From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Guest Host: Lisa Desjardins
It remains unclear why Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Florida and began shooting everyone he could. The massacre horrified people around the world. And while the scale of his crime shocked members of America’s LGBT community, violence against them is all too common. Despite gains made in legal rights and social acceptance for LGBT people, they are still one of the biggest targets of violent hate crime. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that sexual orientation motivates nearly 20 percent of hate crimes in the U.S. In at least 10 other nations, homosexuality is punishable by death. We discuss the challenges of being LGBT in America and abroad.
MS. LISA DESJARDINSThanks for joining us. I'm Lisa Desjardins of the PBS New Hour sitting in for Diane Rehm. America's LGBT community has made historic progress in the past year with gay marriage legalized across the country, a new awareness of transgendered Americans, and the lifting of state bans on adoption by gay couples. But at the same time, the LGBT world still faces violence, hate and, in many states, legal discrimination in workplace. Joining me now in the studio to talk about this moment, four LGBTQ Americans in America and also elsewhere around the world are Laura Durso of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, and Kathryn Hamm of GayWeddings.com.
MS. LISA DESJARDINSBy phone from Montgomery, Ala., we have Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and also by phone from Nashville, Emma Green of The Atlantic magazine. Thank you all for joining us.
MS. LAURA DURSOThank you.
MS. KATHRYN HAMMPleasure.
DESJARDINSAnd of course we want to hear from you as well. Please give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or you can email us at email@example.com, and on Twitter we are @drshow. Emma Green, let's start with you, and let's get an update on what we know about the motives or potential motives involved in the shooting in Orlando. We still haven't pieced together specifics, but what do we know?
MS. EMMA GREENThe reporting is still emerging on this, but some of the facts that came out in the several days following Sunday's shooting was that homophobia was likely at least one part of why Omar Mateen went into that Pulse nightclub and shot the people who were there. His father reported that he had seen a gay couple kissing in Miami and was enraged by that. And that may have been one of his motivations. It's difficult to untangle all of the different layers of motivation here, the possibility of religious influence, obviously extremist ideology. But it seems completely certain that homophobia, particularly in his choice of target for attack was at least one factor.
DESJARDINSMark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center, President Obama called this a hate crime, also an act of terrorism. But can you talk about what is a hate crime and also what do we know about hate crimes against this specific community?
MR. MARK POTOKWell, a hate crime is a crime. It's not a freestanding thing of its own. It's a regular crime, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, murder, whatever it may be, that is motivated in whole or in part by hatred of a certain group, and amiss towards a certain group, gay people, Muslims, white people, black people, that kind of thing. Very often, hate crimes are essentially private crimes. They don't necessarily have a public dimension, meaning they are not carried out particularly to send a message. It's simply coming out of a person's personal animus, I hate gay people, therefore, I'm gonna beat somebody up.
MR. MARK POTOKTerrorism is different in the sense that it is a public crime, and it is designed not only to hurt the immediate victims, but to attack everyone else similarly situated. Basically the idea is that this crime is intended to change the way an entire government acts or a whole large group of people.
DESJARDINSBut could then a crime be both a hate crime and an act of terrorism? Or are you saying...
POTOKI think that the President was quite right. And Emma said essentially the same thing. I mean, it seems to me there are kind of three strands here. One is absolutely homophobia, and it's now looking more and more like it may well be that, in fact, Omar Mateen had feelings that, you know, he might've been gay himself, he was struggling and feeling, you know, obviously angry about that. That seems pretty clear. On top of that, of course, it seems to be just personal rage, perhaps mental illness. This man wrote about and talked about hating black people, Jewish people, you know, his wife, women in general, it seemed like in many ways. So there was that strand as well.
POTOKAnd then the last, of course, is Islamist ideology. And that may, at this point, be the very weakest strand. I say that only because it seems to me that Mateen almost as an afterthought, very much towards the end of the standoff, when his death was approaching, decided to make these calls to 911 and essentially kind of sign up with ISIS. It seems to me that that is the kind of thing a person does as they're facing death, as they're facing the end. And they want to go down in history not as some, you know, ugly, mass murderer, but as a person who has somehow died as a martyr to a noble cause.
DESJARDINSAnd, Mark, tell us about hate crimes or targeting of the LGBT community.
DESJARDINSYou know, I read -- I think it's not clear exactly how many Americans fit into that community. Maybe about 9 million I read somewhere, which is not huge relative to your 300 million Americans, but they're disproportionately targeted, are they not? What do you know?
POTOKYeah, I think, first of all, the best -- I don't know about absolute numbers...
