Connect with us

EXCLUSIVE: A Conversation With Chief Justice John Roberts’ Cousin, LGBT Activist Jean Podrasky

Published

on

Image: Jean Podrasky, (right,) and her partner, Grace Fasano. Photo by Adam Bouska for the NoH8 Campaign.

A few weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8. Decades of marriage equality losses at the state level stand in stark contrast to more recently accelerated successes, particularly at the federal level. In mid March, there were 15 U.S. Democratic senators who officially opposed equal marriage rights. Twelve of them changed their positions within a span of three weeks—after Hillary Clinton formally changed her position on March 18, and the SCOTUS hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA began.

The writing is on the wall, leaving representatives scrambling to be on the right side of history.

Jean Podrasky, a San Francisco activist, was at the Supreme Court with her partner Grace Fasano to witness the historic SCOTUS proceedings. Jean was in the unique position of watching her cousin, Chief Justice John Roberts, preside over them. A few of the recent news reports mentioning Podrasky noted that she had worked against Prop 8 in 2008.

Her activism, however, reaches much further back. In its early days after Bill Clinton signed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) into law in 1993, she worked for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legal watchdog group that also represented servicemembers being prosecuted or harassed under that law. DADT forced the gay community to defend itself against over 13,000 military witch-hunts for nearly two long decades. Podrasky was there when the only other employees were co-executive directors Michelle Benecke and Dixon Osburn.

I met Jean Podrasky when I was fundraising for SLDN—she was the one I sent the checks to, and it was with pleasure that I had many jovial conversations with the cheery accountant.

Benecke remembers Jean in those days: “The military issue was still considered controversial. We sure didn’t have much to offer—we were lucky that Jean offered to join SLDN. She believed in the cause and wanted to make a difference.”

Reading about her in the news, I reflected on how often we must reconcile supporting a friend or family member whose politics are in opposition to our own, when that support by extension supports those politics. It’s even more difficult when that family member is a politician or a judge.

Fortunately, it’s not that simple—or perhaps not that complicated—for Podrasky. Liberals often frame Roberts as the conservative opposition, but his positions on LGB rights and other progressive causes are mixed. He voted against progressives in Citizens United v. FEC, and his work in the Bush administration to bring down Roe v. Wade is most likely an accurate reflection of his personal anti-choice position.

skitched-20130517-215518On the other hand, his majority opinion on the Affordable Care Act surprised everyone, and his pro bono work in Romer v. Evans involved, among other things, prepping oral arguments for the successful plaintiffs. It was that case that set the stage for overturning Bowers v. Hardwick, which had upheld state sodomy laws in 1986, with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. He did not argue Romer, and his work on it is not necessarily a reflection of his personal beliefs. It is, however, a reflection of his convictions regarding the duties of his work. More than one lawyer has said that Roberts puts aside his personal opinions and votes his conscience and the law. In that sense he is no Scalia or Alito, both of whom appear to be more politically beholden. I am not a fan of the Chief Justice at this point, but I think we have reason to be cautiously optimistic. He’s not one of our bigger problems on the court, and I think it’s possible that he may become a more unpredictable vote as Kennedy is, or as O’Connor was.

With that in mind, I recently spoke with Jean about the hearings. She talked about coming out to relatives, gay relatives of Supreme Court justices (hint: she isn’t the only one), “skim milk” justice, the bane of Indiana’s Daylight Savings Time, and the importance of representation. Podrasky, who wrote a brief piece for the National Center for Lesbian Rights on the hearings, has no trouble supporting her cousin, believing he’ll rule in favor of equality whatever his personal opinion might be. She does not think it would have been as easy if he had been an Antonin Scalia rather than the man he is.

Joanne Kalogeras: “You could probably say some very interesting things about [Roberts], and why he is the way he is. I want to talk about some general things about being related to somebody in that kind of position. But I don’t think anybody wants to hear you to say, ‘You know, when he was a little kid, he used to pull the wings off of flies.’”

Jean Podrasky: “Can I say, I have never seen him pull the wings off of flies. [laughter] He was always a good kid. The only thing I remember him ever being mad about is that Indiana on Daylight Savings Time as a state gets cut in half. So his mom would always miss his wrestling matches because she was always an hour late. That was the only complaint I’d ever heard from him. He’d be like, ‘Mom, I tell you every time it’s an hour’s difference, look at your watch, for God’s sake.’”

Podrasky and Fasano were prepared to stand in line for the hearing, but Roberts’ sister Peggy forwarded her email to his secretary, and Podrasky was granted four seats for both days. She brought Grace, her sister, and her seven-year-old niece to the Prop 8 hearing. Her dad replaced her niece for the DOMA hearing. Despite it being a family affair, they did not get into the family section, as some news sites incorrectly reported.

skitched-20130517-224141

Image: Inside the Supreme Court. Jean Podrasky (far right), Jean’s sister Suz (far left), Jean’s partner, Grace Fasano (top, center), and Jean’s niece, Noe. 

 

Grace Fasano: “We got whisked to the back of the court room, I think we got demoted somehow.” [laughter]

Podrasky was at the Roberts nomination hearings in 2005 as well. She was visiting her pregnant sister Suz in DC when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, prompting President Bush to pull Roberts’ nomination and renominate him for the Chief Justice spot. At her aunt’s request, Roberts’ secretary managed to get her father, Roberts’ mother Rosie (who is also Podrasky’s godmother), and herself seats. They cleared Podrasky for all four days in order for her take care of her father, who had a bad back. It was a family showing their support.

