In This Episode
Deray, Brittany, Clint, and Sam discuss Puerto Rico’s indefinitely delayed financial relief, environmental effects of urban living, genetic mutations worth testing for, and the LAPD’s use of undue force against the homeless. DeRay talks to Alphonso David, who is the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign.
LAist: One in Three Times The LAPD Used Force In 2018 It Involved A Homeless Person
Newsweek: Puerto Rico’s Access to Billions in Disaster Aid Continues to be Delayed
The New York Times: Beyoncé’s Dad Has a Mutation More African-Americans Should Be Tested For
E360: Can We Turn Down the Temperature on Urban Heat Islands?
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DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode. We’re joined by Alfonzo David, the first person of color to lead the human rights campaign.
Alfonzo: The work of the human rights campaign is to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people. We want to make sure that LGBT people are treated equally in all facets of their lives.
DeRay: And then it’s me, Brittany, Clint, and Sam with the news. Brittany is married y’all, Brittany Packnett Cunningham on the episode. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey y’all. It’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett Cunningham, @MsPackYeti on all social media.
Sam: and this is [00:02:00] Sam Sinyangwe @SamsWey on Twitter.
Clint: And this is Clint Smith @clintsmithiii, aka best singer at acapella at Brittney’s wedding.
DeRay: This is DeRay at D R A Y on Twitter. Brittany got married, Brittany got married, Brittany got married –
Clint: Brittany got married. What a wedding.
Brittan: I did! Oh my gosh. It was so amazing to have you all there. Pod Save the Bride was in full effect. If you all didn’t know, obviously, you know, I got married, but I got married in new Orleans, Louisiana, which is mine and my now husband, Reggie’s favorite city at our favorite place, studio B, which is an incredible warehouse full of black art and poetry and history. And, uh, it is not a traditional wedding venue. So we had to basically invent that thing from scratch. We had to bring in carpet and air conditioning, and sound system and we had a little snafu with the song on the first dance. But, um, [00:03:00] our incredible village as Clint was referring to, was ready to be there and to pick up the Slack. So we’re actually waiting on the official footage of it so that we can share it with people. Cause it was like such a magical moment that as cell phone video will just not suffice.
But we were serenaded to by 200 folks for our first dance and I couldn’t have imagined anything better. It was the best day ever, ever, ever.
Clint: It was really one of the best things that I’ve, I’ve seen at a wedding. We are at the age where we’re kind of like in perpetual wedding season. And I go to a lot of these now and the vast majority of them are wonderful and lovely. And, but this was like, ‘cause everybody was looking at the DJ and we were like, “Is this a dramatic pause? What’s going on?” And then —
Brittany: People thought it might’ve been planned and I was like, no, this is very not planned.
Clint: And then. I don’t remember who started it, but it was just, it just turned into this incredible, incredible moment, like the whole song, like start to finish. Everybody hitting every note, every melody, every ad lib. And I was just like, Man, I love us. Like that was [00:04:00] cause at some, at another wedding, people would have been stressed. You’d have had —
Brittany: And the fault was my own. Like I sent the DJ a really long email and our DJ was incredible (shout out to DJ Rockaway) and then this very long email I sent him about the vibe you wanted to create, I completely forgot to put in the name of the PJ Morton song, “No Ordinary Love,” that we had originally picked, but the song that our village picked for us and started singing instead is actually the first song I ever sang to Reggie at karaoke. So it ended up having significant meaning, and nobody knew. It was perfect.
Clint: And the song was SWV’s “Week,” which if you’re not a 90s RnB head, you should listen to. I’ve been listening to that song on repeat for the last week.
Brittany: So has my mom!
Clint: A lot of good memories.
Brittany: It was an absolutely magnificent day. So grateful to everybody who made it out. Everybody who sent a warm wish, a congratulations, we are full up on love and feeling overwhelmed by it all in the best way possible, so yeah, it was a great weekend. RnB Sunday was definitely a success.
Clint: And we should say Brittany’s wedding was incredible, [00:05:00] but there was a loss last week, we lost a representative Elijah Cummings, who in a moment where our politics can feel a cynical and fractured and continue to feel like it always lets us down.
This is a, a man who was a son of sharecroppers, who had this remarkable interview. He did with 60 Minutes, Where he talked about how he got sworn in, uh, in the halls of Congress, and his father was like, “isn’t this the place that slaves built?” And he was like, “yes, sir.” “isn’t this the place where they used to call us three fifths of a man?” He said, “Yes, sir.” “Isn’t this the place where they used to call us chattel?” He said, “Yes, sir.” And they talked about how seeing his son being sworn into Congress was this incredible reminder of what could have been possible, had state-sanctioned apartheid in this country, not held him and millions of others back.
