After 15 contentious and grueling ballots to determine the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Keven McCarthy (R-CA) stood victorious but frazzled as he looked out to the House body from the Speaker’s podium to give his acceptance speech.
He stated in part, “I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up.”
And thus began his first lie, with undoubtedly many more to come, as McCarthy takes over the gavel. The lie was that he gave up plenty to achieve this long-coveted position.
In addition to sacrificing the minuscule amount of his personal integrity remaining, he made a deal with the far-right fringe element of his party by conceding to the demands of the so-called Freedom Caucus, which has about as much to do with freedom as Donald Trump’s Truth Social media outlet has to do with truth, or, for that matter, with sociability.
The caucus is the outgrowth of the former Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. Foundational to its policy agenda was a call for an across-the-board lowering of taxes, and drastic reductions of the national debt, which included draconian decreases in government spending, including any attempts at government-sponsored universal healthcare.
As a history student and a former longtime resident of the Boston, Massachusetts, area, I was disconcerted by the movement’s misappropriation of the historical Tea Party.
The original direct-action protest on December 16, 1773, by British American colonists, was the culmination of longstanding grievances against the British government under the battle cry of “no taxation without representation.” According to the British Constitution, only Parliament could levy taxes. Since colonists were prohibited from voting for members of Parliament or sending their representatives to serve in Parliament, they considered the series of taxes, including the tea tax, a violation of their rights as citizens of the British realm.
The second incarnation of the Tea Party movement, the Freedom Caucus, contains no well-developed political philosophy other than extreme hatred of what they consider “Big Government;” they view this as the cause of the nation’s troubles.
While the Tea Party activists advocated for small government, by all indications, the Freedom Caucus sees no place for government except in terms of its members grabbing power for the sake of power itself.
In 2010, then Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), referred to Tea Partyers as “great patriots,” adding, “It’s not enough, however, for Republicans to simply voice respect for what the Tea Partiers are doing, praise their efforts, and participate in their rallies. Republicans must listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them.”
Unfortunately, that was precisely what Boehner did. And where did it get him? Resignation from the House of Representatives and resentment of the political process!
I agree with Tea Party and then Freedom Caucus followers’ contention that significant economic disparities exist and are widening in this country, though not for the reasons they assert. The so-called “Big Government” is not the cause of the problem. The relatively unregulated and unfettered Wall Street, banking, and free market systems constitute the threats.
The Council on Foreign Relations found that within the United States, in 2021, the top 10% of Americans held nearly 70% of the accumulated wealth, up from about 61% in 1989. The following 40% of the population, their share fell congruently over that period. The bottom 50% (approximately 63 million families) owned about 2.5% of the wealth in 2021.
I find it unbelievable that one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries failed to provide quality health care to an estimated 47 million citizens. I also find it incredible that a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives are so beholden now to the Freedom Caucus and previously to the Tea Party that they were holding the government hostage to defeat the healthcare law.
Because of McCarthy’s weak morals and ethical foundations, and because he sold out the country for a transitory speakership at best, the government is likely to see legislative paralysis.
McCarthy and his Freedom Caucus puppet masters have turned the House into the Bates Motel, where progressive legislation is murdered in a shower of misinformation. It is no coincidence that his election came only minutes following the second commemoration of the Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021.
The only difference was that this Freedom Caucus insurrection was legal, even though some of its members supported the Big Lie about the election and the attack on the Capitol building by GOP supporters.
Pope Benedict XVI died on December 31, 2022. He was 95. Born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Germany, he came of age under the Nazi regime. He served as Pope from 2005 until February 2013, when he became the first pope in six centuries to retire.
At the time, he said, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Some claimed that he left his position because of the rising tide of priestly sex abuse charges surrounding the Catholic Church and criticism regarding his handling of the scandal.
In a stunningly provocative essay that he wrote in 2019 as Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI blamed the sex abuse crisis overtaking the Catholic Church on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the Church’s theological teachings that stemmed from the Vatican II council. He wrote, in part, that this sexual revolution filtered into the Church:
“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.
“For the young people in the Church, but not only for them,” he continued, “this was in many ways a very difficult time. I have always wondered how young people in this situation could approach the priesthood and accept it, with all its ramifications. The extensive collapse of the next generation of priests in those years and the very high number of laicizations were a consequence of all these developments.”
While Benedict may not have been a particularly good ally to Church sex abuse victims, there is little doubt that he was certainly no friend to members of LGBTQ+ communities worldwide.
The former pontiff likened saving humanity from homosexual and gender-variant behaviors to saving the rainforest from destruction at a 2008 Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration.
“[The Church] should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” he said. “The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”
Benedict warned that humans must “listen to the language of creation” and understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior outside heterosexual relations to “a destruction of God’s work.”
His warning came only two years after another of his controversial Christmastime addresses quoted a 14th-century Christian emperor who asserted that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad imposed only “evil and inhuman” conditions on the world.