POTOK...but I think the best estimates are about 2.1 percent of people in the United States are LGBT in some way or other. You know, we did an analysis. I actually did an analysis some years ago in which I looked at 14 years of FBI national hate crime data. And using all of those years together did the math to figure out what are the most targeted communities, what is the most targeted minority out there. And it turned out to be very clearly LGBT people. What we found in a nutshell was that LGBT people were more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or black people. More than four times as likely as Muslims. And almost 14 times as likely as Latinos.
POTOKSo I don't think there's much question about that. The New York Times today published an interesting look at the same statistics, and what they did was snapshots instead. They looked at 2005, and then the latest year for which we have statistics, and that is 2014. And what they found was actually there had been a change, that Jewish people back in 2005 were the most targeted per capita, but in 2014 LGBT people were most targeted. So that suggests an interesting shift, you know, even as the whole society is moving toward more and more tolerant positions, vis-à-vis LGBT people. We have this minority of people in groups and so on who are just enraged at what is happening.
DESJARDINSLaura Durso with the Center for American Progress. We're talking about violence against gay Americans, bisexuals, transgendered, but can you also talk about other challenges, other obstacles that gay Americans face, maybe in the workplace, homelessness? This has been a year of many positives for the gay community, but has that overshadowed other aspects of day to day life for gay Americans?
DURSOYou know, you're right. We have made really significant strides in the last many years in terms of achieving some legal equality for LGBT communities, but we cannot mistake that progress for victory. And I think if there's anyone who ever thought that marriage equality was the end of the line for equality for LGBT people, Orlando has shattered that. And as you said, we face discrimination on many fronts. In the workplace there's estimates that one in ten gay, lesbian or bisexual people have experienced workplace discrimination. That rises to about one in four with transgender Americans.
DURSOThere are disproportionate numbers of LGBT young people living on the streets. Seniors are targeted and isolated. We can be at risk of being basically kicked out of our jobs, kicked out of our homes, denied a loan and any number of other ways in which the law protects Americans and their civil rights, and yet we see that we are well behind in terms of protections for LGBT people.
DESJARDINSKathryn Hamm, you founded GayWeddings.com, cofounded it in 1999, 17 years ago, a completely different atmosphere. I want to ask you about what you think has changed businesswise for the better. What do we know -- I know you've recently done some surveys about what's happening perhaps because of marriage equality on the positive side. Tell me your observations.
HAMMRight. We've had the wonderful opportunity to live in the progress side. And I would say any of us in the LGBTQ community recognize that this wasn't the end all, be all, as Laura pointed out, but it -- in the wedding industry we do love, it's a happy thing. We're spending this time and this very joyful day that for all couples really exists as this one isolated moment in time. I can tell you that in the study, the 2016 survey of contemporary couples, which we did with CMI, WeddingWire, GayWeddings and the Gay Wedding Institute is quite incredible. What we were looking at is what has happened with the impact of marriage equality for all couples.
HAMMAnd we have seen some great things like emotional support from parents improving for same sex couples. Those numbers have raised for -- have gone up for same sex couples from 46 percent to 60 percent. But those numbers pale compared to 86 percent of opposite sex couples who feel emotionally supported by their families. Additionally one of the other things that we were looking at is why more -- with more couples feeling -- same sex couples feeling comfortable coming out and having their weddings, couples still feel a lot of fear of rejection when they're in the process of trying to book wedding professionals. This is not something that any opposite sex couples experience or report. They talk about fear about being rejected based on budget...
HAMM...can the timeline work. But for same sex couples, you know, we begin the wedding planning process with this fear of if I pick up this phone and call someone and say, will you help me, will they hang up on me, will they reject me, will they put me off, what will happen? And about I think it's 47 percent of same sex couples express some fear of rejection based on sexual orientation. Another result that came out of this that I'm still trying to make sense of, and I can't help but puzzle through all of this in light of what's happened in Orlando, is this level that it's actually our millennial couples that express the greatest amount of fear.
HAMMLesbians tended to express more fear over gay men in this wedding planning process.
DESJARDINSThe younger gay community.
HAMMThe younger LGBT couples expressed more fear. And I was -- I've asked this question of a number of LGBT folks I know trying to figure out why that might be and wondering if those of us who are older are accustomed to that other shoe dropping and expect it whereas millennial kids don't necessarily.
DESJARDINSKathryn Hamm from GayWeddings.com. Let us know what you think, gay people in your life, your community. What do you think about what's happening in gay America today? I'm Lisa Desjardins with "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll be right back.
DESJARDINSAnd welcome back. I'm Lisa Desjardins from the "PBS News Hour" sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're having an important conversation this hour about this moment for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual America after a year of incredible progress. Also this community is dealing with one of the worst massacres this nation has seen. I want to go right to the call -- to the phones here and Andrew in Indianapolis, Ind. Andrew, you're on the line.
