What to Do When ‘I Do’ Is Done

What to Do When ‘I Do’ Is Done

LGBT activists and funders are debating the movement’s post-marriage priorities.

By Peter Montgomery  The American Prospect  February 14, 2015

Equal Rights

Equal Rights

In the year and a half since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, federal and state courts have been overturning laws against marriage by same-sex couples at a dizzying pace, sometimes more than once in a single day. Giddy activists have joked about the challenge of keeping color-coded marriage equality maps up-to-date. News stories about gay couples marrying in places like Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina, and Idaho are now so common they hardly seem surprising.

With the widely shared expectation that the Supreme Court will soon return to the issue of marriage and may strike down marriage bans nationwide, LGBT leaders find themselves asking a question that would have seemed improbable just a few years ago: What should be the priorities of the LGBT movement once legal marriage equality has been achieved?

The most likely candidate for the kind of coordinated, national- and state-level strategy that fueled the marriage equality campaign is a push to get all LGBT Americans covered by laws barring discrimination against them in employment, housing, health care, and public accommodations. Brutal persecution of LGBT people around the globe, often with the collusion or encouragement of American anti-gay activists, is another growing concern. Those issues are likely to draw support from across the ideological spectrum of LGBT organizations.

Some movement strategists also want to address the effects of economic inequality and institutionalized prejudice on the lives of LGBT people. Efforts to move those issues to the center of LGBT activism, however, may run up against another current: the well-funded effort to make LGBT equality more palatable to Republicans and other conservatives.

Of course, while marriage equality is a reality in 35 states and Washington, D.C., it is not yet a done deal nationally. Lawyers are still staying up all night writing and filing briefs. Equality advocates are still sparring rhetorically, legally, and politically with anti–marriage-equality religious and political leaders who are fighting to the bitter end. And even if the Supreme Court overturns remaining bans and all 50 states turn blue on marriage equality maps, Navajo equality activist Alray Nelson wants it to be known that people living in more than 500 tribal nations will still lack marriage rights.

Still, with those cautions noted, the end does seem to be in sight, and that has LGBT funders and leaders looking ahead, considering what lessons can be drawn from the marriage equality campaign, how to keep LGBT activists and supporters engaged in the movement, and where to direct the energies and resources that have poured into campaigns for marriage equality. “I believe it’s not about pivoting from marriage,” says Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson. “It’s about harnessing the marriage work and success to getting success on other fronts.”

One important accomplishment of the national conversation about marriage is that it has had a humanizing impact on how many Americans view LGBT people, couples, and families. The marriage movement has been “a powerful vehicle to express the shared humanity of LGBT people,” says Janson Wu, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), a Boston-based legal group that has played a key role in both the marriage equality campaign and the broader LGBT equality movement. The resulting advances in overcoming prejudice should support progress on other issues facing LGBT people. “Marriage vocabulary is powerful, connective vocabulary that helps transform people’s understanding,” says Wolfson.

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, agrees that marriage equality campaigns encouraged a humanizing dialogue about LGBT people. The downside, he says, is that marriage has so dominated public conversation that people who aren’t intimately familiar with the LGBT community may think it is the beginning, middle, and end of what the community needs. In reality, he says, “marriage equality will affect a fraction of the LGBT community, and a fraction of a fraction of that movement’s needs.”

The Philosophical and Political Divide

What are those community needs? In October, longtime LGBT strategist Urvashi Vaid received a Spirit of Justice award from GLAD. Vaid ran through a set of issues that are barriers to full-lived equality for many LGBT people, including poverty, racism, misogyny, violence, immigration policies, policing, and detention. While organizations have been working on all those fronts, she said, the LGBT movement lacks sufficient focus on many of these issues, despite the fact that women make up half the LGBT community and people of color a third of it. “The question that confronts the LGBT movement today,” she said, “is whether we are willing to retool our movement to push for the redistribution of economic resources and political power that is needed to change the lived experience of LGBT people in all parts of our very diverse communities.”

Just a couple of weeks later, after Republican victories in the midterm elections, Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, posed a very different question. “This is really a time of choosing for LGBT advocates on the left,” Angelo told the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. “Do you support the left agenda, or do you actually support equal rights for Americans? Those who fall in the latter category are going to be the ones who are going to be com[ing] to the table with Republicans and find[ing] solutions, ways to pass things, like employment protections for LGBT individuals, that also reach consensus among Republicans.”

