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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. It’s officially Pride Month and there’s a lot to celebrate, and also a lot of work to be done. Here to talk to us about some of that work is Preston Mitchum, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. Preston’s work is highly intersectional, touching on mental health, race, LGBTQI+ issues, criminal justice, reproductive justice, and more. He’s also a former CAP-er. So, you know we are going to get into it today.
But first, let’s take a little bit of a break from the news because I know I need it. And also because we’re celebrating another important occasion. This is our 100th episode of “The Tent.” Yay! We started this podcast just about two years ago, pre-pandemic, and it’s been a very wild ride. We’ve interviewed doctors, legal scholars, activists, members of Congress, artists, and so many more. I’m going to share five of my all-time favorites with you in hopes that you’ll go back and listen, as many of them are still relevant today.
First, I will never forget way back in 2019—right about when “The Tent” launched—when I got to interview Stacey Abrams for the pod. We talked about threats to voting rights in the U.S., and how she built a strong electoral coalition around progressive values. Let’s listen to a little bit of that conversation here.
Stacey Abrams, September 2019 interview: And so, our responsibility is to impress upon folks that voter suppression is not hoses and dogs. It is anything that makes it difficult for people to use their democratically given rights. It is embedded in our constitution that you have the right to vote. We’ve been fighting for this since the inception of this nation, and we should have the right to exercise.
Gibbs Léger: Now, I’m sorry to say more than two years after this interview, we are still dealing with the challenges of voter suppression. Last year, as you probably know, both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act failed in the Senate because of the filibuster, an arcane rule with its roots in racism that Republicans have used over and over again to block legislation that a majority of Americans support—legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade and provide federal protection for abortion, and legislation like universal background checks for gun ownership, something you’d think could get passed after the recent spate of horrific mass shootings—but no.
We’ve been pretty lucky on the show in our ability to get leading thinkers to discuss the news of the moment, and this next interview from the vault was pretty surreal. One week after the January 6 insurrection, we had intelligence and foreign policy analyst Malcom Nance on to discuss the events and fallout. It was such a powerful interview. You should go back and listen to it. And we actually had him on again one year later for the anniversary. Here he is there with some insights I think are relevant today.
Malcolm Nance, January 2022 interview: You know, I was very cautious early on about using the words “coup d’état,” because a mob is not a coup. But now, we find that there was organized planning done at the highest levels of government, that the president himself was enthralled with what he thought was him being reinstalled in government, and that Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro had laid out this framework for 150 Republicans. I think the actual number is 147 Republican members of the House, and almost all the Republican senators were in on a plan—a plot to be quite honest—to nullify the election and retain Donald Trump as president of the United States. That now is a coup d’état.
Gibbs Léger: Of course, lots to come on the events of January 6, with the public hearings of the House Select Committee starting up this month. We’re still unpacking and learning more about what happened that day and really the deep culpability of MAGA Republicans in stoking the extremist violence. So, as always, watch this space.
Another interview at the top of my list came to us in September 2021, which was really a tumultuous month. Dan Berschinski, a retired Army combat veteran joined us to discuss the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and American foreign policy over the past two decades. Here’s a clip.
Capt. Dan Berschinski, September 2021 interview: We have built a culture that is more prepared and more adept at going to war than we are at debating the merits of a war. If you look throughout our military history, our Congress has not declared a war on anyone since World War II. And yet we have found ourselves and our military, primarily, deployed overseas in combat more years than not since 1945. It’s not good enough to thank veterans for your service. What I need America to do is to demand our military is used wisely, and judiciously, and as a last resort. That’s how you thank veterans for their service.
Gibbs Léger: Powerful stuff. Here’s another that you may want to revisit as we approach the midterm elections. In November 2021, Celinda Lake joined us to discuss bellwether election results in Virginia and New Jersey, including Republican inroads in the suburbs, the ramifications for the Democratic Party, and what these trends may mean for the elections in 2022 and 2024. Her analysis continues to be relevant, and I highly encourage you to go give that one a listen on our podcast feed.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I welcomed my friend and former CAP staffer and novelist Grant Ginder on the show to discuss his witty and moving book, Let’s Not Do That Again. We gossiped like Washington insiders and covered everything from the psychology of right-wing extremism to celebrity run-ins, including his with none other than Allison Janney, which he recalls here.
