Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

Victory for CA Families – Prop 8 Overturned (for now)

February 7, 2012

This afternoon, a federal appeals court found that Proposition 8 – the 2002 voter-approved ban on same sex marriage in California – is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The 2-1 ruling will have  little bearing on the struggle for same-sex equality in other states, however, because the ruling was based on the fact the freedom to marry a same-sex partner was – at one time – granted to Californians. The decision states:

“Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.”

And further:

Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” [Em. mine]

It’s been a long road for California on this issue, and no one believes that this ruling is the end of the line. In fact, yet another “stay” is expected to be placed on the ruling – preventing same-sex marriage while a third such ruling is appealed.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) condemns the ruling and doggedly vows to take the matter to the Supreme Court. Interestingly, NOM’s The Threat to Marriage page conatins absolutely no explanation of how same-sex marriage threatens marriage. Go figure.

Op-ed columnist Frank Bruni had a piece in the NY Times yesterday that gives a good perspecitive on this. He points to the policies of forward-thinking companies as an augur of times to come:

…same-sex marriage, enacted in New York last June and now under serious consideration in Maryland, Maine and New Jersey. It’s the future. And the response of corporate behemoths based in the state of Washington reflects that.

In addition to Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon spoke up for same-sex marriage. All have surely taken note of several polls over the last year suggesting — for the first time — that a slight majority of Americans supports it. All have no doubt taken even greater note of a generational divide. In a Gallup poll, 70 percent of people in the 18-to-34 age range favored same-sex marriage…

More so than politicians, corporations play the long game, trying to engender loyalty for decades to come, and they’re famously fixated on consumers in their 20s and 30s.

Further info:

Prop 8 Trial Tracker – a project of the Courage Campaign Institute

Prop 8: The Musical – The 2009 classic. Still funny & compelling.


Susan G. Komen & Planned Parenthood: Some thoughts on the backlash

February 1, 2012

As promised, I found a petition site in response Susan G. Komen For The Cure’s announcement yesterday that they will no long provide grants to Planned Parenthood. The petition is managed by Credo Mobile, who, according to the site, is “proud to be the largest corporate sponsor of Planned Parenthood”.

More information has come to light about the new ultra-conservative V.P of Public Policy. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon writes:

Komen says the move is just about “newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities.” You know what else is pretty “new” around Komen? Its senior vice president of public policy, Karen Handel. During the Sarah Palin-endorsed, Tea Party favorite’s 2010 campaign for governor of Georgia, Handel declared, “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood,” making clear that she “strongly supports” laws prohibiting “the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion-related services.” She did, however, emphasize that she “strongly support(s) the noble work of crisis-pregnancy centers.”

There has been an incredible blast of fervor over the past 24 hours. Some of it, in my opinion, unhelpful. (A post on feminsiting takes time to poke fun at the tackiness of some of Komen’s fund raising products, as does – to a lesser degree – the article I quoted above. But Williams does shed light on some head-scratching tid-bits about the charity. Most strikingly,

according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure, and even a dog-sledding event called Mush for the Cure. Let me just give you that number again. 

This seems childish and rather uncharitable for a charitable for a non-profit, no? Especially considering that only 24% of funds go to research for a cure. It actually pigeon-holes them since awareness and early detection are as much a part of what they accomplish.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the backlash. Especially the huge numbers of people who have vowed to give more money to PPFA (yay!) and to stop any support of Komen (huh?). I understand the practicality of it. Hitting any organization in the wallet is the swiftest way to provoke change. But the principal of it is completely backward.

If we find fault in the politicization of women’s health – how can we punish an organization that seeks to improve and save women’s lives for political reasons?

It’s the same with anti-abortioners, who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge a single positive thing that Planned Parenthood provides for low-income women. Not even all that they do to prevent unwanted pregnancies in their communities. When they regard PPFA, they need to see only abortion, to the point that they will outright lie to make sensational and baseless claims.

I don’t agree with Komen’s decision. It makes me angry and I’ll raise as much awareness as I can to try to reverse it – or (as seems to be happening) help rile enough economic support from the public that PPFA will not feel a loss of funds at all. But I won’t turn my back on everything Komen does because I don’t like this one thing. If they were misappropriating funds, if donations went to huge salaries and not to research or awareness – I’d cut all support because my money wouldn’t be doing any good.

