The owner of Houston’s only lesbian bar says her business is in jeopardy after it was denied insurance coverage, and she’s putting the blame, in part, on an anti-drag bill moving through the Texas Legislature.
“They outright denied us, the underwriters, because we host drag shows,” Julie Mabry, the owner of Pearl Bar, said in an interview with NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston.
Mabry has insurance through December, but she decided to switch agents a few months ago and shop around for a new policy, she told KPRC. It was during that process that her agent received the denial email, which the agent then sent to Mabry.
“This is the first time I’ve ever gotten an email like that. I cried about this for about a week,” said Mabry, who told KPRC that drag shows were the first thing mentioned in the email, which outlined why the underwriter did not want to take on the risk of insuring her bar.
Mabry did not share additional details about the underwriter or the email, and she did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Mabry, who opened Pearl Bar in 2013, said the current political climate fueled the situation she’s in, and she encouraged followers of the Pearl Bar Instagram account to contact their legislators about anti-LGBTQ bills in the state, including one that would restrict drag shows on public property, on the premises of a commercial enterprise or in the presence of a child.
The bill, Senate Bill 12, passed in the Texas Senate last month by a vote of 20-11, and it was set to be considered by a House committee Thursday. If the measure is signed into law, violators could be subjected to civil penalties of up to $10,000.
“Pearl needs everyone to speak up for us so that we can stay open and HOST DRAG SHOWS! It’s THAT serious,” a post on the Pearl Bar Instagram account said. “We are in the final stretch of session and every voice counts in pushing back on this and the other anti-LGBTQ legislation. We need you to step up, be loud, and tell your legislators NO to any anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Our state should be open to all, period.”
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, the bill’s author, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brad Pritchett, a Houston resident and the field director for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, noted that drag shows are still legal in Texas and said Pearl Bar’s situation is a result of the “fear and panic that lawmakers have stirred up” around the centuries-old art form.
“This situation highlights one of the most insidious consequences of all the anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the legislature this session—most people don’t know what’s going on,” he said in an email. “It’s ludicrous to think that lawmakers can shut down an entire industry without even changing the law. Texans, we need you to show up to the capitol, to email your legislators, and to make a lot of noise about what is happening in Texas.”
Texas is one of at least 16 states where legislators have proposed bills this year seeking to restrict the audiences for drag performances and where they can take place. Tennessee is the only state to have enacted such a law, which a federal judge temporarily blocked from taking effect.
Bills seeking to restrict drag shows are part of a larger trend of Republican-led bills targeting LGBTQ people in the U.S. So far this year, more than 470 such bills have been proposed in legislatures across the U.S., according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pearl Bar is one of about two dozen lesbian bars left in the U.S. and one of only two in Texas, the other being Sue Ellen’s in Dallas. Mabry hopes Texas will not be left with just a lone lesbian bar.
“This situation is real,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’ve tried to be as careful as I can to keep my patrons, performers, and staff safe, but if we stay quiet, we aren’t helping.”
The state’s governor, Brad Little, a Republican, signed the “Vulnerable Child Protective Act” into law Tuesday evening. The measure prohibits transgender people under 18 from accessing puberty blockers and hormones. It also prevents them from undergoing transition-related surgery, though there is no evidence to suggest minors are getting this type of surgery in Idaho, according to KTVB-TV, an NBC affiliate in Boise.
“In signing this bill, I recognize our society plays a role in protecting minors from surgeries or treatments that can irreversibly damage their healthy bodies,” Little wrote in a letter to Idaho’s House speaker. “However, as policymakers we should take great caution whenever we consider allowing the government to interfere with loving parents and their decisions about what is best for their children.”
Medical practitioners who violate the law, which takes effect Jan. 1, could be charged with a felony and spend up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Critics of the law say it amounts to government overreach and will end up harming, not helping, the state’s transgender youths.
“We are heartbroken for the families of Idaho today. We are watching parental rights being dismantled in the name of stigmatizing and harming our most vulnerable youth,” Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Add the Words, Idaho, said in a statement.
