• Victoria A. Brownworth

PGN January 20, 2021

I have waited for this Inauguration Day my entire life.

Waited to see a woman sworn in to the top of the ticket. Waited for representation after 244 years of male presidents and vice-presidents. Waited to see the history of lesbian suffragists like Susan B. Anthony in the 19th century and Jane Addams, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Anna Howard Shaw in the 20th century come to fruition.

In 1910, my then-teenaged maternal grandmother was among a group of suffragists in white dresses who chained themselves together and picketed the White House, demanding the right to vote.

I grew up in a political family. My parents were Socialist Civil Rights workers. Their involvement in groups like SNCC (Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) meant I met some of the most famous activists of the Civil Rights Movement before I was old enough to write their names on the protest signs that my father was always making in our dining room.

It meant that Black women activists were a part of my girlhood — figures I admired whose work excited me. I attended all-girls schools until college, and there my feminism was forged hot and angry.

I was too young to vote for Shirley Chisholm in 1972 when she became the first Black candidate to run for president on a major party ticket and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. But she showed me that it could happen.

In 1976, Rep. Barbara Jordan became the first woman and first Black person to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. She showed me that lesbians had a place on the main stage.

In 1984, I cast my first presidential vote for a woman candidate and I have not forgotten the frisson I felt in the voting booth as I pulled the lever to mark Geraldine Ferraro and that guy she was running with. I still have my Ferraro T-shirt.

In 1988, I worked for the brief presidential campaign of Pat Schroeder. I cried when she cried, and it was over too soon.

In 1992, I wrote an op-ed for Newsday, the New York daily newspaper I wrote for, about how if George H. W. Bush chose Elizabeth Dole as his running mate and Bill Clinton chose Rev. Jesse Jackson as his, voters would be forced to address their misogyny and their racism to vote for their respective parties.

In 2008, I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary. I wrote about her experience and accomplishments and the breadth of her activism that had begun with Latinx farmworkers and blossomed in her work with the Children’s Defense Fund. When she went all in for Barack Obama after losing 48.0% to Obama’s 48.1% in the closest primary in my lifetime, I went all in for him, too.

In 2011, I interviewed Dr. Jill Stein during the Occupy Philadelphia encampment. I liked her immensely and thought she would grow the Green Party, something I thought Philadelphia needed. But my days of supporting fringe candidates was over. In 2016 we had a very public fight and I saw the commitment which I thought she had was only about her, not a movement.

In 2016, I reported from the floor of the sweltering Democratic National Convention in a wheelchair. It was an extraordinary event. Seeing Hillary Clinton accept the nomination — the first woman nominee of a major party in 240 years — was thrilling.

None of us were prepared for Donald Trump to win in 2016, not even Trump himself. It was written on his face as the numbers began to add up. And throughout the past four years of chaos and white nationalism, racism and misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia that have marked Trump’s presidency, I have written hundreds of articles and columns for different newspapers and magazines, here and abroad, about what Trump was doing to this country and to the world.

In January 2017, I wrote that if Hillary Clinton didn’t run again, Kamala Harris was the best choice for Democrats to beat Trump in 2020. Throughout the primary, in which there were more women candidates than ever in U.S. history, I expected Democrats to choose one of those six women. My dream ticket was Kamala Harris for president and Elizabeth Warren for vice president.

But there was no appetite for a woman nominee.

Yet it wasn’t over. Joe Biden chose Harris for his VP, a woman of half Black, half Southeast Asian descent who was only the second Black woman to serve in the Senate. He chose Harris, with her long history of support for women, LGBTQ, poor people, social justice.

When Philadelphia clinched the vote for Biden-Harris on Nov. 7, people poured into the streets in Philadelphia and throughout the country. The jubilation was palpable. We had won this thing. I was crying tears of joy — there was going to be a woman vice president. My three nieces were going to come of age with the representation I never had. The two little Black girls who live next door to me and my wife will watch someone who looks like them take the oath of office from the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.

