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Words create worlds, so what kind of world do we want to live in?

Free speech comes with incredible responsibility

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It seems that each new day brings a fresh debate around speech and the weight of impact that speech holds. Back in October hundreds of Netflix employees staged a walkout protesting their company’s controversial Dave Chappelle stand-up special. At issue were a number of jokes aimed at the transgender community. The protest happened in response to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ defense of the special, saying that “content doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” This statement could not be further from the truth. Not only do words carry impact and directly translate to real-world harm, words form our conception of the world and oftentimes what is seen as truth. The language we use and condone shapes how everything around us is perceived, which is why there is great responsibility in considering the words we use before we put them out into the world. 

We think about this every day at Reading Partners, an organization that places community volunteers in Title I elementary schools to support students in mastering reading skills. Because many of our volunteers do not share racial identity or a similar lived experience of the students we partner with, it is incredibly important to us that they understand that their role is to empower students who need a little extra support rather than coming to “help” or “save” them. The white-savior narrative has historically run rampant in spaces looking to mobilize volunteers for a cause and it is our responsibility to dismantle this narrative. This dismantling starts with the language we use and the stories we share about the communities we have the great privilege to partner with. Given that structural racism and oppression have created the current conditions facing under-resourced students, it is incumbent upon us that we recognize our role within the community and understand that we are here to act as a partner with students and their families whom have already created plans to address gaps in learning.

Because of the impact words yield, it is essential to carefully consider language choice, especially if it could affect marginalized and oppressed groups. Even those who have good intent, like journalists and public figures, often use outdated language and phrases that stigmatize communities or frame them through an othering lens. Some common examples of misguided language often used include phrases like “low-income students,” and “learning loss.” Both of these phrases place responsibility on students for the situation they are in despite the fact that students do not receive income, or have intentionally chosen to miss out on learning opportunities particularly with the disruptions that COVID-19 created. This type of framing has a direct corollary on how these students might be treated by teachers, administrators, and tutors, as well as how they are viewed by leaders, politicians and other people who hold power. It is therefore important that we use terms that accurately describe the situation, which may need to include political or historical context—so instead of “low-income students” we say, “historically under-resourced communities,” while a more accurate substitute for “learning loss” is actually “unfinished learning.” While these are subtle shifts in language, it completely reframes the situation, elucidating who shares responsibility for the current state of things and who does not.

It is also of note that the positive or negative connotations inherent in the language we use are hugely important to how we see those who may have different lived experiences than our own. At Reading Partners, we know that our students are not in fact “struggling” or “suffering from a lack of” something. We highlight our students as they are: “working hard,” “enduring,” “skill builders,” etc. despite growing up in a world where they have been denied access to high-quality literacy education. 

It is a fallacy that words cannot do harm. Language has served to dehumanize and subjugate people for as long as it has existed and it is often those in power who have the loudest voice. We as people, institutions, corporations, media, and otherwise must think through what we say and how it might impact others. Let’s be clear—this is not about censorship or ‘cancelling’ anyone. Language changes all of the time and it can be hard to keep up with. We are simply making the appeal that those in power, and with platforms, continue learning from and listening to those who have been harmed for centuries by systemic injustice. Free speech is a privilege, and with that privilege, there is incredible responsibility to utilize language that truly aligns with and demonstrates the user’s values.

Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan is executive director of Reading Partners DC, a nonprofit that for more than 20 years has helped empower local students to succeed in reading and in life by engaging community volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring. If you’re interested in learning more and becoming a volunteer visit readingpartners.org/volunteer-washington-dc.

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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Elon Musk is a danger to society

X has become a warped platform that spews anti-trans hate

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

Elon Musk is officially a danger to society. As of mid May of 2024, X.com, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has started banning accounts that use the word “cisgender” or “cis,” deriding it as a slur. For those who don’t know, “cisgender” refers to any person whose gender aligns with the genitalia they were assigned at birth. Erasing the word “cisgender” from tweets, or X.com remarks, ensures that gender nonconforming people can’t articulate the bigotry they feel in this world. 

Musk has been notorious for his transphobia. It didn’t just start in mid-May of this year. In June of 2023, during Pride month, Musk liked a bunch of transphobic tweets. For instance, he promoted the Matt Walsh documentary, “What is a Woman?”, which was a film in transmisogyny. 

Moreover, in July of 2022, Musk’s transgender teenage daughter sought separation from her father because he was hateful toward her and bullied her because of her gender identity. In December 2022, Musk tweeted “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” mocking the words that transgender people need to enunciate who we are. This wasn’t the first time that Musk mocked pronouns. 

