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D.C. must have representation in Congress

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I serve on one of the most powerful elected legislative bodies in the nation. I am a member of the D.C. Council.

Whoa, hold on, I hear you say, how can that be when every law passed by the Council must go to, and may be changed by, Congress at will? And by a Congress where D.C. lacks any voting representation.

To be sure, D.C. statehood is one of the last remaining great human rights violations in the USA. Our city is entitled to full voting representation in the House and Senate and for that there can be no substitute.

Yet, in direct consequence of the congressional role, there is a widely held view that the D.C. government has little power.

On closer examination, that is far from the case.

D.C. may be the most unique political jurisdiction in the U.S. And since Home Rule was established on Dec. 24, 1973 — a 40th anniversary that went largely unnoticed — the D.C. government incorporates city, county and state functions. Thus, for example, motor vehicles, transportation and public works — functions that usually are not within the power of city/county government — are under our government.

Moreover, except for Nebraska, D.C. is the only unicameral state legislature in the U.S. And Nebraska’s single house has 49 members in contrast to D.C.’s 13. In our unicameral legislature, a law can be passed with the support of only seven votes and the signature of the mayor.

But what about this congressional review, where a D.C. law must lay over for 30 legislative days?

True enough. But how often do D.C. laws simply lay over in Congress without action or interference by them?

Almost always is the answer. Even though the heavy boot of a Congress where we have no vote is constantly hanging over the heads of District residents, Congress has used this authority only on rare occasions over the last 40 years — indeed only three times over the last 40 years — and not since 1991. In recent times, Congress has taken no action to disturb what in earlier times would have been viewed as enticing political targets — smoke-free workplaces and marriage equality come immediately to mind.

And D.C.’s congressional review is nothing like what many cities and counties must go through in order to take certain actions. In Virginia or New York, operating under what is known as the “Dillon Rule,” local government may only pass certain laws as expressly allowed by the state legislature. For example, in order for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City to gain control over the NYC public schools laws had to be introduced and passed in Albany in both houses and then signed by the governor. Mayor Fenty needed but seven Council members in D.C. to do about the same thing.

Congress also has the authority to impose restrictions on the District’s ability to raise funds, such as the congressional prohibition of a commuter tax, and override initiatives approved by District residents through referendum. But here again, the authority is increasingly not used. For example, prohibition on needle exchange and medical marijuana funding — both imposed in FY1998 — were lifted in recent years. Only the restriction on spending on abortions remains.

So too, Congress may use the District as a “laboratory” for its own initiatives that they think would be “popular back home.” Federal funding for opportunity scholarships for private schools and various actions related to charter schools are examples.

Forty years into the history of this relatively young government and we have accomplished a lot. The District’s legislature — among the most progressive in social policy in the country — also oversees one of the strongest economies in the country today. We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize.

12
Feb
2014

Bennett-Fleming for D.C. Council at-large

Nate Bennett-Fleming, gay news, Washington Blade

Nate Bennett-Fleming (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By JIMMIE LUTHULI

Many people in the D.C. LGBTQ political scene believe that we no longer need to judge candidates on LGBTQ issues because all candidates are equally supportive. I beg to differ. Not only did we see two Council members vote in opposition to marriage equality as recently as 2009, we have yet to achieve full participation of the Council in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement process. It’s true that direct opposition to equality has mostly come from politicians representing Wards 7 and 8, but the borders of D.C. span the Anacostia River.

Additionally, there are some candidates who claim to support LGBTQ issues, but lack the vision and drive to achieve real change. In the race for D.C. Council at-large, there is a candidate from Ward 8 who not only champions equality, but has the preparedness and initiative to bring about substantive change. This candidate is Nate Bennett-Fleming.

I served on the board of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club for two years and personally witnessed Nate’s unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ community. Other current and former board members concur. Bennett-Fleming earned the full endorsement of the Stein Club when he was running for Shadow Representative in both 2010 and 2012 and he was also awarded the Stein Club’s Champion of Equality Award. This year, he received the majority vote of Club members by earning 68 votes in comparison to the 51 earned by the incumbent. This outcome is truly commendable given the incumbent’s length of membership in the Club. It shows that astute LGBTQ Democrats are ready to see innovation on the D.C. Council and Bennett-Fleming is their choice in the at-large Council race.

