Episode 16: Gun Violence and Pride, a Year After Pulse

The one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting, budget updates, and the healthcare news that somehow nobody is talking about. Subscribe to Off-Kilter on iTunes.

June is a celebratory month for the LGBTQ community — but, this year, it also marks the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. The anniversary also coincides with a shooting that targeted Republican members of Congress this past week. To discuss what’s unfolded since the Pulse shooting, as well as the paths forward for LGBTQ rights and gun violence prevention, Rebecca is joined by three colleagues from the Center for American Progress: Laura Durso, Audrey Juarez Rubio, and Chelsea Parsons. Also, as Congressional Republicans gear up to drop their own budget proposal following President Trump’s, Congressman John Yarmuth and Representative Barbara Lee join to discuss what’s at stake for everyone who isn’t a millionaire — or a big corporation. But first, Jeremy joins for this week’s installment of In Case You Missed It.

This week’s guests:

  • Congressman John Yarmuth
  • Representative Barbara Lee
  • Laura Durso, Center for American Progress
  • Chelsea Parsons, Center for American Progress
  • Audrey Juarez Rubio, Center for American Progress

For more on this week’s topics:

  • Read every word of Audrey Juarez Rubio’s article on the one-year anniversary of the Pulse massacre
  • More on violence against the LGBTQ community
  • Chelsea Parsons’ op-ed on how baseball is our national pastime, and gun violence is our national shame
  • Proof that the Senate’s healthcare repeal efforts are shrouded in secrecy

This program aired on June 16, 2017.


REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off-Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, I’m your host Rebecca Vallas. This month marks the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting that took 49 lives and left countless others, particularly members of the LGBTQ Latinx community feeling unsafe and under attack. To discuss the year that followed the shooting and the path ahead for both LGBTQ rights and gun control, I’m joined by three colleagues here at the Center for American Progress. Laura Durso, Chelsea Parsons and Audrey Juarez Rubio to reflect. Also, as Congress gears up to drop it’s own budget proposal following President Trump’s, I’m joined by two members of the House Budget committee, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congressman John Yarmuth to talk about what we can expect from House Republicans and why Trump’s budget isn’t DOA like the media told us. But first in case you missed it, Jeremy Slevin is here. And this week we decided that the entire In Case You Missed It segment should be devoted health care and what Republicans are trying to do to take it away from millions of Americans because everyone missed it because the media —

JEREMY SLEVIN: A lot of people missed it.

VALLAS: The media isn’t covering it at all! At all, Slevs.

SLEVIN: At all. So where things stand right now —

VALLAS: Well we should say why the media isn’t covering it before you start saying sensible things, like facts. [LAUGHTER] No, I’m sorry to vent, I’m also not sorry to vent. The media is covering Russia every single minute and this is not me saying in one, in any manner of speaking, that this Russia story that continues to develop by the day and by the hour and by the tweet is not critically important for our democracy, it is. But the media has not figured out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, and twenty some million Americans health care and possibly even lives are literally hanging in the balance and getting no attention.

SLEVIN: Well I think obviously there was tragic news this week with the Alexandria shooting, which rightfully got a lot of attention from national media but I think other than that, after that kind of, news cycle faded, it was back to Russia. And beforehand it was all the Sessions hearing, and wall to wall coverage of every step, excuse me, in the Russia investigation, as important as that is, the Senate is currently shrouded in secrecy, debating a bill that would take away healthcare from 23 million people. And I think part of the reason that it is falling on deaf ears is because the secret plan is working. By not talking about the bill, by trying to even ban reporters from interviewing senators in the hallways, they are avoiding the spotlight. And because there’s no bill, there’s no big number like in the house CBO score. There’s nothing we have to talk about. And it’s harder to talk about something that’s completely secret but that’s why it’s important than ever because the stakes are just as high.

VALLAS: So a lot of folks are saying, “Eh, the senate isn’t going to be able to pass something that’s nearly as bad as the house bill, so really let’s not worry, it’ll be something that’s more sensible. It’ll be something that looks a lot less,” well I’ll say deathly, I think that’s a fair adjective to use. What do we know about what’s in the bill and what do we know about whether that is actually a fair assumption?

SLEVIN: So I would say that is not a fair assumption. So, part of the problem, as I said, is that we don’t know exactly what is in the bill. We sent it over to the CBO, privately, without releasing it publically. And then they said, oh we actually sent the CBO multiple options. So they’re literally, not literally, they’re figuratively hiding the ball, it’s like that hat game where you don’t actually know which is the actual bill. But what do know from CAP’s own analysis is that it would reinstate lifetime caps on even employer plans. Which means if you have spent a certain amount of money under your plan, essentially people who are the most sick, who need the most care, your insurance is completely capped. And what the Center for American Progress, where we work, found is that that would cap 27 million people’s health care. That’s even larger than the number of people who would lose health care under the house bill. 27 million people who currently have employer insurance.

VALLAS: So just to make sure no one is missing that, because I think you just made a really important point, Slevs, it’s nice when this happens.


SLEVIN: It’s all too rare.

VALLAS: Let’s celebrate it every time. It doesn’t matter if you have health insurance that’s not provided by the exchanges or by Medicaid, right. A lot of folks are like, “Eh, what does this debate really mean for me? I have health insurance through my employer. I’m fine, I’m protected.” Answer is no, you’re not protected and to make this a little more concrete, Marta Conner, a friend of both yours and mine who has been a tremendously effective advocate for preserving Medicaid. She has a daughter with a significant health condition called Rett Syndrome. Caroline is 7 years old, would not be alive today if not for the health insurance she gets through Medicaid that supplements what the parents have through their employer. And guess what? They blow through those lifetime limits all the time because they need a level of care for her that they couldn’t afford and the employer wouldn’t pay for.

