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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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Opinions

D.C. voting begins, but you can do more

Donate, volunteer near and far to ensure Democrats prevail

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On Oct. 3, every D.C. registered voter will begin receiving their ballot in the mail. We are fortunate that voting in D.C. is both easy and safe. Not everyone in the nation has that opportunity. I urge everyone to look in your mail for your ballot and VOTE! If you are not yet registered, you can still do so by contacting the D.C. Board of Elections. We are fortunate in D.C. to live in a place where the rights of members of the LGBTQ community are protected by law, and our legislators support us. As a community we have worked hard to ensure that. But there is still more to do. 

I moved to D.C. in October 1978 and Marion Barry was about to be elected mayor. He had the support of the LGBTQ community and once elected thanked the Stein Democratic Club for all their support. Back then, we had yet to achieve all we were fighting for. Today, although we are protected by law, there are many cultural issues we have to deal with. There are still those, even in our community, who are not willing to see us live our lives openly, fully, and in safety. As a community we must join together to make sure all of us are safe, because if one of us isn’t, none of us are. 

So we begin that work by voting. My recommendation for voters everywhere is to vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. In D.C., I will vote for Kenyan McDuffie (I) for the Council seat that must be filled by someone from another party. I urge people across the District to vote for: Eleanor Holmes Norton for Delegate, Muriel Bowser for Mayor, Brian Schwalb for Attorney General, Phil Mendelson for Council Chair, Kenyan McDuffie and Anita Bonds for Council-at-large. Then in individual Wards: Brianne Nadeau for Ward 1 Council, Matt Frumin for Ward 3 Council, Zachary Parker for Ward 5 Council, and Charles Allen in Ward 6. These are people committed to standing up for us and have proven this over many years. If Ward 5 elects Parker once again there will be an open member of the LGBTQ community on the Council. 

Again, while we are lucky in many ways, let us remember our status as a federal district is not the same as a state. Under home rule, our budget and legislation are both subject to congressional oversight. Congress gets the chance to review both. Over the years they have added amendments to bills preventing us from spending money on things from needle exchange to abortion. So once we do our duty and vote here, we must work to ensure the election of members of Congress from every state who will be protective of our rights. 

If you are able, please consider working for candidates across the nation who stand up for the LGBTQ community and other issues you may be passionate about. I will work to elect candidates who will stand up, speak out, and vote for human rights, civil rights, immigration reform, climate change, election reform, women’s rights including the right to control their own bodies, and LGTBQ rights. 

There are many ways to get involved. Again, first submit your own ballot, and make sure all your friends and family do the same. Then you can get more involved by contributing money or going out and working for other candidates. Knocking on doors helping them get their message out is one way. Making phone calls is another. There are candidates in Virginia who need our help and you can find them by contacting the Virginia Democratic Party. Or contact groups like the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL pro-choice America, Victory Fund, the Democratic National Committee, or other groups you may be involved with, if you are willing to go farther afield to help candidates who will be supportive of the issues you care about. 

This mid-term election is about the future of democracy and protecting individual rights. It is about standing up and saying we will not allow Trumpism to take over our nation. We will not let the seditionists and insurrectionists, who charged our Capitol on Jan. 6 and those who support them, win. 

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade none of us should be confident that our rights won’t be next. So VOTE and then go out and work to ensure we keep Democrats in control of Congress. Our lives may truly depend on that.

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

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Commentary

Safe Place International to take National Coming Out Day global

Group to spotlight LGBTQ refugees around the world at D.C. event

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(Photo courtesy of Safe Place International)

Tuesday, Oct. 11, Safe Place International will celebrate National Coming Out Day by spotlighting the journeys and achievements of its LGBTQIA+ refugee leaders around the world.

Safe Place International is a holistic leadership development organization for displaced LGBTQIA+ individuals. As the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community are often trivialized and overlooked, we endeavor to create pathways for a sustainable and fulfilled life that celebrates the unique qualities that their lives hold. LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers are at a unique intersection of identity, where they have to face both xenophobia for their migrant status and prejudice for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In approximately 70 countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals experience violence and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is caused by oppressive government policies and legislation that criminalizes same-sex relationships. It is also caused by negative religious and societal beliefs. As a result, LGBTQIA+ individuals flee their countries and families in search of a safe place to call their home.

After leaving behind their lives; many refugees find themselves without food, shelter, safety or support for their future. Asylum seekers and refugees that identify as LGBTQIA+ are ignored or unseen by the refugee protection system and facing increased marginalization due to their status as refugees and their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In only a few years, Safe Place International has reached over 15 countries and served over 1,000 LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers, who we consider “community members.” Our belief in these community members is why we can proudly say that we are a refugee-led, person of color-led, women-led and LGBTQIA+-led organization!

