While the country remains in shock after Tennessee’s recent ban on public drag performances, another, more insidious attack on the LGBTQ+ community has been underway in the state.
A coordinated effort by right-wing media and conservative lawmakers has decimated community-based programs addressing healthcare for LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee, including efforts to combat HIV.
In January, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced his administration was rejecting $8.8 million in federal funds provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for HIV prevention and treatment.
Left unsaid was the fact that some of those dollars had made their way to programs run by groups associated with trans healthcare. After a months-long outrage campaign by right-wing media, Gov. Lee finally threw the baby out with the bathwater.
The pressure campaign started in September, when right-wing provocateurs Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro set their sights on the transgender care program at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which Walsh described as “barbaric.”
Walsh amplified the accusations with an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on September 21 publicizing his “investigation,” while the Daily Wire co-founder Shapiro promoted the charges on his YouTube channel and podcast, detailing “nonsense garbage that a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy.”
The very next day, Gov. Lee issued a statement calling for a “thorough investigation.”
The accusations ignited a social media firestorm and surfaced the existence of the Tennessee Transgender Task Force, a volunteer team at Vanderbilt focused on trans health and HIV prevention, funded in part by those CDC dollars.
Weeks later, in November, the trans program’s director Dr. Pamela Talley told staff that federal dollars funding the task force, as well as Tennessee Planned Parenthood, would cease at year’s end.
Then in mid-January, the Lee administration announced it would not just end funding for those recipients, which totaled $235,000, but also that it would reject entirely a pair of CDC grants directed at HIV prevention, treatment and monitoring in the state worth more than $8.8 million.
“People have been crying all week,” one Tennessee Health Department staffer told NBC News after the announcement on January 20.
Ashley Coffield, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi, said the decision “felt like they were punching me in the gut.”
“I couldn’t believe that the governor would take the nuclear option,” she said, adding that she saw the move as a “political vendetta against abortion rights groups and transgender people.”
On Wednesday, newly appointed Tennessee Health Commissioner Ralph Alvarado told a state Senate committee that money from the grants would be replaced with $9 million in state funds.
Alvarado called the federal grants “cumbersome.”
“I think this is going to allow a bit of innovation, a little bit of liberty,” Alvarado testified. “I think it’s going to help vulnerable populations: people who are in human trafficking populations, mothers, children, first responders.”
But those populations, also identified by the governor’s office, are not the ones most affected by the HIV epidemic in Tennessee, experts say.
“Tennessee is preferring to fight a fictitious epidemic rather than their very real HIV epidemic,” Greg Millett, the director of public policy at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, told NBC News.
“First responders are just not at risk for HIV anywhere in the United States. Sexual trafficking is awful, but it’s not a major contributor for HIV cases in Tennessee or elsewhere.”
He added: “All of this is willful ignorance on the part of the state government.”
When State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) asked Alvarado if future state funding would focus on the highest-risk groups, including men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users, the health commissioner was less than definitive.
“I imagine that the same populations they’ve been approaching will continue to receive benefits from this.”
The UK government is facing fierce condemnation from opposition MPs and senior Tories over its “immoral, ineffective and incredibly expensive” Illegal Migration Bill.
The bill has been devised by the Tory government to reduce or stop “small boat crossings”across the English Channel.
If it becomes law, all adults who arrive in the UK via the Channel or in the back of a lorry will be detained for 28 days. They would then be sent back to their country of origin or on to a third country like Rwanda. Families with children could also be detained and deported.
Opposition MPs, human rights advocates, religious leaders and even Tory MPs have condemned the measure, which could jeopardise vulnerable people’s lives.
Labour MP Diane Abbott told PinkNews that the Illegal Migration Bill is “disgraceful”.
“It probably breaks international law, which is even admitted by ministers on the face of the bill,” the veteran MP said.
“It would deprive vulnerable asylum seekers their rights under international law, fail victims of modern slavery and leave unaccompanied children in detention centres.”
She added: “It is completely unworkable as well as immoral. The government probably knows that. But this is not about solving the issue of thousands of people endangering their lives by cross the Channel in small boats. It is aimed at bolstering a Tory core vote strategy for the next election.”
Illegal Migration Bill could condemn LGBTQ+ refugees to death
Liberal Democrats MP Layla Moran told PinkNews that the UK has “a proud history of offering sanctuary to those in need of international protection” – but the government is now intent on “trashing that legacy”.
“People fleeing war or persecution should be treated with compassion, not as criminals,” she said.
“I am deeply concerned about what this means for the safety of LGBTQ+ people seeking sanctuary in the UK. What may be a so-called safe country for some often is not for minority groups. Being sent back may be a matter of life or death for simply being who they are.”
Moran added: “Just like their botched Rwanda plan, this new legislation is immoral, ineffective and incredibly expensive for the taxpayer.
“It does nothing to punish the evil gangs who are responsible for these dangerous crossings, and instead criminalises their victims. This is not a practical or sustainable solution, it’s another vanity project for this Conservative government.”
Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy said those who have escaped “horrifying situations” shouldn’t have to risk their lives to get to the UK.
