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Term limits, retirement at 80 for Congress, Supreme Court

Rethinking the rules of our democracy

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State of the Union, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

We are approaching the time to seriously discuss term limits and a mandatory retirement age for Congress and the Supreme Court. While never before a proponent of either looking at the current members of Congress and the court has me rethinking my position. Doing this would require a constitutional amendment, which is unlikely to pass today; but it is something worth having a national discussion about. Also included in the discussion should be doing away with the Electoral College.

For years the percentage of voters actually voting in a presidential election has hovered in the 50-58 percent range. There are many reasons for the low numbers and much lower ones in midterm elections. A major one might be people no longer think it matters. Young people and millennials apparently don’t believe they have a connection to the people leading our nation.

The Democratic Party has a number of politicians who will be 80 or within spitting range of it saying they are actively considering running for president in 2020. Others nearing that age will be in line to become president due to the office they hold. There is a mandatory retirement age for membership on many corporate boards and other jobs such as airline pilots and air-traffic controllers have mandatory retirement ages. Currently in the U.S. Senate, 25 members (or 25 percent) are over 70 and eight members are over 80.

Any discussion on term limits should look at whether the current two-year term for members of the House of Representatives makes sense. With today’s need to raise exorbitant amounts of money to run; members find the day after they are sworn in they must start running for reelection. It might make more sense to have a four-year term for members of the House. Then we should consider a six-term limit allowing members to serve up to 24 years. If Senate terms remain at six years there could be a four-term limit allowing them up to 24 years in office. Instead of lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court it might make sense to apply a 24-year limit on service. These limits would allow people to serve for what is generally considered a full generation. Then the retirement age could be applied to all of them.

The idea of asking people to retire at 80 will be attacked as ageist and the concept of term limits has been attacked by those who say term limits already exist because voters have the right to not reelect someone. Up until recently I agreed. But today there are people running for the Senate who will be nearly 90 when their term ends and others, one in South Florida, running in a primary to be a freshman member of the House when she will be nearly 80 when sworn in should she win. Considering achieving seniority in the House today takes about 10 years, she would have to be reelected five times and would be nearly 90 by that time.

If we are serious about getting young people and a generation of millennials to vote it might be easier if we aren’t asking them to vote for candidates who are old enough to be their grandparents or great grandparents.

This is not to say there aren’t many people age 80 and over who are able to do their jobs. But reality is anyone who has followed the careers of the septuagenarians and those older in Congress closely over the past few years has seen they, like others their age, do start to slow down. Now members of Congress are given large staffs to work for them and members of the Supreme Court don’t have that heavy a load; but we must question why they wouldn’t want to step off center stage and allow younger generations to take the reins of leadership. It can be assumed some of the reason involves ego but that shouldn’t be enough to keep them there.

There are many opportunities for those of us over 70 to make use of the experience and the wisdom we have gained over the years. We can advise young people and mentor them if they ask as they move up in their careers. There are countless non-profit organizations that would welcome a former member of Congress working with them. And nothing would stop them from becoming advisers to a new generation of politicians. They won’t need the money because if they are of retirement age after 24 years of service they are provided with generous pensions and healthcare for life.

I am not naïve enough to think this will happen right away but it should be part of the discussion on how we can improve our political system and make the Congress and the court more representative of what the country looks like today and what it will look like in the future.

 

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

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CPAC attack on trans rights is a pathway to authoritarian gov’t

Speaker advocated eliminating ‘transgenderism’

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on March 4. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Earlier this month, activists and thought leaders from across the country met in Maryland for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly called CPAC. Speakers and presenters from all walks of conservative life, including former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and former Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro, met across several days and spoke on a multitude of issues impacting conservatism today.