And, um, he’s a giant and we lost him too soon. Age 68. Um, so thinking of his family at this time, can’t imagine what they’re experiencing. [00:06:00]
DeRay: Cummings is my Congressman. He has been a Congressman almost as long as I’ve been alive. He’s been in Congress for 23 years. We all grew up knowing Elijah Cummins. The name, the person, and it’s important to remember, you know, I am reminded that his legacy is much deeper than holding Trump accountable.But thank God he did that until his last breath, as his wife said. But he did so much for the city of Baltimore that he was actively involved in city politics. He was present. He was around, you know, he was elected in 1996 special election. And then he won every election thereafter. And he was just, he was president, you know, he was not just a Congressman who phoned it in Baltimore.
And you know, in Baltimore, he actually represented a little bit of the city and a little bit of the county. So it’s a sort of interesting swath of people that he represented and he did it well. It’s a big loss. And remember: Cummings was young, you know, 68 is young. So I hope that the rest of that [00:07:00] generation can live long lives and full lives. And he definitely lived a full life.
Clint: So for my news, I want to talk about an important piece that was written in the New York times by Erika Stallings, who is a lawyer and a breast cancer gene awareness advocate. And she writes about how Matthew Knowles who’s the father of Beyonce and Solange, as we all know, recently announced that he had been told he has breast cancer caused by the BRCA-2 gene mutation, and that is children as a result have a 50% chance of inheriting it. So BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 are gene mutations that can elevate a carrier’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer up to 72% compared to a 12% lifetime risk among the general population. And they can also elevate a carriers lifetime risk of ovarian, pancreatic. Or prostate cancer along with melanoma. Although he had a family history of breast cancer, Mr. Knowles had never been referred to genetic counseling or testing to evaluate his risk of a BRCA mutation. And I bring [00:08:00] this up, not because it’s Beyonce, his father, but because it provides us with an opportunity to talk about something that’s way too common with black Americans and specifically black women.
So black women are substantially less likely to undergo genetic counseling and testing for BRCA mutations as compared to white women, even though research suggests that the rate of BRCA mutations is higher among black women than it is for white women. Researchers at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida found that among young breast cancer patients who met the national guidelines for receiving genetic counseling, only 37% of black women had discussed it with the provider, compared to. 86% of white women and just 36% of black women receive testing for BRCA compared to 65% of white women. Another study showed that only 58% of black women who were eligible for genetic testing under the national guidelines receive testing as part of their routine care.
Although there haven’t been many studies published with regard to BRCA men, there was a 2016 report that found that among men diagnosed with [00:09:00] prostate cancer, black men may be more likely to have had the BRCA- 1 or -2 gene mutations than their white counterparts. And this is personal to the author who was 29 years old when she was tested and discovered that her mother had passed down a BRCA-2 mutation to her and, as a result, she made the difficult decision to have a preventative double mastectomy, which shrink her risk of developing breast cancer from 80% to less than 5%. And a famous example of this, I think is Angelina Jolie, who made a similar decision when she realized that she was carrying a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer.
And even if a person decides not to get a double mastectomy or do what the author has done, there are MRIs and mammograms that you can get every six months that can help detect cancer at an early stage when it’s more treatable. If black women and men aren’t receiving genetic testing, they’re potentially missing out on the chance to catch breast cancer early on, which is crucial because this is when you have a higher rate of survival as compared to later on.
And so, you know, it’s personal for the author. [00:10:00] And it is personal for me. I have several women in my family who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and this is something that is relevant to an enormous number of people.
Brittany: So being a woman in a family where women have a history of breast cancer, this one really strikes home.My maternal grandmother, my grandmother, Sharlene, passed away of breast cancer when I was just a baby. Um, my mom’s sister has So battled breast cancer twice. Reggie’s mom is a two time survivor of breast cancer. Um, and so knowing that we are now talking about and thinking about having children one day, we’ve of course been having a conversation about genetic testing so that we can go into this with eyes wide open as much as possible.
What we’ve also been talking about — our family histories and knowing that breast cancer has. Significant occurrence in both of our families is something that we’re thinking a great deal about, both in terms of the children that we hope to have and the lives that we hope to lead lives [00:11:00] that are hopefully as healthy and as long as possible.
I learned how to do a breast self-examination a long time ago. My mother wanted to make sure that I knew how to do that, that it was something that was in my repertoire and that even before doctors were telling me I needed to do it, that I knew how to do it for myself, that I knew how to raise my arm in the shower and get that done.
And I knew what to look out for if I needed to follow up with a doctor. Um, we plan on pursuing genetic testing when things slow down a bit so that we can get this information. But it is significant here, as you shared Clint, um, to remember that breast cancer doesn’t just occur in women, but that it occurs in men, as well.
And when we think about the history of black people in the medical profession and all of the ways in which our bodies have been tested and experimented on without our permission, we think of the story of people like Henrietta Lacks, who has literally helped. Save the entire world and only got credit for that as of late in the last few years, because the story was finally written about the ways in which things from her body were used, um, without her [00:12:00] knowledge to create life-saving medicines for other people.
And when we think about the history of black men being injected with syphilis and not knowing, uh, so that scientists could test the effects of STIs on the human body. When we think about this history, we have to understand why so many black people in particular, especially of a certain generation, are hesitant to walk into a doctor’s office and to ask for testing voluntarily, let alone to have a relationship with doctors.
