Just days after the Inauguration, President Joe Biden has implemented major LGBTQ improvements.

I don’t fall in love with politicians. That’s a dangerous ideological path to stumble down. But I am in love with justice and democracy and anyone who takes me in that direction has my ear. I was listening hard at the Inauguration for those two themes and they were writ large. Not just in the words President Joe Biden spoke, but in what he had crafted for his Inauguration. Who and what the man who has been running for president since 1988 surrounded himself with set the tone for the event and for this new—and eagerly awaited—chapter in American politics and policy.

The first woman vice president, Kamala Devi Harris, was sworn in by the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Harris also makes herstory as the first Black vice president and first vice president of South Asian descent.

Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, mesmerized the nation with her Inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Firefighter Andrea Hall was yet another Black woman who set a new tone. She didn’t just recite the Pledge of Allegiance—she became the first person to sign it in ASL, her white dress gloves flashing as she did. Lady Gaga, dressed in a dramatic fuchsia and black gown, sang the national anthem.

Jennifer Lopez sang “America the Beautiful,” which should be the national anthem. That song was written in 1895 by Katharine Lee Bates, a lesbian professor at Wellesley College.

It was a brilliantly sunny day—a strident metaphor so necessary after the past four years of darkness and despair: Four years in which women, people of color, immigrants, disabled, poor and LGBTQ people have suffered tremendously. For LGBTQ people who intersect with any of those other groups, as do I and my family, life under the Trump presidency was a terrorizing time. This is not hyperbole. In four years I wrote several hundred articles about the harm the former president was doing and to whom. For queer and trans people, it was an era of literal danger: healthcare access was rescinded in a pandemic.

There was a rise in hate crimes so significant that in 2020, the FBI reported nearly 1 in 5 of all hate crimes (19%) were perpetrated against LGBTQ people–wildly disproportionate to their demographic. Poverty increased dramatically for LGBTQ people, as did job loss. There was a ban on trans people in the military and a ban on bathroom access for trans students. There was even a ban on flying the rainbow flag during Pride month at our embassies.

Dr. Rachel Levine | State Portrait

The very first action of the Trump-Pence administration on Inauguration Day 2017 was to remove the LGBTQ pages from the White House website. One of the first actions of the Biden-Harris administration on Inauguration Day 2021 was for President Biden to issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ Americans. Titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combatting Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” the EO begins, “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

This represented the antithesis of the previous administration, which just days before the Inauguration, on Jan. 13, issued a 77 page set of rules from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) restricting access by LGBTQ people to social services and healthcare.

The broad-based HHS regulation allows for religious freedom laws and personal beliefs to supersede legal mandates. Thus a homeless queer or trans person could be turned away from a shelter or a gay person with cancer be refused a ride service for chemo patients or an elderly queer person denied Meals on Wheels. The breadth of discrimination inherent in the ruling is as wide as it is harrowing. And it will have to be rescinded by Congress.

It is to be hoped that Dr. Rachel Levine, former Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania, who Biden nominated for Assistant Secretary of Health, will be able to argue the case for that recision. Levine would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. On Jan. 17, Trump had issued another memo, this one 23 pages, revoking aspects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County. That case had officially added lesbian, gay and trans persons to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Trump memo embraced the dissenting opinion of Justice Samuel Alito from the 6-3 decision. According to the Wall Street Journal, which saw the memo, it read in part: “Unlike racial discrimination, the Supreme Court has never held that a religious employer’s decision not to hire homosexual or transgender persons ‘violates deeply and widely accepted views of elementary justice’ or that the government has a ‘compelling’ interest in the eradication of such conduct.”

On Jan. 22, Greg Friel, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, revoked that directive, citing Biden’s executive order. Biden’s EO requires that federal government agencies review all policies against sex discrimination currently in place to ascertain that they also prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people. As the new administration rolled out plans for the coronavirus pandemic and concomitant economic recovery, the Senate was holding confirmation hearings for Biden’s cabinet.

Among those was Pete Buttigieg, who will make history as Transportation Secretary–the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the Senate. The questioning of Buttigieg was surprisingly civil with only one exception: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who took issue with Buttigieg’s emphasis on climate change. The climate crisis was a focal point of Buttigieg’s own run for president and it is top on the Biden-Harris agenda. As senator, Vice President Kamala Harris co-wrote Green New Deal legislation with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and was the first to co-sponsor the Green New Deal in the Senate.

Buttigieg, who will be the first millennial Cabinet member in history, told Cruz, “When the books are written about our careers, one of the main things we’ll be judged on is whether we did enough to stop the destruction of life and property due to climate change.” It is early days and Trump and Pence left quite a mess for Biden and Harris to clean up. But the transparency of the new administration, with detailed daily press briefings from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and joint press conferences with Biden and Harris, portends a definitive change in tone and attitude toward the press and, most importantly, the American people.

The promise Biden and Harris made as they campaigned, their stated commitment to progressive change that is inclusive of all Americans, is being realized in myriad ways. For people who have been not just marginalized but demonized, for the past four years, this change represents more than tone: it is Cabinet members and other administration officials who look like America—including queer and trans America. As Gorman said in her poem, “our people diverse and beautiful will emerge/battered and beautiful.” Inauguration Day was brilliantly sunny. An exquisite day in the dead of winter. And a metaphor, one hopes, for the days to come.

Originally published Queer Forty.com December 24, 2020

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  • 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


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