One of them, a commentator and host with The Daily Wire named Michael Knowles, plunged the audience head-first into the culture war. Speaking to a crowd, he said, “for the good of society […] transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Shortly after Knowles’ speech, social media lit up, and prominent advocates for the trans community and several media outlets criticized him for wanting to eradicate the transgender community. Knowles denies these claims and has called on media outlets to retract articles stating as such. Meanwhile, conservatives supportive of Knowles and transgender individuals have fought over the overarching meaning of eradicating “transgenderism” from public life.

So what is “transgenderism,” and does it truthfully differ from transgender people? Above all else, why does this language matter so intensely? 

The term “transgenderism” is not a formal medical category or classification. The phrase for transgender people has evolved over the years to include such words as transsexual and gender dysphoria, but never “transgenderism.” 

It’s also not a social term actively embraced by most—if virtually any—recent transgender individuals due to its implicit politicization. Transgender history is full of stories detailing identity and self-discovery, many erratically spread across books, zines, and personal stories. For those instances where the term “transgenderism” does appear, it is significantly more descriptive. For example, in the 1994 text “Transgender Nation” by Gordene Olga MacKenzie, “transgenderism” acts as a term similar to how homosexuality is applied to the gay and lesbian community and encompasses the general state of being a person who is transgender.

Meanwhile, a simple Google Books search from the past several years using the phrase yields a plethora of charged texts, many of them highly critical of legal and social advancements made by the trans community — and occasionally critical of transgender individuals themselves. Often, these texts portray “transgenderism” as a deliberate ideology akin to how one voluntarily upholds conservatism or libertarianism. In another literary example, the 2020 text 2+2=5: How Transgenderism is Redefining Reality by Katie Roche, the term is frequently used as a broad catch-all, including pursuing affirming medical care, publically expressing your identity, and even accessing other transgender individuals in the broader world for the sake of a sense of community.

So when Knowles says he wants the eradication of “transgenderism” yet bristles when people say that means transgender people, he is making a distinction without a difference.

Since 2015, the phrase has slowly grown in popularity, with Google Trends showing an increase in its overall consistency—incidentally coinciding with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and the beginning of the “bathroom bill” discourse. For social conservatives, the phrase has gradually taken life to strike at the heart of identity itself. From changing your legal name and amending your birth certificate to openly respecting and honoring the individuality of others, it seeks to subsume any action or concept seemingly legitimizing transgender identities in public life.

Simply stated, everything that validates the dignity and conceptual existence of a trans person is inherent in so-called “transgenderism.” It’s irresponsible not to acknowledge the colloquial use of the phrase in conservative circles. Those concerned are rightfully alarmed when used at a platform such as the CPAC mainstage during a national culture war.

On a recent episode of his show hosted by The Daily Wire, Michael Knowles justified his thinking by stating that the transgender community does not exist. “[W]e ought not to indulge the transgender false anthropology, you know, that, one is a little bit different in that transgender people is not a real ontological category,” he stated, “it’s a euphemism to describe deeply confused men and women who ought to have psychological and spiritual help.”

While everyone should take notice of these words, conservatives and proponents of a smaller government should particularly be alarmed by this way of thinking and specific use of language. Such reasoning relies on the concept that transgender people are not a real group of people—something transgender people and their families would find disagreeable—therefore, it’s not an identity to suppress but rather a social and mental deviancy to fix. To that end, all cultural development and social actions openly validating a trans person in any form encourage that deviancy and are part of the broader scope of “transgenderism” seen in public life. 

When juxtaposed with his overarching philosophy, his statement should perturb those who value the principles of tolerance and uphold the principles of limited government as it applies to government intrusion into individual identities. Moreover, it would require a degree of regression beyond the scope of the push for basic LGBTQ tolerance from several decades ago, let alone the acceptance earned in the past ten years. Such a regression would imply a society that has removed or withdrawn from all forms of social recognition, medical advancements, and institutional pathways that allow someone to transition and be what is regarded in modern culture as a transgender person.