JP: “So it was accidental. I felt like a part of history, it was incredible to be there. Incredible… He was so focused. I didn’t spend that much time with him. We’d eat lunch, and he would run off and get training from [former U.S. Senator (R-Tenn) and actor] Fred Thompson. He would hang around, and then immediately get grilled and coached. I imagine the pressure on him was intense.”

JK: “He’s got nerves of steel, though. And he’s got an amazing memory. What do you remember about him?”

JP: “We didn’t see much of each other [Podrasky’s family being in Maryland and the Roberts family in Indiana]. But growing up, my dad and his sister would talk all the time… He has three sisters, and we’d hear about them, but John was, quote, in boarding school. He wrestled, but we didn’t… we just knew he was a smart kid. And it was a big deal, getting into Harvard. When the Roberts moved to Pennsylvania, I got to hang out with them a lot more, a vacation here or there. But John was quite secluded, he was at Harvard. Then he got a really good job with a judge [and then] got to work for Reagan. I was not a Reagan fan, but we were excited for him.”

JK: “Did you already know by then he was conservative?”

JP: “The Reagan [job] was a clue, yes.” [laughter]

JK: “I just wondered if you knew before that.”

skitched-20130517-223753

JP: “When you’re growing up, you really just don’t know about anybody’s politics, you’re just a kid. Somewhere along the line, maybe when I was in high school, I realized that my family was way Catholic, but their family was way, way Catholic, even more Catholic. My parents were very much Democrats when I was growing up, but those guys were more Republican. Maybe in junior high or high school I knew that. I know that my parents did not vote for Reagan, but I think my grandmother did. Mostly because he was a handsome actor that she grew up with. [laughter] Right? That’s so normal! As they both got older, my parents started voting more Republican. My dad still considers himself a Democrat, but I don’t think he’s voted Democratic in a long time. I think it’s very normal that as you get older, you go in that direction. But, I’m pretty sure in high school I knew the Roberts family was more Republican. But they were family, it was nothing I worried about too much.”

JK: “When do you think it actually hit [Roberts] that he has a gay cousin?”

JP: “All through high school and most of college, I was dating right and left. And suddenly, I’m not dating? I don’t know if he thought that much about it. After he was [confirmed] and became Supreme Court [Chief] Justice and the world kind of knew about him, many of my friends pressured me. They kept nudging me and I’m thinking, ‘How do I bring it up? Do I bring it up at the wedding? The funeral? How do I tell [him], what do I do? I kept getting pressure. And I agree with the pressure. I absolutely knew I had to come out to him. I knew I had to, you know? Probably the last straw was I went to a Coming Out Day coffee thing with 92.7 [radio], and Greg the gay sportscaster is like, ‘You have to do it.’ [laughter] A year’s gone by [after the confirmation], and I have sweated over this. So I wrote him a letter, and the context was something to do with having another gay cousin, who’s also his cousin. There’s more than one gay cousin in the family. I’m like, okay, he knows now, there’s nothing else I can do. Then I realize, oh my god, what if his wife reads the mail and tosses it? That’s a possibility, right? So, could he have missed it?”

“But another year or two goes by, and I buy a home with my girlfriend. My little name gets put up on the SF site that lists who buys a home with whom, and this journalist from Fortune magazine googles my name because it was announced at the nomination hearings and he wants to find out more about the family. He’s doing this huge article on the background of John Roberts, and found out that I bought a home with a woman. Well, that seemed interesting to him. He couldn’t find my phone number, he actually calls my girlfriend. And I sweated over this, I panicked over this. Would I do an interview with Fortune magazine? And I’m thinking, who reads Fortune magazine? [laughter] It’s a boring magazine… I thought about it, and I was really encouraged by co-workers who said, ‘Do it!’ My dad said, ‘Always say no comment, that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ I got into Fortune magazine with one or two quotes, knowing that, once I read the article and it’s like 20 pages long, this is really not an exciting article, I’m thinking the only people who’ll read to the very end are John Roberts and his immediate family. And mine. That’s who I really wanted to come out to. Now he can’t say… now he has to know. So part of that was coming out to him. I was worried. But I have my brother’s support, I have my sister’s support sister [Podrasky is close to both of her very supportive siblings], what did my dad think? [My sister said] Dad is not happy. ‘Why didn’t they interview favorite Uncle Rich? Why did they have to go with the gay thing? Why does everybody need to make their private life public?’ That’s fascinating, because a lot of straight people think, why do they always bring it public? Why? Because you’ve taken away our rights, that’s why!”

JK: “Right. Because the default is straight, and that’s not right.”

JP: “That’s basically it. We wouldn’t have had to make this public if everything was nice and tidy and we had equal rights. It was just a quote or two in Fortune magazine. But then I knew that he absolutely knew.”

JK: “Maddow did an interview years ago where she said she and her partner weren’t planning on getting married because she finds her outsider status useful. I’m not a huge fan of marriage, I think it can be improved upon, as a quintessential heteronormative institution. I’m curious as to how much marriage as an institution will change because queer people are going to take part, and how much the institution will change queer people to be more heteronormative. But at least as the law goes, I think Maddow and I are on the same page, which is equal rights, fully supported. In a rights-based society, people need those laws.”

