Showing posts with label Activist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Activist. Show all posts

January 9, 2019

Bayard Rustin A Black Gay Activist with Dr. King, A Nonviolent Fighter Until he Died at 75

We have published the story of Bayard Rustin before and its amazing the work this man did for the black community and as a nonviolent LGBTQ social justice activist.
 Bayard Rustin (R) and his Love Walter Naegle


Newly released audio of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin reveals the extent to which he valued the intersection of his racial and his sexual identity — and how his life as an openly gay man nearly derailed his ability to fight for equality.

Rustin, an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. who became more vocal on LGBTQ issues later in his life, said during an interview with the Washington Blade in the 1980s that he recalled a time in the 1940s when a mother warned her daughter not to touch him because he was black. He felt that it was important to educate the young child about race, and as a gay man, he also realized that she needed to learn that gay people also existed. That attitude prompted him to be more open about his sexuality that was at all customary for public figures of his era.

“It occurred to me shortly after that that it was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t, I was a part of the prejudice,” he said several years before he died at age 75 in 1987. “I was aiding and abetting the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.”

An activist who believed in nonviolent resistance, Rustin spearheaded the organizing effort of the 1963 March on Washington and helped play a major role in the civil rights movement alongside King. But his sexual orientation wound up becoming a serious roadblock in his work.

“At a given point, there was so much pressure on Dr. King about my being gay — and particularly because I would not deny it — that he set up a committee to explore whether it would be dangerous for me to continue working with him,” Rustin recalled in the newly available audio, which will be aired on the Making Gay History podcast.

Robt Seda-Schreiber of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, which provides advocacy, education, and a safe space for LGBTQ and intersex people, said the newly surfaced clip “solidifies and spotlights the undeniable truth” of Rustin’s courage.

“Too few folks nowadays are aware that Bayard Rustin planned the March, inspired the Freedom Riders, & brought non-violence to Dr. King himself, among many other extraordinary accomplish­ments,” Seda-Schreiber said in an email message. “This lack of recognition is directly related to him not hiding in the shadows at a time when it was de rigueur for one’s very survival.”

Rustin’s surviving partner, Walter Naegle, provided the audio, according to NPR. Naegle, who lives in Chelsea, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

June 7, 2018

Rwandan President Meets With Ellen DeGeneres and Her Wife, A Move That Will Change Many LGBT Lives in This Country

It was a brief meeting. So unofficial that the international press barely covered it, yet this handshake has the potential to make thousands of lives better.
At the end of May, America’s favorite television host Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi met Rwandan president Paul Kagame in the capital Kigali. The trip was part of DeGeneres’ work with the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund. The fund supports Rwanda’s mountain gorillas through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Encouraging to see the mountain gorilla population in the Virungas has grown 25% in the last eight years. Conservation efforts must continue. Thank you @TheEllenShow & Portia for coming to Rwanda & getting involved.

During the courtesy call, DeGeneres gave Kagame a T-shirt and the three posed for photos together. Ever-media savvy, Kagame’s people tweeted the meeting and posted the video on his YouTube channel, with no further detail from either. Yet, the short meet-and-greet between a lesbian celebrity couple and the world’s favorite African strongman has the potential to signify much more for gay rights in East Africa.
Last year, when a gay Rwandan TV journalist publicly proposed to her partner, their planned nuptials caused an uncomfortable debate and anger in a conservative society. Rwanda’s LGBTQI community has not faced the kind of persecution seen elsewhere in the region, but they became the target of backlash when the proposal challenged traditional notions of marriage.
“They wondered, ‘Who are they? Who is who in the relationship?’ We started to get harassed again, so we stopped going out in the street of Kigali, we were scared,” said Carter, a transgender man and rights activist, talking to Voice of America after the incident. Still, the public proposal empowered a community that has lived in the shadows. 
In 2008, for example, a Rwandan lesbian couple was reportedly prevented from attending a conference on lesbian feminist thinkers in the Mozambican capital Maputo. Today, while gay marriage isn’t legal in Rwanda, the government does recognize the LGBTQI community’s right to live openly.
Rwanda has done away with colonial-era anti-gay laws and Kagame said at a meeting in San Francisco in 2016 that being openly gay in Rwanda “hasn’t been our problem. And we don’t intend to make it our problem.” Rwanda is more progressive than its neighbors, but has yet to use its influence for the better in the region.
In 2017, Rwandan police arrested Ugandan LGBTQI activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, as she arrived in Kigali. They deported her back to Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and violently repressed. In Uganda, police go as far as raiding gay pride events and gay film festivals.
Rwanda’s other neighbor, Burundi, has moved to strengthen its anti-gay legislation. In Kenya, homosexuality may not be persecuted, but it is openly frowned upon, most recently through the banning of the filmRafiki, a coming-of-age lesbian love story
Kagame’s legacy is divisive. His clean capital and well-run run country belie a regime accused of being repressive. The economy’s steady growth is used to justify extending Kagame’s term and the gender parity in his cabinet distracts from his silenced opposition.
In spite of all of this, Kagame holds much influence as a leader in his region, especially on gender rights. It’s why women frustrated by discrimination in the African Union turned to him specifically. And it’s why posing with DeGeneres, whose own coming out more than two decades ago changed American attitudes, could be more than a photo-op—it could be a regional turning point.

