The day before Donald Trump left the White House, his administration dealt one final, brutal blow to some of America’s most vulnerable patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a policy that, if implemented, will put numerous lifesaving drugs off-limits to Medicare recipients.
Medicare provides health insurance to 63 million seniors and people with disabilities. Trump’s gut punch affects Part D, the section of Medicare that covers most prescription drugs. The last-minute policy change would allow the private insurance companies that sponsor Part D plans to stop covering many medications in Part D’s “six protected classes” as early as 2022.
The protected classes include anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antineoplastics, antipsychotics, antiretrovirals, and immunosuppressants — drugs that treat conditions including epilepsy, depression, cancer, and HIV. The protected categories exist because these types of drugs are not easily interchangeable. An antipsychotic that treats one person’s schizophrenia, for instance, may be ineffective in another patient. Patients often have to try multiple treatments until they find one that works well for them.
Today under Part D, insurers must cover “all or substantially all” of the drugs that fall into those six classes. But under the proposed new policy, insurers would only have to cover one drug per class, starting next year. The policy makes one exception, for antiretrovirals to treat HIV, which would remain protected until 2023.
I live with HIV and depression, conditions I manage with drugs in the protected classes. So I know from personal experience that there is no one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical solution to my health challenges. It can be hard enough to find a prescription that helps treat one condition, and having two conditions means I have to find medications that work together effectively.
More than 47 million Americans depend on Part D plans, and many of them need medicines from the protected classes. If the new policy goes into effect, doctors and patients will lose options, and some will even find themselves suddenly cut off from trusted treatments. It’s a cruel thing to do to sick people.
Thankfully, I’m able to manage my HIV with medication. But the consequences of stopping treatment could be deadly for me, as it could for any of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with the virus. This is a population, moreover, that is disproportionately Black. Whereas Blacks make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 42 percent of new HIV cases.
President Biden has promised to make healthcare “a right for all, not a privilege for just a few,” vowing to prioritize health care for people of color. He can do that by scrapping this callous policy.
The former administration’s reforms admittedly weren’t all bad. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed closing a legal loophole that allows middlemen in the drug supply chain to pocket rebates offered by biotech companies without passing those savings on to patients at the pharmacy. Allowing this “rebate rule” to take effect would make drugs more affordable.
But aside from scattered exceptions like the rebate rule, the Trump administration’s policies need to be reversed. The Biden administration can start with the disastrous, last-minute proposal to sabotage the six protected classes.
Guy Anthony is president and CEO of Black, Gifted & Whole.
The disgust, anger, and recriminations over gay New Year’s Eve parties in this seaside resort area of the Mexican state of Jalisco and neighboring Riviera Nayarit, continues to spread in gay online social media — particularly in numerous Twitter threads and on Instagram. One Instagram account, @gaysovercovid has repeatedly called out party goers and party organizers.
Local media outlets in Jalisco and many Mexican social media users are also outraged.
The @gaysovercovid Instagram account has faced wave after wave of backlash from gay influencers many of whom are now embroiled in the controversy after having their Instagram posts publicly disclosed and then shamed by the anonymous account holder. There have been financial rewards offered to anyone who can unmask the account owner’s identity.
The account used the built-in abilities for tracking the influencers’ Facebook locations and Venmo transactions in an effort to uncover where they were attending parties. That brought about severe condemnation from those exposed while others celebrated that the account exposed the bad behavior of gay men.
In one example, in response to a social media post that depicted a Cedars-Sinai ICU registered nurse as a participant, social media users tracked the pictures to an Instagram account (@legstrong) listed for 25-year-old Armstrong Nworka. The Blade determined from online searches Tuesday, including Facebook using the handle ‘@legstrong’ and his surname, Nworka had profiled himself as gay, an RN, and employed at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills.
One of the comments left on his page read: “Disgusting, you give us gay people a bad name. You’re truly nothing more than a plague rat.” Nworka has since taken his Instagram account private. Nworka did not respond to a Blade request for comment.
The Blade also reached out to Cedars-Sinai and was told that there would be no comment on personnel matters.
The ‘plague rat’ comment was mild in comparison to the thousands of other vitriolic responses to other party attendees and especially organizers, labeled by critics as ‘super-spreaders,’ who openly defied both U.S. and Mexican public health mandates and restrictions to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
Palm Springs resident and gay circuit party impresario Jeffrey Sanker held the largest New Year’s Eve weekend bash, which included several events. Originally set to take place in Puerto Vallarta, apparently ignoring the pleas from local health authorities, elected officials as well as residents, Sanker’s White Party Entertainment company was forced to move the event to neighboring Riviera Nayarit after the Jalisco state government banned mass gatherings and implemented more restrictive coronavirus measures.
