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2024 campaign dash-for-cash is well underway

Democrats must stop funding doomed candidates

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Raising money for the 2024 campaigns is already well under way. I recently received invitations to two fundraisers for the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund sent from the Deputy National Finance Chair of the DNC. I had to look twice to see if I was reading it right. One in New York with President Biden and one in Philadelphia with both the president and Vice President Harris. The cost to attend a reception, not a meal, and have a photo opportunity, was $36,500 per person. You could become a host for $100,000.

I remember helping to arrange a fundraiser for President Obama’s reelection campaign on Sept. 30, 2012. It was held at a friend’s home in Georgetown. The cost to attend was $35,000 a couple, and it was for dinner and a photo op, and $5,000 per person for a reception with the president before the dinner. The reception was planned in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign. So, in 10 years the price has more than doubled and no meal. The allowed personal contribution to an individual federal candidate has also gone up to $3,300 for a primary and $3,300 for the general election. So the same kind of reception we did would now cost $6,600 per person. Guess that is what they mean by inflation.

In the last 10 years we have seen the amount raised in small online contributions increase dramatically. Anyone who has ever given even $5 to a Nancy Pelosi email request for donations now sees hundreds of more emails in their in-box on a regular basis. I would urge anyone responding to one of those to read it very carefully. Many of them say they are for a particular candidate, but if you read the small print, you find the candidate only gets a very small percentage of what you donate. Most of it goes to a PAC, and often ends up in the pockets of consultants.

Democrats are very generous. But the reality is we end up donating millions to what are sure to be losing races. The current DNC Chair, Jamie Harrison, raised $104 million in his primary and general election for the Senate in South Carolina, which he predictably lost to Lindsay Graham by 12%. In what was called a long-shot campaign, Democratic candidate Marcus Flowers raised more than $15.6 million in his effort to defeat Marjorie Taylor Greene. He lost by 31 points. Giving money to him, thinking he could win in that District, is surely the definition of insanity.

There is also a lot of dark money going into campaigns. But with the increase in small donations, it is definitely harder for the big money people to have influence. I remember when the Clintons were attacked for inviting some big donors to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House as a thank you for donations. Surely Biden doesn’t have to do that. But as the dollar requests go up for a picture with the president, those donors will at least expect an audience with someone in the administration.

Now in some ways the pandemic was a lucky break for President Biden when it came to campaigning and raising money in 2020. He had an excuse not to do photo ops, or any in-person events, and still raised incredible amounts of money. In August of 2020 alone, he raised a record-shattering $364 million, for combined Democratic committees. I did my little bit in 2020 and was on a list of 800 bundlers released by the Biden campaign — those who raised more than $100,000 for the campaign. I don’t know about the others on the list, but I haven’t received any special favors for this, and didn’t even receive my usual Christmas card from the White House. What I do get are regular email and snail mail requests from the DNC for more money. Also, that bundler list is shared far and wide. Along with my email that list apparently has my phone number. So, when every Democratic candidate around the nation gets the list, I am inundated not only with emails but with text messages on my phone.

I recently received a phone call from a reporter I know at NBC news. She wanted to know what I got for my donation to the campaign and what I thought of how President Biden was handling his donor politics. I went off the record and said, ‘terribly.’ I haven’t received anything and a major donor through me didn’t get anything either. Recently, through friends who are working in the administration, I was invited to three events on the White House lawn. Now that the pandemic is easing this is how masses of people get to go to the White House. I guess the people who arrange them are out of practice as the two I went to were not well planned. Those there were clearly not invited based on their donation levels, except maybe the few in the front section with seats. I definitely was not one of those.

The first event was the celebration of the Deficit Reduction Act. It was a very hot day and they did have some water stations. But they didn’t have any Jumbotrons, or a raised stage, so no one toward the back, and there were hundreds, could see what was happening. You could hear, but couldn’t see the president, or the entertainer of the day, who happened to be James Taylor. He is of the president’s and my generation, and I think he is great. But I asked many of the millennials standing around me if they knew who he was, and they all said no.

