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We need to live up to our inclusive standards and claims

Attacking Pete Buttigieg because he is white is unfair

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at his confirmation hearing on Jan. 21, 2021. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I was born and raised in theocratic Iran, a country where the government denied my existence as a gay man. (Remember, “There are no gays in Iran.”) As a young gay boy coming of age in a conservative society and struggling with my sexual orientation, I was constantly bullied in high school. I was labeled the Farsi equivalents of a sissy and a f****t, and was an outsider with absolutely no friends. I didn’t see a future for myself as a gay man since I was pushed away and ostracized. I ached to belong to a group or community, but I didn’t belong to any. My family and relatives didn’t know the true me, and society didn’t want anything to do with someone like me. For a long time, I thought that I was the only person in the world who was gay. I never had an openly LGBTQ representation or role model to look up to and see myself in them, and I never thought I would see the day after tomorrow when “it will get better.” Those were lonely and dark times for me.  

On Feb. 3, when Pete Buttigieg was sworn in as the youngest secretary of transportation and as the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member in U.S. history, I was once again reminded of the necessity and power of representation. I find his selection and its positive consequences extremely important and thrilling. For the first time, an intelligent, successful, and hardworking person is representing our community in such a capacity on the national stage.  

From the day Pete Buttigieg ran for the Democratic presidential nomination I’ve gotten into multiple arguments about him with several of my dear friends. These friends are very strong advocates for inclusivity and had the luxury of coming out to very understanding families and friends. Their coming of age as LGBTQ individuals was a smoother process, and they had many out role models and representations to look up to.  However, they believe Secretary Buttigieg running as the first openly gay candidate for the highest office in the nation, and his confirmation as the first openly gay Cabinet member are not important. (Editor’s note: Fred Karger is the first openly gay man to run for president. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.) In fact, they find it shocking that a majority of the LGBTQ community is celebrating these milestones. Their arguments mostly revolve around the following two issues:

1) They believe he is not a good representative for the LGBTQ community because he lives a “heteronormative” lifestyle. They are using the same labeling mechanism that we reject as discriminatory, hateful and divisive against our community, to reject Secretary Buttigieg and his successes.

A) Who are we to judge others’ lifestyle and life choices? Isn’t that exactly the kind of judgement we as a community have suffered from for generations?

B) What is so heteronormative about a man who is married to another man anyway?! We claim to be a community of very diverse members. We have LGBTQ pastors, sex workers and everything in between. We have polyamorous open relationships, married monogamous couples with children and so much more in between. So why is it that suddenly Secretary Buttigieg doesn’t deserve to have a space on this wide spectrum that we call our LGBTQ family? He considers himself a cis man who doesn’t paint his nails but shares his last name with his husband. Why are his lifestyle and life choices and the individual that he is, fake and just a “show to get the support of as many straight and conservative people as possible?” Yet other lifestyle options in our family are genuine and real?  

2) My friends believe Secretary Buttigieg’s achievements are not significant and not worthy of celebrating because they are the outcome of his “white privilege,” and “he doesn’t acknowledge or recognize that privilege enough.” They have decided to generalize against a portion of our community and based on that generalization punish some of the members of our LGBTQ family for who they are. In this case, it’s Secretary Buttigieg, who was born in a white family.

A) I don’t think it is right nor fair to attribute every single achievement of a white person completely to their white privilege. This is as wrong and misguided as is denying the existence of white privilege.

B) We know that white privilege exists. Secretary Buttigieg himself has acknowledged it many times in several interviews and public engagements, for example, in his April 2019 interview with Trevor Noah. What is the solution for white privilege? Is it to punish the people who were born into it and strip them off of their achievements, even though we cannot quantify how much of their success was due to white privilege? Should all white people publicly acknowledge their white privilege several times a day for us to forgive them? Or is the solution looking at their current actions and beliefs to see how they address the issue of white privilege, how they lift up people of color, and then holding them accountable?

C) It is not a mystery that almost all of the first doors in this country were opened by white people. On top of white privilege, and aside from the first doors that were opened by non-white people and in history were recorded for white individuals, white people are statistically still the single largest racial group in the U.S. (census.gov states more than 60 percent as of 2019.) So simply based on the rule of probability, white people are more likely to open more doors first. Yes, I wish a Black, brown or even olive LGBTQ person was the first openly LGBTQ member of the Cabinet. However, now that they are not, does this mean we should not acknowledge and celebrate the importance and significance of what Secretary Buttigieg has achieved? A door has been opened by a great individual, and this means that hopefully down the road many LGBTQ people of color will be able to follow him. As a marginalized community, any form of advancement for one of us is an advancement for the whole community and vice versa.  
 
