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Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. In recent years, MAGA extremists have stepped up their attacks on LGBTQI+ communities and transgender youth in particular. Many of the most radical candidates have even made these issues pillars of their midterm campaigns. So, I’m very excited that today I’ll be talking to Kate Sosin, a reporter at The 19th who focuses on transgender rights, incarceration, politics, and public policy. We’ll be discussing these despicable attacks on LGBTQI+ rights, how these dangerous laws are already affecting families and communities across the country, and what all of this might mean going into November. But first, we have to get to some news.
OK, if you have student loans, listen up: You might not anymore, or you might have significantly less. The Biden administration canceled student debt for millions of borrowers on Wednesday and reduced debt for millions more, fulfilling President [Joe] Biden’s promise to put that money back in the pockets of the American people. It is so nice to be able to share good news like this with you.
Here are the nitty-gritty details: The executive action will cancel $20,000 in federal student debt for Pell Grant recipients, cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt for other borrowers, and extend the student loan payment pause. The plan will cancel the debt of borrowers making less than $125,000 a year and cap payments at 5 percent of income.
If you need more proof that Biden’s economic agenda helps all Americans and puts the American people first, it’s this. This is your proof. This relief will help millions of young people kick-start their careers and reach financial security faster than generations prior. It will ease the disproportionate burdens on Latino borrowers and Black borrowers, who, on average, owe almost double what white borrows owe. It will counteract years of predatory practices by expensive, for-profit institutions that leave borrowers in debt for decades.
Maybe it sounds like I’m exaggerating here, but I’m not. Crushing college costs, lack of public investment, and predatory student loan institutions have wreaked havoc on our economy. Combating them will improve our nation’s competitiveness and help tackle economic disparities, including significantly narrowing the racial wealth gap. Even if you don’t have student loans right now, this benefits you. Your friends, family members, and neighbors will have more financial flexibility to do things like start their own businesses, seek new career opportunities, or invest in their communities. That’s why a majority of Americans—even a majority of Republicans under the age of 50—have indicated support for student debt cancellation.
And look, we can discuss the details of this plan and how much more we would have liked to see, but we need to recognize in this moment that any student loan forgiveness is a huge step—one that would have been unthinkable under the former guy. Now of course this historic announcement can and should be a springboard for broader action to help solve the student debt crisis. A few more things that we can do to combat the skyrocketing cost of higher education and the predatory lending that plagues borrowers: First, we’ve got to call on Congress to double funding for the Pell Grant program, so that it actually meets the demands of today’s college system. Next, the Department of Education needs to use tools at its disposal to hold colleges accountable for their students’ outcomes. Congress and the Biden administration must enact policies that would make at least two years of college universal or free for eligible students. And finally, Congress needs to boost funding for community colleges and minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities], so that the colleges doing the most important work promoting opportunity get the funding they need to serve students well.
So, I’m encouraged by what we saw this week. I know it will really help ease economic struggles of many Americans, and it’s a very encouraging first step in fixing a system that really needs attention.
Now, unfortunately, we need to turn to some more fraught news. Today marks two months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and it has been a confusing, frightening, and dystopian time. In just two months, MAGA Republicans in states across the country have moved to either severely limit access to abortions, or outright ban them with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life. Mind you, these states are usually the same ones that are unwilling to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers. So, so much for being the quote-unquote “pro-life” party.
Just this week, Tennessee passed one of the strictest abortion bans to date. The new law contains no exceptions for rape or incest, even for victims of child sexual abuse, and it makes it much easier to criminally charge abortion providers—as the state wouldn’t have to prove that an abortion was medically unnecessary in order to arrest a provider. And they’re not alone. Idaho’s near-total ban on abortions is set to go into effect today. This law also bans all abortions, but with exception of rape or when the patient’s life is in danger. But it still forces patients to carry their pregnancies even when it poses major health risks, such as organ failure or stroke. Texas also has a new law going into effect today, which would make it a second-degree felony for anyone to attempt, perform, or induce an abortion. This is terrifying.
And these bans are already having a chilling effect across the country. Many doctors, even in states where abortion is not yet banned, are unwilling to perform abortions for fear of being prosecuted. In states where abortion has been restricted or banned, patients with medically necessary abortions are being denied lifesaving care, and many have to resort to expensive, and potentially dangerous, interstate travel as a result.
