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Trans Republican councilwoman says she is uniquely positioned to ‘protect our community’

LGBTQ Americans ‘need to be in the corridors of power’

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Trenton (N.J.) City Councilwoman Jennifer Williams. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Williams)

Note: Other portions of Jennifer Williams’ interview with the Washington Blade were featured in a previous article alongside interviews with four other LGBTQ officeholders

Jennifer Williams, who recently became the first LGBTQ person on the Trenton (N.J.) City Councilmember and the one of the state’s first openly transgender officeholders, connected with the Washington Blade last week to discuss topics including how she reconciles her gender identity with her membership in the Republican Party.

While Williams is grateful for her broad base of support, including from progressive Democrats, it perhaps did not come as a surprise considering her record as a longtime LGBTQ advocate and public servant who chaired the municipal Republican Party in Trenton and served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment for 14 years.

Plus, Williams said in emailed responses to questions from the Blade that her views on LGBTQ matters are closer to those held by Democrats than by Republicans.

“If I have to put my views on LGBTQ policy issues in one mainstream bucket, I would clearly be more aligned with national and New Jersey Democrats on our rights, equalities and freedoms than the Republican National Committee’s platform and what some GOP leaders espouse,” Williams said.

“That important difference between the two major parties is why it is integral that I stay and fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry and discrimination,” she added.

Williams sees her position as an elected official who is both trans and a Republican as an opportunity to effectuate positive change from within her own party.

“Other LGBTQ folks may not understand why I try to advocate on the right and in the Republican Party,” she said. “But all I know is that until I am no longer the first LGBTQ or transgender person [whom] many Republican leaders meet, we will always have to worry about legislative actions or executive orders against us.”

Williams said she is in a unique position, and one that is imbued with a big responsibility:

“If I can be effective in helping some bad Republicans rethink their opinions of who we are,” she said. “Maybe we can get some of them to ‘tap the brakes’ on anti-LGBTQ legislation coming down the pike.”

“I have a ‘particular set of skills,’” Williams added, “And I feel called to use them to help protect our community.”

The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century by abolitionists who sought to fight for individual freedoms, liberties, self-determination and happiness, Williams noted, even if some GOP leaders do not demonstrate those values where it concerns LGBTQ people.  

LGBTQ Americans “really do need to be in the corridors of power and at the table where decisions are made,” Williams said. “Coming from the same home state as Marsha P. Johnson, who did so much for us so long ago, I know how important my being a [member of the] City Council can be.”

Of course, Williams said, she is not alone. LGBTQ officeholders across the country are putting into practice the idea that representation is crucially important in the fight for equal rights no matter who they are or where they have been elected, she said.

“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom and of reason if and when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up,” Williams said.

Despite the proliferation of state and local anti-LGBTQ bills, particularly proposals targeting the trans community, Williams sees reason to be hopeful.

“What is exciting is that we have gone from [Virginia state Del.] Danica Roem being the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature just over five years ago to where now, she is running for [Virginia] Senate and there are at least eight other transgender legislators,” Williams said.

The visibility of LGBTQ officeholders tends to encourage other members of the community to run for public office, she said.

“That is wonderful, and I think is what we need to duplicate and triplicate wherever we can,” Williams said, adding that the LGBTQ Victory Fund “is working very hard at this.”

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Politics

Chasten Buttigieg speaks out against Pence’s homophobic remarks

Pence doubled down Thursday on homophobic remarks about the Transportation Secretary

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Chasten Buttigieg on The View (Screen shot/YouTube)

Chasten Buttigieg, husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said former Vice President Mike Pence has not apologized for homophobic and misogynistic remarks about the couple that he made at a dinner in D.C. last weekend.

“I spoke up because we all have an obligation to hold people accountable for when they say something wrong, especially when it’s misogynistic, especially when it’s homophobic,” Chasten Buttigieg said during an appearance Thursday on ABC’s The View.

Last Saturday, Pence had joked that following the birth of the Buttigieg twins in 2021, the transportation secretary took “maternity leave” and then the country suffered “postpartum depression” over issues with airlines and air travel.

The former vice president delivered the remarks — which were first reported by the Washington Blade — during the annual Gridiron Club dinner, which he headlined along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D).

Per tradition, speakers at the dinner are expected to poke fun at political figures, including guests in attendance, but Pence’s comments quickly drew outrage for their homophobia and misogyny.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the matter in a comment shared with the Blade on Monday, “The former vice president’s homophobic joke about Secretary Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so because he treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline.”

