Category Archives: Politics

Erasing History in Schools

This past Pride month, as revelers hit the streets to celebrate LGBTQ+ history, Republican state legislatures were hard at work trying to erase it. And it’s not just momentous events like the Stonewall riots or towering figures like Harvey Milk that could be wiped from classroom instruction. In public schools in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Montana, it may soon become illegal even to mention Bayard Rustin, the openly gay co-organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, or educate kids about the AIDS crisis. Republicans don’t want our nation’s children to know that a gay black man organized one of the most pivotal events in the Civil Rights Movement, and they still insist that AIDS is the result of/punishment for immoral behavior.

In May, Tennessee became the first state to pass what queer-rights advocates have branded as “Don’t Say Gay” laws, which either forbid the teaching of LGBTQ+ history in K-12 schools outright or allow parents to choose whether their children participate in lessons that include it. Within days, Montana followed suit. Yet another bill in Arkansas awaits the signature of the state’s Republican governor. Similar bills have been considered in West Virginia, Iowa, and Missouri. Red-state legislatures are introducing more proposals to hinder education. 

Akin to bans on the teaching of critical race theory (If you are not familiar with what critical race theory means [check out the link above and see note below*]. It’s been around for forty years and is merely teaching history as it should be taught.), these laws seek to preserve the myth that the story of America is one of destined progress and unblemished virtue. These laws claim that we stand exceptional among nations as the gleaming embodiment of democracy and, in turn, imply that a significant number of us do not matter. In particular, legislation forbidding the teaching of LGBTQ+ history aims to solidify what remains of society’s moral disapproval of LGBTQ+ people and endangers LGBTQ+ youth who are most susceptible to suicide.  

The Republican efforts are a false representation of the past. They want to pretend that LGBTQ+ people have never even existed. They do not want students to question their Pollyanna view of American history. They do not want to open up questions about the failures of the past to allow students to question whether the United States is living up to the goals of the republic—”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This whitewashing of history is less about the past than about not wanting to change the present, to hold in place the status quo, and not allow for genuine moments of debate and change. I have always believed that education is more about teaching students how to think critically than it is about memorization.

The Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association released a joint statement in May condemning the recent spate of “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which the organizations say perpetuate homophobia, distort the historical record, and deprive students—LGBTQ+ and not—of a complete education. Among the many dangers of these laws is that they will create a two-tiered system that will harm students by keeping them from learning about the complexity of our larger society and their place in it, depriving them of a fully rounded education. Maybe if I and those of my generation had been taught just a little LGBTQ+ history, we would not have spent so much of our lives questioning our sexuality or hating ourselves for the way we were born. Teaching tolerance raises self-esteem, and if our sexualities were not constantly demonized, then maybe, just maybe, there would be fewer suicides by LGBTQ+ youths.

Politically, the bills reflect the resurgence of culture-war politics at the state level now that Republicans are out of power in Congress and the White House and the religious right’s expanding moral panic over the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. As with the bill in Arkansas, the laws in Tennessee and Montana are in one sense narrow—designed, it seems, to invite legal challenges when an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court is inclined to grant religious exemptions. In Tennessee, parents must now be given thirty days’ notice to examine any curriculum materials related to sexual orientation or gender identity. They can request their children be pulled from such instruction. Montana gives parents forty-eight hours to “withdraw the child from a course of instruction, a class period, an assembly, an organized school function regarding human sexuality.” A similar notification law in Arkansas requires school districts to tell parents in writing about “instruction of any kind” about “sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

The emphasis on telling teachers what they can and cannot teach is totalitarianism at its worse. What will happen when a student asks a teacher about Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, the Stonewall Riots, AIDS, etc.? Will that teacher have to say, “The law does not allow us to discuss this in class without your parents’ prior permission”? Critical thinking, along with intellectualism, is the enemy of conservatives and the religious right. Just think of Christianity before the Reformation and the Catholic Church’s fear of translations of the Bible in the vernacular, especially as literacy become more common between 1500 and 1800. Conservatives have often feared education throughout history. The elite could be educated, but everyone else was discouraged from education. Conservatives realized that expanded educational opportunities led to greater knowledge and could lead to the questioning of authority. Now conservatives often fear that knowledge could lead to equality and greater power in the hands of the masses. Republicans in the United States know that if more people have access to voting, they stand a lesser chance of winning elections.

According to the Pew Research Center, Democrats hold advantages in party identification among blacks, Asians, Hispanics, well-educated adults, and Millennials. Republicans have leads among whites – particularly white men, those with less education, and evangelical Protestants – as well as members of the Silent Generation. Just 36 percent of registered voters have a four-year college degree or more education; a sizable majority (64 percent) have not completed college. Democrats increasingly dominate in party identification among white college graduates – and maintain wide and long-standing advantages among black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters. Republicans increasingly dominate party affiliation among white non-college voters, who continue to make up a majority (57 percent) of all GOP voters. 

