BEYOND | What Once Was Old Is New Again
“For the times they are a-changin’”- words from Bob Dylan that ring as true today as they did in 1964. We are living in truly historic times – so much so, I am tired of saying it. Once again, we find ourselves in tense and chaotic times, in a new world that feels different yet so familiar. It is said that if you do not study history then you are doomed to repeat it. In these strange yet familiar times we find ourselves in, it seems that adage is holding true. Today as I sit here, we face many challenges in this new world we are living in with assaults on LGBTQ+ rights, the never-ending assault on voting rights, and the geopolitical catastrophe we are faced with in the Russian war in Ukraine. While these issues are new, they are reminiscent of a time not far past.
The year was 1969, the fight for Civil Rights was in full force with some newly won victories, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was fledging but in action, voting rights had just freshly been delivered to those it had been denied for so long, the United States was four years deep into the Vietnam War, and the USSR was still our fierce adversary in the ongoing Cold War. The comparisons you can draw between ‘69 and the current times we are living in are both far and wide, similar yet different. The year 1969, was a very chaotic and challenging time for our country, and the world more broadly, for far different, dynamic reasons, but nonetheless similar and reminiscent of the issues we are still dealing with today. While we are living in a time of renewal, it seems what once was old is new again.
The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is both personal and enduring for me. As a gay man, I liked to think that we had finally made it to a better place for the LGBTQ+ community but as I sit here today, it seems we have not come nearly far enough. My community is under assault in many states around the country. In Florida, The Parental Rights in Education bill – more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”- is an attempt to erase the LGBTQ+ community from Florida education. The bill recently passed the Florida Senate, as reported here, and awaits the signature of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And while proponents of the bill are certain to cite the fact that the bill only bans those teachings in kindergarten through the third grade, what they fail to mention is the nefarious grey area that is intentionally put within the legislative language of the bill.
The language of the bill, “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”, seemingly leaves the door open for any level of education. This worrying language could, and in my opinion, will lead to the targeting and discrimination of LGBTQ+ students and LGBTQ+ families. It leads me to ponder upon future scenarios like a married gay couple whose child cannot speak about their family at school. But what the Florida GOP seems to forget is, we are loud, we are proud, and we vote too.
And Florida is not the only state attacking LGBTQ+ rights. In Texas, Governor George Abbott recently directed an executive order targeting transgender children and their families. In his executive order, the governor has called for investigations into all transgender children and their families and has declared that gender-affirming treatment is considered child abuse. You can read more about the specifics as reported here. This bill is not only offensive and discriminatory, it is scary and reminiscent of times long past like the Lavender Scare, an assault on the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people between the 1950s and 1960s by the United States Government. It is a very scary step forward in trying to subjugate the LGBTQ+ community to partisan policies that are not even evidence-based, but opinion-based, religious-based and hatred-based. This kind of hatred results from a misunderstanding of things they do not know, but this is no excuse for the nascent attack on the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ families, specifically our trans allies and their families.
Governor Abbott has, for all intents and purposes, put targets on the backs of transgender children and their families. This is unconscionable, unacceptable, and – most importantly – a grave denial of their civil rights. It is my opinion that Texas has become a police state that feels it can act unlawfully and get away with it, led by its embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, its deleterious Governor, and its gerrymandered GOP controlled state legislature. We will see what Texans think this year when voters make their voices heard, but due to gerrymandering and unfair electoral tactics, a regime change (yes, you read that correctly) may be nothing more than another pipe dream.
While it is not surprising the attack on LGBTQ+ rights in states that Trump won in the 2020 election, it is disturbing nonetheless as we continue to fight for our rights to be codified with the passing of the Equality Act that has languished in the Senate since it was passed in the House last year. While Florida and Texas are prime examples of the attack on LGBTQ+ rights, they are merely the tip of the iceberg, with more than 150 anti LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures this year. Personally, I will continue to fight, to raise my voice, to demand my rights and the rights of my community just as I have for the past 20 years and will continue to until my last breath.
The fight for voting rights is, and should be, personal for all of us. Since the 2020 election, lies, propaganda and – for lack of a better term – bullshit, have been spewed about the accuracy of the election. In case you thought otherwise, Joe Biden won the 2020 election, something I cannot even believe I had to say. Yet here we are and on the impetus of this gaslighting we find ourselves at the precipice of the fight for voting rights, again, domestically in our country. According to the Brennan Center, “between January 1 and September 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote”, with many legislatures using the propaganda of election fraud to buttress their arguments for why they must be enacted. Most of these laws shown to have a disparate impact on people of color.