Bennett-Fleming also earned the highest score of any at-large Council candidate in the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance rating system. This shows that he has a deep understanding of the issues that affect the LGBTQ community and he’s not vulnerable to the misconception that the struggle is over because we’ve achieved marriage equality.

Nate has concrete solutions to pressing issues like transgender unemployment and smoking cessation among HIV-positive DC residents. In addition to connecting more transgender people with employment opportunities in D.C. government, Bennett-Fleming would help them become entrepreneurs. Being the owner of your own business can assist marginalized people in overcoming employment discrimination.

With regard to tobacco, Bennett-Fleming acknowledges in his Stein Club questionnaire that smoking can affect HIV-positive residents disproportionately and more severely. Therefore, he would push for initiatives designed to curb smoking rates specifically among HIV-positive D.C. residents.

The quest for LGBTQ equality in D.C. is not over and all candidates are not the same.  We need an advocate for our concerns who can navigate D.C.’s political scene from Anacostia to Dupont Circle.

Moreover, this individual must be committed to achieving tangible outcomes and not just offering up lip service. Nate Bennett-Fleming was endorsed by the Washington Post because it saw more promise in him than in any other candidate.

Let’s show that we support progress and productivity by casting our vote for Nate Bennett-Fleming on April 1 or during early voting.

Jimmie Luthuli is the immediate past secretary of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. 

27
Mar
2014

Alston House, Code for Progress help trans woman thrive

Lateefah Williams, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

While we, as a society, have made great progress toward equality for LGBT people, we still have a ways to go. This is particularly evident when engaging with young LGBT people who have been rejected by their families, peers or communities as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Casidy Henderson, 23, is a transgender District resident who immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone when she was seven years old. She has been living as a woman for two and a half years and has been on hormones for 10 months. In her young life, she has been repeatedly ostracized and tormented as a result of her sexual orientation and gender identity.

Casidy is a promising young woman who could have easily fallen through the cracks, if not for the support from several nonprofit organizations that work tirelessly to improve lives and ensure that the individuals that they work with leave their programs with the skills to thrive.

The Wanda Alston Foundation, which operates the Wanda Alston House, is one of those programs. (Full disclosure: I serve on the board of the Wanda Alston Foundation.) The Wanda Alston House provides transitional housing to homeless LGBTQ youth.  Casidy became homeless after being put out of her Southwest Virginia Christian boarding school due to her sexual orientation. At the time, Casidy was still living as a young man.  Due to her mannerisms, she was perceived to be gay and was harassed by the other students.

“Kids would pee on my pillowcase. They would beat me up in the back of the school. People would put bleach in my drinks and call me derogatory names,” Cassidy said. “This happened every day because I ate, slept, went to school and went to church with them. I couldn’t reach out to staff at school because I was gay. They would turn a blind eye when the boys beat me up or dragged me down the staircase.” Cassidy says she was eventually asked to leave the school because her Facebook status said that she was gay.

“I had to explain the situation to my family of why I was kicked out and that I was gay. It was obvious because I was effeminate, but it was the first time I said it,” she said.  Her family had never been supportive of her sexual orientation and, throughout her childhood, some of her relatives were verbally and physically abusive. The boarding school gave Casidy a one-way bus ticket to D.C., where she stayed with her uncle for four months. After he put her out, she stayed with friends for a few more months. She found out about the Wanda Alston House from a Transgender Health Empowerment employee who was handing out fliers and condoms outside of the Safeway on Benning Road, N.E.

“I found out about the Wanda Alston House, filled out an application, and moved in three days later,” Casidy said. She stayed at the Wanda Alston House for 18 months. The house operates as a home with a curfew, rules and chores. “I was free to be myself. I had other peers who were trans. The whole LGBT community was in the house. It’s really not a shelter. It’s a three-story house with a deck. We had a therapist who came in once a week. We would discuss issues and problems. We were a team. That really helped me. It nurtured me spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. Being in the house was a place for me to heal myself. Being in that safe place was everything for me. I never before had issues that could be addressed and had a whole team work on it.”

