I’m a teacher and writer, loves of mine since I was six. I went to film school to study storytelling, media violence, its effects on society, and root causes of real-life violence and crime. This research guides my values, civic engagement, and work in our classrooms.
I was born in Midwest City—where my mother lives as a retired registered nurse—and I’ve lived in OKC’s historic Paseo neighborhood since 2010, serving in Oklahoma City Public Schools at Jefferson Middle School as an AVID college preparation teacher, where I helped students strengthen their reading, writing, group work, organization, and critical thinking skills. The same year I started teaching with OKCPS in 2015, Mayor Mick Cornett appointed me to serve on OKC’s Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) Board of Trustees.
As a transit trustee, I learned 79 percent of OKC’s roads ranked as “poor or mediocre condition.” Two years after my appointment, I wrote an editorial for NonDoc, asking my OKC neighbors to vote “yes” on our 2017 general obligation (GO) bond package and MAPS 3 penny sales tax extension. GO bond votes occur only every 10 years, offering a rare opportunity for residents to invest our property taxes into city infrastructure—including rebuilding crumbling streets—so students, workers, and seniors can move safely around our neighborhoods and city. This investment is important because, otherwise, OKC relies on sales tax as our primary funding source. Together with the extension of MAPS 3’s 2009 temporary penny sales tax, we called this election Better Streets, Safer City.
With the NonDoc editorial, I argued Better Streets would put our people to work, investing in critical infrastructure improvements for our streets, sidewalks, bridges, bike lanes, libraries, drainage system, public transportation system, parks and recreational facilities, our civic center, our downtown arena, our fire and police-training facilities, our traffic control system, and our city maintenance facilities. These investments, I wrote, strengthen our city, improving our residents’ quality of life.
Voters agreed, approving nearly $800 million in historic street improvements and other infrastructure projects, including our upcoming Bus Rapid Transit service.
Starting Fall 2023, Northwest Rapid will provide public transportation from covered bus stations every 15-20 minutes—7 days a week—for the first time in OKC’s history. This service builds on OKC’s past, running from downtown along our old streetcar route on Classen Boulevard, travelling west on NW Expressway, and turning around at Expressway and Meridian at a new park-and-ride near Lake Hefner.
2017’s Better Streets, Safer City also includes revitalization of Ward 2’s historic Belle Isle Library, $10 million in attainable, affordable, median-income housing for our city’s workforce, and streetscape improvements for historic commercial corridors such as Paseo, Uptown 23rd District, 39th Street District.
The next year in 2018, I fought for and worked with my transit board to provide Sunday bus service from our annual budget for the first time since the 1964 Voting Rights and 1965 Civil Rights Acts. On five bus routes, we added our city’s first night service til midnight.
In December, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which grants federal protections for same-sex and interracial couples if the Supreme Court strikes down its decisions requiring states to perform and recognize such marriages. While marriage equality is broadly popular, passage may well have been influenced by the fact that LGBTQ voters have become a powerful voting bloc for Democrats, who still control both the House and Senate.
That control will shift in January, when Republicans take control of the House after a midterm election. But their control will be slight — and LGBTQ voters probably limited their success.
LGBTQ voters have become a larger voting bloc — and they strongly lean toward Democrats
That voting bloc has grown over the past 30 years. In the early 1990s, voters who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual to exit pollsters made up 3 percent of the electorate; by 2022, 7 to 8 percent of voters identified themselves as LGBT. That expansion is consistent with the increasing proportion of U.S. adults identifying as LGBT.
Much as in previous elections, LGBT-identified voters overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates. AP VoteCast found that 73 percent said they did so; National Election Pool (NEP) found 84 percent said they did so. Meanwhile, both sources found that 53 percent of non-LGBT-identified voters supported Republican candidates. Had LGBTQ voters stayed home, some tight races would probably have had quite different results.
Republicans have increased their attacks on LGBTQ identities and rights
Why might LGBTQ voters flock so overwhelmingly toward Democrats? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in this year’s Dobbs decision striking down Roe v. Wade that the court should also undo legal decisions affirming the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Other signs suggest that the court’s conservative majority, all appointed by Republicans, will limit LGBTQ rights in upcoming cases.
Meanwhile, in the past two years, numerous Republican-controlled state legislatures and Republican governors backed anti-transgender and anti-gay laws and regulations. That included Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to child welfare agencies to investigate parents who affirm their child’s transgender identity. And it included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law that bans any mention of LGBTQ lives in schools, defining that as predatory propaganda.
Meanwhile, prominent conservatives and Republicans have been using harsh rhetoric against any support for LGBTQ people. For instance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) has referred to drag performers as child predators, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson has called on his viewers to attack anyone who supports gender-affirming health care for transgender youth or allowing school libraries to include books with LGBTQ characters.
At the same time, a new “rainbow wave” brought a historically high number of out LGBTQ candidates into office. Some newly elected transgender candidates even said anti-LGBTQ politics motivated them to run for office.
Abortion mattered to more voters than did LGBTQ rights — but LGBTQ rights mattered a lot to some
Protecting abortion rights pushed more votersto the polls than did any of the rhetoric against LGBTQ lives. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of AP VoteCast data, about 4 in 10 voters said that the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade strongly influenced their decision about whether to go to the polls. According to the NEP, 60 percent of voters said abortion should be legal, and of these voters, 73 percent supported the Democratic candidate. Among the 37 percent of voters who said that abortion should be illegal, 89 percent supported the Republican candidate.
In the NEP poll, voters were also asked whether societal values about sexual orientation and gender identity were changing for the better, worse or neither. Voters divided on this: Fifty percent said values have changed for the worse, while the other half perceived either no change or saw change for the better. Those who said society was changing for the worse overwhelmingly said they supported Republican candidates; those who said for the better or neither overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates.
