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Supreme Court: What we know is bad enough. What should we do?

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

As the shock of actually seeing a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade sunk in, reporters and many concerned people once again started asking me whether the Republican Party and the Supreme Court it has packed with agenda-driven justices pose a threat to same-sex couples’ freedom to marry, which we won through a decades-long campaign. My one-word answer was and is: vote. 

When an alarm sounds and there’s a fire in your kitchen, you don’t sit back and debate whether it might spread to the bedroom. You fight the fire. 

Don’t waste time and energy sitting around cataloguing all the many additional bad things that might happen. What’s happening right now, to women, to all of us, is bad enough – and we can do something about it. We can elect representatives who will defend the rights of Americans and strengthen our democracy, who will pass legislation to protect voting rights and reproductive rights (and elections, economic opportunity, racial justice, and more), and who will select judges and justices who are faithful to the Constitution, not to theocratic ideology, partisan or shadowy funders’ regressive agendas, or an oligarchic wealth and power grab. We can vote out the elected officials who are dividing Americans to distract and demoralize them, foisting their unpopular minority views on our pluralistic people, driving our country into a ditch.

Those who would roll back the clock on America’s progress, and even undermine American democracy itself, didn’t succumb to despair, cynicism, apathy, or inaction, and nor should we. We can mobilize and turn out. We can overcome obstacles. We can reclaim power.

Who gets elected makes a difference. 

Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, stole a Supreme Court seat (now filled by Neil Gorsuch). They railroaded through a second Trump nominee (Brett Kavanaugh) without meaningfully investing his sketchy past (not just the credible charges of lying about a sexual assault, but Kavanaugh’s paper-trail while in government and even his finances and the unresolved question of who paid off his debts). They ruthlessly (and hypocritically) seated a third Trump nominee (Amy Barrett) literally in the middle of an election. They pretended to believe that these nominees would respect precedent. And, of course, it was Republican presidents who packed the Supreme Court with litmus-tested ideologues; would Hillary Clinton have appointed the three right-wingers that Trump did? Would Al Gore have chosen the likes of Samuel Alito? 

Voting, or not choosing to turn out to vote, has consequences.

The justices installed by Republican presidents who didn’t even win the popular vote have gutted voting rights, subverted labor organizing, shifted the rules of the economy to favor the wealthy, carved out special licenses to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom, impeded progressive and pro-environment actions of government (intended to be, as FDR put it, our people’s “greatest single instrument of cooperative self-help”), and now, come after women’s empowerment and health.

No political party, no politician, is perfect, but the difference between the Democrats and Republicans today could not be starker – not just because they differ radically on matters of policy, but because the primary difference is now that one is the Democratic Party and the other is anti-democracy itself. 

And the difference between heading in the right direction and the dark place American politics is in right now can turn on as small a number as two: If there were two more Democratic senators, notwithstanding Republican obstruction and Trumpist lies, the Senate would dispense with the filibuster and follow the House in passing legislation to safeguard our elections and Americans’ right to vote, assure access to abortion, reform policing, invest in the middle class, extend the Child Tax Credit, address the need for safety in the face of the insane prevalence of guns, and so much more. Urgently needed reforms to protect and reinvigorate our Republic, including Supreme Court expansion, would be on the table as correctives or at least deterrents (full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of Take Back the Court). President Biden and progressives (who right now are leading effectively despite having zero political margin) would be delivering much more on what they ran on, what a majority voted for, and the country would be moving forward faster.

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote.

Justice Alito in his draft rightly notes that in some ways, abortion is different from other questions, and professes that that distinguishes the right to choose an abortion, which the majority takes away, from other rights, such as the freedom to marry without restriction based on race or sex.  “We emphasize,” Justice Alito writes in his draft, “that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” 

Analysts are right not to believe him. He and Justice Clarence Thomas, at least, have indicated their absolute desire and intention to go after the freedom to marry as well as other basic rights, including contraception. Justice Alito’s draft contains an attack on the very idea that the Constitution protects an underlying liberty (sometimes denoted as our right to privacy, or our right to autonomy); the “unenumerated” right that the Court has invoked to affirm American’s freedom to make important life-defining choices, such as when and whether to bear a child, or to have sex, or whether and whom to marry. 

