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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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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

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

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Opinion | Blame Mayor Bowser for violence epidemic?

In a word, ‘no,’ as the problem is nationwide

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The simple answer to the question “Does the Mayor get the blame for the violence epidemic?” is NO! This is not something that can be laid at any one person’s feet. The epidemic of gun violence is gripping the entire nation. 

The frustration and outrage I and everyone else feels are palpable. It’s frightening when you hear gunshots in your neighborhood. It makes bigger headlines when the shots fired are in neighborhoods not used to that like the recent shooting on 14th and Riggs, N.W. When the shots rang out patrons of upscale restaurants like Le Diplomate ran or ducked under their tables for cover. When shots were fired outside Nationals stadium the national media lit up to report it. The truth is we must have the same outrage every time shots are fired and people hurt or killed in any neighborhood of our city.  

Trying to lay the blame for this at the feet of the mayor, as some people on social media and in opinion and news columns in the Washington Post are doing is wrong. Some would have you believe the mayor is just sitting by and allowing the violence to happen. There are pleas “Mayor Bowser do something!” as if she could wave a magic wand and the shootings will stop. 

In a recent Washington Post column, “Bowser pressed to act after shootings,” a number of Council members are quoted including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 member Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 member Janeese Lewis George, At-large member Anita Bonds and Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie. They all call for something to be done but not one of them says what they would do. It’s clear they are as frustrated and outraged as the rest of us but have no easy answers. What is clear is casting blame on the mayor and police commissioner won’t help to stop the violence and shootings. 

Again, this epidemic of violence isn’t just an issue for D.C. but a national epidemic. Recently our mayor sat beside the president at a White House meeting called to discuss what can be done about this with mayors and law enforcement officials from around the nation. No one from the president down had an answer that can make it stop right away. Many in D.C. would be surprised at the ranking of the 50 cities with the most violent crime per 100,000 residents showing D.C. with 977 violent crimes per 100,000 residents at number 27 behind cities like Rockford, Ill., Anchorage, Ala., and Milwaukee, Wisc. Crime in nearly all those cities and murder rates have gone up, in many cases dramatically, since the pandemic. 

The solution to ending gun violence is to get the guns out of the hands of those who are using them for crime but that is easy to say and much harder to do. We know ending poverty will make a difference. Giving every child a chance at a better education and ensuring real opportunities for every young person will make a difference. We must also hold people responsible for the serious crimes they commit and often courts are a system of revolving door justice where we find the same people arrested for a serious crime back on the street committing another one and the same gun used for multiple crimes.

There are anti-crime programs that might work but they need buy-in from the entire community including activists and the clergy who must work in concert with our political leadership. D.C. is funding a host of programs including ‘violence disrupters,’ job training, and  mental health and substance abuse programs. They all need more money and more support. 

In D.C., we have only 16 elected officials with real power; the Council, the mayor, the attorney general and our congressional representative. We have community leaders elected to local ANCs. When members of the council attack the mayor, some simply to make political hay for their own future election, it won’t solve any problems. 

This must be viewed as a crisis and our 16 elected leaders should sit down, agree to a series of anti-crime programs and efforts they will adequately fund, and stop attacking each other. Once they agree on the programs to fund they should bring together ANC members from across the city to a meeting at the convention center and work out a plan for what each can do to move us forward to safer neighborhoods. 

We must work together as one if we are to succeed in making life safer and better for all. 

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

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