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LGBTQs must work with others, panel asserts

by Charlie Wagner

The message was "You gotta give 'em hope," as Harvey Milk famously said, at the 10th annual State of the LGBTQ Movement Update, presented by the Horizons Foundation November 8, a day after eight transgender people - and scores of LGBs - were elected to state and local offices across the country.

Intersectionality, working with groups outside the LGBTQ movement, was another strong message.

"Intersectionality has to be a mandate for our movement," said panelist Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International. "And we have not always been as activist against racism and other causes. Other groups have seen our issues as a liability but now it feels like we cannot get anything done except in coalition."

Another panelist also said that the LGBTQ community must work with other groups.

"When you are under threat, you realize you need to pull together," asserted Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ lobbying and advocacy organization.

The talk was part of Horizons' Q Series, which started in 2008 to "create connections in the LGBTQ community between donors, grantees and the general public" according to Roger Doughty, president of the nonprofit.

Two other LGBTQ leaders joined Stern and Zbur on the panel: Isa Noyola, deputy director of the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center, and Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

"Last year we were in a state of shock and disbelief, but this year provides significant hope," Doughty said in his opening remarks, referring to the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president and the November 7 election that saw 38 Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund-endorsed candidates win their races.

The most prominent of those was Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature. She won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, defeating a 26-year anti-LGBT Republican incumbent.

Doughty kicked off the program, held at Merrill Lynch's downtown San Francisco office and attended by 90 people, by asking the panelists, "What are you more concerned or scared about than a year ago and what less?"

"It is appropriate to use the term scared, and we have a real fear of the current administration," Stern replied. "Our question is whether the U.S. would show up if we are under attack, for example in Chechnya. We organized a huge pressure on the U.S. State Department, but they did not speak up. We are also worried about the access of right-wing evangelical Christians to the administration."

Beginning in February, government forces in Chechnya began rounding up gay men or those perceived to be gay.

Carey listed nuclear war and the dismantling of democracy as her top fears and bemoaned the dismantling of many significant LGBTQ successes, often by executive order.

"I worry that the federal government will not enforce anti-discrimination laws if anyone claims religious discrimination," she said. "But I am thrilled with the level of engagement we are now seeing. People are showing up for each other and that gives me hope."

Noyola said her main fear was anti-trans violence but she is very concerned about what she called the "prison industrial complex." She discussed TLC's effort to help people fleeing other countries and pointed out there were problems with Immigration and Customs Enforcement even during the Obama presidency. She applauded "so many trans folks being elected across the country."

Zbur agreed with Carey that war is his top fear, but described receiving many calls after the Trump election about keeping medical coverage for trans families.

"Coverage of pre-existing conditions was very important for transgender and HIV individuals," he said.

Lifetime appointments for conservative judges are very troubling to him but he also said, "I am now less afraid that the energy we see about making changes will dissipate."

On the question of current priorities, Carey suggested, "Part of holding the line is showing up. If we can prevent things from being taken away, that is a win. There was an effort to remove sexual orientation from the U.S. census but we raised strong objections and the census question was restored, which impacts millions of dollars for our organizations."

Noyola said a top TLC priority is to "think about all the ways our community has survived violence. We see so much messaging from hate groups."

"Part of the world seems to be moving in one direction and part in another," Doughty said, and asked, "How does it look to you?"

"Every day we hear about a huge win and a huge setback," Stern responded. "I am shocked by the pace of mass arrests in the last five weeks, for example 61 LGBTQs in Egypt and more than 75 in Indonesia. HIV programs are coming under attack and violence against transgender people is so common it's not even reported."

But Stern said there are also some positives.

"I also hear every day about acts of resistance," she said. "We see some progress in the Eastern Caribbean and the European Court of Human Rights' decision against forced sterilization has forced 22 European Union members to change their laws."

Stern challenged the audience to consider, "How can we use our safety to help the thousands who are not safe?"

Zbur said that, in California, things are better than in a lot of other states.

"I want to continue moving the needle and we are fortunate to have an incredibly supportive governor," Zbur said.

Governor Jerry Brown last month signed a bill, co-authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and gay state Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), that modernizes the state's HIV criminalization laws.

"And we are now working on revising the sex offender registry, which has about 40,000 people who were simply convicted of lewd behavior," the catchall law often used to harass LGBTQ people, said Zbur. Wiener authored the bill, which Brown signed, to revamp the registry.

On the question of how the LGBTQ movement is doing, Carey said, "So much of our work is intersectional. Many of us do our work based on our being white people but we cannot avoid intersectional efforts."

Philanthropist Al Baum, a longtime Horizons supporter who attended the discussion, said he sees intersectionality happening in two ways.

"One is that LGBTQ organizations are working better together," he wrote in an email after the event. "And LGBTQ organizations are working more with other groups because everybody realizes it's absolutely necessary to work with black and women's groups. I believe this is a permanent change and is good for the country as a whole."

Noyola said TLC has a strong racial justice component. A November 10 New York Times article noted that almost all trans people murdered in the last few years have been nonwhite women.

"Visibility is a double-edged sword for us," Noyola said.

Carey talked about whether achieving marriage equality caused donors to lose interest in LGBTQ causes, but said that the LGBTQ Task Force "actually saw an increase in small donors. People are seeing racial and economic justice as central to our movement."

Zbur said that, in California, he sees schools as a focal point of the right wing.

"We want to provide tools to people who are in advocacy positions," he said.

Stern called for action on the part of the community.

"We cannot tune out either domestic or foreign policies if we care about LGBTQ rights," she said. "We have an opportunity to see how other movements have persisted and won."

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