The philosophical and political divide reflected in these two approaches, sometimes framed as assimilation versus liberation, is as old as the LGBT movement itself. “The tension between the equality frame and the liberation frame has been present since the moment of Stonewall, if not before,” says Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation and advisory board chair of the Movement Advancement Project. In recent years, as the movement has focused on gaining access to institutions such as marriage and the military, some progressive advocates have been frustrated about the lack of attention given to less conventional goals.

Doubts about the marriage equality campaign have been somewhat muted by its successes. But some advocates fear that rhetoric used in the marriage campaign could make it harder to ensure that people in less traditional, nonmarital relationships have legal protections. Nancy Polikoff, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and author of Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, supports marriage equality but says marriage “doesn’t solve anything for people who aren’t married, people who don’t want to get married, or people who have their lives organized around relationships that don’t resemble marriage.” She worries that some of the campaign rhetoric about the unique nature and importance of marriage could make it harder, once marriage equality is achieved, to assert the need to protect all forms of family.

Wu and Vaid both say the movement can and must do both equality and liberation work, and identity politics and progressive organizing. But time and resources are always limited, and the pre-existing fault lines within the LGBT movement may become more visible once marriage is no longer dominating the conversation.

Will Money Talk?

These fault lines could be exacerbated by another characteristic of the marriage equality movement: the emergence of major conservative funders such as hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and activists such as former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who helped get the Republican votes necessary to pass marriage equality legislation in New York.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to Singer’s American Unity Fund, says the involvement of conservative funders and activists has had “a profoundly positive impact” by changing the perception among Republicans that LGBT equality is only an issue for those aligned with the left. He says that while more than 230 Republican state legislators have stood for the freedom to marry, only a small number have lost their seats. Center-right lawmakers no longer need to see support for LGBT equality as a death knell for their career.

But that’s just one piece of the picture. LGBT journalist Michelangelo Signorile has noted that Singer “backed some of the most anti-gay politicians—and defeated others committed to full LGBT equality—by pouring millions into superPACs and the Republican Governors Association.” Signorile worries that publicity focused on Singer’s support for a handful of pro-equality Republicans may be aimed at making moderate Republicans feel better about voting for the GOP. Meanwhile, he wrote in August, “Singer is undermining LGBT rights—and all progressive causes—by helping opponents of equality win more House races and helping Republicans win control of the Senate.”

Cook-McCormac says the involvement of center-right funders and activists “has fundamentally changed the way the gay rights movement does business.” He means helping achieve bipartisan cooperation on pro-equality legislation. But others worry about the potential that donors could push the movement’s broader agenda to the right. That’s a valid fear, says Get-EQUAL’s Heather Cronk, because money always comes with strings. Urvashi Vaid says of Singer that it is “outrageous to ignore the fact that he is virulently anti-choice and raised millions to oppose the most LGBT-supportive president we have ever had.” She acknowledges that coalition politics is partly about tactical relationships and opportunistic work but is clear that she does not view these conservatives as spokespeople for her or the broader movement.

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way Foundation. 

Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

A Visionary Guided by Love

Smart, Successful Transgender Martine Rothblatt

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found

[SWP Note: This is one of the most inspiring stories of 2014. In a world of so much discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, a highly successful and smart transgender woman who seems to have done many things out of love.

Below are excerpts of a Washington Post Magazine article. See full article]

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.

Martine Rothblatt founded SiriusXM, a religion and a biotech. For starters.

 

By Neely Tucker  December 12, 2014 Washington Post Magazine

Let’s be clear: Martine Rothblatt is just plain more of a lawyer than anybody else in this town.

The 60-year-old grandmother and CEO of United Therapeutics, the Silver Spring-based biotech she founded to help save her younger daughter’s life, banked $38 million last year. It made her the nation’s highest-paid female executive. It also made her the nation’s highest-paid transgendered person, as she had sex reassignment surgery in 1994.

In a lab on Spring Street, Rothblatt’s newest project appears lifted from science fiction: disembodied but breathing human lungs, hissing away in dome-shaped incubators, part of a clinical trial attempting to mend donated but not-quite-accepted-for-transplant lungs so that they can actually be placed in living human beings.

On a Virginia farm, she’s also raising genetically altered pigs, in the hope that someday their lungs (and other organs) will be modified for use in human transplant, creating a nearly inexhaustible supply of organ donors.