While in the house, Cassidy received her GED and scored 200 points shy of a perfect score. After leaving the house, she found an apartment and, simultaneously, worked as a housekeeper in a hotel and as an intern with the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC) summer initiative.

Her work with CYITC gave her experience in advocacy and social justice, which is why she jumped at the opportunity to become a fellow with Code for Progress, whose goal is to “train and support new coders who can bring historically under-represented perspectives to the tech industry.”

In April, Casidy was one of 12 people who began the one-year program. According to program descriptions, the “curriculum will focus on contemporary coding techniques, human-centered database programming and application development” for 40 hours a week during the 16-week training residency. The program includes mentorship, a stipend, and post graduation career support.

“When I heard about Code for Progress, I was like, I know how to advocate for justice, but I was lacking the technical skills. Now I can program computers, develop apps, create websites, create databases and set them up. I’m empowered now and it’s only been a month that I’ve learned these things. We have an awesome professor. She simplifies things and brings so much to the table.”

As part of the fellowship, Casidy wants to create an app that will aggregate all available LGBT resources within a community. “I’m well informed about different issues and Code for Progress is giving me a vital piece of the puzzle to make me a resource for my community,” she said. “If all these agencies are speaking as one huge body and sharing info, change is going to happen. If this app is successful, I want to expand it to different cities.”

Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at lateefah_williams@msn.com or follow her @lateefahwms.

16
May
2014

‘AIDS Walk’ is now ‘Walk to End HIV’

AIDS Walk 2013, Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

After a number of years, Whitman-Walker Clinic morphed into Whitman-Walker Health. It changed from being a small gay men’s health clinic often running on a shoestring budget to a thriving health center serving the entire community. That shouldn’t be construed to mean that Whitman-Walker has forgotten its roots because it hasn’t. But the needs of the LGBT community have changed along with Whitman-Walker.

That change is a big reason for changing the name of “AIDS Walk” to “Walk to End HIV.” Last week the D.C. government released its report on HIV/AIDS in the District and while we still have infections at epidemic numbers, the incidence of new infections continues to go down. With the right care people with AIDS can live long productive lives and we have it in our sights to end new infections. Just after Whitman-Walker made its announcement of the “Walk to End HIV,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced his goal to end new HIV infections in New York by 2020.

Many of us remember our first encounter with Whitman Walker. For me it was when a friend was diagnosed with AIDS and I called the clinic for help. Those were the days when many of us got up each morning and checked the obituary notices first saying a silent prayer we wouldn’t see another friend’s name. It was a time when going to funerals of young men seemed to be the norm and name after name got crossed off in our address books. It was a time when the majority of the money for the Clinic had to come from private donations. With others I joined the Clinic’s Development Committee and we pleaded with friends to attend benefits and dig deeper into their pockets, which they did. Many of the donations were made in memory of a friend or loved one who died of AIDS.

Thankfully things have changed and today the rate of HIV infections is going down. In the District, Mayor Vincent Gray has had success in his vision and strategy for bringing down the infection rate and Whitman-Walker Health has been a major partner in that effort.

In announcing the name change, Don Blanchon, executive director of WWH said, “This name change reflects a cataclysmic shift to what HIV is today — a chronic, manageable disease.”

Dr. Raymond Martins, chief medical officer of WWH added, “When we say that we are walking to end HIV, this is not just a pipe dream. Even without a cure or vaccine, through testing, early detection, and a comprehensive care plan, we can create an AIDS-free city and hopefully be moving towards ending HIV. We have the tools and we know how to do it. Now we need everyone’s participation and support to make it a reality.”