The second event was the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act. I was proud to be there based on my work for marriage equality. It was held on a very cold day. Once again, no Jumbotrons and no stage, so again anyone in the back simply saw hundreds of people in front of them holding up iPhones trying to get a picture over the heads of others. I was lucky to stand next to a tall person who could hold the phone higher. The entertainment for the mostly LGBTQ audience was more appropriate, Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper. The third event, which some friends invited me to as their guest, was the concert by Elton John, which I didn’t attend. I understand there were Jumbotrons but then the event was paid for by the A&E networks and the History Channel for possible broadcast. So maybe the time when bundlers, or bigger donors, can expect a reception in the White House for raising or giving more than $100,000, or a reception photo-op for $6,600 is over.

I am not looking for anything and I can only imagine what kind of money will be needed, and raised, for campaigns in 2024. Or what mega-donors will expect or receive for their donations. My only hope is whatever money is raised is spent wisely so Democrats win. It is clear the 2024 campaign dash-for-cash is well underway.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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CPAC attack on trans rights is a pathway to authoritarian gov’t

Speaker advocated eliminating ‘transgenderism’

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on March 4. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Earlier this month, activists and thought leaders from across the country met in Maryland for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly called CPAC. Speakers and presenters from all walks of conservative life, including former President Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and former Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro, met across several days and spoke on a multitude of issues impacting conservatism today.

One of them, a commentator and host with The Daily Wire named Michael Knowles, plunged the audience head-first into the culture war. Speaking to a crowd, he said, “for the good of society […] transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Shortly after Knowles’ speech, social media lit up, and prominent advocates for the trans community and several media outlets criticized him for wanting to eradicate the transgender community. Knowles denies these claims and has called on media outlets to retract articles stating as such. Meanwhile, conservatives supportive of Knowles and transgender individuals have fought over the overarching meaning of eradicating “transgenderism” from public life.

So what is “transgenderism,” and does it truthfully differ from transgender people? Above all else, why does this language matter so intensely? 

The term “transgenderism” is not a formal medical category or classification. The phrase for transgender people has evolved over the years to include such words as transsexual and gender dysphoria, but never “transgenderism.” 

It’s also not a social term actively embraced by most—if virtually any—recent transgender individuals due to its implicit politicization. Transgender history is full of stories detailing identity and self-discovery, many erratically spread across books, zines, and personal stories. For those instances where the term “transgenderism” does appear, it is significantly more descriptive. For example, in the 1994 text “Transgender Nation” by Gordene Olga MacKenzie, “transgenderism” acts as a term similar to how homosexuality is applied to the gay and lesbian community and encompasses the general state of being a person who is transgender.

Meanwhile, a simple Google Books search from the past several years using the phrase yields a plethora of charged texts, many of them highly critical of legal and social advancements made by the trans community — and occasionally critical of transgender individuals themselves. Often, these texts portray “transgenderism” as a deliberate ideology akin to how one voluntarily upholds conservatism or libertarianism. In another literary example, the 2020 text 2+2=5: How Transgenderism is Redefining Reality by Katie Roche, the term is frequently used as a broad catch-all, including pursuing affirming medical care, publically expressing your identity, and even accessing other transgender individuals in the broader world for the sake of a sense of community.

So when Knowles says he wants the eradication of “transgenderism” yet bristles when people say that means transgender people, he is making a distinction without a difference.

Since 2015, the phrase has slowly grown in popularity, with Google Trends showing an increase in its overall consistency—incidentally coinciding with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and the beginning of the “bathroom bill” discourse. For social conservatives, the phrase has gradually taken life to strike at the heart of identity itself. From changing your legal name and amending your birth certificate to openly respecting and honoring the individuality of others, it seeks to subsume any action or concept seemingly legitimizing transgender identities in public life.

Simply stated, everything that validates the dignity and conceptual existence of a trans person is inherent in so-called “transgenderism.” It’s irresponsible not to acknowledge the colloquial use of the phrase in conservative circles. Those concerned are rightfully alarmed when used at a platform such as the CPAC mainstage during a national culture war.

On a recent episode of his show hosted by The Daily Wire, Michael Knowles justified his thinking by stating that the transgender community does not exist. “[W]e ought not to indulge the transgender false anthropology, you know, that, one is a little bit different in that transgender people is not a real ontological category,” he stated, “it’s a euphemism to describe deeply confused men and women who ought to have psychological and spiritual help.”