The Brennan Center also notes that, “As of January 14, legislators in at least 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions, compared to 75 such bills in 24 states on January 14, 2021”, a worrying trend that does not seem to abate. And if these attacks on our voting rights through new restrictive laws were not enough, there is also the dire effect of gerrymandering. Recently, the GOP’s attempted to have the maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania redrawn but the Supreme Court shot that attempt down. Redistricting is a complicated and competitive process controlled by the party that currently is in power in the state legislature, and while gerrymandering is a problem on both sides of the aisle, we must stand strong against all attempts to weaken our electoral power. Check out more about the current status of redistricting here.
As we fight through our own domestic issues and the scars reopened over the past few years in this country, an old but familiar adversary is attempting to reassert his power. While the USSR is officially disbanded, the current President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, is far from done with the goals of recapturing (what he sees as) his great Russian empire. Putin has never left the mindset of the KGB Lieutenant Colonel he once was. Putin has decided to do something that has not been seen since the time of Nazi Germany: invade the territorial land of an independent European country and attempt to subjugate them to the rule of another country in the guise of false flag attacks, which Putin has a long history of doing. Putin attempted to fracture the Western alliance, but in fact all he did was solidify the Western alliance, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), strong than ever. Putin has even done something unthinkable in these partisan times, created agreement among a majority of Democrats and Republicans in this country on standing strong against Russian aggression.
Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, three days after declaring the people’s republics in the Donbas region independent republicans, only recognized by Russia. In the days since, he and the Russian military have committed unspeakable atrocities on the people of Ukraine as they attempt to overthrow the government of Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. So far, Putin and his war machine have not been successful, despite their attempts. Instead, President Zelenskyy has galvanized his nation and the Ukrainian people have taken up arms to fight alongside their military to repel the Russian invaders. President Zelenskyy has galvanized more than just his country, he has united the whole Western world with his stoic leadership as he tries to shepherd his country through this difficult time. Ironically, Putin claims that he is fighting Nazis in Ukraine -despite the fact that President Zelenskyy is Jewish.
Sadly, the worry is that if Putin is successful in dominating Ukraine, he will not stop there but instead go after more territory of the Balkan states. Putin and the Russian military have committed unspeakable war crimes in Ukraine, using prohibited weapons, bombing both hospitals and schools, killing civilians both adults and children, and using absolutely chilling tactics like those seen in Grozny and Aleppo. One of the more recent war crimes that struck me was the attack on a hospital in Mariupol, a maternity hospital, just one of many attacks on medical centers. It does not get much more evil than bombing pregnant women and unborn children. In my opinion, Putin should be tried as the war criminal he is, and I hope I may get to see that actually happen – though the chance is slim to none. The humanitarian crisis Putin has created has resulted in 2.6 million refugees at the time of writing, and an uncertain amount of internally displaced people as well. While it is completely uncertain how many civilians, including many children, have been killed thus far, it is thought to be in the thousands or tens of thousands and will continue to climb in the brutality of Putin’s offensive.
While the United States is not directly involved in military action currently, we are helping support the Ukrainian government in its efforts to repel Russian invaders. I certainly hope that Ukraine is victorious, and democracy wins in this dark tale of dictatorial overreach. But, sadly, if it does not, it could spell the beginning of something very awful for the world and the beginning of possibly another world war, except this time we have a nuclear world and a megalomaniac, Putin, with his hand on the button. A worrisome and scary thought to be sure. I recently heard an interview with Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. She said something that resonated with me: “Putin is the Hitler of our time.” She went on to say, and I am paraphrasing here, that we should learn from the lessons of history and remember there is no reasoning with fascists, and that the world needs to wake up and see this for what this is.
She also went on to talk about the fault that lies with the Russian People domestically themselves, citing a 70% support of the War in Ukraine according to Russian State Media polling (for whatever that is worth), along with a painful anecdotal experience of one of her friends. Her friend had called their uncle, who lives in Russia, and the uncle would not even believe his own blood relative and threatened to report her, and her small children, hiding in a bunker near the Donbas to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). This is the reality we are living in, where family members are selling each other out, and we must stop pretending like this is not as serious as it is. You know, in the Nuremberg trials, many people used the excuse “I was just following orders.” Those people were complicit too. And as a Jew, I will reiterate that we meant it when we said: “Never Again”. Personally, I refuse to sit by and watch a megalomaniac wannabe dictator force our modern world into a futile battle that will end in extinction.
When will the rest of our country, and the world, take seriously what is happening in Ukraine as do the Ukrainians fighting to repel Putin’s death squads as they attempt to break down the gates? There is a quotation I love by Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As I said in the beginning of this article, what once was old is new again. I will leave you all with this question: Are you going to stand up and speak about it or are you going to wait until there is no one left to speak for you? While I cannot answer for you, I can assure you that I am going to stand up, speak about it, fight for it and demand it until I can speak, fight or demand no more.