It’s just astonishing how far MAGA Republicans are willing to go to establish state control over people’s bodies, medical decisions, and right to travel. MAGA Republicans have proven time and time again, be it on abortion rights, gun safety measures, or Social Security, just how out of touch they are with the American people. Now, you all know I’m no fortuneteller, but it does seem like the American people are starting to recognize MAGA extremism when they see it. Just take a look at this week’s results out of the special election in New York’s 19th Congressional District. On Tuesday, Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Mark Molinaro in the swing district thought to be a bellwether for November. Ryan’s campaign focused heavily on the fight to protect abortion rights and reproductive freedom. And clearly, his message resonated with voters. That’s all I’ll say about that. But it’s encouraging that voters are seeing MAGA Republicans for what they are: extremists, plain and simple.
If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our interview with Kate Sosin in just a beat.
Kate Sosin is the LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th, an independent nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy. Kate writes about transgender rights, incarceration, hate crimes, and more, and has conducted deep-dive investigations into transgender prison abuse and homicides for NBC News. They previously worked at Logo TV, INTO, and Windy City Times. Kate, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”
Kate Sosin: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Gibbs Léger: So, we’ve had a lot of bills introduced or passed at the state level this year targeting LGBTQI+ people in schools, from Florida’s quote-unquote “Don’t Say Gay” bill and its many copycats, to bills targeting trans students’ identities, their ability to compete in school sports, and even which bathrooms they’re allowed to use. What kinds of ramifications from these bills might we start to see as students are continuing to head back to school over the next few weeks? And why and to what end do you think the extremists behind these bills are targeting schools and children?
Sosin: I think it’s hard to imagine the many unforeseen consequences that are going to come out of these bills. Top level, we do know that schools are becoming less safe for LGBTQ youth, and they look a lot different than when I went to school, certainly, which is that a lot of kids are out. And a lot of kids are supportive of kids who are out. It’s a different climate than when my generation was young.
And, you know, I talked to kids in Florida. I went to Orlando, Winter Park High School, and most of the school walked out in protest of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And the few who didn’t, kids felt really negative toward the people who did not walk out or had walked out, maybe, but were only walking out to get out of class. It feels like a lot of the students support LGBTQ students, and there’s this dissonance with parents who don’t.
But what it means is that those safe places where kids might go to school, find peers who support them, that’s going to be in conflict with these bills, right? So we might see schools reporting to parents and outing these young people, and they might not be safe at home, which I think is a really big deal. And then, on the health care front, you know, we’ll maybe be forcing kids through puberty when they are not prepared to do that. Puberty blockers, of course, are a medical intervention where kids can pause puberty if they have gender dysphoria, and then make a decision later about whether or not they want trans-affirming medical care. And so, I think the long and short of it is, we just don’t know, but I expect to see a mental health crisis among many of our LGBTQ kids beyond what we are already seeing.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, and in addition to what we’re seeing from state legislatures, there’s also concern that the Supreme Court will take up cases on LGBTQI+ rights that could go on about as terribly as the Dobbs ruling. Obviously there’s concern that they could potentially overturn Obergefell v. Hodges—the case that secured the right to same-sex marriage—but also, in the more immediate future, we have this upcoming Supreme Court case, which is basically rehashing the debate over whether businesses can discriminate against LGBTQI+ people on the basis of religion, and particularly same-sex couples. It feels like, obviously, we’re taking many, many steps backwards. So, what are you watching on the Supreme Court front and how worried should we be about the justices rolling back these rights?
Sosin: You know, in legal circles, I think there is a fair amount of panic, and that is real, right? Then in the same breath, I think historically, we’ve seen LGBTQ+ rights move incredibly quickly. And I think a lot of other movements have noted, “Why did LGBTQ+ rights move so fast?” And a lot of that is about who was at the front of those movements, but also just a lot of people know LGBTQ+ people and care about LGBTQ+ people. This has been framed as a Democrat and Republican issue, but Republicans do have friends and family who are gay, who are bi, who are trans, who are queer. And I think when we start getting into this in a really deep way, and we start taking things away and realizing that it impacts all of us, we’re going to be having a different conversation.
And I know that’s not a satisfying answer, but what I want to say is when we get down to the human elements of conversations about this, and we start to realize people can’t get a house because they’re gay, people can’t move about the world because they’re gay, and those are people we care about, I think I would be less worried. I think that it’s important to focus on the human elements of these stories and think about the fact that you can only really do so much before people will push back.
Gibbs Léger: On the on the flip side of all of this, we just got some really great news—not from the Supreme Court, of course, but from a federal appeals court that recently ruled gender dysphoria as a protected disability. Could you break down this news for our listeners—what it means and why is it so important?
