Trans Woman is a Leading Contender for Surgeon General Post

Perhaps realizing how one of the most important issues Biden address once in office is the coronavirus, the president-elect has already taken steps to surround himself with well respect public health officials. With that in mind, he also has to make decision on how to fill the Surgeon General role with someone who will become the nation’s preeminent public health official and lead the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. One of the top contenders for the position is a transgender woman named Dr. Rachel Levine.

Dr. Levine currently serves as the Secretary of Health in Pennsylvania and has been largely praised for her efforts in that role. As we’re seeing a rise in cases all across the country, for instance, Dr. Levine expanded the state’s mask order this week and is working to ensure hospitals have enough resources to deal with the increase number of cases. Medical professionals and elected officials were quick to respond positively to this announcement.

It’s actions like these that have caused someone in a relatively obscure position during non-pandemic times to receive a significant amount of attention and praise. She was even the subject of a recent article in the Philadelphia Magazine that praised her efforts and spoke about the respect she’s received from the community. The headline made it perfectly clear what folks thought of her by saying “Rachel Levine is saving Pennsylvania and become an accidental icon in the process.”

“Here, it’s Levine, who has been praised for her COVID-19 response — for many of us, a steady, composed, data-driven approach in a time when others have peddled panic (and false hope), placed blame and questioned science,” the article said. “There are Rachel Levine fan-club buttons. Someone started a Twitter hashtag, #Respect4Rachel, to push back on bigotry directed toward her. A Facebook fan page, “Dr. Rachel Levine-We Love You,” has 6,460 followers. The comments there are a steady stream of gratitude, describing her in words typically reserved for Jesus.”

But it’s not just her knowledge of public health issues that’s received attention. On top of being a well respected public health expert, the doctor has been a prime example of how transgender people are just like everyone else and can do fantastic work for the community. After right wing activists tried to spread bigotry and mock Dr. Levine for being trans, for example, she didn’t lose her cool or lose sight of the bigger picture. Instead, she used part of one of her briefings to address the attacks in a responsible way.

“I want to emphasize that while these individuals may think that they are only expressing their displeasure with me, they are in fact hurting the thousands of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who suffered directly from these current demonstrations of harassment,” she said according to LGBTQ Nation. “Your actions perpetuate the spirit of intolerance and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically transgender individuals.”

“I think that we need to continue to educate people about LGBTQ individuals,” Dr. Levine added. “We are just here, we’re part of the community. We are doctors, we are nurses, we are teachers. We work in restaurants. We work everywhere, and it’s our children. So I think if an apology means, ‘Okay, I apologize. This is all done,’ then it is insufficient.”

Having Dr. Levine receive praise for her response to the pandemic while also combating the divisiveness and hatred spewed by anti-LGBTQ people might seem like something small, but it can have a lasting impact on people coming from a traditionally marginalized community.

Studies have shown that about 12 percent of today’s youth identify as transgender or gender non-confirming. That’s about 1 in 8 people. 90% of people in this group have been verbally harassed, 50% have been physically harassed, and 25% have been physically assaulted. This is in large part because many school systems and workplaces have no protections for LGBTQ students that prevent them from discrimination or harassment.

While young people are dealing with the actual fear that goes along with the the verbal and physical assaults, they also often feel isolated and alone. This is because they often aren’t represented in school curriculum or public media. There aren’t many transgender characters in TV shows, news coverage of the contribution trans people make to society, or discussion of their lives in literature or educational curriculum (such as sex ed, biology, or history).

Being able to see themselves represented in society’s culture will not only have direct benefits towards transgender individuals, but studies have proven that representation will actually reduce transphobia among the general population.

This makes sense if you simply look back on the discussion around same-sex marriage. There used to be laws against same-sex couples from even dating one another, but that’s changed over time as public opinion on gay rights has evolved. Even arch conservatives like Dick Cheney have come around on the issue after a family member came out, after all, and a conservative Supreme Court justice was the one who wrote the ruling declaring bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

If Dr. Levine were to become the nation’s next Surgeon General, her history of action as Secretary of Health shows she would bring a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to the position. But her appointment could also go a long way in sending a message of promoting equality. And given Biden’s personal connections to the transgender community (he’s been close to state-senator-elect Sarah McBride and even wrote the forward to her book) and that he mentioned trans equality in his victory speech, I imagine this isn’t lost on the president-elect.