SLEVIN: And those lifetime limits were of course, banned in the ACA. You bring up another important aspect of the Senate health care which we also know about, which is that they said they are extending the lifeline of Medicaid expansion. Essentially what that means, instead of immediately rolling back all Medicaid expansion, they’re phasing it out over 7 years.

VALLAS: Phasing it out.

SLEVIN: So, that they’re saying —

VALLAS: It’s still ending it!

SLEVIN: It’s still ending it.

VALLAS: Just more slowly.

SLEVIN: And what Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican senator from West Virginia, she was asked about this. And she says, “Oh well, it’s just a transitional period.”

VALLAS: She literally said we should get the quote right, she told West Virginians that don’t worry you’re not losing your Medicaid, you’re just going to be in transition.

SLEVIN: So what she said, “I phrase it as a 7 year transitional period, either to Medicaid or to coverage, that’s as good as the Medicaid coverage that folks are on.”

VALLAS: It’s a promise that they can’t keep and shouldn’t be said. West Virginians, and there’s over 100,000 of them who are at risk of losing coverage because of the Medicaid expansion being ended. Maybe more slowly, but still ended. Yeah, I guess they’re in transition to sickness and possibly premature death? That’s the rest of the sentence that you —

SLEVIN: In fact, 150,000, that’s thanks to your own analysis that I pulled yesterday. 150,000 people with disabilities alone in West Virginia turn to Medicaid. So thousands of people with disabilities would lose essential Medicaid coverage under this plan.

VALLAS: So I think the takeaway here, you pointed out the kind of, working the ref a little bit I think is fair to say what’s happening with the Congressional Budget Office or the CBO. Republicans are trying to send them all these different options so that they at the moment when they’re going to vote, can have as little time as possible —


VALLAS: Between the CBO score being public. Because they can said a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B, a little bit from column C. CBO, whatcha got for us? As little time as possible between then and when they vote because they learned from the House of Representatives. The CBO score finding that 24 million Americans were going to lose their health insurance, that actually got a lot of play in March and it was a huge part of what sank the bill the first time around when they didn’t have enough votes.

SLEVIN: Yeah. And what’s terrifying, we’re seeing that this is a clear intentional strategy. Reporters are, since they reinstated the rule that allows reporters to interview Republicans, all senators in the hallways. Senators have been asked, “What’s in the bill, what’s in the bill? Have you seen what’s in the bill?” And every Republican senator is dodging and saying, it’d be nice if we were doing it in the open, but that’s not how we’re doing it. As if they are not the ones who are supporting this bill and shepherding it through the process.

VALLAS: Our hands are tied.

SLEVIN: So Orrin Hatch, the chair of the Senate Finance committee, which is one of the committees that would actually have jurisdiction over this bill if it were going through any resemblance of a normal process said, “Well join the crowd, I’m in the same category.” This was after he was asked what’s in the senate bill because the public doesn’t know. This is the guy who is charged with shepherding this bill to the floor.

VALLAS: Let’s not give them too much credit, right. I think the situation at this point is they realize how unpopular taking away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans is, they realize that people understand that and that there will be political consequences for them if they actually are held responsible. And so Senate republicans who are supporting this bill have basically two options. If they’re not voting against it, then they can either lie to their constituents about what the bill means, like Capito is doing. Saying eh, in transition, not you’re losing your health insurance. Or they can pass the buck and claim ignorance and say, “I don’t know what’s in the bill. My hands are tied.”

SLEVIN: It’s truly shameful to pass the buck over a bill that holds 23 million people, at the very least, health insurance in the balance.

VALLAS: So Slevs, we may not know what’s in the bill because they’re not telling us and they’re hiding under their hats, the things that are going to CBO. We may not know exactly how many people will lose health insurance under what they’re currently debating. But what we do know, at least as of right now, Friday morning is where things stand. How close are Democrats to potentially defeating this or getting enough common sense Republicans, if those are still in the Senate, to realize that this is not something they want to do.

SLEVIN: So that’s obviously the $6 trillion dollar, whatever the value of health care is in this country!

VALLAS: One sixth of our GDP.

SLEVIN: One sixth of our GDP, if I knew the total GDP I would have a better estimate. So as of today, and again, this is all smoke and mirrors, two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have said that they are opposed to the bill in the current form or suggest as much. Murkowski saying that she’s not on board with the current roll back of Medicaid, benefits of Medicaid expansion. Democrats need to pick off three Republicans to sink this bill. So if those two do not vote for this bill, we are one away. And the top candidate would be Dean Heller from Nevada, who is from a state that voted for Hillary Clinton in this past election and is up for election in 2018. He has gone basically radio silent on whether he will support this bill. So Dean Heller in Nevada, if you’re from Nevada, go to trumpcaretoolkit.org, call Dean Heller, jam the phones. He needs to hear from his constituents. Another one would be Jeff Flake from Arizona, who is also up in 2018 and I think, likely to be in a close election race. Trumpcaretoolkit.org if you want to influence your senators.

VALLAS: Now is the moment, if you haven’t called your member today, then call them now. If you have called your member today, call them again. Whether or not you’re in those states, every one needs to be letting folks know in Washington what they feel about this bill. Don’t go away, the house budget is due any day now and it will share much of the DNA as the Trump budget which would scorch the earth for everyone who is a not a millionaire or a large corporation. John Yarmuth is the ranking member of the budget committee and Barbara Lee, also a member of the budget committee join me in studio to discuss what we can expect. Don’t go away, stay tuned.