Untitled-3JP: “I think the feelings and the ideas around this really change with how old you are. A really good friend of mine is five years older than me, and her girlfriend is seven years older than her. The older friend  can’t stand marriage. The whole idea just appalls her, it’s awful and heterosexist. Now my other friend shifts a little and I shift a little bit more. It’s interesting, because you and I grew up and realized we were gay in the 80s, and we listened to Jesse Helms rant and rave [about us]. This was a horrible, horrible thing, we heard so much hate out there. I hid in the closet from many, many people because I didn’t want to get thrown out of my dorm or wherever. I never imagined marriage would ever happen. The years went on and I worked for SLDN, and all I wanted were clear, equal rights, for people in or out of the military. I had so many friends who were anti-military, and I was kind of as well. But what you have to get is that there are plenty of gay people who want to get into the military. To get the hell out of Dodge, to have a life where they can make money, and then they realize that they’re gay… It’s kind of like going to college. So many of us don’t realize we’re gay until we hit college. And the world opens up and things shift. It’s the same with these guys. I spent half the time at SLDN convincing people I was there for civil rights, that I was not necessarily pro military.”

JK: “That’s exactly how I felt about it. The military was and still is a kind of economic safety valve. It’s different now, it’s a middle class military, but the middle class needs an economic safety valve, too. It was just a matter of equal rights. Who am I to say that gays shouldn’t join the military or shouldn’t get married? I have an opinion, but it’s only that. I had good friends, when I was fundraising for SLDN, who would say, ‘Why this, why not marriage? Why does it have to be the military?’ Because horrible things were happening to these people who didn’t deserve it. Isn’t that enough? And DOMA and the military are so connected…”

We.rtfJP: “We as a gay community have been subsidizing the straight community for their married housing, their kids, their Social Security benefits, etc. We’re not asking for back pay, we just want to be equal now. I don’t know the numbers, but I’ve always had the sense that the percentage of gay people in the military is higher than outside the military. It could be for a million reasons. Gay people always want to help. The teachers, the nurses, the doctors… you had that chance in the military. Gay men want to be more macho, and you’ve got that in the military. [laughter] Gay people want to get out of Dodge, and this was their one way out.”

JK: “I think it’s also proving their patriotism. It’s homonationalism.”

JP: “Yes! Is 10% of the military gay? I think it’s higher. It does show the inequality of rights there much more broadly.”

JK: “When did you come out to your family?”

JP: “I started dating a female lacrosse player at [University of] Maryland in ’84. And, I didn’t so much come out to them a year later, I got busted.”

JK: “Ah, yeah, me too…”

JP: “You know, this was the 80s, they found, oh god, this is so cliché! They found the Rita Mae Brown book somewhere…”

JK: “Rubyfruit Jungle.”

JP: “Yes! This is so bad, everybody my age would get that… Somebody in their twenties would say, why are you reading that crap? [Grace laughs in the background] But I remember going out to the movies with a friend…”

JK: “It wasn’t crap!”

JP: “No, I loved that book.”

JK: “It served the purpose.”

skitched-1223JP: [responding to Grace]: “Yeah, it was all about the cat! But it was Gay 101, it was like we were given a Welcome Basket, and you’re supposed to do x, y, and z, and I read the book. But then I’d lent the book to a friend of mine. We were going to the movies, and I remember my spider-sense saying, ‘hide the book better.’ But we were late, so I threw it in the Christmas card basket at the bottom. I come home from the movies, my dad is reading the damn book! I’m like, really Dad? How did you find the book at the bottom of the Christmas card basket? He is not happy. That was a year later, so I’d had a year to worry about the gay stuff, and in ’85 they figured it out. My dad’s like, ‘I don’t like this book, what’s going on?’ I said, ‘Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.’ I told him, and he was not happy. Then, my mother walks through the door, and I remembered, ‘this is the time to exit stage left.’ I’m not ready for Mom. Mom is much scarier, much tougher than my dad.”

JK: “Yeah. It’s the opposite gender thing. Mine, too.”

JP: “Always. Oh my god, she comes storming up, and she’s like, what’s this about your father telling me that you’re gay? She’s so angry. It’s kind of like going into shock. I’ve never had this experience before. I felt like I was pulled out of my body and was watching this conversation.”

JK: “I remember the feeling too well, I think many of us do!”

JP: “I was so scared. And I remember saying, ‘Boy this did not turn out how I expected’. [laughter] I really thought they already knew. I really thought they’d be like, thank you so much for telling us, we’ve just been waiting. That’s what I imagined.”

JK: “That might happen today. Not so much then.”

JP: “Not then. Not then. She goes, ‘What the hell did you think would happen?’ All I could think of was I wanted to borrow the car that weekend to see my girlfriend and I’m thinking, ‘does this mean I don’t get the car?’ [more laughter] ‘You can take the car, and just leave.’ I took the car, spent the most wonderful weekend with my girlfriend. I came back…”

JK: “Weren’t you stressed?”

JP: “Oh my god, I let it go the whole weekend, it was nice and romantic, but when I came back… I really thought about not coming back. I didn’t know what to do. When I got off the exit on the Beltway and got to my parents’ home, I was sweating it. To make matters worse, they were sitting on the porch, tapping their feet waiting for me. It was the most miserable summer I’d ever had, they yelled at me every day. I was making about $3 an hour, I don’t have enough money to move out, I don’t even know what to do, right?”

JK: “You were probably holding out to go back to school and be away from it.”

JP: “Yes! I remember my sister kind of avoiding dinners because they were not pleasant. It was a horrible summer.”

skitched-20130518-002111

Podrasky had only seen her mother cry three times in her entire life. She remembers, “She cried every day that summer.”

JK: “The guilt!”

JP: “The pressure that puts on a kid. I really had to think about, will my tuition be pulled. Maryland is not that expensive, but I had no money.”

JK: “Were you living at home while you were in school?”

JP: “No, room and board was what was expensive. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I’m going to have to get a student loan. I’m making plans. They did not pull tuition, which I was grateful for. [But] they didn’t really talk to me much.”

JK: “I’m assuming that once they realized that this wasn’t something that you were going to change your mind on just by being harassed, then they probably backed off a bit.”

