Over 800 anti-LGBTQ bills have either been passed or are on the docket in 27 states, according to the organization Human Rights Campaign. Much of this legislation targets transgender people in particular, focusing on gender-affirming medical care, public education, and the presence of gender nonconforming people in public space. As a result, schools, healthcare, and public space have been dragged into the frontlines of a new culture war that ultimately takes aim at democracy itself. The Marc Steiner Show hosts a special intergenerational Pride Month panel among queer activists to reflect on the current moment’s resonance with past threats to the LGBTQ community, and what lessons such history can offer in the fight ahead.
Lexi McMenamin is the News & Politics Editor at Teen Vogue. They are also a freelance writer covering politics, identity, activist movements, and pop culture.
Allen Young is a journalist and author. He was a member of the Liberation News Service in the late 1960s. As a member of the Venceremos Brigades to Cuba, he spoke out against the treatment of gays in the Cuban Revolution at the time. Allen became part of the Gay Liberation Front after the Stonewall Rebellion, and continues his activism to this day.
Kalima Young is an Assistant Professor in the Towson University Department of Electronic Media and Film where she teaches Principles of Film and Media Production and African American Cinema. She is an activist with FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture working to build The Monument Quilt project. Kalima is also a member of the Rooted Collective, a Black LGBTQ healing project.
Studio / Post-Production: David Hebden
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. And this is another episode of the rise of the right. Today this episode is dedicated to Pride Month and the struggles of LGBTQ+ people in our country and across the globe. The right wing in America has been fighting against and demonizing gay, lesbian, and trans people even before they obtained power. The right that is. Even before the dawn of this movement. And now they’re changing laws and fighting against the deeply embedded culture we’ve been fighting for in this country. The likes of the moral majority and Jerry Falwell and right-wing strategists like Richard Viguerie back in the day in the ’70s and ’80s created this movement and now it’s seizing power in at least 26 states in this country. And one of their first moves along with diminishing voting rights, has been an assault on LGBTQ+ rights and its community.
So in this conversation, we look back at our history, the rights that our struggles have gained, and look at the battles we face today in another cross-generational conversation that’s critical for our future. We’re joined by Allen Young, who I’ve known for a long time, though I’ve not seen him in a while. He’s a journalist and author. I met him when he was a reporter at the Washington Post. And he quit there, that’s another story. He was a member of the Liberation News Service back in Washington, DC in the late ’60s, was part of the Verceremos Brigades where he spoke out against the treatment of gays inside the Cuban Revolution, became part of the Gay Liberation Front after the Stonewall rebellions, and has continued his activism to this day.
And Lexi McMenamin, who is the news and politics editor at Teen Vogue. They’re also a freelance writer covering politics, identity, activist movements, and pop culture and they’ve been published in the BBC, Them, i-D, and many other places.
And Kalima Young, who’s an assistant professor in the Department of Electronic Media and Film, where she teaches the principles of film and media production. She’s also an activist. She’s part of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. In our country, they’re building the Monument Quilt project and are part of Rooted, a Black LGBTQ+ healing collective. And again, I will say both for Kalima and Allen, I’ve known them both a long time and I’m just meeting Lexi, and good to have all three of you with us. Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News.
Allen Young: Thank you, Marc.
Kalima Young: Thanks for having us.
Marc Steiner: Yeah. That’s great. I want to start this conversation by looking at the arc of history and where we find ourselves now. I keep thinking to myself, both in this world of gay, lesbian, and trans rights in our country, and the battle around that and all the other battles we fought for that, stem from the ’30s through the early ’70s and this huge pushback that’s taking place now. Where do you all find yourselves at this moment in that perspective? Because it feels like we’re back – Which, if you look at history, it’s not unusual – But we seem to be back in the trenches fighting for everything that we fought for once before, that we thought we’d gotten to a certain place in. And Allen, since you are along with me and this group, the elder, let me start with you.
Allen Young: Well, one thing I’ll say about being back is, I’m not back in the closet and I’m not going back in the closet. I remember the closet. I remember it very well. It was a time of horrible repression. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s, the medical and psychiatric establishment said that I was mentally ill because I was a gay man. There were so many laws against us, it would take me an hour to list the laws. But I’ll tell you one to give you an example of how crazy it was: It was illegal to serve an alcoholic drink to a homosexual in the city of New York when I was a college student. That’s one example of the laws. The sexual acts that we practiced were illegal, and some of those acts were even illegal if you were a heterosexual.