VALLAS: Congressman Yarmuth, Congresswoman Lee, thanks so much for joining Off-Kilter.

CONGRESSMAN JOHN YARMUTH: Pleasure to be here.

VALLAS: So just to get right down to it, we’ve heard a lot about President Trump’s budget over the course of the last month or so. And how it really is just about funnelling resources away from low income folks, middle income folks, up to the wealthiest people in this country. But at the same time, a lot of media coverage and frankly a lot of Republicans in congress have said, “Eh, don’t worry about it, the Trump budget, it’s dead on arrival.” Is that true and particularly from your perch as both members of the budget committee, and Congressman Yarmuth as the ranking member of the budget committee, is that something that you agree with? I’ll start with you Congressman Yarmuth.

YARMUTH: Well I think literally that it’s true that it’s dead on arrival but the problem is that there are many things in the Trump budget that are part of the Republican DNA. And we’ve seen a lot of these cuts in prior Republican budgets. Remember, Paul Ryan’s budget, which among other things, blockgrants Medicaid and makes deep cuts in Medicaid and has posed that for years, was considered so heinous politically that in 2012 presidential nominee Romney had to disavow it when Paul Ryan was his running mate. So we’ve seen these principles before. Cutting very important programs for, that help vulnerable Americans and working families across the country, and giving tax cuts to the very wealthiest and so we fully expect that the Republicans are going to push those principles in whatever they do, even though the actual Trump budget probably won’t see a vote.

VALLAS: And Congresswoman Lee, you’re not only a member of the budget committee and the appropriations committee, busy as you are in the house, but you also chair the Whip’s task force on poverty, income inequality, and opportunity. And in that role, you’re really a leading voice against many of these types of cuts that Congressman Yarmuth has been talking about. But one of the things that you’ve also been outspoken about in recent weeks is the fact that Trump, and we’re expecting congressional Republicans to hold hands with him in this regard, is calling for what he calls, work requirements in income assistance programs that help people put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Why is that not the way to go when it sounds so good to so many folks?

CONGRESSWOMEN BARBARA LEE: Well thank you very much, first of all, for giving us a chance to be with you. And I want to thank my ranking member and colleague Congressman Yarmuth for really leading the charge on our budget committee to making sure that, you know, Democrats are united in one, our opposition to this devastating Republican Trump budget. But also we have our vision for the future, which is about opportunity and jobs and economic security for everyone. With regard to work requirements, everyone, for the most part, wants a job, I mean I formerly was on public assistance, ok. And I wasn’t there because I wanted to be on public assistance, I was there during some very difficult times. It was a bridge over troubled water for me. And many people who are, who need a helping hand of their government, needed for a short period of time to get over some difficult times. And so to put onerous work requirements on for example, SNAP benefits, is outrageous. It’s immoral, it’s heartless, it’s wrong. They’re trying to first, cut SNAP benefits by $190 billion. Then they’re saying, you know, we’re going to increase and enhance the work requirements for eligibility for SNAP, then they cut workforce training by 40%, they cut apprenticeship training programs, they cut all of the initiatives that would help create jobs and some stability so that people can have a decent standard of living.

I just say, this is again reflective of their overall Republican agenda, now they have Steve Bannon, some call him President Steve Bannon, you know, with this right wing alt-right agenda. And his notion of deconstructing the administrative state is what we’re seeing now with all of these horrendous budget cuts and/or work requirements attached to eligibility for just programs which people deserve to make sure they have a decent standard of living. It’s horrible.

YARMUTH: And the reality is that the vast majority of the people who rely on these programs are working. They’re just not making enough money to be able to afford enough food and health care and so forth. So the people who can work are working, generally and this is just a, this is more than an ideological feel good thing for very conservative voters. It’s not something that actually matches the reality on the ground.

LEE: Yeah, and the majority of people who are on SNAP benefits, for example, they’re working. Majority of people who rely on Section 8 just to help live, a decent place to live, they’re working. Some are working two jobs, and so this is mean.

VALLAS: And as both of you have said in the past, it’s also a policy that doesn’t create a single job or raise anyone’s wages in the process, despite Trump’s promises. So you both represent very different districts in a lot of ways; geographically, the demographics of the people you represent, but both areas that would be harmed dramatically by these types of cuts. I would love to hear you both weigh in on how we can move past a very divisive conversation and narrative that in many ways is being fueled by the rhetoric from President Trump, from republicans in congress but also from the media, that sort of sets this white working class over here, and then these urban people, I’m putting that in large scare quotes, over there. And makes it sound as though they need different policies or what different agendas. And Congresswoman Lee, I’d love to start with you.

LEE: This is part of their overall agenda, really, quite frankly. And Donald Trump of course, led the birther movement, to delegitimize the first African-American president. You have many, many instances. Look at Steve Bannon, the alt-right white supremacist in the White House. And so you have people there whose history really has been a history of divisiveness, that they are trying to divide and conquer so that the millionaires and billionaires, you know, can have their day. And we’re not going to let that happen. And I always share to my colleagues and others who have working class, you know, white families in their districts who are feeling the pain, the opioid crisis. Well, African Americans have felt this pain for decades. And so we have a lot of common ground to work on. I mean, African Americans, for example, have been at the lowest end of the totem pole as it relates to jobs and economic security. Our schools have been in disarray, we have many social and economic issues that still haven’t been address. We should be the ones working with white working class families to make sure they understand, we get it. We feel your pain! We want to help, we need to be together so that we can make sure that everyone has an opportunity to the American dream and for a decent standard of living.

