The Mess We Are In and Why I Have Hope

This past month has been utterly insane in our country. We were only hours away from defaulting on our loans, utterly up-ending the global economy, and crashing the value of the dollar. This was all caused by a group of die hard conservatives who believed, if the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) went into effect, the Republicans would never win a presidential race for a generation. The ironic part is all of their efforts to stop this prophecy from happening led them directly into their feared outcome.

The rest of this post is a mixture of history, current events, speculation, and opinion. Take it for what it is worth, research everything, and start a conversation.

The Republican party currently is the majority in the House or Representatives. During their tenure, they have pushed things through such as voter restriction (voter ID), and redistricting (which is to say, they redrew the lines of where districts lines are in order to ensure it would be easier for only Republicans to win). These two things made it so certain conservatives were “safe” from challengers on the left, the Democrat simply could not win the race for House seats, and the reds were safe. This allowed these Republicans to be more and more extreme, which is why they can get away with the absurd amount of obstructionism. The conservatives feared that, once the Affordable Care Act (AFA) went into effect, the American people would be dependent on the government, and would never vote for a Republican wanting to take away the “free gifts” so the Republicans would never again win a presidential election. So the October 1st start date for the AFA meant this was their very last stand before they thought they would lose for good.Ironically, their desperation not to lose is what damned them more than anything.

The shutdown totally backfired, costing the US about 24 Billion dollars. On top of that, we may still have our credit rating downgraded. Worst of all, we have, in many ways, lost the respect of the world. How can we be trusted in business decisions if we might shut down the government any day? This will continue to have diplomatic implications in the future, but for now we have things such as the Chinese government-controlled news source saying we need to form a “new world order” and move to a “non-Americanized” global economic system. The entire game of political chicken left both sides bruised, but the Republican party were the ones who insisted on shutting down the government and threatening the world economy over a law that was inspired by the President, passed by the Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court, and re-affirmed in the 2012 presidential election. Because of that, they are the ones who ended up with more of the blame. I’ve seen polls now placing approval for the Congress down to 5%, with a +/- 5% margin of error. Meaning, anywhere from 0%-10% approved of Congress. That is disgusting.

A government without the approval of the governed, cannot govern. I feel this will more and more become an issue in our country. I talked recently with a friend, about why it is this bad, and I have a theory. My entire generation, born in the mid 80’s, have only ever lived under the idea of trickle-down economics. Our entire life, politics has been about the government getting out of business’s way, and giving as much as possible to the “job-creators” or the 1% or whatever you want to call them. That is the only America my generation has ever seen, we are the byproducts of Reganomics. But that is not the only America. Before Regan, we still followed FDR’s New Deal, which was an effective safety net binding together the American people, a form of egalitarianism. It was not perfect (it was full of racist tendencies), but the New Deal has been, piece by piece, torn apart over the past half-century, until very little remains standing. If this generation had grown up under the New Deal, we wouldn’t feel so jaded towards politics, which seems to only care about giving to the very most richest Americans. Countless court decisions have stripped away to protections for the people, and given more and more rights to corporations and millionaires to shield them from paying taxes, and allow them to harm the American populace. If we look a little further back at history, the New Deal was a reaction to almost the same sort of corporate takeover of America which occurred before then, with monopolies controlling more and more of American life. This shows me America moves in cycles, which means we can do the same thing again; we can make another New Deal, and change the way government is viewed by our generation from corrupt and worthless, to safe and beneficial. The federal government is not supposed to be controlling our every day lives, but providing for us a safe and stable place in which to live our lives.  That is not to say it will be perfect, but it could be better than it is. We have swung the pendulum from one extreme to another, and it can change again.

There are many potential paths all of this could follow in the next year. My hopes is that the 2014 midterm elections will see the Republicans who most fiercely pushed us past shutdown and towards defaulting held accountable for their actions. If we saw the Republicans removed from the House of Representatives, and continue with a blue Senate and Presidency, we could see radical change in the American future. The main obstacle holding back things such as student-loan forgiveness, environmental protection, income inequality protection, better healthcare, better investment on education, technology, green energy, even a big infrastructure project to jump start the American economy and fix our 50-100 year old road system, are the same obstructionist Republicans who shut down the government. If, in reaction, these people lost their power and we saw a wave of blue in return, we could at least take some steps towards a better, more compassionate society. It will NOT be perfect, and it will take time, but if we saw the Teaparty Republicans removed for their extremism, all of those things could take place, we could see movement towards a better future.

