How to explain the unlikely, perverse phenomenon of a gay Republican in 2020?
Delusion? Denial? Blinded by privilege? Daddy issues rendering them subservient to Master Trump?
Whatever the underlying issue, it’s truly sad to watch the once respected Log Cabin Republicans sink into further irrelevance. From Rich Tafel and Patrick Guerriero to R. Clarke Cooper and Patrick Sammon, Log Cabin has been led over the years by smart, committed advocates working to change the Republican Party from within. Whatever your views on the GOP, it’s important to fight from the inside, whether it’s inside political parties, organized religions, or sports leagues, to bring about change.
But 2020 is no ordinary year and Donald Trump is no ordinary president. Anyone who defends Trump’s indefensible behavior is lying to themselves. There’s no excusing racism, sexism, and transphobia. There’s no looking the other way when Trump allows his buddy, the murderous Vladimir Putin, to put bounties on the heads of American soldiers. And there’s no justification for snatching screaming toddlers from their mothers’ arms and locking them in cages.
Trump is running a criminal enterprise out of the people’s house; Steve Bannon is just the latest senior Trump official to be charged with felonies. What the hell more do people need to see to conclude that Trump is unfit for office, incapable and incompetent, and likely to leave Washington in handcuffs?
Despite the overwhelming and undeniable evidence, these hypocritical gay Republicans continue to carry water for their criminal master. The latest is Ric Grenell, the former acting Director of National Intelligence (key word: acting), who released an unintentionally hilarious video touting Trump as the “most pro-gay president in American history.”
In the Log Cabin-produced clip, Grenell refers to “gays and lesbians” throughout, notably eschewing the more common “LGBTQ.” That’s because while Trump’s attacks on gays and lesbians may be more subtle, his assault on the transgender community is overt and aggressive. From banning transgender service members from the military, to enacting an HHS rule that ends non-discrimination protections for trans patients, Trump has used the transgender community as a punching bag to score cheap points with his bigoted base.
In the video, Grenell criticizes Joe Biden for not congratulating him on his acting appointment. Maybe that’s because the short, temporary, non-Senate-confirmed appointment was roundly criticized by experts in the intelligence community due to Grenell’s stunning lack of experience. “This is a job requiring leadership, management, substance and secrecy,” John Sipher, a former CIA officer, told the New York Times. “He doesn’t have the kind of background and experience we would expect for such a critical position.” That’s quite the diplomatic understatement.
Grenell touts his experience as ambassador to Germany, another short-tenured post that led to widespread criticism about his inexperience and ham-handed efforts to interfere in internal German politics.
He references Trump’s purported effort to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, but that effort seems to exist in word, not in deed.
Grenell further criticizes Biden for his past anti-gay positions. Yes, Biden, along with most other Democrats and Republicans, has evolved on LGBTQ issues over the decades (as have a majority of Americans), but we must allow allies to grow, change, and ultimately fight with us.
By contrast, Trump’s assault on LGBTQ equality is long and well documented. From picking the notoriously homophobic Mike Pence — who doth protest too much — as his vice president, to naming a slew of hostile, right-wing judges to the federal bench, to advocating for so-called “religious freedom” carveouts to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination, Trump has undermined decades of work in just four short years.
Grenell isn’t the only gay toadie still standing in Trump’s corner. Robert Kabel, Log Cabin’s board chair and a former Reagan administration official, this week announced the impending release of his new book. In the press release announcing it, Kabel “is proud to call the GOP the true party of equality—not the Democratic Party.”
Again, these delusional sycophants cherry pick empty Trump gestures to justify their support while ignoring a tidal wave of attacks on LGBTQ Americans. Has Kabel read his own party’s platform?
The 2016 platform was recently re-adopted for 2020. As the Blade reported, “it calls for ending same-sex marriage either through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment, offers veiled support for widely discredited conversion therapy and objects to enforcing civil rights laws to ensure transgender people can use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Although the 2016 document doesn’t explicitly mention conversion therapy, it includes this line: ‘We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.’”
