The following is a guest post by Campbell, California Mayor Evan Low, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”
I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.
This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.
That’s not to say that things are always easy for LGBT elected officials. Like Milk, I have received my share of hate mail, with messages like: “We don’t want the homosexual agenda in our community.” As I have told reporters before, I don’t know what is on that so-called agenda, other than basic equality for all people.
One issue that’s certainly on my agenda is the end of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In a petition that now has more than 62,000 supporters, I wrote:
…recently, I hosted a blood drive on city property, but was banned from donating blood myself.
As the mayor of Campbell, providing for the welfare of the general public is a top priority. As a gay man, however, I am conflicted in my advocacy for blood drives. Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, a man who has sex with another man is deferred for life from donating blood. The ban was imposed in 1983 when there were no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV/AIDS. It was also made during a time of mass medical confusion and cultural homophobia associated with HIV/AIDS. The current FDA ban is wildly outdated and perpetuates unfair labels against gay and bisexual men that live on through decades of discrimination.
These kinds of stereotypes are not unlike the ones Harvey Milk was fighting nearly four decades ago, and why he, like I do today, encouraged LGBT people to come out whenever possible – to dispel the harmful lies about our community with the truth. Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, continues his uncle's legacy, and we are so fortunate to have Stuart carry the torch.
In a tape Milk recorded before his death, he said, “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement.” I think he would be proud of the movement that lives on in his spirit today.
Jim Garlow has begun hosting regular webcasts seeking to mobilize pastors in California on behalf of a petition drive that is seeking to repeal a California law that will allow students in the state to use whatever bathroom and participate on whichever sports team they believe matches their gender identity.
He hosted another one this week that featured Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage and Pastor Jack Hibbs in which Hibbs warned that God would judge the Body of Christ if it fails to rise up and repeal this legislation.
"This [bill] is an affront to God," Hibbs declared. "It's an affront to California's kids and those of you who are listening from across the nation, keep this in mind: what happens in California doesn't stay in California. If this is allowed to become implemented on January first, it will eventually get to your state. But, again, this is the most aggressive, the most dangerous bit of legislation against the child and against family than any other in the history of the United States. We've never seen a government pass such an insane bill as this":
“I may be an old fuddy-duddy, what is transgender?” Robertson asked co-host Wendy Griffith.
Despite Robertson’s admission that he doesn’t know what it means to be transgender, that didn’t stop him from criticizing the law. Robertson said that while he is “not opposed” to gender reassignment surgery, “but this whole business about transgenders, you’re saying they’ve got boy parts but they want to go to the girls’ restroom, that’s absurd.”
Robertson said he is sticking up for “the normal people” against the “insane” LGBT rights movement:
Why are we exposed to this stuff? They are driving the agenda, driving everybody crazy, all this sexual identity, sexual politics, ‘Mommy Has Two Mommies’ [sic] and all that stuff, it’s a tiny fringe but they seem to have control of the levers of power in the media and especially in Hollywood. But it’s insane. I just cannot believe that the normal people in America, the people who want to just live their lives can’t be allowed to do it without having this stuff imposed on them constantly. You’ve explained to me, I’m not sure we know yet.
Later in the broadcast, Robertson said: “now, we talk about transgender, I have a former stallion who is now a gelding.”
Phyllis Schlafly is livid about the Los Angeles Unified School District's decision to launch a program last month to put iPads in the hands of every student in the school district. The Los Angeles Times explains that the effort is intended to “put a school district composed mostly of low-income, minority students on an even footing with more prosperous students, who have such devices at home, at school or both.” The program was temporarily halted this week after enterprising students at one test school promptly figured out how to hack the iPads for personal use – but that’s not what concerns Schlafly.