DESJARDINSYeah, what's your thought or question.
ANDREWActually, I had a comment and a question. A little over two years ago now, I started teaching at a rural school here in Indiana. After about three weeks, apparently one of the school board members found through Facebook that I was gay and decided to have the entire school board recommend me for termination.
ANDREWAt that point, I got a letter from the principal saying I was recommended for termination based on an immoral lifestyle.
DESJARDINSAnd was that the exact phrase in the letter?
ANDREWYeah. It said, due to an immoral lifestyle, I'm recommending you for termination to the school board, effective on this date.
ANDREWAnd I was given the option to resign before that happened, thankfully. And I was fortunate enough to have a really supportive family that helped me through it. And I used it as motivation to go back to school and get my Masters in education. So thankfully I'll be starting even better this fall.
ANDREWBut I was just wondering, kind of, where progress is both nationally and kind of at the individual state levels, on what is seen to, you know, be in the near future on that front?
DESJARDINSAndrew, thank you for sharing that story. I really appreciate that. I think I'm going to go to you, Laura Durso, on this. That was 2014. That was not that long ago where someone was fired on immoral grounds for being gay. Where are we now in terms of laws and especially in states. I know you mentioned to me right before we started the show that this has been an incredible year of activity in state legislatures. Where are we?
DURSOYeah. So, you know, unfortunately that story is the story of too many LGBT people across the country, not only in employment but in other areas of life. And the even sadder reality is that our civil rights laws haven't kept pace with the progress and the visibility of the LGBT community. So most people don't know that actually there is no explicit federal law that protects LGBT Americans in the areas of life like employment, public accommodations, credit and jury service, places where we recognize that you should be treated on the basis of the content of your character and your ability to do the job.
DURSOAnd that is not the case in federal law, nor is it the law in the majority of U.S. states. Roughly 30 states lack protections either on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And so we are well behind in terms of having the law protect LGBT Americans across the country.
DESJARDINSAnd the activity in state legislatures in the last year, which direction did that go in, if it was a single direction?
DURSOWell, it went south, I would say. You know, we've seen, over the last number of years, just a truly enormous number of laws that are targeting LGBT Americans. This year, in the 2016 legislative session, we saw roughly 200 anti-LGBT bills introduced across the country. I think Oklahoma had the distinction of having 27 on its own. And so these are laws that are either trying to sort of respond to marriage equality by exempting people who, let's say, are wedding vendors from following state laws that might exist that protect LGBT Americans.
DURSOOr there are laws that are outright targeting LGBT Americans, especially transgender people. We see that certainly, most notably, in North Carolina. But there are other places, Mississippi has passed a law that says basically if you have a strongly held religious belief that, say, your gender is what is on your birth certificate, or you have a belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, the government can't deny you a contract, let's say.
DURSOSo there is really specific laws targeting the community.
DESJARDINSYou know, I know one of the things I think generating these state legislature debates has been concern from the conservative side, something they say it's about religious freedom. Emma Green, with The Atlantic, I'm interested to talk to you about the politics here. Can you talk about what seems to be conservative Christians being concerned that their values are at stake here and, as a result, they're sort of passing more laws that the gay community certainly sees as blatantly discriminatory. Can you talk about the politics here? What's generating this? What's happening in the country right now?
GREENSure. So I think on this issue, insofar as it relates to religious views, there's a very wide range of how people who hold religious-based views of what you might call traditional marriage or, for example, a marriage between people of the opposite sex, or who believe, for example, that gender should only be considered someone's biological sex at birth. There's a range of how people talk about it, how they've approached the issue and in fact there's been change over the past several years.
GREENOne big example is the Southern Baptist convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the country and also stands from its leadership on a position of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, for example. There head of their public-policy arm, Russell Moore, has come out with apathetic language, trying to express both a firm position on what they call biblical sexuality, but also express empathy for people who feel alienated from their gender...
GREEN...or feel like they are perhaps persecuted, such as in the Orlando attacks. He wrote about this following the attacks on Sunday. But, on the other side, there are people in Mississippi or in North Carolina where these laws are being passed who are expressing what essentially boiled down to fearful views about people who are transgender or fearful views about people who are gay, and sometimes using religious justification for that and sometimes not. People who are engaging with this in the context of church communities really struggle with it. Denominations have been struggling with it within their own communities, trying to figure out what to do with their leadership and how to deal with wedding ceremonies, for example.
GREENSo I would say that the -- there's a large range of attitudes. But all of that definitely contributes to this environment, as Laura was speaking about, of sort of really digging in heels, especially in southern states, trying to create religious liberty protections, for fear that there's going to be a big sea change on issues of sexuality and the law.