And then you add all of those barriers to access and the various obstacles that people face with not having strong enough health insurance. We know for a fact that black women and black men are not being tested nearly enough for the things that can take our lives. So Clint, I’m glad that you brought this up, and not only as a woman in a family full of survivors, but as a black person who wants to see us live our best lives.
DeRay: So Clint, happy you, uh, have you brought that up? So one of the things that I didn’t know before you brought this up is that men diagnosed with breast cancer have a [00:13:00] worse survival rate, and they actually don’t know why. So this is actually a reminder that they need to be more studies about breast cancer as it manifests in men that they’ve not been enough.
So people know that there’s a worse survival rate. But. Unclear why. The other thing is that the average age of diagnosis for men is much later. So the average age of diagnosis for men is around 64 a and about 51% of the diagnoses occur between the ages of 50 and 69. Only 15% of men get a diagnosis before the age of 50 so much older.
And again, the research is not really clear on why some of the researchers. It’s sort of suggesting that it’s because men, as we all talked about, don’t get tested until late. It’s also that the research is really unclear about how to scale testing in so many places, and it was just a reminder that until we study the gamut of people who are impacted by a host of things, our solutions will always be misapplied.
And this is one of those ones where we know that breast cancer men might be [00:14:00] rare relative to women. But still present, and that there’s enough technology and enough information out there that if we plan correctly, we can actually get in front of these issues so that people can live healthy, long and full lives.
DeRay: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People’s coming.
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Sam: So my news is about the LAPD. In particular, data that’s recently been made available by the LAPD on use of force shows that a third of all use of force incidents last year in 2018 by the LAPD were against folks who are homeless. This is a huge, huge number. So of the 2,146 total uses of force in 2018, 698 involved a homeless resident, and that that is actually an increase over time.
So in 2017, it was about 28% of the total use of force [00:18:00] incidents involve somebody who was homeless. 2018 is 34% I wanted to talk about this because, first of all, there are few cities that actually report data in this way, that actually track whether or not the person that forces used against is homeless.
And for the cities that do report it, it’s usually a pretty wild number. So just a couple of weeks ago, Dre and I were in Portland talking about issues having to do with the police union contract there and across the country, and there was a moment in that presentation where we cited data from the Portland Police Bureau website that showed that 58% of the people who Portland police used force against were homeless. The mayor didn’t even know that statistic, apparently, because he tried to push back and say that the statistic wasn’t accurate, but it turns out that that’s just on their website. But I wanted to talk about this because for cities across the country, particularly in LA and other places where we’re seeing a broader issues with a rise in homelessness, a rise in the price of [00:19:00] housin, that police use of force, police, arrests of homeless people are also on the rise, and much of this disproportionate police contact is not being tracked in cities across the country. And again, as you said DeRay, without having the data, the solutions can often be misapplied.
Clint: So something I’ve been thinking about with regard to homelessness is this model called “housing first.” And it’s essentially this idea that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness and thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue the rest of the things that they need to in order to improve their quality of life. And this approach is largely guided by the idea that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before they can deal with their substance abuse issues, before they can deal with their fines and fees from the government, before they can deal with, you know, a range of issues that are part of the ecosystem of poverty, which is not how a lot of other things that are tied to fighting homelessness or tied to getting people in [00:20:00] homes, that’s not how a lot of them work. A lot of them are conditional on drug tests, um, which people end up failing. So you know, whether it be substance abuse, whether it be a range of other issues that might prevent you from accessing some of these programs that make having a home contingent on these other factors. Housing first says, actually, it’s not contingent on anything. You get to live here and then figure out the other parts of your life, because this is a fundamental part of what it means to be a human being.
And a lot of the cities that are trying this are still in the early stages, but, but I think the impulse is right. People need a place to live, and it shouldn’t be contingent on anything except for the fact that you are human, as it should be the case for health care, as should be the case for food, as should be the case for education. And so I hope to see more of that, and I hope that we continue to get more evidence about how this is working and where.
DeRay: You know, it’s interesting when we think about incarceration, about 95% of the people who are incarcerated in state prisons are released back to their communities. The vast majority of people who are incarcerated at any level — federal, state, [00:21:00] local — the majority of people are released back into society. And what’s important about that is that if you believe in rehabilitation, even if you don’t believe in rehabilitation, the hard fact is that people who have been incarcerated will be your neighbors, they will be parents at the school that your kid goes to, they will be your colleagues, like people, I have served time and they will be members of society again. So when you think about the homelessness rate of people who had been incarcerated, it’s really shocking. So according to the Prison Policy Institute, people had been to prison just one time, experienced homelessness at a rate seven times higher than the general public.
But people who have been incarcerated more than one time experienced homelessness 13 times higher than the general public, which is really wild. And the absence of a home means that you actually can’t really take advantage of services and people want to service first. They want to like put you into an addiction service and puts you into all these types of services, counseling, but you can’t really get [00:22:00] to counseling if you don’t have a place to sleep.