In a text to ticket holders, Sanker’s company told attendees not to reveal the location of the party, nor could they take any photos or videos of the event. The text said the steps were necessary because they “do not want this getting out and causing any issues with the public.”
That text was screenshot and then posted by @gaysovercovid as well as other accounts, which prompted one local news outlet in Puerto Vallarta, the Puerto Vallarta News, to editorialize on its social media accounts prior to the events:
“If you are interested in still visiting the COVID Superspreader New Years Eve Celebration where foreigners come to our community and throw big parties and leave COVID while causing our businesses to close and people lose their jobs- […] COVID isn’t causing businesses to suffer, it’s the actions of people. We are tired of it. We have supported this event in past years and given it positive coverage, but this year it’s irresponsible and should be canceled.”
In a phone call with an editor at PVN on Tuesday, the Blade was told that the area’s main healthcare facility, Puerto Vallarta Hospital was at 100% occupancy with COVID-19 patients and that the state of Jalisco had reached 65% positivity rate.
Officials in Jalisco uniformly condemned the fact that so many had traveled from the United States just to party without seeming to care about the consequences for local residents, many of whom are employed as staff in the restaurants, bars, hotels and transportation systems.
“They came to have sex, to dance it seems and to make party without regard to spread of COVID,” one government source told the Blade. “They have no sense of responsibility — don’t care about peoples here,” he added.
As part of the weekend long event, the PV Delice, a catamaran that featured a live band and open bar, began taking on water and sank off the coast of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 31, around 5 p.m. while crew members frantically called for help to rescue passengers. Video posted on Instagram, Tik-Tok and Facebook documented at least 10 other boats rushing to aid the sinking vessel and plucking 60 victims out of the choppy water.
Witnesses told local news outlets that the boat was filled with White Party celebrants and was overcrowded. The boat sank to the bottom of the bay and there were no reports of injuries.
One passenger, a gay man from Chicago, Emilio Blanco, told the local LGBTQ news outlet, Out and About PV, “It was like the Titanic, it went all down slowly. I think the crew just didn’t know how to maneuver the catamaran very well, the sea was not very rough nor was it too windy. We were about to sail back to Puerto Vallarta, but the catamaran barely moved. I saw at least 10 small boats coming to help, I jumped in a private boat whose owners were graceful enough to send their captain help out. It was quite a scary situation.”
A spokesperson for Adrián Bobadilla García, head of the municipal agency of Puerto Vallarta, told the Blade Tuesday that the municipal government had made numerous notifications to the public regarding mandatory use of masks and maintaining social distance in public. He said that the boardwalk during the holiday however, wasn’t closed nor were the beaches. He conceded that enforcement was not as stringent as it should have been.
A majority of gay party attendees reportedly stayed in Puerto Vallarta. As a result, beaches were jammed mostly with maskless celebrants. One local resident who provided pictures and video to NBC Palm Springs said it was a “superspreader nightmare.”
“It is with sadness and anger that we have Americans at the height of a pandemic surge travel to Mexico to participate in New Year’s Eve parties knowing that people of color are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19,” said City of Huntington Park, Calif. Councilman Eddie Martinez, who also heads the Latino Equality Alliance.
“The action of these travelers has now put hotel workers, servers, janitors, and drivers at risk for the disease as well as to possibly put an additional strain on the hospital system in both Mexico and the United States. Party promoters and sponsors need to be held accountable if their actions result in more deaths for families, especially within the LGBTQ community,” Martinez added.
My wife began hormone replacement therapy just before quarantine started in March. Although my mother-in-law has known about my wife’s gender identity since early childhood, she previously discouraged her from transitioning. She recently called the family’s pediatrician to see what could have caused her daughter to be trans — treating her identity as if it were a malady. Over the past nine months, my wife and I have had limited contact with her and other conservative relatives in our less-than-supportive families.
Queer people are reclaiming space for ourselves this season, establishing new ways to observe holidays or practicing the same traditions with festivities that feel more affirming.
As the holidays approached, I dreaded the negative interactions sure to come at the annual family gatherings. Would everyone stare and ask invasive questions or just avoid and ignore my wife now? I wasn’t sure which would be worse. Thankfully, this year’s social distancing offers my family and other queer people a unique gift: a much-needed and hard-earned break from toxic family members and obligations.