Sosin: So basically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been used in the past to secure rights for trans people, and a court previously had stated that it would not apply to trans people. Recently, this has been reinstated. What it means now is that trans people—particularly trans folks who are incarcerated—fall under ADA protections and should be able to access gender-affirming health care. And what we’ve seen, particularly in those settings, is that trans folks don’t have access to hormones, to affirming surgeries. And we’ve seen lawsuits for years and years and years around this. So having this stated, having it in this particular moment, is going to be really critical in terms of folks getting care that is medically necessary.
Gibbs Léger: I also want to talk about how both the struggles we’ve discussed, as well as the wins—all the issues we’ve seen in the news related to the LGBTQ+ community—are talked about in the media. You’ve been critical of some of the ways your fellow journalists have reported on issues like gender-affirming care, pronoun usage, and more, and how that influences public discourse. What are the responsibilities that reporters have in covering these issues? And what could major newsrooms be doing to be better in their reporting?
Sosin: I think a lot of newsrooms have really struggled in the past couple of years, as we’ve seen more anti-trans bills, with how to report in a way that is quote-unquote “fair” or “objective,” and feeling like different people’s different feelings about this debate need to be considered or covered. And I understand wanting to do that, but when you have a question about the humanity of a person, I don’t think it’s appropriate to weigh public opinion on whether or not someone deserves basic rights. It’s just like sending people to the polls to vote on—and this is probably perhaps going to happen if Obergefell is overturned because there’s so many constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in states—which is that people have to go to the polls and vote about whether or not LGBTQ+ people can get married in state to state. But anytime you’re asking general opinion—meaning cisgender people—whether or not transgender people have rights, we’re failing, right? Because we’re asking about the humanity of an underrepresented minority.
And I feel like that’s what we’re engaging in as journalists right now in this moment, which is asking anyone else about, if transgender people should be allowed to exist, should be allowed to get medical care, should be allowed to use the bathroom, should be able to participate in public life, sports, is a really inhumane thing to do. But we keep doing it because we’re incapable of understanding that there’s this huge power differential. And so, it’s really been difficult for me, as a trans person and a reporter, to see us continue to make that mistake over and over and over again, because I think our mandate is to speak truth to power. And power in this case is folks who are not transgender, folks who are white. I want us to slow down and think about that, and think about, historically, what that has meant and looked like, and I don’t think we’ve been doing that very well when we cover trans stories.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, and I wonder if part of that reasoning is who makes up newsrooms and who makes those decisions. Who’s sitting around the table? If you don’t have a diverse group of people with varied life experiences being able to say, “Hey, actually, the way you’re talking about this or covering this is wrong,” who’s going to be in that room speaking that truth to power? I think that calls for making sure that our newsrooms are as diverse as they possibly can be.
I want to switch a little bit and talk about some of your reporting. How we talk about these issues is important, especially as we head to the midterms. And it’s important to know that the LGBTQI+ community, like all communities, is not a monolith. So, from what you’ve seen in your reporting, what are some of the key priorities for LGBTQI+ voters? What kinds of sentiments are you hearing in regard to the upcoming midterms? Are people even paying attention to the midterms? Are people frustrated, hopeful? What’s the general sense you’re getting out there?
Sosin: I think it’s been just an absolutely, incredibly difficult year for LGBTQ+ people in this country. And I think it started with the rollback of transgender rights, but it has sort of bled into everything else. And I feel like the overturning of Roe was hugely significant for queer people because it signals the Supreme Court’s willingness to gut major precedent, which, of course, could mean the overturning of Obergefell and Lawrence [v. Texas] and other really important LGBTQ+ protections.
But also, Roe was really significant for queer people in that queer people need reproductive health care, and the clinics that provide that care also provide some of the best gender-affirming health care and LGBTQ+-affirming health care, and if they close a lot of those access points will be cut off. I think that what we’ll see is both some energy from LGBTQ+ voters in terms of wanting to fight this, but then I also think we’re seeing a lot of exhaustion. People are really having a tough time working up the political will to move at this point and to want to fight. And what I’m looking at is, who are the people who are working on solutions? What do those look like? How are they empowering their communities, among LGBTQ+ voters? And what does it look like to find ways to heal in moments when it feels really hard?
Gibbs Léger: Looking ahead, I like to end our interviews on moments of hope, or something aspirational. So, as you think about the really rough year you mentioned that folks have had, what gives you hope in the fight for LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion?
