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Generation Grit

America is only just beginning to understand its relationship to racism



When I was eleven years old, my best friend was an 80-, perhaps 90-year-old woman named Myrtle Friedman. Myrtle lived alone next door, on Second Street in Hailey, Idaho. Her two-story green stucco house was perched on the corner, just two blocks from Main Street. I would tend to her rhubarb, weed her vegetable garden, and listen to her tell stories. Myrtle had lived through both wars and the Great Depression. I got paid in hard candy, which I enjoyed in her formal living room as she told me about her life.  In that room (my family certainly didn’t have a formal living room), I felt protected from the insecurity and chaos of my own house and the looming threat of the Cold War. 

It’s hard to imagine the same little girl sheltering from the world in Myrtle Friedman’s house would grow up to become the owner of a business that employs 52 souls, most of them much younger than me. Ever since Millennials entered the workforce a decade ago, I’ve been relying on their energy and ideas to build my business. Now I am eager to start hiring from Gen Z. 

It is long past the time to quit disparaging these resilient generations. Among the many lessons this week of righteous civic upheaval has brought, one is that young people are shifting the national discourse. As difficult as our current era is, it’s living through an era ripe for lifting up new ideas and fostering new leaders. Luckily for us, I believe we may be looking at the two greatest generations, back-to-back, that this country has ever seen.

In his national 2020 commencement speech, President Obama reminded the nation’s graduates “to be alive to one another’s struggles.” In other words: it’s not all about you. Having built a business with a team of emerging professionals, I’m here to tell you that my staff not only understands this message but knows how to live it. This is not the young workforce of the greed-is-good 1980s: for the most part they are innovative, scrappy and interested in a mission-based approach to work. The young people who have helped me build my company are akin to snowflakes only in their humble grasp of the fact that snow melts fast, and survival depends upon sticking together.

Nowadays I spend quite a bit of time contemplating how to keep a roof over everyone’s heads given “these times.”  Not only my employees but the thousands of others whose homes we manage. In the COVID eraToday, managing property is also a public health responsibility. And our sector’s role in the economy isn’t insignificant: property managers are tending to our nation’s real estate in the shadow of what we’re now apparently calling the Greater Depression.  As a community-oriented business leader, I’m not crazy about the hand we’ve been dealt. But these days, everyone needs to learn how to play with a new hand.

I often lie awake thinking about my endless Zooming, about how everyone’s office decor has been replaced by the domestic backdrops of their colleagues and customers.  We’re so far apart, yet we’re inviting each other into our homes every single day.  I am so intrigued by the differences and similarities that tie our work families together. We commiserate over one another’s stir-crazy kids in the background, slow-clap as cats get settled on keyboards, and enjoy more canine workmates than ever before (and there were a lot before). We’re all living out the irony of intimacy at a distance.

 If our company’s revenues flounder and we have to lay people off, who is going to pay my employees’ rent and mortgages?  Who’s going to feed their human and fur families? Certainly not the current administration, whose one-time checks are slow in coming and not nearly enough. We can expect no help from a reality TV star playing politics, a man who hasn’t experienced an empathetic moment in his life, nevermind a sleepless night over payroll. 

Like most small business owners, I’m no stranger to struggle. I’ve struggled in my personal life, but in a way, I’ve also struggled because I’m an American–I’ve struggled in the way each of us has been struggling all along, without really understanding that our struggles aren’t normal, or necessary. As a Gen-Xer, a member of the beleaguered lost generation, I have lived through, and felt existential stress about, The Cold War, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, ketchup as a vegetable, 1980’s interest rates, AIDS, 9-11, and the great recession. For years I lived with the certainty that my family and I would be leveled, whether by a nuclear bomb or another layoff. But all this insecurity and uncertainty made me empathetic and gave me grit. 

Grit is currency in life, not to mention a requirement for small business owners in the U.S. In the end, our grit is what will get us through. Empathy is a requirement to be a decent human being, and in the end, our humanity is all we have. 

But when it comes to grit, my generation has nothing on Millennials, nevermind Gen Z, where opportunities are limited, and social anxiety is abundant. Our nation’s young people–the faces in my Zoom meeting grids–have come of age through 9/11, the great recession, crippling student loan debt, the housing market crash and now a global pandemic, and the highest unemployment rates the United States has ever seen, and a long-overdue national reckoning on race. We may as well be calling them Generation Grit. 