And we fought very hard. We fought the psychiatric establishment, we fought in the legislatures and in the courts, and we had many victories. And the most important victory is revealed in the slogan that we had in the Gay Liberation Front, which was, “Out of the closets, into the streets.” And we went into the streets to demonstrate and that was one of the ways that we brought about change. And we brought about change inside ourselves, and that’s where the word pride comes from. What’s the opposite of pride? Because this is Pride Month. It’s shame. We were supposed to be ashamed of who we were. And when we overcame that shame, it was a huge victory. And I still celebrate that victory every day along with many friends, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We look for freedom and individual rights and we continue to strive for those things.
Marc Steiner: Kalima.
Kalima Young: Thank you very much for that historical perspective, Allen. Coming into my identity in the 1990s and early 2000s, I feel there was never not a struggle and there has never not been a time where we’ve been fighting and pushing and continuing to move the needle forward. One of the things I think about is how the theorizing, that was very grassroots, went into the academy and then filtered back out into these activist spaces. And I feel I came of age into my identity in the midst of that, where things that had bubbled up from the grassroots space had come into the academy and started giving me more language and ways to understand my identity as a black lesbian woman and to understand power and to understand relationships as it relates to power.
And because of that politicizing, that element of politics and academia, there’s never been a time where I, and the other folks that are within my cohort in the queer universe, have not been in a space where we’ve been fighting and creating new language and creating new frameworks born out of grassroots understandings of things. So now that we have this political pushback that’s happening, I am remiss to think that it’s a new pushback. Because every single time that you’re pushing for something, you’re always going to have folks that are pushing against it. Friction is a productive space. That’s my way of thinking about it.
Marc Steiner: I like that. That’s interesting. Friction is a productive space. Yeah.
Kalima Young: Right. One stick alone is just a stick. Two sticks, you rub them together, it creates heat and it creates light. So in our most frictive moments, we come up with the most expansive ways to understand what we’ve got to do next. So I’m ready to keep on expanding and fighting.
Marc Steiner: Yes, we will.
Lexi McMenamin: Yeah. This is so fun. What a linear little conversation we’re going to have. Thank you, Allen and Kalima for sharing what you’ve shared so far.
I started attending undergrad in the mid-2010s. So I started college a decade ago, which feels like forever to me at this moment but I know that seems silly. And I was really fortunate to be coming into higher ed at the same time as the Ferguson protests. And honestly, the movement for Black Lives was my first organizing space and radicalizing space. But at the same time, there were already other trans folks and queer folks who couldn’t use the bathrooms at our college. And so a lot of the organizing that I was doing ended up being the same folks and the same groups, then beginning to work for gender-inclusive bathrooms on our campus. And this was maybe 2014, 2015.
And now we’re hearing a lot of the same conversations. Similarly, I feel I’m repeating myself even though it wasn’t that long ago. And as a political reporter and editor, there’s certainly been a media push to make it seem like this backlash came out of nowhere, and these are crisis moments that have suddenly emerged and these tactics were brand new. And to what Allen and Kalima said, it’s part of a trajectory. These are the same tactics that right-wing actors have pushed over and over again that they’ve had varying levels of success to continue using because ultimately they’re not that creative.
Like Kalima was saying about friction as a generative space. They don’t have that friction. They’re used to operating from the position of power that makes it possible for them to create bathrooms you don’t feel safe going into or the backlash that makes it necessary to have something like the movement for Black Lives to have come up in the last 15 years. Yeah. In this moment I’ve been feeling grateful to have been raised by, specifically a lot of Black movement organizers who … I didn’t feel shocked when all of this started happening in the last five years. Because it feels like the backlash has shifted so that the boot keeps coming down harder and harder. But if you were already paying attention to the boot, then you wouldn’t have necessarily been that surprised that it’s crushing.
And I’m so grateful to the people of Kalima’s generation and Allen’s generation who have welcomed me into this movement in the last 10 years. And to be covering it because if you’re looking at the history, there are not that many surprises. It’s just that it sucks. But at the same time, throughout history, we’ve always been smarter and better and more committed and more dogged to respond.