DESJARDINSHmm. And of course, listeners, we want to hear from you on this. Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Or you can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And a couple of email notes on this. We've got an email from Jake, who's asking, "what passages from the Bible and the Quran justify acts against LGBT?" We've got an email from Jim in Freeport, Fl., who is saying he thinks one of the biggest problems LGBTQ and others in the U.S. have is something that he is calling radical Christianity. Obviously that's quite a phrase to put out there. But he writes, over the last couple of days -- couple of decades, these radical Christians, as he says, have pushed themselves as the only source of morality and social normative arbiters.
DESJARDINSListeners, I'm wondering, are you Christian out there? What are your thoughts? We want to hear all views on this subject. So please give us a call or email us. Kathryn Hamm, you have a thought.
HAMMWell, I just wanted to jump in. Listening to those emails, if I can just reflect on those briefly, I was thinking on my way over today about secondhand smoke. I grew up at a time when smoking was allowed on airplanes. So, as if you could get a nonsmoking seat, how was that even possible?
HAMMIt created an environment where it was unhealthy for our bodies. And as a LGBTQ-identified person, for me to listen to the dialog around space given for folks to speak in quite hurtful terms, to put it as nicely as I can...
HAMM...it's difficult. And I feel that that environment actually gives permission to some folks that may be struggling in any number of ways, in very complex ways perhaps, as the shooter in the Orlando massacre was struggling. And this has an impact on our lives and those that feel they can challenge us or judge us. I did want to say, on the refusal of service question...
HAMM...just to jump back to that...
HAMM...you know, the majority of folks really feel that it's not okay and we don't spend enough time talking about that.
DESJARDINSYou mean the majority of all Americans?
HAMMYeah. So in this survey...
DESJARDINSOr do you mean small business owners too?
HAMMLet me tell you about couples, right?
HAMMSo, in terms of couples in this survey that we did, 77 percent of same-sex couples said it's just absolutely not okay to refuse services.
DESJARDINSI'm surprised that any said it was okay.
HAMMWell, it is -- there is a level of, we live in America and we do have a level of wrestling with people having a chance to have freedoms and be independent.
HAMMAnd I think...
HAMM...we tend to have a lot more compassion in a sense, trusting that folks will meet us in that way. But additionally, 68 percent, excuse me, of opposite-sex couples said the same thing, that it's not okay to refuse services. So the one thing that I note is we're spending a lot of time talking about a really tiny group. And that's not to say that it's not important for everyone to have an opportunity to work through needing to be educated, to get to know LGBT people, to understand the impact. I think that everyone needs to feel safe, to have these conversations which are very important.
HAMMMy concern is the environment and what the lead stories, headlines, and conversations are and how they hold us back from crossing those bridges with each other.
DESJARDINSI do wonder if even, you know, in thinking about this conversation today and even at this moment in this conversation, you know, sometimes this debate gets driven, oh, it's this community versus that community.
DESJARDINSAnd I almost was nervous as we're entering this, there are so many people who are straight in this country, who are Christian, who are of any religion, who support gay America, even if they may not themselves be sure that they think homosexuality is right. So there's -- and so even in this conversation, you're right, we're sort of taking this community versus that community. And maybe it's a lot more complex than that.
HAMMWell, of course. And then thinking, too, about the many LGBT-identified Muslims who are out there, who -- how are they processing this, right? Because we've got a conversation that's vilifying Muslims quite unfairly.
HAMMAnd then we have folks in the LGBT community, really the victims of this awful hate crime, who are trying to wrestle with, how do I find a safe space for myself...
HAMM...when it feels like those safe spaces are being taken away, not only at home but now also in the places we congregate and come together to feel safe.
DESJARDINSMark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center, we've been talking about some of the advances in gay America. You know, I was just thinking, for this show, eight years ago we had a president who was opposed to gay marriage. He was in favor of civil unions at that time. You know, at that point, we had no major TV anchors who were out and gay. Now Anderson Cooper has come out. There's been just a real sea change, I think, in both political and pop culture in the last eight years.
DESJARDINSBut, yet, despite all of these changes, including the legalization of gay marriage, you say that we have actually seen an increase in hate crimes toward LGBTQ Americans. How -- why is that? If America, on the one hand, seems to be moving toward some higher level of acceptance, why are we also at the same time seeing perhaps more violence against this community?