YARMUTH: Well, in my district I have a lot of, all of those voters. I have a very diverse district and of course, my district is just the city of Louisville so I’m surrounded by a lot of people who work in my district but who come from a little bit different background. So I hear all of these people and you know, the one thing that I keep coming back to is when you poll people about whether they support cuts in Medicaid, they don’t support them. Overwhelming majority support the continuation of the funding of these things because they understand that government is the way we organize our responsibilities to each other and we do have responsibilities to each other and this country by and large, is a very compassionate society. So I think what we’re seeing with Trump’s divisive language and his divisive budget is something that’s really out of step with the way most people in this country think.

VALLAS: Staying with you, in weeks ahead we are expecting congressional Republicans to come out with their own budget and as you predicted, it is expected to share much of the DNA as you put it, with the Trump budget, which itself looks a lot like longstanding congressional Republican wish list. What do you think we should be looking for, what happens once they introduce that budget and how can ordinary Americans get involved to say hands off these programs that we care so much about?

YARMUTH: Well I think we’ve seen in recent months a rising up of Americans who do understand what reality in America is and are resisting and are being heard. The pressure from constituents across the country stopped the first Republican health care bill. I think those voices are still loud and energetic. So as long as those voices still remain active I think we’re going to be ok. And remember in the, so hopeful sign, when we had to pass a spending bill for the last 5 months of the fiscal year we’re already in and the Trump administration proposed the same kind of cuts in the programs that we’re talking about, the very important ones that we’re talking about. Congress actually didn’t go through with them, we actually resisted all of those cuts. So I’m hoping that will public support we will be able to do the same thing for the 2018 budget and put the Trump administration on notice that he is very much out of touch with where America is.

VALLAS: Congresswoman Lee, we have a very engaged listenership. People often tweet at us, they email us, they want to know what can we do to make a difference and make our voices heard. What’s your call to action?

LEE: Well resist, first of all, the resistance movement is alive and well. And I think it’s very important to put the street heat on your members of congress. Marches, emails, contact with your elected officials, at this moment will make a difference. It’s extremely important, in California we say stay woke. Stay vigilant, you know stay vigilant. Do, social media is a major connector now. It’s a major political tool. Use social media to monitor and supervise and hold elected officials, hold their feet to the fire. And I think right now we see many young people really getting engaged in politics and in organizing, petitioning their government. Don’t let this happen. It’s going to be the voice of people, again, coming from my area, power to the people is really is a moment. The democracy is kicking in in a big way. We just need to rev it up and make sure that the resistance is strengthened and sustained. Because again, 2018 is right around the corner and we’re working very hard to take back this house because that presents and provides for a wall of resistance in the House of Representatives to stop this Trump agenda dead in its track. And so we have plenty of candidate we’re working with who can win. And so I would suggest to get in touch with some of us who are on the campaign front and help us in these election because we can pull this off.

VALLAS: Congresswoman Barbara Lee who is hot off of the Golden State win, congratulations to your team.

LEE: Go Warriors!

VALLAS: And Congressman John Yarmuth, thank you both for joining Off-Kilter, and I would encourage folks to visit HandsOff.org, where you can share your story about how you would be impacted by these horrific budget cuts and what you actually want to see congress doing. Thanks to you both so much for joining the show.

YARMUTH: My pleasure, thank you Rebecca.

LEE: Good to be with you.


VALLAS: You’re listening to Off-Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. June, Pride month, is a celebratory time for the LGBT community. But this year it also marks the first year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. On June 12th, 2016, 49 people, most of whom were members of the LGBT Latinx community were killed in what was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. Here to reflect on the moment that we are living in now and where we’ve come in the year since are three of my favorite friends and co-workers who I am really privileged to work with here at the Center for American Progress. Laura Durso is the Vice President of our LGBT Progress team, Chelsea Parsons is the Vice President of our Guns and Crime team, and Audrey Juarez Rubio is on our legal team but has other stuff she does too.


AUDREY JUAREZ RUBIO: I’m a renaissance woman.

VALLAS: Accurate, and we’ll get you new business cards before you leave. Ladies, thank you so much for joining for what I think is a really important and really timely conversation in a lot of ways. Audrey, I want to start with you because you wrote an op-ed that actually up on TalkPoverty.org this week reflecting on your feelings around the Pulse massacre a year ago. And I’d love for you to read the opening of that piece.

RUBIO: Sure. Thank you for having me. I was super proud to have the platform from Talk Poverty.

I still remember the metallic taste in my mouth when I first heard about the Pulse night club shooting. I was sitting on my couch, hung over from DC Pride, (sorry mom) scrolling through Twitter. My whole feed was full of AP alerts tallying the body count, of articles describing the lives lost, of members of the Orlando LGBTQ community searching for their loved ones. Almost immediately after that initial wave of nausea hit me, the tears came. And for about 24 hours, maybe more, they didn’t stop. Many LGBTQ people know what it’s like to feel rejected. Too many know what it’s like to be attacked. But to feel terrorized was a sensation that many of us weren’t familiar with. A year later, we are still grappling with it.

VALLAS: It’s been a year and we just commemorated DC Pride weekend this past weekend. I know you were there hanging out at the parties, probably hung over, sorry to your mom again. And I know Laura you were at a lot of the parties as well and really celebrating in a lot of ways but what was the feeling this particular weekend and this particular Pride month a year after the shooting?