Lynsey Chutel~~~~~~QUARTZ

August 13, 2017

While Police Looked on, Gay Activists Got Pepper Gassed at St Petersburg, Russia

After the LGBT parade activists and journalists were attacked by Russian “titushki”.

The incident occurred on Saturday, August 12 at the Champ de Mars in St. Petersburg. Young people in sports clothes attacked participants of the LGBT pride. They used pepper gas against the activists.

The police that was on duty at the scene, did not make any attempt to detain offenders. The defenders of law and order were across the street from the victims and saw firsthand the daring, the danger of injury.
The attack injured 10 people. One girl was hospitalized due to eye injuries. In addition to the participants of the pride, also journalists working at the scene got injured. The video shows that the Russian “titushki” did not spare pepper gas and liberally spray it in people’s faces.

Just like in the United States the White Supremacists Violent demonstrations which they feel empowered because they have someone in the White House with staff that is part of them feels like them so do these Russian attackers feel supported by Trump's bro Putin. Putin has had enacted anti gay laws so those that leaning toward violence towards people they don't like they pick their President's punching bag, the gays.

This law which Putin refers as to protect the children from gays. I guess his little mind can not get around that gays start as children. Gays were children and gay children or leaning that way seeing older gays being attacked, all it does is damaged their minds. Damaged because they feel shame and try to hide who they are which latter manifests in all kinds of self-hurting behavior to their lives.

Im sure Russia must have some social scientists that have studied what others have and know that being gay is not something you put on like Putin Fedora silly hat.

 Look how that ignorant pervert just gingerly attacked everyone without any fear.

November 21, 2016

“Gender is a Biological Accident” (Indian Gay Activist)

Harish, gay activist

It’s International Men’s Day. What does that mean? What do we celebrate? Masculinity? Machoism? The stache? The muscles? Or the sexual orientation…?
Harish Iyer, Director and Strategic Partner at the Humane Society International/India, and a renowned activist for LGBTQ rights in the country, decided to speak to us this Men’s Day and his words will leave you with enough to ponder over.

“Gender is nothing but a biological accident,” says Harish who would have been just as happy had he been a woman, or a transgender. “My gender is always perceived as the tormentor, the bread-winner, the un-emotive. Masculinity is not a mustache that you grow, the muscles you develop, the abs or the way men fuck; it is about equality.”

Harish is one of the most well known men who have always spearheaded any movement or revolution for those who cannot speak for themselves—be it a member of the LGBTQ community, the animals, or the people who don’t have a voice. He has been the guest speaker for world renowned talks and on television to voice his opinions and make a difference in whichever way he can. As someone who is from the LGBTQ community ( in India, Harish knows exactly what it is like to be a man of different sexual orientation; to be gay and proud about it. “It was my friend Sheetal Kher, wife of Kailash Kher, who pulled me out of the closet,” says Harish. “Sheetal did a college journalism profile on me and outed me.”

Speaking about explaining to his family, Harish says, “I told my mother I was willing to marry a woman, but asked if she would willingly marry her daughter to a gay guy.” Harish, like countless other men in our country, was also subject to criticism and social judgment. But, he believes it to be because people are curious. “There have been relatives who wanted me to get married and some nosy neighbours. I sarcastically tell them I can marry their daughter and divorce her if it doesn’t work out.” It pays to have a sense of humour when you’re different from the pack. Ask anyone who doesn’t run the rat race; they’ll agree. “I think there is ingrained misogyny in many of our Indian practices, most of which are patriarchal,” he opines.

According to Harish, there needs to be more liberty for people who want to come out openly. “We should not have to prove time and again that we are just like everyone else who is part of society,” he reasons. “The bisexual community is the most invisible in society.

