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What’s at stake for LGBTQ rights in Massachusetts

Facing down major threat to equality in November

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(Photo by Estrogin via Creative Commons)

On Nov. 6, the LGBTQ movement will face one of the single biggest threats to equality in recent memory. Anti-transgender activists in Massachusetts have secured the country’s first statewide popular vote on an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. The legislation passed with a bipartisan supermajority in 2016 and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, providing protections for transgender people from discrimination in public places like restaurants, stores and hospitals. The activists seeking repeal of this law have publicly stated that, if successful, they will seek to roll back nondiscrimination protections for the entire LGBTQ community in states nationwide. The outcome of this vote could fuel our opponents’ attacks for years to come, and the national stakes for our community could not be higher.

Yes, it’s “blue” Massachusetts. Yes, 2018 may bring a “blue wave.” But two recent polls show this is a 50/50 fight – and that’s before repeal proponents have begun airing their ugly, misleading advertisements. We know voters across the political spectrum are vulnerable to our opponents’ scare tactics. We can take nothing for granted, and we have to work to earn every vote. That’s why Freedom for All Americans has been on the ground with Freedom for All Massachusetts – now the Yes on 3 campaign – since early 2017 going door-to-door talking with voters about what it means to be transgender and what nondiscrimination laws do and don’t do. Massachusetts led the country on marriage equality and it must serve as a firewall to stop the spread of discrimination.

This is not a challenge our movement asked for, but we can seize it as an opportunity. There’s no clearer way to demonstrate growth in public support for nondiscrimination protections than to win a statewide popular vote. The Yes On 3 campaign to uphold Massachusetts’ transgender protections is laser-focused on leveraging lessons learned from previous campaigns, introducing voters to transgender people, addressing concerns about safety and restrooms head on, and connecting the aspirations of our transgender friends and neighbors to the values we all share – freedom, liberty, kindness, and making sure everyone has a fair shot at success.

The truth is, anti-LGBTQ activists are in a race against the clock to capitalize on the fact that too few Americans yet personally know a transgender person. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that nearly nine in ten (87%) U.S. adults know someone who is gay or lesbian — one of the most important factors that determines whether a person supports marriage equality. In the same survey, only 3 in 10 (30%) said they know someone who is transgender. Opponents of rights for the LGBTQ community know that transgender equality is a relatively new issue for many people. They use protections for transgender people as a wedge issue to rollback existing protections for the entire LGBTQ community and to prevent passage of new protections. Winning this fight in Massachusetts opens the door to winning the full equality we seek for all LGBTQ Americans.

Just as we saw with efforts to win marriage equality, everyday Americans from all political backgrounds are moved to support transgender nondiscrimination measures by opportunities to become more familiar with transgender people. Massachusetts Republican Rep. Sheila Harrington summed this up best when she shared her personal journey from opposing to supporting transgender protections in a speech during the 2016 legislative vote stating: “I have had the opportunity to listen again and for many hours, to transgender people and their loved ones who have eloquently and courageously shared their stories and experiences. I have been well aware of the arguments made against transgender rights, because I once made them myself. But I also know now that they are wrong.”

In the current landscape of myths and lies about who transgender people are, our wins can not be taken for granted. And what we have learned from people like Rep. Harrington in states across the country is that logic and reason aren’t always enough to change minds on this issue. It’s when Americans realize that transgender people are their friends, family members and neighbors, working alongside them and sharing similar dreams to build a good life for themselves and their families, that minds are changed and hearts are won.

With hard work and a smart strategy, I know that when Massachusetts voters are asked whether to continue treating their friends, family members, and and neighbors with dignity and respect, they will vote Yes on 3. And when they do, our movement will be one step closer to demonstrating that America is ready for nondiscrimination protections nationwide. Volunteers are walking door-to-door to talk to Massachusetts voters about an America we all believe in – a place where all people have the opportunity to achieve their American dream, and to do so without fear of discrimination. We know that voters simply need the opportunity to get to know their transgender neighbors, and that’s why we need all hands on deck.

If you haven’t yet joined Yes on 3 in seizing this historic opportunity, now is the time. Go to www.FreedomMA.org to learn how you can phone bank from any zip code, take a “volunteer vacation” to Massachusetts to join our door-to-door canvassing efforts, and contribute financially.

 

Kasey Suffredini is the president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans and co-chair of the Yes on 3 campaign.