“Instead of putting down immoral and ineffective legislation that will further criminalise and punish some of the most vulnerable for taking the only option left to them, the government should be opening viable safe routes and giving people a genuine chance to rebuild their lives as part of our communities.”
Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman described the bill as “indefensible” in a press release.
“It would punish some of the world’s most vulnerable people as part of a desperate and racist culture war that has been fuelled from Downing Street,” she said.
“Locking up refugees and asylum seekers in prison-like conditions and then deporting them to Rwanda is the sort of policy you would expect from the BNP, but now it is being promoted by some of the most senior politicians in Westminster.
“It is utterly shameful. The Tories are going against every principle of how to treat refugees, and are using the kind of vile rhetoric that would have been at home in the fascist regimes of the 1930s.”
Senior Tories to rebel on immigration bill
The government is also facing opposition from within its own ranks. Tory MP Caroline Nokes told Times Radio that she will vote against the bill.
“I might be an outlier in my party but I think we have an absolute duty to treat people humanely to keep people safe. I have absolute horror at the prospect,” she said.
Nokes continued: “I am deeply troubled at the prospect of a policy which seeks to criminalise children, pregnant women, families and remove them to Rwanda.
“I didn’t vote for the last Nationality and Borders Bill, this hasn’t achieved its aim in reducing crossings. In fact, we’ve seen them increase, and I fail to see what this legislation is going to do to act as a deterrent”.
Tory MP Chris Skidmore joined Nokes, saying he too will vote against the bill.
“I am not prepared to break international law or the human rights conventions that the UK has had a proud history of playing a leading role in establishing,” he tweeted.
“I will not be voting for the bill tonight.”
Opposition to the bill has grown steadily since Sunak first announced his government’s plans while standing at a podium bearing the slogan “Stop the Boats”.
The government’s bill has already been lambasted by Amnesty International UK and by Human Rights Watch, along with a number of other human rights groups.
It will receive its second reading on Monday evening (13 March).
On the heels of the White House vocally condemning a call to eliminate transgender people, President Joe Biden called out Florida for attacking transgender youth.
“What’s going on in Florida, is as my mother would say, close to sinful,” Biden told out actor Kal Penn on The Daily Show in an interview that will air later today.
The White House press secretary was done being talked over by Simon Ateba.
“It’s just terrible what they’re doing,” he continued. “It’s not like you know, a kid wakes up one morning and says, ‘You know, I decided I want to become a man,’ or ‘I wanna become a woman.’”
“They’re human beings! They love, they have feelings, they have inclinations- I mean, it just to me is, it’s cruel.”
Biden said Congress needs to “pass legislation like we passed on same-sex marriage.”
“You mess with that, you’re breaking the law, and you’re going to be held accountable.”
Florida has passed a number of laws and rule changes attacking transgender people’s rights, including a ban on trans youth participating in school sports and a ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender youth. The state is considering several more this year, including one that would allow the state to take away trans kids from their affirming families, even if they’re just on vacation in the state.
This past Friday, out White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned attacks on transgender people’s rights as “shameful, hateful, and dangerous.”
“Look, it started with a speaker at a conservative conference calling for the eradication of transgender people, language that not a single national Republican leader has condemned,” Jean-Pierre said.
“In Iowa and Tennessee, Republicans are now calling for legislation to attack gay marriage and protections for same-sex couples. In Florida — just Florida alone — Republicans introduced 20 bills — 20 bills — on a single day to roll back the rights of LGBTQ community. One of those bills would give the state the right to remove kids from their parents just because that kid is transgender.”
She noted that there have been hundreds of bills attacking LGBTQ+ people filed in state legislatures across the country.
“So, so far this year, we have seen more than 450 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced at the state level — you’ve heard me say that before — amounting to a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills in our country’s history. Guys, today is day 70. It is day 70 of 2023.”
“The same leaders that tout freedom apparently don’t extend their love for freedom if they disagree with who you are, who you love, or how you parent.”
After a long period of restoration, one of Italy’s most famous archaeological treasures — the House of the Vettii — is reopening to the public.
The house’s extensive collection of fresco wall paintings includes lots of erotic art. But while some commenters have claimed that the house’s original owners were preoccupied with sex or even running a brothel, a gay Roman historian has said that those claims show a misunderstanding about the role queer sex played in ancient Rome.
The house was originally constructed for two freed male slaves who were likely owned by the same master. These men became wealthy from selling wine, and their now-famous house included numerous scenes of sex and mythology, painted on wet plaster and preserved in wax.
Mount Vesuvius buried the house in volcanic ash in 79 AD, but it has since been restored, giving art history fans a time capsule of wealthy Roman social life.
The house’s entrance includes an image of Priapus, the god of fertility and abundance, showing off an uncut penis that’s as long and thick as his arm. It rests upon a scale, balanced by a bag filled with money. Other scenes show different couples having sex.
João Florêncio, a gay researcher who examines visual depictions of sexual cultures throughout history, says that it’s a mistake to assume that Roman men resembled modern-day gay men just because they owned art of a well-hung god and often had sex with other men.
