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Battling the despicable misuse of religion

Masterpiece Cakeshop’s mixed ruling kicks the cake stand down the road

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Masterpiece Cakeshop, gay news, Washington Blade

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop speaks to reporters in front of the United States Supreme Court on Dec. 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Even many believers have their doubts about heaven, hell, and the jealous tribal deities that provide pretexts for so much human cruelty.

As Satan says in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” The hell we make for ourselves and one another is exemplified by those who use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. Which brings us to the latest gay-related Supreme Court ruling, issued June 4.

James Esseks of ACLU offers a good summary: “In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled for a bakery that had refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. It did so on grounds that are specific to this particular case and will have little to no applicability to future cases. The opinion is full of reaffirmations of our country’s longstanding rule that states can bar businesses that are open to the public from turning customers away because of who they are.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his opinion for the majority, writes that “any decision in favor of the baker would have to be sufficiently constrained, lest all purveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons in effect be allowed to put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages,’ something that would impose a serious stigma on gay persons.”

One Colorado civil rights commissioner is quoted saying, “[W]e can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”

This perfectly accurate statement has been characterized as an attack on religion. But decrying those who dress up their homophobia and transphobia in religious garb is no more an attack on faith itself than objecting to racist police methods constitutes a generalized attack on policing. LGBT people ourselves embrace a diversity of beliefs. Calling out faith-based discrimination does not turn the discriminators into victims.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes in dissent, “I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins. The proceedings involved several layers of independent decisionmaking, of which the Commission was but one.” Ginsburg notes, “Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it.”

I have defended the free speech rights of my religious foes, from marriage equality opponents advertising on Metrobuses to the homophobic owner of the Museum of the Bible to a Chick-fil-A outlet in the District. Equal rights are not only for those who agree with us. But for a business open to the public to deny service on religious grounds breaks the social contract whereby members of a diverse society put up with one another for the common good.

Imposing one group’s faith dictates in the public square is a threat to social cohesion. One-way respect is not respect at all but subjugation.

Masterpiece Cakeshop yielded fast fruit. The Arizona Court of Appeals on June 7 cited it in upholding a Phoenix ordinance barring anti-LGBT discrimination. Meanwhile, Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented baker Jack Phillips, wants to broaden it to bar the denial of government contracts to religious organizations that discriminate against gay couples in adoption services.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” proclaim the ruling pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Under America’s aspiring autocrat, an anti-gay baker’s free speech is championed, while NFL players protesting police brutality are denounced as unAmerican. Those who consider Trump’s posturing patriotic are putting the symbols of our freedoms before the freedoms themselves. In religious terms, that is idolatry.

The Trump regime may ultimately represent the last gasp of white Christian hetero male supremacy. But while it so furiously thrashes, and as the president quietly, steadily packs the federal courts, our struggle continues.

 

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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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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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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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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