Sosin: Every time that we do one of these stories—and these stories are really difficult—about rights being rolled back, especially in terms of youth, I find that the youth themselves are really not putting up with it. So, my favorite example, again, is out of Florida. So, I went to Orlando, and I did a story on the sixth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting and interviewed a lot of the young people there on what it was like for them to be sitting in this shadow of Pulse and also dealing with the fact that “Don’t Say Gay” had passed and that all these anti-LGBTQ moves were happening in their state. And I interviewed a nonbinary person named Will Larkins, who is pretty well known in media. And I asked Will, “How are you feeling about all of this and the people who are passing this?” And Will was like, “Honestly, the people who are doing this are really old. And that’s beautiful and everything—like, no shade, kind of—but they’re gonna die soon. And then we’re just going to take over.”
They’re just like, “We’re not putting up with this. We’re just gonna keep walking out and keep protesting.” There’s so much young energy, and they’re like, “This is a bunch of nonsense, get it together.” I think I really needed to hear that, and I think a lot of us need to hear that, which is, the young people are just like, “You guys, can you stop already? We need to move on. Let’s do something else.” And that gives me hope. Young people are so much cooler than we ever were. And they’re so much smarter, and they are just done with us. And I love that for them. And for us.
Gibbs Léger: I personally love that, too. Although, as I get closer and closer to the older age, I’m like, “OK, wait a minute, now. Don’t put me in with these folks.”
Sosin: I’m like, “Throw me in. Cancel me. This is great.” If I could be a problematic person, that feels great to me. It means that we’re making such good progress. You take over, please.
Gibbs Léger: I am ready for our Gen Z overlords to take over and just make things a lot better.
Sosin: They’re so cool. They are just so much better. They’re so much better.
Gibbs Léger: They’re not with the [censored], I think is what the kids say. Sorry, Erin, you’ll have to bleep that out. But they’re just not. And I really do think that energy is so necessary. Kate Sosin, I want to thank you so much for coming on “The Tent.” And I want to thank you for this tough year of reporting that you’ve done. As with a lot of folks who work at CAP and my colleagues, when you’re working on or reporting on stuff that directly impacts you, it can be really, really hard. So, I want to name that and acknowledge that and just thank you for the great public service that you’re doing in your reporting. So, thank you so much.
Sosin: Thank you. That’s kind of you. And thank you all.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Couple of things before we go: One, I know you’re all following me on Twitter, @dgibber123, but if you’re not, you may have missed a post that I did about this wife—a doctor—who was slowly poisoning her husband—also a doctor—giving him lemonade tainted with Drano. He thought he was being poisoned so he set up cameras. It’s wild. I mean, I think that’s all I tweeted was, “This is wild.” But then she also asked him to post her bail. I mean, OK. Anyway, check that out. It’s crazy. It’s like some ID [Investigation Discovery] channel type stuff. So, there’s that.
Second thing—personal update—I made a commitment to myself that I was going to try to go to bed at a decent time every day this week, meaning no staying up doomscrolling until midnight, which is my usual pattern. So, in order to keep myself accountable, I told my colleagues here at “The Tent,” and I said I would give an update. So far, I’ve been OK. My goal is to be upstairs by 10:30. Now, I was upstairs at 10:15 yesterday and may not have gone to bed until after 11, but I was upstairs. So, to me, I am winning this challenge. And hopefully we will see next week if I make it the whole week doing this. And I feel better. I feel like a new woman today.
Finally, we have to talk about “The Bachelorette.” It was hometowns. And here with me is Sam. Hello, Sam.
Sam Signorelli: Hello.
Gibbs Léger: So, we didn’t get to everyone’s hometown, and I find it weird that it was just Aven’s that we didn’t get but, whatever. What did you think?
Signorelli: Ah, see? I just feel like we aren’t getting—like everyone has said since the beginning—you feel like you don’t know any of these men because instead of having two bachelorettes, we’ve had two half bachelorettes. And we had six quarter-hometown dates. They really were. It was a 45-second one-on-one and then 2 1/2 minutes with each of their families.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, it was so quick and short. And I really do feel like we, the viewers, are totally getting cheated here. I walked away from Monday night thinking Tino’s parents—let’s say, Tino’s dad—was, like wow, way harsh.
Signorelli: Doing the most.
Gibbs Léger: Way, way harsh. Now, I understand being skeptical of the whole thing. But do these people not watch the show? Do they not know what it’s about? Do they not know what’s happening at the end? I don’t understand this.
Signorelli: Yeah, I agree. I just feel like it’s one thing to be skeptical of the show and not really understanding the process of falling in love and wanting to get engaged in six weeks, but he was very aggressive with Rachel when—get your son. He is making the choice.