Kalima Young: Yes.
Allen Young: I’d like to add something to what you said. The word “intersectionality” has come up in recent years in your generation. We didn’t use that word. But we knew what intersectionality was at the New York Gay Liberation Front. We were demonstrating and donating money to the Black Panther Party when they were being persecuted by police in New York City and elsewhere; New Haven, Connecticut. One of the members of the New York Gay Liberation Front spoke at a rally for the Panthers in New Haven, and he called upon the audience to stop using pejorative terms like “faggot” and to make changes within the left. And we made enormous changes. And Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party came out with a strong statement in support of gay rights.
And some of us participated in various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. I went to Washington, DC when Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And I demonstrated as a college student at Woolworth Company in New York, in solidarity with Black people in the South, that were combating segregation at lunch counters. And we made these alliances with other people and that was very important to us.
But on the other hand, we have to be very careful not to distort history and it’s important to be accurate. For example, and I may be getting myself into trouble here, some people have said that the Stonewall Rebellion was started by transgender POC. Frankly, that’s not true. There were a small number of women and “transvestites,” as they called themselves, that went to the Stonewall. But the Stonewall was primarily a gay bar for white gay men. White gay men were the main actors at Stonewall. There were other people there, but we have to be careful to maintain the facts. But that’s important to me.
Lexi McMenamin: Can I hop in real quick from what Allen said because–
Marc Steiner: Lexi, go ahead. Please. Let’s roll on. Go ahead.
Lexi McMenamin: I was going to say I was thinking about what Allen was describing, that Stonewall wasn’t, frankly, that inclusive as an incipient point for the pride riots. Because I recently read Miss Major Speaks, which is Miss Major’s new book with Toshio Meronek – Which I would highly recommend if you haven’t read it. It came out mid-May – And Miss Major, who is a contemporary of Allen’s, who is someone who was around for Stonewall and any number of pride and liberation events for queer and trans people over the last 50 years, has said that it’s hard to pinpoint these exact moments of history because we haven’t all always been the best comrades. It’s hard to look back and historicize and romanticize those moments of activism without being honest about the fact that there’s tension within our movements at the same time.
But I also think it’s really helpful to generatively – Not to keep using that word – But to be historically accurate, to Allen’s point. I agree. And to think about how can we keep those things in mind now and how can we do a better job of finding points of connection to keep everybody included, and to move from a place where it doesn’t have to be one select group of us., And how intersectionality can be about strategically holding and caring for each other through these moments. So I’m glad you brought that up, Allen, and I wanted to shout out that book recommendation because I have been thinking a lot about Miss Major’s experiences during that decade and throughout this time.
Marc Steiner: Kalima, go ahead.
Kalima Young: No. I’m co-signing on both responses.
Marc Steiner: Okay, good. [Laughs]
Kalima Young: Yeah. That was me doing a co-sign on both responses. Activism is an ephemeral experience and it is hard to capture the ephemeral. And we can try to be as accurate in our historical moments and in our specifics for particular moments, but capturing those moments is really, really hard because activism and this activist spirit is an ephemeral thing. So I find it important that history, understanding history, and then understanding the contestations against history, are conversations that we have as a movement as well.
That we have to keep having these conversations of, I need to insert my understanding of this from my perspective, and, I need to insert my understanding from this perspective. Because if we sit around and say that one person’s narrative of a historical moment is the most accurate one, we’re discounting the very individual ways that we experience movements when they’re in the process and when they’re happening. You know what I’m saying? So having this conversation about accountability and contestations of the specifics is super important, so I’m happy that it’s happening.
Allen Young: Lexi made a reference a minute ago to the fact that the right-wing is using much of the same vocabulary it used in the past, and that’s true. I don’t know how many listeners will know the name, Anita Bryant. Anita Bryant and her husband, Bob Green, launched a campaign against gay people in Florida in the 1970s. It was called, Save Our Children. It was an anti-gay and lesbian campaign premised on the idea that, somehow we were harming children. And what is the right-wing saying now? That we’re grooming children, that were pedophiles. When, any criminal specialist will tell you, that the great majority of people accused of improper sexual activity with children are white heterosexual men; very often relatives of the child that’s involved.