When I conducted a statistical comparison to see which issue appears to have influenced vote choices, abortion came up the clear winner. I did this by comparing the joint roles race, gender, and opinions about LGBT topics or abortion had on predicting vote choices. Both opinions about abortion and LGBT topics outperformed gender or race in predicting vote choices; however, views on abortion played a stronger role than LGBT topics. The Dobbs decision appears to have been a political earthquake, changing the results of the 2022 midterms. However, anti-LGBTQ politics appears to be mobilizing more LGBTQ voters than voters who oppose LGBTQ rights.
These two trends — advances in and attacks on LGBTQ rights — are part of the larger emerging divide into two different Americas. Republican-leaning states like Idaho, Alabama and South Dakota have enacted or are considering anti-LGBTQ bills this and next year. In Democratic-leaning states — including California, where LGBTQ members make up over 10 percent of the legislature — governments are likely to enact policies protecting LGBTQ people. That’s true even though LGBTQ people live all across the United States.
The divide between abortion restrictions and abortion protections looks quite similar, as conservative states move to restrict individual autonomy on sexuality and gender more broadly while liberal states work to protect that autonomy.
In other words, Americans may be in for more of the same.
To be trans in the U.S. is to know fear. It is a companion that travels with us constantly: from the moment we realize we are trans, to coming out, to transitioning, and now into our lives long past the point where we should have faded away into anonymity in days past.
We are in the midst of a second Lavender Scare, and in many ways this is far more dangerous: even Christine Jorgensen wasn’t barred from receiving hormones or being within 2,500 feet of children simply for being transgender.
I have been called a doomsayer who profits from prognosticating an inevitable end. This is not precisely true: there is hope, if precious little of it. We can all clearly see the situation deteriorating rapidly in red states, with (at best) spotty resistance from the Democratic Party as a whole. We can see the effects of this deterioration as transgender people not only ask how to flee, but actively do so now. But most in a poverty-stricken community, however, lack the money or resources to flee.
There’s an eerie similarity to 1933, when people sold everything they owned, with no job waiting for them, just to get away from what they saw happening and coming. Others look at what it will take to get to another country, even as those countries are not yet ready to grant trans people asylum or refugee status. Most can only tell you that it’s getting bad, and that they’re afraid of what their government is preparing to do to them, even if they don’t know exactly what that will be. However, with nowhere to go, and no country particularly wanting transgender people, I find myself dreading another S.S. St. Louis moment in history.
There’s an authoritarian party in permanent power in half of the U.S. They’re making it clear that they intend to seize permanent federal control and bring their vision of a shiny, godly America to the rest of the country by any means necessary. They’re ready to destroy the Union and our democracy to save it from “wokeness.” And they have sold their base on the idea that the No. 1 threat that the country must be saved from is transgender people.
State level anti-transgender bills are becoming both more numerous and draconian year after year. The Overton Window of anti-trans legislation keeps shifting further and further to the right. For example, first they wanted to ban transition-related health care for everyone under the age of 18. Then the bills started putting the age at 21. Then, this year, we saw Oklahoma propose banning it for anyone under 26. Texas followed by passing a resolution condemning it for people of all ages.
Now Oklahoma has proposed a law that would ban providers who take state or federal money of money of any sort (e.g. Medicare or Medicaid) from providing transition-related care to anyone of any age. This means thousands of people who transitioned years ago will no longer be able to refill their prescriptions. Access to medical care will become a right that exists in theory but not in practice, like suffrage in the Jim Crow South.
It’s not just medical care. It’s sports, bathrooms, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, bans on “drag”, required misgendering, and forced outing. The creativity of this performative cruelty seems endless. Of these though, the “drag” bans are the most devastating. These laws are deliberately written as to be so vague and overly broad that a symphony orchestra with a transgender 2nd clarinet, or a family with a trans child doing a sing-along in the car would be considered obscene. In West Virginia, SB252 and 278 single out transgender people (and not just drag performers) to declare that their mere presence in public is obscene.
Not only are the scope of laws increasing; the sheer number is growing exponentially. In 2018, there were 19 anti-trans bills proposed in state legislatures. By 2020 it was 60. Last year it was 155. Now, in 2023, we surpassed the 2022 total by the middle of January and are well on our way to more than 200. Even so, these numbers don’t tell the full tale.
In years past, only perhaps 10% of these bills would pass, usually after opposition and debate. Now, we’re seeing bills introduced, sent to committee, debated, and sent to the floor in 24 hours. There is simply so much happening so fast that trans people cannot put together opposition in time to speak against these bills, whereas conservative legislators coordinating with religious legal groups always have “experts” lined up and ready, since they know exactly when and where the bills will be heard ahead of time. The result is that in a year where a record number of anti-transgender bills are introduced, a record percentage, and a record total, will be passed.
Trans people are not doomed, but we’re clearly on an accelerating trajectory to the end of the community in at least half of the U.S. Reversing these trends, and preventing a nationwide destruction of the community, requires numerous highly improbable things to happen. This includes Republicans moving on from the moral panic about trans people, deciding that they’ve gone far enough already with their oppression at the state level, or the courts overturning anti-trans laws. None of these seems likely.
Additionally, there remains the fear that even states with sanctuary laws, like California, will not remain safe forever. Republicans in Congress have made it clear that should they take power in 2024, they intend to pass nationwide laws similar to those at the state level. The odds of the GOP taking full control are frighteningly high: the Senate map in 2024 for Democrats is very bad, Biden’s net approval is where Trump’s was in 2020, and gerrymandering makes taking back the House difficult.
Masha Gessen’s rules for surviving autocracy state that “your institutions will not save you.” This is true for trans people now in several ways: neither courts, the Democratic Party, nor the media seem prepared to stand up for us as the situation goes from hostile to non-survivable. There’s the open question of whether the courts will uphold sanctuary laws. When Texas demands the arrest and extradition of trans people (or parents of trans youth) who have fled to a sanctuary state, it seems unlikely that the current Supreme Court will do anything but what their Christian nationalist masters tell them to. It’s also unknown whether a state like California would defy the courts and break the union over trans people or women seeking an abortion.