*Here is one example of critical race theory: the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, a.k.a. the G.I. Bill. African American veterans benefited less than others from the G.I. Bill, and it was designed that way. The G.I. Bill aimed to help American World War II veterans adjust to civilian life by providing them with benefits including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans, and financial support. African Americans did not benefit nearly as much as White Americans. The law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow laws. Banks and mortgage agencies refused loans to blacks, making the G.I. Bill even less effective for non-whites. Once they returned from the war, blacks faced discrimination and poverty, which represented a barrier to harnessing the mortgage and educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, because labor and income were immediately needed at home. Most southern universities refused to admit blacks until the Civil Rights revolution. Colleges accepting blacks in the South (numbering about 100) were of lower quality, with 28 classified as sub-baccalaureate. Only seven states offered post-baccalaureate training, while no accredited engineering or doctoral programs were available for blacks. By 1946, only one-fifth of the 100,000 blacks who had applied for educational benefits had been registered in college. Furthermore, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) came under increased pressure as rising enrollments and strained resources forced them to turn away an estimated 20,000 veterans. Though blacks encountered many obstacles in their pursuit of G.I. benefits, the bill greatly expanded the population of African Americans attending college and graduate school. In 1940, enrollment at Black colleges was 1.08 percent of total U.S. college enrollment. By 1950 it had increased to 3.6 percent. However, these gains were limited almost exclusively to Northern states, and the educational and economic gap between white and black nationally widened under the effects of the G.I. Bill. With 79 percent of the black population living in southern states, educational gains were limited to a small part of black America.

Did any of you learn this in school? Is there harm in teaching failures in history? If we do not know about the failure to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, then how can we begin to correct these mistakes and move forward? And this fear, my friends, is what the Republicans (and conservatives throughout history) fear the most: progress and equality.


Call to Liberty

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

—Galatians 5:13

Today is the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Churches across America will likely sing “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The songbook from my church did not have the “patriotic songs” section found in the Baptists, Methodist, or Presbyterian hymnals of my youth, so we never sang these songs in my church. We only sang very traditional hymns, like “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace,” etc. Nothing adorned the knotty pine walls of the small church I grew up in. The only decoration in the church was a side table with a large Bible on a lower shelf and a vase of flowers on top. Two very plain simple cane bottomed deacon chairs sat behind the pulpit. It was the only church I knew with such simple décor. The Southern Baptist church where I was forced to attend vacation Bible school every summer was far more elaborate. Behind the pulpit stood the Christian flag and the American flag. The same was true of the Presbyterian church where I had piano recitals and the Pentecostal church my best friend attended. 

Politics or patriotism rarely made an appearance in my church, but it did in many other churches across the country. In many churches, patriotism and religion have been interwoven into their theology. These churches believe in a Christian faithfulness where God desires America to do great, to be great, has ordained America to be at the top, and that America has been baptized by the Church. While this is not something I was taught or ever believed, it’s unrealistic for us not to realize that in the United States, Christianity and patriotism are seemingly inextricably woven together. As the world changes and equality and acceptance grows, the United States will no longer be able to claim (whether it was ever true or not) that America is a beacon of freedom, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” If we do not either follow the ethical tenets of most religions, including the teachings of Christ or throw off the chains of the uniquely American version of Christianity, then America will fall further and further behind the quest for human rights for all.

Even though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” religion has been intricately laced in with American history. In 1630, the first ships of the Great Puritan Migration sailed to the New World, led by John Winthrop. During the crossing, Winthrop preached a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” He told his followers that they had entered a covenant with God according to which he would cause them to prosper if they maintained their commitment to God. In doing so, their new colony would become a “City upon a Hill,” meaning that they would be a model to all the nations of Europe as to what a properly reformed Christian commonwealth should look like. Since then, politicians have used the “city upon a hill” analogy for political purposes to push for American exceptionalism.

“A Model of Christian Charity” serves as an important text in United States history, conveying the optimistic, confident, community-focused mindset in which the New England colonies were founded. Perry Miller, a historian considered one of the founders of American Studies, wrote that the sermon “stands at the beginning of [the] consciousness” of the American mind. Several figures in U.S. politics—beginning as early as John Adams—have referenced this text in public speeches when trying to convey themes of unity and idealism, most often citing the symbol of “a city upon a hill.” In his 1980 Election Eve speech, Ronald Reagan asserted his belief that “Americans…are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining city on a hill, as were those long-ago settlers.” More recently, public figures have utilized the sermon to argue how far the United States has strayed from its values. In his blistering critique of the then-presidential candidate and future twice impeached and disgraced former president, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney posited that “[Hair Führer’s] personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.” The disgraced former president tried his hardest to destroy the United States, ironically, with the help of American evangelicals.

However, most politicians do not pay attention to the rest of Winthrop’s sermon. They focus on the “city upon a hill,” but not on the rest of the message. Winthrop used logical reasoning combined with a sympathetic nature to make his point to the new Puritan settlers. To remove this work’s central arguments about love and relationships is to lose the sense of the whole completely. The Governor laid out his argument for charity and decent human behavior in the community. While exceptionalism was one of the sermon’s themes, Winthrop explained how God chose the few people on the boats to go to America to carry out their mission. He also mentioned how the rest of the world would watch them. This is the part that politicians have always latched onto, but they often ignore the other main points of the sermon. Winthrop believed that charity, giving to others who need help—not only the poor but also the community—would make the new lands the “city upon a hill” in his view of exceptionalism. Winthrop also believed that communalism reflected the Puritan ideals of “love, unity, and charity.” He mentioned that people have different things to offer each other, and this induced a need for each other, helping the community. He also said that different types of people were on the ship during the sermon but had the same goal of serving God. This was also represented by people being different parts of one body. Through his use of language connected to women’s work, such as “knit,” Winthrop suggests the importance of women in holding the community together. It’s amazing how much is forgotten by the politicians who use a small part of the sermon for their purposes.

