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10 ways Trump is attacking LGBT rights

Ignore the tweets, focus on the assault on our Democratic norms

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Donald Trump lies, gay news, Washington Blade, Trump scandals

President Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Keeping track of the endless Trump scandals is a Sisyphean task: As soon as you fully dissect one anti-Democratic transgression, the rock rolls back down the hill as our faux president torches another American norm.

Attacking the free press, embracing murderous dictators, retaliating in the pettiest of ways against critics, enforcing an overtly racist ideology, demonizing longtime allies and late night tweets ridiculing everyone from Oprah and Meryl to Trudeau and Merkel. The list goes on.

Sadly, too many of us are taking the bait and wasting time and resources playing along with social media posts of our own responding to Trump and his enablers. Mainstream cable news outlets have devoted endless hours of pearl-clutching commentary to all the tweets. Instead, we should remain focused and resist being distracted by the sideshows. They are a smokescreen intended to hide what’s really going on, which is a systematic dismantling of the U.S. government. And it’s happening across agencies, from the State Department to the Department of the Interior. As Trump tweets, his sycophants roll back environmental regulations, abandon treaties, gut healthcare. And make no mistake that Obama-era LGBT protections are in the crosshairs. The Blade chronicles these attacks on a near daily basis so it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a primer on what’s been going on while you were vacationing this summer, in no particular order.

#10 Abandoning LGBT people in need around the world. The State Department used to advocate on behalf of LGBT rights in hostile countries. Now we have Trump kowtowing to Vladimir Putin behind closed doors. Do you think he raised the issue of Chechnya’s anti-gay crackdown in that meeting? Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) recently told the Blade that there is no policy in place that addresses the needs of LGBT immigrant children the Trump administration has separated from their parents. Where the United States once strived to set the example for equality, we now inspire autocrats in other countries to crack down on their press and suppress the rights of minorities. Our example matters. The bully pulpit is real. And it’s being used to embolden dictators and to green-light attacks on free speech and assembly.

#9 Undermining LGBT adoption rights. A House committee just last week approved an amendment that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement to LGBT families over religious objections. The measure would empower the secretary of health and human services to withhold 15 percent of federal government funds from states and localities if they penalize adoption agencies for acting on their religious beliefs in child placement decisions, as the Blade reported.

#8 Pushing federal workers back into the closet. As we reported, in a letter dated June 28 to Defense Secretary James Mattis, eight House Democrats expressed concern about lack of formal recognition of Pride this year, saying the Pentagon is “backing away from supporting and celebrating” LGBT service members and Defense Department employees. That issue crops up across the government. Where federal workers were proudly out and happy to talk to us about their Pride plans during the Obama years, now they are largely afraid to talk on the record. Trump and his anti-LGBT cronies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions have cast a shadow of fear across the government. The Justice Department, meanwhile, hosted a Pride event for its LGBT attorneys and law enforcement officials — but for the first time in 11 years, the ceremony wasn’t held in the building’s Great Hall. It was closed to media and attendees were too afraid to talk about it afterwards. The Small Business Administration removed LGBT references from its website, even though the agency won a prestigious award from Harvard University for its groundbreaking outreach to LGBT entrepreneurs during the Obama years. When the SBA reached out to me to assist in putting together its Pride celebration, I declined citing the removal, which was later reversed after much protest, including from the NGLCC. And for the second year, Trump declined to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month.

#7 Stacking government panels with anti-LGBT zealots. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell named Tony Perkins, president of the notoriously anti-LGBT Family Research Council, to a two-year term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Perkins, whose organization was long ago labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, presided over a three-day “religious freedom” conference the State Department held last week in D.C. The event brought together some of the most bigoted homophobes of the far right, granting them the prestige and legitimacy of being endorsed by the U.S. government.