“Roman sexuality was not framed in terms of the gender of partners but in terms of power,” he added. “An adult free man could have sex as the penetrating partner with anyone of a lower social status—including women or slaves and sex workers of both genders.”
The researcher said that evidence of same-sex intercourse has been preserved in Pompeii’s sexually explicit artifacts and graffiti, but a lot of it has been disavowed or at least purified by mainstream modern culture. A lot of these artifacts were designated as “pornography” and moved to “secret museums” in the early 1800s.
While a modern man wouldn’t likely display the image of a well-endowed man in his home unless he was gay, Florêncio points out that phallic imagery in Roman culture was associated with machismo. Some men might have desired Priapus’s large dong, but far more men would’ve likely envied it for their own, as a sign of their own potency and power.
Florêncio also noted that, while some historians believe the house doubled as a brothel, he said the sexual images may have just functioned as domestic symbols of power, wealth, and culture, especially since sex wasn’t taboo in Roman culture. Indeed, images of sex were “everywhere in Rome, including in literary and visual arts,” he writes.
When Gad Yola hit the red carpet on December 20th, 2022, the 34-year-old Peruvian drag queen wanted to make a statement. Nearly 6,000 miles away from her home, Yola was far from the political crisis unfolding across Peru. So on her white dress, she bedazzled the words “25 Peruvians killed by the state”—a reference to the number of people who had died since protests erupted across the Andean nation.
Her dress quickly went viral on Twitter, and she received both messages of support and hate from Peruvians around the globe. Her artistic gesture is just one example of how LGBTQ+ Peruvians are making their voices heard in a political crisis that has persisted for nearly two months.
On December 7, 2022, former President Pedro Castillo rocked Peru’s democracy. Facing a vote for his impeachment, Castillo attempted a “self-coup”—a complete power grab by someone already in power. With trembling hands, the embattled president announced to the nation that he was unilaterally dissolving Congress and would rule the country by decree.
For Peruvians, this announcement was shocking, but it was not unprecedented. More than 20 years ago, former President Alberto Fujimori successfully pulled off this political machination and remained in power for another eight years. Fujimori, though, had the backing of the National Police of Peru and the Peruvian Armed Forces before he made this risky move; neither institution backed Castillo.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/nXyFgvCfyHI?feature=oembedPedro Castillo reads a statement announcing his decision to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.
Shortly after the announcement, ministers in his cabinet resigned, members of his political party, Peru Libre, denounced him, and his Vice President, Dina Boluarte, condemned the move. A couple of hours later, Congress successfully voted to impeach Castillo. Castillo was arrested and brought to a detention facility when he tried to seek asylum in the Mexican embassy; he currently remains in pre-trial detention.
Later that day, Boluarte was sworn in as President, and many members of Congress celebrated the ouster of an opponent they sparred with for the entire duration of his presidency.
Their celebration was short-lived.
On December 8th, just one day after Castillo’s arrest, protests began to sprout around the country.
Castillo was Peru’s 5th president in five years. He was also the first president to be of a peasant and indigenous background. His ouster, and Boluarte’s subsequent rightward shift, was taken as a sign by the historically marginalized groups of Peru that the country’s democracy is not an institution that works for them. Many believe Castillo was a victim of a conservative Congress hellbent on preventing an indigenous person from ruling effectively.
So they took to the streets.
In cities and towns all over Peru, aggrieved protesters began marching to demand political change. Their demands included the following: President Boluarte’s resignation, a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, earlier elections, and for some, the liberation of Castillo.
From Cusco to Lima, protesters have been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the state of their country. They have set up roadblocks and taken over airports. And in one case, a politician’s home was set on fire. Meanwhile, police have killed 46 people, some of whom were medics and bystanders, and injured dozens of others. One police officer was also killed due to the unrest, and at least ten people died in ambulances after being unable to reach hospitals due to blockades.
In addition to the anti-establishment protests, there have also been marches billed as “Marcha Por La Paz” or “March for the Peace.” These peace marches are right-wing and pro-police. And due to the march’s collaboration with the police, they have often inflamed tensions between the two sides.
Despite the assumption that LGBTQ+ rights are a left-wing cause, supporters and queer Peruvians are spread across the political spectrum. The political crisis has divided members of the queer community about how to resolve an increasingly intractable conflict.
Shortly after Boluarte was sworn-in, several LGBTQ+ activists and organizations condemned the violence at protests calling for her resignation.
Promsex, one of Peru’s most prominent LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups, addressed the new president in a statement on Twitter.
“We demand that the Executive Branch guarantee the safety of all people, including that of law enforcement personnel, and that there be no more deaths in the democratic and legitimate exercise of the right to protest,” the organization tweeted.
However, since that statement was released, the violence has escalated, and so has the intensity of statements from left-wing LGBTQ+ groups. On January 21st, the Lima Pride March Collective released a statement calling for one of the primary demands of the anti-Boluarte protestors—new elections.
“As LGBTI people, we demand a prompt democratic exit [from this crisis] through the advancement of elections in the shortest term possible,” the statement said.