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Queer kids are not brainwashed

Trans children are real transgender people, not trend chasers

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In some conversations with progressive friends, my peers, despite their proclaimed liberal attitudes, voice concern over the fact that children can experiment with gender and sexuality. They say things like “kids are too young to question their gender…that seems dangerous” or “a lot of children are just following gender trends and are not actually trans.” Other friends state that they don’t believe that transgender children should have access to hormone blockers. 

All of these statements are bogus and harmful. Many people who question gender fluidity in children don’t realize that they themselves have been brainwashed into thinking, from a young age, that being cisgender and straight is the norm. It should not be the norm. In fact, queerness is ever more common now among Gen Z’ers, and this is because the youth of today are feeling more and more comfortable opening up about their different sexuality and gender from an early age. 

Being able to safely come out as trans or gay in high school is an extremely healthy process and greatly improves the mental health of kids who would otherwise struggle. In red states, and conservative high school districts, this kind of coming out is still difficult, and might even be banned in the future, if Republicans continue with their cruel agenda. But there is hope in progressive cities like Portland and New York, where students feel free to question cishet and straight standards. 

Much research points to the fact that trans children are who they say they are: real transgender people, and not trend chasers. Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, started running a long-term study on trans youth in 2013. Olson eventually amassed a group of more than 85 trans kids. Olson kept in touch with both the children and their parents over the years. Her team ultimately found that an overwhelming, vast majority of the children stayed consistent with the gender nonconforming identity they chose in childhood. In other words, these trans children were correct about their gender identity from a young age. The notion that children pick up trans identities as a “fad,” or are wrong about them, is outdated. 

We already know that Republicans are dangerous to trans children, and have already prevented them from receiving health care or playing sports in many red states. But what we need to stop is dialogue from progressive voices that discourages gender fluidity in youth. These statements from otherwise liberal leaning people are contradictory to the very values that Democrats stand for. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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A rare misstep for the amazing Nancy Pelosi

Taiwan trip a distraction amid good news for Democrats

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads a U.S. delegation in Taiwan. (Photo via Speaker Nancy Pelosi's official Twitter)

I have always supported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and continue to do so. She is an amazing woman. She has championed women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the rights of all minorities, and the rights of people with disabilities. She has worked hard to make our country a better and more equal place for all.

So seeing the repercussions of her trip to Taiwan playing out, with even the South Korean president avoiding a meeting with her, she must now realize the visit may have been ill timed. Speaker Pelosi is a smart woman and politician. I assume her insistence on the trip may have been a response to some promises she made to the Chinese community in her district and around the nation. She has always been a strong supporter of human rights and has criticized the Chinese government in the past. She recently tweeted, “28 years ago, we traveled to Tiananmen Square to honor the courage & sacrifice of the students, workers & ordinary citizens who stood for the dignity & human rights that all people deserve. To this day, we remain committed to sharing their story with the world. #Tiananmen30.” 

The question some are asking is did this trip do anything for the people of Taiwan or could it potentially hurt the people there and here if China decides to restrict trade and begin new sanctions?

As the Washington Post reported, “The visit lasted barely 19 hours. But Nancy Pelosi’s contentious trip to Taiwan was a defining moment in the increasingly bitter rivalry between China and the United States. A fuller picture of the Chinese response will emerge over the coming weeks and months, and there are already signs it will encompass greater economic as well as military coercion. Whatever the final shape of Beijing’s retaliation, Pelosi’s visit heralds a new phase in China’s efforts to control Taiwan’s fate — and those measures are likely to increase the risk of conflict with U.S. forces in the western Pacific.” The New York Times said,  “Ms. Pelosi’s visit was ill timed” and called it “provocative.”

I would never question the speaker’s commitment to the human rights of the Chinese people. But at this time, as the third in line to the presidency, there may have been some unintended ramifications from what she did and what the implications could be. I think the very unusual may have occurred, and the speaker may not have considered everything. The trip was likely spurred on by her knowledge this is likely to be her last year as speaker and this was the last time she could arrange for such a trip having the clout she does. I think Speaker Pelosi may be thinking about what she did and if it was worth adding this to the international problems the White House is now facing.