Idaho’s Vulnerable Child Protective Act is part of a broader effort among conservative lawmakers throughout the country to restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender people. So far this year, more than 400 such proposals have been filed in state legislatures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Cherry Grove: How a beach town became a gay ‘safe haven’
An exhibit at the New-York Historical Society features rarely seen photos of the LGBTQ community enjoying the freedom offered by Fire Island’s Cherry Grove, one of America’s first gay beach towns. (May 14)
Kavanaugh cites landmark gay rights cases in abortion argument
Lawyers who argued for LGBTQ rights in those landmark cases — Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas — were conflicted on the validity of Justice Kavanaugh’s argument about abortion restrictions. (Dec. 3)
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first long-acting injectable medication for use as pre-exposure prevention, or PrEP, against HIV, the agency announced Monday.
Apretude, the new drug, is an injectable given every two months as an alternative to HIV prevention pills, like Truvada and Descovy, which have been shown to reduce the risk of HIV by 99 percent when taken daily.
Two FDA trials analyzing the safety and efficacy of the novel drug found that Apretude was more likely to reduce HIV than the daily oral medications — by 69 percent for cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men and by 90 percent for cisgender women. Apretude’s superior efficacy was apparently driven by the greater ease with which study participants adhered to the every-other-month regimen compared with taking a pill every day.
“Today’s approval adds an important tool in the effort to end the HIV epidemic by providing the first option to prevent HIV that does not involve taking a daily pill,” Dr. Debra Birnkrant, the director of antivirals division at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “This injection, given every two months, will be critical to addressing the HIV epidemic in the U.S., including helping high-risk individuals and certain groups where adherence to daily medication has been a major challenge or not a realistic option.”
While gains have been made in PrEP use over the past several years, only 25 percent of the 1.2 million people for whom PrEP is recommended were prescribed the treatment last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that as of 2019, there were approximately 285,000 people using PrEP, the vast majority of them gay and bisexual men.
“People who are vulnerable to acquiring HIV, especially those in Black and Latinx communities who are disproportionately impacted in the US, may want options beyond daily oral pills,” Deborah Waterhouse, ViiV Healthcare’s CEO, said in a statement, adding that “Apretude was studied in one of the most diverse and comprehensive HIV prevention trial programs to date, which also included some of the largest numbers of transgender women and Black men who have sex with men ever enrolled in an HIV prevention trial.”
Men who have sex with men accounted for 66 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. in 2019, according to the CDC. When the numbers are broken down by race, Black Americans accounted for the highest percentage, representing 42 percent of all new diagnoses that year.
In July, the federal government announced that almost all insurers must cover the two approved forms of PrEP pills, Truvada and Descovy, as well as the lab tests and clinic visits required to maintain such prescriptions — and to do so with no cost sharing. As it stands, insurers will not be required to cover all costs for the new injectable version of PrEP, which has a list price of $3,700 per dose and is slated to begin shipping to wholesalers and specialty distributors in the U.S. in early 2022.
Kenyon Farrow, the managing director of PrEP4All, an advocacy group that fights to increase access to HIV prevention and treatment, said his organization is “definitely happy to see the FDA approval of another option for people who want to use PrEP.”
However, he said he fears that the “implementation of this option will likely take years to make it real for most people.”
“Due to COVID, public health systems are already overburdened and much of the workforce needed to implement this large scale are leaving the field due to burnout,” he said in an email. “Because it will need to be administered in clinical settings, it won’t be treated as a pharmacy benefit by payers, but instead as a clinical benefit, which will take time to implement the proper coding for billing, as well as education and training for nurses who will likely bear the brunt of the work to implement.”
Ohio will soon join nearly every other state in the country in allowing transgender people born in the state to change the gender markers on their birth certificates. Tennessee will soon be the lone holdout.
The Ohio Department of Health will not appeal a federal court rulingissued in December that found the state’s ban on birth certificate gender changes is unconstitutional. The department is instead working on a process for people to request the change and expects to have it in place by June 1, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Monday, citing a court filing made Thursday.
The December ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio came in response to a lawsuit brought by four transgender people born in Ohio. The plaintiffs, according to court documents, were subjected to professional humiliation, verbal harassment and threats to their safety as a result of not having a birth certificate that aligned with their gender identity.