And yet, despite the historic struggles they’ve been through and are living every day, they’re also kind and empathetic: they understand that things are hard, they listen to and validate one another’s feelings, they grasp their role as citizens of the planet and defenders of justice, and frankly (thanks, I suspect, to those much-maligned helicopter parents), their emotional intelligence is off the charts. 

This combination of empathy and grit is why, when many in corporate America were busy writing off Millennials as lazy and self-centered, I doubled down on the  generation. It’s also why I’ll be first in line to start onboarding the graduates of 2020 and beyond.

 I’ve learned through years of experience–not to mention through the empathy of people like Myrtle Friedman, who bore gentle witness to my anxiety, that being alive to the struggles of others is not just a sign of a good human being but it’s also good for business. 

As an employer in COVID times, what’s my responsibility to the Millennials on my team, and to the Gen Z workers soon to be joining the workforce? How do I keep a formal living room open to them?  I want to provide this space not just for them but also for myself.  I am comforted by the vision and drive of today’s emerging generations: their determination and fearlessness give me hope for humanity. I see now that Myrtle must have felt much the same about me, a brooding girl with a vision for a better world. 

In 12 years, I’ve grown my property management business from a little adobe duplex that made me an accidental landlord, to a very intentional landlady running a family of companies that manage more than a billion dollars in assets. I’ve done it all within a corporate culture of empathy and emotional and social well-being. I’m glad to report I’ve seen a remarkable return on investment–unlike many in our field, we’re still standing strong, not to mention pivoting, innovating, adapting, and charging full speed ahead. 

Humanity is only at the beginning of this pandemic and, America is only just beginning to understand its relationship to racism. When we come out of this crisis, we’ll be facing a very different world. Let’s not treat Gen Z with suspicion and judgement, like we did to the Millennials.  My bet’s on their resilience, and their heart. Let’s give them some credit, and some respect. Let’s greet them with a loving embrace, capture their ideas, and welcome what will certainly be the grittiest generation in generations.  



Key West doesn’t need more, or bigger, cruise ships

Seeking a balance of ‘environmental protection and sustainable tourism’



(Photo by Miami2you/Bigstock)

There is a fight today about whether they should let more, and bigger, cruise ships dock in Key West. The New York Times recently wrote about it. As someone who has spent many memorable vacations in Key West, I side with those who say “no” to more cruise ships. The organization Safer, Cleaner, Ships, is fighting to keep more, and larger, ships, out of Key West. They have the right idea. 

The question that should be asked is: “What kind of an island do the people living on Key West want?” And the answer should drive the decision of the Florida Legislature, and Governor DeSanctimonious. Unfortunately, it may be decided based on political donations the governor received. One resident of Key West, Christopher Massicotte, co-founder of Duval Street Media, said, “Key West voters overwhelmingly supported reducing cruise ship size, and the number of daily disembarkations. Then greedy Mark Walsh, who owns the dock, went straight to the governor and the legislature asking them to overturn the will of the people for his own financial gain, greased with a $1 million contribution to DeSantis’s campaign for president. The citizens of Key West aren’t trying to stop all cruise ship traffic, or bring the city back to ‘The good old days.’ We are trying to create a balance of environmental protection and sustainable tourism.”  

I cruise regularly and love it and have traveled to Alaska on a cruise and woke up one morning on the ship in Ketchikan, to step out on the balcony and see six massive ships, and hundreds of busses on the pier, ready to take passengers on tours. In Key West, that won’t happen. Instead, the thousands of passengers will not get on busses, rather throng the main street (Duval), from one end of town to the other, making it look more like Times Square, instead of a sleepy little island, which is what always attracted people to the idea of Key West. It is what attracted Hemmingway. It attracted President Truman to set up his winter White House. Everyone going to visit Key West heads to the Southernmost Point in the U.S. to snap their photo. One doesn’t need thousands more people heading there all at once. Just the thought of this would have Hemmingway and Truman turning over in their graves.