Many patriotic evangelical Christians use the Bible to defend their ideas that God is pro-government (or, more specifically, He favors their preferred brand of government). They often use Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It’s a radical statement publicly declaring that Caesar and Rome weren’t God. Most Roman emperors advocated the belief that they were gods and should be worshiped. In this passage, Jesus is warning us to avoid such thinking.

Romans 13:1 is also often used by people to defend their political allegiances: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. But these texts have a significant caveat, where the authors presuppose that this “submitting” is coinciding—and never contradicting—the supreme call to love God and love others. This becomes obvious when looking at other passages that explicitly say so, such as Matthew 22: 36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Christians using Romans 13 as a defense to support various political viewpoints at the expense of loving others are also ignoring the words of Peter in Acts 5:29 when he tells the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” and the teachings of Jesus himself when he proclaimed in Matthew 6:24, “no one can serve two masters.” Separating patriotism and Christianity is difficult for many modern American Christians to comprehend because they often incorporate nationalism and patriotism into much of their religious expression and even their faith. Churches celebrating the Fourth of July by adorning their sanctuaries with American flags and incorporating America and American nationalism into songs of worship would have been alarming and even considered blasphemous for the very first followers of Jesus.

The challenge for Christians is to simultaneously honor the virtues of sacrifice, service, and freedom without idolizing American exceptionalism and Christian nationalism, celebrating bravery without romanticizing violence, and realizing that our salvation comes from the sacrifices of Jesus and not the wars of men. For those raised in churches that interwove Christianity with patriotism, it may not seem a big deal that our country’s flag stands alongside a pastor onstage but try to imagine the apostle Paul and the earliest churches pledging their allegiance to Caesar and the conquering legions who were slaughtering anybody who stood in their way. As citizens of the United States, we’re trying to follow Christ within a similar context as the earliest Christians—living within a powerful empire and susceptible to state-sponsored religion, where it’s socially, politically, and economically advantageous to adhere to certain political beliefs and leaders—even to the point of becoming a pseudo-theocracy.

Unfortunately, Christians have been historically gullible to nationalistic “Christianity.” They often treat our faith as a civic religion to establish a voting bloc and create enough influence to legislate laws, gain wealth, and consolidate power rather than sacrificially serve and love others. The American version of Christianity often perverts the life and mission of Jesus because instead of forgiving enemies, the state spends billions of dollars to kill them, instead of caring for the poor, we villainize them, instead of accepting the foreigner we ban them, and instead of helping the oppressed we further alienate them. While it’s clearly possible to be both an American and a Christian, we must realize that the goals of our country’s government and those of Christ are rarely the same and often directly contradict each other, especially under Republican administrations.

Many right-wing politicians and evangelicals Christians are terrified of the phrase “separation of church and state.” The problem with the comingling of church and state is that only one brand of religion gets instituted for all people in the country. In America, it is often the perverted version of American Christianity that tries to legislate our morals and bodies. Suppose American Christianity had latched onto the charity, communalism, and unity in Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” instead of American exceptionalism. In that case, the link between religion and politics might not be so bad, and that’s why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Founding Fathers knew that when it came to church and state if you gave an inch, religious leaders would take a mile. There had to be a clear separation of church and state.

Two hundred forty-five years ago today, fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress put their signature to the following words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

LGBTQ+ Pride and the White House

The White House has installed an exhibit dedicated to “celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021” on the Ground Floor Corridor. The exhibit is the first physical display of historical items dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The items were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution and in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum on American History.

The exhibit features artifacts from historic LGBTQ+ community figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Jerame Davis, the former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Another figure highlighted in the exhibit is Rose Cleveland, who was the sister of the 23rd and 25th President, Grover Cleveland.

“Rose Cleveland, President Grover Cleveland’s sister, served in the role of White House hostess until his marriage in 1886,” the exhibit reads. “For almost 30 years, Rose Cleveland maintained a romantic relationship with Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple. The women lived together in Italy from 1910, until Rose’s death from the Spanish flu in 1918.” The exhibit notes that Rose and Evangeline rest “side by side” in Italy today. Correspondence between them was published in 2019 by the Whipple Collection from the Minnesota Historical Society, where they are housed today.

There are artifacts describing major events in LGBTQ+ history such as the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Photos shared online show the corridor illuminated in Pride colors, the first known time in history, the Advocate reports.

LGBTQ+ activist, columnist and Philadelphia Gay News founder Mark Segal reported that upon visiting the National Museum this week, personal artifacts of his “from that first Pride in 1970, which we called Christopher Street Liberation Day March” were among those included in a series of items shared with the White House. The items included a flyer given out over 50 years ago promoting the march and Segal’s marshal badge worn that day. “That 18-year-old boy at Stonewall never expected that not only would he be asked to dance with his husband at the White House, but that one of his personal artifacts would be on display there,” Segal wrote. “Fifty-two years ago that was inconceivable to me. Now, it’s a joyous reality.”

The exhibit is curated from the LGBT Pride exhibits currently at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. One is the “Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” exhibition on display at the museum since 2019, and planned to close on July 6, 2021. The items I took he ongoing Smithsonian exhibit showcase different aspects of LGBTQ+ American history, activism and the “everyday experience of being queer,” according to curator Katherine Ott. The display includes knives used to lobotomize gay men during the ’70s, lab equipment from 1980s HIV researcher Jay Levy, a full figure skating costume from gay Olympian Brian Boitano, shoes from trans tennis player Renée Richards and cosmetics used by irreverent gay director John Waters.