POTOKWell, we've seen this in a number of different kinds of cases in our work here. And what I mean is that, you know, what we seem to see time and again is that, as the society moves in some progressive direction -- whatever that may be, you know, ensuring the rights of Southern black people to vote, ensuring that gay people can marry, and so on -- as the society moves in that direction, the people who are in the kind of anti column or the groups that are in the anti column basically are faced with a choice. And what happens very often is that some of them tack back toward the center, while others get angrier and harder line and more dangerous.
POTOKSo, you know, Focus on the Family is not some huge, pro-LGBT group, to be sure, but they have clearly done that, moderated in some of their stances towards the LGBT community and so on. At the same time, you see other groups, you know, some of them very large, quote, unquote, "Christian" groups that have gotten just hysterical, who now talk about things like gay men are responsible for the Holocaust, which of course has not any remote basis in fact. So I think that's what really happens, as people become more and more isolated politically, they become angrier.
POTOKAnd, you know, certainly, as I mentioned before, with regards to the Civil Rights Movement you saw that, as the Klan became more and more isolated during the '50s and '60s, it became more and more violent, started blowing up, you know, little girls in churches and so on.
POTOKSo I think that's really what's going on. You know, we're moving forward but at the cost of great violence directed towards gay people. I mean, I think maybe it's worth remembering that, although this was surely the worst attack on LGBT people in American history, that that is not for wont of trying. You know, a mere three years ago, on New Year's Eve of 2013, a man in Seattle attacked a gay bar called Neighbors. What he did was walk in -- this was an upstairs bar, much like the upstairs lounge back in 1973 where another massacre happened -- he poured gasoline on the steps and set them on fire. There were 750 people up in that bar.
POTOKYou know, this man tried to murder, to burn alive, 750 LGBT people.
DESJARDINSIs to say, this is not a unique episode. Thank you, Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center. And I'm Lisa Desjardins with the "PBS News Hour." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. And let's take a quick phone call here from Brewster Town, Tenn. Terry, you're on the line.
TERRYThank you, Lisa. I'm a heterosexual male. And over 30 years ago I told my sons, all my children, that I didn't want them to be, but if they were gay, I would always love them.
TERRYThat my love was always unconditional. And if you look at the hypocrisy of the different religious groups, there's a lot of child molesting that is done by so-called men of God that is buried. And to me, child molesting is a whole lot worse than choice. Also, a child that was hermaphroditic at birth didn't have the choice. A doctor made that choice for them.
DESJARDINSAll right, Terry. Thank you for your call. I think the reason the idea that there is some hypocrisy in these communities -- and again we're talking about such small groups, when you're talking about pedophilia -- but I think this idea that, don't throw stones, I think, is what Terry is trying to get at. Tonight -- today our topic is gay America, progress and also struggles. We want to take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at drshow@wamu. I'm Lisa Desjardins sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're going to take a quick break. But please don't leave this important conversation.
DESJARDINSOh, before we go to break though, I want to talk about what Terry just said from Tennessee, Kathryn. How do you think heterosexual couples handle this with their children now? Is that changing? You're a mother.
HAMMI can only speak as a lesbian parent of a son.
HAMMI think conscientious parenting is the best thing that you can bring to the table and that it is incredibly important to be thinking about the world that they are growing up in as opposed to the world that maybe you knew and wish you had back as a parent. Our job as parents are to raise kids to understand the challenges in the world that they are growing up in.
DESJARDINSYou are someone who adopted in a time when it was not -- it has become easier for gay parents to adopt. I don't know, it depends, I think, on the situation. But how have you seen your acceptance as gay parents changed? Has that changed? Or have you lived in a community where it's always been very tolerant?
HAMMThat's an interesting question. I would say -- I mean, my experience as an adoptive parent who's gay is one of the things I notice about some of the ways in which I feel as a gay person I protect myself is, kids don't know any different and we raised him to feel just fine about our family, as well he should. But if we're out in public and he's calling out to momma and mommy...
HAMM...we've just been outed. And I notice, I like to feel a little more in charge of that because...
DESJARDINSYeah, it's interesting.
HAMM...I don't always know if I'm in a safe environment.
HAMMSo, for me, one of the great challenges as a parent is helping him to understand pride and safety and we don't need to apologize for who we are. But by the same token, making sure that we're making good decisions. Because, as we've all discussed, it's not safe everywhere you go.
DESJARDINSThat's interesting. Reminiscent of the conversation of a lot of families in black America is having right now as well. Okay, that's Kathryn Hamm, a publisher of GayWeddings.com. Again, stick with us. Here comes that break I told you about a few minutes ago. But please do come back to us when we return.