Chasten Buttigieg Calls Out Trump’s Bigotry and Homophobia

Mayor Pete might have excited a lot of people during his presidential campaign, but his husband was actually a huge draw as well for many folks. Chasten Buttigieg is a school teacher who would frequently headline major events for Pete while crisscrossing the country lining up support for the former South Bend Mayor and it shouldn’t be too surprising that he’s still out there making media appearances.

In the lead up to the Democratic National Convention, he actually went on Fox News program in LA to talk about Kamala Harris being named as the VP candidate and a variety of other issues. During the appearance, he didn’t hold back at all as he made it clear he wants a president who’s willing to ensure everyone has an opportunity to thrive … something he clearly doesn’t think Trump’s willing to do.

“As a teacher, I’m always thinking about what my kids are seeing,” he said. “I hope soon they’ll be seeing an empathetic, compassionate, loving Vice President like Kamala Harris speaking on the television and not a bigoted, homophobic president like the one we have in the White House right now.”

The host pretty much could only mumble a “that’s pretty pointed right there” response before going on to ask about what it’s like to be the spouse of a candidate and what he thinks of Dr. Jill Biden.

Chasten would later add that he would like to see “a president who cares,” which is a sentiment a lot of people have expressed after Trump has dismissed over 170,000 deaths by saying “it is what it is” when asked about the number of deaths during an interview and repeatedly saying people who lost their job during the public health crisis simply want to sit back and collect unemployment rather than work.

“You know, I want young kids, I want my students, to look at the White House and see an administration that sees their worth and their dignity,” the teacher added. “I don’t want any more of what’s coming out of this White House which won’t even name things like the violence directed toward Black trans women.”

No matter what you think of Chasten’s politics or his husband’s presidential campaign, you cannot deny he’s absolutely correct here. We need leaders who are willing to treat LGBTQ people with common decency instead of spewing bigotry and divisiveness on a daily basis.

Mayoral Candidate Richelle Wallace Spews Anti-Trans Rhetoric on Social Media

no hateLocal elected officials often have a significant amount of influence over how welcoming their communities are for the LGBT community and other groups who face discrimination. They not only help govern the locality, but can help promote a certain set of values that places an emphasis on ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. It’s therefore very disappointing a mayoral candidate in Hampton, VA has posted a series of social media comments that channel anti-trans rhetoric used by the extreme right.

Richelle Wallace, who’s running for mayor this year after losing a race for city council back in 2018, wrote a post on Facebook expressing opposition to legislation introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko. The bill would make it easier for a transgender person to update their birth certificate and would help limit the discrimination people might face due to their gender identity while doing activities that require identification documents (starting a new job, getting a driver’s or business license, etc). The mayoral candidate from Hampton, however, refused to acknowledge the tremendous amount of good the bill would do and simply suggested it was a way for transgender women to play in female sports.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion about how society should address the transgender athletes participating in athletics and it’s likely to continue. And considering how it’s a relatively new topic of discussion, it’s understandable that it’s one people would want to weigh in on. Several people, including myself, however, left comments on her post letting her know that her tying the issue of sports into a basic step towards equality like being able to update a birth certificate seemed to echo a lot of the rhetoric used by the extreme right.

During the lead up to last year’s school board elections in Fairfax County, for instance, the extremely conservative and proudly anti-LGBT Elizabeth Schultz hosted a meeting with senior staff members of a designated hate group that promotes an anti-trans agenda. Throughout the 90 minute meeting that was filled with hatred directed towards the transgender community, one of the designated hate group’s major talking points was how they claimed transgender people are trying to erase womanhood and are using sports as one of their ways to do so. It’s this type of rhetoric that Richelle Wallace is legitimizing by echoing their talking points.