Instead, in her Eagle Forum radio commentary today, Schlafly frets that the “fancy electronics” might be used to educate the children of undocumented immigrants…or any student learning English as a second language:
The superintendent says his goal is to “close the technology gap” for the many low-income students in the district, but technology doesn’t seem to be the central problem. Los Angeles Unified is a very depressed school district, regardless of how much technology students do or do not have. It continually has some of California’s lowest test scores, and almost 1/3 of its students do not finish high school. (Throughout the rest of the state, only 13% of students don’t make it to graduation.) The waste of money on fancy electronics seems even more egregious when we consider what a terrible job Los Angeles Unified currently does educating its students.
To add insult to injury, many of the students who will be receiving a taxpayer-funded iPad aren’t even supposed to be in the United States. Los Angeles has one of the highest illegal alien populations in the U.S. Almost 400,000 illegal aliens live in this district. Almost a third of its students are classified as “English learners.”
You may want to keep these kinds of frivolous expenses in mind next time your own school district asks for a tax increase. In the district I live in, the school board is asking for a tax increase almost every year.
Religious Right activists really don’t seem to know what it means to be transgender, and we can count the California-based advocate leading the charge to repeal California’s new law protecting LGBT students among them. Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute appeared yesterday on VCY America’s flagship radio program Crosstalk where she argued that the law will have a devastating impact on children and that parents should pull their kids out of public schools.
Her group, which launched a campaign to overturn the law, calls the non-discrimination provision an attempt by LGBT rights organizations “to use school children as a weapon in waging their culture war.”
“This word, gender identity or gender expression, it means expressing your gender whatever you feel that day,” England told VCY America host Jim Schneider. “If I feel like Christie Brinkley, the law is supposed to treat me like I’m Christie Brinkley even though I’m not. That’s what they are doing.”
Jesse Lee Peterson is calling on California parents to withdraw their “normal children” from public schools to protest a new education law protecting the rights of transgender students. Peterson, a California-based Tea Party and anti-immigrant activist, says in a press release today that “decent parents” should “boycott and pull their kids out” of school so they do “not have to endure this type of confusion and psychological trauma” and “indoctrination.”
“This is an outrage and an attack on the conscience of impressionable children and their parents,” said Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Founder and President of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny). “Parents who have the misfortune of having their kids in California public schools should boycott and pull their kids out. Normal children should not have to endure this type of confusion and psychological trauma.”
“Shame of Jerry Brown and California Democrats!” said Rev. Peterson. “AB 1266 will not stop bullying. It will subject these transgender students to more ridicule in locker rooms and bring on lawsuits. Governor Brown signed this bill on the first day of school knowing that decent parents who object to this type of indoctrination would be left with few options. It’s time to stop social experimenting on children—and it’s time to exit failing public schools!”
African-American conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson has become a darling of the Tea Party, most recently serving as a featured speaker at an anti-immigrant rally in DC last month. Peterson offers up far-right commentary on issues from gay marriage to immigration, but his specialty is insisting to mostly-white crowds that racism against people of color no longer exists and that African Americans in general, and President Obama in particular, are the real racists.
In a long interview with the Los Angeles Times today, Peterson goes into detail about what he sees as the scourge of “black racism,” kicking off the conversation by insisting “most black Americans are suffering not because of racism but lack of moral character” and going from there.
The problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Peterson tells the Times, is that it didn’t “protect white folks” against “black racism”: “If they had just changed it so the same laws that protected white folks would protect black people and left us alone, things would be much better today.”
“Not all but most black people are so racist toward white people,” he added.
Asked about racist attacks on President Obama – like images of the president growing watermelons on the White House lawn — Peterson replied, “If they're just doing it to have some fun, I don't see anything wrong with it….It's known that — not all — but black people love watermelons. It's not a put-down. “
Growing up you worked the same land where your ancestors were once enslaved. Didn't you experience racism there?
I did — colored-only signs, white-only signs. In the movie theater, blacks had to sit in the balcony. I was fine with that because we had a better view! I saw they were wrong, but we were taught not to hate. And we knew white people who weren't doing those things.