While everyone should take notice of these words, conservatives and proponents of a smaller government should particularly be alarmed by this way of thinking and specific use of language. Such reasoning relies on the concept that transgender people are not a real group of people—something transgender people and their families would find disagreeable—therefore, it’s not an identity to suppress but rather a social and mental deviancy to fix. To that end, all cultural development and social actions openly validating a trans person in any form encourage that deviancy and are part of the broader scope of “transgenderism” seen in public life. 

When juxtaposed with his overarching philosophy, his statement should perturb those who value the principles of tolerance and uphold the principles of limited government as it applies to government intrusion into individual identities. Moreover, it would require a degree of regression beyond the scope of the push for basic LGBTQ tolerance from several decades ago, let alone the acceptance earned in the past ten years. Such a regression would imply a society that has removed or withdrawn from all forms of social recognition, medical advancements, and institutional pathways that allow someone to transition and be what is regarded in modern culture as a transgender person.

And suppose you are someone who has gender dysphoria or otherwise feels your gender identity is incongruent with what was understood at the time of your birth. In such a society, your neighbor should not respect or acknowledge you as you are but rather pity you for being mentally unwell until you one day believe with as much sincerity as them that your concept of self is wrong. 

What exactly happens when minds don’t change, or individuals inevitably refuse to hold malice against their neighbors in this hypothetical society, has yet to be examined. What is known, however, is that efforts to force someone out of their identity are not well received. For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “lifetime exposure to [gender identity change efforts] was significantly associated with multiple adverse outcomes, including severe psychological distress during the previous month and lifetime suicide attempts.”

With political conservatives straining under the weight of a national culture war, allowing this form of speech to reverberate without context is a reckless pathway to a more authoritarian government. It denies the antagonistic usage of the phrase and perpetuates a misnomer. Moreover, it denigrates transgender individuals in alarming words and betrays the values of conservatives and libertarians who preach tolerance and freedom from state suppression. 

Jordan Willow Evans is a policy analyst and writer living in Goffstown, N.H. She is chair of the Libertarian Policy Foundation and treasurer of MassEquality, the leading Massachusetts statewide queer organization. 

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When Discr33t_T0P’s a discreet cop

Law enforcement creating fake profiles to trick people into revealing intimate information

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The headless torso with the cheeky username that just tapped you on Grindr might not be the person you’re hoping them to be. American law enforcement, including FBI and DHS, now create fake profiles on dating apps and social media to trick people into revealing their most intimate information. Police in Florida created fake profiles on Grindr and Scruff to arrest 60 people allegedly linked to drug sales. Black activists who organized and attended protests in Minneapolis were victims of catfish cops; a 2022 report from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights showed that the Minneapolis Police Department utilized fake social media profiles to surveil Black leaders and organizations. Police went so far as to send messages asserting they had met individuals at protests. 

These surveillance techniques are the modern incarnation of the FBI’s “Sex Deviate” program during the Lavender Scare era, only this time it’s not just the FBI you need to worry about. With the criminalization of drag in states like Tennessee, state and local law enforcement are further empowered to target the queer and trans community. For LGBTQ activists, especially those who are Black, there is a high likelihood of being surveilled through a hookup app. 

Imagine you just had a long day standing outside the local drag story hour facing down bigots calling you a groomer from behind a line of their state-sponsored protection units. James, a faceless torso messages you asking if you were also at the counter-protest. James thought it was pretty cool that a few people actually physically pushed back against the homophobes and is wondering if you know who organized the counter-protest, so you invite him to a closed Facebook group. The next thing you know, your friends are being slapped with assault charges and your Grindr conversation with James is being used as evidence against them – just like in Florida.

While some tech companies like Meta make a show of pushing against these practices, they do nothing to actually stop the abuse of their platforms by law enforcement. Without legislation prohibiting fake profiles, cops will continue to catfish and surveil you. As anti-drag protests rise with the escalation of trans/homophobic rhetoric, LGBTQ people engaging in protest of any form should remain vigilant. Protest is hot, and although it is extra titillating to imagine organizing with a potential hookup, it could be Lieutenant Jones on the other end carefully gathering information to be used against you. 