LGBTQ+ Pride Month was established by President Bill Clinton in June 1999, though back then it was called Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Clinton said at the time that he signed the 1998 executive order that made it possible for people of any sexual orientation to work in the federal government and to receive security clearances. “Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration,” Clinton’s June 2000 proclamation stated.

The previous twice impeached, traitor’s administration did not even acknowledge Pride Month until 2019, and only half-heartedly then. In the first two and a half years of that administration, the former president took numerous steps to curtail LGBTQ+ rights, from nominating judges aligned with anti-gay hate groups to banning transgender people from the military. George W. Bush declined to recognize June as Pride Month during his eight year administration.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation every year he was in office. “All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Obama’s June 2015 proclamation read. “During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”

On June 25, President Biden declared “pride is back at the White House,” delivering remarks in a day of events intended to mark the contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans. He spoke after signing H.R. 49, which designates the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting as the “National Pulse Memorial.” Biden recognized that much work remains to be done to give equal rights and protections to LGBTQ Americans. The president invoked Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and said he was right when he said it “takes no compromise to give people their rights.” He called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

“When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something’s still wrong,” Biden said. “Over half of our states — in over half of our states, LBGTQ+ Americans still lack explicit state-level civil rights protections to shield them from discrimination. As I said as a presidential candidate and in my first joint address to Congress, it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on my desk. On my desk.” 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke before the president was introduced, and both the secretary and Biden gave a shout-out to Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten. “Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Buttigieg said. Also at the Friday afternoon ceremony were members of the Congressional Equality Congress, including Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman David Cicilline; one of the highest-ranking openly trans service members, Lieutenant-Colonel Bree Fram; and state legislators.


Legalized Religious Discrimination

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:28

On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that religion supersedes the law, at least regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices voted nine to zero to allow a Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The adoption agency sued after the city refused to refer cases to the agency due to its refusal to consider LGBTQ+ foster parents. The city argued that the agency’s willful violation of local nondiscrimination law meant the agency wasn’t qualified to get city business.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” the Court ruled. “Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was signed by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch didn’t sign the majority decision, and three concurring opinions were filed. In essence, the decision creates an exemption for existing protections for LGBTQ+ people. Combined with the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissiondecision of 2018, which sided with a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the conservative justices have made it clear that the rights of LGBTQ+ people are subject to exemptions.

The decision should hardly be a surprise. For one thing, the Court is packed with a particular kind of Catholic. Six of the justices are Catholic—Roberts, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor. The first five are conservative Catholics; only Sotomayor represents the views of the majority of Catholics, who tend to be Democrats. While we have some racial diversity on the Supreme Court, there is little religious diversity. Breyer and Kagan are Jewish. Gorsuch is the first member of a mainline Protestant denomination to sit on the Supreme Court since the retirement of John Paul Stevens in 2010; he was raised Catholic, but married an Anglican and now attends an Episcopal Church. After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a Protestant or simply a Protestant.

I cannot fathom how claiming to be a religious organization or claiming to be religious allows you to break/ignore laws against harming others. How many children have been in foster homes or orphanages over the years who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them? How many of those were under the tutelage of a religious organization? Let’s face it, the Catholic Church does not have a great track record with children. The child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church have plagued them for decades (they’ve plagued the church for centuries, but only in recent decades has the problem been made public). Just one of many examples of this is in my own backyard as former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have recounted horrific abuse at the hands of “religious” individuals.

The tension between religious freedom and civil rights stretches far back in American history. In battles over slavery and racial segregation, proponents of discrimination and opponents of progress have often cited religion and scripture to justify maintaining inequality. Until the civil rights era, refusals to serve African Americans were often cloaked under the guise of religious freedom. As social norms changed, the religious justifications for this bigotry became legally untenable. Religious freedom has been weaponized so frequently in civil liberties debates because of the cultural and constitutional weight it carries. Such appeals have the potential to reshape cultural and religious worlds: to make a group’s political convictions and cultural practices appear more “religious,” or more central to their religion than they otherwise might have been. For this reason, the scope and meaning of religious freedom have been constantly contested throughout American, which is why religious freedom must always be balanced against other American ideals, lest we allow it to trample on other deeply held values.

In the 1982 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom did not give Bob Jones the right to claim tax-exempt status while practicing racial discrimination. So why are these organizations allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans and retain their tax-exempt status? The constitutional right to religious freedom protects the sanctity of personal belief; however, that freedom ends when the exercise of one’s faith harms the rights or well-being of another. Religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections are complementary values rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law. Taxpayer dollars should never pay for programs that exclude or discriminate against participants.

Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Churches have ignored this passage throughout history, much like they ignore many verses of the Bible that are inconvenient for them. When will LGBTQ+ Americans be given the same rights as all other Americans? Religion should be a tool to lift people, not knock them down. It should never be used as a weapon of hate, fear, or discrimination. 

I am all for the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Speech, press, and assembly all have limits, so why does religion also not have limits. When the government starts allowing religious organizations to dictate how our laws are implemented or what laws should be enacted, then this is an “establishment of religion.” If religious organizations are going to provide a charitable service, they should not be allowed to discriminate against anyone. Religious organizations can no longer discriminate based on race, so why should they be able to discriminate based on sexuality? 

