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America the humorless

A thin-skinned people offended by jokes and bent on punishing comedians

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Blade editor Kevin Naff with comedian Kathy Griffin at the 2018 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. (Washington Blade file photo)

Two weeks ago, the Blade’s print edition cover date fell on April 1, known to most of us as April Fools’ Day.

In the spirit of the holiday, which History.com says originated in 1582 when France moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar and confused some gullible residents, I decided the Blade should join the fun. 

The paper has a long history of participating in April Fools’ jokes, once publishing a cover photo of the office shot upside down to make it appear the Blade offices had been ransacked by anti-gay activists. 

For this year’s cover, we published an image of Sen. Lindsey Graham, fresh off his melodramatic temper tantrum at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, with a headline that read, “Yep, I’m gay,” an obvious parody of Ellen DeGeneres’s infamous Time magazine coming out cover.

I thought it was funny. Predictably, many on social media did not.

“There are kids dying and you’re making fun of coming out!” “I demand an apology from the editor!” And “Don’t pick on Sen. Graham, you’re punching down!” were among the reactions.

Not sure how an alternative news outlet “punches down” at a senior U.S. senator.

I should have known better than to attempt a little fun, but such is the state of our thin-skinned society offended by jokes and bent on punishing comedians. 

We saw this sad trend play out at the Oscars, when Will Smith — on the precipice of the biggest moment in his career — marched on stage and slapped Chris Rock for a lame joke about his wife. It was stunning for its stupidity, and for its patronizing, patriarchal treatment of Jada Pinkett Smith, hardly a shrinking violet in need of a man’s protection.

Other comedians have since fretted publicly that they will be next — confronted and assaulted by an audience member offended by a joke. 

But what’s more concerning than the safety of comics is the state of America’s waning sense of humor. When did we become so easily offended and frightened? Watching the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, it’s difficult to imagine Americans standing up en masse to an invading dictator’s army when we can’t even take a joke without demanding apologies and even protection from such minor offenses. 

When Kathy Griffin posed with a fake severed head of Donald Trump — an obvious parody of ISIS videos — she was fired, canceled, and even abandoned by longtime friend and colleague Anderson Cooper. In 2018, the Blade invited Griffin to our table at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, triggering protests and hate mail that we were rewarding a “terrorist.” At that dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a genius keynote, skewering everyone from Trump to the Democratic Party. But it was a joke about abortion that made headlines and offended the masses.

Here’s what she said: “Mike Pence is very anti-choice. He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.”

For that joke, the New York Times pondered in a headline whether Wolf had “killed the Correspondents’ Dinner.” Well no, she did her job and told some jokes, just like Dave Chappelle did in his recent Netflix special that resulted in protests and calls for his cancellation. 

If you watch that special in its entirety — rather than read select quotes out of context — you learn that Chappelle had a friend who was transgender. He championed her career and even hired her to open his show. At the end of the special, he delivers a touching tribute to his trans friend, who died by suicide. I don’t know how one could watch that show and come away thinking Chappelle is transphobic. 

It wasn’t the first time Chappelle found himself on the wrong side of the LGBTQ community. In 2017, he told some trans jokes that offended activists. When the Blade reached out to him for an interview, he said he would talk to us only if the reporter sat through his entire show and then interviewed him immediately after back stage. We accepted his invitation. During that interview, he denied being transphobic and assailed North Carolina’s HB2, which banned trans people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. 

“You could say whatever you want about someone’s lifestyle, but denying them access to a restroom is a denial of their humanity,” Chappelle told the Blade. 

There is plenty to be offended about in our modern world, from the Ukraine crisis to the legislative attacks on trans people across the United States, that we should learn to take a joke, laugh at ourselves, and focus on what’s important. If you go through life looking to be offended, you’ll never be disappointed. 

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

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Roe ruling returns us to the discriminatory 1950s

For the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy

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A scene from 'Father Knows Best' aired on Oct. 3, 1954. (Screen capture via YouTube)

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column.)

I love looking at photos of my grandmother in the 1950s, going out to lunch with her friends, wearing hats with combs, white gloves in hand.

The 1950s had it all over us in style, I think. 

Until, I remember:

• Black people who were discriminated against had little or no legal recourse;

• Most women couldn’t get a charge card, let alone buy a home, unless their husbands got it for them;

• If you were queer, you could be arrested for dancing with someone of the same-sex at a gay bar, or lose your job because of your sexuality.

