Why can’t we ever stop talking about Russia?
I’m not saying there’s a direct connection. But it is weird.
If you followed politics anytime between 2013–2015, you are certainly aware of the preponderance of stories surrounding LGBTQ rights and the Russian government’s hostility toward them. From the 2013 “gay propaganda law” to the controversies surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to the many stories about American anti-LGBTQ activists’ acting in concert with Russian activists in order to strategize around shared concerns, there was a three year period of time where just about any domestic story that popped up about the Eurasian nation or its President, Vladimir Putin, somehow involved LGBTQ rights, either in part or in full. Firsthand stories about the frightening state of being LGBTQ in Putin’s Russia were everywhere at the time (see here and here and here and here and here and here). The outsized focus sort of came out of nowhere.
For those of us who did follow this stuff so closely (and especially for those of us who also watch The Americans), it was almost surreal to then find Russia a daily talking point throughout the 2016 election. And of course now, Russia is in the news in an even bigger way, as the pivot point that’s turning a growing crop of concerns about the nascent Trump administration into a tempest of potential scandal:
Back in 2013, there was a massive blowup about the Miss Universe pageant, which he then owned being hosted in Moscow. LGBTQ rights activists were outraged at the choice and called for the pageant to be moved. But not only did the pageant stay in Moscow, but the then-reality TV host, now-POTUS publicly (and now infamously) wondered if he could become best buds with President Putin while in the capital city.
At this same time, Trump also told out gay newsman Thomas Roberts that the two do indeed have a relationship.
At the very least, isn’t it strange? A man who was known only as an entertainer and birth certificate hunter, reaching out in a truly bizarre way to a world leader who had backed draconian anti-LGBTQ laws in his nation, now shocking the nation by becoming the President of the United States under a thick and growing cloud of suspicion that this same world leader and his affiliates were somehow involved in the outcome. It’s one of those things that I probably wouldn't put into a novel out of fear of implausibility.
But while the whole thing is bizarre to just about everyone, for LGBTQ activists, it’s on another level. The period of time when LGBTQ rights dominated the Russian conversation here at home neatly abuts the time when the Russian conversation pivoted toward the election, and there are so many coincidences between them. Back then, we were always talking about the anti-LGBTQ activists who were making odd and suspect trips to visit Kremlin officials, and now this same crop of activists is simply over the moon about the election outcome. Back then, we were talking about Russian propaganda laws at a time when our own domestic conversation was largely about marriage equality, and now our domestic LGBTQ conversation has heavily shifted toward our own matters of expression and representation in the public square. Back then, some of President Obama’s allies and donors faced sanctions because of support for LGBTQ rights, and now we wake up to daily stories about potential meddling in an election that many saw as a referendum to build on or upend President Obama’s legacy.
Oh, and one through-line connecting then and now? Donald J. Trump. The friendship for which Trump once longed in a tweet has only seemed to grow in the subsequent years:
Again, I’m not saying there’s a direct connection linking all this mess. But it is weird.
If Jared and Ivanka support us, they need to show the work
Jared and Ivanka: If you support us, show the work
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both of whom are universally seen as influential figures in the President of the United State’s life and decision-making, are getting much credit in the press for their supposed role in killing a proposed Executive Order that would’ve reversed LGBT protections put in place by the Obama administration. And that’s good. Great, even. But it’s also not enough to earn praise.
Let me start by saying I do believe that the president’s daughter and her husband, now a special advisor to the president, are personally pro-LGBT. There are multiple sources claiming them to be. They both come from lines of work, fashion, and media that tend to feature outsized support for the LGBT community. Plus Kushner, a lifelong Democrat, was involved in the Human Rights Campaign’s “Americans For Marriage Equality” campaign. Reasonable assumption, as well as anecdotes from acquaintances who know them, tell me they are most likely with us on most, if not all, LGBT rights.
