Democracy is in peril. Though it has yet to fully register as the national story it deserves to be, America is currently in the throes of what may well be the most concerted effort at voter suppression and discrimination in living memory. Since the beginning of the year, Republican state legislators have introduced a deluge of new laws intended to restrict voting, suppress traditionally non-Republican constituencies, and overturn election results. These laws represent the greatest assault on voting rights since the end of Reconstruction. If you look at the number of bills introduced, the number of bills passed, and the intensity of the effort behind it, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Many of these efforts were blocked under the Voting Rights Act — and since the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013, voter suppression has gotten worse. But this seems to be the worst it’s been in the past decade.
It’s not like this is the first time there have been efforts to suppress the vote, but we are seeing a greater number of efforts at suppression, more restrictive bills than before, and more intensity within the Republican party to pass them. On a national level, Republicans in Congress refuse to support the For the People Act (also known as H.R. 1), which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Republican know that they cannot win the majority of elections if free, fair, and accessible elections are allowed to occur. The GOP knows that they are a minority party led by extremists who fear true democracy. It is not election fraud that Republicans fear; they fear easier access to the polls. The 2020 election proved their worst fears: if people are given greater voting access, Republicans will remain in the minority. So, they are doing everything possible to make it more difficult to vote.
In addition, thirty-three states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, with advocacy groups calling 2021 a record-breaking year for such legislation. LGBTQ+ people in America continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, we continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate. With an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ measures sweeping through state legislatures across the country, 2021 is on the cusp of surpassing 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history, according to new tracking and analysis by the Human Rights Campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last month that the Senate could take up the EqualityAct, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, in June. Still, it’s not yet clear whether the Senate will consider the House-passed bill during Pride month. The Equality Act, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. The Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, protects gay and transgender people in matters of employment, but not in other respects. The bill would also expand existing civil rights protections for people of color by prohibiting discrimination in more public accommodations, such as exhibitions, goods and services, and transportation.
Twenty-nine states do not have laws that explicitly shield LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, resulting in a patchwork of protections that vary from state to state. The Equality Act would extend protections to cover federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education, and public accommodations. In addition, the Equality Act would prevent discrimination under federally funded programs based on sex or sexual orientation, including barring discrimination by faith-based organizations that receive federal funding, such as Catholic Charities, which has refused its adoption services to same-sex couples in the past. Senator Joe Manchin, the problem child of Democrats in the Senate, is the lone Democrat who is not a co-sponsor of the bill. Manchin said in 2019 that he would not support the bill without changes, explaining at the time that he was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.” I personally believe that any tax-exempt faith-based organization that involves itself in politics, then it should lose its tax-exempt status. Politics and discrimination have no place in religion, and it is time for religious institutions to realize this. Furthermore, I don’t believe any political and partisan organization should be tax-exempt. If you’re non-partisan and don’t discriminate, then you can have tax-exempt status.
The protections offered by the Equality Act are broadly popular among most Americans. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 76% of Americans support protections for LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodation. Although support is stronger among Democrats and independents, the poll found that most Republicans, 62%, also support anti-discrimination laws. Advocates argue that given the popularity of anti-discrimination measures even among Republicans, senators from GOP-dominant states should vote with their constituents on the issue. However, we have found out from the Republican Party that they do not care about the majority of their constituents. They want to restrict access to the ability to vote, especially for people who disagree with them. They also do not care what even those who largely agree with them want. For example, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 without a single vote from a Republican, even though most Republican voters supported the stimulus bill. Even though they all voted against it, Republicans across the country have promoted elements of the legislation they fought to defeat.