DESJARDINSAnd welcome back. I'm Lisa Desjardins with the "PBS News Hour," in for Diane Rehm. In the wake of the Orlando shooting today, we're talking about the gay community in America. The progress in the last year, and also very real struggles, obstacles, and as we saw this week, violence that faces that community. And I want to go back to Mark Potok. And Mark, do we have a sense of exactly why the gay community is targeted more? You mentioned that there's no doubt that they are. But did your research talk anything about what's driving that, what sort of sentiments in society or groups are driving that?
POTOKWell, I can't say that we've done real research into the sort of psychology of it, but, you know, I don't think I'm saying anything surprising when I say that it seems like there are an awful lot of people, perhaps including Omar Mateen, who have -- who are struggling themselves. Who have their own same sex attractions and don't know how to deal with it for whatever reason. Perhaps they've grown up in very religious communities. You know, perhaps all their friends are disapproving, perhaps they just, for some reason, find it, you know, something very hard to deal with.
POTOKSo I think that's certainly a part of it. The other part of it, it seems to me, is that there are institutions, there are large groups in America, on the religious right, that are constantly pumping into the political mainstream, incredibly demonizing caricatures of who LGBT people are. You know, they are responsible for the Holocaust. They are perverted people who are destroying the pillars of western civilization. They are literally trying to seduce our children in school rather than simply, as they claim, and this is the assertion, trying to stop bullying.
POTOKYou know, the shocking thing is that these kinds of things are said and said frequently. You know, it's worth remembering that some of the people who have kind of buddied up to certain presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, have been people who have said things like homosexuality should be punished with death. You know, so it's really quite an incredible level of hatred that is accepted, more or less, as legitimate political discourse in this country. So, I think that, you know, there are really two things going on.
DESJARDINSMark Potok for the Southern Poverty Law Center. I want to take a phone call here really quick from Sanford, Maine. Carla, you're on the line. Tell us your question.
CARLAWell, good morning.
CARLAHow are you guys today?
CARLAGood morning. My question is, obviously, you all know who the Governor is in my state. And it's not just peoples' sexual orientation, which does count a lot. My state is very discriminatory all the way around. How does one go about trying to make change when you're hitting a lot of, as that nice gentleman just said, a lot of political blocks.
DESJARDINSAnd this is a theme we have in a couple of emails as well. Thank you, Carla, for your call. We also have this email from Amanda. "Do the panelists have any recommendations for what LGBTQ allies can do to make the US a safer place for all of its citizens? I'm an ardent ally, but I don't know of any actions I can take to promote equality." Kathryn.
HAMMWell, if I can tie some of this together.
HAMMThe last few comments, hopefully can address all of that. I mean, this is one of the things that was really exciting about the marriage equality movement and about what happened with weddings. I've always said wedding rituals have traditionally been straight peoples' language, if you will. And so, to see us celebrating our unions and our love really normalized us, which I think really countered some of those really awful fear based stereotypes that Mark was talking about. And when I think about what any of us can do, whether it's our allies or members of the community.
HAMMYou know, I personally have been in shock since hearing the news about Orlando. It's been incredibly painful. I speak and teach in this topic. I am publicly out in my work. And I have my -- I've just been reeling in all of it.
DESJARDINSYou're an educator, really, right.
DESJARDINSThe whole thing. And so, I feel like I need to have some answers like this. And I'm a parent, which is really rare, as we discussed before. These answers really do matter, because I need to make sure I'm taking care of my son and helping him to know what he needs to know. Within all of that...
POTOKIf I could just jump in here for a moment.
POTOKI just wanted to add that, you know, I think it is up to all of us to point out the other falsehoods. You know, these aren't just opinions floating around. You know, the religious right organizations that I was referring to earlier, by and large, make the claim that gay men are pedophiles, or that gay men are pedophiles at vastly higher rates than straight men. And as a matter of real life science, not the political opinion of the Southern Poverty Law Center or someone else, that is absolutely false.
POTOKAnd, you know, you think about that and what -- there are not many things worse you can say about a person than they are a child rapist. Or a child molester. So, I just think that, you know, when the Family Research Council, when the American Family Association makes these kinds of claims, they have got to be countered and countered strongly. Not with, you know, well, we've got a different opinion. But that is simply a lie. And it is a defamatory lie, which ultimately translates into criminal hate violence directed against individual human beings.
DESJARDINSLaura Durso at the Center for American Progress.
DURSOYeah, thank you for that question. We need our allies here, so I'm glad we're talking about this. I would say a couple of things. One is that what I am hearing most from the community is that people want allies to listen. To hear the stories that we're telling, to believe us when we tell you about the discrimination that we face. And then, we need you to intervene. And certainly, with what Mark is saying, about we have to push back against these really disgusting lies that are being told. But also, it's tiny things. It's hearing, that's so gay on the school yard.