That said, I am not willing to applaud them as LGBT rights supporters unless and until they take actual public stands in support of actual LGBT rights.
Because let’s be clear: Simply stopping a less-than-LGBT-friendly team from rolling back an Obama era policy is not what constitutes an ally in the year 2017. The rules of support have exceeded that low bar.
There was a time in history when we applauded a public figure for standing against a proposed amendment banning marriage equality or using words like “tolerance” in association with our rights. That ship has sailed. Sunken, even. Nowadays, it’s not enough to just stand against a bad idea—you have to tell us what you’re for. A supporter doesn’t just stop a bad needle from popping a good bubble—a supporter moves the needle even further down the still uncharted path toward progress.
When President Trump appears in the Oval Office with his team, that team includes Mike Pence, one of the most anti-LGBT cogressmen and governors of the 21st century, and now Vice President of the United States. That team also includes Steve Bannon, who gave an award to the star of Duck Dynasty for doing nothing more than making anti-LGBT comments. That team includes Reince Priebus, who used his time as head of the RNC to keep the party publicly opposed to LGBT rights. The team that surrounds this president, who himself stands opposed to marriage equality and other LGBTS rights, is a team that has never shied away from public statements in opposition to basic fairness for LGBT Americans.
Jared and Ivanka are also key members of the team. If they want the glowing press and praise that comes from being the LGBT supporters on this team, then they must act like LGBT supporters.
We are not to be whispered about behind the scenes. Our rights, so fundamental to the previous administration’s goals, are not political footballs, and the team that thinks they are doesn’t get to score points for simply not fumbling the ball. We are not in a place in our history where we are going to pretend that marginalizing us is the default position and that anyone who dares to show basic decency deserves outsized praise. We have fought too hard and we have won too much. We are not diminishing our worth, nor are we diminishing the criteria for calling oneself a true ally.
With a team like the Trumps, there are surely going to be countless opportunities for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to stand up and act like true supporters. I, for one, am 100% willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and to applaud them when they have the principled fortitude to speak up and speak out against bad ideas.
I am not, however, willing to grade on a curve. After all, these two worked to get President Trump into office despite the anti-LGBT judges he promised to nominate, the anti-LGBT figures he promised to appoint, and the anti-LGBT ideas he considers good for America. To counter all that, we are going to need some bona fide positive statements from Ivanka and Jared, not just some behind-the-scenes pleas for base-level decency.
In collegiate LGBTQ debate, Trump SCOTUS pick defended discrimination
In the mid-1980s, the United States military had yet to even enact its discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, operating instead under an even more sweeping ban on openly LGBTQ soldiers whether they were silent or not. As they usually are on hot topics of the day, university students across this nation were embroiled in debate as to whether or not military recruiters should be allowed on their campuses, since the armed forces’ hiring practices were in violation of many of these schools’ own nondiscrimination policies.
Columbia University was one such school. In fact, the debate was so much on the minds of students that the Columbia Spectator, in the 1986 edition of its annual questionnaire for prospective student senators, put the question of military recruitment at the top of its list. The paper asked each of the senate candidates, quite simply:
A fair and straightforward question. And since the discrimination was so obvious, six of the candidates were quick to note it in their answers. For instance, one said:
Another student thought:
A third chimed in with:
And a fourth:
And there was this one:
Even the one that was a little more sympathetic to a discriminatory military still noted that there was indeed exclusion going on:
Because let’s be clear: There was crude exclusion going on. By the time Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed at the end of 2010, a wide majority of Americans had come to realize that even that Clinton era compromise was discriminatory. Keep in mind that this 1986 question predates even that! These students were talking about a government institution that told their LGBTQ friends they were born as unqualified Americans simply because they were born as they are. These students, who were all seeking student office, were right to use their free expression to speak out against their tuition dollars supporting this recruitment.
