March 24, 2013
Guests: Barbara Lee, Darlene Nipper, Lisa Duggan, Kenji Yoshino, Wilson Cruz, Janet Mock, Mel Wymore, Kirk Bloodsworth, Barry Scheck, Demarre McGill, Anthony McGill
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. What are
we going to do without Chris Hayes? But no, seriously. Is it time to
eliminate the death penalty once and for all?
Plus, how art changes the lives of children and the brothers McGill will
play live here in Nerdland.
But first, the Supreme Court and marriage equality, how we finally got to
this historic moment.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
I often recount the story of my father. A long time activist who always
signed my birthday cards, even when I was a very young girl, with the
phrase, the struggle continues, daddy. It was his reminder to me and to
all of his children that we are part of a long effort for greater freedom
and equality and our struggles rarely begin or end in a single lifetime.
Struggle, well, continues.
But sometimes you end up in the generation that has an extraordinary
opportunity to be alive when the watershed comes an d when everything
changes. But it seems like many people realize we are in such a moment
right now. Because they are already lining up outside the U.S. Supreme
Court building in D.C. hoping to gain access to the public seating of this
week`s oral arguments on two cases consequential to the future of marriage
On Tuesday, the highest court will hear the legal challenge to "California
proposition 8" which will amend the state - did amend the state
constitution back in 2008 to bar same sex couples from getting married.
And a decision in this case will have the most significant effect on
whether any state can forbid marriage equality. It also offers the
greatest potential to expand marriage equality across the country. The
next day the court takes up the constitutional conflict in the 1996 defense
of marriage act or DOMA which defines federal acknowledgment of same-sex
marriage marriages. At stake? Federal marriage benefits for those who are
The arguments laid out before the nine justices this week will establish a
further precedence for the next chapter for the fight in marriage equality
and this is a watershed moment. But it is just part of a long and
continuing struggle because the struggle has already been quite long.
In the summer of 1969, five days of riots sparked by the aggressive anti-
guy police action at the Stonewall in bar in New York City founded a battle
cry that helped to launch the guy rights movement. A year later, a couple
in Minnesota was denied a marriage license because state law limited
marriage to persons of the opposite sex. Their case made to the U.S.
Supreme Court back in 1972. And it was dismissed without so much as a
The court ruled that same sex couples have no constitutional rights married
and that the legal challenge itself failed to raise a substantial federal
question at all. But the struggle continued. It would be another 14 years
before the Supreme Court would issue a major ruling on civil rights for gay
Americans in Bauer versus hard wig.
In the summer of 1982, Michael Bauer was arrested and charged by Atlanta
police by committing a private act with another adult man in his own
bedroom. His case made it to the high court in 1986 where Georgia`s law
criminalizing adult gay male couples for engaging in private consensual
sexual acts was upheld. It was not until 203 that that decision was
overruled when the court first recognized the constitutional right to
privacy for lesbian and gay Americans. And the struggle still continues.
Ten years after Bauer, Hawaii Supreme Court found the state ban on same-sex
marriage violated its constitution. Almost immediately, the state specific
ruling sparked campaigns across the country to deny marriage rights to same
sex couples. Launching a preemptive strike against marriage equality more
than 30 states passed defense of marriage laws putting pressure on the
federal government to follow suit. And in 1996, President Bill Clinton,
the Democrat, he signed the federal defense of marriage act restricting the
definition of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
Even with a Democrat in the White House, the struggle continued. And it
was not until 2000 that Vermont became the first state to legalize same sex
civil unions. The few years later, its neighbor Massachusetts then issued
marriage licenses to same sex couples. But the struggle did not abate.
As many states responded with constitutional amendments banning same-sex
marriage, a few local governments, including San Francisco began granting
marriage licenses to same sex couples. And on election night, as they
elected the first African-American president of the United States, a man
born of an interracial marriage, that at the time was still illegal in many
states. On that night, California voters chose President Barack Obama and
passed "proposition 8," stripping same sex California couples of their
freedom to marry. Which is what made this moment so extraordinary.
President Obama who just a few months before had articulated his own
support for marriage equality stood on the steps of the capitol immediately
after taking the oath of office for the second time and articulated that
LBGT rights are part of the long and continuing struggle for equality,
freedom and fairness in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We, the people, declare
today that the most evident of truths that all of us are created equal. Is
the star that guides us still, just as it guided our fore bearers through
Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So here in Nerdland, with us to mark this moment in the
struggle is California Congresswoman and senior Democratic whip, Barbara
Lee. Alongside the great Kenji Yoshino, constitutional law professor at
New York`s University law school. Lisa Duggan who is professor of social
and cultural analysis at New York University and contributor to "the
Nation. And Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay
and Lesbian task force.
Thank you all so much for being here.
So, where are we in this moment? What is this moment, Darlene?
DARLENE NIPPER, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN TASK
FORCE: It`s an incredible moment. I think as you said, it`s a watershed
moment for our country. I mean, the fact that the highest court in the
land is looking at an issue about our rights, for me, it seems as though we
have come to this point where we recognize that this is the civil rights
issue of our time, if you will. And it`s so critically important.
And at the same time, regardless of what happens at the court, as you said,
this has been a long trajectory of history toward equality for everyone.
And I think the trajectory will continue to evolve beyond whatever the
decisions are made by the court.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s a long trajectory, and yet there`s a sort of
rapidness of what happened in just this moment. When you`re looking at
"Washington Post" data, a recent poll about support for marriage equality,
58 percent of Americans support marriage equality. That is up 21 points
since 2003, in one decade. And among those under who are under 30, 81
percent, another words, it is a consensus position.
And yet, Kenji, when I looked at "The New York Times" this morning, there
was a piece suggesting that the court may be too far out in front. That
this is like the Roe V. Wade moment that maybe, in fact, they should rule
as narrowly as possible. But it feels to me like in fact Americans are in
front of the policy at this point.
KENJI YOSHINO, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yes.
So, I actually think that there`s some truth in both. If you actually do a
state count which is often how the Supreme Court analyzes the issues.
There are currently nine states plus the District of Columbia that permit
same-sex marriage, and so, 41 states ban it. The time when it was decided
in 1967, only 16 states banned interracial marriage as opposed to 41 with
same-sex marriage now.
So, from that perspective, you can see the court as being way ahead of
public opinion if you do a certain nose count of the states. But it`s not
necessarily obvious that that`s the way in which the Supreme Court should
analyze public consensus. There is a separate question whether it should
be I am permeable at all and do what`s right shall let the skies fall.
Assuming we know the court is a political institution to some extent, we
could say if you look at the polling, 90 percent of people in the year that
Loving this Virginia was decided, we are still opposed to interracial
marriage. If you actually look at the data that kind of statistical
polling as opposed to the state count, then. you get a very, very different
picture. So, whether the court is ahead or behind depends on what metrics
they`re using to gauge public opinion.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congressman Lee, I think part of it has been surprising to
me and part about this question about being out in front how quick is the
movement is happening or not, is that California is at the center of this,
particularly around the "proposition 8."
California constantly feels like that great blue beacon on the west coast
and yet, in 2008 there was a decision on the one hand to choose President
Obama and then to also choose "proposition 8." How do we understand that?
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Oftentimes, of course California is way
out front on so many issues related to equality and social change. But
when you look at the contradictions. When you look at for instance,
proposition 209 which ended affirmative action in California. I mean,
California, we said you know, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific-
Americans now do not have equal opportunity to go to state universities and
state employment and state contracting. And so, those contradictions are
But one thing about California is we fight it out. Bee debate it and put
the issues up front and so that we can really come to some resolve. And I
just have to, in listening to your introduction, remind us of Dr. King`s
statement when he said the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends
towards justice. And I think in California, we recognize that and we`re
going to fight it out until justice is done for everyone.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s interesting that both you and Darlene, both have used
the language of civil rights and a kind of discourse of civil rights and it
was part of what I did when my dad was signing the struggle continues, he
was talking quite specifically about African-American civil rights and I
think also questions of poverty.
