Did you hear? The House of Representatives just passed the Equality Act, again! In this week’s Extra! Extra! Natalie weighs in on the significance of this moment and also gives us a grounded perspective on whether or not the 117th Congress will succeed in passing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people where the 116th failed. We also look at American extremism, the vaccine roll out, the climate crisis and a smattering of domestic and global news.
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) February 25, 2021
Today, the House will vote on the groundbreaking #EqualityAct. 🏳️🌈
As a young lesbian woman growing up in rural America, I never imagined I’d finally see this legislation come to the House floor – much less have a chance to vote for it as a Member of Congress. pic.twitter.com/06v05n64Y2
— Angie Craig (@RepAngieCraig) February 25, 2021
Today, I'm presiding over the House floor as we prepare to vote on the #EqualityAct.
As the first LGBTQ+ person to represent Kansas in Congress, the significance of this moment is not lost on me.
For those who paved the way & for those who will come next, let's get this done. pic.twitter.com/XQdurEC3kU
— Rep. Sharice Davids (@RepDavids) February 25, 2021
Natalie: There was something inspiring about the debate in Washington this week…seeing someone like Rep. Mondaire Jones, one of the first black LGBT members of Congress, stand on the floor and ask the country to see him…to see us…had me welling up with pride. To have Rep. Angie Craig advocate for the Equality Act, as the first ever lesbian mother in Congress, while Rep. Sharice Davids, the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Kansas, presided…it was inspiring. To listen to Reps. Marie Newman, Sara Jacobs and Pramila Jayapal use the Equality Act to express support for their trans and gender non-comforming family members, it gave me hope.
The first version of the Equality Act was introduced in Congress in 1974 and, as Rep. Newman pointed out in her floor statement, “the right time to pass this act was decades ago, the second best time is right now.” The bill’s passage in the House is worth celebrating but it is not sufficient.
Now the bill moves onto the Senate where, though it’s been assured of a vote by the Majority Leader, the bill’s future is less than certain. The bill drew less support from the Republican minority in the House this week than it did when it passed two years ago so it’s hard to imagine an appetite within Mitch McConnell’s caucus to extend equal protection to LGBTQ+ folks…at least not without religious freedom amendments that would, effectively, render the Equality Act toothless.
Simply put, the thing standing between LGBTQ+ people and equality is the Senate filibuster…and one of the things, sadly, preventing Democrats from eliminating that roadblock is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the out bisexual senior senator from Arizona. It’s hard to put into words how dispiriting that knowledge is…that equality’s being denied to us by one of us…it’s devastating. I hope that LGBT organizations across the board and in the senator’s home state will begin to pressure her to reconsider her position.
Natalie: I know it’s not sexy as the Equality Act as a political issue but the resumption of LGBTQ+ centered data collection and analysis is so important, particularly during the pandemic.
Rachel: I want to talk a little bit about the first story, the headline of which is a bit misleading — it’s a little bit of a foregone conclusion that the people involved in the attempted government overthrow and attempted assasination of government officials on behalf of an openly white nationalist neofascist state had ‘extreme rhetoric,’ but what that piece actually finds is that a significant number of people involved were beholden not just to right-wing beliefs, but right-wing conspiracy theories. Maybe the most obvious one is of course the idea that the election was rigged and Trump was the rightful victor; some were more outlandish from the point of view of an outsider, like the QAnon belief that “Trump is a secret warrior fighting to expose a cabal of Satan-worshipping bureaucrats and celebrities who traffic children.” I don’t think the takeaway is quite that ‘fake news is mobilizing people to violence who would otherwise be gentle lambs;” the disquieting hybrid of fake news, disinformation and politically weaponized conspiracy theory isn’t really something that just happens, like a natural disaster, to otherwise unsuspecting people; they need a specific social ecosystem of fear, distrust and in-group paranoia to thrive (which is why the related story of the “QAnon Shaman” claiming he was “groomed” by Trump and therefore not responsible for his actions is ringing so false to us; like a modern day Twinkie defense).