The Collective changed their name on Twitter to #NuevasEleccionesYa (new elections now), accompanied by the Peruvian and pride flags.
Jorge Apolaya, a spokesperson for the group, spoke to LGBTQ Nation about why he supports the marches.
“[LGBTQ+] organizers have the responsibility to speak out and denounce what is contrary to democracy and therefore to the rights of LGBT people,” he told LGBTQ Nation. “The government of the current president Dina Boluarte has become repressive and violent in the face of legitimate protests in the country. We cannot allow more deaths, and that is why there is a social consensus in the request for the resignation of the current president.”
The consensus does not extend to all LGBTQ+ Peruvians. La Liga Libertad, a classically liberal group founded by LGBTQ+ people, has called the protesters’ demands, including the demand for Boluarte to resign, “anti-democratic.” They have described protesters’ attempts to take over national airports as “terrorism,” echoing Boluarte’s characterization of the ongoing unrest.
La Liga Libertad did not respond to LGBTQ Nation’s request for comment.
It is not only left-wing LGBTQ+ groups who favor Boluarte’s resignation. Popular Action (Acción Popular) is a centrist political party. One of its members, queer activist Manuel Siccha, spoke with LGBTQ Nation.
“Currently, the position [of the Party] is to request the resignation of President Dina Boluarte based on her lack of legitimacy to govern,” Siccha said. “You cannot govern without social legitimacy and she alone has been losing legitimacy little by little with the decisions she has made from actions which are dehumanizing and authoritarian.”
Siccha also told LGBTQ Nation that he believes the Boluarte administration does not have the capacity to respond to the urgent political needs and the agendas of vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ+ populations.
The division among the queer community is also visible among Peru’s two out members of Congress. Although both voted for Castillo’s impeachment in December, they diverge significantly in how they approach the conflict.
Susel Paredes is the first out lesbian to win a congressional election in Peru. A progressive member of Congress, she voted against giving Boluarte’s cabinet a vote of confidence two weeks ago due to the more than 50 deaths which have occurred since protests first broke out.
Alejandro Cavero, a conservative congressman from the Avanza Pais political party, has said he is “LGBT and proudly of the right.” While Cavero said he understands the “frustration and indignation of the South,” he also praised police reactions to the violent protests.
Other LGBTQ+ Peruvians who spoke with LGBTQ Nation expressed a similar sentiment to Cavero.
“It’s definitely a midway support,” said Vero Mourou when asked if she supports the protests. Mourou is a drag artist from Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. Like Cavero, she is sympathetic to the plight of the poor and indigenous Peruvians protesting. However, she blames the “communist left” for taking advantage of the situation.
“[The left] has caused innocent people to die like a cannonball for their own political interests, such as the constituent assembly. They use their pain and suffering for political purposes. I am against any act of violence disguised as protest…we cannot allow anarchy in Peru.”
As Peruvians inside the country express varying opinions on this conflict, many Peruvians abroad are also speaking out, including Yola. Based in Madrid, Yola spoke with LGBTQ Nation about why she supports the protests.
“Dina Boluarte has committed crimes against humanity, has murdered in the name of a false democracy that does not represent the inhabitants of the country, both in the provinces and in the capital,” she said.
Yola acknowledges that some on the left are homophobic and transphobic, including the former president. However, she believes that certain struggles must come before LGBTQ+ rights.
“Many gay people…do not see beyond the privileged reality of Lima, because they do not see that before being gay or lesbian, they are brown, descendants of indigenous people, of black people, that the agenda against the fight against poverty in the regions is, honestly, more relevant than same-sex marriage.”
Gad Yola wears a dress that says: “25 Peruvians killed by the state.”
One of the most conservative countries in South America, Peru does not have a stellar record on LGBTQ+ rights. Regardless of the outcome of this political crisis, the situation for queer and trans Peruvians is unlikely to change dramatically. However, as the nation struggles through nearly two months of unrest, LGBTQ+ Peruvians continue to make their voices heard and fight for their future.
A mid-level professional ice hockey team in Illinois has released a player who posted a string of disgusting, anti-LGBTQ+ tweets.
And the player Louie Rowe has retweeted numerous more messages since he was let go by ECHL outfit the Peoria Rivermen, accusing LGBTQ+ people of grooming and raping children, as well as using them as prostitutes.
Rivermen co-owner Bart Rogers told the Lincoln Journal Star: “We are shocked, and we have immediately released Louie Rowe.”
Rowe’s retweets targeted LGBTQ+ people, calling them peadophiles, and trans people, who were labelled mentally ill.
In addition to anti-LGBTQ+ tweets, Rowe’s Twitter includes messages demonising other minority groups.
On 12 January, another mid-level pro hockey team, the Kalamazoo Wings, sent a response to a Twitter user who said they were no longer going to attend games after the team released a rainbow logo on social media as part of a Pride Night event for LGBTQ+fans.
In response to the Wings’ message, Rowe wrote on Twitter: “I knew the Kwings were soft but I didn’t know they were gay, trans and soft.”