But the notion of defining LGBT movements as civil rights movements has
bumped up against a lot of anxiety, stress and irritation by people in
racial civil rights movement who think this is the wrong way to discuss and
think about it-Darlene.
NIPPER: Sure. Well, I think this is a critical point. But the reality is
that there are people in this country who live at the intersections of all
of these issues.
HARRIS-PERRY: Amen. Hello. Say that again. Yes.
NIPPER: We can`t really split this up in that way. And I actually think
it`s time for us to, of course, move a little bit further towards a broader
social justice view, such as what you were saying in your introduction.
This is a long arc and we`re moving - it`s not just about marriage
equality. Although, this is a critical aspect of law that I think we
should not deny people the right that other people have. But it`s beyond
that. It`s about everyone having the ability to live freely in our
society. And I think that`s the point that I`m making when I make that
connection between civil rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And Lisa, let me ask you about that. How much beyond
marriage is this? I mean, marriage is one part of it. But it`s only one
LISA DUGGAN, PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS, NEW YORK
UNIVERSITY: Yes. I think as we have learned from the history of civil
rights and women`s rights that substantive, on that substance of equality
does not necessarily follow directly on the heels of civil rights
achievement. So, you get brown the board, but you don`t necessarily get
HARRIS-PERRY: Quite the opposite.
DUGGAN: Right. Exactly, quite the opposite. So, the focus on the legal
right, while totally understandable because equal rights under the law is
seems like a basic starting point for any kind of egalitarian politics.
But it is certainly it is just a piece. And one of the things - I mean, I
think that the analogy made to abortion is quite instructive. And the
interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg this morning, because one of the
problems with the way abortion has evolved as an issue was that it was
disarticulated from broader reproductive justice issues. So that abortion
sort of became like a consumer right that an individual could purchase
approximate she could afford it.
DUGGAN: And other people then would lose the right because it wasn`t
understood as a matter of justice. It was understood as a kind of consumer
right. So with marriage, the same danger is there. That the legal right
to access to marriage as it now exists is kind of, you know, the end point.
That, you know, even though we won`t get there now, we will get there
eventually. Rather than understanding that a broader way of recognizing
household and partnership rights beyond marriage only is a substantive goal
of our social movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is exactly what I want to come back on. Because the
freedom to marry ought not to be an imperative to marry. And that is
precisely what I like to talk about as we come back, because there are new
folks jumping on the bandwagon every day. Welcome aboard Hillary. Nice to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: LGBT Americans are our
colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones. And
they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship.
That includes marriage. That`s why I support marriage for lesbian and gay
couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was, of course, former secretary of state Hillary
Clinton officially switching her position on marriage equality in a video
for the human rights campaign this week. As a presidential candidate in
2008, she was explicitly opposed to same-sex marriage favoring instead
Clinton joined a growing tide of politicians would are coming out in favor
of marriage equality. Dozens of prominent Republicans, including the top
advisers to former presidents George W. Bush and former governors and
members of Congress have all signed on to a legal brief arguing in favor of
a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Notably, Ohio Senator Rob Portman emerged as a supporter of same-sex
marriage last week, making him the only sitting Republican Senator to
publicly support the right to marry for gay men and lesbians.
Republicans aren`t the only ones having a change of heart. A new polls
show that the majority of Americans, 58 percent, now think it should be
legal for gay and lesbian couples to wed. And that changes occur with
astronomical speed. Supporters up 21 points since 2003.
So Kenji, on the one hand, we`ve got what is clearly a growing tide in
consensus around marriage equality. But as soon as I find myself in a
political allied relationship with Rob Portman, I say OK, let`s just re-
evaluate what`s happening here.
So, talk to me. What does a win mean? Because if Portman is on my side,
then, I`m thinking maybe this marriage win is in fact something different
than what I thought it was. Maybe an imperative toward a certain kind of
you must be married. You must sort of follow this set of rules.
YOSHINO: I`m not so sure if that`s true, Melissa. It`s always dangerous
to disagree with you. I think that we are really looking at here is kind
of an overlap. And I think that the next generation is going to be what`s
tricky. So, I think marriage in some sense an easy get because it`s what
my colleague at MIU (INAUDIBLE) calls a responsibility right. You know,
it`s not just a bunch of rights. It`s also a bunch of entitlements.
If you go back and think about the don`t ask, don`t tell litigation, I used
to be puzzled given that they give deference to the military why we would
start there. Why you wouldn`t start with the heart of kind of case. And
the answer that the movement lawyer just gave me was because it`s a
responsibility right. Because it`s about people wanting to serve their
country and it`s very hard to turn somebody away who wants to serve their
country on the basis of sexual orientation. So, I think for this
generation, because of the particular nature of the right where it bears
both rights and responsibilities and, you know, as we heard Portman say in
his sound bite, you know, it`s really about binding together people in
stable relationships that this is something that`s going to play well with
both the right and the left.
I think what you`re getting at is the generation after this, which is after
marriage equality becomes the law of the land as I firmly believe it will
in fairly short order. You know, what happens with respect to individuals
who choose not to marry, right?
YOSHINO: And so, rights have a channeling function, right? So, once you
have the right, it`s the only road to respectability. And right after the
slaves were emancipated, right, and they got the marriage right, prior to
that, we had a panoply of ways in which they could relate to each other
like jumping over a broom stick or effectively sort of (INAUDIBLE)
relationships because people were being moved against their will from
plantation to plantation.
After marriage became a possibility for the slaves, it was if you married,
you`re respectable. And if you are not married, you are not respectable.
And it became a dichotomy, right? And so, there is other forms that
dilation withered away. I`m less troubled by that, but you know, I think
that there are many people who are troubled.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because it feels like, you know, when I tell that
long struggle story, part of the value of queer politics, and for folks who
are not in the academy, I don`t mean that as a slur, right? Queer is a
self-defining term about making things not normative, right? And part of
the values queer politics was it queered our politics. It made it
different. It ask us to think about family constructed in new and
different ways. And once, we have marriage, of course, it is critical, it
is important. But it also feels like it becomes an imperative.
DUGGAN: Well, I mean, I think that the conservatives is signing on to the
marriage equality movement is not surprising. I think there was a moment
where it became politically possible for them to do so. But I don`t think
there was a lot of a substantive barrier beyond the religious objection. A
long time ago, people like David Brookes advocated same-sex marriage
because it`s a moral good.
If we look at that, we can see marriage itself as a one size fits all
institution, is a conservative institution. That just fitting gay couples
into that one size fits all institution does not necessarily, you know,
provide new ways of imagining or distributing our household and partnership
If you look at the ways in which marriage promotion has been used within
the context of welfare reform, for instance, as a way of promoting marriage
among poor women in order to privatize the social safety net. To say
rather than providing you with benefits, we want you to get married and
husbands will provide benefits and that`s, you know, so we are going to
push you, we are going to spend money promoting marriage because of seeing
marriage as a kind of conservatizing institution. And also, from an
economic point of view, as a privatizing of social services. So, as social
services have been slash, slash, slash, the idealization of marriage has
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. No need for universal health care where the health
care is yours. Go get it from your spouse.
When we come back, Congressman, I want to ask about the other part of this,
not just marriage but I want to ask you about the employee non-
discrimination act, about housing rights and about all the other
fundamental laws that I don`t know that folks know are on the books and we
are going to talk about them when we get back. We might be having the
wrong fight right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Today, marriage equality is the law of the land in only nine
states in the District of Columbia with the emphasis currently focused on
gaining ground on marriage equality, it remains in 34 states. That is, in
the majority of our country, that employment discrimination is legal. Let
me say that one more time. Employment discrimination is legal on the basis
of gender identity or expression. And in 30 states, it is legal, one more
time, legal to deny a person housing based on their sexual orientation or
And while we hope that marriage rights are extended to all sooner rather
than later, there are many other fundamental issues facing LGBTQ Americans
OK. Is there impulse within Congress right now, not just for the freedom
of marriage, but to address these fundamental inequality in our laws.