So these lies that are coming from the right-wing, they’re repetition and it includes Christianity. Anita Bryant was waving the flag of Christianity at the same time. So we need to be aware of the fact that these are old ideas that are being recreated and used again to attack us. And fortunately, we’ve had some fine responses. Including some excellent television shows and movies that have shown the bad behavior of the right-wing, and we need to bring that to the attention of more people.
Marc Steiner: Anita Bryant was –
Allen Young: These are very nasty people. They’re very nasty people. The biggest liar of all is the man who, some people can’t say his name. I’m not afraid to say his name. His name is Donald Trump. And he’s been telling terrible lies for so long. People say 45, and they say DT, and they say the orange man. They say all kinds of things. But his name is Donald Trump, it’s a public record. And he’s still around and he wants to be president again. That’s one of the most frightening things and we should certainly all be unified in an effort to stop that from happening.
Kalima Young: Yeah. I keep on thinking there’s not a pie big enough to hit all of these people. There’s not a pie big enough to get all of them. But if I can find that pie, every single one of them –
Allen Young: I can see. You know your history because there was a pie thrown at her one time.
Marc Steiner: That’s right.
Kalima Young: Exactly.
Allen Young: I didn’t do that.
Marc Steiner: That was a famous moment.
Kalima Young: Bam.
Marc Steiner: She brought oranges into our living room and –
Kalima Young: And her juices.
Marc Steiner: And her juices.
Lexi McMenamin: I was not alive for literally any of this, and yet I’ve still seen video of it. So I want to be clear, I’ve seen the pie, I’ve seen the oranges. I’m following the bits.
Kalima Young: It’s funny. Can I pull back real fast though?
Marc Steiner: Go ahead. Go ahead please, Kalima.
Kalima Young: With Anita Bryant and all of these things about Save Our Children, it’s the moral panics. And every five years there’s a moral panic. Every five years we trot out Save Our Children about something. And it’s always disingenuous. It’s always a disingenuous way to frame a marginalized group and it’s also extremely disempowering to the children themselves as if children don’t have identities. As if they weren’t born with identities and understandings of how they want to operate in the world. So I needed to bring that out. Go ahead.
Marc Steiner: I’m curious what you all think about what happens at this moment. When I look at the power of the right-wing in this country, and it is growing, and how they have seized a lot of power in at least 26 states. Two things are happening simultaneously: One is the attack on Black voting rights and voting rights in particular throughout this country. And along with that are the attacks against the gay, lesbian, and trans community and people in this country, in those states. And once again, to me, it’s like both those struggles were born during similar periods.
And when I look way back in American history in the 1860s and ’70s, we saw the hope and the blooming of reconstruction. And we saw its destruction and the rise of white supremacy and this white movement in America and institutional segregation. In terms of voting rights, we’re talking about how the rights of gay, lesbian, and trans people in this country are under attack everywhere. So I want to talk a bit about that. Again, we’re seeing a period where a movement struggled to change things from especially the late ’50s through the early ’70s, and now we’re seeing a huge pushback.
But there’s a difference in that the rights of gay, lesbian, and trans people in this country have become embedded also in the culture in ways that never happened before. So where do you see that struggle with this movement? Where’s it taking us? What do you think we are facing? Lexi, let me start off with you.
Lexi McMenamin: Yeah. Sure. It’s a funny time to be doing the job that I do as a queer and trans-identified person. I got back from a couple of weeks of leave, and the first story that I published this week was an interview with a queer congressperson, Becca Balint of Vermont, talking about how she had to correct a congressional hearing testimony witness about bringing up completely false information about trans children and gender-affirming care.
The second story I had go up this week was about Nazis protesting outside of a drag story hour on Sunday in New Hampshire. Where a group of 30 Nazis – literally Nazis. Very publicly, we are Neo-Nazis, white supremacists– Had a big banner saying, defend whiteness. Basically, defend white culture. Showed up outside a New Hampshire drag story hour that had roughly eight attendees besides the people that were working it.
You can break it into two sections. You’ve got the political element of this campaign in which right-wingers have very strategically decided to bankroll anti-queer and trans propaganda as a campaign strategy in advance of 2024. And then you’ve also got what it looks like on the ground, which I would say is the more concerning aspect. Because a lot of these legislative pushes aren’t winning. We saw this week that in Arkansas, their big first gender-affirming caravan that would’ve been the first in the country to pass on that was deemed unconstitutional and banned yesterday. So it’s not necessarily that they’re winning on the legislative front, and that’s something that takes a lot of time. But it is worth looking at how the streets are going to continue to be where stuff happens that matters.