Now, not all but most black people are so racist toward white people. And white Americans are afraid if they say the wrong thing, they'll be accused of being racist.
The founding documents of this country didn't consider you or me to be fully legal beings.
At one point there was definitely racism from white America, but that started to change over the last 40 or 50 years. White people realized, yeah, this did exist, we're sorry, we're going to [institute] stuff to help blacks get themselves together. They passed laws against white racism, but the problem is they have not had an honest dialogue about black racism.
Wasn't the Civil Rights Act the right thing to do?
If they had just changed it so the same laws that protected white folks would protect black people and left us alone, things would be much better today. Change the law, then get out of the way of people coming together.
What do you think of President Obama?
I think he's the worst thing to ever happen to this country. He doesn't care about black people. He's selling them out for Hispanic votes. He cares more about homosexuals than he does about blacks. In healthcare and education — illegals have overpopulated public schools in South Central, and blacks are feeling pushed aside. They voted for Obama thinking he would be for them, and he's not.
The Internet is full of stuff about Obama growing watermelons on the White House lawn, or Michelle Obama posing for National Geographic. Isn't that racist?
It depends on the heart of the person doing it. If they're just doing it to have some fun, I don't see anything wrong with it. They did the same thing to Bush.
They didn't make fun of him because of his race.
They aren't making fun of Barack for being black either. It's known that — not all — but black people love watermelons. It's not a put-down. [Although] I'm sure you can find racists like the KKK who hate black people and will use something like that.
Elsewhere in the interview, Peterson addresses marriage equality (“Homosexuality is not about love or family or civil rights; it's about sex”) and his efforts at reparative therapy (“If they were to forgive their parents, then God will forgive them and remove that identity from them and they will be free”).
You endorse marriage. Gays have fought for marriage.
Same-sex marriage doesn't exist; there's no such thing in God's eyes. So-called same-sex marriage would destabilize society. Homosexuality is not about love or family or civil rights; it's about sex.
What do you say to gay people you counsel?
I tell them they were not born that way, that a spirit has made a home inside of them that came from some sort of trauma — maybe they were molested at an early age or had angry parents — and that if they were to forgive their parents, then God will forgive them and remove that identity from them and they will be free.
The California-based Religious Right group’s head Brad Dacus spoke to Jim Schneider of VCY America yesterday on Crosstalk, where he described their campaign against the “hideous, unbelievable [and] unthinkable” education law, which he says “turns the concept of decency, respect and privacy on its head.”
Later in the program, Dacus said there will be “many casualties,” including “mental, emotional and psychiatric casualties.” “A lot of young, very fragile, emotionally fragile boys and girls are going to be paying the price for the rest of their lives,” Dacus continued, attacking LGBT rights advocates for “putting [children’s] welfare second to their political agenda.”
Jennifer Roback Morse of the National Organization for Marriage knows who to blame for yesterday’s marriage equality victories in the Supreme Court: Hollywood. Roback Morse, the campaign spokesperson for Proposition 8 in California, discussed the marriage equality decisions on today’s Sandy Rios in the Morning. She blamed Hollywood for the Supreme Court’s decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA, saying that Hollywood is “dominated by all aspects of the sexual revolution.”
Morse also blamed television for American’s “distorted view” of how many gay people there are in the country. “They’re only about 2% of the population,” she claimed. “But if you watch TV all day, you’ll think it’s 30 or 40% of the population’s gay.”
Morse urged anti-gay activists “to go down fighting” and suggested that the freedom of speech is at stake: “You need to speak out while you still can because these guys are closing in on us in all kinds of dimensions.” According to Morse, gay rights advocates believe “the sexual revolution is the highest objective and will bend the rule of law and bend the Constitution” in order to realize their goals.