I first sighed with relief when my mother-in-law had to cancel her usual trip to stay with us in November and December because of pandemic travel restrictions. Even before my wife’s transition, my mother-in-law depleted our energy during the holidays. The last visit had included a barrage of passive-aggressive remarks about our failure to observe her preferred traditions, unkind comments about my body and objections to our child’s nonbinary pronouns.
My relatives bring their own seasonal strain. After I spent years attending all of my family’s gatherings, my siblings quickly abandoned the large Christmas meal I cooked last year, showing up late and leaving after just an hour. Later that day, my mom pressured us to attend church despite knowing that it’s triggering for me due to a trauma my wife and I experienced in a religious community.
If it weren’t for quarantine, we would be making the same stressful end-of-year attempt to accommodate everyone’s needs except our own. Before transitioning, my wife spent every get-together censoring her behavior — monitoring her speech patterns, mannerisms, posture and other subtleties because she wasn’t out to most family members.
The recent queer-centered holiday flick “Happiest Season” shows how some queer people still feel they need to be closeted when returning home. In the movie, a woman brings her girlfriend to her parents’ house for Christmas but pretends the two are just friends — denying her sexuality to appease her family’s expectations. The fear of family rejection and pressure to conform isolates her partner and jeopardizes the mental health of both women.
Family rejection is a leading cause of negative mental health outcomes for queer people. A 2018 survey of LGBT people in the U.K. found that 28 percent of respondents were not out to family members who lived outside their homes. In addition, 38 percent of negative incidents they experienced were caused by parents or guardians — highlighting the risks of coming out to unsupportive family. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 1 in 10 trans and gender-nonconforming people experienced violence from a family member because of their gender identity; 8 percent were kicked out of their homes.
Queer youth are especially at risk because they need financial support and shelter from guardians. The Trevor Project reported that 6 in 10 queer youth had someone try to persuade them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, with 35 percent of those noting it was a parent or caregiver. Meanwhile, 29 percent have been kicked out of their homes or run away.
Family members can also harm each other in less overt ways, such as misgendering trans and gender-nonconforming people or refusing to talk about queer identity at home. In the U.S. trans survey, 18 percent of respondents said they lived in families that were unsupportive of their gender identities, while 60 percent had families that were generally supportive and 22 percent had families that took a more neutral approach.
Even supportive family members aren’t always good allies and can unintentionally cause emotional trauma. Some of my wife’s and my family seem to be accepting — but they have prodded us with inquiries and concerns about my wife’s genitals, our sex life and what our kids think. We’ve smiled and gently noted that commentary and questions aren’t welcome.
Here again, social distancing is saving us from what could have been unpleasant confrontations: Texts, video chats and phone calls offer the ability to simply hang up or not respond when this line of conversation begins. I’m grateful these moments haven’t occurred while sharing a meal around a holiday table.https://compass.pressekompass.net/compasses/think/will-this-be-your-first-holiday-season-w-eTyb9L?embed=embed&paywall=anonymous
This is as hard for me to write as it is for travelers to hear: It’s time to consider canceling or postponing your nonessential holiday trips.
Normally at this time of year, I would be writing about strategies to deal with the impending holiday crowds or how the two weeks after Thanksgiving or New Years are the cheapest times of year to travel, the so-called “dead weeks” when demand, and therefore prices, hit annual lows.
I’d be preparing for my annual holiday visit to Atlanta to see my family, or a “bleisure” trip to New York City to see the lights, visit some clients and pay through the nose for a Manhattan hotel.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, with record rates of infections and hospitalizations in California and across the country, the “dead weeks” take on a whole new meaning. In the U.S., we’ve lost nearly 300,000 people, many of whom were, maybe this time last year, our fellow passengers on flights, or the folks across the hall from us in hotels. Maybe they were the business travelers behind us in a long line at SFO security, or the friendly older couple visiting New York City that we bumped into while gawking at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
What about those travel deals I’ve been writing about in recent months when the virus seemed to be on the wane? If you booked holiday trips at those great rates, consider canceling them or pushing them into the spring. The airlines no longer charge fees for changes and cancellations on most fares, so it’s not going to cost you much to do so. Hotels in California regions that are affected by shutdowns are now closed to everyone except essential workers for at least the next three weeks, and thankfully offering refunds to those who have to cancel their trips.
We are the survivors of this plague, so let’s do all we can to vanquish this disease for good, including wearing masks, altering our holiday habits and staying off planes. Not forever, but for the next couple months until infection rates decline and we have widespread availability of a vaccine. Once we’ve pushed the virus off the table, we can get back to our frequent travels. But until then, we need to sit still, something that does not come naturally to the frequent traveling crowd.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN Monday that his concerns for the Christmas-New Year’s travel season were the same as his concerns for Thanksgiving, “only this may be even more compounded because it’s a longer holiday.” By mid-January, he warned of a very “dark period” as travelers begin to experience the impact of infections that occurred in late December.
