meaningful employment. This is nothing new to think about or say. Trans people have historically been unemployed since the beginning of time.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, trans workers experience unemployment at twice the rate of the normal population (14% versus 7%). Moreover, 44% of trans people who are currently working are underemployed. Lastly, according to this project, trans people are about four times more likely than the average population to have a household income of under $10,000. These numbers are alarming and should be studied closely.

There are many reasons why employers hire fewer trans workers. For one, trans people who don’t fully pass as the gender they want — and nonbinary people — don’t fit the traditional mold of someone who companies want in their office. Most companies prefer to have individuals who either look rigidly male or rigidly female, and don’t want workers who look somewhere in between.

Secondly, employers might be conscious of the fact that trans people face mental health challenges, such as a suicide rate of around 50%, and are at risk for greater depression, anxiety, and other issues. Our mental health problems might get in the way of work, or cause us to take more leave than others.

Thirdly, many company recruiters might just straightforwardly be transphobic, and view the trans population as strange, weird, or, at worst ugly — as if we are people to look down upon and not people to uphold. They might not recruit us out of a pure disdain for our identity and willingness to change genders.

Fourthly, recruiters might realize that current employees in their company are transphobic and would not get along with a trans employee. This leads them to avoid recruiting trans people out of the intention of keeping their office space rid of debate and interpersonal conflict.

There are many other reasons why companies don’t hire trans people, too many reasons for me to consider or explore. Maybe companies feel that trans people are historically undereducated, and poor to begin with, and will have a hard time acclimating to prestigious white collar work environments.

Either way, the unemployment crisis in the trans population has been going on for a quite a while, and needs to be addressed.

Luckily, trans people find some outlets for success in certain industries. The nonprofit industry has been relatively kind to trans folk, as have creative communities, like some parts of the music industry, and the visual arts industry. Filmmakers are constantly looking for a new story about trans people. The publishing and education industries are also somewhat kind to us.

Certain Democratic political campaigns will also hire us and other progressive and liberal causes. But there are still many industries that look down upon us, and frown upon our identity. Donald Trump instituted a transgender military ban, and the Army, Navy, and other branches have historically been transphobic places to work and reside in.

Overall, trans people face a steep uphill battle in finding adequate and meaningful employment. This is a crisis that has been going on for decades. I’m not sure how to fix this problem – both states and the federal government can surely implement more legislation that convinces companies to hire trans people just as equally as they would hire anyone else. More provisions need to be put in place to sue companies for firing a trans person just solely based on their gender identity.

Ensuring employment for all gender nonconforming folk will make our lives infinitely better, and ensuring that we don’t face transphobia in the workplace will make them even better as well.

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution.’ He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi.

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