The past two months have been pure madness, with a near coup and an attack on the Capitol. And yet our democracy prevailed. At 9 a.m. Trump flew out of D.C. to Mar-a-Lago as Biden and Harris were at Mass in D.C. with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What a coda on the past four years.

Before the Inauguration, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, ‘of course’ to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up. And they will be right.”

And here we are: Shirley Chisholm. Geraldine Ferraro. Hillary Clinton. That glass ceiling they all cracked has finally been broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. Herstory made.

Originally published Philadelphia Gay News January 20, 2021

  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Queer Forty.com December 4, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are busy making history, appointing a cabinet and administration that looks like America and which will be responsive and responsible to all of us.

It’s a hashtag on Twitter: #RepresentationMatters. Nowhere has that been more evident than in appointments being made by Biden and Harris. The new administration is shaping up to be the antithesis of what Trump and his virulently homophobic Vice President Mike Pence have served to Americans for the past four years.

This is herstoric and historic stuff, like the first all-female communications team,

with nearly half women of color, including two out lesbian women of color.

Biden-Harris have also appointed the first woman Secretary of the Treasury, world-renowned economist Janet Yellen. And the first woman Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, appointed as UN Ambassador, said it best, “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”

Janet Yellen| Photo United States

Federal Reserve

After four years of Trump’s unilateralism, Biden has made it clear that he and Harris are partners in this new administration. He refers to her deferentially in each press conference. He states clearly that they have made these choices together, as a team. Harris isn’t being tokenized as a woman of color—she is a driving force in this administration.

Harris’s excitement at these game-changing appointments is palpable. On Dec. 1, when she and Biden rolled out their economic team, you could feel the frisson. Harris said, “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America—that reflects the very best of our nation. That is what we have done.”

Kamala Harris | Photo: harris.senate.gov

They have: 46% of the approximately 500 people on Biden’s team are people of color, while 41% of the senior staff are people of color. More than half of Biden’s senior staff (53%) and the team overall (52%) are comprised of women.

LGBTQ people are going to feel these appointments at every level. Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Latinx Director of Homeland Security. Under Trump, LGBT people applying for asylum have been deported nearly 100 percent of the time.

These deportations have been predominantly of lesbians and trans people–those most likely to face horrific violence in their countries of origin. Two trans women have also died in ICE custody at the border under suspicious circumstances. Mayorkas, himself a Cuban immigrant, said he had one word going forward in DHS: “Welcome.”

Alejandro Mayorkas | Photo: USCIS

Poverty has increased for all segments of the community, with lesbians and trans people suffering the most disparities, and people over 50 left in the most dire circumstances due to job losses and increased healthcare costs. Yellen has pledged to address economic disparities in vulnerable communities as a priority in her role at Treasury.

Hate crimes are way up under Trump, with the FBI Uniform Crime Report noting that LGBTQ people represent nearly 20% of all victims of hate crimes–utterly disproportionate to the LGBTQ demographic.

Advocacy groups note that the tone of the administration toward LGBTQ people has increased the violence. Biden-Harris have pledged to restore the Department of Justice to one that works for the people, not for the President, as it has under Trump.

Hate crimes will no longer be shrugged off but will be investigated for the civil rights abuses they are.

Biden-Harris have also pledged to overturning the ban on trans people in the military and signing the Equality Act into law. They are also committed to having LGBTQ people well represented in the administration.

Queer people have been working in the top echelon of the transition team, among them former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as an advisor to Biden and pilot fish on Fox News, taking on the right.

Jamal Brown was national press secretary during the general election, Reggie Brown served as LGBTQ engagement director, and Olivia Raisner was traveling digital director. All are expected to be part of the new administration.

Jamal Brown | Photo: whitehouse.gov

Pete Buttigieg | Photo: southbendin.gov

Biden-Harris have appointed two lesbians of color, Karine Jean-Pierre and Pili Tobar. Jean-Pierre is the first Black person and first out lesbian to hold a chief of staff role for a vice-presidential nominee. She will be principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration. Tobar, a veteran of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, will be Deputy White House Communications Director.