Those memories erase my 1950s nostalgia. I’ll enjoy family pictures from that era but I don’t want to return to the 1950s.

Unfortunately, that’s what the Supreme Court has done. The court’s overthrow of Roe v. Wade (in its 6-3 ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) thrusts us back to an era that threatens to be as repressive as the 1950s.

The court’s reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade wasn’t surprising. 

Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign made it clear: If elected he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would likely rule to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump isn’t known for his truth-telling or promise-keeping. But in this critical matter, he wasn’t lying. He kept his word.

But the court’s ending nearly 50 years of a fundamental right is still gut-wrenching.

We’ve known that America, though a democracy, has long had a record of denying rights and dignity to all of its citizens.

Black people were enslaved. For a good part of our history only white men could vote. Japanese people were put in concentration camps during World War II.  To avoid being scorned by their families, most queer people had to be closeted.

Yet until the court overturned Roe v. Wade, no civil right had been taken away.

Now, for the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy.

As I’m writing, at least 13 states have laws that will immediately or in a short time ban abortions. States where abortion remains illegal are looking to find ways to prosecute out-of-state clinics and doctors who perform abortions.

In Texas, citizens are legally permitted to sue anyone (from an Uber driver to a clergy person to a doctor or clinic) who performs an abortion or helps anyone to obtain an abortion.

Putting reproductive freedom into the quagmire of state legislatures isn’t enough for many Republicans and members of the religious right.

They’re chomping at the bit, if the Democrats lose their slim majority in Congress and a Republican becomes president in 2024, to impose a federal ban on abortion.

To add to this toxic mix, some Republicans and members of the religious right want to punish women who’ve had abortions.

I am terrified for all who seek reproductive health care.

I have childhood memories of my mom, who had type 1 diabetes, having an abortion pre- Roe v. Wade. If my mother hadn’t had the abortion, she may have died when I was 7 and my brother was 4. Though devastated by the stigma of having an abortion when terminating a pregnancy wasn’t legal, my mom was lucky. She could afford to have an abortion.

Then (as now), many poor women couldn’t have afforded to have an abortion or have the means to travel out of state to end their pregnancies.

One in four women have had an abortion. Now those needing reproductive health care (whether an abortion or, in some cases, treatment for miscarriage) again face stigma. Poverty will prevent many from having legal, safe abortions.

People won’t stop terminating their pregnancies. If they have to, they’ll resort to unsafe, self-administered abortions.

As a lesbian, I, like many queer folk, fear that the repeal of Roe will be a foreshadowing of the overturning of LGBTQ rights (from marriage equality to the right to have sex with whom we love).

In post-Roe America, fighting for the rights and dignity of women, LGBTQ folk and other marginalized people will be the life’s work of our generation and of generations to come.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Opinions

We need more inclusive data to drive progress for LGBTQI+ communities

Bill would require federal surveys to include questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

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As we celebrate the immeasurable contributions of LGBTQI+ people during Pride month and commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we must also renew our commitment to advancing a more equitable America for our LGBTQI+ communities.

Seven years ago, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, but despite this progress, over half of U.S. states can still deny LGBTQI+ people in the United States basic freedoms. LGBTQI+ individuals can still be denied a rental home or a wedding cake, simply because of who they love or how they identify.

Even worse, conservative lawmakers in state legislatures across the country are passing extreme bills targeting LGBTQI+ communities.  These Republican-sponsored measures directly attack LGBTQI+ youth—their identity, dignity, and even access to basic health care.

The historic inequities faced by the LGBTQI+ communities and the uptick of radical, anti-LGBTQI+ attacks demand a coordinated federal response.  But for far too long, policymakers have lacked the data necessary to craft and implement public policy that serves LGBTQI+ people in the United States. 

While the federal government currently collects some data on LGBTQI+ people, it falls dramatically short. 

The American Community Survey only accounts for cohabitating same-sex couples—meaning that it does not capture more than 5 in 6 LGBTQI+ adults. 

That is why the U.S. House of Representatives passed the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act last week in a historic bipartisan vote of 220-201.  

The bill would require federal surveys to include questions pertaining to sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations on sex characteristics on a voluntary, confidential basis. By doing this, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act would ensure that lawmakers and federal agencies have the comprehensive data they need to advance polices that better serve LGBTQI+ people.