LEE: There`s no fundamental given the nature of tea party.
NIPPER: You are talking Congress to do much of anything.
LEE: Yes. Yes. But I think, you know, several indicators are there that
we need to look at, for example, the violence against women act. Look at
how long it took to get that passed. And you know what part of the problem
was, it was because the LGBT community was covered in the (INAUDIBLE), and
of course, Native American women.
And so, we have uphill battle. Finally got it passed, president signed it
into law. But it was really a very sobering kind of moment to really
realize that there were those fighting against domestic violence prevention
and services because LGBT community was covered.
In California, for example, I always remember when I was first elected as
(INAUDIBLE) in legislature, the very first bill that I believe I co-
sponsored was ab-101 by (INAUDIBLE). I mean, this goes back to the early
`90s. And what this bill said was there shall be nondiscrimination in the
workplace and employment based on sexual orientation.
Well, let me tell you in California it was an uphill battle. We got hate
mail, there were assaults. It was awful. We finally got it passed and
signed into law. Now, when you look at hate crimes, when you look at
bullying, when you look at certain issues that we want to take on in
Congress, it`s very difficult to even get what we call a rule to bring
these bills to the floor. And so, elections have consequences.
LEE: And so, we have to really understand that what we have to do next
HARRIS-PERRY: And this is part of it, Darlene. I mean, the agenda as we -
- so no one needs to say marriage is done. But marriage is coming, right?
We feel like that we are on the trajectory for that?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, how do we put the rest on the agenda?
NIPPER: Well, the rest is on the agenda. That`s the important thing to
understand. We are working for the issues that the representative is
talking about. I mean, obviously, the community has been working for 20
years for --
NIPPER: But for employment nondiscrimination at the federal level, just as
one example. And so, those things are on the floor. They`re the things
that we`re work on. We`re working to ensure that kids are not bullied in
school. We are working to ensure that people can feel safe in their
neighborhoods and I believe that there`s a connection between the freedom
to marry and those issues. Partly because we`re talking about the law here
but we also need to talk about visibility and acceptance in society. And I
do think that the fact that this is a normative institution in our society,
that it opens up and continues to move people`s hearts and minds to
recognize us as human beings, to recognize that we are a part of the
community. We are your neighbors, we are your friends, we are your co-
workers and so on. And that`s an important piece of the work that`s being
done. In addition to the actual laws that we`re attempting to change to
ensure that people are not discriminated against.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it is interesting you say that. I have a niece
finishing up college now who is African-American, gay and gender
nonconforming in herself presentation. And I want her to be able to marry
someday if she wants to, right? That`s fine.
But the thing that worries me, the thing that keeps me up is concerns about
violence, right? That she as a young woman who other people may first not
recognize as a young woman and then become angry when they - I mean, like
my fear is that she will be walking the streets of Chicago or in south
Florida or any of those things and experience violence. And I just -- I
want us to celebrate marriage but then not lose that.
NIPPER: And I think you`re absolutely right. We have to continue to work
for it. We have to use these moments to do what I think of as a pivot to
actually do what you`re doing right now, which is saying, you know, we need
to talk about this. And we also need to recognize that people are actually
still, makes me emotional, being murdered.
NIPPER: Because of who they are and who they love.
NIPPER: And that`s the message that we need to get across. So, I`m really
glad that you brought that up about your familiar hi member. Because it`s
the kind of thing that my mother worries about. This is what we`re worried
about. Can you walk down the street being perceived as a person who is
different as a person who appears to be not clear whether you`re male or
female, as though you need to be some sort of gender expression to begin
with. But that, if you`re not that, it`s OK for me to discriminate, not
only discriminate but to be violent toward you, to actually harm you
because you`re so different.
So, in this way, I think it`s important for us to not lose these watershed
moments, so to speak, around the actual laws and changes that we`re making
in policy to actually begin to talk about the realities of our lives. It
is a scary and painful reality that people are still being beaten, people
are still being murdered, in fact.
HARRIS-PERRY: Everybody, I promise, we`re going to come back.
But up next, Darlene is leaving us. Thank you so much for having joined
us. An actor whose art imitated his real life joins us. Wilson Cruz is at
HARRIS-PERRY: We were just talking about who important within the context
of struggle for LGBTQ rights. The power of story has been. And those
people and characters that have bravely shared their personal stories have
helped us in the arc of this movement.
Wilson Cruz has been an important part of that process. Most well-known
for his role in the groundbreaking drama, my so-called life which I
introduced my daughter to last night for the first time as Ricky Vasquez,
the first gay teen character on primetime TV. Wilson`s character was an
incredible public service that left a lasting impression on a generation of
And joining us now for our conversation, Wilson Cruz, national spokesperson
for GLAAD, a LGBT media advocacy organization.
So, what is the role of story as we continue to move forward in the
WILSON CRUZ, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, GLAAD: Well, I think the best way to -
- best example, really, is that when we look at the poll that just came out
this week about millennials, that 81 percent of them support same-sex
marriage. We really cannot deny the fact that the reason for that is
because they grew up at a time when they were being -- they were in front
of their television sets and seeing films and reading newspapers that were
telling the stories of LGBT people.
You know, I still, to this day, have people come up to me, some of them on
your staff, who come up to me and say you were the first LGBT person I
CRUZ: And we cannot overstate how powerful that is when someone walks
through a story and experiences a life on their television screens in their
home. They really understood who we are as a people. So now they`re
CRUZ: And now, they are legislators and now they are running the country.
So, story is important because we get into the heart and the mind of
people. That`s why I work at GLAAD, right? That`s what GLAAD does. GLAAD
is really telling the story so that we can make the cultural change so that
the political change can actually stick.
You know, earlier, you were talking about Brown versus education. The fact
that it didn`t stick, well, we are avoiding that in the movement because we
are telling the stories that stay in people`s hearts so that when the laws
are passed, they will stick.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting because I think we sometimes down
play the kind of cultural piece, but Representative Lee, you and I were
talking in the makeup room earlier that you were the first black
cheerleader, right, on your high school team. And of course, I`m clapping
because I was a high school cheerleader.
But you know, on one hand, you think what difference does it make if the
cheerleading team is integrated? But in fact, it does make a difference
for us to be participating with one another in these so-called normative
spaces in order to like generate that sense of familiarity.
LEE: Sure. It makes a big difference because people have to identify.
This is a diverse country, first of all. People have to identify on all
fronts. And when I went to high school, there were African-American,
Latino and Asian Pacific-American students. But the criteria, you had to
be blond and blue-eyed to be a cheerleader. That`s what the rules were.
You had to go before this committee and they screened you out if you didn`t
look like that. And so, fortunately, I was able to go to the NAACP. And
they had really provided a real agitated to change the rules of the game.
And so, the rules were changed so that young girls could try out in front
of the student body. We all tried out and the student body voted and I
won. That was my first election.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now you`re a Congresswoman, right? Exactly.
LEE: But it is really important because you have to be able to identify
with people and that empowers you. And that gives you the self-confidence
and that gives you the inspiration to be able to move forward with your
life and then realize that you`re part of this great beautiful American
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, this has been part of why coming out has been part of
political strategy, right, both about personal strategy, but also about
DUGGAN: Well, yes. I mean, I wanted to jump had here on a slightly
different frame and say that the stories are extremely important. It`s
also important whose stories get told and circulated. So, one thing I`d
like to add to culture in politics is money. Because the money, the
movement has gone so overwhelmingly towards marriage equality that some of
the other stories and issues have been less -- those stories have been less
often told and less often circulated. Money that goes to poverty to
dealing with LGBTQ people in homeless shelters to dealing with homeless
people on the streets, to dealing with immigrants who are dealing with
deportation, that the money to help us tell those stories and help the
people who are, in fact, being hurt economically the worst, that sometimes
the marriage equality movement takes up so much space --
HARRIS-PERRY: The oxygen in the room.