DURSOThose are times when we need allies to intervene because often, we don't know if we can push back with any risk to our safety. So, you know, I would ask allies to intervene, to listen, and certainly to call your Congressperson. There is a bill in the US Congress called the Equality Act that would update our civil rights laws to include LGBT Americans. That's not going to be the silver bullet, but we need those types of laws in order for us to be able to protect our citizens.
DESJARDINSAnd Emma Green with The Atlantic. You cover the crossroads of politics, policy and religion. Which certainly hits the topic that we're covering today. What are your thoughts on all of this, and what do you make of Donald Trump, for example, coming out, even though he does oppose same sex marriage, he says he thinks it should be a state decided issue. But in the wake of the Orlando shootings, he was one of the first major Republicans that I heard speak about all Americans should have the right to love whoever they love.
DESJARDINSHe seemed to make a number of very supportive statements for the gay community. What do you make of that? There are few other Republicans saying similar things.
GREENYeah, so I think in, sort of, the face of all of the comments that we've had, one things that's really important is to isolate the different views that exist among conservatives who are not fully supportive of, for example, same sex marriage. Or even who support same sex marriage, but don't support homosexuality. I think what's perhaps even more challenging from a legislative perspective is not necessarily the people who are on the very far right. It's people who are sort of in the mealy middle, a little bit like Donald Trump.
GREENSomeone who's willing to express empathy for the LGBT community, who may be the first to states' rights issues, or believes that legislatures should have their own due. But I think a number of states are struggling with this right now. And one important factor will be compromise. There were two states earlier this year, Indiana and Pennsylvania, whose legislatures both went through the process of trying to create a compromise bill between protections for LGBT people and public accommodations, hiring and housing.
GREENBut also creating religious protection clauses. Both of those bills fizzled out very, very quickly, partially because of pressure from both sides. And negative press attention. But I think when it comes down to it, the situation that we're facing in the United States today, is a lot of people who are in, sort of, the middle part of the spectrum. A lot of religious people who really fear that their sincerely held religious beliefs are going to be compromised by legislation. And one thing that I think is really important, sort of, to Laura's point, is that Americans listen, but they listen on both sides.
GREENAnd that they're able to differentiate between truly hateful, fearmongering comments, like the ones that Mark has been pointing out. That are in the significant minority. And those of people who have sincerely held religious beliefs that are trying to create a way for compromise for protections for LGBT people.
DESJARDINSOkay. Emma Green with The Atlantic. And now, back to our listeners. We have a call from Sam in Fairfax, Virginia. Sam, tell us your comment.
SAMYes, hi, good morning. I'm very excited, because I have so much to say. But I also know that the time is limited. So, I'll try to be very brief. I wanted to say that unfortunately, discrimination against gays exists everywhere, even in the least expected places. I was watching the Department of Justice employees march at gay parade, and it fills me with hope. But on the other hand, as a contractor for the federal government, I will not say what branch, I face discrimination where, you know, something very bizarre happened.
SAMAnd basically, a supervisor emailed a colleague of mine and asked whether a person's belligerent behavior on one of the programs that I worked on was provoked by my quote, unquote overt sexuality. Meaning, well, so and so is gay, that is why other people can be belligerent, angry or uncivilized during meetings. So, when I tried to take it up with that supervisor's supervisor, I was told, basically, not to rock the boat. Get along and be a good boy. And that really undermined my faith in the federal government and the protections that homosexuals are supposed to enjoy by law, working for the federal government.
SAMI moved to America 20 years ago because homosexuality is frowned upon in my home country and I was a radio personality there. And I was openly gay there. I'm openly gay here. So, all in all...
DESJARDINSSam, what was the country that you moved from?
SAMWell, if I say the country, it will be pretty clear who I am. I moved from Azerbaijan.
DESJARDINSI see. Sam, thank you so much for your call. I think you touch on a very important topic, which is problems around the world, as well. Laura, what do we know about discrimination and violence and sometimes state sponsored executions, even, of gay, lesbian, LGBT people around the world?
DURSOYeah, as your caller was alluding to, the situation is dire in a number of countries around the world. Roughly 80 criminalize homosexuality in some way, including being punishable by death. I read this morning that a Kenyan judge said that it was perfectly acceptable for men to undergo anal examinations in order to prove what their sexual orientation is. Which is just a horrific thing to have to read. So, unfortunately, there's sort of some great progress in some countries, in terms of relationship recognition, family formation and certainly, here in the United States, I would say for your caller, that the discrimination that you're experiencing is illegal.
DURSOThe President signed an executive order banning discrimination and employment for federal contractors. So, you are well within your rights to file a complaint. So, that's important for listeners to know that that type of discrimination will not stand.