JP: “No, in years. Not in months, not in days. In years.”

JK: “Same way with me. Did the rest of your family find out from that, or did you have to come out to everybody else?”

JP: “I came out to my brother and sister. Because I’m the oldest in the family, they had no say in the matter.” [laughter]

Since any ruling under a chief justice is considered that chief justice’s ruling regardless of their vote, I wondered if the justices strategize in these politically polarized times. Elected representatives are not the only ones concerned with their legacies. It has been theorized elsewhere that if Roberts was sure, for example, that DOMA would be overturned without his vote, he could appease his conservative supporters by voting against overturning it—it would still be a Roberts Court decision. It happens in Congress, and I suspect it happens in the Supreme Court as well.

JP: “I’m not sure how they count the votes, but there is a whip. He’s responsible to his conservative base, and the Republicans are mad at him for being a ‘traitor’ with [the Affordable Care Act] even though he’s not a Republican [in his job]. Still, I was surprised at his quotes during the hearing.”

JK: “The protected status conversation he had with Kaplan?”

JP: “Yes. He was really big into the federalism part of it, and he was really big into labels. He said something to the effect that, if you were at school and this person had to be your friend, how would you feel about it?”

JK: “That was disturbing.”

JP: “That was disturbing. So [Grace says] the political influence, we’re doing so well, why do we want federal…”

JK: “But changing the meaning of friend, he got that backwards.”

JP: “He got that backwards.”

JK: “No one’s being forced to be anyone’s friend or spouse, why would it change the definition?”

JP: “Right. So the idea of label, civil union vs marriage, it is fascinating.”

Neither of Jean’s siblings married in the Catholic Church. Her sister simply didn’t want to, and her brother married a divorcée. “Do they consider themselves married, or civil-unioned? It’s a very difficult verb. They’re both considered married, of course.”

JK: “So was Britney Spears when she got married for 48 hours in Las Vegas.” [laugher]

JP: We’d have to go back through the history books and say, all these guys weren’t married, they were unioned. Equal rights is what’s important to me, the label isn’t so much. But now I’m realizing the label does mean something.”

JK: “The label does mean something.”

Untitled 2-1JP: “I want to be considered socially the same way somebody else is, and if we change the label for my brother and sister, who were not married in the Church, then I’m okay with being [considered] the same as they are. I want my father to look at it exactly the same. I don’t care what the word is, I just want it to be the same. Right now, history books say that the word is married.”

JK: “Ginsberg thinks that it’s not the same. She thinks that it’s skim milk.”

JP: “Oh my god, you should’ve seen us writing notes, I was so excited!”

JK: “People were laughing.”

JP: “People? I was in the background, Grace and I were laughing hysterically, and we were scribbling down ‘skim milk, this is going to be big’!”

JK: “But that’s what it is, it’s really separate but equal. We know the power of words. Christine Todd Whitman talked about that years ago on the Daily Show. I was floored by what she said. Something like, ‘The state should be out of religion. Let religion have marriage, let [everybody] have civil unions.’ Then we’re all happy, then we all get the same rights, which makes the most sense. But we all know there’s great power in words, and the state has a vested interest in heteronormative marriage, and that’s what’s going to be interesting to see as things change, because gays can actually use that word, and be treated equally—I think that’s what’s going to end up happening.”

“I was first disturbed when he was getting into what I think was a tautological argument with Kaplan about, if gays are so powerful that they can represent themselves here, if representatives are falling over themselves for endorsements by your side—which isn’t true but I can see how he might see that—then why do they need this protection from the courts? It was disturbing to me that he was arguing that, until I remembered that he worked on Romer v. Evans and protected classes, and that he was trying to steer things away from equal protection and into voting against it on narrow grounds. Is that your take on it?”

JP: “I have so much respect for Kaplan. To look at things from my perspective, we go into this a week before the hearings, we didn’t know we had tickets yet. We knew a lot about Prop 8, but Monday comes, the press explodes, all my plans for Monday are shot, but we didn’t have time to read all the DOMA prep work. We knew exactly who [Edie] Windsor was, but we didn’t know the lawyers on the DOMA side. I didn’t know who Kaplan was. We noticed she was nervous when she started, and then she just got better and better, she was incredible. The way she responded to that political question was just amazing.”

JK: “Yes. Even though I didn’t like the fact that he was asking that question, it brought up some wider questions that I was happy to see the court and Kaplan semi-engage in. I was recently talking to a friend of mine about [the question of] the constitution being a living or dead document. I think there are constitutionalists who are, ‘it’s a dead document’, but obviously it’s not because the authors left room for amendments. In some ways it was supposed to be interpreted narrowly, and in others, it’s supposed to make room for the fact that society changes over time, and I think your cousin knows that really well. I’m not a expert in the area, but I have a hard time imagining Robert Bork talking about sea changes of public opinion. [Roberts] was getting to that to some degree in that line of questioning, he was acknowledging that things have changed. But he was trying to say that things have changed because of the political power of the gay rights movement, and she was trying to say it’s the same reason why Bowers was struck down, I think, didn’t she say that? It was basically, there’s been a sea change in public opinion for other reasons. I don’t think you can extricate these things, that there are reasons why gay rights happened when they happened, and that they are influencing things that are influencing them in return.”

JP: “Right, but I like how she bounced back pretty quickly and said, ‘It was only in 1990 that gay people were allowed in this country’, and she went on and listed all the rights that have been denied. I think she was just as surprised at the question as everybody else, but she did incredibly well.”