In the decisions of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has done the opposite of what they claim they are doing. They have forced others to bow to the religious dictates of another person’s beliefs. They have essentially established a religion by claiming that religions are exempt from following the law. They infringe on Americans’ rights to practice a belief that is in disagreement with a more powerful entity (By that, I mean large, wealthy religious organizations, not God). The Bible tells us that we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one, why is CSS allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people? They are not following their own religious beliefs, but they are following the prejudices of man.

Shame on the Supreme Court for forcing the City of Philadelphia to follow the beliefs of CSS when they are contrary to what God commands CSS to do. Besides, why should Philadelphia be forced to send adoption cases through CSS when they have a track record like St. Joseph’s in Burlington, Vermont, or any number of Catholic organizations. And this goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It is part of all organized religions. Why should we protect a church’s religious freedoms when they disrespect and disregard the religious liberties of others? We should be protecting individuals’ right to practice religion not organizations. And no one, not even under the guise of religious freedom, should a person or organization be able to hide behind religious freedoms and the First Amendment to discriminate legally. 


The Equality Act, et al.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA)

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 Equality Act, 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.


Benefits of Being Fully Vaccinated

I debated whether or not I wanted to write a blog post about this particular subject, but then I decided, why not? Before the pandemic, I had met a guy that I got along with very well. We had a lot of the same interests in science fiction and enjoyed each other’s company. We would occasionally get together for a bit of fun (if you know what I mean), and sometimes, we’d watch a movie, usually we did more than just watch a movie. It was always a lot of fun. I have not been able to see him since the pandemic began. He has some health problems that didn’t allow him to even take the slimmest chance of getting COVID. We have talked a few times over the course of the pandemic, and we always said we would get together again when all of this was over or when we were both fully vaccinated.

Last week, he texted me to tell me that he was fully vaccinated, and I was able to tell him that I too was fully vaccinated. He suggested that we get together last night. Of course, I am writing this before I went over there, but I am anticipating we will have a fun time catching up and maybe even making up for lost time. It feels like things are beginning to get back to normal as more and more people are getting vaccinated. There is light at the end of the tunnel and Vermont is thankfully leading the way.

Vermont leads the nation in vaccines with 52.7 percent of the state’s population being fully vaccinated. We have 69.7 percent of the state’s population with at least one dose of the vaccine. New England has done remarkably well, with only Rhode Island and New Hampshire having less than 50 percent of their populations fully vaccinated. Rhode Island is close with 49.9 percent, but New Hampshire appears to be a bit of an anomaly in New England with only 35.6 percent being fully vaccinated. Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are the top four states for vaccinations, respectively. Rhode Island is fifth, but New Hampshire is twenty-third.  New Jersey, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maryland, and New York round out the top ten. All of the top ten are Democratic-leaning states. 

In contrast, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi make up the bottom ten states with Mississippi having the lowest vaccination rates. The fact is the U.S. vaccination map looks a lot like a map of how states vote in presidential elections, with most blue states vaccinating at levels well above the national average and GOP states bringing up the rear. Sadly, the politics of COVID-19 have been partisan from almost the onset of the pandemic, and polls consistently show that Republicans, particularly men, are more hesitant than Democrats to get vaccinated.


Something Must Be Done

Navient, a company that services 25% of student loans in the United States for the U.S. Department of Education, handles my student loans. They are a pain in the ass to deal with, especially when their website is constantly down. Every year, I have to submit proof of my income for the student loan income-driven repayment plan, which bases my student loan payments on my current income. Back before I was eligible to take advantage of this program, and I was still working at the private school in Alabama, my gross monthly salary was $2,000, and I was paying over $900 in student loan payments each month. If it had not been for my aunt’s help, I would not have been able to survive. Luckily, the laws concerning student loans under the Obama administration changed to make it easier to repay loans based on income, get loan forgiveness for public service, and stop predatory lenders. Much of the benefits put in place by the Obama administration were either ignored or undone by the administration of the former twice-impeached president’s administration, who appointed an Education Secretary with no education experience.

While I am a huge supporter of President Biden, he has to get off the fence about student loans and the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. Biden campaigned on a platform that included ambitious changes for higher education and relief for student loan borrowers. On his first day in office, he extended the student loan payment pause through September 30, 2021. Since then, he has laid the groundwork for student debt cancellation, but he has offered no specific proposal or amount yet. Depending upon pending legal interpretation, Biden could use executive authority to cancel student loan debt or ask that Congress pass a bill doing so. On April 28, the White House unveiled its American Families Plan, which, among other things, proposes to increase Pell Grants, provides for free community college, and steps up aid for schools that serve minorities. It must pass both houses of Congress before it becomes law.

Even before Biden’s inauguration, his staff reiterated the president’s support for Congress to “immediately” cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as part of COVID-19 relief. While this plan would wipe out debt entirely for nearly 15 million borrowers who owe $10,000 or less, the majority of student loan borrowers (roughly 67%) have significantly more than $10,000 in debt. Everyone I know (all of whom went to graduate school) who has student debt owes between $150,000 and $200,000 in student loans. On the campaign trail, Biden recommended canceling federal student debt in the following instances:

  • If you attended a public college or university. Attendees of private historically Black colleges and universities and additional minority-serving institutions would also be eligible.
  • If you used the loans for undergraduate tuition. Biden’s proposal would not cancel graduate student debt under his current plan.
  • If you earn less than $125,000. Biden’s platform referenced a phase-out of this benefit but did not offer further details.