Justice Alito pretends that because the word “abortion” is not in the Constitution, it is not protected. (The Constitution also does not contain the word “marriage” – or, for that matter, the words “freedom,” “education,” “corporation,” or “judicial review”). What the Ninth Amendment does say, of course, is “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” 

That clear constitutional text won’t be enough to stop Justices Alito and Thomas. But the fact that they may be ready to roll back the gains of the past fifty or more years, or overturn the New Deal, doesn’t mean there are five votes to fully adopt the specious, fraudulent attack on Americans’ underlying liberty that the draft opinion sketched out, or to follow it to where he might want to go. 

More than a million gay people have gotten legally married in the US. We didn’t win marriage as a gift from the Court; we mobilized, organized, persuaded, shared our stories, fought, and worked for decades to change hearts and minds, and then the law. We won in legislatures, in state courts and then federal, at the ballot, and in millions of personal conversations. When I wrote my law school thesis in 1983 advocating for the freedom to marry, polls showed support at 11%. We grew that to 63% by the time we went for the win at the Supreme Court in 2015, and support has widened and deepened since. The latest polls now show support for the freedom to marry at 70%, including majority support even among those over 65, even among those still willing (despite Trump, despite Putin) to identify themselves as Republicans. We won by overcoming losses, and turning no into yes.

There are many reasons to hope that the freedom to marry victory remains secure – even while there is reason, of course, to fear.

But, again, we shouldn’t be sitting around cataloguing, fretting, or waiting in dread of additional bad things. Trump and his enablers are mounting a continuing coup attempt. Extreme candidates threaten to take power in states and in the House. And now looms the despicable prospect of a constitutional right such as a woman’s right to choose – embedded in the law and our lives for nearly half a century – being cynically stripped away, with all the harm that will inflict on women, children, and families. We know enough already.

Instead of worrying about whether the freedom to marry is at risk, we must heed the call to action already upon us. By taking action now, above all by winning elections, we will best undo damage and move our country forward, the best protection for all that we we care about.

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Evan Wolfson led the campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Since victory in 2015, he advises and assists diverse movements in the US on “how to win,” as well as activists seeking to win marriage in other countries worldwide.

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Dispatch from Kyiv

Intersex activist remains in Ukrainian capital with mother

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Julia Pustovit attends an Egalite Intersex Ukraine event at the Kyiv City Museum of Antiquities and Art in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo courtesy of Julia Pustovit)

War came to our house suddenly and severely. It was brought by a cruel and ruthless aggressor: Russia.

More than 10 million Ukrainians were forced to seek refuge around the world, where it is much safer today. My elderly mother and I stayed in Kyiv because she needs daily help and support, and she can’t move far from home because of her poor health.

It is not easy for an intersex person to live in Ukraine, even in peacetime, but in times of war it is even tougher. Moreover, without the appropriate ID (passport) that corresponds with my gender and appearance, it is nearly impossible for me to leave the country.

More than 10 years have passed since I began my struggle to get a correct document, but today the lack of one creates for me a real danger. During the occupation of Bucha and Irpin and other cities we lost touch with some our intersex colleagues. We do not know what happened to them, and for me it’s very scary because as it turned out I live just 10 km from the frontlines.

I am well-known to the Russians because of my activism, and as it turned out they are not tolerant of Ukrainians. I know that they are even more cruel towards people like me. They also slaughter LGBTIQ people; torturing them before killing them.

Julia Pustovit is the head of Egalite Intersex Ukraine, the first intersex rights organization in Ukraine. Pustovit lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with her mother.

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LGBTQ Ukrainians will do our best to resist Russia

Putin invading country with ‘traditional values’

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Olena Shevchenko (Photo via Facebook)

Today I woke up at 5 a.m. because of the massive attack on our cities from Russia. Nobody in Ukraine can still believe it is happening right now. I got dozens of messages and calls from different regions, from people who are asking me what to do, and I didn’t have any answers. It took us few hours to collect information on different regions and cities and members of our LGBTQI+ communities there.

We have branches in 11 regions, including Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, which are located in eastern Ukraine. We started to collect names of those who must be relocated immediately.