Musk is becoming increasingly dangerous toward trans people, especially as X.com takes on a new dimension — turning into a warped platform that spews conspiracy views, including right-wing thoughts that trans people shouldn’t exist, and other ultraconservative opinions. 

What adds heavy weight to the danger that Musk poses is the relative success of his companies and the wealth, measured in dollars, that he carries on his shoulders. SpaceX is valued at around $180 billion, and Tesla is worth approximately $571 billion. The more wealth Musk accumulates, the more power is attached to his transphobia. Already, he is consciously allowing employees within his companies to mock transgender people. Having a CEO who openly teases a marginalized population is a recipe for that company to tease said population as well. 

As a former small business owner, I’m actually a huge fan of Musk’s work. The billionaire is brilliant beyond belief, and, after being bullied in school in South Africa, earned degrees in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point, he was working so hard on one of his first startups that he often slept in the office and showered at a local YMCA. In interviews, it is clear that Musk borders, if not embodies, genius. His intellectual prowess is second to none. 

Additionally, the mogul has been open about his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. It’s impressive, to say the least, that Musk has racked up all of these accomplishments despite having these diseases of the mind and body. He has vocalized his use of ketamine therapy, for instance, in treating his bipolar, which is a ballsy move to make as CEO. 

Unfortunately, though, Musk just won’t stop with his transphobia. He is making X.com a non-democratic place for sponsored conspiratorial speech, and banning words is the farthest thing from freedom, which is a virtue he claims to embody. 

Many scholars of Elon have noted that he lives in a distorted reality, and I have to agree with that sentiment. Banning “cisgender” from X.com is certainly a distorted thing to do, and should be looked upon as a danger to society. 

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi

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Mayor of Salisbury, Md. is the Grinch who stole Pride

Randolph Taylor masks his homophobia with cowardly ‘neutrality’ claim

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Randolph ‘The Grinch’ Taylor, mayor of Salisbury, Md.

Salisbury is a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, probably best known for its university of about 7,000 undergraduate students. It’s also home to a robust and growing Pride celebration.

But this will mark the first time in five years that a Pride flag will not fly at city hall for Pride month, as the Blade reported last week.

“The administration’s position on the PFLAG kick-off is very simple,” Mayor Randolph Taylor said to the Blade. “That is, to be neutral. Neutrality is not to be interpreted as anything else but simply that — being neutral.“ (PFLAG has served as an organizer of Salisbury Pride events.)

Nicole Hollywood, an official with PFLAG Salisbury, told the Blade the group received an email from the city informing them of the change.

“We simply got an email saying that ‘we’re evaluating the use of city assets for cultural events,’ and ‘we don’t feel it’s appropriate moving forward to hang flags that represent special interest groups.’”

So Salisbury’s LGBTQ residents now constitute a “special interest group” rather than a minority community facing growing backlash, hatred, and discrimination in a rural part of the state? This lame, ham-handed excuse barely disguises the cowardice, homophobia, and transphobia at play here. No elected public official should be “neutral” when it comes to the rights, dignity, and equality of their constituents.

We are painfully aware of the growing influence of MAGA-inspired hate groups like the ironically named Moms for Liberty, that are working overtime to bully public officials into banning LGBTQ-themed books, pulling support for Pride events, and otherwise rendering our community invisible again. They want us back in the closet where we can’t disrupt their plans to establish a Christian theocracy. 

Mayor Taylor is merely the latest rube in a pathetic and long line of cowardly public officials to kowtow to this madness, inspired by their Dear Leader Donald Trump, a convicted felon who has validated the worst impulses and bigotry of Americans from coast to coast. What happened to leaders who lead? What happened to the Ronald Reagan Republicans who wanted the government out of our lives, embraced immigrants, and fought Russian aggression? Reagan couldn’t get elected dog catcher in the modern GOP.

But back to Taylor — the Grinch who stole Pride. He is the mayor of a small town and he has the cojones to match. Let’s hope the business community, including the influential local university, speaks out to denounce this hateful attack on Pride — because that’s precisely what it is. By shrinking the public spaces where LGBTQ people feel comfortable and safe, officials like Taylor are playing into the hands and the sick agenda of the MAGA crowd. When LGBTQ people are attacked and “othered,” our queer youth suffer and die. Shame on Mayor Taylor for caving to such hatred and betraying his LGBTQ constituents during the most important month of the year for our visibility. The good people and the LGBTQ residents of Salisbury deserve better.

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

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