This plan does a great disservice for people who went to graduate school. While I was able to work during my undergraduate degree to supplement my scholarships, I was forbidden by Mississippi state law from working outside the university while on a graduate assistantship, which paid my tuition plus a minuscule stipend ($5,000 a year for my M.A., $9,000 a year for Ph.D., the rest of my money to live on had to come from student loans). None of President Biden’s plans offer any significant assistance for graduate student loans — for which the average student debt is $71,000. Most of us who received graduate degrees, especially in the liberal arts and education, did not do so because we expected high-paying jobs. Many of us did so to go into public service.

President Biden has offered the beginnings of great plans for many Americans suffering from student debt, but it doesn’t go near far enough. The cost of tuition in the United States is rising faster than at any time in history. In 1996 when I started my undergraduate degree, the average cost of public, four-year colleges and universities was $7,140 (inflation-adjusted: $11,460). The cost of tuition at my undergraduate university was significantly lower at $2,355 for tuition and fees, and I paid roughly another $900 for room and board (inflation-adjusted: $5,495). Luckily, I had scholarships that paid for most of that, so I didn’t have to take out student loans while getting my undergraduate degree. At my undergraduate institution, the cost is now $25,180. If you consider inflation, the current cost is nearly a 460 percent increase from 25 years ago.

In contrast, in 1977 (the year I was born), the average cost of tuition for public, four-year colleges and universities was $2,040 (inflation-adjusted: $8,430). From 1977 to 1996, the average cost of tuition only increased by about 135 percent if you adjust for inflation. If this trend continues, the average American will be priced out of getting a college education. If a person took out student loans to pay for their undergraduate education and decided to go beyond their four-year degree, they would go into a graduate or professional school already owing more than $100,000 in student debt.

The United States lags behind the world’s major countries in the availability of affordable education and healthcare. The cost for both is astronomical and rising all the time. I realize Biden is more moderate and less progressive, which is one of the reasons I like him, but if something is not done to take control of the cost of education and healthcare in this country, it will come to a breaking point, and there will be a financial meltdown. Americans should not be punished for wanting to better themselves through education or keeping themselves healthy. If you are not wealthy enough to pay for your education outright and are forced to take out student loans, then you basically mortgage your life for twenty-five to thirty years. If you develop a chronic medical condition or a major illness, you will probably face medical bills beyond your control. The average American is punished for attempting to have a better life, and that punishment has to come to an end. Democrats want to help, but most don’t really understand the struggle the average American faces, even if they claim they do. Republicans only seem to care about the wealthiest of Americans and pursue policies to make sure that the average American never gets ahead. Republicans seem to be scared to death that their major contributors might have to pay higher taxes and pay their fair share.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that we need greater regulation in healthcare and education costs. The government can and should help with both of these issues. It is not something that Democrats can afford to compromise over. The Senate needs to return the filibuster to requiring a person to actually stand up and talk to filibuster so that Congress can pass legislation. Congress has to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans so that they pay their fair share. They have to get a handle on the American healthcare crisis. Education must be made affordable, and student loan debt must be dealt with in a meaningful way for everyone. Equality laws must be put in place, and voting rights must be defended. There is too much at stake to allow Republicans to block or slow down legislation to keep themselves in power. The majority of Americans favor significant reforms, but you’d never know that if you listen to Republicans or the conservative news media like Fox News.


Hope

Last night, president Biden gave his first speech before a joint session of Congress, even if it was a smaller crowd than usual. Since Biden became the nominee, I have seen hope in him. While I still wish Pete Buttigieg had been the nominee and was now president, I fully support President Biden. I believe in him. He’s not a perfect man and he admits that, but I do believe he is a genuinely good man. I’ve never felt this way about a president before in my 43 years on this earth. I think there have been presidents who were good men, but I’ve never felt a real hope in a president before Biden. I often find myself getting emotional when I hear him speak. He is what we need in this moment. I hope that parts of this speech will go down in history. I found it one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve heard in American political history. It was a speech of hope, unity, and progress.

The only faltering in my hope is members of the Republican Party. They know what needs to be done, but because it’s not their idea nor their administration, they oppose nearly all of Biden’s agenda. Most Republicans also have no issue with lying, which Senator Tim Scott did numerous times during his rebuttal. Scott claimed America is not racist, that Democrats blocked justice reform, and that Republicans have made voting easier in Georgia. These are so untrue, and it continues to show that Republicans have divorced themselves from truth and reality. It bothers me how much they want to block progress and freedom. In contrast to Biden’s speech, Scott’s speech was one of lies, division, and regression.

In other more personal news, today I am fully vaccinated. It has been two weeks since my second COVID vaccine. I will continue to wear my mask and social distance, but it feels like we are nearing the end of this horrible year. We are still at least several months away from something resembling a return to normalcy. I think it will be at least 2022 before we see real normalcy. If Biden’s opponent had won the election, I don’t think we’d be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. With Biden, we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Also, I am having times of relatively no pain. I’m not totally pain-free yet, but I am seeing some improvement. For most of the day yesterday, I was feeling pretty good (even though I woke with a headache, it did get better), but by the evening, I was in pain again. I have hope that I am getting better. There is still some swelling that is still aggravating my trigeminal nerve, but the tooth socket is not hurting nearly as much. As I’ve said before, time will tell, but I am hopeful.