JK: “In a way I wondered if he anticipated that response, because he knew, people generally know, that on the state level things have not been going very well. It goes up and down, but for a while there… He was obviously aware of what was happening with Colorado’s Amendment 2, working for the other [pro gay rights] side of Romer. What’s interesting to me is how much do the prevailing winds of society influence how the Court rules. They read, you know they take these things into consideration, even though their job is to sit down and rule fairly conservatively (interpretation-wise). So it’s a tough job. How do you think he’s doing so far?” [laughter]

JP: “I don’t know. Understandably, he’s secluded himself somewhat. I don’t know how much he depends on his law clerks.”

Podrasky is intimately familiar with the gravity of coming out. Benecke remarked that when SLDN had only three employees, everyone pitched in where they could, and Podrasky’s contribution was inestimable:

“Jean was a lifeline for the many military members who called, often in crisis as they faced harassment, death threats, assaults and investigations. It was a leap of faith for military members to reach out for help. She had an uncanny ability to connect with military members, and deservedly to gain their trust. She was very often the first person EVER to whom they came out and in whom they confided their circumstances. She let them know they were not alone, and she made a real difference in the lives of literally hundreds of military members.”

JK: “You saw [Roberts] during the nomination hearings, but that was probably the last time you spoke with him?”

JP: “Correct.”

JK: “Nothing gets by him, I’m sure he’s seen the news, so if he didn’t know from the Fortune article, he knows now! Which reminds me, you’ve heard about Rob Portman, the rep who changed his mind on homophobia because his son came out to him.”

JP: “Yep.”

JK: “We all say, when you know someone who’s gay, it makes all the difference in the world. But this is 2013, and that just infuriated me! Where is the compassion? Why does it need to be somebody you know before you can say, gosh, they’re real people, too?”

JP: “I absolutely understand that. Because Sen. Portman should be supporting all the gay people of Ohio, not just his son. But sometimes it takes somebody you know to wake up, and it’s better late than never. Maybe he has more compassion now.”

JK: “True, but…”

JP: “It opened his eyes, and if you see pictures of his son, he’s the spitting image of his dad. It’s incredible how much they look alike. And he’s close to his son. Other parents would have tossed their son out and pulled that tuition from Yale. Other people, like Boehner has publicly come out and said that even if he had a relative that came out, he would not support gay marriage. So it is a big step for Portman. It does take somebody, sometimes, to move them in a direction to open their eyes. This is why coming out is still so important. It was 30 years ago, it is today, that sometimes it takes coming out to say, oh my god, everybody I know [knows someone who] is gay.”

JK: “It was important to you for your cousin to know, but that’s where the line was drawn, that he needs to know that he has family members who are gay, and that people like us exist. Is there anything you wish the press had covered, about you or the hearings?”

JP: “Well, what’s fascinating to me is that I didn’t know the press would go so big. What is more important than me showing up to show to him that he has relatives, was to show the world. A lot of people got that I was representing them, that there are gay people in the audience, that are not just the lawyers, that are everyday people there. This is much, much bigger than me. I sat in front of a guest of Sotomayor’s who was also gay.”

JK: “That’s fantastic. The Catholic justices’ gay relatives are in court!”

JP: “He was so happy to meet me, and I was so happy to meet him!”

JK: “That’s a very special clique you’ve got going there. Gay relatives of Supreme Court justices.”

Untitled 3JP: “It is, I think we should have a little reunion every year! [laughter]. It was really fun to be there, and people got that I was representing them. It’s much bigger than marriage. It’s about civil rights and equal rights. It’s about me coming out, because when I had that quote in Fortune magazine, it hit Michael Petrellis’s blog, which hit a lot of blogs, and I saw that, oh god, about two thousand gay people have seen this, and they’re quite cranky sometimes. So I came out to about two thousand gay people and a bunch of lawyers who read the magazine. But this time, I came out to, it could be millions of people. I was [mentioned] on CNN, on the Today Show, on Stephen Colbert, I was in every newspaper in the country. Michael Petrellis’s thing scared the crap out of me, and that was only a couple of thousand people. Here, it was [potentially] millions. What’s kind of cool is that nobody remembers my name, or what I look like. They just remember some random relative came out, and they’re able to talk to their co-workers, their families about it, it comes up in conversation… It’s cool, it’s good thing that I’ve started conversations. I appreciate that. I absolutely was not lobbying for John, I just wanted to show up and be there. It was wonderful to be a part of history, inside the Supreme Court. This is our Brown v. Board of Education moment. This is the most important case before the Supreme Court. For us, there might be more important cases in the future, but for right now, this is the biggest we’ve ever had.”

JK: “You saw Edie Windsor? She must make such a compelling plaintiff.”

JP: “Yes!”

JK: “I think it’s going to be struck down on narrow grounds rather than on equal protection, and I wanted to ask your opinion on that.”

JP: “It seems that DOMA will be overturned, which means that federal rights will be granted equally, to all those people who are legally married in states that accept their marriage. It has huge repercussions. For me personally, I was unemployed last year and went on my girlfriend’s health insurance. We paid $300 more a month for federal taxes because it’s considered a benefit and not a right. For Grace and myself, that’s a lot of money. We got some of it back in a tax refund, but if we were really living paycheck to paycheck, I would have had to do something else.”

Podrasky is, in fact, doing something else now. Since her days at SLDN, she’s worked in retail and at a startup, but was finding no satisfaction in her work. Grace urged her to look for something that would make her happier: “You need to find something you love.” She “searched high and low” for a non-profit she could get behind ethically, and is now an accountant with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm. She’s very happy, once again advocating for a just cause.