But there was a seventh young candidate for student senate, a young man named Neil, who also answered that 1986 survey. And when Neil did, he broke rank from all of the other six classmates seeking the student senator position, giving a long and convoluted answer that made no reference to the people at the center of the plight, instead focusing on “chosen lifestyles” and the apparent “free speech” of a government institution against its citizens:
“Free speech,” I will remind you, applies to governments shutting down their citizens from speaking. Columbia University was and is a private university that does indeed make all kinds of determinations on who can utilize space. Being a university, Columbia surely did and does offer venues to all kinds of groups, from all kinds of points of view---even controversial ones. And that’s great. But freedom also allows every private university to enact a nondiscrimination policy, and it allows for students to ensure that their university is acting in compliance. The politically active young man who answered this question in a way so dissimilar from the others is sidestepping the actual question at hand in order to raise points that have little application to the matter.
But young people grow up. And when they do, they move into careers. And sometimes, those careers lead them to new choices. New decisions. New judgements.
For instance, that career might ask this same, now-grown man to consider whether a for-profit company has the right to express itself against laws that the company simply doesn’t like. And Neil, now a circuit court judge, might once again side with religious-based limitation rather than fair enactment of fair policy:
Or Neil might take up writing, penning a piece for a conservative outlet where he argues that minority groups, like those suffering under the weight of a hefty military ban, have no options in the courtroom to remedy their poor treatment:
“The Left’s alliance with trial lawyers and its dependence on constitutional litigation to achieve its social goals risks political atrophy. Liberals may win a victory on gay marriage when preaching to the choir before like-minded judges in Massachusetts. But in failing to reach out and persuade the public generally, they invite exactly the sort of backlash we saw in November [of 2004] when gay marriage was rejected in all eleven states where it was on the ballot.
Read more at: National Review Online
In fact, Neil’s career in the law might head so decidedly in one direction that experts in that chosen field note how closely his record aligns with one of the field’s most notoriously anti-LGBTQ figures:
And it’s possible that this now-grown Neil, who so closely mirrors Antonin Scalia, will then take these views and turn them into a lifetime appointment—on the United States Supreme Court:
So when considering such a big job that could affect the lives of LGBTQ people for decades to come, it’s important to consider whatever record we can find. Even his record from 1986:
Trump lost popularity battle; signing FADA will lose him the war
Donald J. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million. He loves to frame his electoral victory as an “historic landslide,” but the popular vote number is the one history will most remember. Hillary Clinton, the first woman on a general election major party ticket, received more votes than any non-president in history. Only President Obama, and only in 2008, earned more.
Some Trump supporters like to dismiss this inconvenient fact with a line about those voters all living in California and New York, as if Golden and Empire State residents are somehow less deserving of a say on election day. These critics get away with this line of thinking because our Electoral College system is what it is. However, no amount of spinning or hiding behind this uniquely American way of letting multiple popular vote runners-up become president will change that fact that more American citizens would prefer to see Hillary Clinton sitting in the Oval Office than they would Donald Trump. That is a fact. It will not change.
Let me also remind you that New York and California, while dismissed and even mocked by these newfound fans of the Electoral College, are highly influential power centers where many major companies make their biggest decisions, and from where much media is written, produced, and transmitted. This is also true of several major U.S. cities in other states (e.g. Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Austin) where the Democratic candidate dominated. While this great nation is filled with great companies, it’s not a controversial statement to say that the most recognized national brands are largely headquartered in our largest cities—and Trump lost most all of them (and by a large margin in most cases).
Which brings me to the First Amendment Defense Act, which, like most of the other “religious freedom” bills that anti-LGBTQ activists have proposed since marriage equality became the law of the land, would grant business owners a license to discriminate for no greater reason than a customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Over the years, I've had much to say about so-called “religious freedom” bills, including this one. For the purpose of this post, I don’t want to dwell on the obvious awfulness of this, a law that would nationalize the state-by-state discrimination that social conservatives have tried to enact over the past three years. NBC Out has a great post on the subject for those wanting more background on FADA’s considerable dangers.