COVID-19 spreads when people move around and breathe each other’s air, so let’s take a collective step back. Those plans to drive home or somewhere else and share air with family, friends or strangers? Nix them. You might be saving your life, or someone else’s, by just staying put. Not forever, but for now.
When a lifetime nomination for the Supreme Court becomes the source of spreading a deadly virus, it should be taken as an omen.
Exactly one month after “Rona” crashed the maskless White House party for Judge Amy Barrett’s appointment, infecting staff, at least two senators and perhaps the feckless president himself, she has gained one of the nine mightiest seats of judgment in this nation.
Even when the reign of terror by the Trump administration ends, Judge Barrett’s addition to the high court is likely to extend its carnage in the lives of millions of LGBTQ Americans. Decades of hard-won progress for anti-discrimination protections and family recognition are now imperiled by the shifting math. This includes grave danger to the precedents for privacy in Roe v. Wade and Casey and even Lawrence in which is anchored the landmark ruling in Obergefell for marriage equality.
If settled laws establishing Social Security and Medicare are back on the table, as Barrett suggested at her Senate hearing, are even the laws to punish hate crimes safe?
Like the utter surrender of all the president’s men to COVID, the calamity of a right-wing, interventionist Supreme Court poised to invalidate even state-based safeguards against bias and hate could inflict vast casualties. The most vulnerable and least protected could pay the highest price.
No wonder LGBTQ people are in revolt, and voting as if our lives depend on it. Paul Monette, the gay writer who died of AIDS a quarter century ago, argued that grief is either a sword or useless. Gloria Anzaldúa, the late lesbian academic, essayist and activist, described darkness and sorrow as laboratories for the most potent rebellion.
Perhaps more than any time since the early 1990s, the LGBTQ community is enraged and engaged in electoral politics, poised to play a key role in transforming all three branches of government, including at the state level. This upsurge comes with the added attention to racial injustice, misogyny and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry, which portends more lasting and much larger coalitions for change.
Fighting back begins with casting complete ballots. It must include visibility in the rallies and activism accompanying transitions of power. It requires participation by LGBTQ leaders in the redistricting process in the states, which draw boundaries that shape representation and how advocates might wield influence for the next decade.
Fighting back also compels that advocates seize the teachable moment on court reform. For more than 30 years, conservatives have been using their legislative authority in the states to expand supreme courts, including recently in the states of Georgia and Arizona. These states are noteworthy for their lack of anti-bias laws covering LGBTQ people and their emerging “swing” status that jeopardizes one-party Republican control. This specter was an unmistakable motivating factor for so-called “court-packing” by conservatives to cement a kind of veto power against policy gains for LGBTQ people and other long-ignored communities. Call it a trump card, a term with added meaning now at the federal level.
Republican condemnation of increasing the size of the U.S. Supreme Court while conducting such maneuvers at the state level has a familiar ring of hypocrisy. It builds on Republican senators’ breaking their own professed standard from 2016 about no appointments to the high court in a year of Presidential voting. The hubris and contempt for truth flaunted in their pre-election haste to install an ideological foe of LGBTQ rights on the court have now become a trigger. For Democrats, altering the composition of the high court may be justified as a consequence. For the LGBTQ community, the focus must remain on ending the onslaught on our freedom and the legal protection of our lives and families.
The denial of COVID by the Trump administration holds echoes of the past. Refusal to reckon openly, factually and humanely with HIV-AIDS by the Reagan White House begat other cruelties, and so has this one. The entire process of strong-arming Judge Barrett into the seat left vacant by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is soaked in sickness more malignant than the cancer that claimed the late Justice.
Voting alone does not erase the anguish and trauma of such wicked, corrosive hypocrisy. But voting in enormous numbers is one antidote, even more potent if it ushers in diversity of representation as part of pro-LGBTQ majorities. Legislation to reform the high court, a product of changed chemistry in the Congress, could be a lasting cure. It might even inspire similar, complementary reforms in some states. The grief and havoc of these past four years, confronted boldly, can yield an outgrowth of hope.
Hans Johnson has advised LGBT organizations and ballot measure campaigns in nearly every state. A longtime Washingtonian and former Blade columnist, he now lives in Los Angeles.