And suppose you are someone who has gender dysphoria or otherwise feels your gender identity is incongruent with what was understood at the time of your birth. In such a society, your neighbor should not respect or acknowledge you as you are but rather pity you for being mentally unwell until you one day believe with as much sincerity as them that your concept of self is wrong. 

What exactly happens when minds don’t change, or individuals inevitably refuse to hold malice against their neighbors in this hypothetical society, has yet to be examined. What is known, however, is that efforts to force someone out of their identity are not well received. For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “lifetime exposure to [gender identity change efforts] was significantly associated with multiple adverse outcomes, including severe psychological distress during the previous month and lifetime suicide attempts.”

With political conservatives straining under the weight of a national culture war, allowing this form of speech to reverberate without context is a reckless pathway to a more authoritarian government. It denies the antagonistic usage of the phrase and perpetuates a misnomer. Moreover, it denigrates transgender individuals in alarming words and betrays the values of conservatives and libertarians who preach tolerance and freedom from state suppression. 

Jordan Willow Evans is a policy analyst and writer living in Goffstown, N.H. She is chair of the Libertarian Policy Foundation and treasurer of MassEquality, the leading Massachusetts statewide queer organization. 

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When Discr33t_T0P’s a discreet cop

Law enforcement creating fake profiles to trick people into revealing intimate information

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The headless torso with the cheeky username that just tapped you on Grindr might not be the person you’re hoping them to be. American law enforcement, including FBI and DHS, now create fake profiles on dating apps and social media to trick people into revealing their most intimate information. Police in Florida created fake profiles on Grindr and Scruff to arrest 60 people allegedly linked to drug sales. Black activists who organized and attended protests in Minneapolis were victims of catfish cops; a 2022 report from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights showed that the Minneapolis Police Department utilized fake social media profiles to surveil Black leaders and organizations. Police went so far as to send messages asserting they had met individuals at protests. 

These surveillance techniques are the modern incarnation of the FBI’s “Sex Deviate” program during the Lavender Scare era, only this time it’s not just the FBI you need to worry about. With the criminalization of drag in states like Tennessee, state and local law enforcement are further empowered to target the queer and trans community. For LGBTQ activists, especially those who are Black, there is a high likelihood of being surveilled through a hookup app. 

Imagine you just had a long day standing outside the local drag story hour facing down bigots calling you a groomer from behind a line of their state-sponsored protection units. James, a faceless torso messages you asking if you were also at the counter-protest. James thought it was pretty cool that a few people actually physically pushed back against the homophobes and is wondering if you know who organized the counter-protest, so you invite him to a closed Facebook group. The next thing you know, your friends are being slapped with assault charges and your Grindr conversation with James is being used as evidence against them – just like in Florida.

While some tech companies like Meta make a show of pushing against these practices, they do nothing to actually stop the abuse of their platforms by law enforcement. Without legislation prohibiting fake profiles, cops will continue to catfish and surveil you. As anti-drag protests rise with the escalation of trans/homophobic rhetoric, LGBTQ people engaging in protest of any form should remain vigilant. Protest is hot, and although it is extra titillating to imagine organizing with a potential hookup, it could be Lieutenant Jones on the other end carefully gathering information to be used against you. 

Unfortunately, law enforcement doesn’t only rely on fake profiles to get information about you. Geo-location features, which conveniently let you know that MascTop4bttm is 2ft away, are another tool that law enforcement can use to track protesters. Many companies sell this information to third parties, often to facilitate targeted advertising. Although Grindr asserts that it underwent a policy change in 2020, limiting the information they share, some think it was too little too late. Just last week, The Washington Post reported that a conservative Catholic group spent millions to track priests on gay hookup and dating apps in Colorado, sharing the data with bishops nationwide. Across many platforms, a whole host of information that can ultimately be traced back to you is still currently sold to third parties. These third parties include law enforcement who use data purchasing as a way to skirt the law and avoid obtaining warrants from judges – some of which are also unconstitutional

After a record-setting year in 2022, the attack on trans and queer rights seems to only be ramping up across the country. In New York, Senate Bill S9247 the “Stop Fakes Act” would prevent law enforcement officers from creating fake social media profiles and allow for anyone whose information was gathered through a fake profile to file a civil action against the offending agency for monetary damages. Protest is an integral part of LGBTQ history and community. Until states outlaw surveillance tactics like fake profiles, protesters must protect themselves and their data. Companies that profit off the LGBTQ community should create products that provide the highest level of protection regardless of legislation. The library may be open, but our data isn’t for anyone else to read.