Unfortunately, law enforcement doesn’t only rely on fake profiles to get information about you. Geo-location features, which conveniently let you know that MascTop4bttm is 2ft away, are another tool that law enforcement can use to track protesters. Many companies sell this information to third parties, often to facilitate targeted advertising. Although Grindr asserts that it underwent a policy change in 2020, limiting the information they share, some think it was too little too late. Just last week, The Washington Post reported that a conservative Catholic group spent millions to track priests on gay hookup and dating apps in Colorado, sharing the data with bishops nationwide. Across many platforms, a whole host of information that can ultimately be traced back to you is still currently sold to third parties. These third parties include law enforcement who use data purchasing as a way to skirt the law and avoid obtaining warrants from judges – some of which are also unconstitutional

After a record-setting year in 2022, the attack on trans and queer rights seems to only be ramping up across the country. In New York, Senate Bill S9247 the “Stop Fakes Act” would prevent law enforcement officers from creating fake social media profiles and allow for anyone whose information was gathered through a fake profile to file a civil action against the offending agency for monetary damages. Protest is an integral part of LGBTQ history and community. Until states outlaw surveillance tactics like fake profiles, protesters must protect themselves and their data. Companies that profit off the LGBTQ community should create products that provide the highest level of protection regardless of legislation. The library may be open, but our data isn’t for anyone else to read.

Derek Smith is a law student at the City University of New York and the Spring 2022 Civil Rights Intern at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

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Democrats, including the LGBTQ community, must stick together to win

Ensuring our campaigns resound with the most general election voters

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(Photo by chrisd2105/Bigstock)

As we watch with revulsion what Republicans are doing, both in Congress, and in state legislatures, it is clear the diverse members of the Democratic Party must stick together if we are to have any chance of winning in 2024.

To do that will require we understand, and accept, that in 2024 it will not be only about us individually, rather about ALL of us, collectively. All of us who are being demonized by Republicans. That includes the LGBTQ community, the African-American community, and Asian and Latino communities. It includes women who are being stripped of their right to control their own healthcare by Republicans. Republicans who are trying to take away voting rights, and pretend climate change doesn’t exist. Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, who want us to return to isolationism and retreat from world leadership. 

Therefore, if we want to move forward, each of us must accept our Democratic candidates may not be highlighting every issue we want them to, every day, in their campaigns. They might not mention LGBTQ issues in every speech. They might not talk about the Equality Act in every speech. They might not talk about protecting drag queens in every speech. But we must understand if they lose, and we lose Congress, the presidency, state houses and legislatures, we will all lose. 

Some Democrats questioned the response of the president and senators to Republicans in Congress going after the D.C. crime bill, asking why a Democrat would not stand strong for D.C. home rule. I have spoken out saying while their response may be a threat to home rule, and one I objected to, crime is an issue across the nation. They saw what happened to Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and determined this action on their part was needed if they are to win in 2024. If Democrats lose the presidency and Senate in 2024, home rule for D.C. will only be one of the many things we could lose. 

So Democrats must play our cards right and ensure our campaigns resound positively with the most general election voters. Those voters are becoming more moderate and crime is striking fear in them. This is not about changing the minds of the 30% of Trump voters in the party of Trump. We will never get their votes. It is about making sure the voters we need will come out and vote for Democrats. Those voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona. 

So yes, I want the Equality Act passed. After all, I was working for Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) when she first introduced it in 1974. But even more important now is re-electing a Democratic president and holding the Senate. That will enable us to continue to nominate and confirm judges, who with lifetime appointments, will protect us for decades. 

We must focus on electing Democratic governors who will protect us from Republican legislatures we might not win. There are 11 states with gubernatorial elections in 2024. Only three with incumbent Democrats and one in a red state, Gov. Roy Cooper in North Carolina, is term limited. Keeping that seat will not be easy. There are 33 Senate seats up for election in 2024. Of those, 10 are currently held by Republicans, 20 by Democrats, and three by independents. Clearly, we are at a disadvantage. So, we must all recognize in the Senate it is often the first vote a senator casts that is the most important. That is the vote for Majority Leader. So even a Democrat you may not like, such as Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), can cast a vote for Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and give Democrats control of the agenda, and if we have 51, control of committees. So, I say to the LGBTQ community, and every other minority community and women voters: Even if you must hold your nose when you vote, vote for the Democrat. Life for all of us will be so much worse if Republicans take control.

This is a year in which Democrats, especially in close Districts, should not be running primaries against incumbents who have shown they can win. This is not the time for progressives in the party to show they can win a primary, but then see their candidate lose in the general election. 

It is the general election results that will determine how we can live our lives. Whether we will be able to move forward, even if not as fast as we want, instead of having Republicans take us back into the dark ages.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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