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Politicians should stop using children as political punching bags

Let us hold leaders accountable for their vicious self-centeredness

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Screen capture via YouTube)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recent signing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was a body blow to the LGBTQ+ community — particularly for those of us who trust in our schools to provide a safe and welcoming space for our children.

But it was what the governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, tweeted earlier in March that made my heart leap into my throat. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming bill, you are probably a groomer.”

As the former executive director of GLSEN, I know a dog whistle when I hear it. And I also know that politicians who have ambitions of running for higher office, like DeSantis, choose their words extremely carefully.

DeSantis is deliberately activating a cultural fear tactic to scare schools and educators away from providing LGBTQ+ children and their families with potentially life-saving support. And unfortunately he is far from alone in going down this dangerous path of spouting hate for political leverage.

Throughout the historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson, we saw Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others bring the specter of child indoctrination into the national discussion in the context of race. In doing so, they were following the lead of Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist-journalist known for creating an all-purpose header for all things controversial out of the label “critical race theory” (CRT).

This began to take shape last year with the intentional mischaracterization of schools implementing diversity, equity and inclusion programs as attempts to indoctrinate our kids with divisive leftist ideals. Starting with Hawley’s attacks on Judge Jackson, they upped the ante by accusing schools of “grooming” children to be anti-racist — this time drawing from the QAnon playbook.

Radical politicians push legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, or vile rhetoric like the insinuations about Judge Jackson, in order to further their agenda of dismantling our children’s access to a good, truly multicultural public education by sowing confusion and distrust, as was openly stated by Rufo at a speaking event at Hillsdale College earlier in April. All the while, they create a deeply dangerous environment for some of our most vulnerable children.

And their timing could not be more dire. This deluge of bad policymaking and shrill rhetoric is happening at the exact moment when we are experiencing a national mental health crisis among our youth. Nearly four out of 10 teens reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” according to CDC data — a 40 percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Black and LGBTQ+ students in particular are more likely than their peers to have attempted suicide, and when politicians use them as political chips to be played, it compounds those risks. Never mind the fact that schools’ efforts to undo racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bias and violence is itself an investment in these children’s survival. Black adolescents experience multiple instances of racial discrimination every day, one study found, with real consequences for their mental health. Schools need to play an active role in rectifying that.

In my 20 years at GLSEN, I wrote far too many condolence letters to parents who lost a child to suicide. Some politicians see no harm in shaming and stigmatizing vulnerable children.

We’ve seen lately this onrush of harmful, self-centered behavior from those in a position of public trust. But on the other end of the spectrum, is Spencer Cox: the Republican governor of Utah who recently issued a brilliant letter explaining his veto of an anti-trans sports bill passed by the state legislature.

Vetoing the bill, which would have banned trans girls from participating in women’s sports in public schools, was surely a politically unpopular move in a deep-red state. But after thoughtfully considering the issues, reviewing key research, and weighing the competing needs of stakeholders, Cox took a stand in defense of some of Utah’s most vulnerable children.

For all those who rise to the calling of public service, there’s a choice to be made. Gov. Cox made the choice to safeguard the most vulnerable youth in his state despite the political implications. I sincerely hope that in this critical moment, more of our country’s leaders will follow his example.

And should it take more than their own consciences to do so, let us all hold leaders accountable for the impact of their cynical/vicious/immoral self-centeredness on all of our children.

Eliza Byard is a senior adviser to the Campaign for Our Shared Future, a leading global expert on LGBTQ+ issues in K-12 education and youth development, and served as executive director of GLSEN from 2008-2021. 

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Opinions

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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Commentary

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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