This is an achievable goal and the incredible staff at WWH, with the help of a motivated community, will make it happen. Under the leadership of Blanchon, WWH has seen a stunning turnaround of its own. When Blanchon came to Whitman-Walker in 2006, the clinic was in dire financial trouble. Founded in 1978 as a nonprofit LGBT community health clinic it soon became a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s and ‘90s as the AIDS epidemic was at its height. But as the 21st century arrived there was continuing evidence that the clinic could not continue on the same path or it would eventually have to close its doors. Blanchon led a turnaround that saw WWC become WWH and go from being millions in the red to functioning in the black in just five years. He and his staff have built a health center for the future that will always be here to care for clients.

Now we can all help as WWH continues to lead the nation in moving to end new HIV infections. This year, the “Walk to End HIV,” formerly AIDS Walk Washington, will take place on Oct. 25 and as in previous years will begin and end at Freedom Plaza (Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th St., N.W.). Funds raised benefit the HIV programs and services of Whitman-Walker Health along with more than 20 community partners that provide critical services in and around the D.C. area. To get more information and participate in the walk, and help to reach the goal of raising $1 million and ending new HIV infections in the District, visit walktoendhiv.org.

09
Jul
2014

Bipartisanship a lost cause in today’s politics

Joint Session of Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Barack Obama, bipartisanship

So many seats in the House have been gerrymandered to ensure one or the other party will win them that there is less need to compromise. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Wikipedia says “Bipartisanship is a political situation, usually in the context of a two-party system, in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise.” There are many politicians that speak of trying to be bipartisan and to govern in that way. But two distinct visions of what that really means came to the forefront last week with the inauguration of Terry McAuliffe as governor of Virginia and Gov. Chris Christie’s troubles in New Jersey. They have both spoken about working across the aisle to solve problems, but it seems what they actually do is quite different.

Democrat McAuliffe ran a campaign on the promise that he would try to work across party lines to find common ground with the Republican members of the legislature. He touted his past efforts with former Gov. Bob McDonnell on a transportation bill and how he worked behind the scenes to get that passed.

During his campaign and at his inauguration he spoke passionately about his own beliefs and was clear in saying that working across party lines would in no way cause him to abandon his principles. He is a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose and to have control over her own healthcare decisions; and of civil and human rights for the LGBT community. Those principles will clearly put him at odds with many members of the legislature. But he has stated many times that these differences won’t preclude him from working with those who have different ideologies to accomplish needed reforms on a host of other issues. He believes that if people respect their differences they can work together. His cabinet appointments have been inclusive of both parties and diverse in whom is represented. There can be many attacks on McAuliffe for different things but he has a history or working with people of different political persuasions and beliefs. McAuliffe is the type of politician who doesn’t hold grudges and is a businessman who understands the need for accommodation.

Then there is New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie. He also speaks of working across the aisle in a bipartisan way and stood tall with President Obama when trying to get all the federal aid he could for New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. But clearly Christie’s brand of politics is much more confrontational than that of McAuliffe. Christie is an in-your-face politician who believes that waving his finger in the face of, and demeaning constituents who disagree with him, is acceptable behavior. He believes fighting with a former Democratic governor and then taking retribution by taking away his security detail when he doesn’t get what he wants is a way to work across party lines in a bipartisan way. To Christie’s credit it does appear that earning his ire and retribution is occasionally a non-partisan event.

The entire George Washington Bridge traffic fiasco, which some are calling “Bridgegate,” appears to follow a pattern of bullying to get his way and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has suggested that rather than it being a grudge against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee it was retribution against a Democratic legislator who was trying to hold up his judicial nominations. That idea actually makes more sense but it also shows how Christie works against his own statements of wanting to work across the aisle and move toward governing in a bipartisan way.

True bipartisanship requires some respect for your opposition. It requires that you are willing to disagree but to do it agreeably. It requires the kind of relationship that President Ronald Reagan had with Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. They didn’t always solve the issues but they had the ability to debate an issue, look for possible compromise and then move on respectfully to the next issue.

Bipartisanship seems to be a lost cause in today’s political climate especially at the federal level. There is a bigger reason for it to work on the state level as state governments need to balance their budgets while the federal government doesn’t. Another reason may be that today so many seats in the House of Representatives have been gerrymandered to ensure one or the other party will win them that there is less need to compromise.