DUGGAN: That these other stories don`t get the financial bearing in order
to be circulated so that they can be included alongside the things that we
are paying attention to.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Lisa, that`s exactly the point that we are going to come
right back on because GLAAD, I think, is may be beginning to recognize the
ways in which it has been limited even in its extensive storytelling, the
way that there are still limitations. So, thank you for being here and for
also for pushing us in that direction.
Because when we come back, we are going to talk about how GLAAD is making
room under the big tent for the dangling T on the LGBT movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Saturday, I have the honor of attending the 4th annual
GLAAD media awards where I am proud to say, MHP show won the award for
outstanding television journalism in the news magazine category.
The biggest announcement of the night, though, came from GLAAD president
In his opening speech, he said that GLAAD, as an acronym, no longer stands
solely for gay and lesbian alliance against defamation. But now, the GLAAD
organization will stand up for transgender equity.
Joining me now at the table are two guests from the transgender community,
Mel Wymore is a city council candidate from Manhattan`s upper west side and
Janet Mock is a writer and activist and a big favorite among the Nerdland
staff who have been fangirling (ph) her for about two days.
So, let`s start by just asking, when GLAAD, and part of the reason you are
here with us is to stand in for GLAAD here. So, when GLAAD says we are
going take on transgender issues, what do they see that as? What are the
primary policy questions facing Trans-communities?
CRUZ: Well, let`s be clear about a few things. The number of murders and
the violence taking place against trans-people around is disgusting and has
to stop. And the images of trans-people in our media is exactly where
media images of gay and lesbian people were 20 years ago. And national
organizations have been -- have not done a very good job at all in dealing
And so, GLAAD wants to be at the forefront and really urge the rest of the
nation`s national organizations to say this is our community too. Let`s
also be clear that if it were not for the trans-community, this movement
would not have happened. So, let`s go back and do the work that we should
have been doing all along. I want to tell you a story if I could.
CRUZ: This past fall was the trans-day of remembrance. And it really
drove home for me this issue which was, you know, on trans-day of
remembrance, we honor the people lost, who were murdered across the world.
And part of the ceremony in west Hollywood, we have to -- we were given a
person`s name and their story and how they were murdered. Well, I happened
to have been handed someone`s name and story. I went up and I read it.
And this person had no name. They didn`t know the person`s name. They
just knew that she was brutally attacked and murdered and stabbed 11 times.
It happened to have happened on my birthday of that year. And to me, I
don`t know. I believe in God. And I think that was a sign to me. And it
was, and really God was telling me, this is you. This is your story. This
woman was you.
And so, as a gay man, as a Latino man, I know what it feels like to be
bullied, to have somebody tell me who I`m supposed to be. That`s what this
woman was experiencing.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, Janet, I know you chose not to go to the GLAAD
JANET MOCK, TRANS ACTIVIST, WRITER: Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: In part, because this position is new for GLAAD. But also
because, so we won an award for a panel and yet, I also got a lot of e-
mails afterwards that said hey, great panel on trans questions, but what
about trans people of color, what about trans-views, what about the
question of economic inequality for trans men and women. So, as much as,
we are, you know, you and GLAAD or, you know, sisters like me trying to be
good allies, we still end up blind to a ton of privileges. So, what do we
need to know?
MOCK: What we need to know? We need to know that when we read the names
on trans-day of remembrance, it`s one day of the year. Trans-people,
specifically, when we say trans-people, we can`t pretend that it`s a
monolith. This is trans-women, specifically trans-women of color, right?
We need to break that down.
HARRIS-PERRY: Who are most vulnerable.
MOCK: Yes, who are most vulnerable to police brutality and violence and
who are engaged in sex work because this society does not equate our
womanhood to any kind of human hood in any kind of sentence. And so, I get
a little heated when I have these discussions because I feel like we need
to start spelling out who is at risk. And we need to redefine what
equality is. If we`re defining equality as something that is scarce and
limited and is for a very select few in our community and some of us need
to wait a little bit, that is not equality. That`s upholding, very
systematic systems of oppression.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let`s get this done first. Then we will be around you,
as you in a minute.
MOCK: Yes. And trans-women of color are not included in many media
images. We are talked about as if we`re victims and that is all we are.
When I know many trans-women out there doing amazing work who get a
fraction of the limelight that I get and I don`t even get that much
limelight. I am gagging right now that I am on Nerdland right now,
seriously. And so, I am heated and I`m very interested to have this
conversation about what true equality is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mel, let me ask you, because I know that your perspective as
a politician. And that you`re running for office.
MEL WYMORE (D), NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, part of it is like hey, I`m trying to be a guy who
is going to represent the whole constituency. Yes, I am a trans-man but
I`m also, I`m a candidate for office.
WYMORE: That`s right. I`m very lucky because I come from a liberal
community, the upper west side of Manhattan. I`m running for office. I`ve
been embraced twice as the community board chair. And the work that we
have done as an open transgender leader of that community, while focusing
on all inclusiveness for serving everyone in that community, in our school,
in our parks, in our small businesses, in our housing options. By doing
that work together and allowing for a dialog around gender and orientation
together at the same time really has broken down the barriers and built
bridges, not in a direct way but more indirect by working together and
getting to know each other. And we have created even more inclusivity on
the west side where gender and gender expression are less an issue about
otherness and disappearing all together on the west side. So, that`s
something we need to work on both ways.
We need to acknowledge that there are people who are really hurting and we
need to fight for laws that protect us. And we also need to be out there
as LGBT representatives serving the entire community, making sure that all
people are included, all voices are heard. There are many doors of
inequity, right? Come through many doors. But if we together decide that
the goal is created truly inclusive community where we can advocate for
each other, rights on color, rights on disabilities, special needs, seniors
who feel invisible in our society, if we all come together to make it out
our goal to have an inclusive community, then we are really accomplished.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. And I want - we are going to take a quick break and do
more on this when we come back. I want to talk about intersectionality
(ph) and how the laws are often can be blind to the issues of
intersectionality (ph) when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: A Republican lawmaker in the state of Arizona, home to the
original papers pleas immigration law is pushing a bill that would make the
same demands upon those who identify as transgender. The bill would
criminalize the use of public restrooms, dressing rooms or locker rooms for
anyone whose gender identity does not match the sex listed on their birth
certificate. Violation of the proposed law would result in a six-month
prison sentence and a $2500 fine. And it would, in particular, target
transgender people who face hurdles to obtaining identity documents that
match their gender and name.
Kenji, law does not deal with this intersection between race and gender and
identity and gender identity very well, does it?
YOSHINO: No, doesn`t at all. And actually the landmark work and this was
done by a scholar named Kimberly Crenshaw. And what she discovered was she
took these employment discrimination cases where African-American women
were being discriminated against. And the court will say OK, when we
analyze this, this is a sex issue. We are going to compare white men to
white women, we don`t see any problem. And then analyze next as a race
issue and we compare white men to black men and we see no problems. So,
who falls between the cracks there?
HARRIS-PERRY: Me. Yes, right.
YOSHINO: And so, what she argued is that you can actually run the
statistical regressions that show that African-American woman are
systematically disadvantaged. But the law is a blunt instrument that only
perceives one axis as a team such that your action is not going to be able
to find legal redress even in a world that has and discrimination
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And so, Janet, it tell to me, I`m just talking about
OK as we move into LGBT equality movement beyond marriage, to these other
pieces, we have Arizona passing discriminatory laws that can mean your
life, right? The issue of bathrooms and locker rooms and these spaces are
spaces of violence for trans-women in particular.
MOCK: Yes. We, you know, as a woman of color who is trans, I know
intimately what it is like to be neglected and to feel as if I`m violently
being exiled out of many spaces. And for me personally, it`s difficult
talking about these issues because I need our community, meaning the LGBT
community, not to just say we need straight allies, but we need to see
ally-ship as something that needs to be practiced internally movement-wide.