You can’t adequately get to a host of things if you are always worried about like where you physically will be and especially when you’re with your family. So this made me think about the way we talk about rehabilitation or the way we talk about a re-entry to society, and what does it mean that in cities like LA or in Portland, that half of the use of force from the police is actually geared towards people who are homeless? You’ve seen this happen time and time again, that the city actually has a responsibility not only to help with housing, but not to harass people. And this shows that even in cities like LA that prides itself on having a homelessness plan, and Portland is also a city that prides itself on being really thoughtful about homelessness, part of the way that we see they’re managing the issue of homelessness is actually to harass people who are homeless. Which is not a solution.
Brittany: Puerto Rico. Here on the mainland, too many of us are forgetting to talk about it. So here at Pod Save the People, we are [00:23:00] absolutely going to keep bringing it up.
I do not speak Spanish, so forgive my lack of an accent because I don’t want to keep butchering it over and over again. But this time I want to take an overall look at the health and the healing of the Island. As a reminder, we here at Pod Save the People never let people forget about the historical context that leads to modern circumstances.
So Puerto Rico remains a colonized island of a Latinx and Afrolatinx people who lack proper congressional representation or economic support. And it, as we have seen in the last few weeks, have had a whole lot to say about it in the streets and on social media.
So two articles came out this week reminding us exactly how, after these historical choices by the U S and in the wake of two hurricanes, frankly, Puerto Rico is currently fairing. The short version is not well. This is of course to say nothing of the incredible, resilient, creative people who call it Puerto Rico home.
But the economy of Puerto Rico has not only not recovered, it has been progressively getting worse. [00:24:00] So Forbes recently reported that from 2012 to 2017, Puerto Rico’s economy has been, and I quote, “plummeting like a stone,” end quote. The U S Bureau of Economic Analysis is the office that is responsible for collecting and creating the datasets that allow us to have a full picture of what’s happening in the country. But this same office has only now just begun to actually create a basic GDP analysis of Puerto Rico. Like I’m not an economist, and we definitely all know that, so there were definitely things in this report I could not understand. But here’s what I do understand.
In one year, 2009 during the Great Recession, the GDP of the U.S. dropped about 1.8% and during that time, we received massive injections of government spending to prevent even more decline during that single year, But in Puerto Rico from 2012 to 2017 the island’s consumer spending dropped by an average of 1.8% year over year, which essentially means that there was much more damage, happening, more deeply, far [00:25:00] faster, and more often than the U.S. overall. And to boot, the kind of cash injections that Puerto Rico most certainly needs now following the back-to-back devastation of hurricanes, Irma and Maria, that money still has not arrived. The U.S. government has promised billions with a “B” in aid to Puerto Rico that continues to be delayed. Housing and Urban Development still has yet to indicate when it will release the funds.
That is an absolute violation of the law. Congress outlined that that money has to be distributed immediately. Puerto Rico is still waiting on an $8 billion check from the U.S. government just to fix the things that were most recently broken. Still far more is owed for the things that this government has broken over generations.
So I wanted to talk about it today because frankly, almost nobody else is doing it.
Clint: I’m reminded of when the hurricane was happening and the economy was already in a free fall from the recession and has continued to be, people were sending out tweets and on TV and all of this saying, like how can we allow this to happen to [00:26:00] American citizens? Like, don’t forget that these are American citizens. And I think that that is important. I think it is important to remember functionally and civically that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. That is what they are. And I think there are actually a lot of people who either don’t know or forget or choose not to believe that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that our sense of empathy is often contingent upon sort of arbitrary natures of birth and circumstance. And while this is something that we should care about, regardless of whether or not these are American citizens, our empathy and our desire to see the people on this island and have a better life and have all of the things that people should have to live successful, upwardly mobile lives, the same way that like whether somebody has a house should not be contingent upon whether or not they addicted to opioids, whether or not someone deserves assistance, whether or not they deserve empathy, whether or not they deserve to be mourned, and whether or not they deserve our attention should not be contingent upon an arbitrary line that was drawn in the sand.
And that is in large part what countries are. [00:27:00] And I think that as we think about Syria, even now, like so many of us, forget that again, but for the arbitrary nature of birth and circumstance, any of us could have been in very different positions. And we should always remember that.
DeRay: Another thing that’s going on with Puerto Rico that I think has been off of most people’s radar is that the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about Puerto Rican oversight. The oversight board in Puerto Rico was appointed by the federal government and 2016 because of the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, that panel is responsible for restructuring about $120 billion of the debt in Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico went bankrupt. And there’s a lawsuit that was brought by one of the creditors and a labor group challenging the authority of the labor board.
So there are seven members on the labor board and their legal claim is that the panel violates the U.S. constitution because they weren’t confirmed by the Senate. And it’s a huge case because if the Supreme court says that [00:28:00] the panel is not legitimate, then it has the potential to undo all the work that has happened so far to restructure the economy in Puerto Rico. So there are people on both sides who are nervous, but I wanted to bring it up because I had no clue the Supreme court was hearing in case that has a potential to really restructure the way the rebuilding is happening in Puerto Rico right now. The news reports about the case being heard in the Supreme court right now suggests that the court is going to side with keeping the board, but we will see.
