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Biden’s big gay opportunity

The best friend LGBTQ Americans have yet had in the White House

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President Joe Biden (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz; public domain)

President Joe Biden faces many tough challenges. Foreign adversaries are preparing to test him, rancorous political divisions confront him at home where COVID-19 has ravaged the American economy and spirit. With Washington gridlock threatening to block his most ambitious plans, opportunities for legacy achievements may prove scarce.

Still, in one critical area, Biden can earn an honored place in history: LGBTQ rights. Of all major contemporary American political figures, Biden has been the quickest to take a stand for our rights. He is the best friend LGBTQs have yet had in the White House. I do not say so lightly, I am a lifelong Republican.

From day one, Biden began rolling back the biased policies promoted by Donald Trump’s Marginalizer-in-Chief, Mike Pence. Much damage remains to be undone, especially because the media and many Democrats have gone easy on Pence and his cronies. But Joe himself got off to a fast start placing qualified LGBTQ officials in highly visible positions, including his Cabinet. Secretary of State Tony Blinken set the tone early by flying the rainbow flag at U.S. embassies and naming a special envoy for LGBTQ rights. What a welcome change to have an administration proud of, rather than wary of, its LGBTQ supporters.

Yet much more needs to be done to rid this nation of the cruel blights of LGBTQ stigma and marginalization. There can be neither equality nor equity for people who are systematically stigmatized and marginalized. The cruelty of these violations is evident in a suicide rate among LGBTQ youth five times that of youth in the general population.

A national commission studying patterns, causes, and consequences of LGBTQ stigma, marginalization, and bullying could help awaken Americans to the damage from the prejudices many of us still face. Indeed, older LGBTQs who feel comfortably protected, have a special obligation to defend gay youth who remain vulnerable.

Stigmatization is worse for minority LGBTQs who bear a double burden of bias. BGLM!–Black Gay Lives Matter! Stigma impedes HIV testing and treatment; one consequence is a shocking rate of new HIV-AIDS infections among people of color four times the rate among whites.

Even as we pursue our national struggle to end racial bias, America must recognize our equal moral obligation to expose and repudiate our ugly history of LGBTQ stigmatization and marginalization. How do we stop these evils? Most crucial, we must pass a muscular Equality Act that protects the rights and dignity of all LGBTQs wherever they live in America.

Yet to pass it soon, we must avoid “poison pills” that may doom it to failure. Protection for LGBTQ youth is urgent. Better a bill we can pass now giving us 90% of what we all need, than a failed bill promising 100% of what some wish for.

Education is essential. Students must learn about the sufferings of LGBTQ people and our contributions to humanity and to America. All should be told about LGBTQ civil rights heroes like Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Barbara Jordan, scientists and thinkers like Alan Turing, George Washington Carver, and Plato, writers like Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Henry James, composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Billy Strayhorn, and artists like Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Frida Kahlo—the full list is much longer.

Formal recognition of the sufferings and achievements of LGBTQ people is long overdue. As a starter, let’s build an Equality Museum on the Mall to celebrate LGBTQ Americans. No politician has yet ventured to suggest building one; their omission reinforces our marginalized state. President Biden could make history by stepping up.

Although Biden himself has made a strong start on LGBTQ rights, it is a serious mistake for the Democrats to take the gay vote for granted. Polls indicate Trump’s share rose from 16% in 2016 to 28% in 2020. LGBTQs followed a normal tendency to divide more evenly between the parties. In the 2020 campaign Democrats avoided reminding voters that

Trump’s number two, Mike Pence, has been America’s number one stigma super spreader. At the same time, on the QT, they reassured closet Pences among their own. They took us for granted assuming all LGBTQs are Woke Groupthinkers.

In the next election, more LGBTQs who agree with Republicans on issues like Iran, immigration, or taxes will vote GOP if the Democrats fail to raise their ante for us. More Democrats need to follow the leadership Biden is showing on LGBTQ issues.

Biden himself has a big opportunity to become America’s president for LGBTQ rights. But to grasp that opportunity, he will need aggressive initiatives to end stigmatization, celebrate our contributions, and make a crystal clear national commitment to full equality for all LGBTQ peoples.

 

James Driscoll, Ph.D., is a longtime Republican-Libertarian AIDS activist whose most recent book is ‘How AIDS Activists Challenged America.’

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Opinions

Joe Biden, our fiercest ally

Outgoing president leaves powerful legacy for LGBTQ equality

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Biden bowed out of the presidential race on Sunday after weeks of pressure following his debate performance in June. He leaves a long record of support for the LGBTQ community as a key part of his powerful legacy and he has raised the bar for future presidents when it comes to fighting for our community. 

We’ve never had a fiercer ally in the White House — a president who pledged to make LGBTQ rights his top legislative priority and described anti-transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time.” He has celebrated Pride month with us each year as well as the Trans Day of Visibility and taken criticism from the right for it. He includes us in the State of the Union Address and other high-profile speeches. 