Meaning that, gay and lesbian people gain gaining these rights need to also
see themselves s allies to trans-people and to clear people of color,
And so, what I need from these people is to fight for access to health care
coverage, for protection when I`m looking to use the restroom, when I`m
looking for housing, employment and education. And also legal and social
recognition that trans-women are women that trans-men are men and that some
trans-people choose not to identify with either and self-determination is
HARRIS-PERRY: And look, this point about ally-ship, Mel, I was thinking
about this as a matter of politics when we were doing the voting right and
the question of voter suppression in the context of the election. We are
talking about race because we understand that the trajectory of the civil
But trans-people often don`t have identity markers, I.D. cards that match
what their self-presentation is. So, if you have to presentation your
driver`s license to vote, you might in fact be disenfranchised from being
able to vote because people say, that face doesn`t match what I`m looking
WYMORE: Absolutely. Sometimes it takes year to make that transition in
documentation and changing your name, changing your gender, you know,
distinguish distinction. Also, for example in Arizona, it`s almost
impossible to get your gender designation changed. Where as in New York,
it`s a fairly simple process. You basically, you know, go through a name
change and Social Security will actually let you do that without a birth
certificate change. But in Arizona, you have to get a birth certificate
change, which is a very lengthy process. I`m actually from Arizona. And I
dare say that I would have a more difficult time running for city council
there than I am on the upper west side of Manhattan. And that`s not a
coincidence because we are progressive community and we`re going to lead
the way in terms of building inclusive communities where everyone is
counted and valued and allowed to pursue their happiness without the bias
and discrimination you see everywhere else.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`m going to give you the last word on this. Because it
does feel like so GLAAD is about representations and ha matters. But also
wanting to say both to GLAAD and HRC and to the, particularly to the gay
male sort of a agenda setters within LGBT politics, let`s make sure that we
are also addressing these much broader sets of concerns.
CRUZ: Exactly. And that conversation is a long time coming. You know,
I`m sitting next to Janet and I`m hearing her passion and I want her and
the transgender community to know I stand with them and so does GLAAD. And
maybe we haven`t done the best possible job we have done until this point,
but we are committed to this issue. We are allies and you are a part of
This I s-- like I said earlier, this movement wouldn`t have happened back
in the `60s and `70s if transgendered people had not start it. So, let`s
get to work. And we invite the transgender community to come back to us.
If they have left us and to say work with us and tell us how to do this.
We are not going to dictate how this work needs to be done.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Janet, your point also that there isn`t one single
transgender community. There are monoliths.
MOCK: Exactly. And that also, you know, we know that Jennifer Lopez goes
by J-Lo. She`s still Jennifer Lopez. And so, it`s going to take more than
just a name change. So, it going to takes a whole regime change in terms
of hiring trans-women of color to be on staff so that they can address the
issues in a more intimate spotlight.
HARRIS-PERRY: And here is what I will say, being a good ally sometime also
just mean shutting up which I often find I have that work of being an ally.
Sometimes, you just got to let other folks talk and that, as you know, if
you watch the show, it`s very hard for me.
So, thank you to Mel an Janet and Wilson. Kenji is, of course, sticking
Coming up next, the first man to narrowly escape death hanks to DNA
evidence? How his fight is helping others.
Plus, the McGill brothers perform live right here in Nerdland. There is,
in fact, more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
There hasn`t been an execution of a prisoner in Maryland since 2005. But
now, in 2013, the death penalty in Maryland itself may be all but dead.
The Maryland house voted 82-56 on March 15th to repeal and replace it with
penalty of life without parole. And the Maryland state senate passed the
bill a few weeks ago, so all that`s left is the signature of Democratic
Governor Martin O`Malley who has promised to sign it into law at the end of
the legislative session on April 8th.
Writing in an op-ed published Monday in "Politico", Governor O`Malley
argued that, quote, "Capital punishment is expensive and the overwhelming
evidence tells us it does not work as a deterrent. He cited the most
recent FBI statistics that showed in 2011, the murder rate in states that
kill their own prisoners exceeded the rate in states prohibited from
killing prisoners. And that is simply what it is, right? A state killing
its own prisoners who you remember are people and sometimes those people
are, in fact, innocent.
A Maryland man was almost among those innocent victims until he became the
first American on death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
This is how Kirk Bloodsworth seen here in the blue shirt reaching for the
sky reacted to the Maryland House vote to repeal the death penalty. Yes,
folks, that is how you react when you`ve worked this hard to get rid of the
death penalty in your state that once almost took your own life.
Joining me now are: Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, a state which
still has legal death penalty; NYU constitutional law professor Kenji
Yoshino; Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project; and the man in
that fabulous photo that we have been loving in Nerdland, Kirk Bloodsworth,
now an advocacy director at Witness to Innocence.
So, Kirk, I want to start with you. Tell me a little bit about how your
story turned into your work.
KIRK NOBLE BLOODSWORTH, ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, WITNESS TO INNOCENCE: Well, in
1984, I was accused of a brutal crime that happened in Baltimore County,
Maryland. And to make a long story short, after eight years, 10 months and
19 days and two years on death row, thanks to people like Barry here, we
submitted for the DNA testing. I was freed.
It took another 10 years to -- from pressure from Barry and I and others to
push a state to do a DNA testing. You know, this was all based on a guy
described as 6`5", bushy mustache, tan skin. In the end, he was only 5`6"
and 160 pounds.
But I have been -- I had realized early on in my incarceration in this
whole thing that an innocent person could be executed. And I could never
support a death penalty with that happening. We have 142 exonerated death
row inmates in the United States. And a lot of them are members of Witness
Innocence, the group did on advocacy. That moment in that photograph was -
HARRIS-PERRY: A great one.
BLOODSWORTH: Lifting everybody up and it was the most unique thing I`ve
HARRIS-PERRY: Barry, I want to talk about DNA and innocence for a second.
Because feels like DNA has become the kind of evidentiary basis on which
we`ve finally been able to say, really, this person did not commit this
crime. Yet, even as I listen to Kirk tell the story, the fact that it
begins in part because of faulty bases of evidence, DNA matters to me. But
I also want to be sure we can begin to talk about in the sense without the
one turning point that is DNA.
BARRY SCHECK, CO-DIRECTOR, THE INNOCENCE PROJECT: Well, the key point to
understand is that DNA is only present in less than 10 percent of serious
felony cases. So what about the other 95 percent of cases where it`s based
on eyewitness identification?
There were five mistaken witnesses in Kirk`s case. As Kirk said, the real
assailant didn`t look like him and they were in the same jail cell for a
period of time. It`s quite incredible.
SCHECK: And we have false confessions. We have the intractable problems
of race. We have indigent defenders that are not adequately funded. And
here we are in the 50 anniversary of Gideon and that`s a promise
We have forensic science. I`m happy to say that finally, it appears after
a landmark report four years ago by the National Academy of Sciences the
only forensic assay that is really validated scientifically, that is DNA
testing. They criticize severely, fingerprints, bite marks, tool marks on
bullet, all kind of other forensic assays that just really haven`t been
adequately validated and some may not be validatable.
SCHECK: They, finally, be now we have a national commission with National
Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Justice and
we`re going to have 30 people appointed to that starting soon.
So, some progress has been made but the real significance of DNA, it`s been
a learning moment for the criminal justice system and we realize how
riddled with error this system is in the first place.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, it feels like, if Kirk didn`t do it and was
convicted on it, the problem isn`t just missing DNA test, right? It was
all of these other pieces. I also heard you say the intractable problem of
race. And, you know, we can`t talk about death penalty without talking
And I just want to make clear how important that particular alchemy. It`s
not that African-American-Americans are more likely to get the death
penalty. It has to do with that alchemy between race of victim and race of
assailant. Explain that to us for just a second.