For example, that Sunday drag story hour that I reported on. At the end of the day, the Nazis left. They went. Nothing happened. No one got hurt. We’re all very fortunate that that’s the case. And most of the time at that particular place where they host a drag story hour – It’s called Teatotaller. It’s a cafe – They have counter-protestors show up and defend the store and defend the workers. And we’re seeing a lot of stories of that nationwide. And to something you said earlier, Marc, about how LGBTQ+ folks are already here and being accepted in hegemonic culture in certain ways, whether or not they’re being protected, a lot of my other stories are talking to queer and trans musicians, actors, cultural workers, who have decided to go all-in this year on being a thorn in politicians’ sides. All sorts of people, who every time they travel through on tour in Tennessee, bring drag performers out.
There’s a vibrant moment going on right now where we’re already here, to what Allen said. We’re not in the closet. We’re already out, we’re already present. And people who have the positional privilege to be able to be touring through a state, be a cultural worker who has attention and capital in that point, are going to continue to be signaling to young queer people, we’re going to keep moving through this. But much more important to me as an adult and someone who’s trying to be an interlocutor through these movements, is to be able to have these intergenerational conversations because this is what keeps me going and able to keep covering this stuff. Because it gets really sad and dark and depressing and can feel a lot scarier when you’re looking at all the stories en masse. But there’s more of us than there are of them. They’re loud and have access to power right now. So it’s not a lost fight by any means, in my opinion. So that’s my spiel.
Allen Young: I’m 82 years old, so I’m definitely certified as an old person. People that I encounter from time to time, people I haven’t seen for a while say, oh, how are you? How are you doing? And I find myself using two words that I like to promote. And it fits in with what both Lexi and Kalima are saying. And those two words are gratitude and optimism. We have a lot of things to be grateful for. I’m grateful for the fact that young people like the two of you on this program with me today are doing what you’re doing. I don’t know all of what you’re doing, but it sounds pretty good to me. And that’s important that young people are moving forward and doing things that are creative and different and making progress.
And some of this is what’s seen on the television screen. It upsets the haters and the white nationalists. I’ve seen gay couples in an advertisement. I’ve seen interracial couples in an advertisement. More Black faces on the television screen than were seen when I was a kid. And that’s great progress and things to be grateful for. And I also want to be optimistic. Am I worried? I’m worried a little bit but I don’t want to focus on the worry. I want to focus on optimism. And two of the things that make me optimistic – And this is a response to Marc’s question, what’s happening now – I would say two things: One, is being in the streets. There’s been a lot of activity in the streets. The Gay Pride Marches this year were quite big in many cities. I was in a small town in Massachusetts, which is the state where I live. A town of 20,000 people: Greenfield, Massachusetts. And the Gay Pride March had people in it that you wouldn’t have seen in Pride Marches in the past. There was a delegation from the local middle school. They were marching and there were students of varied identities marching in a Gay Pride March. Several banks and other businesses in the communities were out there. Do they want our dollars? Of course, they want our dollars. But they’re also making a statement. And that’s important.
And the other thing that’s current to me is the Democratic Party. I was at different times in my past, either opposed to both parties or promoting a third party. I’ve become a Democrat, and the Democratic Party now – I see some frowns – The Democratic Party now has become the home for many progressive people with good ideas. And certainly, it’s the Democrats that are most likely to combat the Republicans, which has become the home for the far right. The Republicans are no longer people like Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon. They’re nasty right-wing liars promoting misinformation and hatred in a way that we never saw before. So that’s why it’s important for young people, people of all ages, to vote and preferably vote Democrat because that’s going to make a big difference.
In California, right now with the retirement of Senator Feinstein, there are three very qualified people seeking the Democratic nomination out there, and good luck to all three of them. I don’t vote in California, so I don’t have to have a favorite. But it’s a good sign that there are people who want to serve the community in a positive way. And I use the word community in the broadest sense of people who want to have progress and peace and love in our world, which is what we need.