DESJARDINSThat's interesting. That's another change that we've seen in the last year.
DESJARDINSKathryn Hamm, you touched on this before, what has this last year been like, briefly?
HAMMWe -- you know, it's, I -- thank you for asking that question. It's, it's a roller coaster I didn't expect. I thought we were going to have conversations about refusal of service and be working on that final 10 percent of people who struggle with that and sort out, how can we find common ground? How can we celebrate unions and love and move forward together as a country of Americans who support those positive values...
HAMM...that mean so much to us. But then, I felt a setback from the so-called bathroom bills and the very, I thought, toxic conversations that were happening, the miseducation that was impacting our trans brothers and sisters. And I think created part of the climate, again, to my point of second hand smoke, that I think fuels crimes, whether they are small or unfortunately record breaking, as we saw in Orlando. And so, here we are in pride month and I took my son to our first LGBT pride, describing what that is and the space it is to feel safe being ourselves.
HAMMAnd meanwhile, that came within days of this devastating news. And so, the opportunity to celebrate this incredible anniversary of marriage equality feels, how does it feel? It's a mixed bag of emotions. I haven't felt afraid to be gay for a long, long time. And to have that come back up is, I guess, probably important in moving us forward. But it's -- it doesn't feel good. So, it makes the year anniversary of marriage equality very difficult for me, personally.
DESJARDINSI'm Lisa Desjardins with the "PBS News Hour." You're listening to the "Diane Rehm Show." Emma Green, you've been covering this for The Atlantic. I'm curious, is it the same conversation talking about LGBT or is there a separate conversation about transgender? And obviously, these are populations that perhaps deal with discrimination and prejudice from similar groups, but it does seem like, especially transgendered Americans right now, face a higher level of targeting. Or does it even matter to talk about it like that?
GREENYou know, that's an interesting question. And I think for religious purposes, actually, it does make sense to keep the questions of gender identity and sexual orientation somewhat distinct. So, for a long time, the struggle in religious communities were questions over marriage. And sometimes the ordination of gay pastors and sometimes whether or not to accept gay marriage -- or gay members. But now, there's this issue that's coming up more frequently about how to deal with, compassionately, and in the right way, trans-people who might come into a church, for example.
GREENAnd are struggling with their identity. I think some conservative Christians would say that it's the right thing to try to guide people back towards their biological gender from birth, biological sex from birth. But I do think that, they're sort of different questions, because one is a question of action and the other is a question of identity. I think, when it comes down to it, the major challenges are this. The opinions of young Americans are changing on these issues rapidly. And churches and synagogues and mosques are trying to figure out how to deal with these issues.
GREENBut no matter what their stances are, based on their texts, or their practices, they are going to have to confront these issues. It may come along later. Gender identity, for example, those questions may not even come up for some congregations for some time. But no matter what, they have to answer these questions for themselves and figure out what's right for their congregation and also how they can continue to move forward as a viable religious institution.
DESJARDINSEmma Green with The Atlantic. Thank you. And you know, language does matter. I have to point out, Kathryn Hamm just sent me a note to say, it's transgender Americans. And I was saying transgendered Americans. You know, it's interesting, I talk about eight years ago, we had a president who was against gay marriage. Eight years ago, most Americans may not have ever heard the word transgender. And obviously, now, it's a word that we're incorporating and still learning how to use appropriately. Laura Durso, what do you see in the next year? What are you watching for?
DURSOAbsolutely. This is an amazing time, as much as we're talking about difficult subjects today. I think there's a real moment for opportunity. We're talking about difficult things, but what I'm seeing is so many more people willing to engage with that conversation. And so, now, you know, we're shifting out from that. We'll reach that one year anniversary of marriage equality. And now we're going to talk about things like what we need to protect workers in their jobs. What we need to make sure that immigrants who are coming to this country, many seeking asylum, who might be LGBT, what do they need in order to feel safe and secure in their communities?
DURSOWhat does healthcare look like for LGBT people? We're talking a bit about transgender Americans and the needs that they have. There are some real needs, in terms of appropriate and necessary healthcare that are not being met. And I'm hopeful we'll have those conversations. So, there's a lot to do and we'll be sure to be, you know, talking about it more as the year goes on.
DESJARDINSHow much of a political force do you think this community will be in the fall?
DURSOI think because of the allies that we have in our corner, we are going to be a pretty powerful force.
DESJARDINSOkay, thank you to Kathryn Hamm, Publisher for gayweddings.com. Also, Laura Durso from the Center for American Progress. Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center. And Emma Green with The Atlantic. I'm Lisa Desjardins with the "PBS News Hour." Thank you so much for joining us. This is the "Diane Rehm Show."
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