Young voters mustn’t get complacent; such sentiments from a sitting president are not the norm. Biden’s leadership on LGBTQ equality means the next Democratic president has big shoes to fill. Vice President Kamala Harris would certainly continue Biden’s work toward equality, specifically by pushing for passage of the Equality Act, which Biden backed and which passed the House but died in a Senate filibuster in 2021.

Biden has changed the game in myriad ways, especially when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion in federal appointments. The country has never had a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member before (no, Ric Grenell doesn’t count as he was not confirmed). Pete Buttigieg’s tenure as Transportation Secretary has seen its challenges, but he has proven himself a capable, polished executive unafraid of taking on Fox News antagonists. As the Victory Fund noted this week, “LGBTQ+ people have received a record number of federal appointments, including Cabinet members, judges, and around 14% of the administration.” In addition to Buttigieg, he appointed Dr. Rachel Levine as the first out transgender person to hold an office that requires Senate confirmation. And Biden made more history, naming Karine Jean-Pierre, a Black lesbian, as his press secretary.

It’s outrageous that it took until 2021 for an out Cabinet secretary and thanks to Biden, we can look forward to many more.

Biden also led in advocating for marriage equality, endorsing the idea days before his boss President Obama in 2012 and just six months before the election. It was a bold and brave move that even LGBTQ advocates discouraged. As president, Biden fought successfully to preserve marriage equality in the increasingly likely event that the historic Obergefell ruling is overturned by our discredited MAGA Supreme Court. The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that the federal government and all U.S. states and territories must recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. Biden signed it and held a massive event on the White House lawn bringing together hundreds of LGBTQ advocates from around the country for a truly joyful celebration of the landmark legislation. 

In a historic move just last month for Pride, Biden pardoned veterans who were discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” he said.

Biden began his term on Jan. 20, 2021, and on that very day, issued an expansive executive order detailing workplace protections for LGBTQ Americans and prohibiting discrimination in education, credit, health care, and housing. And every month since, his administration has ushered in one pro-LGBTQ initiative after another, a list too long to fully recap here. Biden isn’t finished advocating for us. On Aug. 1, new Title IX rules go into effect protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination by expanding existing civil rights law.

It’s a staggering record of support and the LGBTQ community owes Biden and his team a tremendous debt of gratitude. Biden will be remembered fondly and revered by history for taking down Donald Trump, rebuilding our economy, leading us out of a pandemic, and for showing future presidents how to fully embrace and empower the LGBTQ community. He has more than earned our thanks — and a long, healthy retirement in Rehoboth Beach.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinions

Thank you, President Biden, for putting the nation first

Now all decent Americans must unite to defeat Trump

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

We certainly owe a major debt of gratitude to President Joe Biden for putting the nation before himself. Not many politicians would do that. We must thank him for understanding that for the country, the imperative is to defeat Donald Trump and his MAGA vision for the United States. A vision we have seen in his first term, his attempt at staging a coup, and now in his platform, and Project 2025. It is so frightening I believe it is what got President Biden to step aside. I am also thankful President Biden endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. She is ready, and will make a great president. 

This is a seismic moment for our nation — the first time since 1968 that a sitting president decided not to run for a second term. It is much later in the process than that was. But it is the right thing to do. Biden will continue to be our president for nearly six months. He has work to do. He already has a great legacy of 50 years of service to the nation, and he will only add to it before he leaves the presidency. He will work to end the Israel-Hamas war, and to see that Ukraine has what they need to beat back Putin. He will work to strengthen our ties with all our allies. 

I think Biden’s action will energize American voters, and take the focus away from Donald Trump while Democrats refocus the campaign and their message. The focus must be on the evil that is Trump, and those around him. While time is short, the American people do know Kamala Harris. They now will see more of a feisty former prosecutor, senator, and brilliant woman, who will be able to challenge all of Trump’s BS. 

Harris can proudly run on the successes of the Biden/Harris administration. Those include passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package to increase investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport and national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems. Stopping a 30-year streak of federal inaction on gun violence by signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Making a $369 billion investment in climate change, the largest in American history, through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Providing $10,000 to $20,000 in college debt relief to Americans with loans who make under $125,000 a year. Cutting child poverty in half through the American Rescue Plan. Capping prescription drug prices at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare through the Inflation Reduction Act. Passing the COVID-19 relief deal that provided payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens while supporting renters and increasing unemployment benefits. Achieving historically low unemployment rates after the pandemic caused them to skyrocket. Imposing a 15% minimum corporate tax on some of the largest corporations in the country, ensuring that they pay their fair share, as part of the historic Inflation Reduction Act. Recommitting America to the global fight against climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement. Strengthening the NATO alliance in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion by endorsing the inclusion of world military powers Sweden and Finland. Authorizing the assassination of the Al Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became head of the organization after the death of Osama bin Laden. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices through the Inflation Reduction Act while also reducing government health spending. Holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his invasion of Ukraine by imposing stiff economic sanctions. Boosting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by nearly $80 billion to reduce tax evasion and increase revenue. Creating more jobs in one year (6.6 million) than any other president in U.S. history. Reducing healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act by $800 a year as part of the American Rescue Plan. Signing the PACT Act to address service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Signing the CHIPS and Science Act to strengthen American manufacturing and innovation. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act through 2027. And halting all federal executions after the previous administration reinstated them after a 17-year freeze. It’s a record to be proud of. 