Grant Ginder, May 2022 interview: I didn’t see Allison Janney until the end of the day, but it was just this sort of like slow climax for me until I saw her, and I kept telling myself, like, play it cool in front of her. You know, just say that like you’re so appreciative that she’s doing this and that you love her work, just like play it cool. I’m terrible around celebrities, by the way, like absolutely terrible. And anyway, I eventually saw her. I was introduced to her and instead of playing it cool, I like melted into this like giant puddle of gay and I just started screaming, “Oh my god, C.J. Cregg, I love you so much!”
Gibbs Léger: We did a lot of kiki-ing on that episode, and it was truly a delight. And, it really captures the essence of what we try to do here on “The Tent,” which is to create a space to discuss issues that matter to you, but also to do it in ways that [are] fun and accessible. So, thanks to you, our listeners, for making this show what it is and for motivating us to have these important conversations from week to week. It’s really been a lot of fun to do the show, first with one co-host, then two co-hosts, then one again, then none. Now it’s just me. But I really love hearing from folks that a particular episode has moved them; or that they found something that one of our guests said particularly insightful; or that I said something particularly witty. I enjoy it when people tell me I’m witty.
But in all seriousness, you know, it’s a labor of love. And I couldn’t do this without the great team who is not heard on the air. But without them, none of this would be possible. So, it’s all the folks that I thank at the end, on the end credits. So, without “The Tent” team at CAP Action, none of this would be possible. So, I want to thank all of you ladies as well.
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 consider leaving us a special centennial review. You can let us know what you think of the show on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you are listening to this podcast right now, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our interview with Preston Mitchum in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Preston Mitchum is the director of advocacy at the Trevor Project as well as an advocate and organizer. He writes about reproductive justice, LGBTQI+ equality, and racial and gender justice. He is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, teaching LGBT health law and policy. And he contributed a chapter to the 2022 book, The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions for a Broken System, which discusses the criminal legal system’s impact on LGBTQI+ people. Earlier in his career, Preston was a policy analyst with the Center for American Progress’ LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project. Preston, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent,” and welcome back—in spirit—to CAP.
Preston Mitchum: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here.
Gibbs Léger: So, there’s a lot going on right now, and I have a lot I want to talk to you about today. But first things first, happy Pride.
Mitchum: Happy Pride! I’m always happy on June 1 of every year. So, happy Pride.
Gibbs Léger: Yes. I wanted to start by asking you, you know, what the legacy of Pride means to you, and how you’re honoring the many contributions of LGBTQI leaders—specifically Black leaders—over the years.
Mitchum: To me, the legacy of Pride means never forgetting that Pride was a protest. Every year, for the past couple of years, I always start June 1, wake up in the morning, and just remind the world that Pride was a riot to dream differently, and really against police brutality. And I always want to make sure that that last part is connected through our organizing, through our advocacy, through our communications and messaging strategies, because it just cannot be forgotten, particularly when we think of the realities of our world today.
You know, even before Stonewall in 1969, we saw many LGBTQI+ people, including Black people, actively pushing back against government intrusion and police violence, and sometimes community violence. You know, I think oftentimes about the riots in the late ‘50s, like [the] Cooper Do-nuts Riots, which was a small uprising in Los Angeles. I think of 1966, Compton’s Cafeteria, where LGBTQ folks fought back against police violence. And even two years before Stonewall, at the Black Cat Tavern, we saw police intrusion in an establishment and LGBTQI+ folks pushing back.