They face prejudice in the LGBT community and also the heterosexual community,” Harish explains. “Trans people face a lot of discrimination, mostly due to people’s ignorance and refusal to study issues in detail. All this gets augmented, when you also are a person of color, caste, are a woman.” And while society has always been rather vague about the LGBTQ community as a whole, Harish sees hope. “While some members of society see us as ‘diseased and ‘perverted’, a lot of them also see us as creative and dependable individuals which is true.” He agrees that it’s not always easy to talk about it.

 We need to keep talking—make the invisible visible and bring issues to the forefront, he says. “It will get easier when we speak at times when it is most challenging to do so.” As for his own sense of self, Harish has never let the words of others affect his being in any way whatsoever. “Living your life truly and unabashedly is the truest form of activism,” he quips in a matter-of-fact tone.
And his message to men on International Men’s Day is simple.

“Yes, we have been privileged. You don’t need to step out and offer your seats to women to be considered a man. Women need no charity; only equality. Also some men are assholes; and some women label all men as that. Learn to give a rat’s left testicle to both of them.”

November 2, 2016

This Year’s Been A Mixed Blessing for LGBT Activism

At just about every Hillary Clinton campaign event this year, and much of last, you could find lots of rainbows and posters with the letters "LGBT" on them in the crowd. The average Hillary Clinton event has a healthy amount of gay, lesbian and transgender Clinton supporters in attendance.
This past Thursday at a rally co-headlined by Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama, Charlotte resident Matt Hirschy wore a rainbow-print "H" sticker and a wedding ring. Before the rally, he was still celebrating the achievements of last year, namely the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which made same-sex marriage legal throughout the country.
"If you would have asked me growing up that my parents would accept me for being gay or that I'd be able to get married, I'd probably laugh," Hirschy says. "Well, I probably wouldn't do anything, I'd run away scared because I wasn't out yet, but I'd probably be very skeptical of it."
Hirschy, a Hillary Clinton supporter, says that in spite of the massive gains his community won last year, he still feels under threat. "I've been kicked out of establishments because I'm gay before, for holding hands with my partner," he says. "I've been denied the opportunity to lease a certain home or apartment because of the fact that I'm LGBT."

He also pointed to HB2, a North Carolina law which which prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender they identify with.
Hirschy's state of mind — celebration mixed with trepidation — sums up a reality for many gay, lesbian and transgender people this year. In the aftermath of Obergefell, the fight for LGBT rights didn't end; it only changed.
"The issues that affect the LGBT community are less national issues in this election than they are state-specific issues," says Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. "In about 30 states, LGBT people can be legally married, but still be at risk of being fired from their job, denied a loan, evicted from an apartment, or thrown out of a restaurant. And that is not a theoretical problem."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told NPR that in the past year, his group has tracked 204 bills in 34 states deemed "anti-LGBTQ."
And while HB2 in North Carolina has drawn national attention, some gay rights advocates fear the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling last year allowed many people to assume all the work was done.
"This is always a challenge when a group's issue gets defined really narrowly," says Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF). "This is the trade-off to having a condensed but also focused campaign that becomes winnable. And the challenge then [is] of broadening that analysis so that folks don't think we're done now that we've just won marriage."
Hillary Clinton speaks to volunteers at a campaign call center 
during a stop at an LGBT community center April 18 in New York City.
Kathy Willens/AP
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, noted how that trade-off has resulted in a drop in financial support for LGBT causes. "Some of the LGBT infrastructure, particularly equality organizations that had marriage as their main issue, closed shop," he says. "At some organizations that have played a big role in the marriage equality victories, up to one-third or at least one-quarter of the funding was at risk."
On the national stage this campaign season, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have voiced support for the LGBT community. Several gay rights groups say Clinton has the most progressive, thorough platform on LGBT issues ever. (Clinton's LGBT "fact sheet" on her website is over 2,700 words.) She's won the endorsement of most LGBT rights groups as well.
Trump made history during his speech at the Republican National Convention, becoming the first GOP nominee to pledge support to the LGBT community in a nomination speech. He pledged to protect LGBT people from terrorism after a shooting that killed dozens of people at a gay club in Orlando.
Supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump,
 including gay rights groups, protest against alleged bias outside the CNN offices 
in Hollywood, California on Oct. 22, 2016.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Yet his words came just after his party passed a platform that activists called extremely regressive on gay rights issues, with language that defined marriage as "the union of one man and one woman" and language that activists interpreted to support conversion therapy for gay youth.
For that reason, even the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Trump. Gregory T. Angelo, president of the group, says: "Would he be governing as a President Trump who stood idly by as the GOP passed what I term the most anti-LGBT platform in the party's 162-year history? Or would he govern as the candidate we saw the following week, at the convention, presiding over the most pro-LGBT convention in the GOP's 162-year history? We really don't know."
(The Trump campaign did not respond to NPR's interview request for this story.)
The Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffin says regardless of Trump's gesture toward gays and lesbians at the convention, other things he's said and done throughout the campaign show him not to be an ally.
"Perhaps what Donald Trump doesn't actually understand is the LGBT community is as diverse as the fabric of this nation," Griffin says. "We are black. We are Asian. We are Muslim. We are immigrants. We are people with disabilities. So, when he attacks any one of us, he's attacking our entire community."
 Hillary Clinton has maintained about the same level of LGBT support Barack Obama did in 2012. A September NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll .
Despite those numbers, Clinton has still faced criticism over her record on LGBT issues, namely being slow to evolve on gay marriage, having not come out in support of marriage equality until 2013.
Miriam Yeung says this should not be held against her. "We obviously wish more of our allies came to our side sooner," Yeung says of Clinton, drawing parallels to family members and loved ones of LGBT individuals who were late to accept them after they came out. "I don't think it serves us to continue to hold it against them. Now that they're on our side, be 100 percent with us."