National Coming Out Day is a significant day for the LGBTQIA+ community, as it is a day when so many find the courage to proclaim their truth and join the Pride family. The day is also special to those of us who have already “come out” as we reflect on becoming who we are and the evolution to who we were meant to be. While some journeys were filled with warmth, affirmation and liberation, many have experienced rejection, pain, loss and even death. Regardless of one’s experiences on this spectrum, National Coming Out Day has become a time when the LGBTQIA+ community comes together to ensure that our new community members are met with the encouragement and acceptance that we all deserve. It is also a time to reflect on the countless queer bodies who face persecution, violence and oppression around the globe.

Safe Place International’s Coming Out Day Celebration will do just that. The event marks a significant new chapter as the organization officially “comes out” to the D.C. community. We will be introducing our new executive director, as well as celebrating the successes of our interventions by exploring how Safe Place International is impacting the lives of our global LGBTQIA+ community and what makes them so resilient, compassionate and ready to change the world! 

So, if you want to be inspired, perhaps explore meaningful ways to impact and change the lives of oppressed queer people whose only crime is love and authenticity, then please join us! Hold us as we boldly come out to D.C. We promise you a fun, colorful celebration that will be grounded in meaning, connectedness, and the relentless spirit of love and acceptance. 

For more details, feel free to contact Matt Maxwell, our director of development at [email protected]. You can purchase your ticket here.

We hope to see you there! 

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Opinions

Cruel court decision makes it harder to prevent AIDS

Disease gets a boost from federal judge in Texas

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Just as the disease was on a glide path to extinction thanks to new drugs, HIV/AIDS got a boost from a federal court in Texas.

On Sept. 7, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the government can’t require an employer-sponsored health care plan to cover a therapy that prevents the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 700,000 Americans. The decision in Braidwood Management Inc. v. Becerra is not just poorly argued; it is flat-out cruel.

Perhaps the best feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, nicknamed Obamacare, was a requirement that insurance offer coverage of specified preventive care procedures and therapies, such as colon cancer screening and influenza immunizations.

In June 2019, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an advisory panel of experts, issued a “Grade A” recommendation for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medicine that is 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission during sex. The first PrEP drug, Truvada, had been approved seven years earlier by the Food & Drug Administration. On Jan. 1, 2021, the federal government required plans to cover PrEP with no copay, coinsurance, or deductible.

Even before the mandate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credited PrEP with helping reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 8% between 2015 and 2019 “after a period of general stability.” The CDC now calls PrEP “a key prevention strategy for ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.,” a goal for 2030 set by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The way to end AIDS once and for all is to get PrEP to those who need it most. Researchers are developing intravaginal rings, implants, antibodies, and long-lasting injectables. Although PrEP use has risen by a factor of eight in just five years, three-quarters of those most at risk are not using the therapy.

The success of the lawsuit by a group of self-described Christian business owners and employees will make access even more difficult. The plaintiffs argued that the preventive care mandate for PrEP violated their constitutional right to religious freedom. In the complaint, Dr. Steven Hotze said that he was unwilling to pay for a health plan covering PrEP “because these drugs facilitate or encourage homosexual behavior, which is contrary to [his] sincere religious beliefs.”

Hotze, whose vitamin company ran afoul of the FDA for COVID-19 claims, was indicted in April on aggravated assault charges involving a bizarre search for ballots after the 2020 election.

In the PrEP case, Hotze’s objection went beyond gay sex. He complained that providing coverage of the drugs facilitates and encourages “sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman” as well as illegal drug use.

Judge O’Connor agreed. He went even further, ruling that members of the Preventive Services Task Force were “unconstitutionally appointed.”

In a previous case, O’Connor had ruled that the entire ACA was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision last year. The current ruling draws on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which was enacted by Congress after the Supreme Court ruled in Employment Division v. Smith that the protection of the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment does not entitle anyone to a religion-based exception from a general law.

In recent years, writes Michael Dorf of the Cornell University Law School, “conservative Christians have increasingly relied on [RFRA] to obtain exceptions from laws involving insurance coverage for contraception and abortion.”

For example, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a 2014 case, the Supreme Court held that a company owned by religious Christians could be excused from an obligation to pay for health insurance that covered “forms of contraception that the owners regarded as tantamount to abortion.”

But the ruling in the Braidwood case is far more sweeping. The Hobby Lobby plaintiffs considered abortion itself immoral. In this case, it’s not PrEP that Braidwood considers immoral; it’s certain kinds of sexual activities. By substantially lowering the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, this twisted logic goes, PrEP is a facilitator of what Hotze considers immoral. And by offering insurance that covers PrEP, Braidwood says it becomes complicit.

There is a serious cost to this attenuated argument. By decreasing access to PrEP, people will needlessly become ill and, in some cases, die. The economy will also be burdened with the cost of treating a disease that can be prevented.

Modern science has developed therapies that are ending the spread of a dangerous, mortal virus. Easing access to these medicines is clearly a legitimate function of government — undoubtedly, a compelling interest. What can be more selfish and foolish than to erect needless obstacles for those who want to protect themselves and people around them?

James K. Glassman, a former Under Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration, is an adviser to health care companies and non-profits.

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