Conspiracy theories are dangerous and there’s a reason they’re on the rise, and it’s crucial that we start to consider at violence through that lens at least sometimes (for instance, the incel belief that women are somehow punishing them or receive special privileges is also a kind of conspiracy theory that begets violence, no?). At the same time, people who are duped by these beliefs are clearly also responsible for their actions, and it’s worth asking what fears and pre-existing prejudices are being successfully weaponized to stoke these, and how that cycle can be interrupted. (Link below also very much related to this!)
Related: Conspiracy Theories Flourishing Outside America
Natalie: I don’t have much to say about this, aside from repeating some of what Rachel said above, but I did find it curious to read this story and subsequently read about the Facebook shutdown in Australia, in protest of new regulations. It’s never been clearer how much Facebook could do if they wanted and how much we suffer because they don’t.
The Climate Crisis and Indigenous Rights
Natalie: Many of the confirmation hearings have been ridiculous, particularly those for Biden’s women of color nominees, but Haaland’s confirmation hearings were beyond absurd. To hear Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY.), Steve Daines (R-MT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) lecture Rep. Haaland on following the science?! The United States has lost over 500,000 people because Republicans don’t follow the science. An historic winter storm just swept through Texas, crippling the state, because Republicans don’t prioritize science. The audacity of those senators nearly made me want to throw my television out the window.
Still, though, watching this opening statement…seeing Rep. Haaland on the verge of making history…was heart-warming.
She still shouldn’t have to put up with Republicans and their bullshit, though.
Himani: Contributions to and the effects of climate change are much like the issue with global and domestic disparities in COVID-19 vaccine access (more on this below). I think what a lot of people in the U.S. tend to lose sight of is that most Americans actually fall within the global top 10% of earners who disproportionately contribute to global climate change. Of course the wealthiest of Americans should really be the ones to curb their lifestyles the most since they are the ones who are truly contributing the most. And I don’t at all mean to undermine the necessity of private industry cutting their emissions contributions. All these things need to happen in tandem.
And Other Things Not Looking So Hot in the States Right Now
Himani: The crisis that unfolded in Texas last week was truly appalling. This article does a great job of summarizing all the fucked up facets of that situation from the disproportionate toll of the crisis to the failure of the cult of individualism to complete ineptitude from the state and local governments.
Natalie: This was one of the most infuriating stories I read this week. At the time of this writing, Nearly 12,000 people in Arizona prisons have been diagnosed with COVID-19 — that’s 32% of the incarcerated population — and 18 inmates have died. How many of those people suffered because of a software bug that Department of Corrections officials have known about since 2019?! This is preposterous.
All those who knew about this and did nothing should be held criminally liable for, essentially, kidnapping these people and the state should pay millions in restitution to the affected inmates and their families.
Himani: Obviously the temporary stay is a good thing, but it really is only a matter of time before the ultra conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court swings the final death blow to Roe v. Wade.
Himani: And we are already seeing in action the effects of Mitch McConnell’s court packing strategy.
Rachel: In the very earliest days of the pandemic, disability justice advocates were sounding the alarm that disabled people would be left behind and actively sacrificed, and the least abled-bodied people can do is name and acknowledge how right they were – from the adoption of WFH measures that disabled people who wanted to work remotely were told for years were impossible to pushes to open back up regardless of how it would impact disabled and immunocompromised people to the necessity of triage in packed ICUs, where disabled people are often considered the first line of acceptable losses not worth the resources to continue treating.
Now that the vaccine rollout has begun, we’re largely seeing disabled and chronically ill people left out from the first tiers, even though their disabilities are at least as much of a risk factor as age. This article outlines how little we still know and have been informed about how much intellectual and developmental disabilities are correlated with worsened COVID outcomes, how living facilities for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities have been denied the same pandemic precautions and resources as residential homes for the elderly — and that’s before even getting into the fact that if any of the people in those living facilities do get sick, there’s a real risk that they’ll be deprioritized in an ICU due to triage and resources given to able-bodied people instead, sentencing them to death when they could have survived with proper care.
Natalie: It’s interesting to see how Indian sovereignty — true separation from the inept leadership (like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem) that have minimized COVID and disregarded the science on wearing masks — has allowed these communities to control their vaccination protocol. There’s so much insight to be gleaned from indigenous communities about how state and local governments should be rolling out the vaccine.