I always thought Key West did fine with an airport, and people coming to visit by car, then staying in a hotel, or guesthouse. I often stayed at one of the great little guesthouses, or some of the smaller hotels, on the island. I remember the larger ones being on both ends of Duval Street. There were great bars and restaurants, and you could amble down Duval slowly, enjoying the sound of the music coming out of the bars — think Jimmy Buffett.

I loved Key West when it was a gay Mecca, having the first openly gay mayor of a city. At the time there were lots of gay guesthouses and clubs. I remember dancing at the Copa, and there was the dock on the southern side of the island, next to the one tiny beach, which locals called ‘dick dock.’ It was a great spot for nude sunbathing, as was the pool at the Southernmost Motel. That period ended when the gay community moved to South Beach in Miami. Key West is still welcoming to the LGBTQ community. There is the iconic La Te Da hotel, on Duval Street, with its tea dance. Performing there is another Key West icon, Christopher Peterson, a female impersonator extraordinaire. Christopher said, “Unfortunately I don’t think we need to dredge again the beautiful coral reef we live on, just to have 10,000 more people here for six hours, adding nothing to the economy because they eat and drink on the ship for free.” He added, “Bigger is not always better unless it’s in the bedroom…. king-size bed…. dirty minds!”

Numbers can always be used in many ways, but the Times column reported “Before the pandemic, nearly a million people a year were visiting Key West aboard cruise ships. But when Covid-19 brought that to a halt, the city’s $2.4 billion tourism industry, responsible for 44 percent of its jobs, did not collapse. Instead, hotel tax revenue rose 15 percent, and with 1.4 million arrivals, the airport set a record in 2021.”

If that is enough revenue to keep Key West being the wonderful place it is to live and visit, it seems adding thousands of more day trippers out of cruise ships isn’t going to make the place better. Rather, it will hurt the environment, and make things worse.

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

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Most of America opposes Speaker Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ hate

No one should have their identity politicized so GOP can score points with its base



House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

When I was a kid, I was afraid to come out to my religious family – at the time, gay marriage was still illegal. Fortunately, times have changed: My family is supportive of me for who I am and I now plan to marry my partner one day. But the newest speaker of the House jeopardizes that dream, making me fear the life I have planned with the person I love will soon fall out of reach.

Recently, after three weeks of chaos, the House of Representatives elected Mike Johnson (R-La.) as speaker. His extremist rhetoric and horrific record of discrimination toward the LGBTQ community doesn’t represent where most of America is – but it does clue us into the priorities of today’s Republicans.

The love that I and my partner have built over our three years together is the same as straight couples. Yet Johnson’s legislative record flies in the face of that as he’s argued to uphold bans on same-sex marriage, sought to ban inclusion of gay couples in employment benefits, and compared gay marriage to bestiality. It’s impossible to feel optimistic that, with a background like that, Johnson will protect my rights during his tenure.

The entirety of my community feels the same apprehension. My coworker, Mads Stirling, who came out as a nonbinary trans person in 2021, has the same fears that I do. They found that being empowered to live as their authentic self through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and changing their driver’s license gender marker improved their mental health. 

“But even as I was transitioning with the crucial support of family, friends, coworkers, and the local government, I felt terrified as I watched Republican-led states roll back rights for trans people,” Mads said.

Johnson contributed to the dangerous climate that spurred these attacks, speaking in favor of banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth and joining a contingent of politicians who proposed more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. in 2023. In his new role as speaker, Johnson could even help unravel important protections like federal nondiscrimination laws. 

It feels like our country is moving backward and that nowhere is safe for people with identities like mine. Having been there myself, my heart breaks for LGBTQ children who will hear the new speaker’s horrible homophobia and transphobia and feel unsafe being their authentic selves. No person, least of all children, should have their identity politicized so the Republican Party can score points with its members. 

It is appalling that while 70% of Americans support gay marriage, we have a speaker who opposes it. It is appalling that while gender-affirming care reduces suicidality in trans adults and children, we have a speaker that wants to deny life-saving care to them. It is appalling that, in 2023, a person in power can spread such hatred toward a group of people for simply existing.

The Speaker of the House should be a voice for all Americans, representing our interests and embodying the role of a leader. But as a gay Black man, it is impossible for me to feel that Johnson — and the Republican Party he answers to — can ever represent us when they work so actively against us.