In my opinion, these negative attacks on Secretary Buttigieg are hypocritical and a double standard and are in no way helping or advancing any of our causes. We ask the larger society not to label or ostracize us, but then within our own community we do it so brazenly. Sadly, we are labeling ourselves out of the very inclusivity that we yearn for and claim to cherish.

We truly need to believe in inclusivity and commit to it. Adding letters and signs to “LGBTQ,” or adding colors to the rainbow flag or putting slogans on t-shirts are all beautiful for social media, but they do not do the work. We need to do the work, starting with ourselves.  

Each of us has a story, and that story is valid. No one knows the details and corners of that story, but there is a lot more to us than what others see. Throwing a blanket on a group of people and treating them all the same comes from a very simplistic point of view and ignores the unique and valid story that each of us has. We need to be better than those we complain about.  

For now, let’s wish the representative of our large and diverse family great success and celebrate what this means to younger LGBTQ people who live in not so friendly places around the country and around the world, and to those who at nights go to bed lonely and scared and in the morning wake up hopeless and sad.

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Congress must act, Democrats in Virginia must vote

Fighting to save our democracy from Trump loyalists

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The time has come for Democrats in Congress to vote on both the hard and soft infrastructure bills. Failure to do so will invariably lead to Republicans taking back Congress and that is unthinkable considering where they stand on so many issues.

To stop that from happening the House of Representatives must first pass the trillion-dollar hard infrastructure bill, already passed by the Senate, in time for Terry McAuliffe to stand up in his race for governor of Virginia and show what Democrats in office can do. This bill will bring billions to Virginia. But that is not enough. Virginia Democrats must come out to vote in record numbers to keep Trump stand-in Youngkin from winning. Make no mistake he is only a stand-in for the former president. He is a lacky with a lot of money trying to buy the race with lies and innuendo. He is anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and has gleefully accepted the endorsement of a liar, misogynist, sexist, racist pig who is still trying to destroy our democracy. Democrats must come out and vote to show the nation and the world that is not who America is and we aren’t dumb enough to fall for his stand-in lackey. 

All that Democrats really should need to know to vote against Youngkin is his acceptance of Trump’s endorsement. The man who had his top aides and advisers plan to overthrow our government on Jan. 6. One simply needs to read the story in the Washington Post on how Giuliani, Bannon and others had a ‘command center’ at the Willard Hotel, steps from the White House, to plan the Jan. 6 insurrection. As reported, “The effort underscores the extent to which Trump and a handful of true believers were working until the last possible moment to subvert the will of the voters, seeking to pressure Pence to delay or even block certification of the election, leveraging any possible constitutional loophole to test the boundaries of American democracy.”

This despicable collection of people who met at the Willard, and their leader Trump, can truly be called out for treason. These people are homegrown terrorists. They instigated a riot at the Capitol that threatened the lives of members of Congress and the rioters even threatened to hang the vice president if he didn’t do Trump’s bidding. This is the endorsement happily accepted by Trump stand-in Youngkin.

So it comes down to whether Democrats will come out to vote in Virginia on Nov. 2. Will they show the world they care enough to act and vote? Will they convince their family, friends, and neighbors of the importance of this election and of voting for Terry McAuliffe and the entire Democratic slate? If they don’t the headline won’t read ‘Youngkin wins,’ it will read ‘Trump wins’. That has to be an unacceptable outcome for any decent person. 

As reported, “Republicans Christine Todd Whitman (former governor of New Jersey and EPA Administrator in the George W. Bush administration) and Miles Taylor (chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Trump administration) have an important message they wrote in their New York Times piece, “We Are Republicans. There’s Only One Way to Save Our Party From Pro-Trump Extremists,” stating “Rational Republicans are losing the party civil war. And the only near-term way to battle pro-Trump extremists is for all of us to team up on key races and overarching political goals with our longtime political opponents: the Democrats.” We can only hope decent Republicans will take that recommendation under consideration this year and vote for McAuliffe in Virginia.

The McAuliffe election will be a lens into what can happen in the mid-terms in 2022. If Democrats lose in Virginia it will just motivate Trump Republicans to get out and vote and fund other Trump lackies across the nation. Instead of Trump finally fading into obscurity he will be revitalized and that will be sad for the nation. If McAuliffe wins and Joe Biden can sign those two  infrastructure bills, along with ending the war in Afghanistan, Democrats will know what is possible. They will be motivated to work to ensure Democrats keep Congress. It is what we need to save our democracy.

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

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What do the gays do about Facebook?

We are hopelessly hooked on dangerous social media

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Let me just put all my cards on the table — I enjoy Facebook. I get a lot out of it. Instagram, not so much. But I think that’s more of a generational thing. But after recent events, I just feel a little icky about it all. I mean, don’t you? 