In his annual “State of the World” address at the Vatican delivered to diplomats from 179 countries in 2012, he released a dire warning stating that marriage for same-sex couples “undermine the family, threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
By invoking his interpretation of Christian scripture, he follows a long history of Popes who, throughout the ages, have employed these texts to justify and rationalize the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. Popes have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts.
Unfortunately, Benedict’s replacement, Pope Francis, has fared no better and has actually tightened Church restrictions.
The newest El Papa has hardened and extended the already impenetrable Catholic walls by denying LGBTQ+ people (his “children”) the rights of full marriage, civil unions, and adoption; refusing them the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of legalized partnerships and families; continuing to prohibit them from the priesthood, and denying them the right to be named and serve as godparents.
All we have to look forward to from the Catholic Church is the same barriers for probably the next millennium. But by then, humanity will overpopulate itself into extinction through the Church’s ban on contraceptives and denial of women’s reproductive freedoms.
Following a history of anti-LGBTQ policies and decrees, the nearly 17-million-member Mormon Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) released a stunning declaration supporting the federal Respect for Marriage Act that would codify federal and state recognition of same-sex marriages. LDS expressed its support because the bill also protects the rights of any denomination not to perform these ceremonies.
“We believe this approach is the way forward,” reads a statement posted on the church’s website. “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”
The statement goes on to reiterate that the Church does not condone same-sex relationships, which it regards as sinful.
The Church has a lengthy and oppressive history toward LGBTQ people.
“Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel,” states the Handbook of Instructions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.”
These words supposedly expressed God’s revelation to the leadership of LDS and were reaffirmed in 1995 when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entered the debate on the parameters of marriage by issuing “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
It stated in part, “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His Children.” It claimed that the power to create children “is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness. It is the key – the very key….This commandment has never been rescinded.”
Leaders and members of the Church, therefore, justified contributing an estimated 22 million dollars to the 2008 California Ballot 8 initiative campaign, which succeeded in limiting the rights and benefits of marriage to one man and one woman.
If the Church’s position on same-sex attractions, expression, and marriage for same-sex couples was not clear enough, former LDS President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, referred to homosexuality throughout a sharply worded sermon as “wrong,” or “basically wrong,” “wicked,” “impure,” “unnatural,” “immoral,” “against nature,” “evil,” and as a threat to civilization.
Packer’s sermon – delivered to more than 20,000 participants in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City and millions more watching on satellite television at the Church’s 180th Semiannual General Conference in October 2010 – stated, “We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that ‘wickedness never was happiness.”‘
Packer continued, “There are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce….To legalize that which is basically wrong or evil will not prevent the pain and penalties that will follow as surely as night follows day….If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must perish.”
Under this backdrop and literally one block from the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, I was invited to present a keynote address to the delegates at the Eighty-First Annual Convention of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association on April 16, 2011.
I titled my address, “Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price,” based on the notion that homophobia is pervasive throughout society and we are all at risk of experiencing its harmful effects.
Following my keynote address, a number of the convention delegates came to the podium to talk about how much they had gained from my remarks. I was enormously touched by the words of three delegates who moved me to tears.
A woman approached me with moistened eyes and tears running down her cheeks. Unable initially to speak, she hugged me and sobbed on my shoulder. She ultimately expressed how much my words had moved her, and through her sobs, told me the story of how her stepson, a young gay man, had killed himself three years earlier. She said members of her LDS community had shunned and scorned her when the young man’s sexual identity had become known.
Words failed me as we continued to hold and comfort each other.
Looking on was another woman who proceeded to join us. “I have a nine-year-old son, whom I am quite certain is gay,” she told us, as tears also streamed from her eyes. “I am forced to make a decision,” she said with urgency in her voice. “I must leave my LDS church and save my son from a possibly tragic fate if I remain. My son is the most important thing in my life, and I refuse to lose him to the narrow views of the people around me.”
While sad, she also felt somewhat empowered in her decision to separate from what she considered abuse and misunderstanding by her church community.
As I was on my way out of the large conference hall, I noticed a man, red-eyed, who beckoned me. “I am a professor at Brigham Young University,” he explained. “Until your talk, I had never truly understood the hurt the LDS policy has on real people, but you personalized the issue for me.” With a tone of deep sincerity in his voice, he said, “I commit to you that I will bring this message to my campus when I go back to work on Monday.”
The late Dr. Derrick Bell of New York University Law School put forward the theory of “interest convergence,” the idea that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there is something in it for them (i.e. when there is a “convergence” between the interests of white people and racial justice).
Bell asserted that the Supreme Court ended the longstanding policy of “separate but equal” in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education because it presented to the world, and in particular to the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war, a United States that supported civil and human rights.
Another example: the Church of Latter-Day Saints president, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849. Emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978, the policy forbade the ordination of Black men to the ranks of LDS priesthood.
This policy prohibited Black men and women from participating in the temple Endowment and Sealings, which the Church requires for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted Black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.
Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?” stated Young in 1849 following the declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”
While making a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852, Young further asserted, “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]…in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before, I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”
In another instance, Young said: “You see some classes of the human family that are Black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind….Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. That was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin…that they should be the ‘servant of servants’; and they will be, until that curse is removed….”
Joseph Fielding Smith, Tenth Prophet and President of the LDS Church wrote in 1935 that “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures….”
And in 1963 he asserted: “Such a change [in our policy] can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.”
It seems that the Twelfth LDS Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, was touched with such a “vision” and, therefore, reversed the ban, referring to it as “the long-promised day.”
We can ask today whether “revelation” or mere pragmatism was the determining factor in permitting Black people full membership rights in the Church at a time of ongoing and heightened civil rights activities in the United States and an increase in LDS missionary recruiting efforts throughout the African continent.
We can also ask whether “revelation” or mere pragmatism was the motivating consideration for abandoning its promotion of polygamous marriages at a time when the United States Congress demanded this as a condition for the admission of Utah as a state within the United States.
In another example, the issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.
Well, again, whether by divine inspiration or interest convergence stemming from political pressure and shrinking church membership, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.
LDS support for the Respect for Marriage Act may come from the Church’s awareness of its own self-interest to “come out” publicly to defend the right of same-sex couples to legally marry since overall, approximately 70% of U.S. residents support it following the 2015 Supreme Court decision granting this right nationwide.
Or, rather, was it divine revelation?
Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
According to the Republican National Committee for Life, “The Republican Party must continue to uphold the principle that every human being, born and unborn, young and old, healthy and disabled, has a fundamental, individual right to life.”
With the stunning revelations of a leaked 98-page majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito proposing to completely gut the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it seemed inevitable with the unprecedented maneuvering and court-packing of ultra-conservative “justices” under the Trump regime.
The Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, provided states the ability to take away the constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion, which has been granted for the past 49 years. It could reverse, as well, the right to contraception, marriage equality for same-sex couples, interracial marriage, sexuality education, and the total erasure of voting rights.
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Republican leaders announced that among their primary and immediate items on their legislative agenda after the election of Donald Trump was to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. While these healthcare clinics do not receive direct federal funding, they collect approximately $500 million in federal programs from payments and grants, which comprise about 40% of the organization’s yearly budget.
Though an estimated 2.5 million people throughout the country access Planned Parenthood each year for annual health checkups, screenings for diseases, and contraceptives, Republicans had attempted to defund Planned Parenthood only to face a veto when President Obama sat in the Oval Office.
On November 20, 2022, as we commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance, a shooter in Colorado murdered five and injured 18 beautiful people at Club Q. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. As a nation, we must confront the hatred while continuing to demand gun safety measures.
In addition to the shooter, I indict our society that stereotypes and weaponizes our LGBTQ bodies as fodder for advancing its patriarchal Christian white supremacist authoritarian agendas.
We experience today many politicians, clergy, community and school officials who are targeting queer, trans, and gender non-binary people in promoting bigotry with their words and their actions by marginalizing and disenfranchising us through their legislation to prevent discussions of our lives in the classrooms and by banning books discussing our lives, by promoting fear and hatred by calling us “groomers,” by criminalizing parents who support their children’s gender identities and forms of expression, by eliminating trans athletes from sports, from preventing trans and non-binary folks from using public accommodations corresponding with their gender identities.
In my continuing quest to understand and make meaning of current political, economic, and social realities, I constantly glance back into historical eras looking for similarities and parallels from which I can draw conclusions and possibly learn from past mistakes we as humans have made. While each era unquestionably poses unique conditions and challenges in many respects, I believe history has enumerable lessons to teach if we are willing to learn.
Though I rarely offer comparisons between events transpiring before and during the ascension to power of the German Third Reich with resemblances to the contemporary United States – since to do so could result in trivializing one of the most horrific episodes in human history – nonetheless, I am haunted by certain parallels that demand voicing.
I am troubled by multiple similarities between that time not so very long ago and the discourses expressed and events transpiring today. I want, therefore, to highlight, in particular, the parallels I see in Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression: a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women’s equality, anti-women’s reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion), anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-transgender, anti-gender nonconforming, anti-sexuality education in schools.
The Nazis ruthlessly enforced and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to 1871 with the unification of Germany: “Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights.”
Nazi ideology rested on the assessment that homosexuals (males) lowered the German birth rate; they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are “potential oppositionists” and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their “sense of shame” and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the “decline of social community.”
“Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong. But this we can achieve only in one way — the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We, therefore, reject any sexual deviation, particularly between man and man, because it robs us of the last possibility of freeing our people from the slave-chains in which it is now forced to toil.”
While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexuality between women, as they had in Germany’s Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, because they believed that so-called “Aryan” lesbians could at least birth children for the “New Germany.”
On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich’s anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were “like women” and, therefore, could not fight in any German war effort.
Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to several concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.