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal urges Americans to keep working on LGBT issues regardless of who wins the election. And he thinks the challenge will be in finding support and resources for issues little discussed on the campaign trail and not as simple as marriage equality. He cites HIV/AIDS and protections for transgender people, particularly transgender people of color.
"We don't talk about the needs of these communities that are at the intersection of oppression, because it's not as sexy," Espinoza-Madrigal says. "It doesn't have a white picket fence attached to it. It doesn't have a wedding ring attached to it."
But Yeung is hopeful that one aftereffect of the marriage fight can help keep those types of issues at the forefront: She says the activist infrastructure the push for marriage created has started to adopt other issues and inspire LGBT activism elsewhere.
"[The marriage fight] trained up this very elite crew of folks who know how to run on-the-ground campaigns, who are now deployed in other issue areas," Yeung says. "So we see queers of color running the immigrants' rights movement. We see queers of color and low-income folks running economic justice and 'Fight for 15' minimum-wage campaigns. Even the Black Lives Matter movement — two out of three women [founders] are queer-identified."
And, Yeung says, for activists like her all those issues are connected.

Sam Sanders

October 7, 2016

Malcom X Closeted Life Means so Much More than Gay for Pay

 “A man that stands for nothing will fall for anything”

Before any of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities laud Malcolm X as our new gay icon or castigate him for being a black heterosexist nationalist on the “down low,” we might need to closely examine the recent revelation that for a period in his life Malcolm X engaged in same-sex relationships.

Also, before any of us in the African-American community flatly dismiss these assertions as part and parcel of a racist conspiratorial propaganda machine that is out to discredit our brother Malcolm, we need, at least, to hear these nagging claims.

And this time hear them coming from one of our own – Manning Marable, a renowned and respected African American historian and social critic from Columbia University.

Sadly, Marable died just days before the release of his magnum opus, an exhaustive and new 594-page biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.

His assertions in the book – derived from meticulously combing through 6,000 pages of F.B.I. files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, records from the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department and New York district attorney’s office, as well as his interviews with members of Malcolm X’s inner circle and security team – leaves the reader in shock and awe.

For those of us who always thought Malcolm X’s assassination, as with King’s, had everything to do with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, we are correct. Marable emphatically states that both the FBI and NYPD had advance knowledge of Malcolm X’s assassination plot and did nothing to stop it.
But what will come as a shock is Marable’s assertions that the Malcolm X the world has come to know through Alex Haley’s 1965 New York Times bestseller The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X based largely on Haley’s book is fictive. And the spin we have, in part, is due to Malcolm himself.

In creating an autobiographical narrative that would have his book fly off of bookshelves as well as elevate his status to a national – if not world – stage, Malcolm X intentionally fabricated, exaggerated, glossed over, and omitted vital facts about his life. One such fact omitted was his same-sex relationship with a white businessman.

The claim, no doubt, will become a hotly contested topic in sectors of the African American community. With an iconography of racist images of black masculinity ranging from back in the day as Sambos, Uncle Toms, coons, and bucks to now gangsta hip-hoppers, Malcolm represented the negation of them.

As a pop-culture hero to young black males of this generation and as the quintessential representation of black manhood of both America’s black civil rights and Black Power eras, a gay Malcolm X will be a hard, if not impossible, sell to the African American community.