My virtual program for the museum yesterday seemed to go as well as could be expected. There was a bit of fumbling with the technology, but it was quickly fixed and things went smoothly. We did run over by about twenty minutes, but people seemed to have enjoyed it. Some even asked for more programs similar to what was presented yesterday, and I do have two in the works for fall. Hopefully, they will be hybrid virtual/in-person programs. Again, time will tell.


Coincidence, I Think NOT!

Images of the CPAC stage went viral this weekend as many noted a resemblance to the Odal or Othala rune, a symbol emblazoned on some Nazi uniforms. The main stage’s floor layout resembled the Odal rune with wings/feet, which led to speculation on social media that CPAC deliberately chose this particular design. The Anti-Defamation League classified the insignia as a hate symbol adopted by modern-day white supremacists. As someone who organizes public programs as part of my job, I can tell you that no aspect of an event is unintentional, especially designing a stage for such a venue. I have no doubt that CPAC organizers chose this shape for a particular purpose. They were sending a message of support for the extreme right. The Odal Rune is a well-known symbol of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. In November 2016, the American National Socialist Movement’s leadership announced their intention to replace the Nazi-pattern swastika with the Odal rune on their uniforms and party regalia in an attempt to enter mainstream politics. This symbol was purposely chosen by National Socialist Movement’s leadership because it is a lesser-known symbol of Neo-Nazism. I find it hard to believe that the design of the CPAC stage was coincidentally shaped like the symbol of the National Socialist Movement when the Right is well-known for subtle nods to the most extreme of their ideology.

A Uniform Patch for the SS (top picture)
The CPAC Stage (bottom picture)

Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, the organizer of CPAC, said on Saturday in a tweet that comparisons were “outrageous and slanderous.” This is a typical response of the right when they are caught using symbols or statements as coded messaging for their more extreme elements. Schlapp continued saying, “We have a long-standing commitment to the Jewish community. Cancel culture extremists must address antisemitism within their own ranks. CPAC proudly stands with our Jewish allies, including those speaking from this stage.” This is the equivalent of, “I can’t be racist, I have black friends” or “I’m not homophobic, I know gay people.” Conservatives use this type of language all the time. The former president similar tactics all the time when he would voice his support of groups like QAnon or the Proud Boys and then claim he didn’t really know anything about such groups. Coded messages to extremists have been used by Republicans for decades to hide in plain sight their support of the discrimination of various groups.

This year’s CPAC theme was “America Uncanceled,” reflecting their obsessive use of the term “cancel culture.” Conservative media like Fox News use “cancel culture” as an attack on progressives by accusing them of silencing and banishing anyone with whom they disagree to a politically correct Hell. The Right fails to perceive the irony and hypocrisy (something they seem immune to) of arguing that Democrats invented “cancel culture,” when in reality, the Right perpetuated this political tactic to its radical extreme. Republicans live in a culture that cancels anyone and everyone who does not look like them, believe like them, think like them, walk like them, talk like them, love like them, present themselves like them, lie like them, invent and promote conspiracy theories like them, and rejects the Constitution like them. “Cancel culture” is a term the Right coined to organize its minions against progressive policies and actions. It is a term that is meant to justify continuing its oppression and dominance against those of us and our movement(s) attempting to end the forms of oppression and provide more equality and equity. In other words, “Cancel culture” is meant to give the Right justification in its continuing promotion of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, patriarchal Christian white supremacy, and all other forms of oppression. It is a term of intimidation and resistance to progressive social change.

CPAC’s goals of oppression was never more evident than in its use of the Odal rune for the design of the CPAC stage, but it’s not just that they used something similar to the Odal rune, it’s that they used the Nazi interpretation of that symbol. The rendition of the rune used for the CPAC stage with wings/feet was the badge of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office, which was responsible for maintaining the racial purity of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS). It was also the emblem of ethnic Germans of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen operating during World War II in the Nazi Germany-sponsored Independent State of Croatia. In addition to the National Socialist Movement in the United States, this rendition is used by Neo-Nazis in Germany and South Africa and by Italian neo-fascists. This particular rendition has no historical significance outside of Nazi Germany. Because of its Nazi associations, Germany’s Strafgesetzbuch (Criminal Code) 86a bans any usage of the Odal rune as with most other symbols if used in a Neo-Nazi context.

We have to be vigilant in calling out the coded messages to extremists that are constantly used by the Right. Sometimes, the Right does not code their hatred, and other times they do. We cannot let them get away with this extremism and their support of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, patriarchal Christian white supremacy, and all other forms of oppression. The problem must be rooted out, and we need to work to vote out all those who even marginally support such behavior.