Judge Michael Watson called the state’s argument that permitting changes to birth certificate gender markers would “undermine the accuracy of vital statistics or fraud prevention” a “red herring.”
“The Court finds that Defendants’ proffered justifications are nothing more than thinly veiled post-hoc rationales to deflect from the discriminatory impact of the Policy,” Watson wrote.
While nearly every state now permits transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate, the process for doing so varies from state to state. Fourteen states, for example, require proof of gender-affirming surgery in order to make such a change, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.
A number of organizations, schools and businesses with either a history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy or policies that explicitly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals have received millions in pandemic relief funding, according to an NBC News analysis of data released last week by the Small Business Administration.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — which was intended to help small businesses amid the Covid-19 crisis — gave nearly $5.3 billion in the potentially forgivable loans to 5,160,000 recipients, with the average loan being $101,409.
The lion’s share of that money went to the American Family Association, which received nearly $1.4 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds. The Mississippi-based organization uses its resources, in part, to combat what it calls the “homosexual agenda.” Through its One Million Moms initiative, the organization rallies its supporters to boycott brands and media outlets that promote “homosexuality and transgenderism.”
Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the SPLC, criticized the Trump administration for “letting millions of Americans and small businesses suffer” while providing “financial support to groups that tear at the fabric of our democracy.”
“Extremist movements thrive in climates of political uncertainty,” she said. “Now, the government is doing even more to help hate groups by handing them millions of dollars in forgivable loans.”
The American Family Association, Ruth Institute and Pacific Justice Institute did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment on the SPLC’s “hate group” designation and how they used their Paycheck Protection Program funds. The other four groups all disputed being labeled a “hate group,” and two of them shed light on how they used their relief loans.
The American College of Pediatricians said it used the loan to “fund the covered payroll period as designated.” It called the SPLC’s hate group designation a “mischaracterization” of its organization and pointed to its detailed response to the criticism. Liberty Counsel, which said it used its funds to avoid laying off any of its 35 employees, accused the SPLC of wanting to “destroy those with whom they disagree.”
At least four other organizations that received Paycheck Protection Program funding — Concerned Women for America, Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, Family Leader and First Liberty Institute — have a demonstrated track record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy or espousing an anti-LGBTQ ideology, though they have not been designated “hate groups” by the SPLC. These organizations received nearly $2 million in pandemic relief money combined.
The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, Concerned Women for America and Family Leader did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment on how they used the aid and their response to assertions that their organizations have a track record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy. First Liberty Institute’s general counsel, Mike Berry, sent a brief response saying his organization “advocates for the religious liberty of people of all faiths” and said “First Liberty repaid, with interest, all PPP funds by June 30.”
Two private schools that made national news over the past two years due to their anti-LGBTQ policies — and their high-profile conservative backers — were also on the Paycheck Protection Program recipient list.
Immanuel Christian School, a private K-10 in northern Virginia where Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, teaches, received $724,900 in aid funding. As NBC News reported last year, the school explicitly bars its employees from engaging in or condoning “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” and “transgender identity.” And in its parent agreement, the school states that it may “refuse admission” or “discontinue enrollment” of a student whose household condones “sexual immorality,” such as “homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity.”
Trinity Schools, a group of private Christian schools where newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was once a trustee, received over $1 million. As The Associated Press reported in October, the schools effectively bar admission to children of gay parents and make it clear that openly LGBTQ teachers are not welcome in the classrooms.
Immanuel Christian School did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment. Trinity Schools President Jon Balsbaugh sent an email saying his institution used the funds to “ensure that economic disruption of our employees and staff due to the pandemic would be lessened” and said Trinity Schools does not “unlawfully discriminate with respect to race, color, gender, national origin, age, disability, or other legally protected classifications under applicable law.”
Several companies and organizations that have been at the center of high-profile lawsuits regarding their policies of excluding LGBTQ people have also received Paycheck Protection Program funding.