 

Joanne Kalogeras grew up outside of Chicago. She studied political philosophy at the University of Chicago before engaging in various and sundry other occupations, including a long stint in software development. San Francisco is her home, but she is currently residing in London where she is finishing her doctoral thesis on cosmopolitan theory at the London School of Economics’ Gender Institute.

Continue Reading
Click to comment
 
 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. The New Civil Rights Movement depends on readers like you to meet our ongoing expenses and continue producing quality progressive journalism. Three Silicon Valley giants consume 70 percent of all online advertising dollars, so we need your help to continue doing what we do.

NCRM is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. From unflinching coverage of religious extremism, to spotlighting efforts to roll back our rights, NCRM continues to speak truth to power. America needs independent voices like NCRM to be sure no one is forgotten.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure NCRM remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to NCRM, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

News

Trump’s Dinner With Kanye Also Included a Former Aide Accused in Pay-for-Pardon Play, and White Supremacist Fuentes

Published

on

Donald Trump‘s dinner earlier this week with antisemite Kanye West and holocaust denier and white supremacist Nick Fuentes may also have included two other right-wingers, hinted at by the former president himself.

After Axios‘ reporting confirmed that Fuentes had in fact had dinner with Trump, Trump issued a statement saying, “Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”

But later, on Friday afternoon via his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote a defense of the dinner with an expanded guest list.

READ MORE: Trump Claims He ‘Knew Nothing About’ the White Supremacist Antisemite Who He and Kanye West Dined With at Mar-a-Lago

“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago,” Trump wrote. “Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”

As The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted, Trump did not denounce his guest’s extremist beliefs.

“Three of his friends,” according to the far-right wing website Breitbart, apparently includes Fuentes, far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and former Trump 2016 aide Karen Giorno.

Breitbart states, “two people who say they were at the dinner on Tuesday evening–Yiannopoulos and onetime Trump aide Karen Giorno–have publicly stated that Fuentes was in fact at the dinner with West and Trump.”

“’Nick attended the dinner and sat across from the president. I sat to the president’s right and Ye to his left,’ Giorno said in a statement to podcaster Tim Poole’s website Timcast,” Breitbart reports. “‘The president was by himself for dinner but invited Ye to meet some people on the patio.'”

Politico reports Giorno “confirmed to Politico that she was also at the dinner with Trump, West and Fuentes,” but does not mention Yiannopoulos as a dinner guest.

READ MORE: Watch: Chasten Buttigieg Says Tucker Carlson Is Focusing on ‘Hate’ After Host’s Latest Anti-Gay Attack on His Husband

Referring to Kanye West by his new name, VICE News adds: “Ye, who has been been on an antisemitic spiral in recent months, announced he is going to be running for president in 2024, and Yiannopoulos is his campaign manager. He claimed that he asked the former president to run with him as his vice-president. According to Ye, the dinner involving the billionaire, the rapper, and the white nationalist devolved into screaming and derogatory epithets.”

Yiannopoulos is the former Breitbart editor who became disgraced after saying, “I think in the gay world some of the most important, enriching and incredibly life-affirming, important shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men.” Earlier this year U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene came under fire for hiring, as an intern, Yiannopoulos, even after he appeared to support sexual “relationships” between boys as young as 13 and older men.

Karen Giorno, The New York Times reported early last year, “had access to people around the president, having run Mr. Trump’s campaign in Florida during the 2016 primary and remaining on board as a senior political adviser during the general election.”

“In July 2018, Ms. Giorno signed an agreement with Mr. Kiriakou, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, ‘to seek a full pardon from President Donald Trump of his conviction’ for $50,000 and promised another $50,000 as a bonus if she secured a pardon,” The Times reports.

Kiriakou is John Kiriakou, who The Times identifies as “a former C.I.A. officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information.”

On what appears to be her Instagram page, Giorno has photos of herself with numerous Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Flynn, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida attorney general Ashley Moody and several other top Florida elected officials, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, and Sarah Palin, among others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading

News

Trump Claims He ‘Knew Nothing About’ the White Supremacist Antisemite Who He and Kanye West Dined With at Mar-a-Lago

Published

on

Donald Trump and Kanye West had dinner at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night and the disgraced artist who goes by “Ye” brought a guest, the white supremacist, antisemite and “America First” and “Big Lie” purveyor Nick Fuentes. Now the former president is claiming Fuentes was a guest of West, and he knows “nothing” about him.

“Trump’s direct engagement with a man labeled a ‘white supremacist’ by the Justice Department, one week after declaring his 2024 candidacy, is likely to draw renewed outrage over the former president’s embrace of extremists,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu report.

Axios notes that in a video West posted to his recently restored Twitter account, he says, “Trump was ‘really impressed’ with Fuentes because ‘unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he’s actually a loyalist.'”

“Ye, who has lost major sponsorships over his anti-Semitism and recent far-right associations, has said he wants to run for president in 2024,” Axios adds. “The rapper claims Trump started ‘screaming’ at him at the dinner and told him he would lose — ‘most perturbed’ by Ye asking Trump to be his running mate.”

READ MORE: Watch: Chasten Buttigieg Says Tucker Carlson Is Focusing on ‘Hate’ After Host’s Latest Anti-Gay Attack on His Husband

Swan says Trump issued a statement in response to his reporting, claiming he does not know Fuentes.

“Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago,” Trump’s statement says, an apparent attempt to minimize his dining with two racists and antisemites. “Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman observes that Trump’s “statement does nothing to denounce that background, including Holocaust denialism, or even acknowledge it.”

Trump first claiming West just wanted to see Mar-a-Lago, but immediately after calling it a “meeting” is notable, given that West has since suggested he is running for president.