DeRay: My news is about an interesting study that came out and the top line is that the research found that 92% of cities that were historically redline are warmer than their neighbors. And what’s interesting is that we talk about climate change a lot, and we talked about in the pod before about the way that climate change impacts communities of color more than it impacts other communities, but this is a new study that came out and there was a researcher, Shondes, Professor Shondes, who was essentially going around and looking at cities to try and [00:29:00] map like what the heat was looking like in places, and I never thought about solutions to heat being like a whitewashing black asphalt or roof surfaces, adding more trees for shade, making sure developers vary the Heights of new buildings to increase the air flow and manage the sunlight. And then opening public air conditioned spaces are some of the findings for that. That was interesting. The work also show that places where lower income people often work also experience higher than average temperatures, which I thought was interesting.
They just did a big study in Portland and Portland was one of the places where the industrial areas by Portland’s rivers are places where lower income people work and they are warmer than other places. But they’ve mapped currently 24 cities in the United States and worldwide, from Albuquerque to Hong Kong to Doha in Qatar. And the last thing I’ll say is that they looked at places like Richmond and in Richmond’s hottest areas, they found a concentration of poverty and of nine one one calls for heat related [00:30:00] illnesses. So I thought this was fascinating to bring up. I thought it was interesting from just like a proving something that people had said anecdotally, but also thinking about what solutions look like.
And I had never thought about like the coloring of buildings, the way buildings cluster and building heights as being a solution around climate change.
Sam: Yeah. This is wild. Like I had not connected the dots between red-lining and poverty and climate. Right? And that literally the temperature that you feel in your community has been impacted by structural racism.
I mean, we talk about how nations in the global South are being impacted by climate change to a greater degree. We talk about how communities like Puerto Rico have been impacted by climate change and have been denied the resources to address it. But this is like a micro-level climate change, right? Even in the same city, you’re experiencing almost two different climates because [00:31:00] your environment has been so devoid of green space. It has been constructed in ways that are contributing to warmer temperatures. Yeah. It just blew my mind reading this.
Clint: Yeah. In one respect, this is incredibly intuitive and speaks to everything that we know about climate changes that it impacts black and Brown and poor communities first and the most. I appreciated the way that we were thinking about solutions and, and something that came up in sort of adjacent reading that I did to this was thinking about what it would mean to paint urban roofs, to paint them white. And there’s some research that’s talking about how the darker the surface, the more heating there is, and that makes sense.And that fresh asphalt reflects only 4% of sunlight compared to as much as 25% for natural grassland and up to 90% for white surfaces like fresh snow. And some researchers say that you could help lower extreme temperatures by up to two or three degrees Celsius by creating lighter, land surfaces. What would it mean if we just [00:32:00] everybody painted their rooves white?
You know? I mean, obviously a better solution would be like state-sanctioned solar panels and things like that. And sometimes I have these moments where I imagine what our world would look like if Jimmy Carter had stayed in office for a second term. We had this person who had solar panels on the roof and like, you know, that’s in the 80s. What would the world look like now if we had had that type of leadership when they’re things weren’t as bad as they are now.
DeRay: That’s the news. Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
Brittany: Did you know that Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead a military expedition in us history? She commanded 150 black troops and freed over 750 and slave people, not the first black woman, not the first person from the South, the first woman, and there’s so much more about Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary life that every single American needs to know, needs to love and needs to learn. This fall, Focus Features is releasing Harriet based upon the thrilling and inspirational life of the [00:33:00] iconic American freedom fighter.
DeRay: Starting Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Janelle Monae — boop, boop, boop — that’s quite the cast, y’all, and directed by Casey Lemons. Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from enslavement and her transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity, free hundreds of enslaved people and change the course of history forever. Harriet presented by Focus Features is in theaters, November 1st, tickets on sale now at harrietfilmtickets.com. It’ll definitely be something to talk about. Definitely something that we’ll learn from. See you there.
DeRay: And now my conversation with Alfonzo David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign. Affonso thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
AD: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
DeRay: Now. We met at one of the blackest events in the country, at Essence Fest not too long ago. And since then you are the president of the HRC. Can you talk about why, why the HRC? You’ve done so much [00:34:00] a lawyer, a professor, you worked in the governor’s office in New York. You could have done a host of things.
Why the HRC. Well, the HRC, the Human Rights Campaign is the world’s largest civil rights organization that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. And at this point in my life, and at this point in my career. I thought it was important to fight on behalf of this specific community, and particularly given where we are with the federal administration, fight for this community that has been under so much attack and make sure that we can fight a way to equality. The LGBTQ community has a history of fighting for change, and I think at this point in our culture and our history in with the federal administration, I wanted to make sure that I use my talents and my time to advance the cause [00:35:00] for justice and that this is where I thought I could spend my time and do it most usefully.
DeRay: Now before I have a couple more questions about the HRC actually have more than a couple, but a couple of, just so you know, simpler. You grew up in Liberia. How has that, how has that informed your understanding of what’s possible of a racial justice, of identity, and of the politics of identity? What was that like?