Catholic Social Services, which received over $2 million, is at the center of a case currently before the Supreme Court. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia stems from the faith-based child welfare agency’s policy of not considering same-sex couples as potential parents for foster children.
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which received more than $150,000, was part of a landmark Supreme Court case that resulted in the justices ruling that workplace discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity violates federal civil rights law. The Michigan funeral home’s involvement in the case stemmed from its termination of an employee after she came out as transgender. In November, the business agreed to pay $250,000 to the estate of the terminated employee, who died earlier this year, to settle the lawsuit.
Catholic Social Services, R.G. & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, Roncalli High School and Arlene’s Flowers did not respond to requests for comment.
Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog Accountable.US, said it’s “shameful” that the Trump administration provided pandemic relief funds to “organizations promoting bigotry, intolerance, and hate” with “so many small businesses forced to shutter since the start of the pandemic.”
“It is hard to find a clearer example of the Trump administration’s warped priorities than allowing countless mom-and-pop shops to go under without proper relief while bailing out wealthy and well-connected anti-LGBTQ enterprises on Americans’ dime,” he said in an email.
Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared a similar view.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said, “that the Small Business Administration led by the Trump administration would put the needs of avowed anti-LGBT organizations before hardworking small-business owners.”
Nelson said he’s seen first hand how LGBTQ-owned small businesses have struggled during the pandemic and how many have been unable to receive government relief.
“These folks are worried about keeping the lights on,” he said. “We had a number of businesses that applied, and only a small number that received funding.”
Nelson, whose organization works with thousands of LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country, said it’s frustrating to see large, well-funded organizations with anti-LGBTQ track records collect large sums of relief funding while thousands of small businesses have had to close their doors permanently. He noted that his chamber did not apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan so as not to take away resources from the businesses most in need.
The Small Business Administration said in a statement that it does not comment on individual borrowers or loans. An agency spokesperson said the agency designed a “robust loan review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers received loans that fully complied with the program requirements” but added that just because a loan was issued, doesn’t mean the recipient was eligible or that the loan will ultimately be forgiven.
The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up an appeal from Oregon parents who want transgender students in their school district to use locker rooms and bathrooms based on their sex assigned at birth.
The decision lets stand a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the district’s policy of permitting trans students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.
“A policy that allows transgender students to use school bathroom and locker facilities that match their self-identified gender in the same manner that cisgender students utilize those facilities does not infringe Fourteenth Amendment privacy or parental rights or First Amendment free exercise rights, nor does it create actionable sex harassment under Title IX,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the February decision for Parents for Privacy v. William P. Barr et al.
The case originated in Dallas, Oregon, an agricultural town 15 miles west of Salem, the state’s capital. In 2017, parents of high schoolers sued over the Dallas School District’s policy of allowing a transgender male student use the boy’s locker room and bathroom. At the time, a lawyer for the parents indicated that cisgender boys would be embarrassed and ashamed to change in the same room as someone who was assigned female at birth.
In 2018, a lower court refused to block the district’s policy, and the 9th Circuit affirmed that ruling earlier this year.
LGBTQ advocates on Monday praised the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeal.
“Today’s decision is excellent news for transgender students,” Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “Trans students deserve an educational environment that is safe, supportive and free from discrimination. The school district’s actions to create that environment have been vindicated.”
Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said with its decision Monday, the high court has “once again said that transgender youth are not a threat to other students.”
“The decision not to take this case is an important and powerful message to trans and non-binary youth that they deserve to share space with and enjoy the benefits of school alongside their non-transgender peers,” Strangio said in a statement. “We will continue to fight in courts, in legislatures, and in our families and communities to ensure that all trans people feel safe and belong.”
Similar lawsuits to the one brought forth in Oregon by Parents for Privacy have been dismissed by courts in other parts of the country.
“All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition,” a young woman can be heard saying over a video of several athletes preparing to run a race. “But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy?”
That controversial digital ad — which then shows a teen boy outrunning his female competitors and shrugging at them with indifference afterwards — is one of three released this week by the American Principles Project, a Virginia-based conservative think tank, and its PAC. The group issued a statement Thursday saying the political ads are part of a $4 million effort to “target persuadable Democrats and independent voters in key swing states.”