The Buttigiegs have been public about the “terrifying” ordeal they suffered following the premature births of their twins. The newborns developed serious Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections (RSV) — which required one to be hospitalized, put on a ventilator, and transferred to a children’s hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., for treatment.

“An honest question for you, @Mike_Pence, after your attempted joke this weekend,” Chasten Buttigieg tweeted on Monday, “If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old – their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background – where would you be?”

The transportation secretary, asked on Monday whether they are owed an apology from Pence, said, “I’ll let others speak to that.”

During Thursday’s interview, Chasten Buttigieg called out the hypocrisy of Pence’s putative identity as a “family values Republican,” telling the talk show’s hosts, “I don’t think he’s practicing what he preaches here.”

“But also,” he added, “it’s a bigger conversation about the work that women do in families — taking a swipe at all women and all families and expecting that women would stay home and raise children is a misogynistic view.”

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Politics

LGBTQ groups challenge Fla. healthcare ban for trans youth

Law ‘stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the science’

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Gov. Ron DeSantis(R-Fla.) (Screen capture via YouTube)

Attorneys from a coalition of three LGBTQ groups and a public interest law firm announced on Thursday their plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of Florida parents challenging the state’s ban on healthcare interventions for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors.

Plaintiffs are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, Inc., the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). A spokesperson for NCLR told the Washington Blade they plan to file the complaint “in the next week or so.”

The ban on guideline-directed, medically necessary healthcare for trans youth went into effect Thursday. The rule has been opposed by major medical associations with relevant clinical expertise including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

These organizations’ clinical practice guidelines and recommendations for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minor patients are backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on the safety, efficacy, and medical necessity of these interventions.

“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” said Simone Chriss, director of Transgender Rights Initiative, Southern Legal Counsel, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. 

“There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care,” Chriss said.

“Our daughter is a happy, confident child but denying her access to the medical care recommended by her doctors would completely disrupt her life,” one parent-plaintiff said in the press release. “I’m devastated by what this will mean for her physical and mental health.”

The healthcare ban is among a bevy of anti-LGBTQ laws passed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his conservative allies in the state legislature. Other examples include last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bars classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity, and the 2021 law that prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in school sports.

The ACLU is tracking 10 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration by Florida lawmakers during this legislative session. Among these is a proposal that would allow the state to take children from their parents for facilitating access to gender affirming healthcare and require courts to “vacate, stay, or modify the child custody determination to the extent necessary to protect the child from the provision of such prescriptions or procedures.”

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Congress

Ritchie Torres speaks about mental health struggles

Openly gay N.Y. congressman appeared on ‘GMA3’

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U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) (Screen capture via GMA3 Twitter video)

New York Congressman Ritchie Torres has spoken out about his struggle with depression and the importance of mental health in the wake of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.)’s recent hospitalization for clinical depression. 

Torres, a Democrat who is the first openly gay Afro-Latino member of Congress, told “GMA3” hosts DeMarco Morgan and Eva Pilgrim on Tuesday that he had “an obligation to tell” his “story in the hopes of breaking the shame and silence, and stigma that too often surrounds the subject of mental health.”

Torres views his coming to terms with his mental health issues — while also being open about it — as a form of “public service” to the American people. 

“We live in a society that historically has shamed people for experiencing mental illness, that has framed mental illness as a failure of character or a failure of willpower. And I’m here to send a message that mental illness is nothing of which to be ashamed, that there are millions of Americans who struggle with depression and anxiety,” Torres explained. 

Even before being elected to Congress, Torres, 34, spoke freely about his past experiences concerning mental health issues and how they affected him. While campaigning, one of his opponents tried to use his depression as a counterpoint to prove that he was not worthy of being in public office. 

From then on, Torres vowed to “never again would I allow my mental health to be weaponized,” he told Time magazine

He emphasized the importance of psychotherapy and medication as a means of controlling his depressive episodes and going through his day by day as a congressman.

He noted, however, that “there are people who have trouble accessing mental health care.” 

“And even if you do, the process of experimenting with psychiatric medications can be draining and debilitating, because there’s no one size fits all,” he added. 

Torres said he hopes that Congress can pave the way for more mental health care for the millions of Americans who need it.

“Our healthcare system is fundamentally broken and Congress is no closer to fixing it,” he argued. 

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