LAURA DURSO: Unexpectedly, I think the feeling was one of sort of, defiance and resistance, which I think it just makes me continuously proud of the community because the work is exhausting. The work of equality and civil rights is exhausting and there are people who’ve been doing this for more than just the last 6 months since the election. And I was really struck by the fact that the community was really standing up to say, OK fine, the structures that we used to have in place here in DC that are very DC like going to the White House to celebrate pride or even just reading a proclamation. OK, those aren’t happening this year, we’re going to make our own.

VALLAS: Because Trump did not actually issue a proclamation.

DURSO: That’s correct, we have not seen anything from the president on that. And so the community stood up and said we’re going to do it ourselves. DC, there were more pride flags than I’ve ever seen out in storefronts and so I really admire people for continuing the work of visibility and of resistance and so it continued to be a celebration and in many it takes us back to a time when pride was really about protest. And there are certainly very valid criticisms about the commercialization of pride, the ways in which we now are meant to coexist with communities and institutions that have historically and plenty of contemporary examples of police violence against the community and so we’re back at that moment in time when this was about protest. This wasn’t about is Bank of America walking down the street like waving flags which is, you know, a debate for another day but I really struck by that, that it really felt like in some ways a return to the roots.

RUBIO: And I mostly agree with that, I think this was probably one of the more somber pride’s I’ve ever celebrated because, and I sort of talk about this in my piece but feels like the violence has not really let up. Like there was a mass killing of Latinx LGBTQ people but then like, there was violent rhetoric since then and before then, specifically towards that community by the person who is now leading our country. And so I agree that there was a lot of resistance but I think that for communities who aren’t always affected- by other, sort of, marginalizations, there’s a bit of rustiness to shake off to do that work. And I felt that a little bit. So I was happy to participate in pride. I was like you know, whenever I see a rainbow flag I tear up. But I think that for me, something really changed when Pulse happened because it was so specific to like, a niche community that I belong to that it made me look at our broader community differently. And so one example, there was like a Latinx dance party or something at Town, and I was like I’m not sure I want to go because that’s scary to me. Like I think again, when I go to like a gay club or something like that, because you just never know what’s going to happen. And then for me I’m like, oh maybe I’ll feel safer if there are lots of police in front of that place but also, what if you’re undocumented and you’re also Latinx and you want to go and dance but you’re like I don’t know if I want to have a really scary interaction with police. So I think this pride was much more somber for me. Like I was very much thinking about those folks and their lives when I was out, sort of celebrating.

VALLAS: And your piece speaks about fear as sort of a theme across, and sort of throughout what you describe, reflecting on a year ago and your emotions then and your emotions now. Fear is not something that’s new for the LGBTQ community, nor as you note, is it new for the Latinx community. Particularly folks who may be undocumented or maybe had negative experiences with law enforcement who are purportedly there to protect them and keep them safe. But Laura, this is something that a year ago, and I should have said this at the top. We actually, we talked in some constellation of you guys, I think Audrey we didn’t have you, which was an oversight on my part, but we had Laura and Chelsea a year ago talking about the Pulse massacre in that moment. And it was a point that you made then and that remains perhaps even more true now in this new political landscape, that fear is a very very real and very constant emotion for LGBTQ folks.

DURSO: Yeah, I’ll bring in a few statistics here. The Anti-Violence project just put out a new report I think just yesterday looking at 2016. And I wish I could say things are getting better but the report found that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ Americans. They even put aside Pulse, they said forget, let’s have Pulse live on its own. We still saw a 17% increase in anti-LGBT homicides from 2015 to 2016. Murders rose 217% if you include the Pulse victims. And unsurprisingly, you know the main targets are LGBT people of color, especially transgender women who are really bearing the brunt of hate violence and so the fear has always been there. I think that, I imagine it’s gone up in ways that none of us can truly comprehend and I think it’s been exposed for people sort of back to Audrey’s point, it’s been exposed for people who, because of relative privilege and security and safety, have not really had to grapple with these things before. And so the idea that you can be a victim of domestic violence, and be walking into a courtroom to get a restraining order against your abuser and be picked up by ICE in that courtroom. I don’t think would have gotten the same amount of news that it got before. But like that’s where we are now. And I think that people couldn’t fully comprehend what queer and trans communities, really black and brown people, have been experiencing forever. And now it’s getting exposed in new ways and my hope is that for those of us with privilege and those of us who are more safe and secure, that this is our time to be acting in the service of our friends and family members. That’s my hope because unfortunately I don’t think things are really getting better, they’re very clearly getting worse.

VALLAS: And I want to save a good chunk of the time that we’re talking today about, for a discussion about what we can do and how we can actually move forward and address this. But Chelsea Parsons I want to bring you in because, and you’re sitting here as an expert on gun violence and gun violence prevention. Obviously the Pulse massacre was not just a huge affront to the safety and the inclusion in public life of LGBTQ folks and Latinx folks but it was yet another instance of what happens when it is so freaking unbelievably easy to get a gun in this country. It’s hard to have this conversation this week without also noting, we’re in the wake right now, just a couple of days as we’re taping after another shooting. This time the targets were Republican members of congress on a baseball field. As we talk about fear and as we talk about sort of, what various advocacy communities and self advocacy communities are feeling. I just want to ask you sort of a hard question that I know I’m feeling looking at you across the table. It must be so unbelievably hard and hopeless to be someone fighting for gun prevention, gun violence prevention in this country after Newtown and everything else, not having gotten us to a point where there’s a bipartisan embrace to common sense policy.