Political Rant of the Week

I have said this numerous times, but Republican politicians are some of the most repugnant Americans. As the Biden administration continues to support LGBTQ+ rights, Republican homophobia and transphobia are becoming very apparent. Republicans have been using transgender women as the scapegoat for their opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. They have repeatedly denigrated trans kids and student-athletes and accused the parents of trans people of being neglectful or abusive. First, thirteen Republican Senators voted against Pete Buttigieg’s confirmation as Secretary of Transportation. None, as far as I know, gave a reason, and when I wrote to my former senator Richard Shelby, who I have always been told has a gay son, to ask why he voted against Pete, I was given a non-answer about how he carefully considers all nominees he votes on. I believe that most of these thirteen senators, including Shelby, voted against Pete because of his sexuality. While silent homophobia is bad enough, the outspoken homophobia and transphobia of some Republicans in Congress are beyond abhorrent.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a joint hearing to confirm Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Murphy and Dr. Rachel Levine, who is transgender and is the current surgeon general for Pennsylvania. Most questions focused on the government’s response to COVID-19. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) decided to go on an anti-transgender tirade when questioning Dr. Levine, ranting about how Congress should ban gender-affirming health care for transgender kids instead of left up to families and doctors. Paul started by saying, “Genital mutilation has been nearly universally condemned. Genital mutilation has been condemned by the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund.” He went on to say that genital mutilation is egregious because “it is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.” If he wanted to compare bottom surgery to genital mutilation, he was badly mistaken. It’s almost unheard of for minors to get bottom surgery. 

In fact, everyone talks about puberty blockers being used so that trans youth can have more time to understand themselves before puberty permanently affects their bodies. Paul then turned to the subject of puberty blockers and cited the American College of Pediatricians, an SPLC designated hate group that promotes anti-LGBTQ+ bias. It is often confused with the American Pediatric Association, the real professional association for pediatricians that urges parents of trans kids to “listen, respect and support their child’s self-expressed identity.” Paul remarked that “80 to 90 percent” of children with gender dysphoria “will experience resolution,” a euphemism for stopping being transgender. This statistic is fake, but Paul said it anyway at a Senate hearing. Paul continually attacked Dr. Levine in the hearing.

If Paul wants to rant about genital mutilation in children, he should support the campaign against infant circumcision. I will not say that circumcision should be prohibitive for those of the Jewish faith; after all, Republicans are always claiming to believe in religious freedom. Circumcision took hold in the United States in the late 19th century, spread through the “modernization” of medicine. A few prominent doctors, including John Harvey Kellogg, advocated the surgery as a cure for paralysis, epilepsy, venereal disease, even mental illness. Throughout the Victorian era, it was extolled for its virtue of cleanliness and as a cure for masturbation. Circumcision is the only common genital mutilation in the United States. Most of the rest of the world has quit following the practice or never advocated it in the first place. If circumcision should continue, it should be reserved for cases of medical necessity.

Then there is the always “pleasant” Marjorie Taylor Greene, who held up all of Congress’s business in a destined-to-fail attempt to stop the LGBTQ+ Equality Act from passing the House. Greene called the Equality Act “DISGUSTING, IMMORAL, AND EVIL.” One of her colleagues found an excellent way to show her contempt for Greene’s opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) put up a transgender flag across the hall from Greene’s office so that she’d have to see it every day. Newman tweeted, “Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.” 

Greene, who the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments due to her support of violence against other House members, put up a hateful sign in response that said: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust The Science!’” In a tweet, Greene noted that the Equality Act would “destroy women’s rights and religious freedoms.” She posted a video of herself smirking at the camera while slapping it on the wall. Making Greene’s sign even more insensitive is the fact that Newman’s daughter is transgender. On the House floor, she called her daughter the “strongest, bravest person I know.”

The Biden administration stated support of the Equality Act, a landmark piece of legislation that would establish LGBTQ+ civil rights protections in federal law. The measure passed the House yesterday. However, the Equality Act faces an obstacle in the Senate as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) refused to co-sponsor the bill and won’t say why. She has previously co-sponsored it but apparently is pouting because the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her Democratic challenger in the last election. Collins claims to be “a strong believer in LGBTQ rights,” yet, she doesn’t want to give us the federal protections we deserve. 

Our community often continues to face discrimination, harassment, and violence at work, at school, and in public accommodations. H.R. 5 would amend existing federal civil rights laws to expressly include nondiscrimination protection based on sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), providing security and equality to LGBTQ+ Americans in accessing housing, employment, education, public accommodations, healthcare, and other federally funded services, credit, and more. The Supreme Court has already ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that employees are protected from discrimination based on sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equality Act confirms the implications of Bostock for other discrimination laws, consistent with the President’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, issued January 20, 2021, and further builds on Bostock, thereby securing such protections once and for all for LGBTQ+ Americans across Federal civil rights laws. Women also currently lack protection against sex discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs; the Equality Act would fill that gap in the law.

Finally, we have another reprehensible MAGAt in Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who recently used anti-gay stereotypes to explain her plan to vote against LGBTQ civil rights. Like Greene, Boebert is viciously – and proudly – anti-LGBTQ. During an unhinged rant full of fake claims about transgender pre-teens, Boebert managed to bring her transphobic comments around full circle to loop in an anti-gay stereotype that all gay men are feminine. She said she is raising her four sons “to be men,” and she is “proud of that.” The implication is that if you don’t meet her standard of masculinity, then you are not a man. I pity her sons to be raised in such a way. I was raised in much the same way and am still dealing with the psychological issues it caused.

It infuriates me that Paul, Greene, Boebert, or any other Congress member can make such hateful and discriminatory comments without any repercussions. Any member of Congress who uses such harmful language should be universally renounced and reprimanded for their derogatory and detrimental language concerning someone’s sexuality, race, or religion. We should hold our politicians to a higher standard. Minorities in this country have fought long and hard for equality and respect, yet lawmakers can make insensitive and disgusting comments like those mentioned above and face no consequences. Greene at least got removed from her committee assignments for previous conduct and remarks, but I doubt they will ever expel her for what she has done.