Upon coming to power in 1933, under their Youth Leader, Baldur von Shirach, the Nazis took over all youth groups converting them into Hitler Youth groups. One action taken following consolidation was to eliminate all signs of “homosexual corrosion” because it allegedly threatened state control by “fostering political conspiracies.”
Nazi leaders purged all boys suspected of “homosexual tendencies.” They tried and convicted an estimated 6,000 youth under Paragraph 175 between 1933 and 1943.
Hitler also proposed eliminating all sex education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.
While the Catholic Church spoke out then and today against same-sex sexuality, their policies boomeranged and hit them in their faces. Used primarily to silence any potential resistance from the Church, the Nazis conducted their so-called “Cloister Trials” in which they dissolved Catholic youth fraternities, arrested and incarcerated large numbers of priests, religious brothers, and Catholic laity in prisons and concentration camps, accusing them of being “threats to the state” on fabricated charges of homosexuality. For example, prison guards at Dachau concentration camp murdered Catholic priest Fr. Alois Abdritzki, one of many fatalities from the “Cloister Trials.”
Alfred Rosenberg, one of the Nazi’s chief ideologues, directed his misogynist outrage against women: “The emancipation of women from the women’s emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline…. A woman should have every opportunity to realize her potential, but one thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier, and politician.”
Englebert Huber, a Nazi propagandist, dictated the “proper” place of women in the Third Reich, figuratively (and literally as well) beneath men: “In the ideology of National Socialism, there is no room for the political woman….[Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political, that post-war creature, who rarely ‘cut a good figure’ in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon.”
The Nazis added Paragraph 218 of the German Penal Code to outlaw abortions and established a national file on women who had undergone and doctors who had performed abortions.
In their increasing obsession with “purifying” the social sphere, Nazi leadership enacted the “Decree for Combating Public Indecency,” which included such provisions as working to eliminate prostitution, closing all bars and clubs that “are misused for the furtherance of public indecency” including “public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons engaging in unnatural sex acts” (a.k.a. homosexuals), and closing kiosks and magazine stands in libraries and bookshops “whether because they include nude illustrations or because of their title or contents, are liable to produce erotic effects in the beholder.”
Though Pope Pius XII maintained a position of neutrality and rarely spoke out against the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, of which he was roundly criticized in some circles, The Vatican, on April 3, 1933, praised the Reich on this policy:
“The Vatican welcomes the struggle of National Germany against obscene material. The strong measures that Prussia’s Minister of the Interior Göring has ordered for the combating of obscene writings and pictures…have received serious attention in Vatican circles. It will be recalled that Pius XII, in his recent encyclicals, has repeatedly and vigorously stressed that defensive actions against obscene material are of fundamental importance for the bodily and spiritual health of family and nation, and he most warmly welcomes the type and manner…with which this struggle has been undertaken in the new Germany.”
The Patriarchal Connecting Strand
The Nazi regime connected multiple forms of oppression when Heinrich Himmler reorganized the Reich Criminal Police Bureau to centralize operations by creating a national file on male homosexuals, transgender people, what they referred to as “wage abortionists” (women and their doctors), and to monitor the production and ban the use of contraceptives to “Aryan” women.
Within this Bureau, they established The Reich Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion, which in the single year of 1938 alone, conducted 28,366 arrests for abortion, and 28, 882 arrests of male homosexuals.
The common thread running through Nazi ideology regarding gender, gender expression, and sexuality was an intensive campaign to control individuals’ bodies and the bodies of members of entire communities in an attempt to control their minds.
Women and LGBTQ people have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens not merely in Nazi Germany but today as the current political discourse indicates. But women and LGBTQ are certainly not victims because through it all, women and LGBTQ people as individuals and as groups have resisted and challenged the inequities and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.
I hope, though, that we as a society can learn from the tyranny of the past.
After standing with Donald Trump throughout his morally reprehensible actions and policy directives, conservative Evangelical Christians – along with other anti-choice, anti-contraceptive, and anti-LGBTQ zealots – were downright giddy over the possibility of finally receiving some of the promised dividends for selling their souls to the Devil.
This group has sacrificed all of their “deeply held religious beliefs.” They have stood with him from his destructive and epithet-laden tweets, to his promise of constructing a wall on our southern border, to the Access Hollywood tape, to revelations of his payoffs to quiet a porn star, to separating babies and young children from their parents and putting them in cages, to his planning an insurrection on the Capitol, to his squirreling top-secret documents at his Florida resort.
Throughout Trump’s bully-in-an-America-shop candidacy to his plowing into the White House, his expectant base of supporters ran ahead like the excited sprinters in the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, all with the hoped-for remuneration of Trump packing the judicial branch with decidedly right-wing judges and justices.
The wall with Mexico was merely one of the many structures Trump promised to build. When he asserted during the campaign that he wanted to punish women who have abortions, as well as the doctors who perform them, he was also walling-off women from their reproductive rights.