And here’s why.

At Malcolm X’s funeral, held at the Faith Temple Church Of God in February 27, 1965, Ossie Davis, renowned African American actor and civil rights activist, delivered the eulogy stating the following:

Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes. …Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. …And we will know him then for what he was and is. A prince. Our own black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to die because he loved us so.

For a gangsta hip-hop generation, Malcolm Little – before his conversation to the Nation of Islam and name change – represents for them a lauded hypermasculinity. And their male-dominated musical genre is aesthetically built on the most misogynistic and homophobic strains of Black Nationalism and afrocentricism.

But this claim by Marable, however, of Malcolm’s same-sex relationship is not new. Reports of Malcolm X’s queerness was first revealed in Bruce Perry’s 1991 biography, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America.

According to Perry, Malcolm’s same-sex dalliances date back to childhood where he enjoyed being masturbated or fellated. In his 20s, Perry informs us, Malcolm had a sustained sexual relationship with a transvestite named Willie Mae, and also he had sex with gay men for money, boasting he serviced “queers.”

I am not heterosexist apologist, but if we, as LGBTQ people, use this era of Malcolm’s life to claim him as gay, we misunderstand the art of survival in street hustling culture.

Similarly, if we, as African-Americans, use this era of Malcolm’s life to dismiss that he engaged in same-sex relationships, many will miss the opportunity to purge ourselves of homophobic attitudes.

When Malcolm came to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Roxbury’s Ella Little Collins, he was 16, having dropped out of school at 15. With no job skills and looking for the most expedient route to acquire money, Malcolm peddled cocaine, broke into homes of Boston’s well-to-do, gambled big at poker games, and unabashedly serviced gay men for pay.

While it can be argued that Malcolm’s same-sex encounters were not solely financially motivated, let us also not dismiss that the only evidence we do have is the context in which he was.

July 17, 2015

40 Yrs without Sex so He could be an Example on gay Rights


I don’t recommend anybody to go without sex but I most admit I was moved by Senator Norris story. In a world in which you have one of the co founders of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign, the largest political gay group) between court and jail fighting what grown men now say he did when they were teenagers. He is trying to settled but the prosecutor wont aloud it to happen on the latest case. He can take a chair on the side of many child molester priests and the famous multi split personalities ‘Bill Cosby’ who hid his real sick self behind the image of a trusted friend to pretty young ladies that claim he drug them to then have sex with them while they were passed out. A real peace of work! Even Whoopi Goldberg still backs him against all the evidence because he is black and a friend and her black friends don’t do that….On the back drop of all these filth we hear about Irish Senator David Noris who still speaks out against injustices, be gay or straight, black or white. I am proud to share this story with you.  Adam

A gay rights campaigner has revealed he went 40 years without sex because he was afraid of bringing disgrace on the movement for equality.
Senator David Norris says he “lived the life of a bloody nun” during this period because at the time having sex with another man was a criminal offence in Ireland. 
Senator Norris said: “For 40 years I didn’t even enter a public lavatory in Dublin, any sort of indiscretion on my part would’ve been highlighted by the media.
“In those days the most dangerous thing was to be noticed, to be known as gay, you couldn’t afford it.
“Your job, your friends, your status and your livelihood would be gone.”
But the former presidential candidate also confessed to playing the field and enjoying casual sex in his youth, reports the Irish Mirror.
The 71-year-old said: “I certainly had a good time before the movement started. I was a good looking man and I was the toast of Dublin. 
“If you brought someone home, the last thing you wanted to know was their name, you didn’t want them finding you in the phone book.
“I was with some lovely, intelligent and interesting people but it never led to anything – they all had to be one-night stands.”
Norris also told O’Connor about his joy at the passing of the recent marriage equality referendum.
He explained: “It was the end of a very long process, a 40-year struggle and to make that journey was quite extraordinary.
“There were no people out at all in my day, homosexuality was a word which would stop conversation in a polite society. I was seen as a criminal and an outsider.
“To go from that to seeing everyone so happy – grandparents, husbands, wives, parents – is wonderful.
"I get great satisfaction seeing young people happy together, positive and contributing to life.
“People of my generation were badly affected by the stigma, the shame and the sense of isolation.
“I dealt with people forcibly subjected to electroconvulsive therapy and it really scrambled them, but all that tragedy is now behind us.”
The campaigner has recently battled cancer but was quick to dismiss any rumours of retirement following his illness, adding he expects to contest the next poll.
He said: “I may pull out late on, but for anyone who think I’m retired, I’m going in the next election.”
But the Senator did admit liver surgery had taken its toll.
He added: “The body is a bit shattered, but the mind is still as active and aggressive as ever.”
It may be hard to believe but same-sex activity in Ireland was only decriminalised in June 1993.
The change in law was down to a campaign spearheaded by David Norris which started in the 1970s.
His bid to decriminalise homosexuality was defeated in 1980 in the High Court and the Supreme Court.
The campaign’s efforts were rewarded in 1988 when he won a case in the European Court against the Irish State over the constitutional status of homosexual acts. 
That paved the way for the decriminalization, the Civil Partnership Bill in 2010 and this year’s marriage equality referendum.