Half of the campaign budget will be spent in Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016 but now lags in the polls, and the American Principles Project confirmed it will release ads in Wisconsin “in the coming weeks.” The group said it hopes the Michigan ads draw attention to the support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., “for policies which would allow biological males to compete in women’s sports and push children into dangerous, life-altering sex-change” procedures.
The two other ads feature Kevin Whitt, a man who says he lived as a woman for 17 years before deciding to detransition. Whitt warns viewers that “treatments to change the gender of a minor are very dangerous and irreversible.”
The Biden and Peters campaigns did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.
National LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, were quick to denounce the campaign.
“These ads perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, traffic in misinformation, and put the lives of transgender people at risk,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “Sites and social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook should decline to run them and send a message loud and clear that those who would use their platforms to peddle hate and lies will not be tolerated or validated.”
The Human Rights Campaign also called for social media companies to take down the digital ads, saying they are blatant lies from an “outdated playbook.”
“APP wants a future where LGBTQ people can be fired, denied housing, refused business services or health care solely because of who they are. But they know full well that they’re on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of our future.”
Representatives from Facebook and YouTube did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment regarding the ads.
This is not the first time APP has funded an ad campaign with the hopes of making transgender rights a political wedge issue. Last year, it funded a similar campaign amid the Kentucky governor’s race, though the group’s preferred candidate, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, lost to Democrat Andy Beshear.
As the hearse carrying John Lewis’ body drove through Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood on Wednesday, it made a lengthy and symbolic stop at a rainbow crosswalk as dozens of people gathered on the sidewalk to watch the procession pass.
“It feels very appropriate that that stop was prolonged for John Lewis’ legacy,” Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Forcetold NBC News. “I believe his vocal leadership and support in championing LGBTQ equality — even prior to it becoming a cool thing for people to hop on the bandwagon for — was critical in being able to shift public opinion across the country.”
York added: “He was about civil rights, equality and liberation for everybody. Period. Full stop.”
The stop by Lewis’ motorcade — lasting nearly a minute — was an acknowledgement of his vocal advocacy over the years for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.
An early advocate
Lewis, who represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 until his death on July 17, did not wait until it was politically safe to stand up for LGBTQ rights.
“This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence. It denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a basic human right,” he said. “You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriage and I quote: ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’”
DOMA, considered a political compromise at the time, easily passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in September 1996. It was the law of the land until 2013, when United States v. Windsor chipped away at the heart of the legislation. Same-sex marriage would not be legal across the U.S. until 2015, when the Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell v. Hodges decision.
York said Lewis’ early support for LGBTQ rights was unsurprising, given his activism in the preceding decades.
“When you’ve stared death in the face solely because of the color of your skin, it gives you a different view of justice,” York said, referring to Lewis’ multiple near-death experiences fighting for civil rights, including during the infamous “Bloody Sunday” protest on Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. “He put his body on the line to create the world that we all thought was impossible.”
“John Lewis’ moral compass overruled whatever the stigma of the day was,” she added. “Equality for black people means equality for Black LGBTQ people, and equality for Black LGBTQ people means equality for all LGBTQ people, and I think that was a clear through-line for him.”
A decades-long ally
Lewis would continue to be on the forefront of nearly every major congressional proposal to advance LGBTQ rights.
On Lewis’ congressional website, there is a page dedicated to LGBTQ issues, which prominently features a powerful quote from Lewis.
“I fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color, to not stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” it reads. He then goes on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with whom he led the movement for racial equality, saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Lewis was a co-sponsor or vocal advocate for over a dozen congressional bills that sought to either expand LGBTQ rights or limit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, including the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and the Respect for Marriage Act.
The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, noted that Lewis worked closely with Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., during the drafting of the Equality Act — which would modify existing civil rights legislation to add protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity— and was a lead sponsor of the legislation.
Following Lewis’ death, Alphonso David, the Human Rights Campaign’s first Black president, called Lewis “a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union.”
“Future generations will learn how he faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, boldly challenging the United States to envision a future where every person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, has an equal chance at the American Dream,” David said in a statement.