We are living in interesting and difficult times. With the help of Speaker Pelosi for the first time in a while the Biden administration and Democrats are having an incredible run of successes here at home. Passing the first gun control bill in decades, the infrastructure bill, the chips bill, and now the Senate has passed the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” as a reconciliation package. The nation added 528,000 new jobs in July and unemployment is at the lowest it has been, matching pre-pandemic times, at 3.5%. Gas prices are steadily going down and inflation has likely peaked. Then there is the vote on the abortion amendment in Kansas, which the pro-choice side won by nearly 60/40 in a landslide definitely not predicted in that very red state. So, poking the Chinese at this time, generating negative headlines, doesn’t make much sense. I hope it will be only a blip in time.

This week we will see Pelosi do what she does best. She will move the House of Representatives to pass impactful legislation. She will keep her small Democratic majority together to pass the ‘Deficit Reduction Act of 2022’ and send it on to the president to sign. In 2018, she cut a deal to become Speaker for two more terms. That time is now coming to an end. If the Democrats manage to hold the House of Representative much of the credit must go to her. Should she then actually leave the speakership, the next speaker will have the unenviable task of trying to fill those four-inch stiletto heels. 

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

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Monkeypox is a gay thing — we must say it

Will there be stigma, judgments, and homophobia? Of course

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The mainstream media and public health officials are being so damn careful not to label monkeypox “a gay disease” that they’re doing a disservice to the gay men who most need important information about the outbreak – while misleading everybody else.

In a July 28 New York Times story of the excruciating symptoms and lack of care available for those with monkeypox in that city, the sexuality of the men profiled isn’t referenced until 11 paragraphs into the story, and even then it refers to them as “men who have sex with men,” which is technically correct but dodgy. Moreover, the article, which supposedly addresses barriers to care, ignores the fact that gay men routinely experience apathy and even judgment from health providers.

Other media stories, and statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have mentioned monkeypox cases in the context of “the LGBT community.” Really? Should lesbians be lining up for a monkeypox vaccine, whenever the heck they become widely available? This is happening to gay men. Say it.

Journalist Benjamin Ryan, in his excellent Washington Post opinion piece, draws a hard line between attempts not to unnecessarily stigmatize gay men and the importance of telling the truth about monkeypox, writing that “public health officials cannot be expected to police the public’s reactions to epidemiological facts.”

Ryan lays out those facts plainly:

Here is what we can discern from data collected about monkeypox so far: This viral outbreak isn’t just mostly occurring among men who have sex with men. The confirmed cases, at least to date, have consistently almost entirely occurred among this demographic, which accounts for 96 percent or more of diagnoses where data are available.

Per capita, the few monkeypox cases in women and children remain minuscule compared with the rate among gay and bisexual men. Of course, substantial transmission could always occur among such other groups. But researchers at the WHO and elsewhere have speculated that the monkeypox reproduction rate will likely remain significantly lower in such demographics — meaning the virus will more likely hit transmission dead ends among them than among gay and bisexual men.

An uncomfortable truth, one documented in peer-reviewed papers, is that sexual behaviors and networks specific to gay and bisexual men have long made them more likely to acquire various sexually transmitted infections compared with heterosexual people. This includes not only HIV, but also syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted hepatitis C.

Global public health experts agree that skin-to-skin contact in the context of sexual activity between men has been the principal driver of the monkeypox outbreak, at least thus far.

Such experts have also asserted that the risk of monkeypox to the broader population not having multiple sex partners remains low — even “very low.” This is hopeful news, and the wider public deserves to be reassured accordingly. Assuaging fears of contagion will help fight unhelpful hysteria and prevent gay and bisexual men from being subjected to even greater stigma should they be painted as culprits of the spread of virus to others.

Monkeypox didn’t begin with gay men, that much is true. As Yale infectious disease expert Gregg Gonsalves explained to the New York Times, “This is not a gay disease; it has been circulating in West and Central Africa for many years… What likely happened, in this case, is that somebody who had monkeypox had a lesion and showed up at a gay rave in Europe, and it spread to those in that social and sexual network.”

Whatever the origins, we’re now dealing with an outbreak almost entirely limited to gay men in the United States and Europe. And that is worth saying explicitly.

Why? Because identifying those at risk and getting information to them is a basic public health strategy for containing an outbreak. Gay men are getting monkeypox and suffering greatly. When gay men understand the threat, we are more likely to take precautions, get vaccinated, or be informed about treatment.

Will there be stigma and judgements and homophobia? Of course. And we’ll have to deal with that. But that doesn’t mean we bury crucial facts in vague, evasive messaging.

Monkeypox is a gay thing. That’s the truth.

Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, speaker, and HIV/AIDS activist who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985.

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