#6 Banning the Pride flag. A Republican lawmaker in the U.S. House has introduced legislation aimed at barring U.S. embassies from flying the Pride flag. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) introduced the measure last week, which seeks to “prohibit the flying of any flag other than the United States flag over United States diplomatic and consular posts, and for other purposes.” The State Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s inquiries on the matter. Will our openly gay ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, have anything to say about this effort? Although it’s not a Trump initiative, make no mistake that the anti-LGBT forces of the far right and their supporters are now unleashed thanks to Trump and the base tone he has set for the country.

#5 Undoing bias protections for trans people. The Trump administration has asserted that transgender people aren’t covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace. In addition, Sessions has rescinded Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

#4 Attacks on trans health. The Trump administration plans to roll back an Obamacare rule barring health care providers from denying treatment to transgender people, including gender reassignment surgery.

#3 Advocating for “religious liberty.” This is a common theme now, as the far right often pivots from overtly anti-LGBT statements, which don’t play well with independent voters, to their favorite code term for anti-LGBT bias, “religious liberty.” The White House in June hailed as a win for religious freedom the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to serve a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

#2 Trans military ban. A federal appeals court recently reaffirmed an injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing its cruel and discriminatory transgender military ban. That’s good news, but the move sets up a potential showdown at the Supreme Court. So far, the Trump administration is mum on its next steps.

#1 Anti-LGBT judicial appointments. Last November, New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse wrote a column about the “conservative plan to weaponize the federal courts.” She cited a 37-page plan written by Northwestern University law professor Steven G. Calabresi, founder and board chair of the conservative Federalist Society, in which he declared their intention: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”

To that end, we have Neil Gorsuch and now Brett Kavanaugh likely headed to the Supreme Court. But while the mainstream media are focused on Kavanaugh, there are scores of lower-level judicial appointees moving toward confirmation, many of whom have disturbing anti-LGBT records. Mark Norris, for example, was nominated by Trump for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Tennessee. Norris served for 17 years as a member of the Tennessee Senate, where he advanced anti-LGBT legislation as Senate majority leader. A lawyer who defended Prop 8 in court is nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. And so on.

These attacks, as reported by the Blade, have occurred in just the last few months. They will only increase as the midterms approach and Trump needs more red meat to feed his brainless base of bigots and rednecks. This motley crew was aptly described by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.” They disdain education, ignore hypocrisy and racism and even basic facts, in defense of a bloated con man who will stop at nothing to line his pockets and those of his equally corrupt family and friends. Congressional Republicans in their blind allegiance to Trump have lost the moral authority to criticize any Democrat for any behavior for a generation. They have cast their lot with a wannabe demagogue and are in bed with the murderous Putin, whom they admire for his zero-tolerance of dissent and diversity.

There is one way out of this mess: Everyone offended by it must vote in November and again in 2020. Sadly, a new poll suggests that only 28 percent of millennial-aged voters plan to vote this year. You can march every weekend in protest and launch a million petitions on change.org, but if you don’t vote then the deplorable one-third of Americans who still support Trump will win again.

 

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

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Biden’s empty political theater on LGBTQ equality

President is a nice man who lacks the passion to fight

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Joe Biden, gay news, Washington Blade
President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shortly before Joe Biden was inaugurated, LGBTQ Nation leaked a conference call between mainstream LGBTQ advocates and the president-elect in which he backed off repeated, forcible campaign promises to make passage of the Equality Act a top priority during his administration’s first 100 days.

I wrote an article criticizing him for reneging on his pledge. The Los Angeles Blade picked up my piece as an op-ed, and it went viral. I got a tremendous amount of feedback, much of it negative, more of it counseling patience, but now that a year has passed, let’s take a look at how things worked out.

In the first days of his presidency, Biden did vital work with pro-LGBTQ executive orders — redirecting the federal bureaucracy, which had become overtly homo/transphobic under Trump, and working to fix transgender military policy — but he never pushed for the Equality Act, which would have finally offered LGBTQ people status as free people in our own nation, protected by law from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, education, etc.