Axios importantly adds that “Fuentes first gained notoriety after attending the white supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in 2017,” and, “Trump was heavily criticized at the time for his response to the racist violence.”

Journalist Jeff Sharlet is the executive producer of Netflix’s “The Family,” based on his books that exposed the secretive Christian right organization of the same name. The Family, also called The Fellowship, hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Its members were involved in Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Sharlet warns this is an “inflection point.”

“Trump dinner with Ye, at this point, is a major story,” Sharlet tweeted. “But with Nick Fuentes? That’s an inflection point even for a former president already committed to fascism.”

Journalist and activist Elad Nehorai tweeted: “Never let a single right winger or Republican claim they care about Jews after this. Fuentes openly praises Hitler. He is a Holocaust denier. He is one of the US’s most dangerous white nationalists. Trump hosted him & not one Republican had said a word.”

Attorney and former Republican Ron Filipkowski, who tracks and reports on right wing extremism, says Trump’s statement “reminds me of the time when Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was in the WH in Dec 2020 and said he was just there to check out the Christmas decorations.”

Tarrio told ABC News last year he “got invited to the White House Christmas decorations tour through ‘Latinos For Trump.'”

READ MORE: ‘Standard Bearer of Trumpism’ Marjorie Taylor Greene Bridges White Nationalism and the GOP

Top national security attorney Brad Moss mocked Trump’s claim about the Mar-a-Lago dinner.

“Trump legal team: MAL is a totally secure place where we can be trusted to store classified records,” he tweeted. “Trump PR team: Security at MAL is so lax that a raving white supremacist can just crash Trump’s dinner party with Ye.”

Indeed, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman commented, “It’s not the central issue with meeting with Fuentes, but the fact that people can show up unvetted and meet with Trump at his club is part of what alarmed the DOJ about his retention of government records, including classified material, when he left office.”

She also posted a screenshot from her book, relevant to Trump’s embrace of the two racists and antisemites. She quotes him saying, “A lot of these people vote,” in relation to “Trump’s refusal to condemn David Duke’s support forcefully in early 2016.”

The AntiDefamation League (ADL) in a 2021 report wrote, “Nicholas Fuentes is a white supremacist leader and organizer and podcaster who seeks to forge a white nationalist alternative to the mainstream GOP.”

Some of Fuentes’ antisemitism has been documented by ADL.

READ MORE: House GOP Whip Denies ‘Knowing Anything About’ Republican Congressman Fundraising With Antisemitic White Nationalist

“Fuentes has made a number of racist and antisemitic comments under the guise of being provocative and ironic,” ADLs report states. “For example, he has referred to Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh as ‘shabbos goy race traitor’ because he works for Jews (Ben Shapiro, a Jewish conservative, runs the Daily Wire). On a livestream episode, Fuentes ‘jokingly’ denied the Holocaust and compared Jews burnt in concentration camps to cookies in an oven. On May 24, 2021, Fuentes participated in a debate on right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones’ InfoWars with Robert Barnes, a man described as a ‘constitutional lawyer’ who has legally defended both Jones and Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse. During the debate, Fuentes made numerous antisemitic remarks, including, ‘I don’t see Jews as Europeans and I don’t see them as part of Western civilization, particularly because they are not Christians.'”

Fuentes is strongly pro-Trump, as West alluded to.

“Fuentes promoted election fraud narratives and encouraged his adherents to participate in nationwide ‘Stop the Steal’ protests,” according to ADL.

 

This article has been updated to include Jeff Sharlet’s remarks.

Continue Reading

COMMENTARY

Watch: Chasten Buttigieg Says Tucker Carlson Is Focusing on ‘Hate’ After Host’s Latest Anti-Gay Attack on His Husband

Published

on

For years Tucker Carlson has been targeting U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The Fox News host and “propagandist” has attacked Buttigieg, the youngest and arguably one of the most popular to hold that Cabinet position, for the high price of gas, inflation, complaints against airlines – including ticket prices and flight delays, speaking out in support of women’s reproductive rights, and for allegedly working “feverishly on the equity agenda.”

All that was in just one of Tucker Carlson’s opening monologues, back in June, during which he also pushed Russian propaganda against the United States for supporting Ukraine in Vladimir’ Putin’s illegal war against the sovereign nation.

The 53-year old TV host has been accused by some of being a purveyor of white supremacist rhetoric – or even a white supremacist. “Tucker Carlson’s monologues” were mentioned in the first sentence of a New York magazine piece titled, “White Christian Nationalism ‘Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy.’”

So it’s no surprise that Carlson’s attacks against Buttigieg are more often than not homophobic, linked to the fact that Buttigieg is gay, out, married, and a father.

Carlson has infamously attacked Secretary Buttigieg for taking family leave after he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, adopted twins. He said Sec. Buttigieg was trying “to figure out how to breastfeed,” and snarked, “No word on how that went.” The twins were born prematurely, and had medical issues, which the Buttigieges later revealed was RSV, and “the entire family — including Pete and Chasten — soon got it,” as The Advocate reported.

In response to Carlson’s bullying, Buttigieg praised the Biden administration for being “pro-family” by having a family leave policy for new parents. Carlson responded with sarcastic trolling, saying on Fox News, “It turns out that Buttigieg is not a dwarfish fraud whose utter mediocrity indicts the class that produced him. No, not at all.”

One year ago this month Carlson went after Sec. Buttigieg for his accurate claim that racism played a part in the design of some of the nation’s highways, including in New York.

READ MORE: Tucker Carlson Serves Up 12-Minute Long Homophobic Hate-Filled Rant Attacking Pete Buttigieg Over ‘Equity’

“I’m still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach—or it would have been—in New York, was designed too low for it to pass by, that that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices,” Buttigieg told The Grio’s April Ryan, The Daily Beast reported. “I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality.”