And so, I have hope. Nothing is set in stone; it is just as likely to fall apart as it is likely to get much better. However, I’m choosing to put my energy into hoping it gets better. I’d still like to find a better way forward, but for now, I have hope.

Watching Biden Own the Debate

Last night I watched the Vice Presidential debate with a very dear friend. It was an amazing experience, seeing Joe Biden, the man I shook hands with 3 weeks ago, on the national stage. It was even more amazing seeing him completely on his game, and completely own the stage.

 

Last night, Biden stayed absolutely true to everything he said 3 weeks ago when I met him at the Up and Coming LGBT Leaders Summit. Biden has made it incredibly clear he fully believes in equality, that everyone, EVERY AMERICAN, deserves an fair chance, and equal shot. He gave this same message, though more specifically tailored for the audience, at the dinner weeks ago; everyone deserves equality. Just because you are born poor, or born gay, or born with dark skin, or born into a Spanish speaking family, or born transgender, that should not affect the chance you have to make it in America. That message was incredibly clear in Biden’s performance last night.

Ryan did hold his own, and didn’t make any huge mistakes. He looked uncomfortable (and extremely dehydrated, given how often he had to take a sip of water). However, Ryan could not give any specifics, and told the American people “We’ll take care of you, Middle Class. Trust me, we will!”  It was nice to see Ryan move from the position that all abortions should be illegal to it should be allowed in cases of rape/incest/life of the mother. Up till now, Ryan advocated with Todd Aiken  for creating two qualifications of rape: “Legitimate/Forceful rape” and “other rape.” Now he has changed to saying all rape is bad, which is a good step, but less than a month before the election hardly seems like the time to finally take a stance.

Biden was able to clearly line out many of the Obama administration’s accomplishments, rescuing the auto industry, being firm on national security, working WITH the rest of the world, not against them, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars with the affordable care act, and promoting human rights. He went further to show that he will not force his religious views on other people, like the Republicans are doing. He showed his values, his core, while doing everything he could to convey the message the Obama administration is doing so much for the American people. They are not perfect; even Biden admitted it, but the choice between staying on a track for recovery, fairness, and equality, or going back to the thinking, policies, and advisers of the Bush administration.

More than just his performance, it was really special for me to watch Joe Biden on that national stage. He, unlike many politicians I have met, was true to his values of equality and fairness, whether he was speaking to a group of queer leaders or to thousands of Americans across the country. He didn’t use the same words, as much as I would have loved to hear him say “Gay Rights Are Human Rights” on camera,  I understand that is too politically dangerous to do on that stage. But his message still came across to me, that he believes everyone should be given an equal chance. He is one of the most powerful men in the world right now, he truly believes I as a transsexual LGBT activist, am doing great things to help the nation, and he is doing what he can to push that change for equality forward, to help change the way America thinks about its minorities. I was really blown away watching him, and I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to meet with him. Great job!

The Up and Coming LGBT Leaders Summit

This Wednesday was the LGBT Up and Coming Leaders dinner at the Vice President’s estate. I could write for hours and hours about the details, but let me sum it up with one word: Amazing! In a few more words, I’d like to share some highlights with my readers!

Early in the morning, I was part of a tour of the White House. It was really fascinating seeing the history and culture of America for myself; to walk through the rooms where diplomats and dignitaries met for almost two centuries. It was absolutely breathtaking. And I got one of those classic activist photos of me in front of the White House, as seen above.

Next, we were brought into one of the nearby offices where several prominent figures in DC politics and policy talked with us about the progress made for LGBT people in America. First, we talked with one of the most senior LGBT people in the President’s administration about the general direction of acceptance and our progress over the past few years. Then there were several presentations by a wide range of panelists, ranging from specialists in HIV/AIDS prevention/study, international LGBT rights, LGBT youth advocacy, and homelessness in the LGBT community. They let us ask the panelists a few questions, though the time was extremely limited. However, I was able to get up and I asked a woman from the Department of Health and Human Services about a subject very dear to me: what is being done to ensure resources that are supposed to help out struggling Americans are there for LGBT people? Specifically, I talked briefly about my experience of being turned away from a domestic violence shelter because I was transgender, and asked what was being done to educate these various groups and shelters of the needs of LGBT victims. Sadly, there wasn’t much to be said about what was being done, but it is definitely an avenue they wanted to pursue, and it became the main topic I talked about with others for the rest of the day.