Considering how Wallace claims to be a Democrat who supports basic civil rights, there was a thought that highlighting this might result in her changing her tune. In sharp contrast to that desire, however, it appeared as though she almost doubled down on using rhetoric that diminished the trans community and anyone who supported them.

Wallace immediately refused to take responsibility for echoing the transphobic talking points that some on the extreme right have a history of promoting. Instead of engaging on trying to figure out why so many people thought her remarks were offensive, for instance, she told one person “what you think is implied is not my responsibility.” That is a strange remark coming from someone who you’d think would realize that rhetoric matters and has spoken out against the type of rhetoric Donald Trump uses.

But as the controversy surrounding her remarks grew, it became clear this wasn’t just a matter of her echoing some right wing talking points in a misguided attempt to defend the integrity of female sports. Richelle quickly moved beyond just raising concerns about girls sports and proceeded to spew all sorts of anti-trans rhetoric.

IMG_2767In an exchange with a male who commented about the birth certificate legislation, Richelle said she’s “worried about someone being deceived into marrying someone that is biologically not who they thought they were marrying and it being legal.” To further drive home how she thought being transgender is actually worse than lying about an affair, she then added “this bill’s letting transwomen change their birth certificates from male to female. That’s not like lying about an affair.”

This comment was made after she created a story out of thin air about how transwomen would supposedly use their updated birth certificate to marry a man without him ever knowing that she was transgender. Following this twisted line of thinking she was promoting, Richelle went on to claim that would result in the woman lying to husband about why they couldn’t get pregnant.

Apparently still looking for ways to describe how horrible she thinks it’d be to marry someone who’s trans, she suggested someone who married a transwoman would then have “to live with knowing his wife was born a man. Nevermind the psychological impact this has on the husband and the questioning he will do as far as his masculinity.”

“They need the birth certificate to obtain a marriage license,” Richelle also offered up while trying to further her attempt to prove the government would be participating in deceit by allowing a birth certificate to have a person’s gender identity updated. “The fact that [the partner of a transgender person] was not only deceived during the relationship but the person was allowed to keep deceiving because the law allowed the deception by allowing the birth certificate to be changed, lies the problem.”

IMG_2779In addition to the line of discussion highlighted in those comments, she also suggested trans women aren’t actually women and trans men aren’t men. It’s a matter of basic decency to acknowledge that people are the gender they identify as, but Richelle made comments implying that a trans woman cannot be female because she doesn’t have a uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Her additional references to chromosomes and DNA make it clear she doesn’t view trans people as the gender they identify with even though there is plenty of scientific evidence showing transgender people truly are the gender they identify as.

Put all these comments together and it’s very clear she’s saying that transgender people are trying to deceive people when they advocate for identity documents and other legal measures that confirm their true gender. Her claim that someone should be more concerned with the impact a woman’s gender identity might have on a straight, cisgender male’s ego and perceived masculinity than with protecting the basic civil rights perfectly illustrates the disdain in which she holds the trans community.

When you get down to it, the root of the problem for many people was folks were simply trying to have Richelle understand why her comments were offensive to the transgender community, but she blatantly refused to listen and actively demeaned anyone who tried to stand up for basic equality. This tactic left several people with the impression she not only didn’t respect transgender people, but she also wasn’t willing to listen to what the public was telling her.

“You aren’t willing to learn,” one woman who’s a well respected advocate for the transgender community said. “You ask a question, then answer your own question. The article I gave you had a lot of factual information. I learned a lot reading it. You chose not to.”

“The conclusions I am ‘jumping to’ are based on YOUR words through this entire thread and the others,” the woman added. “You have people who are heavily and deeply involved in this community, are A PART of this community, telling you that you are wrong and why, and you show no compassion, no willingness to listen or learn.”

In a prime example of what might have been frustrating some people about the tenor in which Richelle engaged with others, somebody linked to an article published by the Daily Press in 2018 describing how the candidate hadn’t been paying her personal property taxes. The commenter wanted Richelle to explain how the city of Hampton would be able to fund any of her proposals if even she wasn’t paying her taxes.