By committing to stack the Supreme Court with an ultra-conservative majority and promising to reverse both marriage equality and Roe v. Wade (resulting in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationcase), he gave conservatives the vision of a gigantic concrete structure separating women and LGBTQ people from their bodies and their civil rights, and certainly from their humanity.
Unfortunately, Trump has fulfilled some of these promises.
In yet another jaw-dropping, bigoted, hateful, and life-threatening court ruling, a federal judge recently ruled that employers are not compelled to cover HIV and pregnancy prevention drugs without any cost-sharing, as is required by the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services clause. The judge, however, declared that clause unconstitutional.
The case was brought by two Texas businesses and several Texas residents. The judge, Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, found that the requirement for employers to cover HIV prevention drug preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and birth control violated employers’ “religious freedom” as outlined in the Religious Rights Restoration Act.
The judge did not agree with the Biden administration’s argument that PrEP poses a “compelling government interest” in asking private insurance plans to cover the drugs at no cost-sharing or without any religious exemptions.
The ACA’s preventive services requirement stipulates that insurers must fully cover 100 preventive services without cost-sharing to plan members.
O’Connor’s ruling could be used to deny coverage of life-saving vaccines and other vital drugs if employers claim these therapies violate their “deeply held religious beliefs.”
U.S. Congress passed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”
We can add “Justice” Samuel Alito, “Justice” Anthony Kennedy, “Justice” John Roberts, “Justice” Clarence Thomas, and last, but certainly not least, “Justice” Antonin Scalia to an oxymoronic list since this Supreme Court decision amounted to anything but justice.
The five men voting in the majority denied the rights of women, particularly working-class women employees at “closely-held” (family owned with a limited number of shareholders) for-profit corporations, which includes most U.S. corporations.
The case involved the families who owned the national chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, plus a Christian bookstore chain, and Conestoga, a Mennonite family-owned woodworking company. The parties claimed that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and in particular, a few specific contraceptive devices covered by health insurance companies, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The act stated that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion….”
The decision follows former 2012 presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney’s assertionthat “Corporations are people my friend,” and clearly shows that million- and billion-dollar corporate families have more rights than workers.
When patriarchal Christian nationalist white supremacist social and economic systems attempt to keep women pregnant and taking care of children, they can restrict their entry into the workplace and ensure their dependence on men both economically and emotionally.
As people have produced more and more children, expanding numbers of little consumers emerge to contribute to the capitalist system’s ever increasing profits for owners of business and industry. The patriarchal Christian nationalist white supremacist imperative to control women’s and LGBTQ people’s bodies amounts to imperatives to control their minds and life choices.
And when patriarchal white supremacist social and family structures converge with Christian nationalist religious systems, the oppression of women and LGBTQ people became inevitable.
Since the United States is majority Christian in all its many sects and denominations, and the conservative Supreme Court majority follows some form of Christianity, any claim of a supposed “separation of Church and state” is nothing more than a fraudulent platitude in the service of Christian nationalism.
Possibly because the notion of Critical Race Theory is so vague to most conservative voters, when Republican Glenn Youngkin, then-candidate for Virginia governor, ran for office, he labeled himself as the “parents’ rights candidate” by attempting further to instill fear on the part of the white electorate.
He raised his racist bullhorn by declaring not only his intent to ban Critical Race Theory the day he is elected but also to outlaw the reading of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel by author Toni Morrison, Beloved, which was turned into a major feature film.
Beloved, a truthful and painful story of the lives and loves of two enslaved black people in the U.S. South, has become an integral part of the cannon of not only African American literature but of U.S.-American literature generally.
After winning the Virginia gubernatorial election and with the support of the Virginia state legislature, new bills to limit the teaching of our country’s true past have circulated throughout the Virginia statehouse.
House bill No. 781, proposed by Republican Delegate Wren Williams, prohibits “divisive concepts” from instruction in Virginia public elementary and secondary schools. While Williams made clear his opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, the wording “divisive concepts” in its vagueness closes the door on the teaching of anything and everything conservatives deem appropriate and necessary to ban.
In the wording of the bill, Virginia’s social studies curriculum will be standardized (a.k.a. controlled and regimented) and educators will teach about, “founding documents of the United States,” like “the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.”
Even Virginia’s elementary and secondary school students, I would hope, know so much more than the legislators attempting to enact severe constraints on curriculum and pedagogy throughout their systems of “education.”
By the 5th grade, students should have learned about the “Lincoln-Douglas” debates of 1858 in Illinois between incumbent Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas and Lincoln, his Republican challenger in the race for U.S. senator. The major topic during the series of seven debates included the candidates’ views on whether new states joining the union would permit or prohibit slavery within their borders.
In Youngkin’s inauguration speech on Saturday, January 15, 2022, he seemed to talk from both sides of his mouth when he promised, “We will remove politics from the classroom and re-focus on essential math, science and reading. And we will teach all of our history the good and the bad.”