October 14, 2014

John Greyson’s Egyptian Imprisonment

John Greyson didn’t waste any time turning his detention into a piece of art. Created using a series of drawings made after he was arrested in Egypt, his short film Prison Arabic in 50 Days was shot less than 24 hours after he landed in Canada. Both a thank-you to everyone who’d fought for his release and an attempt to communicate something about the experience, the piece was created in his garden with fellow prisoner Tarek Loubani and Greyson’s sister Cecilia.

Using the backs of cigarette packages (mostly Marlboros, occasionally Cleopatras), the cards feature words in Arabic and English relevant to their imprisonment. Guard, door, window, breakfast, shower; each term is accompanied by an image that hints at, but doesn’t tell, the whole story.xtraonline

October 13, 2014

A President Converted to be an Activist by a Wise-az Evangelist Rick Warren

"Thank you Rick Warren. Have you ever heard God works in Mysterious ways? You converted a president… be a gay activist!”Adam Gonzalez, blogger

When President Barack Obama launched his campaign for an open U.S. Senate seat in late 2002, his wife Michelle enlisted the help of a longtime friend, Kevin Thompson. Michelle had gotten to know Thompson back in the early 1990s, when she was still Michelle Robinson and the pair worked in the policy shop of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Over the years, the two had stayed close, working together again at the University of Chicago Hospitals and swapping home improvement ideas over meals.
Obama, who was then a state senator, would be facing off in the Democratic primary against businessman Blair Hull and State Comptroller Dan Hynes. Both had much greater name recognition and resources. Thompson dedicated himself to helping build support for Obama on the liberal Lakefront on the North Side of Chicago, which included the uber-gay neighborhood of Boystown centered on North Halsted Avenue.
At that time, Obama had very little gay support to speak of. Thompson, who is gay, wanted to fix that. In early 2003, he organized a Sunday afternoon meet-and-greet at a small bar called Cocktail. Obama drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and chatted with the crowd of a few dozen for a couple hours.  
After Obama cruised to victory in the March 2004 primary, the race shifted from urban Cook County to the entire state. Thompson joined the campaign fulltime to become Obama’s “body man,” which meant he’d be with the candidate from morning to night, helping him prepare for events. The two men got along well, and they had something else in common: they were both biracial, with a white mother and black father.
One day they were driving to a Democratic Party event in Schuyler County in the very rural west-central part of the state, known in the Illinois political world as Forgottonia. Kevin was worried they might be late, so he called to the host from the road. “Well we’re so excited,” the host said. “We’ve never had a colored man speak down here before.” Incredulous, Thompson looked at Obama and said, “They’ve never had a colored man speak here before.” Obama burst out laughing. “You’re kidding,” he said. “He did not say that.”
During the four-hour drive, Obama took the opportunity to ask Thompson some questions about the gay community that had been percolating in his mind during the campaign. For instance, he was curious to know why it was so important to the gay community to be consistently mentioned by name. Thompson explained that this kind of explicit recognition was important because there were still many people who thought legal rights for gays and lesbians wasn’t a legitimate conversation. That was no longer the case for Af­rican Americans or women, but for the gay community, it remained true, at least in certain segments of society. Candidate Obama simply talking about the LGBT community signaled to them that they were being seen and heard. Thompson drew an analogy to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, about an Af­rican-American who thought of himself as invisible to the white society around him.
In the course of this conversation, he happened to mention Stonewall. “Well, what’s Stonewall?” Obama asked.
 “You’ve never heard of it?” Thompson asked in surprise.
 This was a sophisticated Columbia- and Harvard-educated scholar and political organizer, running for national office. And yet he had never heard of the event that many consider the birth of the modern gay rights movement: the riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 1969, when the LGBT community fought back against police intimida­tion and arrest and demanded legal equality.  Thompson gave Obama a primer, glad that they could have an honest back-and-forth.  
After Obama won the Democratic primary in his Senate race, he wound up facing the ultra-conservative Republican Alan Keyes in the general election. It wasn’t long after marriage for gay couples had become legal in Massachusetts, and the virulently anti-gay Keyes kept trying to bait Obama into discussing the subject. He finally succeeded in a 2004 debate on Chicago’s public television station. 
“What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Obama told the moderator. “What I believe, in my faith, is that a man and a woman, when they get married, are performing something before God, and it’s not simply the two persons who are meeting.”
After the debate, the co-chair of LGBT for Obama, Lauren Verdich, called Obama on his cell phone.
“How can you do this?” she asked him.
“You have to understand that I’m a Christian,” he responded.
“This community is expecting you to stand beside them,” she answered.
But Obama made it clear to Verdich that he’d be sticking with his position.
Obama, in other words, began his political journey sympathetic to gay rights, but not deeply informed about them. They were not one of his core political priorities. Today, just over a decade later, he has done more for gay rights than any other US president.  In particular, the president has been a key part of landmark achievements on the freedom to marry, from the gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act to winning marriage in state houses and courtrooms.  It is now easy to envision the completion of this civil rights battle before Obama leaves office.  A confluence of good timing, a strategic and determined advocacy movement, and a president who saw with increasing clarity that the values inherent in our cause were fully in sync with his deepest values, enabled this journey.  These historic successes, on his watch and with his help, meant that LGBT rights, and marriage equality specifically, would be at the center of the legacy he’d leave behind.

