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Guest Editorial: Nightmares on labor, race and poverty

Posted: February 3rd, 2017 | Editorial, Opinion & News, Opinions | No Comments

By Rick Braatz

It’s been about two weeks since we’ve entered the Twilight Zone. The Doomsday Clock, which represents a symbolic countdown to global disaster, is now set at two and a half minutes till catastrophe.

In less than a week, King Narcissist ousted State Department leadership, mandated all Environmental Protection Agency studies to go through “political review,” banned refugees from entering the U.S., and ordered to have illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in sanctuary cities be published weekly (emulating a Nazi Germany policy). It should be no surprise that George Orwell’s book “1984” is surging in sales.

Among Trump’s corrupt (bursting with conflicts of interest), right-wing cabinet nominees are: Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who appears to have no clue about race and racism; Tom Price, for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, who wants to puncture our social safety net; and Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder, who has a history of preying on the working poor.

LGBT people — particularly the LGBT working class, those relying on poverty programs and those involved in the criminal justice system — should take notice. These three cabinet picks are bound to make life more painful for you.

LGBT workers and Puzder

The vast majority of LGBT people in the U.S. work in low or working class jobs — everything from working at the Gap to doing auto repair. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that 39 percent of LGBT people are living on less than $30,000 and another 39 percent make between $30,000 and $75,000.

In an era of declining union membership and huge wealth and income inequality, we need a labor secretary who will advocate for our rights as employees. The mission of the Department of Labor is to promote the welfare of workers, including those who are LGBT; but under Puzder’s possible leadership it may very well focus more on supporting worker exploitation.

As head of CKE Restaurants (which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s), Puzder has a history of shortchanging his workers. The New York Times reports that Puzder’s company, during his reign, has turned over millions of dollars to settle lawsuits involving not paying his managers fairly, pressuring workers to not take breaks and/or falsifying their time cards to reduce hours worked.

The social safety net and Price

While far from being able to help people rise out of poverty, U.S. social safety net programs (like food aid, unemployment and Obamacare) still help millions of people make ends meet, including LGBT people. And LGBT people are more likely to receive government assistance than their straight counterparts. The Williams Institute reports that roughly 14 percent of lesbian couples and nearly 8 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps (versus 6.5 percent of heterosexual couples).

As a community, we need a secretary that will protect the programs that we have, not demolish them. Trump’s nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid) is sure to do the latter. Price is a wealthy orthopedic surgeon and Republican congressmember from Georgia. He is anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood and definitely anti-Obamacare. He fought Hillary Clinton in the 1990s when she proposed a form of healthcare reform.

Among the many proposals to repeal Obamacare being circulated by Congress is sure to be Price’s Empowering Patients First Act. As reported on Vox.com, Price’s plan includes repealing Medicaid expansion (leaving millions of people without health care), charging patients with preexisting conditions more and eliminating the mandate that insurers must cover “essential health benefits” like mental health care and addiction treatment.

The criminal justice system and Sessions

Many LGBT people are entangled in the criminal justice system. Due to both transphobia and homophobia — which can lead LGBT people to engage in illicit drug use, become homeless or engage in survival economies like sex work — as well as institutionalized racism, LGBT people, particularly LGBT people of color, are more prone to interact with law enforcement and enter the prison system.

Roughly 8 percent of prisoners in state and federal prison are LGBT (per the National Inmate Survey 2011-2012), which, the Center for American Progress notes is roughly double the rate of identified LGBTs in the U.S. population.

In an era where many are questing the logic of racist policing and caging people, we need an attorney general who won’t make matters worse. Unfortunately, Sen. Jeff Sessions is not that person. The Nation reports that back in 1986, Congress blocked Sessions’ nomination to become a federal judge due to his racist views.

In 1995, when Alabama brought back the chain gangs (an ugly reminder of Jim Crow), Sessions called it “perfectly proper.” He has criticized Department of Justice decrees to reform racist police departments (such as Ferguson). And, after the Charleston church massacre, when the Alabama governor removed the confederate flag from the statehouse, Sessions defended its history.

Sessions, Price and Puzder — three men with horrific records on race, labor and poverty programs. Besides the ongoing chaos and dysfunction of Trump, they should make many LGBT people very concerned.

—Rick Braatz is a sociologist, social worker, a journalist and a former editor of Gay San Diego. He can be reached at rickbraatz@gmail.com.

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