The opposition to the For The People Act and the Equality Act are not the only threats to democracy. The Washington, D.C. Admission Act (and the possibility of the admission of Puerto Rico as a state) and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 would also expand democracy and safety for minorities in the United States. Republicans know that if Puerto Rico became a state, it would likely add five members with full voting rights to the House of Representatives and two members to the Senate, which would likely result in an almost guaranteed seven electoral votes in a presidential election. Since the House of Representatives is limited to 435 members under the Reapportionment Act of 1929, Minnesota, California, Texas, Washington and Florida would each lose one electoral vote. Washington, D.C. would likely get one Representative, giving it three electoral votes, which are also almost guaranteed to be cast for the Democratic nominee in a presidential election.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021would hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies. To me, the most essential provision of this bill is that it will establish a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions. Currently, there is no such registry. As a result, if a law enforcement officer does something that warrants misconduct and disciplinary action and is dismissed from one department and applies for another, there is no way to know why they left their former employment. Furthermore, nothing requires their former employer to report misconduct to a new employer. In fact, current laws discourage a former employer from making any statements that might be seen as derogatory about their former employee.
To get any of this done, the Senate must reform or get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster is an archaic rule that the House of Representatives did away with in 1888. By the way, it was Republicans who ended the filibuster in the House. Democrats tried to bring it back in 1891 when they regained control, but Republicans used the reinstated filibuster to such frustrating effect that Democrats had no choice but to re-abolish it two years later. Opponents of abolishing the filibuster in the Senate often claim that the filibuster was part of the original design of the Senate. It was not. In fact, the traitor Aaron Burr introduced the idea of the filibuster in the Senate in 1805, and the Senate enacted it in 1806. But no Senator used it until 1837, when it was used for the first time.
The Senate has been a problem to democracy from its beginning. The so-called “Great Compromise” (aka the Connecticut Compromise) was never popular with our Founding Fathers. It passed at the Constitutional Convention by one vote, 5–4–1. If we are talking about majority will, this was not a good example. Those five state delegations voting in favor did not represent most state delegations because 12 states sent delegates to the convention. Although there were thirteen states, Rhode Island did not send any delegates. The Senate has always been an elitist institution. State legislatures initially chose senators, but that ended in 1913 with the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of United States senators in each state.
The Senate’s operations result in partisan paralysis due to its preponderance of arcane and undemocratic rules. The Constitution specifies a simple majority threshold to pass legislation, and the filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the document. Representation in the Senate is not proportional to the population and is “anti-democratic” and creates “minority rule.” The Senate, like the rest of the U.S. government, does not represent minorities well. The approximately four million Americans that have no representation in the Senate (in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories) are heavily African and Hispanic American. D.C. and the territories at least have nonvoting delegates in the House. While we cannot get rid of the Senate, it is the most undemocratic institution in the American government, followed closely by the Electoral College. Reforms are desperately needed, and the laws mentioned above need to be enacted at all costs. We are guaranteed just under two years to have a majority in both houses of Congress. Someone needs to get Democratic Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have frustrated Democrats with their defense of the filibuster. The Senate has to be made more democratic, and while the Seventeenth Amendment was a start, more needs to be done to promote equality in America.
Back in November 2001 while I was in my second year of graduate school, I attended my first academic conference (the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association) in New Orleans, Louisiana. We stayed at the historic Fairmont Hotel (now The Roosevelt New Orleans). The hotel was beautiful and luxurious. I have been in love with the city of New Orleans since I first visited it in the late 1990s. The first time I went was at Halloween, which was an eye-opening experience. The next time I went was to tour Loyola University New Orleans College of Law because I was considering attending law school there. Ultimately, I decided to get my master’s in history instead of a law degree. The third time I went was for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association in 2001. It was also the first time I went to a gay bar.
I came out for the first time to a close friend of mine and her boyfriend at a party during graduate school in Spring 2001. This friend and I were staying together at the Fairmont for the conference, and she wanted to take me to a gay bar, since I’d never been to one before. I remember walking into Oz at the corner of Rue St. Anne and Bourbon Street. You can read more about this in a post I wrote in August 2020 titled “Coming Out and My First Gay Bar.” New Orleans was a great place to experience a gay bar for the first time because the city has a rich gay history. New Orleans seems to have always been a mecca for the LGBTQ+ in the South.
The city has always championed the arts and celebrated culture, which has fostered a lively gay social scene and drew many LGBTQ+ artists and performers to the French Quarter (aka Vieux Carré), home to Café Lafitte in Exile, one of America’s oldest gay bars. The longest running gay event, the Fat Monday Luncheon, kicked off in 1949, and the oldest gay social organization, the Steamboat Club, was launched in 1953. During Labor Day Weekend, Southern Decadence draws more than 180,000 LGBTQ+ partiers to New Orleans.