Derek Smith is a law student at the City University of New York and the Spring 2022 Civil Rights Intern at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

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Democrats, including the LGBTQ community, must stick together to win

Ensuring our campaigns resound with the most general election voters

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(Photo by chrisd2105/Bigstock)

As we watch with revulsion what Republicans are doing, both in Congress, and in state legislatures, it is clear the diverse members of the Democratic Party must stick together if we are to have any chance of winning in 2024.

To do that will require we understand, and accept, that in 2024 it will not be only about us individually, rather about ALL of us, collectively. All of us who are being demonized by Republicans. That includes the LGBTQ community, the African-American community, and Asian and Latino communities. It includes women who are being stripped of their right to control their own healthcare by Republicans. Republicans who are trying to take away voting rights, and pretend climate change doesn’t exist. Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, who want us to return to isolationism and retreat from world leadership. 

Therefore, if we want to move forward, each of us must accept our Democratic candidates may not be highlighting every issue we want them to, every day, in their campaigns. They might not mention LGBTQ issues in every speech. They might not talk about the Equality Act in every speech. They might not talk about protecting drag queens in every speech. But we must understand if they lose, and we lose Congress, the presidency, state houses and legislatures, we will all lose. 

Some Democrats questioned the response of the president and senators to Republicans in Congress going after the D.C. crime bill, asking why a Democrat would not stand strong for D.C. home rule. I have spoken out saying while their response may be a threat to home rule, and one I objected to, crime is an issue across the nation. They saw what happened to Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and determined this action on their part was needed if they are to win in 2024. If Democrats lose the presidency and Senate in 2024, home rule for D.C. will only be one of the many things we could lose. 

So Democrats must play our cards right and ensure our campaigns resound positively with the most general election voters. Those voters are becoming more moderate and crime is striking fear in them. This is not about changing the minds of the 30% of Trump voters in the party of Trump. We will never get their votes. It is about making sure the voters we need will come out and vote for Democrats. Those voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona. 

So yes, I want the Equality Act passed. After all, I was working for Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) when she first introduced it in 1974. But even more important now is re-electing a Democratic president and holding the Senate. That will enable us to continue to nominate and confirm judges, who with lifetime appointments, will protect us for decades. 

We must focus on electing Democratic governors who will protect us from Republican legislatures we might not win. There are 11 states with gubernatorial elections in 2024. Only three with incumbent Democrats and one in a red state, Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina, is term limited. Keeping that seat will not be easy. There are 33 Senate seats up for election in 2024. Of those, 10 are currently held by Republicans, 20 by Democrats, and three by independents. Clearly, we are at a disadvantage. So, we must all recognize in the Senate it is often the first vote a senator casts that is the most important. That is the vote for Majority Leader. So even a Democrat you may not like, such as Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), can cast a vote for Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and give Democrats control of the agenda, and if we have 51, control of committees. So, I say to the LGBTQ community, and every other minority community and women voters: Even if you must hold your nose when you vote, vote for the Democrat. Life for all of us will be so much worse if Republicans take control.

This is a year in which Democrats, especially in close Districts, should not be running primaries against incumbents who have shown they can win. This is not the time for progressives in the party to show they can win a primary, but then see their candidate lose in the general election. 

It is the general election results that will determine how we can live our lives. Whether we will be able to move forward, even if not as fast as we want, instead of having Republicans take us back into the dark ages.

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

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