That is a sad state of affairs for the nation.

15
Jan
2014

Poking the homophobic beehive in Botswana

University of Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Botswana (Photo public domain)

By KATLEGO K KOL-KES

 

With Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being vocal with their homophobia, it seems University of Botswana students have felt left out of the action. The newly formed LGBT society, UB-LEGABI has subsequently threatened politicians who would not support LGBT issues. This is a drastic move in a country with an antiquated colonial anti-sodomy law. This new campaign has poked the proverbial homophobic beehive on a national level, especially as it’s an election year.

Last year, I debated the chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana on national radio after it employed similar bullying tactics. They warned politicians that it was the EFB’s duty to protect the moral fiber of the “Christian community,” therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call “gay rights.” Needless to say, the EFB chair’s citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don’t pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new “gay” headline, including a rumoured bill to register and imprison suspected homosexuals and sex workers to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. What the UB-LEGABI committee has done with this tirade is enable the homophobes rather than boost any LGBT rights defences. They’ve declared war before understanding the battlegrounds.

Reading through the Facebook responses to the article published in the tabloid newspaper, The Voice, the roots of the homophobic comments are evident: religious bias, masculine insecurity and uninformed notions of homosexuality.

The (unedited) comments included statements like: “wats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?”; “why must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America…”; “B4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.” Some even blame gays for the lack of rain in southern Botswana, a country that is 80 percent desert.

The greatest shock comes when you read comments calling presidents like Robert Mugabe, Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni to Botswana to instill laws like Uganda’s recent measure. Museveni’s declaration that the west is promoting homosexuality in Africa goes to show how uninformed, and religiously blinded, some of our leaders are.

This begs the questions: Is Western intervention in internal affairs worsening the situation? Are U.S. warnings to cut off aid simply making life more laborious for LGBT activists in these countries?

The homophobes fail to understand the far-reaching effects of such legislation as Museveni’s because of their obsession with the act of gay sex. Unfortunately, lesbians are sidelined in the conversation on homosexual acts. Some comments referred to two bearded men kissing, and “how can a man sweat to provide for another man?”

Statements such as these prove that the nation is in dire need of education on the nature of homosexuality before expecting citizens to support threats to de-campaign people they see as their protectors. The plethora of closed-minded comments that acknowledge homosexuality slows population growth, or that this will mark Jesus’ cue to return has made it seem, to the homophobes in Botswana, that they are not alone nor wrong for such ignorant thoughts.

The hive was poked, but of the 467 comments fewer than 10 were in defense of LGBT rights. There isn’t a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng’s that: “There are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.” We must put facts before fury.

What’s been made evident is that we’re growing too impatient with the community we want to “accept” us. National acknowledgement of LGBT existence would suffice because it sets enough of a precedent for educating the laymen. It seems LGBT movements around the world have forgotten the baby steps that have led to U.S. victories over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it’s as important as making grand threats against politicians in an election year. Smoke works better on bees than sticks and stones.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is a writer and activist based in Gaborone, Botswana. She has recently begun covering Botswana LGBT life and has contributed to Afropunk’s Gender Bent blog. Follow her on Twitter.

04
Mar
2014

Lengthy lame duck period is lame

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade, lame duck

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In last week’s Democratic primary election, several challengers defeated incumbents. Some attribute the victories to the election being held in April rather than later in the year, among other factors. Those who assert this viewpoint are seeking excuses, as the mayoral and Council races were all won by double-digit percentages, so it is highly unlikely that the timing of the races impacted the results.

Sure, it is possible that the winning percentages may not have been as great if the primary was held later in the year, but the belief that it would have impacted the outcome of some of the races is wishful thinking by those who are unhappy with the results.

More than likely, if the primary was held later, some of the candidates may have waited longer to enter the race, so there is no guarantee that there would have been a longer campaign period. The main benefit that may have slightly shifted the winning percentages would have been the ability to campaign in the spring, rather than in the winter. That said, there is no evidence that the low turnout in the primary is the result of the election’s timing. There was plenty of information about the election in the media. Rather, it is more plausible that the electorate willingly chose not to participate for a multitude of reasons.