Then within an hour following his speech, he immediately signed 11 executive orders including lifting the mask mandate for Virginia schools and ending the vaccine mandate for state employees in a school system and state with increasingly rising infection rates.
Wanting to be known as “The Education Governor,” one of his executive orders ends the use of “divisive concepts” in schools such as Critical Race Theory, which is not currently part of the curriculum.
One day later in an interview on Fox, Youngkin doubled down on his misunderstanding, the perpetuation of misinformation, and yes, the politicization of the teaching of the legacy of racism and race relations in the United States.
“We are not going to teach the children to view everything through a lens of race. Yes, we will teach all history, the good and the bad. Because we can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we have come from. But to actually teach our children that one group is advantaged and the other disadvantaged because of the color of skin, cuts everything we know to be true.”
So, whom does Youngkin designate as “we” in “everything we know to be true”?
The Virginia governor and state legislature pose a great and common example clearly demonstrating why politicians cannot and must not dictate the parameters of what educators teach in the schools throughout the nation.
Professor and Executive Director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton, Shelley Inglis, studies authoritarian leaders around the world and came up with a list of ten common markers characteristic to many.
One maker states that authoritarians appeal to populism and nationalism. While “populism” encompasses a range of political stances emphasizing the idea of siding with “the people” against the so-called “elite” and can exist on the political left, the right, or the center, right-wing populism co-opts the term and juxtaposes nationalist and nativist aims. This form of populism we have clearly witnessed during this era of Trumpism.
Another of Inglis’ markers of authoritarianism is the control of information at home (propaganda and stifling of truth in schools, the media, and the larger society) and misinformation abroad.
Though Youngkin is but a petty autocrat in one state, his influence has become immense since winning the Virginia statehouse. The larger Republican Party is taking several pages from his political playbook by first, straddling the line between embracing Trumps’ brand of populism while keeping a certain distance from the twice impeached failed president.
Secondly, they have implemented Youngkin’s successful tactic of scaring parents and other community members with the false flag of “Critical Race Theory” by banning age-appropriate truthful education of young people to the realities of our history.
While Youngkin promised to allow the teaching of our history, “the good and the bad,” the schools will continue to teach a watered-down whitewashed version of what students need to know to help our country come to terms with and begin to heal from the violations to human and civil rights of the past.
Before Youngkin won his election and continuing to the present day, since January 2021, Education Week has found that 32 states have either introduced bills in their legislatures or have taken other actions that would ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory or restrict how educators discuss racism, sexism, and LGBTQ issues in the classroom. Thirteen states have already inflicted these restrictions.
Just think about it: States are passing laws and enacting executive orders banning the teaching of how the states passed laws banning the teaching of enslaved peoples under the apartheid system of U.S.-American slavery.
They are passing laws and enacting executive orders banning the teaching of how the states passed laws banning voting rights of people of color.
These very laws and executive order banning the teaching of the true legacy of race confirms one of the primary characteristics of Critical Race Theory: that racism is a permanent feature of the U.S. political and social system.
These laws challenge any reality, any truth that contradicts the pablum we are fed as young people of the nationalist narrative that this country functions as a meritocracy: that the individual succeeds or fails based chiefly on their merit, from their motivation, abilities, values, ambition, commitment, and persistence, rather than on their backgrounds or social identities.
Autocrats have a vested stake in withholding the true accounting of our past.
So after suffering the effects of yet another mass shooting in our country, this time in Las Vegas, Nevada where currently 58 people have died and approximately 520 others were wounded, let’s look at the firearms laws in the state of Nevada.
No permit required to purchase a firearm;
No gun registration required;
No gun owners’ license required;
No permit required to carry concealed long guns;
No laws restricting the sale and ownership of assault weapons;
No restrictions on the capacity of firearms magazines
No restriction on the number of firearms an individual may own!
The suspected shooter had with him 23 firearms at the time of his attack on a crowd attending an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas.
After each incident of mass shootings, we hear the obligatory “I send my thoughts and prayers to the survivors and to the loved ones of those who have died” coming from politicians and other officials. Well, I hate to break it to you, but “thoughts and prayers” simply aren’t cutting it! They aren’t helping to reduce the chances of another incident tomorrow or next week or next year.
Each time I hear of another incident of gun violence in a long and tragic chain, I think back to the very first thing that caught my eye as I entered the grounds of the Ames, Iowa Republican Party Presidential Straw Poll in the summer of 2011. Three young children, I would guess between the ages of 4 -7, sporting day-glo orange baseball caps with “NRA” imprinted atop, and round stickers on their small T-shirts announcing “GUNS SAVE LIVES.”
But, really, do these “guns save lives?” Do laws expanding gun possession, concealed or not, actually “save lives”?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related violence has reached epidemic proportions in our country by snuffing out the lives of upwards of 30,000+ people and wounding many more annually. On average, guns end the lives of more than 80 people in the United States every day. Each year, gun violence affects over 100,000 people in some way.