Pili Tobar | Photo: buildbackbetter.gov

Karine Jean-Pierre | Photo: Twitter

Barbara Simon, head of GLAAD’s news and campaigns department, said in a statement that “including queer women of color in the history-making, all-female communications team shows a commitment to a White House where all are welcome at the table.”

Carlos Elizondo, a gay man, will be White House Social Secretary. Elizondo will oversee all aspects of official social events in the President’s official residence. Elizondo previously served for both terms of the Obama-Biden administration as Special Assistant to the President as well as Social Secretary to the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden. Elizondo also served in both the White House and the Office of the U.S. Chief of Protocol.

Randi Weingarten, an out lesbian who is president of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of the United Federation of Teachers, is being considered for Secretary of Education. She would replace Betsy DeVos, who has been incalculably dangerous for LGBTQ students and women college students who have experienced sexual assault on campus.

Randi Weingarten | Photo: American Federation of Teachers

These new appointees are people who will be ready on day one to begin rebuilding what Trump has broken. The choices Biden and Harris have made signal representation at every level of the new administration and a commitment to rebuilding the trust that has been broken with so many communities, including our own.

Originally published QueerForty.com December 4, 2020

  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Supermajority News October 22, 2020

Joe Biden and President Trump have campaigned in Pennsylvania weekly since the conventions ended and both have held town halls in Philadelphia. That’s how critical the swing state Hillary Clinton lost on November 8, 2016 (by less than a percent) is to both parties. But the coronavirus pandemic has challenged both candidates and voters in

Pennsylvania, most notably in that it has resulted in serious concerns about voter


The April Pennsylvania primary, which was pushed back to June, was the first election in the state in which it was legal for any registered voter to get an unexcused absentee ballot. But all those mail-in ballots — almost 17 times the number requested in the 2016 election — overwhelmed the system. It took over two weeks for races in all 67 counties to be certified. And Pennsylvania law stipulates that mail-in ballots not be opened until Election Day.

But that wasn’t the only issue: 37,119 ballots were rejected in Pennsylvania (more than any state other than California and New York), disenfranchising those voters. Most absentee or mail-in ballots are rejected because required signatures are missing or don’t match the one on record, or because voters missed the deadline to submit those ballots. Pennsylvania also has a “naked ballot” law where ballots must be sealed in a “secrecy envelope” and then placed in the official mailing envelope; failure to do so also results in the ballot’s rejection.

To put these rejected ballots into perspective, consider that Trump only won Pennsylvania in the 2016 presidential election by 44,292 votes, or by 0.7%. Should absentee ballots be rejected in significant numbers this November, Lisa Deeley, Chairwoman of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, suggests the state would tip to Trump once again, since Democrats are three to four times as likely to vote by mail as Republicans.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Trump has been fighting to limit voters’ access to mail-in voting in Pennsylvania since the primary, specifically by filing lawsuits to limit how and when ballots can be received and counted.

“The only reason the Trump campaign is trying to limit the use of mail-in voting is to make it more difficult for Pennsylvanians to vote,” Sarah Brannon, managing attorney of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told Supermajority News. She added that voters can combat these efforts by using drop boxes, which are a “safe and efficient option for people who want to participate in our democracy, particularly in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly pandemic.”

Many Pennsylvanians are paying close attention to this disenfranchisement, especially given their memories of similar experiences in 2016. Marla Johnson, a resident of the predominantly Black neighborhood of East Oak Lane in Northwest Philadelphia and poll worker of nearly 30 years, never believed Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 — she wanted the state to do a recount.

“I feel I was disenfranchised in 2016,” Johnson told Supermajority News. “I feel my whole family was disenfranchised and this city was, too. Black women voted for Hillary. We came out for her.”