Despite the highlighted article being published by a reputable media outlet and nobody disputing the facts, Richelle decided it was a good idea to threaten the person for having the audacity to bring up a valid question. “I’m warning you that if you continue, you will be sued for defamation,” Wallace declared.

In other words, she was going to file a frivolous lawsuit against someone who brought up factual information that could be found through a quick google search. This suggested she was willing to go to extraordinaire lengths to silence people who weren’t fully supportive of her campaign and raised significant questions about her willingness to truly engage with the public she hopes to represent. That’s not exact the type of behavior you want from a political candidate.

Of course, she might have begun to realize this when she actually told one commenter that they shouldn’t be associating her anti-trans rhetoric into her mayoral campaign. “Do not attempt to put my running for an elected position into this,” she warned. “You have no knowledge of my abilities as a leader.”

Of course, the entire reason her remarks even drew any attention was because she’s running for office and it’s easy to assume she understood this. That’s likely why, despite her repeated comments demeaning the transgender community and refusal to even listen to the community and its allies, Richelle insisted her use of the pronouns and names transgender people prefer proves she’s actually a supporter of LGBT equality. At one point, after claiming she wasn’t even responsible for her rhetoric being offensive to some people, she actually claimed to be responsible for gay marriage being legal.

“If it wasn’t for me and people like me standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community and same sex marriage,” Richelle claimed, “it wouldn’t exist.”

In the aftermath of that comment, the old saying that actions speak louder than words comes to mind and the outrageous claim helped provide a clear illustration of what Richelle Wallace and her campaign are all about.

It’s simply laughable that she would try to take credit for making same sex marriage legal after repeatedly making comments demeaning LGBT people and saying it wasn’t her responsibility to care about how much they offended people. It’s this type of ignorance and blatant refusal to actually listen to the public feedback she’s receiving that proves she’s unworthy to serve as mayor of Hampton or have any leadership position in the Democratic Party.

VA Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities

As members of Virginia’s General Assembly have begun pre-filing legislation to be considered in the upcoming session, the Senate Democratic caucus has announced its priorities for the session. Considering they campaigned upon similar themes this year, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ll be focused in on gun violence prevention, health care, education, equality, and voting rights.

“Virginians elected Democrats to tackle the challenges facing our Commonwealth,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair for Policy Jeremy McPike. “We’re proud to prioritize commonsense legislation that addresses equality, gun violence prevention, and economic security.”

In a statement released earlier today, the Caucus made it clear they will have a busy first ten days of session once the Senate convenes in Richmond. During that period, leadership says they’ll prioritize ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), implementing universal background checks for firearms, making it illegal to deny someone housing based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity, and allowing no-excuse absentee voting.

As we’ve seen pre-filed bills trickling in, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that Dick Saslaw seems to have taken his new Majority Leader title to heart and has taken the lead on some of the efforts to help end gun violence. He introduced the bill for universal background checks and another one banning bump stocks.

The Majority Leader also introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. If passed, the bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and then increase it by $1 an hour each year until it hit the $15 mark. Although this would still result in someone struggling to get by in Northern Virginia, it’s far better than the federally mandated $7.25 an hour that’s currently used in the Commonwealth.

That being said, there’s still a significant amount of concern about Sen. Saslaw’s leadership on some progressive issues. This is especially the case in regards to environmental issues and the hesitation comes from Saslaw taking an enormous amount of money from Dominion over the years. As most Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the energy company and refuse to take donations from them, the majority leader has bragged about his relationship with the corporation.

The refusal to even give credence to the criticism of Dominion is why many environmentalists haven’t been thrilled with the Senator’s leadership. Lowell over at Blue Virginia pointed out that the over $400,000 in donations “Dominion Dick” has received from Dominion means he’s not likely going to take the lead on doing things like “moving Virginia to 100% clean energy.”

With all that being said, it’s good to see the Democrats are responding to what the public told them during the campaign season and are moving forward with a solid agenda. Much of the legislation is something that Virginians can rally behind, but Republican leaders had used parliamentary tricks to block from even being considered by the full General Assembly in the past. It’ll therefore be great to see some productive and meaningful legislation being considered starting in January.