In Los Angeles, California, a group of specialists in media, advertising and entertainment, joined by business people, lawyers, and civic activists have founded an organization that is running advertisements based solely on the need to amend the Constitution to fix our political campaign finance system. The group, Fix Our America, has begun the process of running the following advertisement on airwaves in California, and is seeking to run more ads in other media markets across the country:
These advertisements are boosting the amendment dialogue in California, a state that has witnessed much grassroots amendment activity yet is still in need of deep reform. Just days ago, Los Angeles voters approved Ballot Measure C, which called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, with 77% of the vote; last year, the California state legislature passed an amendment resolution “to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people”; and since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010, over 75 California municipalities have called on Congress and the states to pass and ratify an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
California does not stand alone. The amendment movement is well underway and gaining momentum in states across the country. Fix Our America is yet another example of the American people joining together in protest of the fundamental threat that corporate and special interest campaign spending poses to our democratic institutions. In the words of Fix Our America’s Declaration of Principles Statement, “Americans deserve the best. Instead, we have been saddled with a system that … leaves all of us at the mercy of those who buy legislation and policy to suit their narrow interests.” The time has come to fix that.
Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver has been spearheading efforts to strike down a California law barring ex-gay therapy for minors. Today, he chatted with Mike Huckabee about Liberty Counsel’s case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Staver warned that if the law stands, minors will be forced to turn to harmful, back-alley ex-gay therapy rather than to “licensed professionals.” Huckabee compared this to having an untrained person trying to set a broken leg.
Of course, Staver and Huckabee both support personhood laws that would criminalize abortion in all cases and dramatically increase cases of unsafe, back-alley abortions.
Staver: They make the premise that this counseling is harmful, it’s harmful if it’s engaged in, they say, by licensed professionals that have training and education. Well guess what? If this law passes and it goes into effect and the court doesn’t stop it, then if it’s harmful to have this by licensed professionals, what’s the next step? It’s even more harmful to have it done by people who are not licensed or trained, but that’s where it’s going.
Huckabee: It’s almost like saying that if you set a broken leg as a medical doctor and you don’t do it a certain way, you’re in trouble. Obviously, if you’re not even a medical doctor, I think you’d clearly be clearly under a greater level of trouble, that’s the point you’re making.
Later, Staver made the case that survivors of child abuse would not be able to receive counseling under the law and described the law as “dangerous.” Huckabee, meanwhile, wondered about the plight of a young gay man who “decided” to be heterosexual.
Staver: If this client comes in and the parents say he was molested by the likes of a Jerry Sandusky and abused, now after that several months later he started to have these acting out behaviors and he doesn’t like it, nor do we, can you help him? The counselor would have to say, ‘I can’t, you’re going to have to just accept that, that’s who you are, that’s natural and normal, I can’t give you counsel to ultimately help you eliminate those kinds of attempts that you want to act out, the kind of behavior that you were abused by.’ This is just an absurd situation; it is politically motivated.
Huckabee: I mean this really is the courts stepping in and telling the clinical practitioner the limits of his or her practice to a level that would seem unprecedented. Mat, let me pose a question, let’s say a young person comes in and says, ‘you know I’ve always believed I’m homosexual, believed that since I was seven-years-old, but now that I’m seventeen, I’ve decided that I’m not, I’m heterosexual’ and goes to a pro-homosexual counselor. Would that person be at risk? It looks like some of those folks would be nervous that they couldn’t say, ‘oh no, no you are homosexual all right because you thought that when you were seven and therefore you have to stay that way.’
Staver: The interesting thing the way the law is essentially written is if you are trying to give them counsel, even for somebody who say for example they say they’re bisexual, they’re attracted to both sexes, if you are trying to counsel them to primarily be heterosexual as opposed to homosexual that would be a clear violation. If you are trying to move them away, however, from heterosexuality to bisexuality, transexuality, asexuality, whatever sexuality you come up with, questioning, confused, then that is personally fine as long as you affirm them in that situation. But if you move them back towards heterosexuality, nope, that’s simply not permissible. You can see really where this law is coming from, this law is a political statement; it’s dangerous.