So why it is so dangerous for LGBTQI+ people to stay under possible occupation?

Russia is coming with its “traditional values” and will be hunting us, those who are dangerous for their evil empire. I heard they already have lists of activists who will be persecuted first and I am sure that LGBTQI+ activists are on those lists.

We already had a similar situation in 2014, when Russia occupied our territories and many people were forced to leave their homes. Many of them were LGBTQI+ people, who told us they were hunting them and some were killed or disappeared.

In 2014 we opened a shelter for LGBTQI+ internally displaced persons in Kyiv. This time it seems we do not have any place to go and we want to protect our homeland from occupants. Therefore, the situation is difficult and nobody knows what will be next and who will survive. We are doing what we can do now: Providing psychological support to people, opening a hotline for consultations and asking international communities to somehow help us. But it seems these instruments don’t work anymore in the world and we must fight this stupid war on our own.

I think the international community needs to realize that it’s not just some war in Eastern Europe. It is the start of a huge international crisis and possible war all over Europe. The Russian president clearly showed he doesn’t care about international obligations, rules or sanctions anymore. He will continue and never stop.

We are living in very interesting times in which a new story is being made, and this is not only our Ukrainian history, but also in the geopolitical history of the world. Existing international institutions and existing mechanisms for deterring and maintaining peace have proved imaginary. When I say imaginary, it does not mean that they do not exist. This means that they are not effective. They help only if you believe in them and hold on to that faith. In essence, we need to rethink this and create other, new and working mechanisms, and here Ukraine must show its strength to others.

Jokes about “deep concern” are no longer funny. We understand that this is the maximum of what an imaginary democratic world can give us now. In recent days, our international partners have been writing to me almost every minute, many of them asking if we have a crisis plan in place, and, if not, when will we develop it. I want to tell everyone again: What plan can work in the event of a full-scale invasion? (We do not have planes to take people to a safe place, as you did.) In any case, we remain to defend ourselves and our country and will continue to help people. Our activists from the LGBTQI+ communities are staying and keep working, providing support to the most marginalized ones. Honestly, I don’t know how long we will be able to resist, but we will do our best for sure.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Everything will be fine!

Olena Shevchenko is the chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group. Shevchenko lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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NYC mayor pushes Christian ‘Death to Gays’ politico for city post

Former councilman praised Ugandan authorities’ anti-homosexuality push

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Former NYC Council member Fernando Cabrera in the Bronx in 2017. Cropped from official NYC DOT photo. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Shortly after Uganda lawmakers passed a “life in prison” law for homosexuality, and while they debated restoring the death penalty, a Democratic politician and Christian pastor from the Bronx named Fernando Cabrera traveled there and praised them for fighting homosexuality, claiming all government officials must first be servants of the Christian God.

  • Cabrera made clear he supports harsh criminal penalties for gay people.
  • Cabrera made clear he opposes church/state separation.
  • Cabrera made clear religious diversity is not what his God wants.
  • Cabrera endorsed dangerously ignorant claims about HIV, directly opposite to reality, claims public health experts say help encourage the spread of HIV. (For more about Cabrera’s dangerous HIV claims, see extra content at the bottom of this article.)

Will Cabrera be bringing his dangerous views to New York City government? That sounds absurd, but it looks like the answer is yes.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams insists on giving Cabrera a job in his administration

Not long ago, the newly elected Democratic mayor proposed making Cabrera, a fellow Democrat and former council member from the Bronx, head of the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health.

LGBTQ activists shouted bloody murder.

Cabrera is on the record promoting the false notion that homosexuality is a mental illness. How could he possibly serve as a leader for NYC’s mental health communities?

What was the mayor thinking?

After several days of withering criticism, Adams withdrew the proposal. But he wasn’t done. He tapped Cabrera to join a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnership as a “a conduit between city government, the faith-based community throughout New York City and nonprofit organization[s].”

Chi Ossé, NYC council member for Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, via his Twitter profile.

LGBTQ activists, politicians and Christian leaders are shouting bloody murder again

Allen Roskoff, a longtime gay rights activist and Democratic Party organizer, joined a wide array of Democrats, including many faith leaders, expressing shock, saying that Cabrera serving in a faith-based government post is “equally as unacceptable as him running the mental health office.”