SCHECK: Yes, the victim in a murder is white, you`re for more likely to
get capital punishment whether the defendant is black or white. So, that
race effect has long been in place. And there was a case that Justice
Powell, when he got off the court and said, oh, my God, he really made a
bad decision in this McCleskey case, so many things would be different.
But there are race effects. What we should mention, one very clear case
that`s now in Texas that defendant named Duane Buck and this is really
illustrative. Nobody is saying he`s innocent. But at his sentencing
proceeding, there literally was expert testimony that said he would be
violent, he was a risk for future danger just because he was African-
SCHECK: And even Senator Cornyn, when he was attorney general, had
identified nine cases and this -- Buck`s was one of them. That all of them
except Buck`s case were set aside and got resentencing. Duane Buck should
get a new hearing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Kenji, I want to come to you on another thing, which is 50
years since Gideon. That`s an unfulfilled promise. So, I know in the land
of constitutional law, that makes perfect sense. Remind us again what
Gideon is and why we`re still unfulfilled 50 years later.
YOSHINO: Right, so Gideon has to do with the fact of assistance of counsel
and a guarantee that even if you`re indigent, no matter what, you will have
effective witness of counsel.
And the reason that we haven`t sort of fulfilled the promise of Gideon -- I
mean, there are many, many ways. But one is over the definition of what
effective means, right? More broadly, you know, I think if we retrace,
there`s an uptick of a number of states that are repealing it.
I think we`ve also seen the Supreme Court has handed down cases under the
8th Amendment striking down aspects of the death penalty. So, we have
Atkins case and 2002, 2005, so, not so long ago, that say that you cannot
impose a death penalty when individuals are mentally retarded, trying to
impose a death penalty who are under age, or minors, right?
And so, it`s really to see how this is going to play because you can see it
going either way. You can either say this is thin end of the wedge, and
ultimately this is the way the court is going to give new life to the
Eighth Amendment`s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and say this
is violative of the Constitution.
Or you can say we have checks in place, we`ve made the death penalty more
YOSHINO: So therefore, this is no longer cruel and unusual punishment.
So, this is something that really have to watch very closely and I don`t
think that the outcome can clear.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels to me like, Congresswoman Lee, that`s part of
the politics, right? So there`s the law of it, but the politics of it.
Even as I was talking about it, it`s about the issue of cost.
If we can argue that it`s too expensive to keep people on death row. It`s
the question of effectiveness. Is it really a deterrent? It`s a question
of innocence. Are we putting potentially people to death who are innocent?
But there`s a part of me that wants to say, OK, if it was cost effective
and if everyone were guilty, this is still fundamentally problematic as a
So, what are the politics that allow us to get not just the thin end of the
wedge but the big part of the wedge through so that we`re ending the death
LEE: Let me go back to California for example. In the late `70s, 71
percent of Californians supported the death penalty. Well, in 2012, about
52 percent of Californians supported the death penalty. The NAACP, thank
goodness, took the lead in putting fort a proposition, Proposition 34, in
California on the last ballot in this last election.
It failed. But it only failed by about 48 percent to 52 percent -- again
52 percent still in California support the death penalty.
LEE: But I share that because it`s important to recognize that people
finally are beginning to wake up. They`re beginning to understand that it
is not cost effective. It does not increase public safety. Life in prison
without possibility of parole is the most prudent, effective, most
effective punishment. Right now, Melissa, we`re in the category of
countries such as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, couple more.
And I think this is where America wants to be. I think we have a better
way to approach penalties. No one is saying that criminals and people who
commit murders should not be punished. But we`re saying that we have to do
this in a way that makes sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s exactly where I want to pick up when we come back. I
think the innocence piece is a critical part of it, but I also do want to
talk about the point you made. Even if there`s guilt and we`re sure of it,
should we be talking about the death penalty? More (ph) next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The framework of our national debate about the death penalty
centers on whether or not there`s innocent people on death row. And that
is a critical problem. But the fact for me, that`s the biggest problem is
that there is a death row.
I`m thinking about the night that Troy Davis was executed. And there was a
lot of question about his innocence and there was an enormous outpouring.
But Lawrence Brewer, the undoubted murderer of Robert Byrd was also --
James Byrd, excuse me, was killed that might as well. And one is a black
man killed for -- by the state for the murder of a white man and one is a
white man killed by the state for the murder in the state of a black man.
And so oh, people -- no one -- only the sort of hardcore anti-death penalty
people could put them together because we understood why it was unjust for
Davis. But I wanted to distress just as much that it was unjust for Brewer
as well even though we know that he committed a heinous and horrible act.
How do we get there? What is the argument that helps us get there?
BLOODSWORTH: I have to say that interestingly enough, we have found out
that the death penalty is not given to everybody equally. And for -- I
know it`s heinous murders happen, that everybody talked about it in
Maryland. There were some murders that were more important.
But you can`t say the price of victims what they are. A lot of times when
this thing happens, it`s in this -- like the Troy Davis case, for instance.
He was basically -- had I think it was nine people who said that he had
committed this crime. In the end, there was only two that didn`t retract
their statements. And one of them might have been the shooter.
BLOODSWORTH: Possibly in my opinion, they executed an innocent man. As
for the other gentleman, I think honestly, we have to stop talking about --
this is what`s best for the country. I think in general we have to start
killing our system. Like you were talking about Sister Helen (ph) in the
break, and she always says it very best, why do we kill people to say
killing is wrong?
SCHECK: I think the argument in the end that`s going to win the day in
terms of morality is reasonable people can differ about whether capital
punishment is the appropriate sanction for the most heinous of crimes.
Reasonable people can`t differ about having a system that is just so
riddled with error and so riddled with racism, frankly, in terms of
deciding who lives and who dies and that really has been the difference.
You know, it is not just the risk of executing the innocent, although, that
has been an extremely powerful number.
SCHECK: When you look at the California vote, I was surprised. California
is the place where they`re wasting so much money on a completely insane
system and have so many people, you know, over 700 people on the row and
spend billions, literally, in the next few years and everybody knows it`s
And yet, when we analyze the vote, the biggest factor was the issue of
innocence. But it is a moral question. But the moral question comes down
to: how can you stand by a system that just can`t get it right?
People are going to begin to see, it`s not just getting it right on who is
innocent or guilty. My God, there`s a lot of question about that. We`ve
executed innocent people, no doubt about it. Cameron Todd Willingham in
Texas an excellent example.
But, in addition, if you begin to believe and understand as I think lawyers
do, the American Bar Association, judges do, that we can`t really decide
who deserves to live and who deserves to die in a rational, coherent and
moral way, that moral question is going to bring it all down.
HARRIS-PERRY: And there`s a constitutional question here as well, right?
Part of the reason in this is Eighth Amendment isn`t just about death.
It`s also about the way we put people to death, right? This is part of the
phasing out of the electric chair and then the moving in of lethal
injection. But lethal injection turns out, is not the peaceful sort of not
cruel thing that I think many Americans may imagine that it is.
YOSHINO: Absolutely. I mean, the constitutional standard as you said,
it`s cruel and unusual punishment. Folks who want to preserve the death
penalty say this is frozen in 1791. So, given the death penalty was
permissible in 1791, you know, that`s it for some. The other side of the
equation goes to a case in 1958 that says we look at this according to the
law being standards of decency of a maturing society, right? So, it`s real
by who we want to be, rather than who we were in 1791.
My colleague, my former colleague, Steven Bright (ph) at Yale Law School
used to say that we wouldn`t be able to have a death penalty if everybody -
- if one person were forced to make the decision, because once you`re
involved with the death penalty in any way, you see the unfairnesses,
whether it`s with the mode of execution, lethal injection or with the
And I think what you`re trying to hold as a moral center of saying don`t
say, oh, if it weren`t for the racial disparities, this would be OK. Oh,
if it weren`t for innocent individuals being executed, this would be OK.