Without the Act, his executive orders won’t be worth the paper they’re written on when the next Republican president takes office.

Not only did President Biden fail to spend political capital to make the Act a top priority in his first 100 days, he never made it a priority of any kind.

Beltway insiders tell me the president did nothing behind the scenes to honor the pledge he made repeatedly to LGBTQ people in exchange for our votes. He did nothing publicly either. No national speeches. No fireside chats. No appeals to the better angels of the American people. He just stopped talking about the Equality Act, like if he never mentioned it again, we’d forget he promised to prioritize it.

The House passed the Act again this year, but it stalled in the face of Senate filibuster rules, which require 60 out of 100 votes for most legislation to pass. Progressive Democrats have been calling for ending or changing the filibuster since the day Biden took office, but not until last week did he announce support for changes, which brings us to the second half of today’s grievance.

In recent days, pressure has been intensifying on President Biden to lead on passing meaningful protections to counter strict new state laws that Republicans have been enacting to make voting more difficult, especially for Black voters.

Two federal laws proposed by Democrats, — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — would protect voter rights by (among other things) creating national standards for mail-in voting and restoring stripped-out elements of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans know the only way they can stay in power in many states is to suppress votes, especially the votes of Black people and other people of color. Republican senators fiercely oppose voter protection and will filibuster.

President Biden traveled to Atlanta last week to make a speech about supporting voter protection. Finally, after nearly a year in office, he indicated he might support changing the filibuster custom. The nation yawned. Black voters blinked. LGBTQ voters sighed in dismay.

A number of influential Black political activists in Georgia snubbed Biden’s speech, saying in advance they would not bother attending an event they called a “waste of time.” Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams was notably absent, which she and Biden both claimed was due to a scheduling conflict, but Georgia political insiders say she was sending the president a powerful message: Get serious. Take action. Stop with meaningless political theater, especially on my turf, where I’ve been doing the kind of real work you won’t do.

Obviously, the 50/50 Dem/Rep split in the Senate is not the president’s fault. Nor is he responsible for the recalcitrance of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. They have each refused to consider filibuster reform, and without their votes it can’t happen.

But does Biden even want filibuster change?

He has consistently served up weak tea on the issue, calling himself an “institutionalist” and an “incrementalist,” which Democratic leaders have taken to mean he either doesn’t support overhauling Senate rules, or that he won’t get tough on Democratic senators who vote against overhauls.

If Biden has tried even half-heartedly to strong-arm Manchin and Sinema, he has not done so in public. Beltway insiders say he hasn’t done anything, just like he hasn’t prioritized the Equality Act.

Meanwhile, while the Democratic Party led by Joe Biden waffles and drifts, the Republicans maintain tight party discipline and look set to take the House back this year. They will continue to push agendas cementing themselves in power, putting democracy itself in grave danger, and making life for minorities increasingly unequal, painful, and difficult.

We don’t care about your institutions, Joe. We don’t value Senate customs and traditions, which mean nothing to us beyond what they can or can’t accomplish. We care about action. We demand results. You promised to deliver, and you’re failing us. Now you choose to go to Atlanta and say some pretty words? Nobody wants pretty words, Joe. You can keep them.

Look, we know your heart is in the right place, but we want your muscle to be in the right place. We want you to take charge, to LEAD, to exercise some of the awesome power of your office.

We expect you to play to win, to twist arms, to name and shame, to do whatever it takes to keep the promises you made to us when you needed our votes.

You need to get serious, Mr. President. If you don’t start kicking ass and taking names, don’t count on us to vote for you again. I mean that. There’s a REASON you’re dropping precipitously in the polls. It’s us, man. It’s Democratic members of minorities fed up with your milquetoast, do-nothing, business-as-usual approach to crises we see as EXISTENTIAL. While Republican rank-and-file are telling pollsters they believe armed violence against the government may be desirable, and while they’re demonizing Black people, immigrants, and queer people, you’re acting like everything is relatively fine.

It’s not.