And so, how I honor the many contributions of Black LGBTQI+ elders is really never forgetting what they sacrificed to give to me and my community. And I think that’s really important to recognize in our community, and what our leaders and what our elders have done for many of us. And it means dreaming of alternatives to safety. It means being vocal when I observe oppression, and community organizing. And lastly, just to put a finer point and an example on it, you know, it’s the very reason I helped lead a 10-week protest in the nation’s capital against a very white, queer—largely white and queer—bar in [Washington,] D.C., when security dragged a young Black woman down the stairs by her hair. And for me, that is why I still speak up for Pride. And that’s part of the many contributions that we can give to our community.
Gibbs Léger: I remember when that happened and just remember being so thankful for your advocacy, right, because those are the types of things that can easily be swept under the rug if folks let it be, right? And I’m sure that the owners of that establishment wish that there’s no video, that nobody had known about it, nobody had talked about it. But it was because you and other activists were out there that, you know, change could happen.
You know, but unfortunately, despite the progress that we’ve made over the years, we’re still seeing attacks on the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ people, particularly with a new wave of state legislation modeled after Florida’s atrocious “Don’t Say Gay” bill. We had Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida on a few weeks ago to discuss that bill. And since then, we’ve seen so many copycats pop up in states. So, can you give us a sense of how pervasive this issue is and how these bills actually work?
Mitchum: First off, I know that the bill was named to rhyme, but we like to call it “Don’t Say Gay or Trans,” because the law specifically bans classroom instruction on both sexual orientation and gender identity—two, of course, very expansive categories. So, we already know that these policies are really misguided, and that they would effectively erase entire chapters of history, of literature, and critical health information that young people need, and many of them, of course, that LGBTQ students need themselves. Florida, in particular, the language was intentionally vague. To put a finer point in that, it says that it will ban classroom instruction on the broad topics of quote, “sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K through 3,” but then it also says, again, quote, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate,” close quote.
So, we fear, at the Trevor Project, that it was designed to discourage students from mentioning LGBTQ identity or related topics at all, which gets me to thinking: At what age does Pride become age-appropriate? Right, how are we saying two moms or two dads? What about civil rights leaders and heroes like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Bayard Rustin? And so, we fundamentally know that LGBTQ students deserve their experiences—our experiences—and culture to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.
And the last point I’ll make here is: It is also incredibly important to emphasize that many of these education bills not only regulate or ban LGBTQ topics in the classroom writ large, but also discussions and topics related to systemic racism too. So, there is an overlay that we see in many of these bills that we’re tracking—upwards of 240 bills across the country that we’re tracking. We also see that many of them also cover topics like critical race theory. Now, I always say this, but as an attorney, I learned critical race theory for the first time in law school.
Gibbs Léger: Thank you. Hello.
Mitchum: So, there is something to be said around the misinformation that many are actually spreading around what young people are learning what they’re not learning. Maybe the argument is that they should be learning critical race theory, right? But that’s not what’s happening. Adults barely learn critical race theory. And I think we must demystify what’s actually happening at the state and federal level to that end.
Gibbs Léger: And I want to, you know, dig a little deeper into what you mentioned about some of these bills, specifically targeting the choices and rights of transgender youth, whether it’s renewed vigor around the so-called “bathroom bills,” to restrictions on trans[gender] athletes competing in school sports, to limitations on gender-affirming care, which we know can be just downright deadly. You know, why do you think we’re seeing a rise in these types of policies? And I’d love for you to talk about the impact that these bills are already having on trans[gender] youths and their families.
Mitchum: Simply put, we’re seeing a rise because far too many lawmakers see trans[gender] and nonbinary young people as a political wedge issue, as opposed to humans who need our safety and protection. And we also know that this has—could have—a negative mental health impact on trans[gender] and nonbinary people. We have so much data to back this up at the Trevor Project, including polling that shows 85 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates alone about anti-trans[gender] laws have negatively impacted their mental health. So that can mean depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
So, it is deeply troubling to see that the increase in trans[gender] visibility of the last few years has been met with such an aggressive political backlash. And this is something that I’ve spoken about quite often previously, is that we oftentimes do see the push for visibility, which is, of course, an incredibly important thing. It spreads diversity. It spreads diverse representation. It actually increases our abilities to see ourselves in other people. But what it also doesn’t do, inherently, is protect the very people who are hypervisible. And so, that is why we should always be focusing not only on the visibility, and the resilience, we should also focus on the very systems that force people to be resilient and force them to be visible to make sure that they have safety, and health, and well-being for themselves.