Gibbs Léger: Right, exactly. She wasn’t pulling his strings like Pinocchio. I don’t know if that’s the right metaphor. But anyway, it was weird that all the venom was sort of directed at her, and to do the whole, “second time around”—OK—that was a little below the belt.
Signorelli: Yeah, that was disrespectful to say the least.
Gibbs Léger: It was.
Signorelli: We need to talk about the sad, sad turn of events that occurred on the Jersey Shore.
Gibbs Léger: Oh, my gosh. Oh, Tyler. Poor, sweet, innocent Tyler. It was so awkward for us, the viewer because we knew what was coming. And somehow, he did not notice that as he was continuing to profess his love for her, she looked like she wanted to throw up more and more with everything that he was saying.
Signorelli: Yeah, I feel like his intentions, while they were pure, if you really care about and love somebody and know them, you would see the reaction on their face as you’re speaking to them and pivot accordingly. I just feel like he must not have even been looking at her when doing this, because she looked like she was about to pass out.
Gibbs Léger: Right, she looked like she would rather be anywhere else than right there.
Signorelli: When she looked directly in the camera?
Gibbs Léger: I was like, “Oh, my God.”
Signorelli: They never break the fourth wall. You know it was bad.
Gibbs Léger: I felt so bad for him, but I also felt bad for her because what I’m realizing is that Rachel is lovely, and not the most mature of the two bachelorettes we have this season. And it’s evident in how she handled that and her answers to Tino’s father. He was out of pocket, but I also felt like her answers were…
Gibbs Léger: This is pretty superficial. I don’t know that you really are expressing yourself very well. And I think that comes from a place of maturity. But I felt really bad for Tyler. I mean, “Bachelor” producers, once again, y’all ain’t [censored], making that man have to go back to his house, and then he lets his mom go on and on about, “Oh, where is he, and we’re so happy for you.”
Signorelli: “He’s going to be so happy.”
Gibbs Léger: Just misery.
Signorelli: Yeah, that was very painful, and then, if that whole segment of forcing him to go home and chat with his family was maybe a minute and a half. That’s what every other fricking hometown was. They could have fit Aven’s in.
Gibbs Léger: Exactly. I do want to say, I loved Eric’s hometown. I came into the season being very skeptical of him for all the reasons: the mullet, he’s from Bedminster, all of the things. I’m from Jersey, I can say that. But I thought it was great. I can’t believe I’m going to say this: I really felt a genuine connection between him and Gabby. And I thought that everything with the dad—it was just a really good, heartwarming hometown.
Signorelli: Yeah, I agree. And I feel like Gabby—I think you are right that this maybe has to do with [her] maturity level—but I think she is very good at being very validating of other people and very reassuring. And I’m sure that comes from her experience as an ICU [intensive care unit] nurse. But she’s just so eloquent and has a very warm presence around a lot of these people’s families. It’s been really nice to see.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I love Gabby.
Signorelli: Me, too.
Gibbs Léger: We’ll see what happens. So next week is Aven’s hometown randomly put on top of the “Men Tell All,” which will be chaotic as always, I’m sure.
Signorelli: What do you think that weird—where he said it’s going to change everyone’s lives, and then they were all cheering—what do you think that was?
Gibbs Léger: Are they all going to paradise?
Signorelli: The whole crowd? That would be—actually, if those were just the cast for “Paradise,” that would be…
Gibbs Léger: It would definitely be something. That was the only thing I can think [of]. Either they’re all going to paradise or—that was it, that’s my guess.
Signorelli: That’s a really good guess, because then I was even just thinking of last “Paradise.” Who from last Paradise would even come back? Most of them are all still dating their person, or I just can’t picture them coming back. So…
Gibbs Léger: Alright, folks, you heard it here first. We’ll see what happens on Monday. And if that turns out to be true, I’m going to go buy some lottery tickets.
Signorelli: I’ll follow suit.
Gibbs Léger: Thank you always, Sam, for joining.
Signorelli: You are welcome, always. Thank you for having me.
Gibbs Léger: And for everyone else, thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves. Like I said, we’re still in a panini. And as your kiddos are going back to school, best of luck to you. I’m very excited for my kiddo to start kindergarten—not because I’m like, “Yay, get out of the house.” He’s been out of the house all summer at camp. But I’m just I’m just so excited to watch his little mind grow and learn things. It’s very adorable. Anyway, thanks for checking us out, and we will talk to you next week.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. Tricia Woodcome is our booking producer, and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. Rachel Lim provided research and production support for this episode. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.