CHELSEA PARSONS: Yeah I mean, I think, you know, picking up on what Laura was just saying about you know, the obligation for those of us with privilege to use this moment as one where we really are acting, there are communities, many communities in this country where parents don’t send their children to baseball practice because either the walk to the field isn’t safe or playing on the field isn’t safe. Because there is such rampant gun violence that happens every day that never gets picked up by the media. There are schools in DC where there’s been some studies done about the, there’s gunfire during the school day within earshot of these schools. And so we have elementary school children in the district who go to school and hear gun shots. And what does that mean for them and their experience growing up. How can they feel safe? And so you know, I feel as somebody who does this work kind of as a profession, you know, I don’t have the luxury to kind of, feel disheartened. Or to feel like it’s just too hard and it’s not work that we can do. Because you know, one of the calls to action by some of our colleagues in the LGBT community this week was honor with action, right? And so I feel a really heavy obligation to the families of the 90 people who are killed with guns every day. To keep working and just to keep raising this issue and you know, it’s, I call gun violence a uniquely American problem.

And you know, I wrote an op-ed yesterday that was posted in the LA Times you know, talking about how while baseball might be America’s pasttime, you know, gun violence is our American shame. And the fact that we have the levels of gun violence, and not just gun deaths, which are extraordinarily high. You know, the gun murder rate in the United States is 25 times higher than all of our peer nations, right. But as I was saying, just the impact on communities where there are shootings, where there are bullets flying everyday, you know, this is a national shame. And the fact that there are so many things we could be doing about it is incredibly frustrating. That we haven’t been able to take any of these steps.

VALLAS: And staying with you for a moment, and I appreciate so much the feeling of not having the luxury of feeling hopeless or like it’s not worth doing. I work on poverty, and I get that question probably six times a week after someone says, “You’re doing God’s work,” and then I want to slug them and say no, I care about humans. That’s what I do. No, you can’t say it’s not possible to break through here or to see progress because if you start from that premise then what are we doing here. But that being said, you know, in a week where Republican members of congress, including the majority whip Steve Scalise, were actually targeted in what appears to be a premeditated why, by someone, we don’t know all the motivations, all this is very much a developing story, but these are people who are members of a party that has said in no uncertain terms, nope. We are not going to do a goddamn thing about making sure that communities are safe from gun violence. And that’s just going to be the end of the conversation. Does this change anything and if it doesn’t, what does that mean for the movement and the conversation?

PARSONS: Yeah I think part of the, one of the more maddening aspects of the gun debate so to speak, in this country is the fact that the debate as it exists in congress is incredibly different from the conversations that you have with folks in the community, I call it, you know, real people, right? And so the debate in congress over this issue has really been one of those folks who support common sense measures to prevent gun violence from a perspective of we should insure that it’s not so easy for people who have a dangerous intent, or you know, who shouldn’t have guns to be able to get them, versus folks who think the way that we insure safety in all of our communities is to have as many guns in as many hands as possible. The myth of the good guy with a gun.

VALLAS: Who’s going to stop the bad gun with a gun, thank you Wayne LaPierre.

PARSONS: Exactly. And so that, and in some sense, those are just different conversations and so that is why we get to this impasse the way that we do. And again, you mentioned Wayne LaPierre, this whole good guy with a gun myth is very much driven by the NRA and by the gun lobby who have an interest in selling more guns. And that is what the rhetoric of fear that really started with the gun lobby, with the NRA, and then was picked up by Trump during his campaign. But that rhetoric of fear makes people, exacerbates feelings of not being safe. And then the solution being offered is not to address whatever the cause of that lack of safety is, but instead to protect yourself with a gun. And so it’s, and there’s lots of data to show that that is not actually true. If you have a gun in your home, it’s much more likely that someone in your home will be injured or killed with it.

VALLAS: Including maybe your toddler, which happens almost every day.

PARSONS: Exactly. So there’s a lot of, this is kind of what makes the gun issue so challenging. And we really do, I mean, it’s interesting to see this whole alternative facts and what we’re dealing with in all areas, frankly, of policy making right now. We have been dealing with that in the gun space for reals. Really we can’t, I mean I once was asked to debate one of the NRA’s researchers, which I originally said no, and then eventually I was like OK, fine. So I did it. But I actually, when I went into it I said you know what, we’re not really going to have a debate because you’re going to talk about your flawed research that has not been peer reviewed.

VALLAS: Research should be in large large scare quotes.

PARSONS: And I’ll talk over here about facts and you know, we will just have paralel presentations. But it’s not a debate. But again, if you, I’ve talked to people and I live in Virginia, and Virginia is a place that has a lot of gun owners and a lot of people who are you know, kind of proponents of gun ownership.

VALLAS: It’s also where the shooting occurred earlier this week.

PARSONS: And it’s where the shooting occurred. And I’ve had lots of conversations with people who you know, when they first hear what I do they’re like Oh, so you’re against the 2nd amendment. So then we get past that. But when you actually have conversations with people, well do you think that everybody should have to have a background check before they buy a gun? Well, of course! Do you think that people should be able to carry concealed loaded guns in elementary schools. Well, no! I mean they’re —

VALLAS: These numbers are true even among gun owners.

PARSONS: Absolutely. So the thing is is that actually if we could get past the rhetoric, get the NRA out of the way and maybe get people like me out of the way and just have you know, regular folks having conversations about these issues. We agree more than we disagree, but when it goes through the filter and the kind of the cyclone of spin then we end up in this place where it seems like there’s nothing that we can do.