He went on to respond with an image that called Pride flags a “mental illness flag.” He also tweeted: “Imagine marketing towards the bottom of the barrel of society LMAO… what’s next? Felony offender night?”
Others took to Twitter to voice their disgust at Rowe’s comments, with one person writing: “Embarrassed that this guy ever put on a @FWKomets Sweater.”
Another person wrote: “What a turd. Enjoy the beer league hockey career – take the L – loser !!”
The Riverman’s co-owner, Bart Rogers, added: “Our organisation does not condone that language, nor do we support that point of view or behaviour. Those things do not represent the beliefs of our team, our partners nor our fans, nor the great sport we play. It does not represent the values of our organisation’.”
President Joe Biden will address the nation soon when he gives the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. The ceremonial speech will outline the president’s priorities and the country’s challenges. But what about the LGBTQ+ nation?
Mondaire Jones knows the best defense queer people have is the ballot
Former Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-NY) was first elected in 2020 and is one of the two first-out LGBTQ+ Black members of Congress; he lost his seat in 2022. He co-introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress to ensure same-sex couples continue to have the rights associated with marriage should the Supreme Court overturn the marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges.
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Jones helped get former President Donald Trump impeached for a second time after his supporters rioted in the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He pushed for even tougher democratic reforms, including automatic voter registration, public financing of elections, and an end to partisan gerrymandering.
“The crisis of our democracy is the biggest existential threat,” Jones told LGBTQ Nation. “If we do not have a truly representative government, if we do not have a pro-equality majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House, then we are going to continue to see this Supreme Court whittle away at our rights.”
So it’s no surprise that Congressman Jones’s message now is that getting better people elected is the key to moving Congress toward equality.
“We have to continue to build and renew the movement for liberation through organizing at the grassroots level and defeating those who are hostile to the humanity of our community,” Jones said. “My project will be to ensure that Democrats take back the branches of government in 2024.”
How V Spehar is keeping tabs on America from under a desk
Self-described citizen journalist V Spehar says being in the room where it happens reveals the true colors of elected officials and how their personal and political agendas may impact our country’s future.
Spehar, 40, spent the early part of their career in the hospitality industry in New York City, Tampa, and eventually as an event planner with one of Washington D.C.’s most prominent caterers. “People speak so honestly in front of you when they don’t think you’re ‘that’ kind of smart — when they think you’re just a waiter, a bartender, or whatever,” Spehar told LGBTQ Nation. “And so I got to see these people, not just for the policies that they wrote, but for the people that they are, and understanding that who they ate dinner with changed how the world was going to be.”
What does ‘activist-elected official’ Park Cannon foresee in the future for queer rights?
In 2016, Park Cannon was Georgia’s youngest elected official in the state legislature at 24 years old. Seven years later, she continues to exhibit an insatiable energy for fighting for equity and standing up for marginalized groups.
In 2021, Cannon became a national name after she was arrested for standing up to S.B. 202, a law that significantly rolled back voting rights for Georgians. Cannon, who is Black, was arrested by a white state trooper for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) office door as he signed the bill in a closed-door ceremony. Charges against Cannon were ultimately dropped.
“We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled,” she wrote on Twitter after her arrest. “We have a right to our future and right to our freedom. We will come together and continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms.”
“I know the feeling of coming out in the South and expecting that there would be hate. And there was, but there was also a lot of fun and exploration and resistance that teaches people more than they could ever imagine,” Cannon told LGBTQ Nation. “I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to look at LGBTQ culture as groundbreaking and inclusive and not look at it as anything but that.”
Activist Matt Foreman questions whether we have the leadership and resources needed for full equality
Matt Foreman has seen it all from the forefront of the struggle for equality. The veteran politico led multiple queer organizations, including the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force). As someone who has had to do the hard and inglorious work of both soliciting donations and funding campaigns, it’s no surprise he has a decidedly pragmatic view of how the movement can move forward during a challenging time.
“What is urgently and desperately needed is a coordinated, multifaceted campaign to push back against all this horrific legislation that has come down the road and will be coming down the road this year at the state level,” Foreman told LGBTQ Nation.“It’s the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, the anti-trans bills, the curriculum attacks, book bans, it’s all of that, and right now, our movement at the state level is strapped for resources.”
“I think the number one priority is fighting back in the states and grinding the other side down over time by showing their true nature, which is not about protecting kids, just about hate and demonizing good people. And so because that kind of rhetoric is out there, it becomes accepted wisdom,” Foreman said. “It has an impact on the way people treat queer people. And we’re seeing this rise in the rhetoric now, which isn’t just rhetoric once it influences people to attack us physically, financially, or emotionally. The only way we’re gonna get around that is to take it on, fight back, and expose them for what they are.”
Kelley Robinson is head of the largest LGBTQ+ organization — and she knows our Achilles’ heel
In November 2022, Kelley Robinson was elected the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), becoming the first Black queer woman to hold the position in the civil rights group’s 40-year existence. Now she aspires to be the first Black queer woman to spearhead the HRC infundamentally changing the country and its systems of power.
