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Joe Biden: 'Equality is not a matter of "identity politics."'

The former VP shares an important message in the foreword of author Sarah McBride's new book.

Joe Biden: 'Equality is not a matter of "identity politics."'

Sarah McBride is a brilliant, accomplished woman with a brand-new book — and one very famous fan.

Actually, she has many famous fans, but just one wrote the foreword to her memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different." McBride is one of the most well-known activists in the fight for transgender rights. When she spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she became the first out trans person to address a major party's political convention, and she currently works as the Human Rights Campaign's national press secretary. Before that, she worked for a man named Beau Biden.

Beau was the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and served as Delaware's attorney general from 2007 to 2015. McBride worked in Beau's office, earning the admiration of both generations of Bidens.


Sarah McBride addresses the DNC as Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) looks on. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

In the foreword to McBride's book, Joe Biden shares his own story of growth, delivering a powerful rebuke to the idea of identity politics as political poison.

"As a country, we need to reject the false distinction between social inequality and economic inequality, for any barrier to good jobs, safe schools, or basic health care is inequality one and the same," writes Biden.

"As a nation, we must continue to ensure that the American Dream is available to all people. Our LGBTQ fellow citizens are service members and factory workers, teachers and doctors. They are patients and caregivers, family members and friends. Equality is not a matter of 'identity politics,' it is a human right, and an economic necessity for many of the most vulnerable in this nation, people whose lives, dignity, and security are on the line.

We are at an inflection point in the fight for transgender equality, what I have called the civil rights issue of our time. And it's not just a singular issue of identity, it's about freeing the soul of America from the constraints of bigotry, hate, and fear, and opening people's hearts and minds to what binds us all together."

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

There's confusion about the concept of identity politics — what it is and isn't.

In the wake of Donald Trump's election, a number of prominent media figures were quick to place blame on causes like Black Lives Matter, the fight for trans rights, and anti-racist and anti-sexist movements.

These causes were, to those critics, identity politics. Identity politics has become a catch-all term for causes that focus on how to help a specific group of people. It's often used pretty derisively and framed as shortsighted. Biden doesn't think that has to be the case.

10 days after the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times published an op-ed by author and humanities professor Mark Lilla titled, "The End of Identity Liberalism." In it, he scoffs at the thought that people on the political left should fight back against North Carolina's anti-trans HB2 bill, writing, "America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms." He mocks colleges that take steps to accommodate trans and non-binary students, as well as the larger idea of "diversity issues." Lilla seemed to believe that progressives should abandon issues around race and gender altogether if they want to win future elections.

It's time to stop treating identity politics as the cause of our problems or an obstacle to progress.

Identity politics and political correctness are convenient scapegoats for society's ills.  Trump wins an election? Blame it on Black Lives Matter. People didn't laugh at a comedian's joke? Blame it on oversensitive trans people. It's a simple, lazy excuse for not dealing with the actual causes of society's problems.

Regarding North Carolina's HB2 — the example Lilla indirectly referenced in his op-ed — it's worth looking at what effect identity politics had on the state in the first election after that bill was signed into law. Going into his 2016 reelection bid, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory ran hard on the anti-trans law and argued that, if were it up to his opponent, trans people would be allowed to use whatever bathroom matches their gender identity (which ... honestly makes sense, right?).

Roy Cooper, McCrory's opponent, did run on repealing HB2. According to Lilla's thesis, this embrace of identity politics should have spelled doom for Cooper. Instead, he won. Better yet, he outperformed virtually every Democrat on the ballot.

In a state that voted for Trump, Cooper was able to knock off its incumbent Republican governor. It seems that it was because of his willingness to embrace so-called identity politics that he won, not in spite of it.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper addresses supporters on election night 2016. Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images.

Identity politics are important because many of our identities are under major attack right now. McBride's book highlights that fight.

As Biden notes, social inequality is economic inequality. If a trans man loses his job because of his gender identity, that's an economic issue. If a pregnant person is forced to carry a fetus to term and is stuck with thousands of dollars in unwanted medical bills, that's an economic issue. If institutional racism prevents a person of color from finding a job or buying a home, that's an economic issue.

Still, the fight to right these wrongs is too often brushed off as "identity politics" or as a purely social issue.

Empathy, not isolationism, is what will help us create a better, more just world. That's part of the false message of anti-identity politics crusaders: They suggest that these issues divide us. The truth is that you don't have to be trans to care about trans rights; you don't have to be black to believe black lives matter; you don't have to be an undocumented immigrant to care about DACA; you don't have to be disabled to care about disability rights; you don't have to have a uterus to believe in comprehensive sex education and reproductive rights. You just have to be a person who cares about other people.

McBride's book, especially for people who might have any trans family, friends, or acquaintances, is a good place to start if you're interested in building empathy.

Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

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Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."