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Marsha P. Johnson Institute honors, uplifts Black trans lives

Elle Moxley on ‘making the full humanity of our existence visible’

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Elle Moxley with actress Dominique Jackson at the MPJ Institute’s recent event with H&M. (Photo courtesy MPJ Institute)

Marsha P. Johnson — a towering figure in the Stonewall Rebellion — would have celebrated her 77th birthday this week. Johnson was an outspoken advocate for gay and trans rights, and the “P” in her name stood for “Pay it no mind” — her response when asked about her gender. 

In honor of the late activist’s birthday, the Blade sat down with Elle Moxley, founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, to discuss how Johnson’s legacy lives on.

BLADE: When and why did you found the Marsha P. Johnson Institute?

ELLE MOXLEY: The Marsha P. Johnson Institute launched in 2019, and my founding of the organization was in response to the consistent murders that were being reported of Black trans women across the country. I have spent many years working as an organizer and activist, and I saw that there was a gap in social justice spaces — in terms of the solutions that were being generated in response to those murders, but also to the systemic and structural violence that existed around Black trans people and Black people period.

The organization was named in honor of Marsha P. Johnson to affirm the movement that Marsha spearheaded and to create a space where the movement of today had a place to live, without disregarding the history of so many that came before.

BLADE: Can you tell me about the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson that you see in the Institute?

MOXLEY: The fight for equity is something that we see as an evolvement of Marsha’s belief in equality, and we recognize that Marsha was very visible in a movement that did not always reflect faces that looked like hers, in terms of what we understood about LGBTQ rights or LGBTQ people. Knowing that Black trans people exist outside of our deaths and outside of our murders is really where we see the evolvement of our work at the Institute, but that evolvement would not even be possible if Marsha had not made herself visible on the front lines of her activism. It is in that regard where we see ourselves very much mirroring a model that she created for the movement, and we have certainly held up the torch and are carrying it forward.

BLADE: The Institute’s Starship Artists Fellowships are set to begin soon — what are your hopes for the new program?

MOXLEY: With all of our new programming, it really is our hope that we are changing the culture of global societies — that we are not only making Black trans people visible, but we’re making the full humanity of our existence visible. The artists’ fellowship was created to pay homage to the visionaries that exist in the Black trans community. There’s a Black trans renaissance that certainly is underway, and we want to continue to support that function of movement. A lot of people assume that movement is literally about protesting — and that certainly is a big part of it — but there are other ways that you can resist but also practice your joy. We really want it to mirror that Black trans people are joyful — we have joy, and murder is not the only thing we expect to happen to us. Our artists’ fellowship creates space for artists to imagine a bigger picture, a bigger world, for Black trans futures.

I am an artist myself, so that was also a big part of it. Activism is something that Black trans people often have to choose to survive, and we are mad and angry about our circumstances, but we actually are people who have other dreams and desires outside of just fighting for our lives. Marsha P. Johnson again served as an amazing model for movement — her participation in street art and in theater troupes is a reflection of the joy that so many people find outside of their activism.

BLADE: In honor of Black Philanthropy Month and Black August, are there any understudied or underreported causes and freedom fighters that people should be more aware of?

MOXLEY: Just several weeks ago, we lost one of the most important freedom fighters and political prisoners of our time — Albert Woodfox, who was held in solitary confinement for 44 years, the longest solitary confinement in U.S. history. I would say that Black August is always an opportunity for people to understand the structural inadequacies that exist not only in prisons, but in the world. It’s real people who are being housed in prisons, and I say real people because the atrocities of life are often happening to the people who are in cages. I think Black Philanthropy Month creates a space for more investments to happen to organizations who are leading the fight against the apartheid and the segregation that certainly exist in America.

To celebrate the freedom fighters of our time, we are uplifting Black trans freedom fighters who have given their lives to movement, who have given their lives for others. And that’s happening in and outside of prisons — those who are on the inside of prisons are always still advocating for the people in the communities that they believe in, and we are so grateful and thankful to those folks.

BLADE: It seems like most of the recent news about reproductive rights and trans rights has been dismal. Are there any bright spots on your radar, in terms of legislative progress on these issues?

MOXLEY: Anytime a human right is interrupted or taken away, it is such a negative for so many people who are looking for legislation that gives them hope. I will say that I’ve just been hopeful about the future of democracy and of our humanity. I think there are so many activists who have been activated to lead to more generative resolutions around legislation, especially when we think about piecemeal legislation actually being the thing that’s being abolished. That’s the beautiful juxtaposition of what happens when we lose a law — the thing about laws is that they can go away, and they can always return.

If we lean into the positive, we have an opportunity to create more than we originally started with. And that’s the thing that gives me so much hope — we can create more foundational legislation that accounts for the human rights of all people and not just a specific kind. With reproductive justice being at the center of so many of our political conversations, what we are seeing is an expansion of what reproductive justice means and who reproductive justice applies to. And that is what gives me great hope, that we will now be able to account for more than just the abortions of trans men, that we’ll be able to think about the reproductive rights of Black trans women and nonbinary people in ways that we’ve never been able to consider before. 

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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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National

Homeland Security says more attacks against LGBTQ people are possible

Gunman killed five people at ClubQ in Colo. on Nov. 19

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(Public domain photo)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror threat bulletin Wednesday warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, Homeland Security officials noted that several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the U.S:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” Homeland Security warned.

Homeland Security also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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