Let`s go to the ultimate moral question, rather than the consensus-
building, political issue and say, who are we as a society and do we really
believe in this kind of (INAUDIBLE) culture? And what Bright says is the
closer you get to this thing and the more you understand it, the more you
realize that this will be impossible unless it was disbursed among a wide
swath of people, because anyone who truly understood could not push that
button and put that person to death under the conditions that are currently
HARRIS-PERRY: But the one person who might or be willing to, is the
victim`s families. And I think on the one hand, I have a very, very clear
position on this. The other, and you must have constituents who say to
you, I`m with you on all these things, but I have lost a son, I`ve lost a
daughter, I`ve lost a mother or father, and the only thing that is going to
make me feel better is if there is state retribution.
LEE: Sure, and that`s only the difficult issue that elected officials,
especially, have to address, because we understand the pain and suffering
of a lost one. I mean, who has been murdered. I mean, that`s just
unconscionable. It`s hard to even fathom.
However, we have to really that executions and the death penalty do not
create more public safety. This is not going to enhance our criminal
justice system. This is not going to reduce homicides. We have had a
warden at San Quentin, she led the charge to rye to abolish the death
penalty on Proposition 34. She saw this firsthand what had taken place in
terms of the fact that it had not increased public safety.
And of course, in Proposition 34, there were victims` restitution efforts
that we included where those who were convicted and had received a sentence
of life in imprisonment without parole, would have to work and their
salaries, of course, would be paid to the victims` families. I mean,
that`s not much for the loss of a family member. It was an effort to
acknowledge that this was wrong and we in no way believe by abolishing the
death penalty and replace it --
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s not still a need for punishment.
LEE: -- there`s not still a need for punishment.
So, finally, let me just say, we know it does not increase public safety.
LEE: Elected officials who will not understand that and who -- there are
many who do this for political reasons, who support the death penalty and
it`s tough on crime you have to get rid of the murders and that`s how we
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, absolutely. Kirk, I want to ask you one last on this,
which is how does it fit into a broader prisoner`s right? We do a lot on
prisons and the rights of offenders and ex-offenders. And there`s both the
question of the death penalty but also just in general how this fits into
the experience of being in prison and what we think of as a just and
reasonable way to incarcerate imprison people.
BLOODSWORTH: You know, I sat in prison for almost nine years and I have to
tell you that if people were looking for a punishment to give a person,
honestly, life without parole is no joke. I mean, this is your -- you`re
in this cell for killing a human being. You`re not going to get out.
And I think it`s the better part of valor to me as a human being, because
that shows us accountability, because the death penalty has given
everybody, victims and the people it has not protected anyone in this
country. I was standing in Delaware recently, just testified in front of
the Senate committee to abolish the death penalty there. I told the police
officers that were in the crowd, the death penalty has not tried to save
you or me from anything, and that police chiefs say a majority of them say
it`s the least thing that will had help us as a society to protect us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Kirk, for being here.
BLOODSWORTH: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Barry and Kenji.
Congresswoman Lee is going to stay with us for a while. But up next, we`re
going to shift gears a little bit, because we`re going to talk about the
arts. Clear it out. Sunday afternoon, let`s enjoy it.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the past decade sciences revealed new findings about the
cognitive, social and emotional development of children. And among these
findings is the role of dance, music, art and other forms of creative
expression on the intellectual and social development of underprivileged
and at risk children.
Joy, delight a sense of mastery and enhanced ability to make and sustain
human and cognitive connections are all bolstered by art. One teacher
didn`t need to see the scientific reports of this. She knew how art
transformed young lives, so she took her work to Harlem.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNDIE BELLEN-BERTHEZENE, FOUNDER/EXEC., DIRECTOR, TIME IN: Blue card,
white card, red card. What?
And a purple card.
I`m Cindy Bellen-Berthezene. I am the founder and executive director of
the Time and Children`s Arts Initiative, which is an introduction to high
art aesthetics for little kids.
I`ve taken a program that was designed for really some of the most gifted,
most well-positioned children in New York from very wealthy families and
then created this program so that children whose parents would never say
oh, my child needs to learn opera would have the opportunity to do this
program as part of their regular school day, so that every child gets an
opportunity to do this.
That`s so cute. I know you like it. Hey, look over there.
We alternate weeks so that one week they`re out in museums and galleries.
They`ll do -- they see all contemporary art shows. We specialize in 20th
and 21st century art. So, they go out like Sotheby`s and Christy`s
interns. So, they`re like graduate students, an opportunity for kids to
get more and more and more chances to be kind of like the rest of the
world, instead of being hermetically sealed in a community where they have
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: It`s fun.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: My favorite.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a first grade teacher at my school, I`ve noticed
that this impacted the students for many of them as life experiences
getting out of the neighborhood. Most of them only experience within
walking distance of the school where they live.
BELLEN-BERTHEZENE: They`re not easy lives that a lot of these kids live.
So, art allows them to create a new kind of horizon. I`ve seen kids,
they`re like one day they`re living in an apartment, the next day they come
in, they`re really blue because mom is not working and so, they`re losing
their apartment and going back to a homeless shelter.
Art allows them to take control of their interior lives and to put the
other things that are not in their control at a distance.
EMMA MARKARIAN, PRE-K TEACHER, P.S. 63: I have a student in my classroom
who is shy. He did not say a word since September. With the children to
me, he was just very shy. You know, he doesn`t like to talk. But today,
we invited his mom to come to the studio with us. And while he was working
on the project, painting, gluing, he was talking the whole time.
BELLEN-BERTHEZEN: Yes. Gold fits gold for me. I want to change the face
of education. I think you can carry this kind of work much, much farther
than we do right now.
We want to change the world.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we hope that you do change the world.
Our thanks to the administrators and the kids of Time In. And as we
celebrate those budding young artists, I`d like to pay tribute to a
literary giant we lost this week. Chinua Achebe, the legendary, Nigerian
author died Thursday at the age of 82. His first and most famous book,
"Things Fall Apart," was published in 1958. It became a classic of world
literature, transforming the way we saw Africa and the project of
colonialism. It`s still required reading in many parts of the world with
nearly ten million copies sold in 45 languages.
Achebe had a profound influence on American writers like Tony Morrison and
Juno Diaz. And his work will continue to inspire for generations to come.
Up next, the brothers who themselves are inspiring a whole new audience.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s one thing to have one accomplished child, but the
McGill family has two. They`re not only accomplished but oozing with
talent. Anthony and Demarre McGill both serve as principal musicians in
their respective companies. And this no small feat since African-Americans
and Latinos only make up an estimated 4 percent of major orchestras.
The brothers are also the only siblings to win the Avery Fisher Career
Grant. It`s one of the most prestigious award bestowed on artists. And in
2009, Anthony McGill performed at President Barack Obama`s inauguration
with Yo-Yo Ma and others.
How is that for making mom and dad proud?
I`m pleased to welcome Demarre McGill, principal flute for the Seattle
Symphony, and his brother Anthony McGill, principal clarinet for the
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra here in New York.
And still with us, Congresswoman Barbara Lee who is a fairly accomplished
high school pianist and who`s 80-plus-year-old mother is still trying to
get you to open up the piano and practice regularly.
Brothers, let me ask you the question of the role that music played for
you. What did it do for you?
DEMARRE MCGILL, SEATTLE SYMPHONY: Well --
HARRIS-PERRY: As kids?
DEMARRE MCGILL: As kid?
DEMARRE MCGILL: It taught us discipline, passion. It definitely bonded us
as a family, as brothers. I mean, I really can`t imagine my life without
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the stories that I find most extraordinary is that
your parents apparently mortgaged their home five separate times to be able
to afford lessons for the two of you. Meaning that you`re not from a
household of economic privilege, but you are from a household where parents
did everything they had to do to make this possible for you.
How -- what are your parents thinking in this moment and what do you think
about the sacrifices that they made?
ANTHONY MCGILL, NY METROPOLITAN OPERA: Well, you know, they sacrificed for
us basically because they loved us. And we felt that love growing up and
we felt that positivity. So, they never really talked about the money
aspect of it with us that much, except the first time you wanted a $700
ANTHONY MCGILL: They were like how much for the flute?