AD: Well, you know, I, I, you’re right. I grew up in Monrovia, Liberia, my, both my parents were born in Liberia. They came to the United States for school and had me, left when I was a year old and I grew up there for 14 years. I had a privileged existence. My father was the mayor of Monrovia, which is the capital city. My uncle was the president of Liberia, and that privileged existence exploded on April 1st, 1980 when there was a military coup and my uncle was assassinated and my father was put in prison for about 18 months. We were [00:36:00] placed under house arrest as a result, And hat experience, traumatic as it was, really informed my trajectory in life, and it informed my work. It informed my philosophy and my perspective on democracy and how important it is for us to fight for it. You know, when you grow up in the United States, and this sounds a little bit like a judgment, but when you grow up anywhere where, you know, democracy in some cases can be taken for granted, um, you don’t fully appreciate the risk of not engaging, the risk of not fully, uh, engaging in your democracy. The risk of not voting. I hope that many people at this point realize that not voting and not engaging in the electoral process has resulted in one of the worst presidents in our history, Donald Trump, and Mike Pence. And it’s certainly my personal view and the view of the Human Rights Campaign, and I believe other organizations that this federal [00:37:00] administration is effectively eroding our democracy. They have taken steps to effectively remove protections that exist from marginalized communities, and they’ve created a paradigm where we’re fighting each other when we actually should be working collectively to support our country.
So my experience in Liberia furthered my viewpoint and my vision about why it’s so important for us to engage in our democracy. And as it relates to racial justice., you know, this country has been struggling with racial inequality for a very, very long time. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do within the LGBTQ community, but we also have a lot of work to do in all of our communities.
DeRay: And most of you by then can know the HRC even if they don’t know the Human Rights Campaign because of the blue sticker with the yellow quality side. How do you describe the priorities or the work to people both in the [00:38:00] community, in the LGBTQ+ space, or people who want to be allies? Like what is the work?
AD: The top line is the work of the Human Rights Campaign is to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people. That means equality in employment, equality in housing, equality in credit, equality in education, equality in public spaces. We want to make sure that LGBT people are treated equally in all facets of their lives. That’s the goal of the Human Rights Campaign. How do we do that? We work to ensure that we promote and elect pro-equality candidates, elected officials who will advance legislation to support LGBTQ people and all marginalized communities, including people of color. We also work on drafting legislation on the federal level as well as the state level to try to advance equality.
And again, a variety of [00:39:00] different spheres. We work in the public education outreach space, where we go to different communities to educate them on why it’s important to stand up for equality, educate them on some of the experiences that LGBTQ people face. And finally, we work in the courts. We filed Amicus briefs.
The Human Rights Campaign at this point is a plaintiff in a lawsuit where we are suing the Trump administration for denying transgender people the right to serve this country in the military. So we use a variety of tools to advance the mission of full equality for LGBTQ people. That is what we do.
DeRay: I wanted to talk about the HBCU program that the Human Rights Campaign runs. What is that? Is that program new and what’s the goal of the HBCU? I think it’s, the HCBU Summit? What is the goal of that work?
AD: Yes, so this is “historically black colleges and universities,” the Human Rights Campaign as launched an initiative where [00:40:00] we are identifying the next wave of LGBTQ leaders, and we are going to historically black colleges to identify those leaders, to provide them with resources and skills that can help them become the next set of leaders. Unfortunately, we’ve seen within our community, the black community, which I’m a part of that, you know, homophobia is just as prevalent as it is in other communities, and we have to allow people to be who they are and a part of the challenge is when you go to an historically black college, we want to make sure that those kids, if they are gay, if they are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, we create an environment and provide them with tools to succeed and not only to succeed at that university or that college, but to succeed after.
DeRay: How has it been received on campuses? I do think about what you said about homophobia within the black community being, uh, being [00:41:00] strong in, and some of it is that people just aren’t having these conversations about identity or aren’t having them Instructure ways or with people who, who know the content well. How have you seen the first summit? How is it received? Do you think that this is going to be a long term program within the Human Rights Campaign?
AD: Yes, it is going to be a long-term campaign in order for us to change the hearts and the minds of community members that have had a certain viewpoint and it’s strongly held. Look, I think within the black community and other communities, religion and sexual orientation and gender identity are intertwined. Uh, you know, it is very easy for someone to say, well, I can’t accept you as being gay because the Bible tells me I can’t. I’ve heard those comments for years, but the reality is I interpret the Bible differently. And even if you want to take that approach, just to appreciate the collateral consequence that it has on these young people. You know, the suicide rate for [00:42:00] transgender people of color is at 47%, meaning 47% of transgender people of color attempt suicide at some point in their lives. We should sit with that statistic and understand what it means when we are out there targeting people because of who they are. And we can’t do it under the guise of religion. So the HSBCU program is something that we are committed to working on is the program we’re committed to advancing. And the feedback has been positive. I think we still have a lot of work to do because we have to change hearts and minds. We have to get people to see us as human beings. This is not a choice. I did not choose to be gay. This is a part of who I am and every single other person that I know who self-identifies as LGBTQ, it is not a choice. And when we get to that point where all marginalized communities and all general populations can appreciate that, I think we will get to the place that we need to get to.