“I come to this work as a Black woman, as a queer person, as a wife, and as a mom,” Robinson told LGBTQ Nation. “And there are so many issues that matter to people in the community because we hold all of these identities, right? You can’t get to liberation without racial justice; you can’t get there without disability rights, immigration justice, climate change, and climate reform.”
When asked about how to prioritize the country’s most urgent issues, Robinson said, “The biggest thing to understand is that we cannot be single-issue. You have to talk about the violence happening in Black trans communities, particularly against Black trans women. At the same time, be able to talk about how it is a disgrace that we are still living with the HIV epidemic in this country. At the same time, also be able to talk about the issues facing folks related to discrimination across this country because of the loopholes created under the guise of ‘religious freedoms.’”
But shifts in voter demographics offer signs of hope. HRC polling estimates that queer voters will make up increasingly large parts of the electorate as Gen Z ages into adulthood. “To take advantage of the demographic shifts, we’ve got to make sure that we’re giving people a meaningful way to engage and fixing the system,” Robinson said, “so that they know that when they vote, it will actually make a difference.”
“It’s a time to be nervous. Being nervous is different than being afraid,” Brorby told LGBTQ Nation. “We live in a country that allows the targeting of vulnerable people whose rights aren’t fully enshrined in our governmental documents.”
Brorby suggests that dismantling the rural-urban divide may be one solution to uniting the country despite its geographic differences. “We have to start the conversation by reminding ourselves we’re actually dependent on each other,” Brorby said. “City people value rural people, too. Growing up in North Dakota, we knew rural America enriched everyone’s life, and the goal now shouldn’t be to get everyone to an urban center. It should be possible to have a good life wherever you live. We do not hear each other’s stories. We need ambassadors.”
Teachers at a school district in Florida have been instructed to “cover or store” books in their classroom libraries pending reviews.
In an internal training video, Duval County Public Schools superintendent Diana Greene announced the launch of a formal review of classroom libraries, which generally consist of books either donated or purchased by teachers themselves, to ensure that they are in compliance with Florida legislation passed last summer.
Florida’s House Bill 1467 passed last July and requires books made available through school libraries and classroom libraries to be selected by a certified media specialist.
Under the new law, books must not contain instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in books available to grades K–3; “pornography,” which the district defines using the Merriam Webster dictionary as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement; or discrimination in such a way that implies “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The law also requires all schools to publish a searchable list of all books in school and classroom libraries, making it easier for parents to challenge books.
“Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by certificated media specialists need to be covered or stored and paused for student use,” Duval’s Chief Academic Officer Paula Renfro says in the video.
According to a Duval County Public Schools release, “The Florida Department of Education has trained all Florida school districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use.”
As WJCT News notes, Duval Schools has already rejected 47 book titles that were ordered in 2021, with an additional 26 titles from the same collection still under review. Jax Todayreports that the books, which included multiple titles with LGBTQ+ characters and families as well as books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, are described by the distributor as featuring “diverse, inclusive” stories.
Across the country, recently instituted school and public library book bans have disproportionately targeted books by non-white authors and those featuring LGBTQ+ characters and stories.
Duval County Schools has previously made headlines for the district’s efforts to comply with Florida’s recently enacted anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including the Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.”
First Baptist Church — a megachurch in Jacksonville, Florida — is forcing its members to sign a “Biblical Sexuality Agreement,” an anti-LGBTQ+ statement that denies the existence of trans people, opposes same-sex marriage, and calls same-sex intercourse ungodly.
The statement reads: “As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice. I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression.”
In a September 2021 video, the church’s senior pastor Heath Lambert said that the entire congregation needed to sign the statement to “shine a bright light of clarity in these dark and confusing times.” He also it was necessary to “protect against those who would take us to court to require us to change our policies for people who disagree with our biblical convictions.”
There are no instances of queer people or their allies taking churches to courts to force them into changing their anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Any lawsuits against religious organizations have had to do with their continuing discriminatory social policies while accepting taxpayer funds.
In the video, Lambert said that LGBTQ+ acceptance stems from a “deeply confused culture” and that LGBTQ+ activists and allies “are seeking to eradicate any opposition to their extremist agenda.”
“They will not rest until their confusion has permeated every area of society and silenced every voice of opposition,” Lambert said in the video. “They have sought to shame, silence, convert and punish — even through the force of law — anyone who does not agree with their new and extreme agenda.”
He then spread numerous falsehoods repeated by anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups.
He said that “fathers are going to jail for failing to support the sex change operation of their teenage daughters.” He’s likely referring to an unnamed father in Canada who was jailed for violating a court order not to speak to the media about his legal battle to stop his 15-year-old from taking hormone blockers. The court said his media interviews endangered the child’s and their guardians’ safety. No “sex change” operation was involved in the case though.
Lambert falsely claimed that hormone-suppressing drugs are “stopping [grade schoolers’] entrance into puberty and permanently ending their ability to have children even before they leave childhood themselves.”