She just published “Virtually Human,” a big-think manifesto on the rights of yet-to-be-created cyber-humans, who might one day be uploaded with all of your thoughts, dreams, memories and online activity and live for eternity as a sort-of you.

****

Rothblatt is buddies with Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil, who sort of run a little company called Google. Kurzweil, the futurist and director of engineering at Google, is on United Therapeutics’ board of directors and thinks Bina48 is a glimpse of the future.

In the late 1980s, Rothblatt conceived of and created a crazy company devoted to the idea of worldwide satellite radio. Today that’s Sirius XM. It’s in your car’s dashboard, next to the satellite navigation device … and she was president of Geostar, the first company to market that, too. Her college thesis became the first private satellite phone company.

“She has to my knowledge a perfect track record in making [her] visions real,” Kurzweil writes in an e-mail.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Bina and Martine Rothblatt with daughter Jenesis, whose illness inspired the founding of United Therapeutics. (Photo courtesy of Jenesis Rothblatt/for The Washington Post)

Rothblatt dropped out of the satellite orbit because her and Bina’s daughter was diagnosed at 5 with what is now called pulmonary arterial hypertension, an incurable lung disease. It progressively narrows the lung’s arteries to the point of death. By 12, Jenesis would faint all the time, her life seeping away in intensive care units.

So Rothblatt sold out of Sirius, set to studying biology — the last such course she had taken was in 10th grade — and formed U.T.

Today, Jenesis is 30, in good health and does film-production work for the now-$6 billion firm. Martine led the company to developing a new FDA-approved pill for pulmonary arterial hypertension, Orenitram (“Martine Ro,” backward). The stock price soared, and so did her incentive package.

****

Amid all this, Martine and Bina have been married for 32 years, before and after Rothblatt’s gender surgery. They’re so joined at the hip that the kids refer to them as “Marbina.” Their younger son, Gabriel, just ran for Congress in Florida’s Eighth District (Democrat, lost, but a respectable debut). When Rothblatt set up a $225,000 super PAC to fund Gabriel’s campaign — without his knowledge, he says — she drew a rebuke from the New York Times editorial page for parental abuse of electoral process.

Let’s see … what else? She flies airplanes. And helicopters. Kills on the piano. Runs half-triathlons. Has several houses and apartments and says she hasn’t stayed in one place more than a month in 20 years. During September and October, she and Bina touched down in Greece, Crete, Washington, Los Angeles, Bora Bora, back to Silver Spring, took the grandkids trick-or-treating in Melbourne Beach, Fla., while Gabriel was out campaigning, then flew to London and popped back to D.C.

****

Marty enrolled in UCLA but quit after a year to travel on the cheap with buddies. Van rides across Europe, selling the van in Turkey, teaching English in Iran, touring eastern Africa … wound up living in a ratty house in the Seychelles Islands, which was supposed to be cool. It wasn’t.

While there, a buddy took Rothblatt to a U.S. satellite installation. There — right there — is where she says her mind took an exponential leap forward, imagining how close future worlds really were.

Marty went back to UCLA with a wild new energy and a family in tow. The marriage to a Kenyan woman soon collapsed, but Marty raised their son Eli on his own. Father and son lived in dire, if self-imposed, poverty while dad spent seven years going through undergrad, law and the MBA programs.

“Martine wanted to do things on her own,” her mom remembers.

“Literally the starving student,” remembers Paul Rosenthal, then chairman of the communications school. “I remember her wearing one checked shirt and pair of jeans every day. It may have been all she had.”

Charlie Firestone remembers Marty clearly — “the most brilliant student I had in 13 years of teaching at UCLA law school. … Just a fascinating mind.”
It was 1979 when Marty met Bina, a real estate agent, at a mixer in Hollywood. The two shared an instant attraction and mutual life circumstances: Bina was a single parent, too, of a young daughter named Sunee.

They soon married, moved to D.C., cross-adopted Eli and Sunee and eventually had Gabriel and Jenesis.
By the mid-1980s, Rothblatt was getting a reputation among the space law cognoscenti for brilliance and knowledge of FCC regulations and of the intricacies of broadcasting wavelengths.

“A conceptual genius,” says Tobey Marzouk, partner at Marzouk & Parry, who was legal partners with Rothblatt in the 1980s. “Her ideas were quantum leaps of the technology at the time.”