Then there’s the news media, the fifth estate that is supposed to be the light of truth shining on darkness. Instead, half of the media ecosystem is leading the charge to brand transgender people as an existential threat to women, children, and society. The other half, like Reuters, the New York Times, and The Atlantic, produce poorly thought out “both-sideism” and concern troll pieces that amplify and reinforce the narratives of the side that believes the ideal number of transgender people in the U.S. is zero.
Trans people have precious few people that they know will go to the mattresses for them. We’re already seeing who on the left and center is stepping aside, or even joining in, to let self-proclaimed Christian fascists like Matt Walsh have their way. Not only can it happen here, but it is happening now, at this very instant, to the sound of deafening silence from the people who swore without irony “never again.”
The American public, for their part, either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. It’s just happening to “those people.” Most trans people cannot enunciate all the factors that have them afraid, and why they form an interlocking system of failures that make recovery from the trajectory we’re on improbable. They just know that things are getting worse, and they don’t see how it will get better. Like animals before an earthquake, they know something is very wrong, even if they can’t explain why, or get anyone to listen.
All they know is that they cannot get out, the unstoppable power of the government is coming, and no one is coming to the rescue. For those who cannot flee, and cannot survive the laws about to be passed, the end comes soon. Drums, drums in the deep.
Brynn Tannehill is a senior analyst at a D.C-area think-tank and author of ‘American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy.’
After 15 contentious and grueling ballots to determine the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Keven McCarthy (R-CA) stood victorious but frazzled as he looked out to the House body from the Speaker’s podium to give his acceptance speech.
He stated in part, “I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up.”
And thus began his first lie, with undoubtedly many more to come, as McCarthy takes over the gavel. The lie was that he gave up plenty to achieve this long-coveted position.
In addition to sacrificing the minuscule amount of his personal integrity remaining, he made a deal with the far-right fringe element of his party by conceding to the demands of the so-called Freedom Caucus, which has about as much to do with freedom as Donald Trump’s Truth Social media outlet has to do with truth, or, for that matter, with sociability.
The caucus is the outgrowth of the former Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. Foundational to its policy agenda was a call for an across-the-board lowering of taxes, and drastic reductions of the national debt, which included draconian decreases in government spending, including any attempts at government-sponsored universal healthcare.
As a history student and a former longtime resident of the Boston, Massachusetts, area, I was disconcerted by the movement’s misappropriation of the historical Tea Party.
The original direct-action protest on December 16, 1773, by British American colonists, was the culmination of longstanding grievances against the British government under the battle cry of “no taxation without representation.” According to the British Constitution, only Parliament could levy taxes. Since colonists were prohibited from voting for members of Parliament or sending their representatives to serve in Parliament, they considered the series of taxes, including the tea tax, a violation of their rights as citizens of the British realm.
The second incarnation of the Tea Party movement, the Freedom Caucus, contains no well-developed political philosophy other than extreme hatred of what they consider “Big Government;” they view this as the cause of the nation’s troubles.
While the Tea Party activists advocated for small government, by all indications, the Freedom Caucus sees no place for government except in terms of its members grabbing power for the sake of power itself.
In 2010, then Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), referred to Tea Partyers as “great patriots,” adding, “It’s not enough, however, for Republicans to simply voice respect for what the Tea Partiers are doing, praise their efforts, and participate in their rallies. Republicans must listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them.”
Unfortunately, that was precisely what Boehner did. And where did it get him? Resignation from the House of Representatives and resentment of the political process!
I agree with Tea Party and then Freedom Caucus followers’ contention that significant economic disparities exist and are widening in this country, though not for the reasons they assert. The so-called “Big Government” is not the cause of the problem. The relatively unregulated and unfettered Wall Street, banking, and free market systems constitute the threats.
The Council on Foreign Relations found that within the United States, in 2021, the top 10% of Americans held nearly 70% of the accumulated wealth, up from about 61% in 1989. The following 40% of the population, their share fell congruently over that period. The bottom 50% (approximately 63 million families) owned about 2.5% of the wealth in 2021.
I find it unbelievable that one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries failed to provide quality health care to an estimated 47 million citizens. I also find it incredible that a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives are so beholden now to the Freedom Caucus and previously to the Tea Party that they were holding the government hostage to defeat the healthcare law.
Because of McCarthy’s weak morals and ethical foundations, and because he sold out the country for a transitory speakership at best, the government is likely to see legislative paralysis.
McCarthy and his Freedom Caucus puppet masters have turned the House into the Bates Motel, where progressive legislation is murdered in a shower of misinformation. It is no coincidence that his election came only minutes following the second commemoration of the Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021.
The only difference was that this Freedom Caucus insurrection was legal, even though some of its members supported the Big Lie about the election and the attack on the Capitol building by GOP supporters.
Heartstopper star Kit Connor was forced to come out as bisexual following a barrage of queerbaiting allegations from supposed fans of the show. Connor, who plays the bisexual character Nick Nelson in the Netflix series, came out on Twitter after being harassed on social media for not publicly disclosing his sexual orientation. “Back for a minute. I’m bi,” Connor tweeted on October 31. “Congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.”
For months, many fans had been speculating about the actor’s sexual orientation since Heartstopper first dropped in April, accusing him of being intentionally vague about his identity to queerbait. Before he came out, Connor had said he didn’t feel the need to label his sexuality right away, saying that it made him feel uncomfortable that so many people were trying to pressure him and his co-star, Joe Locke, both of whom are teenagers, into publicly coming out “when maybe we’re not ready.” After being spotted holding hands with actress Maia Reficco in September, however, this scrutiny only intensified.
Using the hashtag #kitconnorgoawayfromheartstopper, these so-called fans jumped to conclusions. They took to Twitter to berate him for supposedly ruining the show, accusing him of apparently profiting off of LGBTQ people by playing a queer character despite appearing to be straight. This prompted Connor to abandon the platform for nearly a month before ultimately feeling forced to reactivate his account and come out as bi.