Himani: I can’t say that I’m surprised, exactly, that there are such staggering disparities in how much countries are paying for COVID vaccines, given everything I know about the Pharma industry, but it’s disgusting nonetheless. I’ve said it before and I will say it again and again and again: no part of the healthcare industry should be running on profits. Since the first article linked above, COVAX doses have been administered in West Africa, but the whole set up feels backwards to me. And what’s also alarming from this article is the fact that countries which hosted large clinical trials like Argentina and Peru are now struggling to acquire vaccine doses for their populations. Once again, the comfort and ease of the Global North is coming at the expense of the Global South.
At the same time, as I read coverage about vulnerable populations in the U.S. such as people with disabilities struggling to access the vaccines and about the growing disparities in the life expectancy of Black and white people, I find myself at a bit of a loss. It is true, as the second article linked above describes, that the U.S. and other countries buying up vaccines is leading to unconscionable global disparities. As we shared last time, the wealthier countries in the world will have broadly immunized their populations nearly a year and half before the poorest countries in the world, one more injustice built on centuries of exploitation and brutality. And yet, there is so much suffering within the States, and that suffering is distributed so, so unequally, and those disparities are only growing.
Ultimately, I know the real answer, the best answer lies in a place that most Americans simply cannot stomach. Limit the vaccine supply in the U.S. to achieve global parity, and extend that limited domestic supply to the populations that are truly the most vulnerable in the U.S. with a focus on equity for groups that have been historically exploited and marginalized, like Black, Native American, low-income immigrant communities and people with disabilities. Invest in community outreach efforts to build buy-in within those communities who are, understandably, skeptical of the medical establishment. That’s already been seen to work within Native American populations, and it’s a critical part of reducing some of the racial disparities in vaccination we’re seeing in the States.
Doing things this would mean that the wealthiest, the most powerful, the whitest and most white-adjacent people will have to sit in isolation for months or even a year longer. That’s not an easy thing to ask, I’m well aware of that. But it would be the only fair way, and it is the thing Americans across the spectrum have never, ever had the political stomach for.
Pandemics within Pandemics?
Rachel: This isn’t “news analysis” per se but wow, the limbic response I had upon seeing these two headlines was really something! And I am someone who previously had low to zero anxiety and concern about contagion or communicable diseases! Is this specific deep rooted fear of epidemics that our generations are just going to carry forward for time immemorial? Something fun to think about!
Himani: Perhaps this proves your point about deep rooted fear of epidemics, Rachel, but honestly when I first saw the news about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and the H5N8 transmission to humans, it only reaffirmed for me the belief that humanity is really and truly doomed because we are our own worst enemies. I’m glad that the situation in Guinea is getting under control, but I really can’t help but consider that it took six years from the start of the ebola crisis to get to the point of vaccine distribution whereas with COVID-19 it’s taken less than a year. Yes, they are very different viruses that spread differently and the vaccines surely require different mechanisms and so on, but I also can’t overlook the fact that Ebola didn’t affect the Western world and so the Western world did not move swiftly to try to find a cure or treatment. And this remains true for centuries-old diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. This was also true with SARS back in 2003. Our selfishness came home to roost with that one, and I really do believe it’s only a matter of time before it will again.
A Global Look at Gun Control
Natalie: Admittedly, not knowing anything about gun culture in Canada but longing for some viable solution to the epidemic of gun violence we experience in the US, I’m hopeful that this plan succeeds. I’m particularly interested in how red flag laws — laws that permit law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms from domestic abusers or suspected terrorists — come to fruition. Efforts to implement those laws here have been stymied by due process concerns.
Political Instability Around the World
Himani: I do not know enough about Egyptian history and politics to offer anything really insightful on this, but I will say I found this to be incredibly informative in understanding what has happened in the decade since the Arab Spring, how that moment of hope descended into a horrifying dictatorship because the Western world threw its weight behind a military coup.
Himani: Following up on the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan last year, Armenians are calling for the Prime Minister to step down over his handling of the war.
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