We leaders were then given a few hours to meet with national LGBT leaders. I went with some others to a brown-bag lunch with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We learned of some of the specific accomplishments of each group, as well as their immediate plans moving forward. More than anything else, this was our opportunity as driven young leaders to meet with the people who will one day pass the torch onto us. During this meeting and a few others I had over the next 24 hours, I was able to actually sit and work with the major movers and shakers in the LGBT community, which gave me a chance to plug in and lend my voice to the movement, and gave me a great deal of perspective on how I can further my activism moving forward. In addition to meeting with NCTE and the Task Force, I was able to meet one on one with people from some other major groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, Think Progress, and Campus Pride.

Later that night, I arrived at the Vice President’s estate, greeted by a huge motorcade of about 10 motorcycle cops and several limos. His estate was absolutely gorgeous, and huge. This was the best time to connect with the other leaders, and I made many new friends and contacts with some absolutely amazing people from across America. Vice President Biden and his wife Jill Biden came and greeted us and each gave a brief speech talking about how amazing it was for them to see so many young, energetic leaders . They took great strives to make it clear, this event was about us, the next generation of leaders in America. VP Biden told us an amazing story about how he believes the work of the LGBT community is critical for America, not just because we fight for the rights of queer people, but because we fight for the soul of America itself. If not for the LGBT movement making the straight community question it’s values, America as a whole would still consider beating/humiliating/killing queer people “alright.” Because of the work the queer community has done, the straight community has been enriched and is wiser, and we can move forward as a freer, better, and more enlightened society. I cannot even begin to express how amazing it was to have one of the most powerful people in the world look me in the eye and say “Thank you, your work has made America a better place.”

This event was an amazing opportunity to make connections, to further my work as an activist for the LGBT community, but even more so, it gave each and every one of the leaders gathered a chance to see the bigger picture; to see the fight that we as a people face, not just the fight that we people face. While the event is over, the friendships made and the message left will stay with all of us for a very long time. This was the first time the US Government has ever done something like this for the queer community, and I was incredibly honored to be there. If any of the coordinators of this event happen to read this post, I just want to say thank you publicly. Engaging young leaders in such a positive, productive way was absolutely amazing, a new way to pull talent into the larger movement, and I truly hope more events like these happen in the future.

A Transgirl’s Perspective of the First Day of the DNC

Those of you who know me know that I am very interested in politics. I have lost many an hour watching MSNBC, reading a wide range of bi-partisan or non-partisan articles, keeping a finger on the political twitter pulse. Heck, I once called off a date to sit at home and watch the Republican primaries (luckily, the guy was a good sport and ended up coming and watching with me). Being a bit of a politics junky, I faithfully tuned into the coverage of the Republican National Convention last week.

The RNC featured vitriolic rhetoric about how terrible the president is and how we need to go back to the good old days. There were also several humorous observations, such as most of the speakers forgetting to mention Mitt Romney till more than half way through their speeches, and Clint Eastwood talking down to a chair with his hair looking like he just rolled out of bed. However, the planners of the convention did do their job well. Many of the speakers were women, and there were even a few Latino speakers. The RNC put forth a face of diversity. However, when the camera panned to the audience, there was NOT much diversity in the crowd. The vast majority of the people there were white, mostly middle aged and up, many men (though there were a good deal of women), a very uniform looking group.

The DNC (Democratic National Convention) started today, and being a liberal, I was incredibly moved by the energy, the passion, the pride, and the hope each of the speakers displayed. Tonight’s keynote speaker was Michelle Obama, the First Lady, and her speech was exceptional. It was personal, moving, made a strong connection to the people, humanized the president, etc etc etc. Lots of good things! However, what really struck me was when the camera panned to the crowd to see their reactions. There, at the DNC, perhaps the most public and broadcast platform the Democrats will have, the crowd itself was incredibly diverse. There was no overwhelming majority in skin color of the audience; there was a good mix of all the minorities. There was no overwhelming majority of age, or even gender. In fact, it was the gender thing that really struck me. During Michelle Obama’s speech, the camera panned to a woman who was clearly (to me at least) an African American Transsexual woman, literally in tears, since she was so moved from the speech. This was the nationally broadcast coverage shown from coast to coast, and there was the reaction of a real transsexual person, not as an activist or a cause, but as a person. It was just a few seconds of air time, but that alone highlighted EXACTLY what the difference between the RNC and DNC is, and what the election is really about.