It is abundantly clear that to save our country and resume our place of leadership in the world we must elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Like others during the Democratic primary I wavered over who was the right person to lead our party. I hosted fundraisers for Pete Buttigieg and attended two for Kamala Harris and was incredibly impressed with both. Having met Joe Biden before, I was a fan but skeptical about whether he was the right person for 2020. Since winning the Democratic nomination he has proven beyond a doubt he has the right stuff. His innate decency, honesty, and empathy are just what our country needs to begin to heal from four years of Donald Trump and his sycophants.
As the campaign reaches its zenith, Biden is getting stronger. His recent Florida town hall was pitch perfect as was his Gettysburg speech, maybe the best of his career. He is hitting all the right notes in his campaign appearances in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. His debate performance, against a deranged president, was impressive and moved some undecided voters to him.
Then there’s Kamala Harris. Biden gets huge kudos for asking her to join him on the ticket. She has been beyond impressive as she navigates the role, never an easy one, but even harder for the first African-American woman and only the fourth woman ever on a presidential ticket. She walks a tightrope each day. Harris is a strong personality with a powerful voice for progress in her own right. She has tempered her own voice to ensure she doesn’t make her own headlines especially now that the Biden/Harris ticket is ahead and gaining momentum. She handled Mike Pence just right in their debate showing him off as a bully. Her most memorable line may have been, “Excuse me I am talking,” something women have had to say to arrogant men who tried talking over them disrespectfully for years. She made all the points she wanted to make and did it with class.
She used her membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Amy Coney Barrett hearings to great effect. Again, it was not an easy task to challenge another woman and to make the points she needed to make. I am sure there were some pithy remarks she would have liked to make but she held her tongue and spoke eloquently to the American people using her time to question Barrett and highlight issues including healthcare and the Affordable Care Act, marriage equality, and the survival of Roe v. Wade.
It has become clear this election is a referendum on Donald Trump with much focus on his mishandling of COVID. As we approach 250,000 dead and more than eight million infected, Americans understand Trump is responsible for so much of this devastation. Biden recently said, “President Trump says he lied to the American people so as not to panic them.” Biden went on to say correctly “The American people don’t panic it was Trump who panicked.”
The referendum on Trump is a major part of why Democrats are doing so well across the nation but the second half of the equation are Biden and Harris proving every time they speak they are capable of leading the country. Even Rudy Giuliani’s effort to tag Biden and his son with wrongdoing is backfiring as it appears Rudy was duped by the Russians. Even his daughter tells us to disregard him.
So as we enter the last two weeks of the campaign let us as Democrats, independents and decent Republicans stay strong and stay the course. We are looking toward a major win with Democrats taking back not only the White House but the Senate. If we can do that we will reclaim our country, our democracy, and show the world Donald Trump was an aberration, not who we are. We can once again move forward on issues such as healthcare, climate change, infrastructure, LGBTQ rights, and immigration. We can relegate Trump and his sycophants to the dustbin of history where they truly belong.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ right and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
For those of us in the communities hardest hit, in the industries hardest hit, in the states hardest hit by COVID-19, relief cannot come fast enough.
I live in the Rio Grande Valley, an area in South Texas that has been hit the hardest in the country by the COVID-19 virus. In the state, there is a record of more than 100,000 new cases per day, up 55% in July alone. Now, people in our region are dealing with recovering from a tropical storm.
This pandemic caused me to lose my job. I am a queer- and trans-inclusive sex educator and have spent years addressing the erasure of trans, queer and disabled folks in discussions of healthy sexuality. My education efforts are shaped by and complemented by my experience as a queer and trans sex worker. I used to teach out of a brick and mortar adult shop, but like so many small businesses during the pandemic, the shop closed.
While small businesses have been allowed to open up again under the Phase 3 plan, I still can’t return to work because of my own health. A few months ago I contracted a virus, and while I do not know if it was COVID-19, I now have to use an inhaler for the foreseeable future. To keep myself and my community safe, I have been socially distancing myself from others.
Right now, I can only do about 40% of my job. I can’t do in-person sex work, or in-person sex education. Forty percent is not enough to make ends meet.
For my colleagues who are able to go to work, they are at risk of contracting the virus every day. Many of my coworkers are queer and trans people of color. Some have pre-existing conditions or children. Some of them are college students. Even if their paychecks average $200 a week, that $200 is the difference between making rent, paying bills, grocery shopping — or not.
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a COVID-19 stimulus package. It is a necessary and desperately needed piece of legislation: COVID-19 cases in the United States climb every single day. Over 5 million people in the U.S. have been infected and over 160,000 have died. Latinx and Black people are three times more likely to become infected than their white neighbors, and three times more likely to die of COVID-19. Trans women and gender non-conforming communities who were already facing transphobia and transmisogyny are now facing high unemployment and delays in necessary health care.