I instead want to warn the incoming Trump administration, which is championing FADA, of the unprecedented wave of rejection that will greet the new president if he fulfills his promise to sign this highly discriminatory (and, likely, unconstitutional) attack on Americans lives. And I want to do so by reminding him of two things close to home:
- His sweeping popular vote rejection in the aforementioned power centers of America
- His own Vice President (elect)
First the popular vote rejection. I’ve already pretty much covered it, but it bears repeating: This president is coming into office more unpopular than any in recent memory. Not only is he coming in without a mandate, but he is also coming in with a massive amount of scrutiny, questions about his character, suspicions about his qualifications, fears about his inexperience, shock over his egregious statements and actions, and just more general messiness than any one who has ever come into this office. The burden is on him to turn this around. If he wants to prove himself as a careful and considered leader whose focus and temperament belie his campaign work, he is going to have to prove it through his earliest actions. This is true for any incoming administration, where the first one hundred days are always so crucial, but it is even more salient for a president whose popular vote loss is larger than the entire population of seventeen different states.
If Congress passes FADA and Trump moves forward with his vow to sign, the much louder national engagement will come from those of us who realize the discriminatory effects masked behind the far right’s carefully crafted “religious freedom” smokescreen. The major cities of America will have an outsized say because the major national businesses doing busy from them will understand and articulate the obvious dangers FADA poses to their ability to engage in fair commercial exchanges. The media will report accordingly. The outcry will be deafening.
Which brings me my other point: Mike Pence. If Donald Trump wants a taste of the outcry that would follow a federal FADA, he need look no further than his own choice for number two. When Gov. Mike Pence moved forward with a discriminatory “religious freedom” proposal in his home state of Indiana, signing it into law in front of a crowd of the Hoosier State’s most appallingly anti-LGBTQ activists, the nationwide response was the thing of infamy. In the weeks surrounding Pence’s misbegotten decision, one could not turn on a TV, be it a news or a comedy show, and not hear some sort of criticism of the obviously discriminatory idea that was taking hold in Pence’s Indiana. The usually fairly sleepy state was the headline-grabber in newspapers coast to coast. Virtually no one outside the usual stable of anti-LGBTQ activists could defend Pence’s proposal because it, like so many so-called “religious freedom” proposals, was so demonstrably harmful to both human and business interests. Ultimately, even Pence had no choice but to scale it back.
And keep in mind, Pence actually won his gubernatorial presidential election by a 3% margin. Unlike the President-Elect, Pence came into his office with the popular vote of his constituents. This didn’t prevent him from mass blowback. For popular vote loser Trump, the roar following a federal version of the same bad ideas would make Indiana circa 2015 sound like a quiet mouse by comparison. If Mike Pence, whose governmental experience far exceeds a boss who has none, is to be the counsel that many expect him to be, then the very first thing he should advise President-Elect is to stay far away from this backwards notion of turning away customers seeking goods and services simply because those customers were born differently than others. No one should know the reasoning better than Mike Pence.
The pure and simple fact is that championing the artfully-but-egregiously named First Amendment Defense Act would be among the worst ideas that an already-unpopular Trump could do in his early days of office. I don’t write this as some sort of ultimatum to the incoming administration, or as a smug city-dweller who believes his New York City home should get to dominate the national conversation. I’m simply conveying the facts, as they are, to an administration that seems far too reliant on fake news.
GLAAD Guest Post: One possible moderate does not moderate the Trump cabinet
Many of us are scared, but all of us are uncertain
As we try to move forward, one thing I would like to hear from Trump supporters (or even just the "get over it" crowd) is acknowledgement of the great unknown into which we have elected to enter. Whether we chose the path or were led down it, we are all now there. Together.
As one who has had strong hobbyist, activist, and professional interests in the outcome of elections, I've experienced many losses. Sure, they can be painful. Yes, you can feel like lashing out. Of course you vow to step up and fight back. That is the nature of the game. With this one, however, the game is in a completely different ballpark.