It is now time for Democrats, independents, and all decent Americans, to unite to elect the Democratic ticket and a Democratic Congress. If we do, we can try to unite people, instead of dividing them like Trump and his acolytes are doing. We can win on Nov. 5 and then honor President Biden for his selfless act as the government transitions to our 47th President, Kamala Harris, at noon on Jan. 20, 2025.

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

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Commentary

1970-1975: How gay liberation movement grew after Stonewall

Converging with civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war movements

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Members of the Gay Liberation Front at their communal house, 1620 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., circa 1971. From left to right: Kashi Rahman, Andy Hughes, Guy Charles, Reggie Haynes, Ronnie, David Aiken, Tim Corbett, unknown, Shima Rahman, unknown, Joseph Covert. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow History Project, Inc./David Aiken Collection)

In conjunction with WorldPride 2025, Rainbow History Project is creating an exhibit on the evolution of Pride: “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington.” This is the second of 10 articles that will share research themes for the exhibit. In “Gay and Proud,” we discuss the period between 1970-1975 and how the fledgling gay liberation movement burst on the scenes after the Stonewall Riots, converging with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the anti-Vietnam movement.

Inspired by the Black civil rights movement’s affirmation “Black is Beautiful,” the Mattachine Society of Washington coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” From 1965-1969, the Mattachine Society of Washington coordinated some of the first public demonstrations for LGBTQ equality – pickets on Independence Day called the Annual Reminders. The Gay Liberation Front wanted the 1970 Annual Reminder to be held in New York on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thus, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Signs in this first CSLD March read “Gay and Proud,” a motto that would come to label the annual Stonewall celebrations. Gay Pride has evolved into what President Biden just proclaimed “LGBTQI+ Pride Month.”

Despite the power shift from D.C.’s pickets and Philadelphia’s reminders to New York’s march, Washingtonians remained central to planning the march and its political demands, while also fostering a sense of community among homosexuals, who were starting to call themselves gays. In October of 1969, Nancy Tucker and Lilli Vincenz created The Gay Blade as a newsletter to be distributed in bars. Now called the Washington Blade, Tucker said this about its founding in a 1998 oral history with Rainbow History Project:

“Sometime after that last Fourth of July picket, the people in Mattachine must have begun to talk about how Mattachine could reach out to the gay community, as a whole in Washington, which they had never done before.”

The Gay Liberation Front DC formed in August 1970 with a communal house at 1620 S St., N.W. Its purposes, laid out by David Aiken, were “to establish a sense of community among gay people, build gay self-awareness, and educate the straight community.” GLF-DC and another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, participated in the 1971 May Day protests, which were large-scale anti-Vietnam War civil disobedience actions.

The following year on May 2-7, 1972, to commemorate May Day, GLF-DC coordinated Washington’s first Gay Pride Week. “Across the country these past two years, gay people have been getting it on for a gala spring festival celebrating the fact that we’re gay, we’re proud and we’re together,” its Gay Pride Bulletin No. 1 said. “Parties, shows, rap sessions, platform speakers, gala public picnics — all designed around the theme of GAY TOGETHERNESS — are being staged to show that gay is good and gay is here to stay!”

The goal: “rich, poor, black, white, male, female, in business or in school, in leather or in drag, in ‘the movement’ or in the closet: Gay Pride will be a time when everybody who’s gay in Washington can come to meet on common ground.” Oral history recordings and documents in the Rainbow History Archives show the event was a success, however, it was the only one that GLF-DC planned. Another “Pride” in DC didn’t occur for several years.

Between 1970-1975, countless D.C. gay organizations formed, and they showed up gay and proud in other events: the Black Panthers Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, the American Psychology Association’s annual meeting and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also disrupted conferences at Catholic University and carried anti-Nixon banners at his second inaugural. Our WorldPride 2025 exhibit, “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington,” centers the voices of the event organizers and includes the critics of Pride and the intersection of Pride and other movements for equal rights and liberation. But we need your help to do that: we are looking for images and input, so look around your attic and get involved.

Vincent Slatt volunteers as the director of archiving at the Rainbow History Project; Elinor Aspegren is a member of RHP. Visit rainbowhistory.org to get involved.

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