Hormone blockers are sometimes prescribed to minors with the approval of psychological and medical experts and the full informed consent of the child and their guardians. These medications temporarily prevent irreversible physical changes of puberty which can heighten gender dysphoria and mental distress in trans youth. These medications do not sterilize children, are entirely reversible, and have been safely administered to children with certain cancers for decades.
“We live in a day where schools allow men to undercut women by competing against them in sports,” Lambert added. But the very small number of trans female athletes aren’t “undercutting” women in sports, they’re merely asking for the right to participate like all other students, and, in most cases, they’re not dominating the competitions.
Lambert also accused city councils of “victimizing women by allowing men into their restrooms.” But there is no evidence that trans-inclusive restroom policies have ever increased sexual assaults against cisgender women. Anti-trans activists merely accuse trans people of being sexual predators as a way to deny them civil rights and encourage violence against them.
Lambert said that he and his church don’t hate “members of the sexual revolution.”
“They may think of us as their enemies, but that is not how we think of them,” he said. “To anyone watching this who disagrees with the biblical message on sexuality. I want you to know that we love you, and God does too. It’s that love which drives us to share truths that may be hard for you to hear.”
He also said the entire congregation needed to sign the statement to show “precious people in our church who have struggled with these issues of gender and sexuality” what to expect from the church’s ministry.
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.
In the last three decades, some of the most egregious attacks on equality — the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, not to mention the infamous 1950 “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government” report — came from Congress. Some of the most significant advances – passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010 – also came from Congress.
And while the Supreme Court found in 2015 that some federal jobs protections against discrimination based on sex also protect LGBTQ+ people, the community is still fighting for the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections in civil rights law.
But Congress is unlikely to provide much help in 2023 now that Republicans have taken a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. Not only has the GOP historically opposed equality legislation, but many of the Republicans who won their midterm elections did so by weaponizing antipathy towards LGBTQ+ people, advocating for laws banning transgender people access to gender-affirming care, demagoguing equal treatment of transgender students in schools, slurring LGBTQ+ teachers and doctors as “groomers.”
And elections have consequences.
Former Congressman Mondaire Jones (D-NY) sat down with LGBTQ Nation to discuss the possibilities for change in Congress in the coming two years. Jones was first elected in 2020 and is one of the two first-out LGBTQ+ Black members of Congress; he lost his seat in 2022. He co-introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress to ensure same-sex couples continue to have the rights associated with marriage should the Supreme Court overturn the marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges.
Jones helped get former President Donald Trump impeached for a second time after his supporters rioted in the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. During his time in Congress, he supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. He pushed for even tougher democratic reforms, including automatic voter registration, public financing of elections, and an end to partisan gerrymandering.
So it’s no surprise that Congressman Jones’s message now is that getting better people elected is the key to moving Congress toward equality.
LGBTQ NATION: As the president prepares to address the nation, what are the most vexing problems facing the LGBTQ+ community?
Mondaire Jones: The Supreme Court of the United States — specifically, the far right, six-three supermajority on the Court — continues to pose the greatest obstacle to the lives and livelihoods of community members.
This majority is on a rampage against our rights. We see that in a case that will undermine the ability of same-sex couples not to be discriminated against in the marketplace [he was referring to 303 Creative v. Elanis], where the First Amendment is being weaponized to allow people to be bigoted.
We know that the Court is going to come for marriage equality. As proud as I am of having introduced legislation with Jerry Nadler that passed last year called the Respect for Marriage Act, it’s not lost on me that the Respect for Marriage Act still would not ensure marriage equality in every state in the union for same-sex couples.
More than protecting members of the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination, we’ve got to have our eyes set on creating equity, whether that is in the healthcare context, the housing context, or the student debt context, where members of the community disproportionately experience hardship. That was my project when I wrote a letter to CMS and the CDC asking them to require both public and private insurers to cover an injectable form of PrEP called Apretude at no cost-sharing to the patient.
LGBTQ NATION: What do you see as fighting for queer rights and 2023? What does that mean, and what does that entail?
MJ: Because of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and too few Democrats in the United States Senate willing to get rid of the filibuster, we have to turn to state-level progress in beating back renewed assault on the LGBTQ+ community, such as these so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills in Florida and elsewhere.
We also have to call on the Biden administration to use its executive authority to make discrimination less prevalent and to create equity.
LGBTQ NATION: So you brought up state-level legislation where things aren’t looking that good for us over the past few years. At least a hundred bills have been introduced to curtail rights. What can we do to stop that?
MJ: The good news is that we have won public opinion over the past decade when it comes to the community’s entitlement to the same rights and liberties that our cisgender, heterosexual counterparts enjoy.
However, because of an electoral system plagued by voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement, and unlimited spending by corporate special interests, the people we see in power often do not reflect the country’s mood.
We have to continue to build and renew the movement for liberation through organizing at the grassroots level and defeating those who are hostile to the humanity of our community.
While also making sure we take back the House and keep the Senate and the White House in the 2024 elections because only the Democratic majority in this country can be trusted to protect the LGBTQ+ community.
