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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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Don’t be a do-nothing Democrat

We must speak out forcefully against GOP’s agenda

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Regarding “Wanted: Democrats with a new idea on how to win,” April 22, Peter Rosenstein is, once again, right on the mark. One major thing that plagues our country is ignorance. People seem to believe that a president has a magic wand and once he gets into office he just waves it and all his platform is enacted and the country is magically better. And if it isn’t, it is the president’s fault. 

I read an article in which a woman in Arizona stated that she wasn’t sure about President Biden because there are still homeless people on the streets of the town that she lives in. There is a serious lack of civic knowledge in the United States. For example, I talked to a young woman once about registering to vote and she told me that votes were literally not counted. She figured, if no one counts the votes, why bother to register? After talking for a while, she told me that I convinced her that her vote would actually be counted and that she would go register. The key is education. Massive education. The Democrats need to fill the void created by the loss of newspapers.

There are two directions the Democrats need to go in getting their message out. The first is to call out Republicans on what they do and to repeat it over and over so that people finally start to hear it. Republicans do this effectively to win elections but the difference is that Republicans usually lie and what the Democrats have to say is true. What do we need to call out the Republicans on? They literally physically attacked the U.S. Capitol. They tried to overthrow our democracy with that attack and by elected Republican senators and representatives trying to nullify electoral votes in 2020. They have passed laws in states all over the country to deny people their right to vote and have gerrymandered possible electoral victories. Republican senators filibuster practically every piece of needed legislation to solve our problems and move our country forward. It’s not the Democrats’ fault that we don’t have the action that we need. It is the Republicans’.

What else? The Republicans are bigots and work only to concentrate more and more power in their hands. Need proof? Look at Florida. If Republicans win in November, it’s not just that we won’t move forward, but it is that we will move way backward. The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade is one prime example of this and it is happening right now due to Mitch McConnell packing the Supreme Court with justices who support his view of how our society should be.

Need more? Republicans have opposed action to keep us safe from the coronavirus since the pandemic started. They are opposed to climate change mitigation and they are for union busting. 

Democrats need to point out that we are dealing with a pandemic, which has caused total havoc in our country, and that it is the Democrats who have been taking action to end this pandemic, not the Republicans. Democrats need to remind the public of Republicans’ inaction on the pandemic and their lies that the virus was not dangerous. Remind them of Trump’s ineptitude in dealing with it and the harm that he caused. 

The second direction is for Democrats to trumpet ALL the good things they have done and that they are the only politicians trying to make things better. Democrats need to repeat in television ads, radio ads, press conferences, wherever they can, every single little thing that they have done to improve our country and the lives of the people in it, as well as the big things.

And you know what? It’s not just the president and senators and representatives and governors who need to do this. It is each one of us as well. Yes, you and me. Talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends and relatives. Tell them how our country has problems and the Democrats are the ones trying to solve them. It’s time for Democrats to finally be smart politically and to stand up for themselves. (And to be true Democrats and not try, as candidates have done in past elections, to be like Republicans because they think that will get them votes. Being sincere and being true to the Democratic Party’s values is what gets us elected.) When there are millions of us talking to others – and writing letters to the editor like I am doing here – that could very well be the message change we need.

Lastly, get involved with protecting the right to vote. Get involved in registering people to vote. And volunteer for Democratic candidates. Don’t be a Democrat who does nothing!

David Fallick is a resident of Rockville, Md.

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Traveling while trans

Airport personnel need gender sensitivity training

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The State Department last month announced that it will allow Americans to use the neutral “X” gender marker on passports, if they are nonbinary. The new change on transgender passports was also paired with other changes in travel for trans people as well. 

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is implementing four more major reforms. 

The first reform is to change enhanced screening technology to not target trans Americans with bodies and clothing pieces that stray from the norm. This means that if a transgender man is wearing a binder, that he will not be unfairly targeted. While DHS is taking a step in the right direction, it has yet to be seen if they will live up to their promise. Sometimes, security teams override new protocol in order to be as radical as possible in their attempt to safeguard a scene. 

DHS is also “expanding airline partnerships to enhance the overall travel experience” of trans and nonbinary people. This means that DHS will talk to airlines such as Jet Blue and United to make sure that travelers can use “X” in their booking systems. 

Thirdly, DHS is removing gender standards when evaluating a traveler’s identity. They will take into account “X.”

Lastly, DHS is updating TSA PreCheck to account for the “X” marker. 

While these reforms are a step in the right direction, there is one more thing that DHS and the White House need to do. They need to train airport personnel in gender sensitivity training. 