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Not only does this type of harassment completely miss the whole point of the series, which is that everyone deserves to be able to come out on their own terms, but it also demonstrates just how toxic and misguided the internet’s obsession with queerbaiting is and just how out of control the discourse around queerbaiting has become.
Queerbaiting is not a term that is even applicable to real people. Essentially, queerbaiting is a marketing device that appeals to a queer audience by hinting that certain characters in books, movies, or TV shows might be queer without anything ever coming of it. It is “the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction (in a TV show, for example) to engage or attract an LGBTQ audience or otherwise generate interest without ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions.”
One of the most blatant examples of queerbaiting occurs in the police procedural Rizzoli & Isles, in which the show’s two main characters, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, have a pretty sapphic chemistry despite only being portrayed as friends. The actors and creators of the show even admitted to purposefully playing up the lesbian subtext between the two to attract a more queer audience. Another glaring example of queerbaiting occurs in the BBC series Sherlock, in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s romantically ambiguous relationship inspired many viewers to write their own explicitly gay fanfic to fill in the gaps the show failed to address.
In more recent years, however, some have chosen to co-opt the term and use it to pressure celebrities and actors to publicly reveal their sexual identities for either embracing certain aesthetics and behaviors associated with queerness or for simply refusing to label themselves. Harry Styles has often been at the forefront of this discussion due to his fashion choices and penchant for playing coy whenever the topic of his sexuality comes up.
Accusations of queerbaiting have also sparked an ongoing debate about whether or not straight actors should be allowed to play queer roles, which has proved to be a rather difficult conversation to maneuver, considering such a hard and fast rule would force closeted actors to either come out prematurely or miss out on an opportunity to play a character they can relate to without feeling pressure to publicly declare their sexual orientation.
While queerbaiting has always been an accusatory term, it is intended to call out how characters are portrayed in media, not to force people to out themselves because the internet feels entitled to know whether or not someone is queer. As a result, there is no such thing as queerbaiting in real life — and for a good reason. Real people deserve to be able to decide when, where, and how they come out without being accused of queerbaiting if they don’t do it fast enough. Coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation can take some time, especially for young people, like Connor, and pressuring someone to come out before they’re ready is incredibly harmful and regressive. It’s also pretty biphobic, in Connor’s case, at least. Last time I checked, bi guys can date girls and still be queer.
No one should feel forced to come out or perform their queerness for others to be valid. Coming out should be a liberating and empowering experience. It should not be used to bludgeon people into proving they’re not straight. The internet’s frenzied obsession with verifying people’s queerness through unfounded accusations of queerbaiting is more than just a desire for LGBTQ visibility and representation. It’s a performatively righteous and moralistic witchhunt now being used to gatekeep queerness and actively harm people who are still figuring things out.
As a community and a society, our first instinct should be to protect people who aren’t out yet, not to pressure them into outing themselves before they’re ready. Heartstopper has shown viewers that coming out is a personal journey everyone deserves to experience on their terms and in their own time. Connor should have been afforded that same opportunity, as should we all.
The world watched in horror this week as the proudly resilient LGBT community here coped with unthinkable tragedy.
Sadly, our community has a lot of experience with such things.
From the AIDS crisis in which we fought an indifferent government and hostile neighbors. To an untold number of previous attacks on our bars and clubs, including the 1973 firebombing of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 gay men. To enduring the playground taunts and everyday slurs that go along with being “different” in this country.
We were horrified, too, about what happened at Pulse, though not as shocked as our straight counterparts. They will never know what it’s like to walk through life with a permanent target on your back. To pause before each touch; to hesitate before exchanging a hug or kiss with a partner or spouse. To calculate before coming out at work. To endure the judgmental stares when checking in at a hotel or booking a restaurant reservation on Valentine’s Day. To walk around the block, scanning the scene before mustering the nerve to walk into a gay bar. To be insulted, mocked, beaten up just for loving someone of the same sex. We’ve all been there.
So much has been written in recent years about this “post-gay” world in which we supposedly live. A world in which there’s no need for LGBT-identified spaces like bars, clubs, coffee shops, bookstores and, yes, newspapers, because we’re “integrated” and “accepted” now.
What happened in Orlando is a heartbreaking reminder that there’s no such thing as “post-gay,” and that our spaces are sacred. Where outsiders see only a bar or club, we see a community center or the place where we formed our closest friendships or met our significant others. Our bars and clubs have played a heroic role in supporting the community, serving as gathering places in times of triumph and tragedy and helping to raise countless dollars to fund our causes, to fight HIV, to aid our own. When the government turned its back, the first dollars raised to fight AIDS came from the bar and club scene.
The attack in Orlando was an attack on all of us because there’s a Pulse in every city in this country. A place where we can let our guard down, be ourselves, embrace our friends and kiss our partners openly. We need those places because regardless of whether you live in Dupont Circle or rural Alabama, there is a risk in engaging in public displays of affection if you’re LGBT.
A look at the public response to the Orlando massacre reveals just how much work lies ahead. The Florida governor has tried to erase LGBT identity from the attack. We can’t even get validation in death in some quarters. The lieutenant governor of Texas tweeted homophobic Bible verses on the morning of the attack yet somehow still has a job. Last week, before the attack, Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) read a Bible verse on the U.S. House floor that calls for the death of gay people. Shortly after, the House voted overwhelmingly to reject a spending bill that included discrimination protections for LGBT workers.
Even those Republicans who have issued milquetoast statements offering “thoughts and prayers” are left to reconcile those sentiments with their own voting records hostile to LGBT causes. The presumptive GOP nominee for president, whose name I can’t bear to include in a tribute to Orlando, claims to care about what happened, yet has pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices committed to overturning the marriage equality ruling.