 For gay rights advocates, the Obama presidency got off to an inauspicious start. He invited Rick Warren, the evangelical megachurch pastor from Southern California, to give the invocation at his inauguration. Warren had been an outspoken supporter of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that had brought marriage for gay couples to an immediate halt just two months earlier, crushing the spirit of the gay community in California and nationwide. Warren’s prominent position at the inauguration felt like a slap in the face.
Then, in June 11, 2009, the administration weighed in for the first time on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that barred the federal government from recognizing the  marriages of same-sex couples performed in a state like Massachusetts. The Justice Department issued a memo to dismiss a lawsuit challeng­ing DOMA. The lengthy document made an elaborate case that DOMA was fully constitutional and “entirely rational,” a “cautiously limited response to society’s still-evolving understanding of the institution of marriage.” It argued that DOMA doesn’t “distinguish among persons of different sexual orien­tations” but instead “limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.” It seemed like an argument the religious right used to use: that “homosexuals” weren’t being barred from marrying. They could marry someone of the opposite sex just like anyone else. I was astonished and outraged at the words of the administration that had promised to be a “fierce ally” to LGBT people. The pushback from gay leaders, bloggers, and organizations was fast and furious.
Within the White House, too, the memo created a firestorm. Obama had already gone on record stating that he opposed DOMA and supported its repeal. He made clear to his staff that he didn’t want something like this ever happening again. The Justice Department should not be making legal arguments that were at odds with his own values. From then on, every Justice Department brief related to LGBT issues was scrutinized by the White House Counsel’s office before it was filed. 
President Obama called a high-level meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House to address the administration’s approach to DOMA, as well as to LGBT equality more generally. In at­tendance were nearly all of the major players: Vice President Joe Biden; senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett; Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina; Vice President Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain; White House Counsel Greg Craig; Director of the Office of Public Engagement Tina Tchen; Tchen’s deputy and lead liaison to the LGBT community Brian Bond; and several senior attorneys from the Justice Department. It was clear that the president wasn’t happy. He wanted his team to get things in order.
And so they discussed legislative priorities: a hate crimes law, repealing the ban on open service in the military, protection from employment discrim­ination, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Driving those for­ward in a systematic way wouldn’t be easy, but at least his position was clear on each of these issues. 
What was more difficult was how to approach lawsuits challeng­ing DOMA. In his role as leader of the execu­tive branch of government, the president was responsible for faithfully executing laws on the books, and that meant defending them in court, whether or not he agreed with them. And yet he also swore an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” The question they were potentially grappling with was what to do when the two obliga­tions came into conflict. The constitutional law scholar president wanted to make sure his adminis­tration got it right. Obama decided to withstand the pressure from the LGBT community about continuing to defend DOMA in court, while the Justice Department and White House lawyers undertook a serious legal analysis.
In the meantime, he instructed his staff to do two things. First, until the analysis was complete, they’d use much less objectionable arguments in defending the law. And secondly, knowing that this would be unsat­isfying to the LGBT community and that progress on legislation would take time, he directed his staff to proceed with administrative fixes that they could make without congressional approval.
Key aides began a weekly White House meeting to identify and implement regula­tory changes that would improve the lives of LGBT people, first taking on discrimination in housing policy. Separately, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel handed the lawyers an article he’d cut out of the newspaper about a woman who was kept from her partner’s bedside in a Florida hospital as she died from an aneurysm. “Fix this,” Emanuel barked. And so they solved hospital visitation for partners too.
The White House lawyers undertook the analysis of DOMA with great care. This wasn’t to be a political effort to satisfy an important constituency, nor was it to be a policy analysis about how to repeal DOMA. They used what the lawyers nicknamed the “Sarah Palin Test”: if Sarah Palin became president, they wouldn’t want to have created a precedent she could use to stop defending laws she disagreed withlike the Affordable Care Act. The standard they gravi­tated toward was whether there were any reasonable legal arguments that could be made in court for the constitutionality of an existing law. If those arguments existed, it was their duty to defend the law or else they’d fail the “Sarah Palin Test.” 
A key question in their review was whether DOMA should be the subject of so-called “heightened scrutiny.” For laws that classified people based on race or gender, judges were required to give extra scrutiny. For laws that classified based on sexual orientation, however, no such review applied. If the new administration argued that a “heightened scrutiny” standard of review were required for laws that classified based on sexual orientation, it would be dif­ficult justifying the constitutionality of DOMA, or any other law that singled out gay or lesbian people.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry and known as the godfather of the movement, made a forceful case to the White House to apply heightened scrutinyfirst to Tina Tchen in the office of public engagement and later to Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett -- always accompanied by a strong pitch for going all the way and enunciating support for marriage. Barney Frank agreed with Evan that this development on heightened scrutiny would be a game changer.
The review of DOMA tooka year-and-a-half.Ultimately, the lawyers at Justice and the White House concluded that using heightened scrutiny was absolutely appro­priate. LGBT people were a small, discriminated-against group, and laws that classified people based on sexual orientation should be evaluated extra carefully because of the history of discrimination. In apply­ing heightened scrutiny to DOMA, they found that there were no justifiable arguments they could make for the law that would pass constitutional muster. The president re­viewed their work and concurred. DOMA was unconstitutional, and he was ready to say so.
On February 23, 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement on DOMA: “The President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.”