Gender sensitivity training would involve coaching TSA agents in how to speak to trans and nonbinary people when they are scanned, searched, checked, and potentially questioned. Agents will learn about pronouns, and how to address trans people in person without being offensive. 

Every trans guy I know has had a horror story about TSA lines and airport security. We both give each other a mutual look and mutter the same complaints over and over, knowing very well that our hands will be shaking and sweating for all the right reasons, except TSA will interpret our righteous nervousness as a red flag. 

Despite these new reforms from DHS and the White House, if DHS does not teach TSA agents how to appropriately search and talk to trans people, our experience might still be miserable at the airport. 

During one body scan, I had to confess to a TSA agent that I was a trans man, to which he confronted me and asked “so you’re a girl?” At other points in time, I’ve also had to beg TSA officers to let a woman pat me down, instead of a male agent, because I’m more comfortable in that kind of scenario. Some of these female TSA agents couldn’t understand why a man wanted a woman to pat him down, and some of these female agents even refused. DHS needs to come up with protocol for which kinds of agents will pat down trans and nonbinary people. We should have a choice in who pats us down. These interactions all took several minutes at a time and caught the attention of many passersby, further adding discomfort to the situation. 

In order for the Biden administration to fully accommodate trans people in airports, they have to not only implement the X marker, which they did, but also change the way TSA touches and searches trans people. 

Doing so will make our lived experience better. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a transgender man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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‘Heartstopper,’ ‘Fire Island,’ and ‘Bros’

Queer entertainment returns but what took so long?

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Kit Conner and Joe Locke in 'Heartstopper.' (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

I’m in love with “Heartstopper,” that plucky and tender coming-of-age drama based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novels. It’s currently on Netflix. I’ve caught myself sort of rationing out episodes as the series builds to its conclusion — what’s in store for Charlie and Nick? What about Elle and Tao? Is it odd that a middle-aged gay has been smitten with a show about British teens? Well, watch and see. But it’s incredible and honest. And you get to see Olivia Coleman here and there. So, there’s that. On a side note, the “Heartstopper” of my day was another tender English coming-of-age drama set in the concrete world of British public housing, 1996’s “Beautiful Thing.” Go find that if you’re bored.

To my joy, it was announced just this week that “Heartstopper” is renewed for two more seasons. So where am I going with this? It does seem as if the entertainment industry might be giving us another look. I’ve been griping for years about our paltry representation on both the big and small screens. We’ve been relegated to supporting characters — the office gay, the gay best friend, the tiresome trope of the suffering gay — for far too long.

So what exactly changed? Well, the older generation of Hollywood execs might finally be giving up the reigns of power and creative say. But I also think that the recent mega-hits like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther,” both of which, if you paid any attention at all, featured full-minority casts, taught the entertainment industry they could bet big on non-traditional stories with non-white casts. Bet big and win. So with that, the entertainment industry is finally rolling out the “Heartstoppers.” But also the gay Internet is all aflutter about Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island,” that’s due on Hulu next week. And then for the fall, you have Nicholas Stoller’s “Bros,” written by and starring Billy Eichner. “Bros” not only features an almost entirely all-queer cast, but apparently it’s all queer behind the camera as well.

I haven’t seen an advanced screening of either of these films. I’m not that important. But I’m excited. Being a “Fire Island” gay myself, our house has an upcoming viewing party of that movie. To be honest, though, I am a little apprehensive about the lifting of the curtain on one of the last fully queer enclaves. But we deserve our love stories, too. And for “Bros” they’re already trotting out words like ‘blockbuster’ and the like. And indeed the trailer looks incredibly promising.

But what took so long? Maybe some of the movies and series were held up due pandemic production delays. But gosh, how long has it been since Mike Nichols’s “The Birdcage?” That now gay classic hit its 25-year anniversary recently. It seemed like Hollywood knew gay movies could be money makers. But, for some reason, we haven’t seen a mainstream successful gay film since. Yes, before you come after me on twitter for erasing “Brokeback Mountain” and “Love, Simon,” I just don’t think these films have been enduring (not to mention endlessly quoted) like “The Birdcage.”

“The Birdcage” lifted the curtain a bit on gay life. Well, more than a bit. Even my parents went to see it. But these three shows might be touching different audiences — a little gay, a little straight, teens, older gays like me. And I guess we should treat these as a win. As we are greeted with more mainstream acceptance, we might be treated to more mainstream and successful movies and television shows. And if “Fire Island” and “Bros” prove to be as well done as “Heartstopper,” they could enter the ranks of “The Birdcage” as being both successful and enduring. 

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

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