How is he going to deal with LGBTQ people of faith? How is he going to deal with a gay synagogue? How is he going to deal with gay Catholics? What is this mayor thinking? Has he no consideration for us? It’s a big FU to the LGBTQ community.

Equality New York asked members “to let Mayor Adams know that we will not accept any anti-LGBTQI individuals anywhere in government here in NYC.”

Councilmember Chi Ossé of Brooklyn, a member of the LGBT Caucus, told Gay City News he strongly opposes any faith-based role for Cabrera: “The Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships offers a powerful opportunity to build bridges between communities and strengthen the bonds of our proudly diverse city. Mr. Cabrera’s history unfortunately demonstrates that he is unfit to fulfill this role.”

Eric Adams as Brooklyn Borough President in 2020. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit) (CC BY 2.0)

Adams isn’t backing down. The implications are frightening.

A source told the Daily News he was in the room when out gay state Sen. Brad Hoylman angrily confronted Adams about Cabrera. The source says the mayor vowed not to change his mind, saying, “This is his administration and that he can do what he wants.”

Is this Democratic Party move LGBTQ people’s worst nightmare coming true?

We’re used to opposition to equality from the Republican Party, especially now with Trumpism dominating and queer people centered in a political bullseye. We know a backlash is happening among conservatives who are trying to roll back progress, especially in the state and local levels.

We know parents are demanding books about us and by us be removed from school curriculums and libraries, often on the flimsiest of pretexts about “sexual content.”

We know queer lives in Red states are becoming more difficult, especially for transgender people. We know queer youth from all stripes of the rainbow are suffering increasing rates of bullying and calling mental health crisis lines like Trevor Project in unprecedented numbers.

The one thing we thought we could count on was Democratic Party support

I’m not claiming the sky is falling. New York City politics are a little odd. A Democratic mayor there isn’t necessarily a mainstream Democrat. Adams’ support of Cabrera could be a one-off, bizarre effect of city politics. Or not.

Adams is a savvy politician.

If he thinks he can ram Cabrera’s appointment through despite organized Democratic opposition — and it looks like he will — then he must believe Democratic voters will ultimately have his back.

That’s the nightmare.

If Adams is right, he might have just normalized homophobia in the Democratic Party.

Cabrera’s positions reveal him to be deeply ignorant with respect to HIV policy, dangerously un-American in his rejection of secular government ideals, anti-Christian in his embrace of harsh punishment for gay people, and entirely unsuited to be a leader in the Democratic Party.

Cabrera’s views line up point by point with those of hardline Trump Republicans.

I don’t know much about Mayor Adams other than that many Democrats in NYC are leery of his conservative politics, but if he insists on appointing a reactionary anti-LGBTQ religious fanatic to his administration, then queer people’s worst nightmares have started to come true.

Will American politics continue to reflect a regressive backlash against acceptance and equality? Will the Democratic Party no longer be welcoming or safe for LGBTQ people?

The jury is out. Stay tuned.

Extra content: Details about Cabrera’s false claims about HIV in Uganda —

Fernando Cabrera is dead wrong about Uganda’s “Christian” government reducing HIV infection rates, which remain among the highest in Africa. In the video where Cabrera praised Uganda’s harsh anti-homosexuality laws, he claimed Ugandan Christian leadership was responsible for a dramatic reduction in HIV cases, saying the reduction happened, “because the righteous are ruling.”

His claim is dangerously counterfactual.

Uganda’s people have suffered from HIV/AIDS at higher rates than people in any other African nation except South Africa. During the period Cabrera was talking about in his speech, HIV infection rates were rising, not falling as he claimed.

Why?

Public health authorities like NCBI and WHO cite the Ugandan government’s policies stigmatizing sex work and criminalizing homosexuality as primary driving factors. The full situation is complex, but Pan-African health authorities claim that to this day the Uganda government is not effectively managing the HIV crisis. Infection rates are not falling like they are in most other African nations — like in South Africa where they are now falling dramatically.

The claims Cabrera made in his speech echo claims Ugandan leaders were making then and that they continue to make, frustrating international and Pan-African efforts to contain HIV on the continent.

For details, click this link.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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