OOn a chilly, sunny January 21, 2013Martin Luther King Day and In­auguration DayI stood on the mall, to hear the president to offer his second inaugural address. 
So much had happened in the four years since Rick Warren had spoken at Obama’s first inauguration. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had been repealed and gays were serving openly in the military. The administration had joined gay advocates in the courtroom in arguing for DOMA to be struck down. And at long last, the president had spoken movingly to the nation of his support for the freedom to marry. The latter had been a movement victory, with the gay press pushing hard and advocates and ordinary same-sex couples alike speaking out, while quiet conversations between advocates and White House officials were simultaneously taking place. I was especially proud of a high-profile initiative I’d conceived and Freedom to Marry had driven, to include a marriage equality plank in the 2012 Democratic National Committee platform. That had put pressure on Obama to speak out before the party gathered in Charlotte in September.  In the end, while some credited Vice President Joseph Biden with forcing the president’s hand by publicly announcing support on national television, in fact the president himself had made the decision to speak of his support long before Biden’s comments, encouraged by Valerie Jarrett and others to be true to his core value of expanding civil rights.    
In the immediate aftermath of his announcement, some of the early news coverage focused on the negative reactions of a few especially vocal African American clergy, and pundits began asking if his support for marriage equality would cause him to lose the support of his African-American base, or at least cause them to stay home, in the election. But in reality, African Americans stayed with Obama, their turnout was historically high, and Obama’s words led to a dramatic shift in African-American support for marriage equality. Among younger voters, the Obama campaign saw the cause as so popular that it used targeted radio spots to differentiate the president’s position from that of his opponent.   
About two-thirds of the way through the inaugural address, the president proclaimed, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truthsthat all of us are created equalis the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” I had to pinch myself. For this presidentin his inaugural address, on Martin Luther King Dayto speak of our struggle for equality as central to the great Amer­ican trajectory of civil rights struggles was extraordinary.
Kevin Thompson, Obama’s former body man, had also come to the Mall to hear the speech. He recalled the day back in 2004 when Obama had told him that he didn’t know about Stonewall, and observed to his partner, “Well, he knows what it is now.”
Marc Solomon is National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry and has worked on marriage equality for thirteen years. This is an excerpt from his book Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of how Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—and Wonwhich will be published on November 12 by ForeEdge/University Press of New England.

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