Thankfully, a number of concerned parties are doing all they can to prevent voter suppression this year, including Lisa Deeley who, on September 21, petitioned the state legislature, expressing her concerns that similar problems could result in thousands of rejected general election ballots. “I don’t want 100,000 legit Pennsylvania ballots thrown out for a technicality,” she told Supermajority News.

Three Pennsylvania voters from the Pittsburgh area — Patricia DeMarco, Danielle Graham-Robinson, and Kathleen Wise — signed onto a lawsuit filed by the Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, and the League of Women Voters to expand drop-boxes for mail-in ballots. The three women asserted that the primary had disenfranchised them as regular voters whose health issues made them vulnerable to the pandemic. Robinson and Wise got their ballots too late to make the deadline and DeMarco never received confirmation that her ballot had been received by the county elections office.

The League of Women Voters also filed another lawsuit demanding that anyone whose ballot is rejected due to handwriting be notified and allowed to “prove” it is their signature. The League noted that disabled, elderly, and less educated voters are most likely to have their handwriting questioned. In every one of those demographics, women outnumber men.

But the Republican-led state legislature is also working to limit accommodations for voters in any way it can. On September 28, Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day. The legislators claimed this ostensibly extends the election.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that claim in a late-night vote on October 20. The high court ruled that Pennsylvania could legally extend the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots to November 6 — three days after Election Day.

This wasn’t the Republicans’ first failed attempt to curtail Pennsylvania voters. After Trump himself asserted at the presidential debate on September 30 that “bad things happen in Philadelphia,” claiming the city and state are rigging the votes against him, federal court Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan threw out a lawsuit filed by Trump’s campaign on October 10, dismissing its challenges to the battleground state’s poll-watching law and its efforts to limit how mail-in ballots can be collected and which of them can be counted. Still, the Trump campaign is appealing Ranjan’s ruling and Trump has repeatedly said he’ll only lose Pennsylvania if Democrats cheat.

The Trump lawsuit was opposed by the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP’s Pennsylvania office, and others.

“The ruling is a complete rejection of the continued misinformation about voter fraud and corruption, and those who seek to sow chaos and discord ahead of the upcoming election,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.

These attempts are perhaps unsurprising given the recent revelation that, in 2016, the Trump campaign targeted 3.5 million Black voters in a widespread, data-based form of voter suppression.

In addition to these concerted attempts to suppress votes, the pandemic has also forced the closure of many polling places throughout the state, which in turn can lead to voter suppression. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest cities, had 2,100 polling places in 2018. In 2020 there are 500. The people most impacted by this are Black voters, given that Philadelphia is 45% Black and Pittsburgh is 23% Black.

Celina Stewart, senior director of advocacy and litigation for the League of Women Voters, succinctly explained to Supermajority News that cutting the number of polling places disproportionately impacts voters of color. “It’s a voter suppression tactic,” Stewart said.

Another concern is that 2020 will be the first presidential election since 1980 where the Republican Party is not bound by a consent decree, which has limited the Republican National Committee’s ability to challenge voters’ qualifications and target voter fraud — which Trump has falsely, but consistently, claimed is rampant.

The evisceration of the consent decree also means that Republicans can encourage Trump supporters to use “security tactics” that Trump has called for, such as poll watching, and thus intimidate Democratic voters or keep them from the polls. The Republican National Committee asserts their poll-watching will extend only to legal tactics, but Marc Elias, the Democratic Party’s attorney for voting rights litigation, told 60 Minutes he was very worried about the likelihood of such voter intimidation, noting it was something “everyone who cares about voting rights should be worried about.”

As Senator Kamala Harris said after the vice presidential debate and again while campaigning in Orlando on October 19, “Why do you think they don’t want us to vote? We all know the answer: It’s because they know when we vote, things change. When we vote, we will be seen, we will be heard, and elected officials will be held accountable.”

For Marla Johnson, there was some satisfaction, therefore, in turning her mail-in ballot early, but she said the wait until Election Day, and whenever the election is decided, will be hard. “We did our part. Now we just have to wait and see what happens.”

Originally Published Supermajority News October 22, 2020


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