Marc Steiner: Go ahead, Kalima. I’ll jump in after you finish. Go ahead.
Kalima Young: Oh, okay. So where’s this taking us? I wrote that down. And the place where I feel the most fear is born out of my position as a Black woman in academia. And the way that the right is using Black feminist thought and attacking critical race theory and attacking higher education in the first place. I feel that is as scary and as important to fight around as legislation that’s being pushed to thwart gender-affirming care for children and legislation that’s pushing back on other LGBTQ+ rights.
Because many of my activists and colleagues and folks who are doing the work are academics. And the way that higher education is being attacked, the way that the liberal academy is being framed by the right, we’ve got a problem that if we don’t address it in the midst of doing all of the other pushback, it’s going to get worse. And there’s going to be even more of a battle to reinsert the real histories of people’s experiences in this country. Because of the attack against critical race theory, the attack against Black feminist thought, and the horrible way that intersectionality and other things have been framed as woke, as if being awake is a bad thing. What the hell? Anyway. That’s a whole other conversation.
Marc Steiner: Yes, it is but it’s in this conversation. Yes.
Kalima Young: But I feel that area is extremely important as well. The insanity of academia is that we’re often in silos and we’re often talking to one another. And educational institutions are still run by white cishet men with money and power. And an institution that is created from that perspective will always keep oppressing and creating structural inequities for the academics who are in those streets, using academia as a way to articulate what the grassroots folks are saying to be able to frame what we’re going to do and what the next approach to activism should be.
So those are the things that scare me. And then the thing that gives me a little bit of hope is the fact that academics keep on doing that work and putting it out there. And eventually, whatever you create in the academy ends up filtering out, if you’re coming from an interventional perspective. And I believe in interventional academics and scholarship. So I guess that’s where I’m coming from.
Marc Steiner: Let me throw this out there because I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I don’t consider myself a pessimist or an optimist in this moment. I’m not sure which way to go. I’ve bounced back and forth on these walls. A moment ago, Allen raised the name of Ronald Reagan, who rejected a lot of Jerry Falwell’s anti-gay and lesbian, in those days, rights. But what happened then is he also moved against evolutionary theory, in terms of humankind, and he started talking about the Bible having the answers to what we face. And over the last 50 years, this movement on the right has been built, in part, on a very fundamentalist outlook on life and on who we are as a people. Part of the heart of that is the attack on gay, lesbian, and transgender folks in this country and on that reality.
And so the attack at the moment, is on what you’re allowed and not allowed to teach in schools, in many states in this country. That’s the opening door. You’re going to see that expand into a greater attack on rights in this country. So the question is, I wonder in terms of this moment in the movement, where does that take us all? Where does it take you all? In our history, we talk about the Panthers and the gay rights movement in this country. That relationship was real. It was also fraught with stuff. Fraught with all kinds of internal problems, but it was real.
But they came about at the same time in terms of fighting to change the social, political, and human fabric of this country. And there’s a pushback against that. The question is, in terms of what we face, in terms of the rhetoric that has increased in this country, where do we think that pushback comes from, and where do you think that takes the struggle in the coming years? I’d like to jump into that for a moment.
Lexi McMenamin: I was thinking about this while Kalima was speaking earlier about the critical race theory. The hyper-fixation on academic terminology that isn’t taught in K-12 schools or American public education in the way that it is taught in the academy, the thing that I wanted to highlight that Kalima also said before, is that this is all about wanting to turn children into political objects as opposed to young people who have political agency. Which, we know through looking at histories forever has always been the case.
Looking at Allen, Allen was a young person when Allen was doing his organizing. So case in point, they’ve always been involved in these movements. Young folk has always had political agency. And if you look at the organizing that’s happening in Florida, for example, under Ron DeSantis, the same folks who are showing up with the Dream Defenders to fight the book bans and the restrictions around the AP on removing African American history, are the same people who are still showing up when it comes to going to the State House to fight over gender-affirming care bans.
So the young people that I’m talking to who are doing organizing in these states, very clearly understand the connections between the ideological attacks on education and how they are broadly about making it harder to, in my opinion, understand oneself. They want to fight for self-knowledge so that people can’t grow into their true selves. They want to make it harder and harder again for us to leave the closet. Whether that’s understanding Black liberation or that’s understanding queer liberation.