And yet, the Senate has still not passed comprehensive COVID relief. It is apparent that those in power don’t care about me and my community. They do not care about Black people, Latinx people, queer people, trans people, small business owners, or the people who rely on them.
My community is one of the poorest in the United States. We don’t have any real mental health resources, and now we are isolated. Not being able to check in on my regulars is extremely stressful. Many of my customers have lower incomes; many use substances or self medicate for their mental illness. We have high rates of heart disease and diabetes and these factors make an already dangerous epidemic particularly lethal to folks like me, and to my community.
Queer people in the work force need relief. LGBTQ people are more likely than the general public to have lost employment due to the pandemic. We need comprehensive and affordable health care, paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, personal protective equipment for all health care providers and other essential workers, protective occupational safety and health standards for front line workers, and more. It is now up to the Senate to pass COVID relief to ensure that people like me, my colleagues, and members of my community get much needed relief.
We deserve to feel safe and secure during this pandemic. We deserve leaders who give a damn.
How to explain the unlikely, perverse phenomenon of a gay Republican in 2020?
Delusion? Denial? Blinded by privilege? Daddy issues rendering them subservient to Master Trump?
Whatever the underlying issue, it’s truly sad to watch the once respected Log Cabin Republicans sink into further irrelevance. From Rich Tafel and Patrick Guerriero to R. Clarke Cooper and Patrick Sammon, Log Cabin has been led over the years by smart, committed advocates working to change the Republican Party from within. Whatever your views on the GOP, it’s important to fight from the inside, whether it’s inside political parties, organized religions, or sports leagues, to bring about change.
But 2020 is no ordinary year and Donald Trump is no ordinary president. Anyone who defends Trump’s indefensible behavior is lying to themselves. There’s no excusing racism, sexism, and transphobia. There’s no looking the other way when Trump allows his buddy, the murderous Vladimir Putin, to put bounties on the heads of American soldiers. And there’s no justification for snatching screaming toddlers from their mothers’ arms and locking them in cages.
Trump is running a criminal enterprise out of the people’s house; Steve Bannon is just the latest senior Trump official to be charged with felonies. What the hell more do people need to see to conclude that Trump is unfit for office, incapable and incompetent, and likely to leave Washington in handcuffs?
Despite the overwhelming and undeniable evidence, these hypocritical gay Republicans continue to carry water for their criminal master. The latest is Ric Grenell, the former acting Director of National Intelligence (key word: acting), who released an unintentionally hilarious video touting Trump as the “most pro-gay president in American history.”
In the Log Cabin-produced clip, Grenell refers to “gays and lesbians” throughout, notably eschewing the more common “LGBTQ.” That’s because while Trump’s attacks on gays and lesbians may be more subtle, his assault on the transgender community is overt and aggressive. From banning transgender service members from the military, to enacting an HHS rule that ends non-discrimination protections for trans patients, Trump has used the transgender community as a punching bag to score cheap points with his bigoted base.
In the video, Grenell criticizes Joe Biden for not congratulating him on his acting appointment. Maybe that’s because the short, temporary, non-Senate-confirmed appointment was roundly criticized by experts in the intelligence community due to Grenell’s stunning lack of experience. “This is a job requiring leadership, management, substance and secrecy,” John Sipher, a former CIA officer, told the New York Times. “He doesn’t have the kind of background and experience we would expect for such a critical position.” That’s quite the diplomatic understatement.
Grenell touts his experience as ambassador to Germany, another short-tenured post that led to widespread criticism about his inexperience and ham-handed efforts to interfere in internal German politics.
He references Trump’s purported effort to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, but that effort seems to exist in word, not in deed.
Grenell further criticizes Biden for his past anti-gay positions. Yes, Biden, along with most other Democrats and Republicans, has evolved on LGBTQ issues over the decades (as have a majority of Americans), but we must allow allies to grow, change, and ultimately fight with us.
By contrast, Trump’s assault on LGBTQ equality is long and well documented. From picking the notoriously homophobic Mike Pence — who doth protest too much — as his vice president, to naming a slew of hostile, right-wing judges to the federal bench, to advocating for so-called “religious freedom” carveouts to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination, Trump has undermined decades of work in just four short years.
Grenell isn’t the only gay toadie still standing in Trump’s corner. Robert Kabel, Log Cabin’s board chair and a former Reagan administration official, this week announced the impending release of his new book. In the press release announcing it, Kabel “is proud to call the GOP the true party of equality—not the Democratic Party.”