Grenell, Kabel, and the rest of Trump’s twisted enablers aren’t just on the wrong side of history, they’re on the wrong side of the law. LGBTQ voters see through these last-gasp attempts by his enablers to hang onto power. From the botched COVID response that has claimed thousands of American lives, to the stoking of racial division and support for white supremacists, to retreating from the climate change fight, and the rolling back of LGBTQ equality, Trump has shown the world he is unfit for the presidency. He knows that clinging to power by any means necessary is the only way he will avoid prison.
Instead of Grenell and Kabel, let’s look to Pete Buttigieg for inspiration. As he put it in his convention speech Thursday night, “I believe in this country because America uniquely holds the promise of a place where everyone can belong. … Joe Biden is right: This is a contest for the soul of the nation.”
Indeed it is. Some of us will emerge with our dignity intact. Others like Grenell and Kabel will have to explain how they sided with a monster who worked to dismantle our government, destroy our democracy, and harm members of our LGBTQ community.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade.
Examining the ‘Prejudices’ of Jane Austen
Cancel culture run amok or an honest assessment of author’s biases?
Recently, I listened to “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen on Audible. Savoring every word, I was transported to 19th century, Regency-era England. Immersed in the world of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and formal balls, I almost escaped from our troubled 21st century universe. As I sipped tea, racism, transphobia – past and present injustice – slipped from my mind.
Until a headline from The New York Times flashed on my screen: “A Jane Austen Museum Wants to Discuss Slavery. Will Her Fans Listen?”
This Jane Austen fan is listening. Nothing pricks up your ears more than seeing one of your favorite authors (a literary icon, no less) connected with slavery.
Last month, Jane Austen’s House, a museum on the life and work of Jane Austen, said that it would update its displays to include information on Austen’s and her family’s connection to slavery. (The museum in the English village of Chawton, has been only open virtually during the pandemic. It reopens for in-person visitors on May 19.) Austen, who lived from 1775 to 1817, resided in Chawton from 1809 until shortly before she died at age 41.
The exhibits reveal that George Austen, Jane Austen’s father, before he became a pastor, was a trustee of an Antigua sugar plantation. The displays note that Austen and her family, by drinking tea, eating foods with sugar and wearing clothing made of cotton, enjoyed products of the Atlantic slave trade.
Information is included on Austen’s views of abolitionists: Some scholars believe that Austen was against slavery. In 1807, the slave trade ended in the British Empire when King George signed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade into law.
Reaction to the new exhibits was fast and furious, The New York Times reported. “Woke madness,” thundered The Express. The Daily Mail said the museum had launched “a revisionist attack” and a “BLM-inspired interrogation” of Austen’s ritual of imbibing tea.
If you believe these rants, you’d think that Jane Austen’s House was trying to cancel Jane Austen: that we should stop appreciating her work because she drank tea and her family was connected to the slave trade.
Of course, this isn’t the intention of the museum that celebrates Austen’s work. Visitors increasingly ask about Austen and her family’s connection to the slave trade, Jane Austen’s House says in a statement. “It is therefore appropriate that we share the information and research that already exists on her connections to slavery and its mention in her novels,” the museum says.
It’s tempting to dismiss this dust-up as a tempest in a teapot. But that would be wrong.
This controversy calls our attention to one of the pressing issues of our time: How do we examine the prejudices of our icons, and should we cancel them and/or their work?
I’m thinking about two LGBTQ icons: Walt Whitman, born on May 31, 1819, and Adrienne Rich who died on March 27, 2012.
In his poetry, Whitman embraced democracy and inclusion. For his time, he wrote with remarkable openness about sexuality. If you’re queer, you feel represented in his poetry.
Yet, in his later life, Whitman believed racist pseudo scientific claims. He called Black people “baboons” and “wild brutes.”
Few poets are as beloved by the LGBTQ community as poet Adrienne Rich. Her poems have been a lifeline for queer women and gay men.