Hillary Clinton is right — this isn’t the time for politics. As we struggle with how to respond to the massacre and to those who would demonize and discriminate against us and cast us back into the closet, we should resist the urge to lash out and respond simply with love.
It’s been humbling to be here in Orlando this week, watching members of our community cope with such grace, dignity and determination. They didn’t shut down the community center in fear, instead they opened the doors wide to all while working tirelessly to raise money for the victims, collect donations of water and supplies for blood centers overwhelmed by volunteers, negotiate deals with airlines to fly loved ones to town for unexpected funerals and more.
One of the remarkable people I’ve met here this week, Pastor Brei, said it best: “Have faith and believe that evil and hate can be eradicated one person at a time. How do you treat someone? How do you embrace someone who treats you wrong? We all bleed, laugh, hope and have great victories and major defeats. And so, you know me, even if you don’t know my name — I’m you.”
President Andrzej Duda of Poland should veto a regressive and discriminatory bill that threatens sex education, including about sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today.
The proposed legislation is a revised version of a bill including similar provisions that Duda vetoed earlier this year, calling for unity at a time of crisis due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Duda should swiftly veto this harmful new bill,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Accurate and inclusive age-appropriate sex education is a crucial element of the rights to health and education and is critical to promoting healthy relationships and reducing gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV.”
The bill would centralize control over Polish schools and limit already restricted access to comprehensive sexuality education. The bill is informally called “Lex Czarnek 2.0” after Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek, who initiated the first bill and has been promoting the revised version. The legislation would give government “educational welfare officers” the authority to decide what extracurricular or educational activities can occur on school grounds and establish a complex bureaucracy around approving or refusing such activities.
On November 29, the opposition-controlled Senate, the upper house of Poland’s national legislature, rejected the bill, sending it back to the Sejm, the lower house, controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party. On December 2, the Sejm rejected the Senate’s veto and passed the bill. President Duda has 21 days to decide whether to sign or veto it.
Nongovernment organizations are the only providers of comprehensive sexuality education in many places in Poland. The state school curriculum includes misinformation about reproductive health and sexuality and perpetuates myths and discriminatory stereotypes rather than providing evidence-based sex education in line with international and regional standards.
The bill would increase the authority of regional school superintendents, appointed by the education minister, over school principals and grant superintendents the power to block activities led by nongovernment organizations in schools, a decision currently in the hands of parents’ councils.
Because school superintendents are appointed by the government and the government has targetedcomprehensive sexuality education and those who provide it, the changes could lead to ideological control over schools and politicized choices about who can provide educational activities. Superintendents would also be involved in decisions about removing principals, potentially politicizing that process as well.
If the bill becomes law, it would have a chilling effect on teachers and organizations that provide comprehensive sexuality education, and de factoprohibit Polish schools from addressing topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, and reproductive rights, Human Rights Watch said. The bill puts a host of children’s rights at risk, including the rights to information, education, and health.
Dozens of civil society organizations, teachers’ unions, and local authorities’ consortiums associated with the Free School Coalition have warned that the measure would gradually deprive schools of autonomy and create fear and distrust among teachers, who may fear repercussions if they step out of line with the government. Education and rights advocates have pointed out that Education Minister Czarnek recently approved a new official textbook that contained biased and discriminatory content.
Another bill that could have a detrimental impact on education was referred to government committees for further review in April. If passed, this bill, introduced by Law and Justice allies, would potentially criminalize anyone providing sex education or information with prison sentences of up to three years. Even without more stringent laws, teachers and school administrators who support sexuality education or reproductive rights have already been harassed, dragged through administrative proceedings, and threatened with losing their jobs.
The bill would also affect 200,000 child refugees from Ukraine studying at Polish schools, which rely heavily on civil society organizations to provide specialized assistance such as psychosocial and language support to refugee children. Many organizations offering such services also work on LGBT or women’s rights. The bill would place additional bureaucratic requirements on such organizations, which could prevent them from receiving approval to work in schools at all.
“President Duda already decided once that vetoing a variation of this law was the right thing to do, and he should do the same again,” Knight said. “Students, teachers, and parents across Poland have spoken up to make clear just how harmful and unnecessary this legislation would be.”
Throughout his campaign for Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin embraced the rhetoric of “parental rights,” allowing it to guide his campaign’s position on key issues, including mask mandates and diversity efforts in our K-12 system.
To be clear, there is a dire need to ensure that parents have a voice in our education. The disregarded mental health concerns, failure to appropriately implement accommodations for disabled students, and lackluster equity responses during the COVID-19 pandemic made clear the school systems were largely ill-equipped to handle community concerns. As students, we are acutely aware of the difficulty in engaging with education leaders: We constantly raise concerns that fall onto deaf ears. We can only imagine the similar frustrations of parents and teachers.
Nonetheless, the failure of education leaders to address the needs of community members is not partisan but institutional. It is abundantly clear that the convoluted processes of school boards are not suited for widespread stakeholder engagement. But Gov. Youngkin’s embrace of parental rights is not centered on improving community relationships. Instead, he exploits the language of parental rights to attack marginalized students, with the goal of advancing his political prospects.
Before he even assumed office, Youngkin supported efforts to censor books, attackingBeloved, the acclaimed Toni Morrison novel. Ignoring that Beloved can be a powerful tool for students to confront difficult truths around racism, Youngkin instead sought to allow some to censor the book in our classrooms. More recently, the governor has championed Senate Bill 656, which would allow parents to opt students out of classroom instruction deemed “sexually explicit.” SB 656 includes “homosexuality” in its definition of sexually explicit and mandates an onerousapproval process for any instruction that meets this standards, chilling the already limited queer representation in our classroom. After all, why would teachers, already overworked, go through the process of getting approval for texts that include LGBTQIA+ people when they can simply opt for content without us?
More recently, Youngkin’s Department of Education released draft changes to Virginia’s model transgender policies. The original guidelines required school districts to implement evidence-based protections for queer students, including prohibitions against the forced disclosure of a student’s LGBTQIA+ identity and upholding the right of queer students to be addressed by their correct pronouns and name.