We voted for a champion, but we got you instead, a very nice man who evidently lacks the gonads to fight for us. Please turn that around. Please get real. Please get tough. Please start fighting to win.

Today would be an excellent day to start keeping your promises.

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and a frequent columnist for the Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Support the arts: See ‘Our Town’ at Shakespeare Theatre

In-the-round production features diverse, stellar cast

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When we finally had the chance to go to live theater again, the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) opened its doors with the pre-Broadway production of “Once Upon a One More Time” with Britney Spears’ music. It was a risk Simon Godwin, STC’s artistic director, took and it succeeded. Seats filled beyond expectations with many who had never been to an STC production before.

Now it’s hoped many of those new theatergoers will come back to see the classic play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. It will be at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) Harman Hall, Feb. 17-March 20. Many of those new audience members could find it a memorable and deeply thought-provoking night in the theater. 

The play is being directed by the talented D.C. resident Alan Paul, associate artistic director of the STC. Paul is a Helen Hayes award-winning director of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and has numerous Hayes nominations for productions, including “Comedy of Errors”; Studio Theatre 2ndStage “Silence! The Musical”; and “Man of La Mancha.” 

“Our Town” is Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play and its various productions over the years imbued audiences with a wonderful shared sense of humanity, something we are in desperate need of in today’s world. 

The play tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913. It’s told through the everyday lives of the people of the town. Through them and what some might see as their generally typical lives, we are led to understand some universal truths about life and death, love, and community. 

In looking at the cast Paul chose, I realized all the ones I knew were from our own community. When I asked him about this he told me, “When I decided to direct ‘Our Town,’ the only way to do it would be to use the riches of talent who live in Washington, D.C. I saw many people out of work during the pandemic — actors and freelance artists were hit the most — so when we decided to do this play, I wanted to get the best actors I could find and found them here and knew I wanted to showcase them.” Turns out the great talent in our city is very diverse. The cast is white, Black, Latino, Asian and includes four who, along with Paul, are part of the LGBTQ community — Holly Twyford, Tom Story, Sarah C. Marshall, and Christopher Michael Richardson, all brilliantly talented and known to the community from their previous roles in various theaters around the DMV. The rest of the talented cast includes: Felicia Curry, Elliot Dash, Natascia Diaz, Josh Decker, Eric Hissom, Hudson Koonce, Jake Loewenthal, Tommy Nelson, Chinna Palmer, Maisie Ann Posner, Suzanne Richard, Kimberly Schraf, Craig Wallace, Summer Wei and Travis Xavier. 

“Our Town” is introduced and narrated by the stage manager (Holly Twyford), who welcomes the audience to the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., early on a May morning in 1901. The play then follows the characters for 12 years through their everyday lives. After the stage manager’s introduction, the activities of a typical day begin. Howie Newsome (Christopher Michael Richardson), the milkman, and Joe Crowell, Jr. (Hudson Koonce), the paperboy, make their delivery rounds. Dr. Gibbs (Eric Hissom) returns from delivering a set of twins at one of the homes in town. Mrs. Gibbs (Natascia Diaz) and Mrs. Webb (Felicia Curry) make breakfast, send their children off to school, and meet in their gardens to gossip. 

What should make this show particularly exciting is for the first time at the Harman a play will be done in-the-round. The stage will be extended out into the theater and the audience will be seated around it with some seats actually on the stage. Some cast members may actually be in the audience and speak from their seats helping to bring the audience into the action. 

Paul also assembled a superb artistic team for this production including among others; Scenic Designer Wilson Chin, Lighting Designer Yi Zhao, Composer Michael John LaChiusa and Costume Designer Sarafina Bush.

The Shakespeare theatre will abide by all CDC and DC guidelines in place at the time to ensure the safety and health of its staff, actors, and patrons.

Supporting the arts is something we all should do; going to the theater is something all of us can enjoy. I have high hopes for a great night at the theater with “Our Town.” Tickets can be purchased online.

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

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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