And I’m sure you see this, and I’m sure many of us see this. It seems like lawmakers are truly working overtime to attack trans[gender] and nonbinary youth and regulate them in every area of daily life. And it’s been rhetoric that we’ve seen in public debates, and it’s gotten incredibly ugly, from Texas, to Florida, to Ohio, to South Carolina, among other states, and many trans[gender] youth are struggling because of that every day. And it’s especially alarming because knowing that our other research has found that nearly 1 in 5 trans[gender] and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the last year. So again, we really do see a rise in these types of policies and negative mental health outcomes that are happening just by virtue of hearing that they, and that our family members are being attacked every single day.
Gibbs Léger: Wow, you know, in a lot of ways these limitations on gender-affirming care that Republicans—let’s be clear—are pushing mirror the ways that Republicans are also trying to restrict abortion care in this country. And I know that you work on reproductive issues as well. So, I wanted to ask you about the Supreme Court’s impending decision to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, and about a group that often gets left out of these conversations. What impact will the court’s decision have on trans[gender] and nonbinary people who are seeking abortion care? And what are the unique challenges that they already face?
Mitchum: Yeah, this is a critically important question. Reproductive justice is truly a passion of mine. And it is a throughline in everything that I do and all the framings that I have around, how do you protect people? How do you actually honor people’s lived experiences? And by that, I mean, you know, “reproductive justice” was a term coined in 1994 by 12 Black women at an international conference in Cairo, Egypt. What many of them recognized, quite frankly, was that a lot of the white women in those spaces—largely cis-het white women, cisgender and heterosexual white women—weren’t necessarily speaking to all of the realities and lived experiences of a lot of Black women in those spaces, who made up many parts of sexualities and the sexuality spectrum. And because of that, they started to think, “Well, there are many different things that actually capture our lives and our lived realities. And none of us have single-issue struggles, and none of us live single-issue lives.” And so, they came up with these tenets: the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, the right to parent the children that we have in safe environments, and fundamentally, the right to bodily autonomy.
And so, you know, it’s really hard to witness everything going on right now, because so much of it is connected to everything that we do. And what you said is exactly right. Many of the same state lawmakers who are passing abortion bans are the ones actively considering legislation that seek to control the bodies and restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary youths, which is incredibly difficult because many, even in the reproductive health and rights space, don’t recognize the realities and the pregnancy options for trans[gender] and nonbinary people. And the through line here is government overreach—right?—into personal health care decisions. And we know it’s incredibly dangerous.
In particular, research has consistently shown that gender-affirming medical care is associated with better mental health outcomes and lower suicide risk. And I want to say that again, right? Research has consistently shown that gender-affirming medical care—that’s just affirming who someone is, and all of their facets of who they are—and that is associated with better mental health outcomes and lower suicide risk. And that is a decision that’s meant, of course, for doctors and families—not politicians, not lawmakers. And so, it is concerning that so much of the dialogue around reproductive rights invalidates or erases the experiences of trans[gender] men, and trans[gender] masculine folks, and nonbinary people. And we really want to be inclusive in our language and acknowledge how most marginalized communities among us will be impacted by these misguided policies.
Gibbs Léger: And you know, with this news on Roe, there’s obviously also concern about the, you know, extremist supermajority on the Supreme Court taking on other settled precedents, you know, including, potentially, you know, the case that legalized same-sex marriage, you know. How worried should we be about this? And what are you keeping an eye on and, you know, what can policymakers and everyday people like us and our listeners do to protect some of these rights?