The Republican Party and Mike Johnson have demonstrated over and over again that protecting and uplifting LGBTQ+ people is not a priority. We expect Johnson intends to serve only his own party’s extremist agenda by further isolating and oppressing LGBTQ people — after all, they maneuvered him into power. We fear the erasure of LGBTQ identities entirely by disappearing us from public life and making our private lives intolerable by criminalizing our families and our healthcare.

America deserves better than Mike Johnson. We can never tolerate nor normalize Johnson’s hateful rhetoric toward LGBTQ people, and now that he has a national platform, it’s more important than ever to speak out and vote against the GOP’s extremist policies. We must continue our work to elect representatives that will champion LGBTQ people and fearlessly defend their rights so that in the future, no one with views like these can assume a place in Congress. 

We deserve leadership reflective of the American people and that’s not Mike Johnson or the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ agenda.

Mike Griffin is senior electoral organizer for D.C.-based Community Change.

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This World AIDS Day, we must protect access to HIV medicines

We stand on the precipice of ending the epidemic



As a physician who has worked with patients living with HIV since the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, I’ve seen the darkness and the light.

Back then, it was a scary, anxious time—not only for patients, but also for clinicians. We lacked effective medical treatments. Patients swallowed handfuls of pills. These complex regimens often worked only for short periods of time and brought difficult side effects. Contracting HIV seemed like a painful death sentence—and one that too often lacked dignity, as many morticians then refused to embalm those who had succumbed to the disease. 

Today, the reality is much brighter. I now regularly counsel my patients who contract the virus to plan on living a full life into their golden years. With longer lives, more people now access prescription HIV drugs from Medicare than ever before. While we still lack a cure, we stand on the precipice of ending the epidemic because we know people cannot transmit the virus through sex when they have undetectable levels of HIV. This incredible step forward—a concept known as U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable—is due in large part to the steady supply of a wide variety of antiretroviral medications. So long as patients have access to quality care and the right medicine, HIV is now a manageable disease.

One important but unsung hero in this progress? An obscure federal law with long, bipartisan support, known as the “six protected classes” policy. It mandates that Part D prescription drug plans cover “all or substantially all” medications in six protected classes. It helps Medicare beneficiaries with some of the most serious health conditions: not only HIV, but also cancer, epilepsy, and those at risk of organ transplant rejection. Now that policy is under threat because pharmacy benefit managers—or the drug middlemen who decide which drugs your plans include and your pharmacy carries—are pressing the federal government to weaken the policy to pad their bottom lines.

For those living with HIV, the stakes could not be higher. Until we have a cure, patients must take drugs regularly and diligently for the rest of their lives. Thanks to decades of incredible innovation, there are now 23 different antiretrovirals in nine different drug classes available to those living with HIV. I have prescribed every single one. Sometimes, I’ll prescribe from nine different two- or three-drug single tablet co-formulated combinations to find the most effective option for a patient. 

While patients have more options, they still face challenges adhering to their regimen. Some experience a gap in coverage due to loss of insurance or a switch in plans. Copayments can become a financial barrier. Others might experience side effects or have conditions making a particular medication unsuitable. 

These antiretroviral medications are not interchangeable. If a patient doesn’t take the exact medicine they need, they risk side effects, problematic medication interactions, and possibly developing resistance to HIV. If the virus comes back, it is genetically unforgiving. Now resistant to an entire class, the virus steals precious options for the patient, particularly those who have been living with HIV for decades. To overcome this, I need—my patients need—every single option at their disposal. The only way I can keep my patients maximally suppressed, living well, feeling good, and able to live a full, healthy life is if they have access to the full range of drugs. 

We have come a long way. Over the past decade, we have driven new deaths down by 70 percent and new infections down by 40 percent worldwide. But this progress is not guaranteed. If we eliminate the number of antiretrovirals available to patients, the danger of a backslide into resistant strains of the virus is real. 

As we recognize World AIDS Day, let us not only remember the millions this disease has taken, but let us also recommit ourselves to the 40 million people worldwide living with HIV and many more who are at risk of contracting it. 

Let’s protect this critical federally protected drug class policy that has delivered so much progress. We can’t slide back into darkness. We must keep pushing forward into the light.

Dr. James A. Sosman is a recognized leader in the field of HIV/AIDS medicine and serves as medical director for the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center.

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