Many of the guns used in these killings reach military level weapons power, guns which currently remain legal. Today in the United States, there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people.
Of the increasing number mass murders in the United States since 1982, most of the shooters obtained their weapons legally. Demographically, the shooters in all but a very few cases involved males, usually white, with an average age of 35 years.
Should any limits be placed on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”?
We seem somehow only to spout the second clause in that sentence while forgetting the first, especially the term “well-regulated”!
I propose that we reevaluate the political right’s obsession with the so-called “freedom” to bear arms because it is not only “criminals who kill people” as Second Amendment advocates claim. Therefore,
We must ban and criminalize the possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
We must close loopholes such as buying a weapon at a gun show.
We must ban the purchase of firearms and ammunition on the internet because some people are still doing this legally.
We must increase the waiting period and make background checks more rigorous and effective.
We must limit the number of firearms any individual can own.
We must limit the number of bullets any firearm clip can hold.
We must ban and criminalize the purchase and possession of armor piercing bullets, and also hollow-tip bullets.
We must rethink the “logic” of permitting concealed weapons, especially in places like houses of worship, colleges, bars, restaurants, and political rallies.
We must interface all databases monitoring firearm ownership to assess the firearm-owning population more accurately and effectively.
To be perfectly honest, though, I want the Second Amendment repealed! It is an Amendment for goodness sake. It is not some sort of divinely-inspired mandate from a superior being well beyond our comprehension. It was created, rather, by our intelligent but flawed “founding fathers” who probably did not want totally unlimited and unrestricted rights to bear arms.
Even if they did advocate for unrestricted firearms ownership, these are the same men who owned slaves, committed genocide against and expelled native peoples, withheld enfranchisement from women, engaged in and killed one another in duels, and so on. Actually, I’m really surprised the National Rifle Association hasn’t advocated for the return of lethal dueling matches. Maybe that’s next on their agenda. (Go see the Broadway show “Hamilton” to see how that turned out!)
As we all know, in the current political climate, the chances for comprehensive common sense gun control in the United States is only a pipe dream as long as the National Rifle Association controls Congress and state legislatures, for if they did not, we would have seen effective laws passed years ago resulting in countless lives saved.
Nevertheless, this utter stupidity in our system of firearms laws must end. Enough is enough is enough is enough already! Actually, it is far past that time.
In my university course of 320 students, I try to remember everyone’s pronouns, but I find it impossible. This is the case as well even in my much smaller courses. Whenever I am unsure, I ask students again, or I use the pronoun “they.” But students often get very upset and enraged when I and any of my colleagues unintentionally misgender them.
Several of my colleagues have quit the profession of teaching because of what they increasingly see as a “tyranny of language” (a language that is in perpetual flux and changes virtually by the day, with differing preferences and requirements of each individual).
Virtually every generation “individuates” (distinguishes, separates, individualizes itself) from those that have gone before, and particularly those closely preceding. And this is how it should be if the human spirit is to continually progress, create, innovate, and soar.
As I write this, I am not going to list my queer activist credentials, and I certainly will not claim that the oppression I experienced was worse than that suffered by young people today because I subscribe to activist and poet Audre Lorde’s dictum that “there is no hierarchy of oppression.”
The times in which I lived as a young person were somewhat different, though, from today’s realities, and my experiences reflected the social environment of those times.
I travel around the United States and to other countries giving presentations and workshops on university and high school campuses and at professional conferences on topics around social justice issues. Recently, after I spoke about the topic of heterosexism at a U.S. east coast university, during the question/answer session a student asked me what my undergraduate LGBTQ student group was like when I was attending college.
“Was there much resistance from the administration and from other students?” the student inquired. More questions followed: “Were bisexuals and trans people welcomed?” “Did the cis and trans people work well together?” “Was the group’s focus political or mainly social?” “Was there a separate ‘coming out’ group for new members?” “What kinds of campus activities did your group sponsor?”
As the student asked me these questions, my head began to whirl with visions of my undergraduate years. I stopped long enough to inform the student that I graduated with my B.A. degree on June 13, 1969 – 15 days before the momentous Stonewall rebellion, an event generally credited with sparking the modern movement for LGBTQ liberation and equality.
Though I later learned that some universities like Columbia, Cornell, and Stanford had officially recognized “gay” or “homophile” student groups before 1969, as a graduating senior in 1969, the concept of an “out” person, let alone an organized, above-ground student organization was not even in my range of possibilities.
I must express, however, that it hurts me deeply – and others of my generation have stated this to me as well – whenever a young person treats me as if I am a mere dinosaur from a prehistoric era or as an oppressor with little or no awareness or sensitivity when I use a gender pronoun in error or when I employ a term that either seemed innocuous or appropriate yesterday but somehow has morphed by some new convention into an insensitive label of derision and pain.