Rothblatt was hired as a lobbyist for a fledgling concern called Geostar, initially a satellite tracking service for trucking companies.

Rothblatt worked insane hours — going to the office about 2 a.m. for a day’s research and planning before the doors opened seven hours later — but the family was tightknit. Bina had converted to Judaism and often worked as his de facto office manager. Bina’s mom, who had moved in with them, watched the kids.

On Friday evenings, they would have “love night” at home. It began with a family song:

Love night, love night, love is all around
love night, love night, here love can be found
family is our source of our strength
forever we are one and the same
love night, love night, love is all around

“That was at the dinner table,” says Gabriel Rothblatt, 32, now a father of four and living in Melbourne Beach. “We’d all have dinner or go out to dinner, sitting around the table, bless the bread and light the candles. We’d go from oldest to youngest and everyone say what love meant to them this week. It was an opportunity for everybody to speak while everyone else is quiet, but it was also a session to reflect on the meaning of love during the previous week and how it affected you.”

By the early 1990s, Rothblatt had founded CD Satellite Radio, a forerunner of satellite worldwide radio, then changed the name to Sirius, for the brightest star in the sky. Rothblatt came out first to Bina, announcing an affinity for wearing dresses, and Bina said it was no big deal. The kids were not exactly thrilled — some friends stopped coming over, some people stared at Martin in a dress — but they told the kids not to worry. Martine was always going to be their dad, Bina was always going to be their mom, and stupid people were always going to be stupid.

The gender switch led to Martine’s first manifesto-type book, “The Apartheid of Sex.” It argued that people come in vast ranges of sexualities and that two genders simply could not describe the reality.

The book got a $100,000 publishing contract. Sirius went to its IPO. Rothblatt earned millions.

She was 40 years old.

****

“Last night one fewer person died on the transplant list,” she wrote, exultant. “I feel confident that we’ll at minimum double # of transplants by end of 20teens.”
Roll your eyes? Sure, go ahead.

Then go back up, near the beginning of this story, and, when betting against the future, reread the handicapping of Ray Kurzweil, generally regarded as one of the planet’s great minds, about the track record of Martine Rothblatt.

Neely Tucker is a Washington Post Magazine staff writer.

LGBT Hero Priest in Uganda

How One Reverend Is Defying Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Act

By Carimah Townes  March 30, 2014 Published in Think Progress

Ugandan Rev. Christopher Senyonjo (AP photo)

Ugandan Rev. Christopher Senyonjo (AP photo)

Last month, Uganda made international headlines when President Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act, calling for the imprisonment of gay citizens. But one religious leader refuses to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation, and has become a hero to the country’s gay community.

In defiance of the legislation, commonly referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, Rev. Christopher Senyonjo hosts weekly prayer sessions and counseling services to LGBT worshipers and supporters. He also critiques fellow clerics’ “healing” approach to addressing the gay community, whereby church leaders attempt to fix people through prayer. “They said I should condemn the homosexuals,” he said, referring to Anglican leaders in Uganda. “I can’t do that, because I was called to serve all people, including the marginalized. But they say I am inhibited until I recant. I am still a member of the Anglican church.”

Citing questionable evidence provided by Ugandan scientists, the President justified signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February by arguing that being gay is a choice. According to the harsh law, first-time offenders can spend at least 14 years in jail, while others can serve lifelong sentences. As a result, LGBT people are ostracized and subjected to violence.

But the country also penalizes people who openly support or discuss LGBT issues. Prior to the law’s enactment, Senyonjo was cut from Uganda’s Anglican church in 2006 for calling on fellow religious leaders to embrace LGBT people. Since then, the cleric has lived as a social pariah, surviving off of “gifts” provided by family and friends. And his situation has became more precarious, as the Anti-Homosexuality Act signed last month states, “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality commits an offence and is liable, conviction, to imprisonment for seven years.”

Despite the threat of punishment, Senyonjo’s show of defiance and solidarity has garnered the title of elder among LGBT people in Uganda. During a time when they are forced to hideaway in safe houses or flee the country in fear of persecution, the religious ally is a source of comfort and encouragement to the LGBT population.

Uganda’s Kill the Gays bill has received international backlash. For example, the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan, indefinitely, and Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have suspended aid promised to the African nation. However, the United States’ military alliance with Ugandan forces has produced a fragile relationship between the two countries — and has led to inaction from the former.