After the damning and didn’t-we-know-all-along Senate testimony by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, being on Facebook just seems, well, a little gross. Yes, I know the irony that I am criticizing Facebook via a column that will ultimately be shared on Facebook, so don’t bother pointing that out. 

The long and short of it — evidence shows that Facebook is lying to us all about making any real progress against hate speech, violence, and the spread of misinformation. And aren’t those all red flags for the queer community? Essentially, Facebook isn’t just harmful to the self, but to whole groups and even societies. The parallels between this and the queer community are obvious ones. Again, aren’t our physical safety and overall wellbeing fairly paramount issues for the queer community? 

Take this one point for example: the evidence of harm to ourselves by ourselves. According to the documents Haugen supplied, Facebook’s sister company Instagram essentially makes 13.5% of teen girls have thoughts of suicide. Have there been any thoughts on how social media might be impacting LGBT teens? According to the Trevor Project’s 2020 study, 15% of LGBT teens attempted suicide in the past year. Forty percent had thoughts about it. Both numbers are staggeringly high on their own and also staggeringly higher than for their straight counterparts. I would like to know what role social media plays in this. But, like Haugen’s Senate testimony, I think we all know the answer to that already. What with bullying and the spread of hate speech, it simply can’t be good. 

And that’s just the issue of self-harm. What about the other issues of hate speech and misinformation? Yes, the queer community has enjoyed greater social acceptance in America. But that is by no means universal. Take the plight of trans teens, last year one of the far right’s go-to punching bags and boogey men — this time for the non-issue of high school sports. Talk about the spread of misinformation. I could enlighten us all by doing a deep dive on the right’s social presence, spreading their general talking points on the trans community, but such an exercise would be both stomach churning and time consuming. 

As for queer adults, I’m not sure if things can be much better. You sometimes hear that life is just high school with money. To that I would add: then gay men can be at times that mean group of eighth grade girls. Yes, it’s true. We can be pretty damn ugly to one another. Facebook and Instagram clearly aren’t helping any of this. But can we let it go? Aren’t we all hooked? Sometimes you’ll hear when someone snaps a picture of a group event or party, post it on Facebook ‘or it didn’t happen.’ Granted you don’t hear this much anymore as so many folks, especially younger gays, have drifted off to other platforms, but honestly is there much of a difference? And to post it or it didn’t happen? Who is that for but those who weren’t there?

Who knows what will happen? I mean, what with octogenarian superstars Sens. Chuck Grassley and Diane Feinstein on this, I’m sure meaningful reform and oversight are just over the horizon. Maybe it’s time we start policing ourselves? Demanding better from our community on social media first? I’m wondering what that might look like. Until then, I guess we’ll just keep scrolling, like we have been doing. Over and over and over. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.

Youngkin is a stand-in for disgraced former president

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Terry McAuliffe, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vote Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia because he will be a great governor. Reality is the alternative is Donald Trump who may be calling himself Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, but don’t be fooled, Youngkin is only a stand-in for Trump.

Virginians know and respect McAuliffe. He was a successful governor in his first term and is a decent and honorable man. Had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. He has a stellar record of moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. 

The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. He vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board, and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.

He recently said, “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 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 after serving their time.

He was good for business and during his 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 percent. McAuliffe understands early investments in the state’s infrastructure helps the state to be a national leader in clean energy. 

These and so many other positive reasons are why Virginians should vote for Terry McAuliffe. 

But there are also many reasons to vote against Trump stand-in, Glenn ‘Trump’ Youngkin. The first is Trump saying, “he has my complete and total endorsement!” 

Youngkin continues to spread the Trump lie by still fighting the 2020 election and calling for an audit of Virginia election machines. He regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He got caught on tape behind closed doors telling donors he won’t “go squishy” on banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He added, “As a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.” Then he is still casting doubts on the COVID vaccine. He claims he is telling people to get vaccinated against COVID and then is recorded telling others it is their choice. He is against mandating vaccines for teachers and healthcare workers. His ads feature a teacher, who is a Trumper, endorsing his education program (a disaster) but who is opposed to mandating vaccines for teachers. They feature healthcare workers endorsing him who are against a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.  Youngkin is trying to buy the Virginia election saying he would raise $75 million but most from his own vast fortune, actually trying to buy it for Trump. 

Virginia Democrats and right-thinking independents and Republicans must come out in large numbers to repudiate Donald Trump once-and-for-all by casting their votes for Terry McAuliffe. 

Let’s hope Trump voters in Virginia stay home this year. But McAuliffe can’t count on that to win. It will take Democrats in huge numbers to give McAuliffe the same big win Joe Biden had over Trump in Virginia in 2020. If that happens Democrats will also keep the House of Delegates and win the other statewide races. 

Remember, when you vote for McAuliffe you vote for the man named “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine in his last term. Virginians should give him a well-deserved second term.

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

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