DeRay: [00:43:00] And then what about, you talked about the trans community, we know that this is another year where so many black trans women specifically had been murdered. What can we do about it? I know there are a lot of people who share the stories online, a lot of people who express the outrage, but they don’t know how to end it. What would you say to those people.
AD: I would say to those people that I have the same frustration when I heard about the, the murders and I heard about the numbers, and I’ve enlisted my team to come up with a meaningful framework to try to address this issue. And also it’s not only with respect to, you know, violence, it’s also employment and making sure that we provide resources to a community that has been marginalized and forgotten for a very long time, both within and outside of the community. So I would tell people to, to keep hope alive, that we have to work collaboratively on coming up with meaningful solutions. And those solutions are [00:44:00] going to be unique to certain communities because, you know, the violence that we’re seeing in each community, what is. really driving it? I have my opinions, but I think we can come to a place where we create meaningful solutions in those communities so that we can provide the support to the transgender community that they need.
DeRay: I want to talk about Trump, but. I feel like the world is talking about Trump all the time. I wanted to know what’s different about this role than the other roles you’ve had. So you have done so much. This role seems very different than the work you’ve done day-to-day before. How have you seen in the first set of months in this role, how has it been? What is different about being in a role like this in the past roles that you’ve taken on?
AD: Well, uh, that’s a really good question. I think one of the main distinctions here is I’m serving now as a principal for an institution and organization and in fact, some would say a movement, and that comes with a different set of [00:45:00] responsibilities and challenges. Uh, serving as the Chief Counsel for the Governor of New York, I was responsible for every single legal decision that was made in the State of New York, whether to Sue, whether to settle: what type of pieces of legislation we would support that, what types of public education campaigns we would launch. That’s very different than being in a chair where you have to come up with solutions to problems that are systemic facing a community that is nationwide and global. The Human Rights Campaign is not only limited to doing work within the 50 States in the United States, we also do work globally. And so the scope of this role is much broader than the work that I’ve done before. The tools that I’ve been able to refine over time, I will be able to apply in this role, but the scope is certainly different.
DeRay: And what do we do about Trump? You know, you’ve been very vocal about this administration being a nightmare for [00:46:00] LGBTQ people. It has certainly been a nightmare for almost every marginalized group of people in the country. What do you say to people who are like, he is literally causing havoc every day in our lives? How do you help people make sense of the idea that we can do something?
AD” My, my objective is to mobilize people and make sure that they exercise their constitutional right to vote. We have a fundamental right to vote that unfortunately many of us do not exercise. We’ve seen that for decades. When you look at the rate of people that actually vote, it pales in comparison to other countries, and we have to remind people that this is their fundamental constitutional right and they need to exercise it. The failure to exercise that right to vote means that Donald Trump is in office today, and we [00:47:00] cannot allow that to happen again. So my goal is to make sure that we mobilize people so that they understand and appreciate how important this election is. If we do not vote, if we do not get Donald Trump out of office, we will lose at least two generations.
I mean that because he will be in a position to pack the Supreme court with ideologues that will vote in such a way that it will be to the detriment of racial minorities and other marginalized communities. So we have to wake up, we have to be focused, we have to mobilize and vote. And registering to vote is just part one. You also have to exercise your right to vote when it’s raining outside. You have to exercise your right to vote when it’s snowing. You have to exercise your right to vote when that line is so long that you might be late to work. Because that’s what is going to take. We know about voter suppression in certain [00:48:00] parts of the South and other parts of this country. We know that racial minorities and other marginalized communities have been targeted. We need to make sure that people wake up, they understand that it’s going to be a struggle, they understand that line is going to be long. Bring your umbrella. Bring your jacket and make sure you stand in line to exercise your right to vote so we can get him out of office because simply registering is not going to be enough.
DeRay: And what about voter suppression? There are a lot of people who would say that this wasn’t a matter of people not wanting to vote, but in so many places they couldn’t vote.
AD: Well, part of it is public education, making sure that we create an infrastructure where people know who to call and when to call. I don’t mean to keep on highlighting the South, but we hear a lot about voter suppression in the South, uh, where, you know, we need to do a better job of making sure that people know where to go and when to pick up that phone. And we also need to have the resources to provide them with the [00:49:00] support.
You know, the Leadership Committee for Civil Rights, uh, Vanita Gupta, a very good friend of mine is running that organization and they have launched an initiative with a variety of organizations to make sure that people understand the importance of the right to vote. I’m going to be doing a lot of work in that space as well, working with the Human Rights Campaign and making sure that LGBTQ voters understand the importance of their right to vote, but it’s going to be a combination of factors that we will have to use to make sure that people exercise their right to vote.