Nevertheless, in future elections, the primary should be held closer to the general election. By holding the primary in April, incumbents who were defeated have a nine-month lame duck period. That is simply too long and can potentially be disruptive to the District accomplishing its goals during this time. We now have a lame duck mayor presenting a budget to the D.C. Council. That’s quite an incentive for Council members to disregard some of the priorities that the mayor presents. Mayor Gray simply does not have the same power post-election as he did prior to the election. It also gives the mayor almost a year to implement changes as he sees fit, with no regard for how the electorate might react.

In addition, we have lame duck Council members in Wards 1 and 6. It will not have an impact in Ward 6 since Council member Tommy Wells’ chosen successor, Charles Allen, prevailed in the Democratic primary after Wells chose not to seek re-election to his Council seat to run for mayor. Thus, the transition between Wells and Allen will be seamless and I do not believe that Ward 6 residents will disregard Wells during the lame duck period. It may, however, impact Wells’ ability to negotiate with his Council colleagues.

In Ward 1, where Brianne Nadeau defeated Jim Graham in his Council re-election bid, Graham’s lame duck status may have more of an impact. Though Graham publicly pledged to ensure that there is a smooth transition between him and Nadeau, constituent services may be murky over the next nine months. Graham is highly regarded in the area of constituent services, but after a contentious race, there may be a portion of the electorate that is confused about whom to contact in constituent service matters. Highly engaged voters may understand that Graham is still the Council member for the next nine months, but lesser engaged residents, who often are the ones that need the most assistance, may not understand. There also is not much incentive to introduce legislation or to build coalitions with colleagues over legislative or budget battles.

Hence, the nine-month lame duck period will result in a lengthy timeframe in which some elected officials do not feel beholden to other legislators or to the voters. In reality, the negative impact will probably be limited because all three lame duck elected officials—Mayor Vincent Gray and Council members Jim Graham and Tommy Wells—have too much integrity and care too much about their legacies to not work hard until their last day in office. All the same, to be on the safe side, the primary date should be moved back in future elections, so we never have to deal with a lengthy lame duck period again.

Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political operative and LGBT rights advocate. Reach her at lateefah_williams@msn.com or follow her @lateefahwms.

10
Apr
2014

‘Tell Me More’ — not less!

Michel Martin, NPR, Tell Me More, gay news, Washington Blade

Michel Martin of NPR’s ‘Tell Me More.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Few things in life, at their best, are more lively or intimate than radio. Whether we’re listening from a car or a Smart Phone, a compelling program makes us feel as if we’re part of not only an informative, but a personal conversation. We know our beloved shows have listeners nationwide. Yet, we take it personally when our fave programs go off the air. That’s how it’s been with me since I heard that the NPR show “Tell Me More,” a program designed to appeal to people of color, will end on Aug. 1.

Over the seven years since the show’s been on the air, I’ve tuned in regularly to the program.  Sometimes, I confess, I’ve tossed work aside to catch a segment that pricked up my ears. As I write this, I stop, to listen to author Alex Tizon talk about his memoir, “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.”

I, a white woman, am upset over the cancellation of “Tell Me More,” one of a very few news outlets that gives voice to people of color, for several reasons. First, I do not live (nor would want to live) in a world with only people like myself. Fortunately, only about half of children under five are white, and by 2042 the majority of people in the United States will be people of color, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, too frequently, in much of the media you wouldn’t know this. We see people of color as athletes and musicians. But how often are the voices or non-stereotypical images of people of color featured on news or entertainment programs? I’ll miss hearing such voices on “Tell Me More.”

Sometimes, diversity comes across as a boring PSA ad or “educational.” That’s not the case with “Tell Me More.”  Perhaps, because of this, I learn something from nearly every show.  I had little idea until I listened today to Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who emigrated as a child from the Philippines to the United States, speak with the program’s host’s Michel Martin, of the isolation that many Asian men experience in this country.