Lewis appeared at an HRC fundraiser in 2016 and told the crowd of mostly LGBTQ people, “You and I are partners.”
“We are part of an ongoing struggle to redeem the soul of America, to help people in this country and around the world come to grips with one simple truth: We are one people,” he added. “We are one family. We are the human family.”
York said she hopes Lewis’ drive to fight for equality — even if not for a group to which he belonged — will inspire others to do the same.
“He gave full-throated, passionate appeals that all of God’s children be treated equally, and that that included LGBTQ people, and that meant so much to me, both in my career as an advocate and advocating for other marginalized communities that I may not identify with, like the transgender community and intersex community,” she said. “He was a powerful example of how we should be doing advocacy at the margins, and I hope every member of Congress has taken a lesson from him.
A changer of hearts and minds
While Lewis’ LGBTQ advocacy undoubtedly changed hearts and minds across demographic spectrums, York, who is Black, said there was a special significance and power in having a straight, cisgender Black man as such a visible ally.
“I think that all of those identities that he carried helped Black fathers, brothers, nephews all across the country learn how to talk and accept their own children, their own relatives who had been hurt by homophobia and transphobia,” she said, adding that he “gave permission for so many others who were potential allies to be able to step out of their fear” and support LGBTQ equality.
“John Lewis is a man of deep faith — no one could question that,” she added. “So for someone who is a man of deep faith to say that LGBTQ people matter, are equal and deserve protection and dignity, that gave other people the language to be able to say the same thing in their families, in their churches, in their homes. I believe that probably saved countless lives.”
In a sobering survey released this month, The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis prevention organization, found that 2 in 5 LGBTQ youth in the U.S. have “seriously considered” suicide in the past year.
“I do believe that those numbers could have been even higher if it wasn’t for the full-throated advocacy that John Lewis gave, and by him doing that, the permission he gave to others to really show up as the fathers that they wanted to be for their children,” she said.
‘Power of his legacy’
In a posthumous op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday, Lewis wrote: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”
York said this message underscores the “power of his legacy.”
“We all have the capacity to create change,” she said, adding that Lewis “started as a teenager doing work to bring equality for all people, and that’s something that our youth should be excited about.”
“These protests and rallies over the course of this summer are moving this country forward,” she added. “If we can just stay in it together — despite hurt feelings, despite trauma, despite the healing we’ve got to do together, despite our blindness to other people’s experiences — if we remain open to it all, we can create a country we can be proud of for our children and our children’s children.”
York said this coming together of different groups is also part of Lewis’ legacy.
“It hasn’t been about one group over the other,” she said. “It’s been about all of us getting across the bridge together.”
One of the most widely held myths about the fight for LGBTQ equality is that it started at New York City’s Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969. That uprising, while pivotal, was in reality preceded by a grassroots “homophile” movement that has been largely overlooked.
“Every single person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community can thank Frank for for developing what we now celebrate each and every June, which is Pride.”
Eric Cervini, a historian, is trying to change that. His first book, “The Deviant’s War,” documents the efforts of gay activists during the late 1950s and ‘60s to plant the seeds that would eventually lead to decades of progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
While Cervini notes that his book is not a biography, its central character is Frank Kameny, whose life and activism is the thread throughout its nearly 400 exhaustively researched pages. Though Kameny is not as well known as later activists like Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson, his contributions to LGBTQ rights are at least — if arguably not more — important.
“Everyone should know his name,” Cervini said of Kameny. “Every single person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community can thank Frank for for developing what we now celebrate each and every June, which is Pride.”
“The Deviant’s War” started as Cervini’s senior thesis at Harvard, where he graduated from in 2014, and continued into his PhD dissertation at the University of Cambridge, where he received his doctorate last year. A Texas native, Cervini, who came out in high school, said he “had not the slightest clue about what queer history was or who was important” while growing up.
“So much of this history just is not taught in high schools, very little of it is taught in colleges and so much of it is also hidden,” he said.
Cervini said his first introduction to LGBTQ history came from watching the 2008 film “Milk” starring Sean Penn while in high school.