Again, these delusional sycophants cherry pick empty Trump gestures to justify their support while ignoring a tidal wave of attacks on LGBTQ Americans. Has Kabel read his own party’s platform?
The 2016 platform was recently re-adopted for 2020. As the Blade reported, “it calls for ending same-sex marriage either through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment, offers veiled support for widely discredited conversion therapy and objects to enforcing civil rights laws to ensure transgender people can use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Although the 2016 document doesn’t explicitly mention conversion therapy, it includes this line: ‘We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.’”
Grenell, Kabel, and the rest of Trump’s twisted enablers aren’t just on the wrong side of history, they’re on the wrong side of the law. LGBTQ voters see through these last-gasp attempts by his enablers to hang onto power. From the botched COVID response that has claimed thousands of American lives, to the stoking of racial division and support for white supremacists, to retreating from the climate change fight, and the rolling back of LGBTQ equality, Trump has shown the world he is unfit for the presidency. He knows that clinging to power by any means necessary is the only way he will avoid prison.
Instead of Grenell and Kabel, let’s look to Pete Buttigieg for inspiration. As he put it in his convention speech Thursday night, “I believe in this country because America uniquely holds the promise of a place where everyone can belong. … Joe Biden is right: This is a contest for the soul of the nation.”
Indeed it is. Some of us will emerge with our dignity intact. Others like Grenell and Kabel will have to explain how they sided with a monster who worked to dismantle our government, destroy our democracy, and harm members of our LGBTQ community.
Deep in a Smithsonian vault rests an iconic election poster from the 1980s stored in an archival drawer. It reads: “Silence = Death, VOTE.” It can still shock with its imagery and blunt words. “Your vote is a weapon….we are at war,” the poster states in an historic political call to action for LGBTQ Americans to engage in the most important election of their lives in the midst of a raging epidemic. It was an election as primally important then as the one all Americans face, today.
Despite President Trump’s suggestion that it be postponed, we are have that election, hell or high water, on Nov. 3.
“Silence = Death,” emerging from the pain of the AIDS epidemic, is oddly prophetic for 2020. Engage and fight back or quietly succumb. Intended to rally outrage about the indifference of the federal government to the epidemic of that time, the words called forth three decades of LGBTQ activism that brought unimaginable change. Today, that same challenge faces the whole nation. An epidemic spreads like wildfire. Americans are dying and the White House is indifferent, if not hostile, to the science and medical progress essential to survival.
“Silence = Death” was introduced in 1988 after seven excruciating years of denial of science and public health in favor of silence about the AIDS epidemic by the Reagan administration. Dr. Anthony Fauci had been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for four years, and had witnessed first-hand the political silence and bumbling that surrounded the epidemic. Five presidencies later, Dr. Fauci recalled the crucial intersection between then and today’s American COVID epidemic challenge: “….it was only when the world realized how the gay community responded to the outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism” did the stigma of AIDS diminish and global progress against the epidemic advance.
The Silence = Death “activism that Dr. Fauci praised led to the growth of the self-identified LGBTQ vote that today numbers nine million adults, according to the Williams Institute. These voters developed a new intensity of engagement with politics in the first national presidential election when the major party candidates took clear and differing positions on the issue of LGBTQ rights. It was at the 1992 presidential convention where candidate Patrick Buchanan declared, “There is a religious war going on in the country, it is a cultural war…..We must take back our culture and take back our country!” At Mount Rushmore on July 4th, Trump could not have sounded more like Buchanan: a “left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution…..they would destroy the very civilization.”
The 2020 election demands the same historic courage, dignity, strength and activism Dr. Fauci summoned at the White House coronavirus briefing. Trump is reelected only if Americans don’t vote, if they are silent. LGBTQ, as well as young, Black, brown, seniors, women – all Americans have an extraordinary stake in the outcome of this election. Indeed “Silence = Death” stands as a warning to all Americans who do not use the only true weapon we have, the vote, to fight the epidemic and to keep our precious country and its citizens alive.
Jeff Trammell headed LGBTQ outreach for the Gore and Kerry presidential campaigns. Charles Francis is president of The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. and served on President George W. Bush’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
When former Vice President Joe Biden announced the historic selection of Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, he added a candidate to the ticket with a pro-LGBTQ political record that goes back to 2004.
“It’s clear the Biden-Harris ticket marks our nation’s most pro-equality ticket in history,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, said in a statement.
Harris first ran for elected office as San Francisco district attorney in 2004 when LGBTQ rights were firmly established in local law — but still highly contentious nationally.