“Television and movies were our biggest teachers,” Tizon told Martin. “Asian men … were either small, ineffective or they were evil. And those messages were deeply, deeply embedded in me for many years.”

Because I’m queer and legally blind, I sometimes feel as if I’m not on the media’s radar screen. Throughout its tenure, “Tell Me More” has given listeners the perspectives of many “outsiders” – from people with disabilities to LGBT couples, parents, actors, writers and activists. Sometimes the issues being reported or discussed are quite serious, such as anti-gay laws in this country or the violation of the civil rights of LGBT people in Uganda. Martin interviewed both the Ugandan LGBT activist Frank Mugisha and the American evangelical leader Scott Lively, who defended Uganda’s parliament. While Lively’s anti-LGBT views are reprehensible, I was glad that the show informed listeners of the situation for LGBT people in Uganda and of Lively’s views.

Lately, I’ve been binge-watching “Orange is the New Black.” Recently, it was fun to hear transgender activist and actress Laverne Cox, who plays transgender prisoner Sophia Burset on “Orange,” dish about her favorite music with Martin. “That song is a great reminder that the men who come into my life who are trouble, they show me right away,” Cox said of Taylor Swift’s song “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

NPR officials cited budget deficits as the reason for cancelling “Tell Me More.”  “We’re trying to make the most of the resources that we have and ensure that we keep radio healthy,” said NPR executive vice president and chief content officer Kinsey Wilson.

I understand about budgets.  But I hope the spirit of “Tell Me More” will remain on the airwaves. If not, radio will be the worse for it.

11
Jun
2014

Change is coming to homoerotic world of NFL

Kate Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Kate Clinton is a humorist who has entertained LGBT audiences for 30 years.

The Super Bowl High Holy Days approach, signaling the end of the Concussion Season. Unless you’ve been under a rock, and I say that with some envy, you know the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will take place in Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, unless there’s another “traffic study” from Gov. Conehead. The Jets and the Giants RSVPed their regrets weeks ago. Much has been made of Colorado and California, two states with legalized marijuana, thus The Stoner Bowl.

We’ve seen the effects on tennis players at the Australian Open of whatever is the polar opposite of the polar vortex: passing out, cramping, vomiting, dehydration, Sharapova’s barks at only a raspy .02 decibels. But apparently the Aussie organizers were unable to see the signs and ordered play to continue. I have already ordered one of those neat ice vests for the summer!  We can only hope that the Polar Vortex Redux that is again sitting over the Northeast will be gone by Super Bowl game day.

But 2013 saw a remarkable thaw in the hard-packed perma-frost of homophobia in sports. What was once a glacial pace of change is moving as fast as actual glaciers are moving now. Organizers and fans can see the effects.  According to OutSports, in 2013, 77 athletes came out in their sports. Not in sad memoirs 40 years later. LGBT organizing through the Sports Projects Collaboration at NCLR and straight allies organizing through campaigns like “You Can Play,” to name just two, make playing out less of a career death wish.

Football is one of the last bastions of homophobia in sports. It is also one of the most brute, blunt, homoerotic of sports. Especially if you are watching on a friend’s 120-inch plasma flat-paneled TV. Cup-less is in. I’ve always thought players wear facemasks so they can’t kiss. But change is happening in the NFL, even if it can only be gauged by the resistance to it. Stories of locker room bullying, columns rationalizing those reigns of terror and harassment of straight players who speak out in support of LGBT causes are yellow flag infractions in the monolith of maleness.

As more and more players come out during their playing careers, I look forward to the coverage. Sports commentators pride themselves on knowing what a player is thinking just by looking at them. They are sports clairvoyants.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter, Jim? He’s thinking he’s got to make the putt, to make the cut, so he has a chance at the prize money, which he desperately needs for an operation for his four-year-old.” If he is thinking that, he will not make the putt. Why not sign up for Affordable Health Care?