Yet, Rich advised Janice Raymond, who, in 1979 wrote the transphobic book “The Transsexual Empire.” Raymond wrote that transgender people “colonize feminist identification, culture, politics, and sexuality.”
In the face of racism and transphobia existing side by side with genius, Whitman’s dictum about the self containing multitudes and contradictions rings painfully true.
I’d be lying if I said I had a solution to this muddle.
But if we’ve learned anything since George Floyd’s death, it’s that we all have conscious and unconscious biases. If we cancelled artists who have prejudices from racism to transphobia, what art would be left?
Yet, if we don’t confront our cultural heroes’ prejudices, how will we live with ourselves or work toward justice? What type of art would be created?
I only know: we must live and struggle with these vitally important questions.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.
McAuliffe for governor of Virginia
His leadership has made a positive difference for so many
I support Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia. He is the best choice for Virginia Democrats in their primary and has the best chance of defeating any candidate Republicans choose to run against him.
Virginians know and respect him as a successful governor and a decent man. It was clear had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. His stellar record moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, on civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights make him the right choice.
The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. McAuliffe vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He oversaw the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Virginia and as his campaign notes was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.
He recently released his platform on LGBTQ rights and in a statement to the Blade said: “LGBTQ+ Virginians have faced discrimination and inequities for too long because of who they are or who they love. I am proud of the progress Virginia has made in protecting the LGBTQ+ community over the past eight years, but our work is far from over. As governor, I will fight my heart out to make Virginia the most open, welcoming and inclusive state in the nation, and break down the disparities that LGBTQ+ communities, and particularly communities of color, face in education, health care, the economy and more. Together, we’ll move Virginia forward into a better, brighter future for all.”
When it comes to women’s rights, as governor, McAuliffe staved off attacks by extreme Republicans who controlled the Virginia Legislature during his tenure. He fought for women’s health care rights and fought to keep open every women’s health clinic in the state. He vetoed legislation that would have harmed women, including a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia.
On civil rights he said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to reverse a racist Jim Crow law disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians. McAuliffe restored the right to vote to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions allowing them to fully participate in democracy.
He was good for business and during his one term as governor had a record of bringing more than 200,000 good paying jobs to the state and oversaw a lowered unemployment rate and an increase in personal income of over 13%. McAuliffe understood early investments in the state’s infrastructure would help the state to be a national leader in clean energy.
There is some discussion about whether McAuliffe should have stayed out of this race since there are two African-American women running. Some suggest he should have instead supported one of them. But like Joe Biden in his presidential race, McAuliffe has the support of a huge number of African Americans because they know him and many have personal relationships with him. A recent NBC news column quoted some African-American leaders who support McAuliffe. “I asked him to run,” said Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas, a leader of the state’s Black political establishment and a co-chair of McAuliffe’s campaign. She described McAuliffe as a “comfort level” choice in the midst of a pandemic.
State Del. Don Scott, who has a felony in his past said “McAuliffe encouraged him to run for the legislature two years ago at a time when others were counseling him against a campaign. He hasn’t forgotten that favor. He had my back, said Scott, a staunch McAuliffe supporter. He may have thought he was running [for governor in 2021], but nobody else came down here. He put in that work and built those relationships. And if he did that with me imagine the type of relationships he’s been able to build and relationships matter.”
Politics is often about the possible and yes one needs an inflated ego to feel “I am the best person to lead.” But in the case of McAuliffe his successes match his ego. His leadership has made a positive difference for so many people. It is those people who are responding to his candidacy and giving him a huge lead in the polls. They understand why in December 2017, McAuliffe was named “Public Official of the Year” by GOVERNING magazine. Virginians should give McAuliffe a second term.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate
Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee
It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.
Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.
Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.
Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.
Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.
Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.
Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.
Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.
These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:
- Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
- Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
- Sen. Albert Torres – Against
- Sen. Ada García – Against
- Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
- Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
- Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
- Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
- Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
- Sen. Marially González – Absent
- Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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