Steve Adragna Suggests Transgender Community Changes Gender “Every Six Months”

steve adragnaRepublicans in Northern Virginia have a history of trying to claim they don’t support discrimination, but belittling the LGBT community and supporting policies that make them second class citizens. The latest example of this came in a League of Women Voters forum held last night for candidates running in the 42nd House of Delegates district and Springfield School Board races.

When candidates were asked what they would do to help prevent discrimination against the LGBT community, Steve Adragna claimed he didn’t want to make anyone feel as though they weren’t equal. That would have been a decent position to take even though it contradicts positions his party has taken, but he went on to claim that preventing discrimination based on someone’s gender identity would “force corporations to switch the pronouns they use for someone every six months.”

This completely diminishes the struggles facing the transgender community and helps show he clearly doesn’t actually believe everyone should be treated as equals. Just because someone is transgender doesn’t mean they’re going to change their gender “every six months.” To imply they’ll simply be changing their gender willy nilly whenever they feel like it suggests he doesn’t have respect for their true gender identity and therefore thinks they shouldn’t be protected from employers who can fire them simply for being transgender.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a Republican in Fairfax County has used a similar type of reasoning to claim there shouldn’t be laws banning discrimination based on gender identity. Tom Wilson, who currently represents the Sully District on the School Board has suggested the transgender community isn’t real and says preventing discrimination against trans people would mean he could suddenly wake up and decide to be a mother.

Ironically, both of these men constantly talk about how they’re supposedly running because they’re sick of partisan politics and they want to focus on the needs of the community instead of promoting a political agenda. Their insistence on devaluing an entire group of people and promoting an anti-LGBT agenda, however, shows they unquestionably have a right wing agenda they hope to promote while in office.

Elizabeth Schultz has also joined calls for blocking any effort to ban discrimination against the LGBT community, of course, but she makes no pretense to hide her bigotry. She’s even spoken at events sponsored by the Family Research Council, which has officially been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And as recently as last week’s school board meeting, she claimed her fellow board members were too focused on promoting a “radical social agenda” rather than providing real solutions for students.

While all of this is disappointing, Delegate Kathy Tran showed residents of the 42nd district have an opportunity to be represented by someone who actually does believe in equality. She highlighted how she supported legislation that would prevent discrimination in public housing and employment based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, both pieces of legislation were killed in subcommittee by the Republican majority. The good news is it appears as though they would have been passed by the full House if a few extreme conservatives hadn’t prevented them from moving forward.

Laura Jane Cohen who’s running to replace Schultz on the School Board also made it clear that she supports measures that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While it was said as part of a larger discussion about One Fairfax, Laura Jane said she strongly believes every student deserves an equal opportunity for success no matter what background they came from.

What this all means is that conservatives in Northern Virginia have often tried to portray themselves as supporting equality for all, but have no problem mocking the transgender community and suggesting efforts to ban discrimination against trans people don’t deserve serious consideration.

Dave LaRock and Others Continue Campaign Against LGBT Equality

As a member of Equality Loudoun’s steering committee, I was involved with getting the Loudoun County School Board to add gender identity and sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy. It was an uphill battle where we frequently saw right wing extremists spreading blatant lies designed to scare the school board and the general public into thinking the move would result in Loudoun being sued for violating the Dillon Rule or put women in danger of being sexually assaulted (neither of which are true). After a two year fight, basic decency won and the school board stood up for basic equality.

The extreme right isn’t letting the issue go away, however, as Eugene Delgaudio’s organization is actively running a social media campaign casting the protections as part of a “perverse and murderous” agenda pushed by the radical left. He claims preventing discrimination against the transgender community is really designed “to push women out of athletics, out of their bathrooms and even out of the maternity ward.” Combined with the efforts of Sen. Dick Black to fund some of the right wing candidates running for the Loudoun County School Board, it’s obvious the right is doing whatever it takes to force their hatred and bigotry on local governments.