Mitchum: We need to organize and educate like our rights and life are on the line, because they are, right? From personal health care decisions to the rights of privacy and bodily autonomy, we need to speak out and mobilize against this government overreach and intrusion. And for years, I’ve also taught in law schools at Georgetown Law Center and at American University Washington College of Law about sexuality and gender identity, and how it interacts with the law. And the one thing I tell my students on day one, and the one thing we close off the class with is, the law will restrict everything between and from the top of your head down to the soles of your feet if we let it. When we really think about the legal system and how it actually impacts LGBTQ folks, women, Black folks, among other historically oppressed communities, most of it are legal restrictions about the body, about how we’re going to regulate the body, from pregnancy, to abortion access, to contraception, to marriage, to who you go to bed with, to who you don’t go to bed with. All of it, in some respect is about the body. And so, as long as our bodies and sex lives are up for debate by the government, we will not be able to achieve true LGBTQ equality and liberation.
So, these issues are deeply connected. And so, for those listening, for your listeners, please know that a broad, beautiful coalition of activists and organizations from all spectrums are fighting hard to protect your rights, because I fundamentally believe when one right is under attack, and it deeply connects to other rights, rest assured all other rights can and will be under attack as well. And at the Trevor Project, if you are an LGBTQ young person that ever need help or support, we have trained counselors, and they’re available to chat with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via phone, text, and chat. And so, please feel free to reach out to thetrevorproject.org for more information on how you can connect with our counselors.
Gibbs Léger: So, I want to touch a little bit on a different topic, but around mental health and mental health stigma. You know, in the wake of the recent wave of mass shootings, we often see those who don’t want to do anything about or talk about, you know, gun violence prevention, blaming mental illness for gun violence. And of course, it’s these very same people who don’t care to invest in mental health resources for any communities. So, could you maybe debunk some of the falsehoods that we’ve seen thrown around about mental health and gun violence?
Mitchum: Happy to. So, it is deeply troubling whenever elected officials use gun violence as an opportunity to further demonize people who have mental illnesses. You know, we do need to grapple with the lack of access to mental health care in this country and, obviously, actively work to break down barriers and invest in public programs, and again, health care writ large, but we also need to desperately talk about gun safety. And this issue is, unfortunately, extremely relevant to our work in suicide prevention and to my personal work, because guns are the most common and most lethal means for suicide, including among young people. You know, in 2020 alone, gun-related injuries became the leading cause of death among ages 1 to 19 due to increasing risk in suicide and homicide rates. And so, we need to confront this reality and the stigma around mental health to promote public safety in the long term. And I want to be clear, right, to go back and state, you know, to clarify, right, in 2020 alone, gun-related injuries became the leading cause of death among youth 12 to 19—I misstated that, 12 to 19.
We need to confront this reality, right, because we know that it can lead to stigma and discrimination. But it doesn’t stop there. That oftentimes leads to criminalizing people based on mental illnesses, and it becomes incredibly ableist to believe that people with mental illnesses or mental health challenges are only capable of committing mass acts of violence, when we know that’s not true. And so, there needs to be an intentional, and compassionate, and deeply held conversation about gun safety and also honoring and protecting people who have mental illnesses.
Now, I want to say that there is something that could be a potential solution here on the long term. And that’s really about a solution for the mental health crisis, which is something called “988.” And so, on July 16, people in the United States can dial 988, and later it’ll be available via text and chat. And once they call that, they’ll be connected to a trained counselor if they’re experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis. And I want to say that’s important, because that could, when done correctly, transform our entire crisis care system. And so, for the listeners, again, you know, the number that we know for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is currently a 1-800 number, becomes 988, which is really important when you think about what it means to actually experience suicidal thoughts, when you may be at risk of suicide, right? Things need to be made a little bit more accessible for you. And so, we are really hoping to see 988 become a long-term solution for the mental health crisis.