If John McCain has slurred a gold star family, it would have been a disqualified. If Mitt Romney had become the first modern presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns (under BS reasoning), it would have been scandal. If Barack Obama had vowed to ban millions from entering the country on the sole basis of their faith, he would have been driven out of the election by both Republicans and Democrats. If Hillary Clinton had been caught on audio saying her fame gave her permission to grab men by the dick, she would have been castigated by those who have tried to burn her at the stake for much less. Heck, if any one of these candidates had even been married three times (with admitted mistresses, or with a spouse who was thought to have worked in this country before legally allowed to do so), it would have been noted as a reason to question his or her character. But with Trump, all off this stuff (and oh so much more) was given a strange pass. This pass is some of what scares us.
Even if you are Trump's biggest fan, you have to admit that we are taking a major risk with this guy. He has not been able to capably voice much of anything in the way of policy experience. He has shown himself completely lacking in concern for any of our institutions or traditions. By wide miles, he has less foreign policy experience than anyone to ever seek this office. His own business interests are shaded with failures and fraud accusations. He is untested in every way, and has done almost nothing to appease those who have questioned these massive gaps in experience (saying things will be "great" is not a plan).
When it comes to defending Roe, LGBT rights, healthcare, or any of the countless policy planks at stake, I am more than up for that challenge. That is the way the political process works. Anyone involved in government knows that being in a place of opposition is something one must occasionally endure, and most are ready to rise to that occasion. What scares most of us more this time around is this new, deeper, and more dangerous place of not only disagreeing with the president-elect but *actively fearing* that this person could be a true threat to our basic physical safety. This is where I am with this election. I am truly afraid, for the first time in my adult life, that this commander in chief will lead to our deaths. I am not being hyperbolic. I truly fear for our safety.
It's one thing for Donald Trump, Apprentice host, to tell a Times reporter that she has a "face like a dog." When President Trump does it to Angela Merkel, he will tarnish our reputation on a global scale.
It's one thing for Donald Trump, vodka salesman, to call Twitter critics "losers" (and much worse). When President Trump does it to a foreign adversary, he can set off nuclear winter.
It's one thing for Donald Trump, gaudy decor enthusiast, to threaten to jail his political rival or slur the press. When President Trump goes after the very concepts of rivalry, criticism, and accountability, it could lead to mass civil rights violations that rip apart the very fabric of this nation.
I didn't agree with President Bush (41 or 43, for that matter), but I trusted he understood the basic underpinnings of this great nation. I didn't vote for Romney or McCain, but I did not think for a second that those men would use personal pettiness as a justification for war. I've never once in my life voted for a Republican, but I've also never felt that the party was going more in a direction that legitimately brought it closer to some of the past's most oppressive regimes than toward the shining beacon on the hill that was said to be its aspiration.
And it's not my liberal politics or any media outlet that lead me to these conclusions: it's the unbelievably shocking words and actions of the man who the electoral vote (but not the popular vote) will soon usher in as these 45th president of the United States. He built this.
This time is different. And even if you are Trump's most outspoken fan, you have to admit that.
Many of us are scared, but we are all uncertain. Even if you think you are certain, you are not. There is no way you can be. The American experiment has never tested a hypothesis of this nature.
I never got the chance to come out (#NationalComingOutDay)
Even though I have shared every aspect of my gay life in so many fora, it occurs to me that I have never really told my coming out story. So here goes.
Home for Thanksgiving during my third year of college, I did a load of laundry before I was set to return to campus. It wasn't until my clothes were already wet in the washer that my parents informed me our dryer had been acting up and would never get my clothes in a suitable condition in the hours I had left before it was time to leave. Their advice was for me to head down to the local laundromat and dry my clothes there, which is precisely what I did.