DEMARRE MCGILL: That was early on, too. The instruments got more
expensive as we went along.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, how did they know you were this talented? Where did
they first discover this talent?
DEMARRE: Well, we come from -- we definitely come from a creative
household. So they involved us in a wide variety of activities. It just
so happened I`m four years older. I think by the time he started playing,
I had been playing the flute for about six years at that point. So I had
time to discover that love. It just so happened when Anthony picked up the
clarinet, he was amazing right away.
HARRIS-PERRY: Gifted in that way.
Congresswoman Lee, here`s -- so I love that their parents, and I love the
way that you put it, that they loved us so they sacrificed for us, like
what else would there be? And yet, what I want to know, is that when
there`s a child living on the south side of Chicago, we`re in the seventh
ward of New Orleans or in Harlem and New York, if they don`t have resources
or don`t have parents, no matter how much they love them, who can provide
the resources, we have cut arts funding in our schools, we have cut arts
funding in our communities.
How do I make sure we don`t lose the Demarre`s and the Anthonys of the next
LEE: Let me just say, first of all, what an honor it is to meet you. I`m
awed by both of you. And you`re such wonderful role models for all young
people in our country.
I`m an appropriator. I serve on the Appropriations Committee. And it is
just such an uphill battle when we talk about why we need to make sure that
our young people, all young people have the best possible education, yet
there are those who want to cut art, sports, right away.
You know, it doesn`t make any sense, when we have such a small percentage
of our public school funding, our National Endowment of Arts funding going
for the arts in public schools. And I remind my colleagues that academic
achievement oftentimes is predicated on arts and on sports and on those
activities in school that really generate the creative spirit and the
creative mind of young people, and so, you know, most countries have
artists integral to their culture, even Cuba.
I mean, countries -- of course, this country doesn`t especially care for.
Art and music is central to their society. And so, for us in America to
cut funding for music and for the arts to me is a shame and disgrace,
because our young people need that. I mean, can you imagine if all young
people had the opportunities to soar and to allow for their creative spirit
to come forward and schools. I mean, not everyone has a lot of money.
HARRIS-PERRY: Exactly. It doesn`t mean they don`t have a lot of talent.
Anthony, you`re the younger and I`m the youngest in my family. So, there`s
a way by which the time you pick up the clarinet, you already have a model
of an African-American family, an African-American brother who is playing
the flute, but I wonder about that. It is surprising -- it is still
unusual to see African-American men playing classical music on the
instruments that you play.
How has race mattered or has it mattered not at all?
ANTHONY MCGILL: I think our parents gave us a true sense of identity and
we always connected with our identity. We know where we`re from. What`s
interesting is that they never taught us that we couldn`t do anything or be
anything that we wanted.
So, race mattered only to us as far as being good role models and being --
you know, our parents raising us to be strong role models. But as far as
playing classical music, something that we just fell in love with. And
they wanted us to do what we wanted to do. It didn`t matter if it was
predominantly of a different race or anything like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
ANTHONY MCGILL: It was a field that if we loved it, good at it, they
wanted us to go into it, you know? It was never an issue as far as it
being a barrier. They put it, presented it to us as being something we can
strive for no matter what. No matter what obstacles there are.
HARRIS-PERRY: When, Demarre, when you meet other young people or
particularly if you`re back home in Chicago, do you find kids who have
never even thought about these instruments as something that`s on their
option, on their menu?
DEMARRE MCGILL: Of course. I think option is the key word.
They meet me. They meet Anthony or any other classical musician. I would
say especially if this classical musician they meet looks like them, it
gives them an option.
DEMARRE MCGILL: Options are golden, and few and far between.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. We were talking about this in the context of LGBT
movements. But just the idea of people sometimes need the image, they need
the visual in order to say I could embody that, I could be that.
So, as the mother of a daughter who I keep trying to get to practice her
violin every day, I appreciate it, Because it`s in part sort of saying see,
here is what is possible.
Stay right with us, because when we come back, you two have promised to
play for us, which thrills me.
And, Congresswoman Lee, thank you for spending the day with us.
LEE: It`s wonderful to be here. And maybe I`ll go back and practice my
piano. I was taught classical also. My mother sacrificed a lot. Every
Saturday, I had to take piano lessons. I loved it. I don`t know why I
stopped. I guess I got kind of busy.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I`ve always loved you, but knowing that you`re the
first African-American cheerleader and that you`re pianist, maybe we need a
Congresswoman Lee day as well.
Up next, a real change. The McGill brothers are going to perform live here
HARRIS-PERRY: We are back with classical musicians Anthony and Demarre
McGill. Now, you`re both principals both in orchestras across the country
from one different areas of the country.
What does it mean to get to play together?
DEMARRE MCGILL: It`s a spectacular opportunity to play with my little bro.
HARRIS-PERRY: Are you competitive when you`re playing or is it truly just
ANTHONY MCGILL: Oh, it`s totally collaborative. I love playing with him.
He has the best energy of anybody I play with.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lovely, what will you play for us now?
DEMARRE MCGIOLL: We`re going to play a segment of Via Lobos Chorus for
flute and clarinet.
HARRIS-PERRY: Lovely. I`ll let you play.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Anthony and Demarre.
We`re going to be right back. There is still more Nerdland.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last Saturday, while the formidable Joy-Ann Reid fiercely
led Nerdland across a terrain of news and analysis, I dragged two of my
dear friends across a course of a very different kind.
Joined by Bethany (ph) and Sarah (ph), I took on the Washington, D.C. rock
and roll half marathon. The three of were running with the Human Rights
Campaign as athletes for equality, to raise money and awareness for the
continuing struggles of LGBT Americans.
And it was a brisk but beautiful day in D.C. And as I am a political nerd,
I am incredibly inspired by running a course that included views of the
Washington monument, the Potomac, and two unforgettable miles directly
towards the Capitol dome. At mile 11, I screamed with glee when I spotted
a hand-lettered #Nerdland sign.
And in the final 100 yards, I don`t know who, someone shouted, "Go, MHP"
and I managed to pick up my heavy feet just a few more times and get across
the final line. Thank you, whoever you are.
But listen, my pal Bethany, she was with me and chatted and laughed for
every step of those miles, reminding me that we should always do hard
things with positive and optimistic people on your team. The struggle
continues but there`s no reason it can`t be fun.
And then there was Sarah. Every time we came to a hill, my impulse was to
slow down, shorten my stride, put my head down and just endure it. Sarah
saw the hills, picked up her pace, and sprinted. I am serious. She
sprinted the hills.
Now, in my defense, I`m almost 40 and Sarah is 22. But I watched in awe as
she sprinted the hills, crested, and then waited, smiling and bouncing in
place until I huffed and puffed to meet her. I have an amazing life and I
feel extraordinary blessed but the opportunities I`ve been afforded. But
sometimes I am exhausted by it all.
The seven days of week of work and my duties as a professor at Tulane
during the week and shows every weekend, carving out time to be an adequate
parent, a decent mother, an attentive spouse, and at least occasionally to
make time to call and check in on my BFF.
We all have our hills, many far more difficult than mine -- illness and
loss, economic insecurity, uncertainty. But when I hit the hills, I duck
my head, hold my breath, and just try to power through them.
When I watched Sarah, I was reminded there`s another way. We can, within
reason, choose to sprint the hills, to tackle the big challenges with
elation and energy and enthusiasm for seeing what is at the top because
sometimes at the top, there`s someone urging us on and offering us gummy
bears and I am so grateful for Sarah`s lesson, sprint the hills.
So to my friend Chris Hayes, my colleague for more than a year on early
weekend mornings, we here in Nerdland are so excited about your
opportunities on weekdays at 8:00. We`re all going to be tuning. And you
have taken on a wonderful new challenge and I have no doubt that you`re
going to excel. And just remember this -- if it ever seems hard, sprint
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you again Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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