I know, to most viewers, this was an insignificant few seconds, but to this transsexual activist, this “Up and Coming LGBT Leader,” this showed what the Democratic party is becoming more and more every day. The Republican party is largely concerned with the rights and privilege of a specific set of Americans, in very broad strokes, upper middle to upper class Caucasian people. The Democratic party is the group of everyone else, and of the ones who chose to work with the ‘other’ rather than just protecting themselves. The Democrats are FAR from perfect, but on this point at least, I am just wowed.

Unity of Diversity

After President Obama’s endorsement of same sex marriage earlier this month, gay rights became a main focus of the 2012 election. News stations on both the far right and the left were broadcasting constantly talking about the latest poles saying that more than half the country now supports same sex marriage and more than two thirds support civil unions. MSNBC shows more and more elected and appointed officials coming out to support LGBT rights, while Fox shows their Tea Party making announcements on the superiority of having more white straight babies (Sadly this is only a slight exaggeration)

Needless to say, public opinion is shifting. For many, many years, at least back to the 1960’s, but likely many years before, the Right has used a divide and conquer strategy to keep LGBT people from becoming publicly accepted. It’s the same tactic they use against African American groups, Latino groups, Women’s Rights groups, Labor groups, and groups dealing with the rights of impoverished people and those who cannot help them selves. The Right tried to divide these groups, pitting them against each other whenever possible. And sadly, this was massively successful. One of the clearest examples has been between the African American community and the LGBT community. For instance, the reason Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage in California, is said to have only passed because so many African Americans came out that year to vote for Barack Obama. And the President’s decision to publicly support same sex marriage immediately highlighted a schism in the African American community, with leaders in the community fiercely debating their Christian traditions of opposing same sex marriage with wanting to support the first African American president.

Just today I saw dozens of tweets going off from major LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force about a huge announcement. The NAACP, one of the most prominent and well known groups in the African American Community, have officially endorsed same sex marriage

http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/naacp-board-endorses-marriage-equality

This represents a huge, huge step forward for LGBT rights. This highlights how quickly public opinion on LGBT issues is changing. This endorsement, along with the President’s, challenges the decades of division between the two minority communities. This is amazing, for when all the minority communities join together, we are, by far, the majority. When we can put the differences between us aside, and recognize the shared experience of discrimination and oppression that each minority group faces, we can stand united for equality for all people.

This is an amazing sign for the 2012 election. The right was banking on doing as they had in 2004, splitting the democrats between the moderates and the “extremists” who believed in equality for all people and a woman’s right to choose. In 2012, with still almost 6 months till the polls open, it has been made absolutely clear that tactic will not work.

 

Obama and Gay Rights in Decision 2012

Just earlier today, President Obama officially announced that he believe same-sex couples should be able to get married.  This, obviously, is a VERY big deal. The situation that led to him making his announcement was highly unexpected; Joe Biden said, on Meet the Press, that he believes same-sex marriage should be legalized, which forced Obama to either take a stance in support of gay couples or to walk back the comments of his VP and remain indecisive.

Obama’s position up till now was that Civil Unions were an acceptable alternative(which they are not, given the hundreds of rights tied specifically to the word ‘marriage’ not to mention dividing the citizens of the US up into two types of unions, separate but equal…sound familiar?), but over the course of the past 3 years,  he has decided that to him personally, gay people deserve the full and equal rights, including marriage. While he has always been a very pro-LGBT president, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, refusing to sign on to the Defense of Marriage Act, signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, even sending the head of the Housing and Urban Development department to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s conference earlier this year. He has always been a quiet ally, but by publicly making this statement to the entire world as the first US President to ever endorse same-sex marriage, he has not only drawn a CLEAR divide between himself and Mitt Romney, who is now saying he never will support marriage equality. Not only that, but Obama has sent a strong message to the world that yes, LGBT people exist, no they are not inherently lesser people who deserve lesser rights, and yes I do support them.

I won’t go into politics too much at this point, but to all of the queer people reading and every ally, I want you to keep this in mind when you go to the polls this November, along with all of your personal opinions on politics and the complexity of the situation, there is one underlying belief to add to the stack of things on your mind. One side thinks you, your friends, your family do not deserve the same rights and privileges they enjoy, that you are somehow less of a person, a second class citizen, based on your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The other side now publicly acknowledges that LGBT people are not flawed or lesser people and they do deserve equal rights. The democrats aren’t perfect; I can understand a lot of complaints against the party.  I’m not saying “GO VOTE DEMOCRAT NOW” (though I may feel that way…), but please keep this underlying reality in your mind when making your decision.

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