“Starting from that moment, I said, “I want to learn more about my own past and my queer ancestors.’”
He initially set out to write about Milk for his undergraduate senior thesis but found that all the primary source materials were in San Francisco. But then in Harvard’s library database, he stumbled upon a name he had never seen before: Frank Kameny.
“He was so instrumental in those early years, and he had his hand in every part of the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement,” Cervini said. “Historians knew about him, they had long identified him as the ‘grandfather of the modern gay rights movement,’ but there hadn’t been any book written about him.”From astronomer to warrior
The meat of “The Deviant’s War” starts in late 1957, when Kameny, then a 32-year-old, Harvard-educated, Hawaii-based astronomer for the U.S. Defense Department, was summoned to the Army Map Service headquarters in Maryland and asked a question that would drastically alter the trajectory of his life: “Information has come to the attention of the U.S. Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment, if any, do you care to make?”
It was a time when psychiatrists deemed homosexuality a “sociopathic personality disturbance” and consensual same-sex activity could be punished by “sexual psychopath laws,” and Kameny was fired, just two months after the launch of Sputnik. He would never work for the U.S. government again.
“He had lost absolutely everything,” Cervini said. But unlike most of the thousands of gay and lesbian federal employees dismissed during the so-called Lavender Scare, Kameny decided to fight back. So the end of his government career marked the beginning of over a half-century of activism.by TaboolaSponsored Stories
But Cervini notes that “The Deviant’s War” covers just a part of Kameny’s activism — from his government dismissal in the late ‘50s to just after Stonewall. To fully cover his contributions to the LGBTQ movement, Cervini added, would take volumes and much longer than the seven years he put into writing the book.
In just the early years of his activism, Kameny covered significant ground: He sued the federal government in what’s considered the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation to be brought to the Supreme Court; he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, one of the earliest LGBTQ rights groups; and he was among a small group that held what is thought to be the first gay demonstration outside the White House. Not long after, he decided to take on the American Psychiatric Association and its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
After more than five decades of activism, Kameny died at the age of 86 on Oct. 11, 2011. His death fittingly coincided with National Coming Out Day, which has been celebrated annually since 1987.
While Kameny is undoubtedly the star of Cervini’s debut book, we also meet a number of other pre-Stonewall activists who were crucial to the LGBTQ rights movement, including Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Ernestine Eppenger (a.k.a. Ernestine Eckstein) and Randy Wicker. We also find out about the early contributions of some more well-known names, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riveraand Bayard Rustin.
“Even though Frank’s photo is on the spine of the book, we’re using him as a lens for understanding not just his life but all the different diverse lives within the early movement that then allowed all of our success much later to occur,” Cervini said.An activism ‘guidebook’
While his book is focused on the mid-20th century, Cervini said there are many lessons in it today for today’s activists.
“It really is a guidebook for how activism works and also what doesn’t work when we’re dealing with an oppressive government,” he said. “Once again we’re fighting a lot of the same battles, and I think looking backwards and searching for templates for how we can combat persecution effectively and inclusively is so important, and that’s what I hope to do with this book.”
Another important lesson he hopes readers take away from “The Deviant’s War” is that Kameny and a number of his contemporaries “stood on the backs of those with the least to lose,” namely those who were not, like Kameny, white cisgender men.
“We are under attack once again,” he said, citing the transgender military ban and state-level policies pertaining to transgender youth. “Now we all have a moral obligation to be continuing the fight after the marriage successes, and after an openly gay viable presidential candidate. Now it’s our turn to return the favor and to fight for those with the least to lose.”
For today’s activists who are “continuing the fight” for LGBTQ equality, Cervini said they should recognize that they are currently making history and should follow the lead of Kameny, who saved tens of thousands of documents that enabled Cervini to tell his story.
“We need to make sure we’re not throwing out our emails when we’re planning marches and demonstrations against the current regime,” he said.
“The Deviant’s War” is available starting Tuesday, June 2, and Cervini will be participating in a virtual book tour through June 6, with guests including screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Milk,” and Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims. Cervini also shares LGBTQ history lessons regularly on his Instagram account.