With that stated as a caveat, though, before I hand off my torch to someone in the current generation to continue lighting the path forward, I feel compelled to assert that because of people of my generation and those that have gone before us, today’s youth have the luxury – yes luxury – of criticizing (and at time attacking) us when we misgender. Today’s youth are symbolically standing on our shoulders as they sometimes look down on us.
I personally am doing the best I can to incorporate the continually-changing terminology, for in the final analysis, we are in this process and goal of social justice together, synergistically, figuratively, and literally between the generations.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated that “[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We can also view the notion of moral progress as a spiral stretched out. We commence our travels forward, and then we begin to circle up, back, then down, then we continue the process over and over again through time. But as we begin moving forward on each consecutive revolution of the spiral, we stand a bit further ahead, further onward than we did at the previous cycle.
The march toward social justice, therefore, cannot be represented as a continually forward procession, but rather, it advances and retreats. With each retreat, though, we stand closer to our goals than we did previously. The metaphor represents the movement of individuals, nations, and the world at large.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gestures to supporters as she arrives to speak Saturday, June 13, 2015, on Roosevelt Island in New York.
On the final evening of the Democratic Presidential Convention, the legendary Carol King performed her popular and very moving “You’ve Got a Friend.” The careers of Carol King as a song writer and performer, and Hillary Rodham Clinton as a community organizer, lawyer, and politician run parallel in their trajectories.
Carol King began as a song writer for other people and groups to perform. She advanced the careers of many other entertainers. At a certain point during her career, she made the decision to step into the recording studio and onto the live stage to present her talent, her creativity, and her art directly to her audiences, and in so doing, King provided the sound track of many of our lives.
Likewise, Hillary Rodham Clinton began as an impassioned and dedicated student in the law translating what she learned to help children, people of color, people with disabilities, and others who traditionally were underserved by the “justice” system. Hillary performed this work, often silently, outside the bright lights of publicity, fame, and fortune because she felt a passion to learn and to serve. In so doing, she advanced the lives of many.
Rather than intentionally going after the spotlight, the strong bright glow found and focused on her every move after she married a future governor of Arkansas. She utilized her increased visibility by continually tapping into her talent, intelligence, and creativity in the work she loved, which her daughter Chelsea on stage at the convention described as “the calling of her life.”
Hillary was instrumental in the passage of the 1975 federal law, Education for All Handicapped Children Act (reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1990, 1997, and 2004). This federal law contains a mandatory provision stating that to receive federal funds, every school system in the nation must provide a free, appropriate public education for every child between the ages of 3 – 18 (extended later to 3 – 21) regardless of the severity of the student’s disability. As First Woman (not “Lady”), she worked to ensure that more than 8 million previously uninsured children received health insurance.
In September 1995, as thousands from around the world meet in Beijing, China, for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, First Woman Hillary Rodham Clinton, representing the United States, gave a speech arguing that “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights once and for all!”
While her assertion may seem obvious to many of us in the United States today, this was not always the case as it still remains an outlandish notion in many countries around the world. Therefore, as a founding purpose, the conference organizers “determined to advance the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.”
In a comparable presentation, as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a historic speech at the 2011 United Nations gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, in recognition of International Human Rights Day. The speech focused on the rights of LGBT people internationally. She referenced the monumental United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights ushered through the seemingly insurmountable process to ratification by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity….[Therefore also,] gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
Unfortunately, Hillary’s assertion is still not so obvious to many people in the United States, as it remains contested in many states to this very day.
Today, LGBT people face legalized discrimination around the world. In 10 countries, people who engage in same-sex sexuality face the death penalty, and in 65 others, they risk other forms of punishment.
Hillary powerfully argued that nations must work to protect the rights and safety of people who may not follow culturally defined norms of gender identity and expression and sexuality. She eloquently reasoned that countries must abolish laws criminalizing LGBT people on the basis of who they are, who they love, and how they express their identities. In addition, she proclaimed:
It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgender women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.
Hillary refused to entertain the often common but scurrilous argument that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are simply “Western inventions.” She did her homework by enumerating the countries, “Western” and non-Western alike, that have either passed or have committed to pursue legislation protecting the human and civil rights of LGBT people.
In the German language, mensch translates as “a human being.” In the Yiddish of Eastern European Jews, mensch represents so much more. A mensch is a special kind of human being: a kind, caring person, someone who loves and gives everything they can back to humanity, someone with a noble character.
Yes, Hillary (and Bill) haven’t always seen LGBT rights as human rights and human rights as LGBT rights. And yes, Hillary, like everyone who puts themselves out in the world and takes risks to effect change, has made mistakes, some blatant. And in the glare of the spotlight, Hillary hasn’t always shown her Menschlichkeit (menschness) to the fullest.
Hillary, from First Woman of Arkansas, to First Woman of the United States, to Senator, to Secretary of State, to (hopefully) First Woman and mensch to serve as President of the United States, will continue traveling her moral spiral and advance the moral progress of our country “toward a more perfect union,” for as she said during her convention speech, as long as “…we work together, we will all rise together.”