Del. Dave LaRock is also joining in the efforts to spread bigotry when it comes to the LGBT community. He was one of the more vocal opponents of the efforts in Loudoun County, but has also played a prominent role in recent events in Frederick County. Even though the protections had only been on the books for about a month, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors repealed measures preventing county staff from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.

County officials told the Winchester Star the major reasoning behind doing away with the protections was Del. LaRock told them it was a violation of state law (through the Dillon Rule). This argument ignores how there have been several other counties who’ve had similar measures on the books for years and haven’t faced any legal repurcussions from the state. Plus, Attorney General Mark Herring actually wrote a memorandum laying out how localities actually did have the legal authority to implement these protections. In other words, LaRock is simply trying to once again use the threat of legal action to force his right wing social agenda on the local community.

A lot of these measures are designed to not only promote their agenda, but also motivate their base of supporters as November’s elections are rapidly approaching and it looks like there could be another blue wave in Virginia. There’s a strong chance that could prove effective as many people aren’t even aware Virginia has elections this November. And even among those who do know, many aren’t following what’s going on with the Board of Supervisors or the School Board and will therefore be more likely believe a salacious headline or two highlighting the arguments of Delgaudio, Black, and LaRock.

Fortunately, Sen. Dick Black isn’t running for reelection this year (though him and his family are funding school board candidates who support their agenda). Del. Dave LaRock, however, is up for reelection in a district that is extremely favorable to Republicans. It’s such a conservative stronghold that even Corey Stewart was able to win the 33rd District in his bid for US Senate last year. As a result, it will take an extremely aggressive voter education program in the final months of the campaign if Mavis Taintor has any chance of defeating LaRock and his hate filled agenda.

Braden Holtby Participated in Capital Pride Over the Weekend

While the NHL and other organizations have been making an effort to improve their efforts to reach out beyond their traditional base of support, hockey isn’t known as being the most diverse sport out there. This is why it’s important for players and team executives to make efforts to reach out to communities that aren’t well represented in the hockey community.

With that in mind, fans of the Washington Capitals have probably noticed how their star goaltender, Braden Holtby, has been a strong advocate for the LGBT community over the years. As Capital Pride took over the streets of DC this weekend with a parade and various other events held throughout the weekend, Holtby once again made it clear he supports gay rights and was out participating in the parade with his wife on Saturday.

Holtby’s work with the LGBT community isn’t just limited to showing up for the Pride parade every year. His support for LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has dated back to at least very early in his marriage after he visited a museum dedicated to Harvey Milk while on his honeymoon with his wife in San Francisco. Milk was one of the first openly gay people elected to public office (he was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors) and was eventually assassinated by one of his fellow board members. The museum there now also serves as a resource center for HRC and the Holtbys spent hours talking with the organization’s volunteers during their visit to the site.

In addition to marching in parades, the goaltender also spoke at the HRC dinner last year (with three of his teammates also in attendance) after celebrating a Stanley Cup Championship with his teammates prevented him from showing up to Capital Pride in June. Plus, he plays a big role in Hockey is for Everyone when it’s held every February and has done work with You Can Play.

It should be noted that Holtby’s support for the LGBT community isn’t just something he’s been doing as part of some PR effort by the Washington Capitals. During the couple’s visit to the Harvey Milk center on their honeymoon, they picked up HRC bumper stickers for their cars (the blue and yellow equal signs that can be seen all around town). After his landscaper saw the bumper stickers, he invited the hockey player to the organization’s annual fundraising dinner. Holtby showed up as an individual supporter back in 2015, not a representative of the Capitals. In the years since, however, Holtby’s visibility on the issue of gay rights has increased and so has the efforts of the Caps as he’s consistently making public appearances in support of LGBT rights on behalf of the team.

All in all, champions of diversity argue that Holtby’s involvement in the fight for LGBT rights means a lot to the community. It’s always good to see organizations standing up for equality, but it means a lot more to the general public when it’s a player taking the lead on the issue instead of some front office personnel. That’s especially the case when the player’s one of the top goaltenders in the NHL like Holtby.