But what if the golfer is an out-and-proud gay man? The sportscaster is a bit wary, perhaps clueless.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter?” He pauses, looks worriedly to Jim,  “Is ‘putter’ OK?” Jim nods. He continues, “He’s thinking, ‘Look at the color of these shoes! They looked fine at the hotel. They totally fight with the putting green!’” I can’t wait.

After the Stoner Bowl confetti settles, and the Metlife zeppelin leaking NJ hot air pot vape, heads back to its mooring, the coverage turns to the Olympic Games in Sochi with Billie Jean King and other gay athletes leading the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremonies. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Putin has assured LGBT athletes they can have a safe, relaxed time if they don’t talk to the children. All bets are off post-Olympics. Again the resistance matches the change we make.

29
Jan
2014

Brianne Nadeau for Ward One Council

Brianne Nadeau, Ward One, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Brianne K. Nadeau (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

By BARBARA HELMICK

As a resident of Ward One for close to 35 years and as a political activist since 1971, a public endorsement is something I take very seriously. I thought long and hard about this year’s Council race and feel confident the right choice for Ward One Council is Brianne Nadeau.

Coming to D.C. and coming out coincided for me in the late 1970s. How exciting to stumble upon a street fair that turned out to be Gay Pride, and how shocking to see standing on a crate speaking to the crowd, the mayor! It was a time of ‘firsts’ – such things as the first presidential candidate to use the phrase ‘gays and lesbians’ in his stump speeches in 1984 was huge; Jesse Jackson went on to win nearly 20 percent of the popular vote.

In the late 1980s, the Gertrude Stein Club encouraged members to run for ANC positions to increase our visibility and political clout. It was a great strategy so I took up the call and served two terms in Adams Morgan. And by 1998, it indeed was a critical milestone for our community to elect an out gay Democratic man to the D.C. Council.

I share all this to show how far we have come, how strong our movement is and how now it is important to want more than just a seat at the table. The Victory Fund does not share their reasons for sitting out endorsements; it is notable that it has not endorsed Jim Graham this time.

Brianne Nadeau is a strong ally and when on the Council intends to be a champion. Her stunning near endorsement by the Stein Club, garnering more votes than incumbent Graham, demonstrates her passion to represent us is clear. She has garnered an impressive number of endorsements from community groups, local newspapers, the Washington Post, current and former Council members. She can win.

As an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner she established a record of collaboration with community organizations. Brianne’s priorities are strengthening our schools and the students, specifically LGBTQ students through partnerships with organizations like SMYAL to foster and support the next generation of LGBT academics and leaders. She has a record of supporting small businesses, increasing affordable housing and public safety — all issues that are important to our community. In candidate forums she demonstrates her no-nonsense approach to politics and her studied grasp of issues key to our community and our city.

Brianne will bring a fresh new energy that the Council disparately needs. Graham’s own hesitation to run, setting up an odd exploratory committee last year was a strong signal that it was time for change. Sadly, he is plagued by scandal; he is only the second Council member in history to be reprimanded by his colleagues (by a vote of 11-2).

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to decide between backing a civil rights activist or go with someone new. When Jim first ran, he challenged Frank Smith who in the early 1960s registered voters in some of the most dangerous counties in Mississippi. He also lived in tents with Mississippi sharecroppers who had been evicted from their homes when they requested a pay raise; they were targets of violence yet persevered and established one of the few black cooperative communities in Mississippi — Strike City.

When Jim challenged Frank Smith, he often drawled that 16 years was a long time to serve. Maybe too long. I thought Jim was right then and, now that Jim has served 16 years, I think it is apt today. Sometimes after so long, some politicians become more of the system than of themselves.

Finally, I am so super pumped to support an out feminist! Brianne proudly displays her endorsements from the Women’s Campaign Fund and Emily’s List.

From a black Civil Rights activist, to a gay rights activist, to a feminist leader – this is a great arc of progressive history. I encourage you to vote for Brianne Nadeau in the April 1 primary.

Barbara Helmick is a former ANC commissioner representing Adams Morgan, a former Democratic State Committee Ward One representative, one of the longest continuous members of the Stein Democratic Club and a community organizer.

20
Mar
2014