Unfortunately, when I was an organizer, we used to say, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t go make it so that these young people don’t know their history because the internet exists. It’s too late. There’s no possible way for us to unroll all of this. And so, although I’m sure that the antagonism and the vitriol are not going to get any lighter necessarily, the thing that I’m watching and will continue to watch is young people who are finding these connections organically. Once they see them, it’s very light on. Like oh, right. Of course, these struggles are intertwined. Of course, our work is to show up and fight on these issues. And the more that’s happening, the more sustainable the movement is.
Marc Steiner: Well, thinking about it as you were speaking, and what we’ve been talking about here is, let me take one prime example here: If you look at what’s happening in Florida if you look at what DeSantis is doing in Florida; his whole, don’t say gay laws that are taking place – That’s what people are labeling them – That they’re barring trans people from public facilities, not allowing them to talk about gender identity in classrooms and schools. And that is the root of the beginning. There’s a new measure that says gender identity instruction in kindergarten all through 11th grade is not allowed in public schools. This to me is the beginning of an all-out assault. This is where it starts.
Because you start talking about children, you start talking about not allowing gay and lesbian families to marry, to raise children; this is the beginning of a serious assault. We’re seeing the root of it at this moment. So the question is, which is why I said earlier, I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist because I see what’s happening before me, but see the real dangers laying ahead given the power in certain states in this country. The divide that’s taking place. So how do we respond to that after all the struggles that have taken place in the last 50 years? Kalima, go ahead.
Kalima Young: I don’t know. What crosses my brain when I think about this is spectacle culture.
Marc Steiner: Spectacle culture. Uh-huh.
Kalima Young: Spectacle culture. So we’re all media consumers, media makers. So we’ve been saying off and on throughout this conversation that this struggle has been ongoing and we always got to fight. The key thing that is different is the way discourse happens or is allowed to happen. When you have five corporations that own all of the media outlets and you have media broadcasting groups like the Sinclair Media Broadcasting Group buying up newspapers – They got legislation passed this year in Maryland – These spaces where we’re able to have discourse have been so corrupted, so diffused, it makes it hard to understand that there’s a fight that is going on that pushes back against all of it. So then you feel. It contributes to a feeling of pessimism because you don’t see all the activism and the work that’s happening. It contributes to a feeling of this fight, we’re going to lose it because you don’t see how people are responding and how they’re sharing information.
It also means that we have a lot of folks who are consuming content, but the attack on education is about taking away people’s ability to be discerning. When you add deep fakes, when you add AI, when you add all of these other ways we’re being inundated with media, but there are not enough outlets so that people see and understand different perspectives. And we’re not teaching young people how to question and how to read and how to have discourse and how to debate. And when social media is only being used as an instrument for impression management and not discourse, and impression management is being seen as activism when it isn’t, this is where the danger lies. So we’ve always been pushing back and pushing back and pushing back. The issue is we’ve got an awful lot of media, an awful lot of consumption, and not an awful lot of ways to be discerning or understanding of how we wrest that power back. And that’s drowning out the fight.
Lexi McMenamin: Big snaps for everything Kalima said. And it’s stuff I think about for my job all the time. And I’d like to say, Teen Vogue is trying really, really, really, really hard to help people be more discerning. And now –
Kalima Young: No. Y’all been in these streets. Teen Vogue has been in these streets for the last 10 years. Y’all been in these streets. Y’all been digging it.
Marc Steiner: And I’d like to give our other two guests a chance very briefly to finish up with your closing thoughts about where we are and where we go in the next couple of minutes.
Allen Young: Well, certainly, it seems to me that one of the goals of DeSantis and people like him is to crush information and promote more disinformation. But there are so many efforts in the other direction and those efforts are bound to continue. A small example: I was visiting friends in Florida in Fort Lauderdale last year, and I went to the city History Museum. And there was a marvelous display there all about the Native American Indigenous people that inhabited Florida. And I have some knowledge. I’m a well-educated guy. But yeah, you say Florida Indians, I say, oh yeah, the Seminoles. Well, there were seven very large groups of Native peoples in Florida before the white people came. They were all over the state. They weren’t living in the Everglades and the swamps, they were everywhere. And this History Museum in the city of Fort Lauderdale was promoted and supported by the city and a friend of mine was teaching there as a volunteer, they’re getting the message out.