As students, we experienced the power of the original guidelines. The fear of outing, for example, hangs over the head of every queer student from an unsupportive household. We once worked with a student who was denied water after their parents found out they were gay, and we’ve worked with other students whose parents have threatened them with conversion therapy. The original affirming guidelines, while not perfect, removed some of this fear.
WIthout the constant worry that teachers would out our friends to hostile parents, we were finally able to be ourselves. We saw our transgender classmates finally walk through the halls without having to justify their existence at every moment. We saw our friends sit up taller in class, knowing that their identities were protected.
But the revised guidelines revoke that progress. With forced outing provisions, a refusal to acknowledge a student’s transition without both parental consent and legal documentation, and a bathroom ban, the new draft revisions to the model transgender policies erase our community’s existence. They effectively take away the one place where we could be ourselves and will only heighten abuse, harassment, depression, and suicide.
The draft guidelines have already seen massive opposition. We helped organize walkouts of more than 12,000 students at schools across Virginia, and well over 50,000 comments, most opposed, have been left on the DOE’s public comments website. But Glenn Youngkin seems to be ignoring Virginian voices, instead using these policies as a change to address national conservative audiences as he gears up for a potential 2024 presidential run.
Lost in all the governor’s politicking is the real harm done to students. We have had to talk friends out of taking their lives, and we rarely meet a queer student who isn’t struggling with their mental health. Our experiences aren’t unique: Research consistently suggests that the majority of LGBTQIA+ students are vulnerable to depression and suicide. Yet our governor is hell-bent on removing the solace and affirmation found in inclusive books, classroom instruction, and school regulations for his own political future, rather than address the real crises in our schools.
Our schools are in crisis. We hope our leaders stop focusing so much on polling boosts and fundraising hauls and instead, address the depression, abuse, and harassment that ravages our schools.
Natasha Sanghvi, Ranger Balleisen, Casey Calabia, Juno Teller, and Rivka Vizcardo-Lichter are students in Virginia who helped organize a massive school walkout this month in protest of Youngkin’s reversal of protections for trans students in schools.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.
Because I’ve been writing this column for several years, and get to talk to lots of amazing people, my friends, mostly the straight ones, like to quiz me about who’s gay, who’s not, and who’s in the closet.
This fishing expedition is mostly generational, since it’s mostly my contemporaries who inquire about the sexuality of celebrities and politicians. Those of us who are LGBTQ+ and over 50, still look on with low-level shock when someone we know announces they are queer.
For straight people in this demographic, being gay, or being in the closet is still something that they sensationalize. The current generation just shrugs. They might debate Harry Styles, for example, and that’s because he’s thrown up the question for debate. He’s often accused of gay- baiting, but if he were to come out tomorrow and say he was in a relationship with a man, most young people would simply congratulate him.
I always confess to the fact that I really don’t have any inside knowledge on anyone, and I hear the rumors just like everyone else. Rumors are just rumors, until someone comes forward and confirms or denies them. Meanwhile innuendo, and jokes about the person’s sexuality abound.
For politicians, particularly in Congress, it’s a bit different. Capitol Hill is a very small community. When I worked there, I, like many, knew who was in the closet mainly because we’d see them in a gay bar or knew someone that had a relationship with them. There really were no secrets on the Hill.
For example, most of us knew former Wisconsin congressman Steve Gunderson was gay before he was outed on the House floor. I spoke to Gunderson on the 25th anniversary of that moment and wrote a column about it.
Gunderson was publicly thrown out of his closet, after right-wing Rep. Bob Dornan joked about Gunderson on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate on a bill that would have discouraged school districts from adopting gay-friendly curricula. “My fellow Republican has a revolving door in his closet,” said Dornan. “He’s out. He’s in. He’s out. He’s in.”
It was all a way to poke and joke about Gunderson’s sexuality.
“Clearly, we were living in different and difficult times regarding public officials being openly gay,” Gunderson told me. “At that time, there was no process for coming out as gay, nor were there any predetermined examples and parameters about how to come out.”
Today, there are 11 openly LGBTQ+ members of Congress. And, this year, for the first time ever, two gay men, one a Republican and one a Democrat, are running for Congress in New York’s Third Congressional District.
To be sure, not everyone is out. Whether they choose to remain in the closet might be for several reasons, because they’re fearful of the reactions of their constituents, that they still think being gay is a scarlet letter, or out of some deep seeded self-loathing which sometimes can backfire.
Case in point, former Illinois Republican congressman Aaron Schock. He was on a trajectory to be a rising star in the party, when he began to unravel, all the while denying rumors that he was gay. He eventually came out after a federal investigation into his campaign funds ended.
Everyone who I knew who still worked on or around the Hill knew he was gay, so when he came out, that wasn’t a surprise. It also proves that there are some U.S. legislators who are most definitely hiding. There are 535 members of Congress. The most recent Gallup poll estimated that 5.6 percent of the U.S. population is LGBT. Translating that to Congress, that would allow for at least 30 queer members, which means that in a very theoretical hypothesis, 19 are hiding in the closet.
Now, that brings us to what you’ve all been waiting for, ever since the title of this column drew you in — is Senator Lindsey Graham gay? First, I have no idea. I do know that, again, my friends who work on or around the Hill have their own opinions. In fact, one of them texted me on Saturday a story that appeared on Mediaite. “Did you see this????” She said with all those question marks.
The story was about a wild discussion the night before on MSNBC’s The 11th Hour, hosted by Stephanie Ruhle. She just replaced long-time network anchor Brian Williams.
Ruhle’s show has proven to be a bit more animated than Williams’s version. On Friday’s show, during one of the last segments, Ruhle hosted a panel that included Nancy Giles of CBS Sunday Morning‘s Nancy Giles, Ron Insana of CNBC, columnist Liz Plank, and lesbian comic and podcaster Judy Gold.