Buttigieg is one of “the dumbest people in the world,” Carlson declared in response to the fact that there is racism built into our roads.

“Carlson said it’s ‘obvious’ that ‘roads can’t be racist’ but that the transportation secretary ‘didn’t know it,'” The Daily Beast added, pointing to a Washington Post explainer about “historical examples of institutionalized racism,” including roads.

In January, Carlson slammed Butigieg in yet another homophobic attack, calling him an “unqualified ‘kid’ who ‘breastfeeds,’ and has no business running the agency,” Mediaite reported.

“Joe Biden hired a kid,” Carlson claimed of Buttigieg, who was 38 when Biden became President, “who had never had a real job outside McKinsey and no grounding of any kind in physical reality,” a provable lie.

READ MORE: Watch: Pete Buttigieg Perfectly Slaps Aside Conservatives Criticizing His Paternity Leave

The Advocate noted, “in addition to working for McKinsey, a consulting firm, Buttigieg served two terms as mayor of South Bend, Ind., and spent seven years in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. He is a graduate of Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England.”

Carlson, who never served his country and reportedly failed his attempt to join the CIA, apparently has since learned that Buttigieg spent seven years serving in the U.S. Military, from 2009-2017. The Secretary was a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve, deployed to Afghanistan, served in a counterintelligence unit, and received ten military awards.

On Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, Carlson did serve up a dishonest, homophobic attack against Buttigieg, this time by going after his military service.

In a mocking, sarcastic slam Carlson accused Buttigieg of “hiding” his homosexuality while serving in America’s Armed Forces – something everyone knows was literally the law, under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

DADT was federal law, in effect from 1993 – 2011, in effect when Buttigieg enlisted. Buttigieg did come out during his military service, in 2015.

“After being deployed with the Navy to Afghanistan in 2014, he said he realized he could die having never been in love, and he resolved to change that. He finally came out in 2015, when he was 33,” The New York Times reported in 2019, during his presidential run.

Meanwhile, Carlson seemed to be unaware that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the law of the land, claiming instead no one knows why Buttigieg refused to “admit” at the time he was gay – words that literally could have ended his military service.

“Pete Buttigieg, of course couldn’t pass pass up a moment like this,” referring to the mass shooting hate crime in Colorado Sprigs, Colorado last weekend during which five people were massacred at an LGBTQ nightclub during a drag event, something Carlson has repeatedly been railing against.

“It’s not like Pete Buttigieg just wants to talk about how things are going over at the Transportation Department, which he supposedly runs – short answer, not well,” Carlson claimed, serving up no proof of that.

“No, Pete Buttigieg wants to talk about identity. He always wants to talk about identity,” another provably false claim. “And the funny, ironic thing is that until just a few years ago, Buttigieg wouldn’t even admit that he was gay.”

“He hid that and then lied about it for reasons he has never been asked to explain – why not?” Carlson disingenuously asked.

READ MORE: Pete Buttigieg Brilliantly Destroys Tucker Carlson After Fox Host’s Homophobic Hit Job

“But whatever. Now he is happy to use his sexual orientation as a cudgel to bash you repeatedly in the face into submission,” Carlson continued, in what some might call an act of stochastic terrorism.

Carlson, who claimed he was a member of the “Dan White Society” in his college yearbook, this week on social media has been accused of engaging in stochastic terrorism after doubling down on his anti-LGBTQ attacks, even after the Colorado Springs Club Q mass shooting.

The Fox News host’s rant was not complete. On-screen Carlson had a tweet from Buttigieg, and read it in a mocking voice.

“Quote, here’s the latest. If you’re a politician or media figure who sets up the LGBTQ community to be hated and feared, not because any of us who ever harmed you but because you find it useful, then don’t you dare act surprised when this kind of violence follows. Don’t you dare act surprised,'” Carlson said mocking the Secretary.

“Don’t you dare,” he added. “Alright, fair enough. We won’t dare. But honestly, we were a little surprised to learn that the anti-trans shooter is himself trans,” Carlson claimed, falsely identifying the shooting suspect whose attorneys say they say they are non-binary.

“Were you surprised by that Pete Buttigieg? Now that you’re admitting you’re gay after lying about it? Since we’re talking about identity, what do you have to say about that? Well, nothing. Weirdly Pete Buttigieg hasn’t said anything, nor is he apologized for attacking other people on false pretenses.”

That too is a false claim, one the right often employs.

LGBTQ people can be anti-LGBTQ, homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic, and people can be racist against their own race.

Wednesday evening, in response to Carlson’s remarks, Chasten Buttigieg posted a photo of his husband in military uniform.

Friday morning on CNN, Chasten Buttigieg responded to Tucker Carlson’s latest attack against his husband.

“My husband served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell which meant that he would have been discharged from the American military had he come out of the closet,” he tells CNN host Don Lemon. “I know on the clip, Tucker Carlson goes on to talk about how it seems that my husband only wants to talk about identity rather than his job. And I would just love for him to follow Secretary Pete on Twitter. You can follow along with all of the things that are happening at the Department. But remember, this kind of rhetoric is easy. It’s so easy to attack people and to go on your talk show and fire people up about something that’s not actually happening.”

“I love my husband deeply, Chasten Buttigieg continued. “I know he’s a committed public servant. And he has everyone’s best interests at heart. I just think these people again with these megaphones, they have they have a big platform and rather than focusing on real issues, people’s lives, making them better, they’ve decided to focus on hate.”

Watch the videos above and below, or at this link.

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2020 AlterNet Media.