And so the idea to take it out of the schools, there’s going to be too many educators who know that the American people need to know that this land we call our land was lived on by Indigenous people before we got here. And we killed many of them. So many that if I think about it a lot, it’ll make me weep. And we know that there are Indigenous people now who have tribal councils, and they look for allies in the political system. And a woman with Native American ancestry was brought into the cabinet by President Biden. And we need to look at those positive things that are going on, as well as a lot of the troublesome things, that Dr. Young was talking about.
And I want to say one more thing since I threw in the name of Ronald Reagan. I absolutely agree with you, Marc, that Reagan, in many ways, is responsible for bringing right-wing Christian ideas into government. By mentioning Ronald Reagan, I wasn’t saying, oh, he’s a good guy. I was saying –
Marc Steiner: I know. Yeah.
Allen Young: And it sounds crazy. He was less horrible or less crazy than some of the characters that we’re seeing now. The level of misinformation and pure hatred that we’re seeing now, is something new and more frightening, and we need to be very concerned about it. So in that sense, a difference between the current right-wingers and those of past decades. But there were plenty of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in the US Congress, even in the 1940s. And if you haven’t heard it, Rachel Maddow has done a wonderful podcast called Rachel Maddow Ultra, in which she informs us about the power of the Nazis in the US in the late 1930s and even into the war years. Journalists like Rachel Maddow are a great alternative to misinformation.
Marc Steiner: Lexi, take us home as we close out.
Lexi McMenamin: While Allen was speaking, I was also thinking about how Indigenous communities have been aware of transness much longer than Western society, and that’s also a thing strategically being taken out of education. Not to be like, ooh, it’s all connected, but of course, it is all connected. And it’s so funny to me how once again, they suppress all of us and all we can keep doing is being the dandelions in the cracks of the pavement over and over and over again. Yeah.
To Kalima’s point, that’s absolutely true. They want us to feel scared. And frankly, a lot of the queer and trans people I know in my personal life, let alone the folks I report to day in and day out, are scared. I, over the weekend, donated money to a friend of a friend who’s currently leaving Florida because she lost her gender affirmation, she lost access to hormones. So she’s currently in the process of moving from the state. She’s a college student. She’s transferring colleges. She is moving hundreds of miles away so that she can continue living life as she had been. And this is a 20-year-old. And I want to be abundantly, abundantly clear that when they’re doing these things, picture a kid and remember that’s who it’s happening to. Any kid. And they don’t care. These people don’t care.
And so we have the privilege of having ethics, having values, having love for one another, and that’s not at all what’s on the menu with these fascists and extremists. And so whether it’s nihilism, positivity, the reality of the situation is we’ve got a lot more going on, and we’ve got a much longer history of winning and finding evermore new ways to do it that makes all of the … What was the word that you used before Kalima? The crisis?
Kalima Young: Friction?
Lexi McMenamin: No. The thing that they’re doing. We’re in a moment of coverage that’s –
Kalima Young: Spectacle.
Lexi McMenamin: Yeah. Spectacle. Exactly. Yes. Which is why shouts out to Sophia Noble. Lots to say about the media spectacle stuff. But yeah, got to keep it moving. The spectacle’s going to keep going, and we’re going to continue having responses as that’s going, but at the same time we’ve been here, we’ll be here, and that’s all there is to it.
Marc Steiner: Well, thank you three. This has been great, and it’s a great way to conclude it. Lexi McMenamin, and Allen Young, and Kalima Young, thank you all so much for taking time today, and we’ll keep on struggling.
Lexi McMenamin: Thanks, y’all.
Kalima Young: Thank you. Peace, y’all.
Allen Young: Thank you, Marc. Keep on keeping on, as they say.
Marc Steiner: Will do. And thank you all for joining us today on The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. It’s been great to have you all with us. I want to thank our guests one more time: Lexi McMenamin, Allen Young, and Kalima Young. And so please write to me here at email@example.com. I want to hear your thoughts and ideas, what we should be covering next, the stories that you have from your communities, and what you thought about today’s program. We’re in this together, and I’m here to highlight what’s happening in your communities as well. So let’s stand together. For Kayla Rivera and David Hebden and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Take care, stay involved, keep listening, and please stay in touch.