Solid data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal surveys will help lawmakers craft policies to remedy the disparities faced by LGBTQI+ individuals—particularly LGBTQI+ people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by these disparities.  More comprehensive and inclusive federal data could help remedy systemic inequities in unemployment, health care, housing instability and more.

Earlier this month, President Biden issued a groundbreaking executive order to advance equality for LGBTQI+ people across the United States — including by expanding the collection of data pertaining to LGBTQI+ people in the United States.  This legislation would expand the ability of our federal agencies to follow the President’s directive so that we can craft policies tailored to the specific needs of our LGBTQI+ communities. 

As parents, we also championed this legislation because it will help parents across the country better understand LGTBQI+ youth and their experiences.  LGBTQI+ youth deserve the best available data-driven information and resources to validate their experiences, protect them from harm, and help them thrive.  Together, we’ll be able to provide these resources for LGBTQI+ youth who are higher risk of depression and attempted suicide.

The LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act is a long overdue step in the right direction, and it could not have been possible without the tireless work of LGBTQI+ organizations and activists.  More than 150 LGBTQI+ groups and allies have helped shape this bill to ensure that Congress enacts the most comprehensive and effective legislation possible.

Policymakers have a duty to lift LGBTQI+ voices and ensure our LGBTQI+ constituents are all seen, heard, and counted. The House made history this Pride month and passed the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, we urge our colleagues in the Senate to do the same.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D) is a member of the U.S. House from Arizona; Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D) is a member of the U.S. House from New York.

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Turkey Pride crackdowns only strengthen LGBTQ resistance

Hundreds arrested in Istanbul on Sunday

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Police crackdown on the Istanbul Pride march on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hayri Tunç)

The waving colors of the thousand shades inside of a rainbow,

The sparkling joy from the pride and honor of self-declaration, 

The echoing sounds of the steps for solidarity in the cobblestone streets of İstanbul, 

To unite for equality, for justice, for solely our right to be. 

This was our goal, our expectation and our hope for Pride Turkey 2022. It has, however, been overshadowed by the government’s vicious attempts to repress the colors of the LGBTQI+ community. 

First, it started with the ban of Pride speeches and panels that many district governors and other local authorities across Turkey announced. Local police officers raided the many event venues as if “illegal” activities were being conducted. 

As in the last couple of years, it was already expected the government would ban the Pride marches in many cities. It was, however, the first time the government officially tried to prevent even face-to-face community gatherings of LGBTQI+ organizations. It was a type of intervention reflecting the level of fear and intolerance of the government regarding the growing connection, solidarity and public visibility of LGBTQI+ community.

Nevertheless, oppression often brings out the most creative means. As such, Pride committees have carried all the activities on digital platforms. Many activists and civil society representatives have shown support by participating in live broadcasts from event venues, and the voice of LGBTQI+ solidarity still reached a wide audience. 

Subsequently, the most drastic pressure by the government has manifested itself during the Pride marches. The police violently intervened and used unproportionate force against marchers in many cities, which resulted in a radical number of unwarranted detentions. 

While 530 LGBTQI+ activists were taken into custody over the last 37 days across Turkey, 373 of them were arrested during the Istanbul Pride march on June 26. This constitutes a first, since the Istanbul Pride arrests constituted the largest number of people taken into custody during a street march since the Gezi protests.

Will these enormous efforts to pressure win the day? The answer is “definitely no.” On the contrary, it sparked a backlash by triggering strong solidarity among Turkey’s queer community. The outstanding resistance of LGBTQI+ marchers gained public recognition on social media, while persistent legal support of LGBTQI+ initiatives canceled all the detentions. In the end, the exhaustive pressures of the government could not manage to fade the multicolor of LGBTQI+ identity. In fact, it helped our rainbow flag to shine even more glamorous and visible.  

We, as members of the LGBTQI+ community, have once again proved through this entire experience that solidarity, togetherness and collective resistance are the most powerful facilitators in our fight to exist equally.   

In honor of the unbreakable resistance of Turkey Pride 2022 supporters, 

Thanks to you, the cobblestones of Istanbul and every street in Turkey echoed with the steps of LGBTQI+ solidarity.

Dilek İçten is a journalist, researcher and civil society expert with a demonstrated history of working in interdisciplinary and investigative research projects examining the socio-cultural dynamics of media, gender and migration. The focus of her work varies from freedom of expression, media censorship and journalistic independence to gender based-discrimination and hate speech against disadvantaged groups and minorities.

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