After winning that election, she established a hate crimes unit to investigate and prosecute anti-LGBTQ violence. In 2006, Harris organized a conference in California that brought together over 100 officials from across the U.S. to discuss strategies to end the use of the so-called gay and transgender panic defense. In 2014, California became the first state to ban the practice in law, and in 2018, Harris and other senators introduced a bill to prohibit the practice nationally.
Harris announced her campaign for California attorney general days after the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, a successful California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state. While serving as California’s top prosecutor — a job she held for six years — she declined to defend the ban in court. In 2013’s Hollingsworth v. Perry ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2010 federal court decision invalidating Proposition 8, and gay marriages resumed in the state.
Shortly after it was announced that Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, had chosen Harris as his running mate, Matt Hill, a gay Biden staffer, shared a clip from “The Case Against 8,” a documentary about Proposition 8, showing the moments in 2013 when Harris, then-California’s attorney general, found out about the high court’s decision.
After she was elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris continued to staunchly support LGBTQ rights, frequently co-sponsoring pro-equality legislation and speaking out against the violence faced by transgender women.
After her selection as Biden’s running mate on Tuesday, Harris made immediate waves when she announced her chief of staff would be Karine Jean-Pierre — an out lesbian, a former Obama White House staffer and a spokesperson for the progressive group MoveOn. Jean-Pierre is the first Black person to serve as a chief of staff for a vice presidential candidate.
During the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, where Harris was among the field of presidential hopefuls, her LGBTQ platform stood out for promising to appoint a White House chief advocate for LGBTQ affairs “to ensure that LGBTQ+ Americans are represented in hiring and policy priorities across the government.”
But during the primary, Harris, Biden and over a dozen other Democratic hopefuls were remarkably unified in their positions on many LGBTQ issues, which included ending the transgender military ban and religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, and reversing policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people in adoption and housing.
The Biden-Harris LGBTQ platform promises to make major changes in areas where LGBTQ people are not fully protected by the law — like housing, military service and health care.
During the Democratic primary, candidates were all unified in their vow to sign the Equality Act, a bill that would update many nondiscrimination laws to explicitly include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
Although Harris has been a staunch LGBTQ supporter since she entered politics in 2004, Biden, like nearly all American politicians at that time, did not support LGBTQ rights when elected to the Senate in 1972 the way he does today. Biden, along with the vast majority of the Senate, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which defined marriage in federal law as a union between one man and one woman, but by the 2010s his views had changed.
Most famously, while serving as vice president, Biden in May 2012 pre-empted the Obama administration’s official policy in support of same-sex marriage by endorsing the unions during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said at the time.
Three days later, President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage.
An ‘incredibly meaningful’ pick
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., called Harris “well qualified and well prepared” to be vice president.
Takano, who is gay, said her selection is “incredibly meaningful to the LGBTQ community, and as a Japanese American I am also proud to have someone of Asian heritage on the ticket.”
“Senator Kamala Harris is revered in the LGBTQ community for her leadership as Attorney General during the litigation of Proposition 8 and her fervent refusal to defend an unjust law,” he said in an email. “Joe Biden selecting her as his running mate reflects the deep value that both candidates share regarding equality for LGBTQ people.”
Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay former presidential hopeful who frequently campaigned on his experience as a mayor and gay man in “Mike Pence’s Indiana,” tweeted, “It feels good to visualize the moment when Vice President Mike Pence is replaced by Vice President Kamala Harris.”
Pence and Harris have starkly different track records when it comes to LGBTQ rights, with Pence, the former Indiana governor, having signed the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was controversial for protecting anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The two are set to debate on Oct. 7.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first lesbian to be mayor of that city, said there’s “a tremendous level of excitement” around the selection of Harris.
“This has been a very, very difficult time for people around the country, and we need something to rally around, and I think her addition to the ticket really gives people that thread of hope that we have all been looking for,” Lightfoot said, adding that her 12-year-old daughter was “beside herself with joy.”
Not everyone across the LGBTQ spectrum, however, is applauding Biden’s choice of Harris.
Ashlee Marie Preston, a Black trans advocate who supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts during the primaries, said many Democrats like her “are experiencing a flux of emotions right now” because of their view that Biden and Harris represent the “tough on crime” culture, which Preston described as particularly harmful to transgender people of color, who according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey are likelier to experience police harassment, incarceration and abuse while in detention.
“This won’t be a cake walk for them,” Preston said. “We need to see that their loyalty to systems that crush vulnerable communities has been dissolved. Politicians can change, as can their policies. But we’re still waiting on proof of such evolution, or at least a straightforward conversation on the matter.”