When I completed the uneventful chore, I returned to a clearly emotionally charged house. I didn't know why. I couldn't know why. I had no reason to know why. For me, it was the most routine return following the most rote of experiences. I wasn't suspecting tedium to meet drama.
I also wasn't as on guard as I had been in prior years. By this time, I was out to everyone at school and in my personal life, short of my family. I was already on my second real boyfriend, with a few randoms in-between. My friends and created community were wonderfully supportive, so I has dropped so many of the walls and so much of the armor that I had used when I lived at home during high school. Back then, I knew and was perfectly okay with being gay, but I knew that my parents were not. By this time in college, I still knew that to be true, but I found myself caring less and less. I started seeing whatever problems they had with me as being exactly that: their problem and not mine.
So I return home, clothes smelling of Downy. I instantly see my mom, eyes stained with tears.
She didn't confront me so much as just sort of babble some stuff about me hurting her and myself and my life. It was all kind of a blur, but it didn't take me long to realize she was talking about me being gay. I was blindsided by the whole scene, and a bit scared as well. But mostly I was confused. How had she "found out" for sure? This was a time when email was in its infancy and social media wasn't yet a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's then-adolescent eye, so it wasn't nearly as easy for parents to stumble on a child's oversharing or make contact with a jealous ex-boyfriend. Even as I pieced together the "why" of this AfterSchool Special playing out before me, I was somewhat more focused on the "how."
It wasn't until the 160 mile drive back to school that I figured it out. In acting class that year, the professor had us all keep a journal. I had never been the kind of kid to keep one, so for me it was like a new toy. I splurged on a really nice one and found myself writing in it not only for my acting assignments, but for every aspect of my life. It became a trusted friend and tool for sorting out my confusion. It never left my side.
Except it did leave my side one time during that Thanksgiving visit home: when I was at the laundromat. And that is when my mom went into my back and chose to read this most private of books. This is how my mother confirmed her suspicions that her son was, in fact, a gay man.
For me, this was a betrayal that I never really shook. Anyone who knows my story knows that the ensuing years were ones filled with much familial strife and that, to this day, are defined by broken connections. But while creation of a gay son was the struggle for my parents, I spent the weeks and months and years following this episode knowing that I could never again trust my parents to honor my personal space, right to privacy, or ability to time my own life's major moments. No matter how harsh or argumentative the wave of non-acceptance got on the other side, I maintained (and continue to maintain) that I am the only one of the involved parties who had a right to be outraged. Being gay is who I am; being a snoop was a parental choice.
I always feel a little weird on this day because I don't really have a National Coming Out Day story. I'd love to have one like my husband's which goes something like, "I'm gay" before an instant follow up of, "Oh thank God, I thought you were going to say you had cancer" and an immediate decision to seek out the local PFLAG chapter. That, however, was not in the cards for me. My story is messy and wrong and was pulled out of me like a tortured confession. I will forever wonder how things might be a little different, especially on my end, had I been able to do it on my own terms.
When do they make that mass public apology?
The predictions haven't come true, and they won't come true. Because they never were true. They never were even meant to be true. They were designed for temporal fear, not long held veracity.
So at what point do the antiequality activists who said this thing or that meteor would befall us once marriage equality took hold have to release a group apology for the years of time and considerable resources they forced us all to waste in order to fight off their perversion of our natural world? When do they admit that they were woefully, dangerously, dastardly wrong? What kind of peace offering will they put on the table as a make-good for their unjust, unseemly, at at times unconscionable behavior?
I'm being glib, of course—but only in part. Ours is a nation that could desperately use some healing, and we start the process by owning and accurately addressing the many wrongs of our imperfect past. Painting our equality as a destructive force was an abject wrong that harmed countless many. It is one of many wrongs, and a small one when compared to others. But there does need to be a coda, and it should contain a heartfelt plea from those who abused both faith and intellect in order to convince our neighbors that our loving bonds were ticking time bombs waiting to annihilate the values of our country. They messed up majorly. They must own it.