Giving the devil a free tank of gas

We must get our fight on against fascists or lose our republic

Last week I received an urgent text message from a group of gay men hiding from an angry mob in Kampala, Uganda. They sought money for transport to the border with Kenya. Over dinner I described their plight to a trans activist friend, and she promptly took out her phone and sent me the money, which I sent on to them.

There you have one small example of global LGBTQ activism in the 21st century. The fleeing Ugandans were grateful for the help, but they depended on their own courage, fortitude, and resourcefulness to sustain them on their path.

Stepping back, there is a need for increased advocacy and organizing, not only to help particular refugees but to end the persecution that creates refugees. The ugly truth is that right-wing American evangelicals have helped fuel the scapegoating of gay and trans people in that region.

We in America are not immune to similar harm. From the radical right there is a surging crusade to ban books, forbid the teaching of our racial history, prohibit gender studies, marginalize gay and trans people, criminalize drag performances, and treat white people as fragile and beleaguered simply by the presence of others different from them.

Congressional Republicans talk endlessly of freedom even as they act to block the District of Columbia from reforming its century-old criminal code, which is full of ambiguities and inconsistencies that make it harder to get convictions. Meanwhile, many Democrats cower for fear of being called soft on crime.

What is clear — whether it is Republicans fear-mongering against minority populations or East African politicians and clergy doing the same — is that the goal is not to solve problems but to exploit them. Demagogues wrap themselves in patriotic symbols while dragging their countries into a tribalist hell of Us versus Them.

The way out of hell is to embrace and respect our diversity. This is what America’s motto, e pluribus unum, says: “Out of many, one.” What the bigots demand instead is dominion by the few over the many, which is tyranny.

As I write this, a “Hands Off DC” rally is being planned at Columbus Circle in front of DC’s Union Station to protest Congress’s assault on DC’s right to govern itself.

It is a supreme irony that Democrats go into a defensive crouch when Republicans rant once again about law and order, despite the fact that the Republicans are dominated by insurrectionist thugs. A further irony is that recent violent crime in DC is being blamed on a bill that has not become law. This is like blaming Biden for problems caused by Trump policies, as with the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

Instead of having a serious, informed public policy debate, the right wing portrays the DC Council as radical leftist kooks and children who need adult supervision. If anyone needs adult supervision, it is the seditionist committee chairs installed in the House by Kevin McCarthy.

That being said, District leaders in the future must anticipate congressional opposition and plan stronger rollout messaging. But that requires cooperation between Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council, not public sniping by the mayor because she did not get her way. Similarly, President Biden undermined his stated support for self-governance by the 700,000 residents of DC by caving to right-wing disinformation.

What the mayor and the president have done in undercutting years of legislative work will only encourage more congressional meddling in District affairs. Judging by past experience, this will include frontal assaults on LGBTQ protections. As in Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis, Congress will push anti-gay and anti-trans measures in the name of combating “wokeness.”

The reality, both in Washington and Kampala, is that we cannot expect to defeat the devil after bowing to his lies and giving him a free tankful of gas. If we fail to fight in a smart, strategic, and compelling way, he will descend upon our beleaguered friends an ocean away — and much closer to home — before we have paid the check for dinner.

As of this writing, I have not heard back from the fleeing Ugandans. If you are the praying sort, it cannot hurt to say a prayer for them and others in harm’s way.

It is like my parents’ generation watching newsreels of London during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941: you know that your personal witness is important, but far more is required in resources and resolve to take the fight to the enemy. Let us be about it.

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