Gibbs Léger: Wow, that is great to hear. You know, we like to end our interviews on a positive note. And while it is a particularly dark time in our country, I know, you know, Pride is an observance that offers hope and reassurance to so many. So, I want to end by asking you, you know, what’s giving you hope, this Pride Month?
Mitchum: Black people, young people. Listen, Black people, young people, LGBTQI+ folks, right? Like none of these groups of people cease to amaze me. Right? When I think of how much historically oppressed people go through, right, from native folks, and indigenous folks, to immigrant communities, to folks who have forcibly been removed from their homes and brought here, who are really attempting to navigate spaces where they’re viewed as criminals, who are attempting to dream of alternatives to what they see today, who are daring to believe that police are not the first or last resort, right? For people who truly remain optimistic and passionate and determined, those are the people who offer me so much hope and reassurance for the years to come. And at the same time, it is on us to be creating an environment, and it is on the people who have access to resources to create an environment for them—for us—to believe that there’s a better world waiting for them, and for us, on the other side.
Gibbs Léger: Amen to all that and that is a great way to end this interview. So, Preston Mitchum, I want to thank you so much for coming on “The Tent” this week.
Mitchum: Thank you so much. Feel free to invite me anytime.
Gibbs Léger: Of course.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to take care of yourselves. Go back and listen to all the episodes I talked about earlier, and all the other ones. We’re going to close talking about music. If you follow me on Twitter, which you should—I’m @dgibber123, I tweet about a lot of random crap, just so you know—a couple weeks ago, I was at a friend’s house, a neighbor’s house, and her son came out. He’s in college—just a delightful young man, very nice. And we’re talking about music. We were playing, like, music from the ‘90s. And like, he said that Drake was the greatest rapper of all time. When I tell you, like, the fire that came from all of us, and we’re like, “Are you joking me right now? Like, are you serious, like, really—Drake?” That’s not to say that Drake is not talented, that he’s not a great entertainer. But really, young man? Like, how dare you?
And so, we started playing like, all these songs, so like Nas and Biggie and Jay Z. Like, he’s not even anywhere in the same, like, atmosphere as them, let alone the same league. But it was a hilarious moment. And also, was like, “Oh, God, is this, like, what my parents thought? Or like what I thought?” I don’t know. Like, am I having, like, this new conversation with this kid—well, he’s not a kid anymore, but you know what I mean—is that the same way that my parents listen to, like, our music? I don’t know. No, I don’t think that’s true, because I appreciate the music that my parents listened to. And I can say, those are classics. And some of those people, I think, are like some of the best musicians ever to walk the earth, even though they’re not of my generation. So yeah, I don’t know. He’s just misguided.
So, along that vein, it got us thinking at the time—because I did relay this story to my colleagues—it’s summertime. Meteorological summer starts on June 1. Yes. Technically, summer doesn’t start until June 20, whatever. But after Memorial Day, it’s summer. So, what are the songs of the summer? We want to know what you are listening to. We want to know what song comes on the radio, you know, your Apple, Spotify—whatever you’re listening to—that you’re like, “This is the jam that I will be listening to all summer while I drink a cold beverage while my feet are dangling in a pool.” What are your songs? Please tell us on Twitter @TheTentPod.
I’ll start. I know this came out a while ago, but Harry Styles’ “As It Was” has just been in my mind. Like, I will just randomly start humming it and singing it around the house, in the office. It’s so catchy. It’s like, breezy. It’s just—I know the words may be a little, like, whatever. But like, I just feel like the music itself, it’s so summery. I love it. And then of course, queen Lizzo with “About Damn Time.” Like, I don’t think you can get more, like, quintessential summer music than that song.
But what else are you guys listening to? Please tell us, and you know what? We’ll put together a playlist with maybe some of your picks, and some other picks from our team. And we’ll tweet it out. Does that sound good to you? Sounds great to me. So, send us your songs. Still in the pandemic. Please get boosted as soon as you’re eligible to, your double boost. Get your kids boosted as soon as they’re eligible. And let’s try to have a good summer. All right, take care. We’ll 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. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.