VALLAS: Well and I want to zoom out just a little bit and also bring Laura and Audrey back in because the gun piece, it’s a piece of this but it’s not the whole story. And you mentioned sort of the alternative facts being something you guys have been contending with for a long time. But fear and violence are not new to the LGBTQ community, they are not to the Latinx community or to immigrants more broadly, to people of color which we should acknowledge and reflect on as part of this conversation. But all of this has sort of come to what I hope is a head, and is not even going to continue to increase in the age of Trump, where we have a president sitting in the White House who has, all of you have mentioned as some point already in this conversations, has sort of put it all on steroids. And has made it ok and legitimate to speak in violent ways, to act in violent ways and to target communities who are now feeling marginalization in sort of renewed and reinvigorated, tragically, ways. I’m curious if you have thoughts on what that feels like from these different components of the communities that you guys belong to, not just professionally but also personally.

RUBIO: Hmm, agreed. I don’t know if I’m optimistic that this is coming to a head. So I come at this from a few perspectives. I have had the privilege in my life, I was born in Southern California, there were lots of Mexican-American kids around me, I didn’t feel very special about that. My last name was much easier to say for people who live in southern California. And like I come from an immigrant family, but I never really thought about my race super critically until I moved here, to be honest, because I was in an enclave of my folks. I have always thought about being LGBTQ. I have always, always thought about that. And so I think for me in the age of Trump, I think the most angry I’ve ever been was when he announced that he was running for president. Because he said when Mexico was sending their people, they were not sending their best, and that they were sending rapists and criminals and I interpreted that as him talking about my family. And him talking about my mom and the people who I believe make this country great.

So I like, I felt very personally attacked by that. And then the attacks just like, continued. And I think one small thing is that I had short hair for a very long time, I grew it out, and then I cut it last week. And my mom was like I love it but aren’t you worried? And I was like, yeah, and that was part of why I had waited so long to cut it. Because at least, you know, there is lots of like anti androgynous, anti sort of like genderqueer experiences that I’ve had like in restrooms and in things like that. But I can’t help but feel like in the era of Trump people, like there’s less shame about it. Like I definitely see people feeling much more comfortable being discriminatory because they feel like they’ve been vindicated. They’re like, oh it’s not just me. Lots of people feel this way.

And so I see two-fold. I see that as an androgynous lesbian like in my day to day life. I feel it as someone who’s whole ancestry has really been attacked. And so but I don’t know if it’s coming to a head or not, and I think that’s the scary part. Because you know, these are white GOP congressman and they’re being attacked. Them being unsafe does not make me feel safer. That makes me feel even less safe because there were capitol police there, thank God. Like who is defending people who are in the shadows? I don’t know who those people are besides their own communities and we need the support. So that’s sort of the angle that I come at it with. I think that we need to do a lot more coalition building and it can’t just be, you know, around these like parties or things like that, it has to be real. And I think that means having uncomfortable conversations, I think that means being very honest with each other, but I wish I could be more optimistic about it but I think that a lot of folks who like me, had the privilege of not having to think about one facet of their identities are very much like, oh, this is a thing. This is who I am and there’s no way to get around that.

DURSO: And I think one of the scary things about how that violence dissipates. Like if we’re looking for a breaking point, or a point at which it subsides, one of the scary things is that the point of violence and the point of fear is to put people back in the closet. And so the violence, we may not hear about it, we may not see it because people can’t leave their homes or they flee or they don’t talk about things anymore. And that’s where we’re going, there is a closet we are trying to be put into and not just as LGBTQ people, which strikes me, you know, Chelsea and I have been talking a lot about some of the parallels in the movements. And when you talk about a kid not being able to walk from his house to a baseball field, the house becomes another closet, right. Like that is, it’s the same forces at work to try to keep people out of public life. It’s the same forces at work that say, the congressional apathy around gun violence prevention and around advancement of civil rights for LGBTQ people is kind of like, yeah yeah yeah we get it but it’s not our job. Like we’re not here for that. Completely ignoring the fact that every congressional district in the country supports LGBT civil rights.

And so that to me is incredibly scary that they can win and violence goes away because we recede. And so I totally agree with Audrey, this is one of those coalition building moments because the only way to combat that is to put ourselves in harms way to still be visible.

VALLAS: So as we’re talking and I’m sort of struck by a interesting collision of trends but also sort of, it’s like the kind of graph where you’ve got two lines and one of them is going down and one of them is going up and like they cross. And I sort of feel like we’re at this weird moment where you’ve got as you describing Laura and also Audrey, this wonderful outpouring of defiance. You know what, this is who I am, this is my identity coming from communities who historically have been marginalized, who have been kept in that closet and who have needed to be in a closet in order to be able to go to work and not lose social capital and on and on. But at the same time, as that gap, as that chasm between what members of congress, particularly Republican members of congress are advancing in the name of a policy agenda, whether it’s removing health care from some 20 to 24 million Americans and ending Medicaid as we know it. All of those policies are so deeply unpopular, we’re actually watching members of congress on the Republican side of the aisle hide in the bushes and not go to their own town halls because they’re so scared, frankly of their own constituents whom they’re not listening to and whom they’re not representing. Is that a fair observation and what do we make of that?

RUBIO: Welcome to our world. I mean welcome to not feeling heard or listened to or appreciated. I mean, I’m from —

VALLAS: Yet they remain in power which is an important difference.