“We have to continue to build and renew the movement for liberation through organizing at the grassroots level and defeating those who are hostile to the humanity of our community.“Mondaire Jones
LGBTQ NATION: So you’re saying it comes down to who’s elected, but what does the community do once we have a group of people in Congress? You were in Congress. What did you see LGBTQ+ activists doing that maybe could have been more effective?
MJ: Well, I appreciate this question.
Several high-profile LGBTQ+-focused organizations spend more time patting themselves on the back for the work that they do and dining with their major donors than they are focused on electing champions to office and pressuring elected officials to enact the bold reforms that we urgently need.
Consider how long it took for certain organizations to come out for the filibuster reform, as we initially needed to pass the Equality Act and the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Consider how few organizations have supported my legislation with [Rep.] Jerry Nadler and [Rep.] Hank Johnson to expand the Supreme Court.
On a member level, I experienced very little outreach from some of the biggest LGBTQ+ rights organizations. And I was one of only nine openly gay members of the House. So we’ve got work to do.
LGBTQ NATION: You brought up democracy issues. You worked on the second impeachment of Donald Trump, which followed the January 6 Insurrection. How do you see the vitality of our democracy affecting LGBTQ+ issues in the coming years?
MJ: The crisis of our democracy is the biggest existential threat. If we do not have a truly representative government, if we do not have a pro-equality majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House, then we are going to continue to see this Supreme Court whittle away at our rights, including rights that were just gained over the past decade. And we’ll have no recourse because we won’t be able to pass legislation.
So we have to end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts so that extremists like [Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and [Rep.] Jim Jordan (R-OH) cannot coast to victory simply because they prevailed in the Republican primaries, despite their abuse being outside the mainstream. We have to get big money out of politics by enacting a system of public financing of congressional elections, which is what H.R. 1, which became known as the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would do.
We must enact automatic and same-day voter registration and do away with the voter suppression we’ve seen in places like Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. All these things will help us build a truly multiracial democracy in which we will have pro-equality majorities in state houses and Congress.
LGBTQ Nation: Yes, it seems like something like the Equality Act is off the table for at least the next two years because of Republican control of the House, even though- I mean, I wish I had looked this up before now, the Equality Act polls pretty well. [A 2021 HRC poll found that 70% of American voters support the Equality Act.]
MJ: Of course it does! Look, just consider what happened last night. A Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted to gut the IRS by 87,000 agents. That is not economic populism, which is what that party says it ran on in 2022. That is a thinly veiled attempt to help billionaire tax cheats evade accountability.
That is something that, in a normal political environment, would be toxic and devastating for a party at the voting booth. However, because our democracy is so rigged in favor of corporate special interests and the super-wealthy, it is something that Republicans can get away with.
We have people in government who are not actually responsive to what their constituents want. Still, because of redistricting and specifically partisan gerrymandering, because of just the outsized role that wealthy people have in our system of campaign finance, aided in part by Citizen United, we see this.
“My project will be to ensure that Democrats take back the branches of government in 2024.”Mondaire Jones
LGBTQ NATION: A lot of the blame, then, for the lack of progress to be expected goes to Republicans, but is there something the Democratic Party should have been doing to get a majority that it hasn’t been doing?
MJ: Absolutely. We had majorities in both chambers of Congress, and [Sen.] Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and [Sen.] Joe Manchin (D-WV) thought it was robbery to make an exception to the filibuster to pass democracy reforms, voting rights legislation, and the Equality Act. That was an abdication of their responsibility as legislators.
That is not to excuse the unanimous opposition by Republicans. It is to say that we’ve got some Democrats who are not where they need to be when it comes to the bold changes necessary to actually improve the lives of the American people.
The president only came out for an exception to the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation in December 2021.
LGBTQ NATION: You know what it’s like for LGBTQ+ people in Congress. Over the past few years, we’ve seen that most of the attacks have fallen on transgender people’s shoulders, specifically transgender minors. How good are your former colleagues at being familiar with essential issues for transgender people? Is there a good sense of understanding in Congress about their lives?
MJ: No, not particularly. My experience is that even the LGBTQ+ members in Congress, including myself, are continuing to learn about these issues. It would be awesome to have some trans people in Congress to bring that perspective.
And, of course, we’ve seen tremendous progress on these issues within the Democratic Party over the past several years. We see that in the inclusion of language specific to the trans community in the Equality Act and other legislation that we have passed. I’m very proud of having helped lead that.
But I know that the trans experience is not fully understood in Congress.
LGBTQ NATION: What can LGBTQ+ people realistically expect on progress on our equality from Congress in the next two years?
MJ: I’m sad to say that because of the loss of the House to Republicans in November 2022, we cannot expect that Congress will pass the Equality Act to prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in all facets of our society.
We will see the trans community vilified by House Republicans and Senate Republicans, even in the minority. We will continue to see LGBTQ+ individuals referred to, horrifically, as groomers and a Congress that will not respond meaningfully to the inevitable future violence against the community, especially gun violence.
That is the consequence of not having enough good people in the United States Congress.
So my project will be to ensure that Democrats take back the branches of government in 2024.