The group began to discuss Senator Graham’s ill-timed, ill-thought out, and cruel national abortion bill — which would ban the procedure nationally — and then sequed into a poke and joke about his sexuality.
“Why do this? Republicans don’t even support it across the board. He’s dividing Republicans,” Ruhle said. Which brought protest from Giles that Graham was telling women what to do with their bodies.
Giles’s statement was seconded by Gold, who was goaded on to continue by Giles, “He’s never seen a vagina! He’s never seen a naked woman!” Gold blurted, as the whole panel laughed it up, including Ruhle. “And he is telling me?”
Of course, we all know what Gold was suggesting. She said it in a way that made it appear to be a joke, which is why everyone was laughing.
“We don’t know that for sure. We do not know that for sure,” Ruhle said. “It’s probably true, it’s probably true,” Plank replied. “Judy we would refer to that as an unconfirmed report,” CNBC’s Insana interjected. “Someone needs to find out!” Plank corrected. “I’m going to speculate…” Gold said. (See below, at the 35 minute mark.)
Speculate, speculation, speculating, speculative. Those words have appeared in the past when others have…well, speculated, about Senator Graham. Just this week, The View host Whoppi Goldberg had to walk back another poke and joke that hinted at Graham’s sexuality, and when she did backtrack, one viewer on Twitter wasn’t happy with her, “I have no idea why she had to scale back on a suggestive, subtle joke that half the country has already been speculating about anyway concerning Ms. Graham lol. You’re fine Whoopi.”
This week it would appear that Graham’s sexuality has gone from “speculative” to a national open secret. Is it right for “half the country” to be speculating about Graham? Is it ok to use his sexuality as punchline material? Is there a need for these comedians to walk back their jabs? Or are their jokes more a poke at a sensitive subject for Graham? If they are just innocent teasing, then why walk them back?
For as long as I can remember, and I’ve been following politics obsessively even before Graham was elected to the House in 1995, I’ve heard rumors about Graham. I’ve poked and joked about those rumors — not here — but during private conservations. In fact, to me this whole dance around Graham’s sexuality seems more like a sophmoric joke, especially with that uncomfortable “Lady G” nickname that trends on Twitter every other month.
The fact that he may or may not be gay, to me, seems far less important than the inherent danger he creates in his job as a bachelor senator. His flip flop about Trump from calling him a “jackass,” a “kook,” “a race-baiting bigot,” to last month saying there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump was prosecuted is an affront to the decorum of a United States senator.
His phone call to Georgia election officials was most likely illegal and completely outside his role as a representative of South Carolina.
His whiplash from condemning Trump for January 6 to condemning the January 6 committee is beyond unacceptable for someone who swore an oath to the constitution.
And, his absurd legislation of creating a national abortion law flies in the face of his repeated comments that abortion should be left to the states. His reversal, and his audacity to author a bill on behalf of women, when he is a loutish, 67-year-old white man who has never been married, never fathered a child, dealt with a pregnancy, dealt with a wife whose life was in jeopardy because of a pregnancy, or a daughter whose future was in danger…well, a real man wouldn’t be this sanctimonious.
Graham’s sexuality might be private, and the jokes about it juvenile and tinged with homophobia, but his efforts at tearing the fabric of American democracy is far more offensive. It’s hard to get more angry at Judy Gold and Stephanie Ruhle than the man who’s working overtime to take away their rights — and those of all American women.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, EqualPride.
According to the Republican National Committee for Life, “The Republican Party must continue to uphold the principle that every human being, born and unborn, young and old, healthy and disabled, has a fundamental, individual right to life.”
With the stunning revelations of a leaked 98-page majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito proposing to completely gut the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it seemed inevitable with the unprecedented maneuvering and court-packing of ultra-conservative “justices” under the Trump regime.
The Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, provided states the ability to take away the constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion, which has been granted for the past 49 years. It could reverse, as well, the right to contraception, marriage equality for same-sex couples, interracial marriage, sexuality education, and the total erasure of voting rights.
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Republican leaders announced that among their primary and immediate items on their legislative agenda after the election of Donald Trump was to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. While these healthcare clinics do not receive direct federal funding, they collect approximately $500 million in federal programs from payments and grants, which comprise about 40% of the organization’s yearly budget.
Though an estimated 2.5 million people throughout the country access Planned Parenthood each year for annual health checkups, screenings for diseases, and contraceptives, Republicans had attempted to defund Planned Parenthood only to face a veto when President Obama sat in the Oval Office.
On November 20, 2022, as we commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance, a shooter in Colorado murdered five and injured 18 beautiful people at Club Q. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. As a nation, we must confront the hatred while continuing to demand gun safety measures.
In addition to the shooter, I indict our society that stereotypes and weaponizes our LGBTQ bodies as fodder for advancing its patriarchal Christian white supremacist authoritarian agendas.
We experience today many politicians, clergy, community and school officials who are targeting queer, trans, and gender non-binary people in promoting bigotry with their words and their actions by marginalizing and disenfranchising us through their legislation to prevent discussions of our lives in the classrooms and by banning books discussing our lives, by promoting fear and hatred by calling us “groomers,” by criminalizing parents who support their children’s gender identities and forms of expression, by eliminating trans athletes from sports, from preventing trans and non-binary folks from using public accommodations corresponding with their gender identities.
In my continuing quest to understand and make meaning of current political, economic, and social realities, I constantly glance back into historical eras looking for similarities and parallels from which I can draw conclusions and possibly learn from past mistakes we as humans have made. While each era unquestionably poses unique conditions and challenges in many respects, I believe history has enumerable lessons to teach if we are willing to learn.
Though I rarely offer comparisons between events transpiring before and during the ascension to power of the German Third Reich with resemblances to the contemporary United States – since to do so could result in trivializing one of the most horrific episodes in human history – nonetheless, I am haunted by certain parallels that demand voicing.