RUBIO: Yeah, but this is nothing new, right? Like I, so my parents live in Darryl Issa’s district and much to my delight to be honest, because I’ve never heard my mother be so lit about something political in her life. We do not like Darryl Issa. He is the worst, I hope he hears this somehow because I think you’re the worst.

VALLAS: And you’re saying that not personally but because of the policies.

RUBIO: Because of the policies, because as a cancer survivor I would like, as a 25 year old cancer survivor I would like to have health care. I would like to live longer than like 5 years from now. I would enjoy that, so would my mother.

VALLAS: And me.

RUBIO: I mean yeah.

VALLAS: And everyone sitting here.

RUBIO: A few other vested parties. But I don’t know, I mean don’t feel bad for them, right. Like it’s hard to feel bad for people who you are there to represent your constituents’ wellbeing. At least they’re being alive, right? For someone like Darryl Issa who has veterans in his district, who has people who need help, it’s shameful. So I don’t, maybe they’re also in their own little closet but it’s definitely of their making.

VALLAS: Well I’ll take this to the last couple of minutes that I have with you guys of sort, I’m throwing out a bomb there in terms of like just, this is where my head is. But I guess that’s part of what gives me hope. I’ll put my cards on the table. That if there is this increasing awareness by members of congress, that they’re actually wildly out of step with what their constituents are asking for. They may continue to vote for these policies for the time being but are they signing their termination slip in the midterms or in 2020 and does this actually bring about some kind of a revolution wherein the people who were the marginalized populations but who enjoy broad support on the part of this country. And I’m talking about policies that allow them to make equal pay and go into the bathroom that’s appropriate for them and on and on, to live in safe communities, does that force change?

PARSONS: I mean I think that, I would like to be an optimist and so I think that it does. I mean look, this is our country. I think that we have to keep working and we have to keep holding these members accountable and you know, it’s unacceptable. And so I think there has been a lot of energy ever since the election. I mean I think all of us were stunned and you know I think that we’ve seen the energy sustained so far. Certainly this administration and this congress have not left us with a lack of things to be energized about and against. And so I think that it’s our responsibility, again, to go back to this idea of those of us with privilege, it’s our responsibility those of us progressives with privilege to keep doing the work and fighting for our progressive values. And lending our voices or stepping back to lift up the voices in communities like Audrey was talking about. And making space and making sure that we just keep on it. On all of these things. Because to do otherwise is just completely unacceptable.

DURSO: And I will stick with the optimism that real people and that evidence wins the day you know, at the congressional level. I think that it’s also important to put in the things that I am hopeful about. Yes the federal government has a ton of power, and these members of congress wield it in ways that are completely unacceptable to me. But there is great power in bottom up approaches and so I just want to put on the table that I think (INAUDIBLE) that around 50 municipalities added non-discrimination ordinances since 2015 which is when we got nationwide marriage equality. Those are fifteen different states, all of which back Trump, more than half of those counties are places that backed Trump. And so I think it’s, even if we are staring down a congress that has clearly registered its intent to harm us, I think in multiple ways we can’t discount the fact that there is going to be a continued lifting up and groundswell that at some point covers the whole country, whether or not congress does anything about it. And so I have to believe that if we can keep adding things at the state and local level, we will force their hand, if it’s not in 2018 but it’s soon. Because you just can’t get away with the fact that the country is moving in a particular direction and they can come along if they want but we’re just going to make it happen.

VALLAS: Audrey, you’ll get the last word. Make it good, and optimistic this week, I need it please.


RUBIO: I’m going to go along with the optimism, yes, team optimism. So I agree. I totally agree, I think people are, like this is good anger. This is, I mean some of it’s coming from fear, but like there are people who haven’t really been fearful for numerous reasons or haven’t really felt politically engaged, has sort of just been going along who are like, wow, going along doesn’t work anymore. So I think, I mean all of this stuff is being met with so much anger and it’s not just deluded anger or frustration like, it is really visceral. Like, the resistance is so visceral and so real and so passionate and creative that I don’t know how you can stop it. It’s unstoppable. And I think a lot of us have been working with storytelling, like listen to people who are going through these experiences in different communities. And I think that’s the most important part. I think that’s something that has been missing for a long time is that people like us who have the privilege of working on these things and talking about these things, we forget that this is people’s day to day lives. We forget where we come from, we forget our roots. And so I think now we’ve all been snapped out of that, it’s like no you need to go back to where you came from. Like you need to go back to your communities and have those conversations that are awkward and painful. And you need to rep for people who aren’t comfortable. Like I so admire Laura Durso, she is the greatest and totally inspires me to like own my stuff. And so I sort of am of the opinion that I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going back in the closet, I will continue writing about whatever the hell I want to write about. And I do that for me because I like being me, but I also do it for the kids in small communities who can’t come out. I do it for like the undocumented kid who gets teased for being undocumented or for the muslim kid who gets teased for being muslim. Like I do it for those people so I think that resistance is powerful.

VALLAS: Powerful words to end on and more of Audrey’s powerful words at TalkPoverty.Org. Her essay is titled “A Year after Pulse, We are More than Survivors.” Audrey Juarez is the legal coordinator at CAP, keeps us from breaking the law on most days when she’s doing her job well among other things. Chelsea Parsons is the Vice President for Guns and Crime at the Center for American Progress and Laura Durso is the Vice President for LGBT Progress, which we all very much want to see in the weeks, months and years ahead.

And that does it for this week’s episode of Off-Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas. The show is produced each week by Eliza Schultz. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @OffKilterShow. And you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the We Act Radio network, or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.

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