DeRay: What are the issues that are top of mind to you when you are thinking about 2020 and the election, what are the things that people need to be paying attention to when they make a decision on who they support and when we think about what we need to undo that the Trump administration has done?
AD: How much time do you have?
DeRay: You know, it’s hard. The one of the things about Trump is so interesting is that he’s in the news so much. But so many people [00:50:00] don’t know the specifics of the damage. They just know that there’s a lot of damage until it hits them.
AD: Yeah. I mean, it depends on which community you’re talking about because he is attacking so many marginalized communities and so many issues that we should care about, ranging from climate change to, you know, race discrimination, from LGBTQ discrimination to, you know, transgender issues in the military. The Supreme Court is hearing a case, and this case raises a fundamental question of fairness and equality, and the question is whether employers can discriminate against employees and prospective employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Most people would say [that[ employers should not deny you a job because you’re gay, employers should not be able to refuse you a job because of your gender identity or expression. And that is how federal law has been interpreted for decades [00:51:00] that employers cannot discriminate based on someone’s gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Trump administration has taken a different view. Their view is [that] employers should be allowed to discriminate. So if I go into a job interview and it comes up in the job interview that I’m married, or that I’m gay, or that I’m transgender or that I’m bisexual, the employer could deny me that job and there would be no consequence. That is the Trump administration’s position — there should be no protections under federal law. And the sad reality is in 30 States in this country, there is no protections under state law. So if you remove that federal protection, what you’re effectively doing is saying that millions of people in this country no longer have the protections that they have been accustomed to. That is just one example of what the Trump administration is doing. Another example is, they are advancing a set of regulations that [00:52:00] say if you are a federal contractor and you do business with the federal government, you should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They’re also saying under the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama was responsible for advancing, they’re saying under the affordable care act, we should be able to discriminate against you based on your gender identity and expression, meaning be denied health care. Those are just three examples in the LGBTQ space, but there are many others.
They’re looking to change the regulations on housing so that you can effectively deny housing in ways that you cannot deny housing to people. Now they are effectively trying to erode all of the protections that exist for marginalized communities. That’s what people should understand.
DeRay: As we come to a close, one of the things I want to ask is there a lot of young people identify as queer or [00:53:00] non-binary or trans who are trying to figure out what can their activism look like, what do they do? They see the world is falling apart and they are trying to figure out like what their role can be. What do you say to people when they ask you, “Hey Alfonzo, like what can I do to make a difference?”
AD: It depends on what your skills are, but you can start with volunteering. It’s not that complicated. You can sign up to volunteer. You can sign up to provide resources and support to organizations that don’t have those resources and support. We can make sure that you use your skills to provide assistance to people on the ground that need it. We are in the fight of our lifetime. This next election will determine whether or not we save or lose two generations of people.
And if you’re looking for opportunities to engage, we have more than enough. You can volunteer in whatever state you’re living in, and we can utilize your skills. If you’re focusing on communications or you’re focusing on organizing or you’re focusing on [00:54:00] education or you maybe, you want to provide legal support or accounting services, whatever it is, we have the need for, because we know on the other side of the fence, we have a federal administration that’s effectively demonizing people that don’t look like them and they have resources that we don’t have.
So to the extent people want to get involved, they should contact theHuman Rights Campaign. If we can’t take advantage of your efforts, we will certainly be in a position to refer you to people who can, because we need to work as a coalition, we need to work collaboratively to make sure that we advance this movement for change and that we actually succeed, because we have to get beyond the talk and we have to make sure that we engage in action and that we succeed over the next few months, because we cannot afford to lose.
DeRay: This is one of the questions that I ask everybody is what do you say to people who are like, I tried everything. I emailed, I [00:55:00] called, I voted. I stood in the street. I testified, and the world just hasn’t changed in the way that I was told it would. What do you say to those people, the people whose hope is being challenged in this moment?
For those, I would say if you’re sick and tired, take a break, but don’t quit. We cannot afford to quit the struggle for equality. Yes, the struggle is hard. Yes, the struggle takes time. Yes, sometimes we are disappointed. Take a break, if you’re disappointed, take a break, if you’re tired, but please don’t quit, because we need to make sure that we have all of the bodies that we need to achieve equality.
And again, nothing worth fighting for is easy. We know that from our history. And we have to remind ourselves of that as we run up this hill to seize back our country, run up this hill to achieve equality, which is something that we have to get.
DeRay: What’s a piece of advice that you [00:56:00] gotten over the years that stuck with you?
AD: Well, there’s two that come to mind. One is I clerked for a federal judge after law school, and he said to me, “All too often, people arrive at conclusions with too little evidence.” He was the great judge, Clifford Scott Greene, who passed away a number of years ago. “All too often people arrive at conclusions with too little evidence.”
The second for me is “never forget your capacity.” Never failed to appreciate how much capacity you have and always remember to dream and fully realize that capacity.
DeRay: Well you continue to be a dear Friend of the Pod. Thanks so much for doing Pod Save the People and I will see you in person soon I hope.
AD: I look forward to that. Thank you so much for having me.
DeRay: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcast, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week. [00:57:00]