I am troubled by multiple similarities between that time not so very long ago and the discourses expressed and events transpiring today. I want, therefore, to highlight, in particular, the parallels I see in Nazi portrayals and understandings of sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression: a divisive and brutal program that was anti-feminist, anti-women’s equality, anti-women’s reproductive freedoms (anti-family planning, anti-contraception, anti-abortion), anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-transgender, anti-gender nonconforming, anti-sexuality education in schools.
The Nazis ruthlessly enforced and eventually extended Paragraph 175, the section of the German Penal Code dating back to 1871 with the unification of Germany: “Unnatural vice committed by two persons of the male sex or by people with animals is to be punished by imprisonment; the verdict may also include the loss of civil rights.”
Nazi ideology rested on the assessment that homosexuals (males) lowered the German birth rate; they endangered, recruited, enticed, and corrupted youth; that a possible homosexual epidemic could spread; that homosexuals are “potential oppositionists” and enemies of respectable society; and that sexual relations between people of the same sex impairs their “sense of shame” and undermines morality, which inevitably will bring about the “decline of social community.”
“Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong. But this we can achieve only in one way — the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We, therefore, reject any sexual deviation, particularly between man and man, because it robs us of the last possibility of freeing our people from the slave-chains in which it is now forced to toil.”
While Nazi ideology and practice rejected lesbianism as well, they did not criminalize same-sex sexuality between women, as they had in Germany’s Paragraph 175 of the Penal Code, because they believed that so-called “Aryan” lesbians could at least birth children for the “New Germany.”
On the other hand, Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo head and chief architect of the Reich’s anti-homosexual campaign, justified his actions by arguing that male homosexuals were “like women” and, therefore, could not fight in any German war effort.
Subsequently, he conducted surveillance operations on an estimated 90,000 suspected homosexuals, arrested approximately 50,000, and transported somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 to several concentration camps throughout the Nazi dominion. Very few survived.
Upon coming to power in 1933, under their Youth Leader, Baldur von Shirach, the Nazis took over all youth groups converting them into Hitler Youth groups. One action taken following consolidation was to eliminate all signs of “homosexual corrosion” because it allegedly threatened state control by “fostering political conspiracies.”
Nazi leaders purged all boys suspected of “homosexual tendencies.” They tried and convicted an estimated 6,000 youth under Paragraph 175 between 1933 and 1943.
Hitler also proposed eliminating all sex education from the German school system and encouraged parents to take on the primary responsibilities for sexuality instruction within the home.
While the Catholic Church spoke out then and today against same-sex sexuality, their policies boomeranged and hit them in their faces. Used primarily to silence any potential resistance from the Church, the Nazis conducted their so-called “Cloister Trials” in which they dissolved Catholic youth fraternities, arrested and incarcerated large numbers of priests, religious brothers, and Catholic laity in prisons and concentration camps, accusing them of being “threats to the state” on fabricated charges of homosexuality. For example, prison guards at Dachau concentration camp murdered Catholic priest Fr. Alois Abdritzki, one of many fatalities from the “Cloister Trials.”
Alfred Rosenberg, one of the Nazi’s chief ideologues, directed his misogynist outrage against women: “The emancipation of women from the women’s emancipation movement is the first demand of a female generation trying to rescue nation and race, the eternally unconscious, the foundation of all civilization, from decline…. A woman should have every opportunity to realize her potential, but one thing must be made clear: Only a man must be and remain judge, soldier, and politician.”
Englebert Huber, a Nazi propagandist, dictated the “proper” place of women in the Third Reich, figuratively (and literally as well) beneath men: “In the ideology of National Socialism, there is no room for the political woman….[Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political, that post-war creature, who rarely ‘cut a good figure’ in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon.”
The Nazis added Paragraph 218 of the German Penal Code to outlaw abortions and established a national file on women who had undergone and doctors who had performed abortions.
In their increasing obsession with “purifying” the social sphere, Nazi leadership enacted the “Decree for Combating Public Indecency,” which included such provisions as working to eliminate prostitution, closing all bars and clubs that “are misused for the furtherance of public indecency” including “public houses solely or mainly frequented by persons engaging in unnatural sex acts” (a.k.a. homosexuals), and closing kiosks and magazine stands in libraries and bookshops “whether because they include nude illustrations or because of their title or contents, are liable to produce erotic effects in the beholder.”
Though Pope Pius XII maintained a position of neutrality and rarely spoke out against the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime, of which he was roundly criticized in some circles, The Vatican, on April 3, 1933, praised the Reich on this policy:
“The Vatican welcomes the struggle of National Germany against obscene material. The strong measures that Prussia’s Minister of the Interior Göring has ordered for the combating of obscene writings and pictures…have received serious attention in Vatican circles. It will be recalled that Pius XII, in his recent encyclicals, has repeatedly and vigorously stressed that defensive actions against obscene material are of fundamental importance for the bodily and spiritual health of family and nation, and he most warmly welcomes the type and manner…with which this struggle has been undertaken in the new Germany.”
The Patriarchal Connecting Strand
The Nazi regime connected multiple forms of oppression when Heinrich Himmler reorganized the Reich Criminal Police Bureau to centralize operations by creating a national file on male homosexuals, transgender people, what they referred to as “wage abortionists” (women and their doctors), and to monitor the production and ban the use of contraceptives to “Aryan” women.
Within this Bureau, they established The Reich Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion, which in the single year of 1938 alone, conducted 28,366 arrests for abortion, and 28, 882 arrests of male homosexuals.
The common thread running through Nazi ideology regarding gender, gender expression, and sexuality was an intensive campaign to control individuals’ bodies and the bodies of members of entire communities in an attempt to control their minds.
Women and LGBTQ people have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens not merely in Nazi Germany but today as the current political discourse indicates. But women and LGBTQ are certainly not victims because through it all, women and LGBTQ people as individuals and as groups have resisted and challenged the inequities and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.
I hope, though, that we as a society can learn from the tyranny of the past.