Notable gay locals and residents included Tennessee Williams, who came here in 1938 and wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” from his home at 1014 Dumaine Street. Pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston retired to New Orleans in 1940, living in her Bourbon Street townhouse until her death in 1952. Ellen DeGeneres, a native of nearby Metairie, emceed the New Orleans Mr. and Ms. Gay Pride Contest in 1981, long before she came out publicly in 1997. It has also been home to a number of LGBTQ+ writers particularly Poppy Z. Brite (author of the Liquor novel series) and one of my favorite authors, Greg Herren (author of the Scotty Bradley and Chanse MacLeod mysteries).
I have always had a romanticized version of New Orleans in my head. I used to dream of living in a townhouse in the French Quarter much like Tennessee Williams’ Dumaine Street home or his first home on Toulouse Street. Williams lived in two homes on Toulouse Street, 722 Toulouse Street and 708 Toulouse Street, where he lived in 1941 and according to Tennessee Williams and the South by Kenneth Holditch and Richard Leavitt, “he was evicted as the result of an incident involving sailors.” We can only imagine what that incident was; I suspect it was quite salacious.
My dream home would have a wrought iron balcony that I could sit on like the picture at the top of the post. It would have one of those iconic courtyards that so many homes in the French Quarter. However, after living in New England for over five years now, I prefer the weather here better and now I tend to dream of living in a historic home Montreal, Boston, or any number of larger cities in the Northeast. I can still dream of a vacation home in New Orleans, but I’ll need to win the lottery first.
Jeremy Ryan of the blog, New Homo Blogo, just left a comment alerting me to the fact that Dr. Andrew Neighbors’s, who I featured in a January 2020 blog post, “The Eyes Have It,” dog Arbor is missing. If you are in the Tacoma Washington Area, and spot the dog, please message Andrew via his Instagram account @andrewgoesplaces. To see Jeremy’s post about Andrew’s missing dog, go to LOST DOG – Tacoma WA Area. Andrew seems to be a very sweet man, and if you have watched any of his YouTube videos, you know how much he loves his dog Arbor. I don’t know how many people in Tacoma, Washington who read my blog, but if there are any, I hope you will be on the lookout for Arbor.
I don’t usually post pictures of dogs on my blog, as I am very much a cat person, but I will make an exceptions here:
UPDATE – Arbor has been found! Andrew is out of town seeing patients, but Arbor is safe with a neighbor.
Star Trek: Discovery’s Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz)
Actor Wil Wheaton, known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, welcomed pride month this weekend by giving a special shout-out to his LGBTQ+ fans. Wheaton, who is now 48, took to Facebook to publicly acknowledge the number of Star Trek fans that had a crush on the actor–or his character–during the show’s run.
“Over the years, I’ve met several men who have told me that their childhood crush on Wesley Crusher was a big part of them coming out and living their lives with joy and love and pride,” Wheaton wrote. “I can not even begin to tell you how much this means to me. I love it so much that I, and some of my work, were there for people (when I didn’t even know it was happening) who needed a safe place.”
As a Star Trek fan, I certainly had a crush on Wesley Crusher, but the character that really made my hear go pitter patter was Dr. Julian Bashir (portrayed by Alexander Siddig) on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Bashir has sometimes been referred to as a twink, although his character began the series in his late thirties. He obviously caught the eye of the station’s resident Cardassian tailor, Elim Garak (portrayed by Andrew Robinson). Dr. Bashir was always handsome in the series, in particular, I always loved the episode “Rivals” because of the skintight suit Bashir wears while playing racquetball.
Alexander Siddig: Dr. Julian Bashir and Today
I had crushes on other Star Trek characters as well. On Star Trek: Voyager, I had a thing for Tom Paris played by the ever-handsome Robert Duncan McNeill. Enterprise had Commander “Trip” Tucker portrayed by Connor Trinneer who seemed to spend half the series in his underwear and boy did he look good in his underwear. With Star Trek: Discovery, we now have actual gay characters, who are all surprisingly played by gay actors, to lust after. I am looking forward to the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to see actor Ethan Peck, the grandson of actor Gregory Peck, who will be playing Spock. Peck previously played Spock during the second season of Discovery.
”Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.” – Creole Proverb
The man whose throat blossoms with spicy chocolates Tempers my ways of flurrying Is my inner recesses surfacing Paints the bedroom blue because he wants to carry me to the skies Pear eater in the orchard Possesses Whitmanesque urge & urgency Boo Bear, the room turns orchestral Crooked grin of ice cream persuasion When I speak he bursts into seeds & religion Poetry housed in a harmonica Line dances with his awkward flair Rare steaks, onion rings, Maker’s on the rocks Once-a-boy pilfering grenadine Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska Wicked at the door of happiness At a longed-for distance remains sharply crystalline Fragments, but by day’s end assembled into joint narrative Does not make me who I am, entirely Heart like a fig, sliced Peonies in a clear round vase, singing A wisp, a gasp, sonorous stutter Tuning fork deep in my belly, which is also a bell Evening where there is no church but fire Sparks, particles, chrysalis into memory Moth, pod of enormous pleasure, fluttering about on a train He knows I don’t need saving & rescues me anyhow Our often-misunderstood kind of love is dangerous Darling, fill my cup; the bird has come to roost
[ a subway ride ] By Joseph O. Legaspi
His artfully unkempt strawberry blonde head sports outsized headphones. Like a contemporary bust. Behold the innocence of the freckles, ripe pout of cherry lips. As if the mere sight of the world hurts him, he squints greenly and applies saline drops. You dream him crying over you. For the duration of a subway ride you fall blindly in love. Until he exits. Or you exit, returning home to the one you truly love to ravish him.
V-Neck T-Shirt Sonnet By Joseph O. Legaspi
I love a white v-neck t-shirt on you: two cotton strips racing to a point they both arrived at: there vigor barely contained, flaming hair, collarless, fenced-in skin that shines. Cool drop of hem, soft & lived-in, so unlike my father, to bed you go, flushed with fur in a rabbit’s burrow or nest for a flightless bird, brooding. Let me be that endangered species, huddled in the vessel of the inverted triangle: gaped mouth of a great white fish on the verge of striking, poised to devour & feed on skin, on all.
Vows (for a gay wedding) By Joseph O. Legaspi
What was unforeseen is now a bird orbiting this field.
What wasn’t a possibility is present in our arms.
It shall be and it begins with you.
Our often-misunderstood kind of love deems dangerous. How it frightens and confounds and enrages. How strange, unfamiliar.
Our love carries all those and the contrary. It is most incandescent.
So, I vow to be brave. Clear a path through jungles of shame and doubt and fear. I’m done with silence. I proclaim.
It shall be and it sings from within.
Truly we are enraptured With Whitmanesque urge and urgency.
I vow to love in all seasons. When you’re summer, I’m watermelon balled up in a sky-blue bowl. When I’m autumn, you’re foliage ablaze in New England. When in winter, I am the tender scarf of warm mercies. When in spring, you are the bourgeoning buds.
I vow to love you in all places. High plains, prairies, hills and lowlands. In our dream-laden bed, Cradled in the nest Of your neck. Deep in the plum.
It shall be and it flows with you.
We’ll leap over the waters and barbaric rooftops.
You embrace my resilient metropolis. I adore your nourishing wilderness.
I vow to love you in primal ways. I vow to love you in infinite forms.
In our separateness and composites. To dust and stars and the ever after.
Intrepid travelers, lovers, and family We have arrived.
Look. The bird has come home to roost.
About the Poet
Joseph O. Legaspi was born in the Philippines, where he lived before immigrating to Los Angeles with his family at age twelve. He received a BA from Loyola Marymount University and an MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program. Legaspi is the author of the collection Subway (CreateSpace, 2013), Threshold (CavanKerry Press, 2017), and Imago (CavanKerry Press, 2007), winner of a Global Filipino Literary Award. He is the recipient of two poetry fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and in 2004 he cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving Asian American poetry. He works at Columbia University, teaches at New York University and Fordham University, and lives with his husband in Queens, New York.