If I get a chance to do a race for Komen, I’ll take it. If someone tells me about an event, I’ll go. To do anything different would be to walk in the footsteps of pro-lifers who previously pulled the plug on Komen (and any org that gave a dime to PPFA).

Maybe I’m impractical. But if Komen’s ability to effect women’s lives are impacted by this decision the way Planned Parenthood’s may now be – who wins?

Update: New Hampshire Drops One of its Domestic Violence Bills

January 28, 2012

HB 1608, legislation that would have weakened the power of law enforcement to detain or arrest violators of protective orders, was dropped in the House  after the bill’s sponsor, Representative Skip Reilly (R, Grafton 8), first bowed out of the hearing at the eleventh hour because he was out of town. Then, when the hearing was rescheduled to accommodate him, he simply failed to show up, forcing the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to apologize to the  dozens who had traveled to testify against the bill on both occasions.

When asked why he failed to show up, he told WMUR’s Amy Coveno that he “wasn’t prepared to testify about the legislation.” That’s a legitimate reason to be a two-time no-show? If you did that in any other job, you’d be fired.

The intent of the bill remains a mystery, however. When asked about it, Reilly gamely passes the buck and explains he sponsored the bill at the request of Plymouth prosecutor Gabriel Nizetick. Nizetick quickly returns the buck by saying that his original intent was completely lost in the wording of the bill. He explains that

he was trying to bring regulations currently on the books in compliance with state law, saying recent amendments lumped civil disputes in with criminal infractions.

Civil disputes? Mistaken for domestic violence?

Although opponents are relieved that the bill was dropped, Amanda Grady of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, expresses concern about other domestic violence bills proposed this session, including HB 1581 – sponsored by Rep. Daniel Itse (R), and Rep. George Lambert (R) – which prevents officers from arresting anyone on domestic violence charges unless they witness the assault directly.

NH Proposes Legislation that Endangers Women’s Health

January 25, 2012

Part 1: Restricting Access to Affordable Reproductive Health Services

New Hampshire set the stage back in June 2011 when – through a five-person “exectutive panel” – it’s declined federal funding for the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics. As a result, it could no longer offer affordable birth control and considered doing away with pelvic exams as well. Raymond Wieczorek, a member of the panel who voted to nix the funding, voiced an all-too-common viewpoint from the anti-choice camp.

“I am opposed to abortion,” said , a council member who voted against the contract. “I am opposed to providing condoms to someone. If you want to have a party, have a party but don’t ask me to pay for it.”

And here we are – well past saving babies and far into the waters of SEX! People having sex! Because of course, the Hyde Amendment is alive and well and no federal money is used to fund abortions. And how can anyone pretend to believe a an embryo, fetus, or fertilized egg, is an innocent life in need of rescue while at the same time restricting access to birth control? They can’t.

Fast forward seven months and the NH house pulled all state funding as well. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is keeping a running tally of women denied services. As of today, it’s 2459.

Part 2: Making it harder to protect victims of domestic violence

HB 1581 would prevent a police officer from making an arrest in a domestic violence case unless he directly witnesses the violence. An article in NH’s Concord Monitor illustrates an apt scenario:

An officer is called to a home where she sees clear evidence that an assault has occurred. The furniture is overturned, the children are sobbing, and the face of the woman of the house is bruised and bleeding. It’s obvious who the assailant was, but the officer arrived after the assault occurred. It’s a small department, and no one else on the force is available to keep the peace until the officer finds a judge or justice of the peace to issue a warrant. The officer leaves, and the abuser renews his attack with even more ferocity, punishing his victim for having called for help.

It’s hard to understand the justification for this kind of change. And as much as I’ve dug, I haven’t found any proponents speaking out on the web. Reasonable suspicion is good enough for most arrests – but not when the victim is a partner or spouse? It’s reminiscent of criminal investigation being paid by the state, except in cases of rape.

On top of that, we have HB 1608, severely limits when someone can be arrested for violating a restraining order to two things:

  • Committing an act of abuse or an offense against the person named in the protective order
  • Engaging in prohibited contact

Critics worry that this language takes away a judges right to rule on a case by case basis. Additionally, NH law enforcement believes the bill would

remove a judge’s ability to order a defendant in a domestic violence case to relinquish weapons or prevent him or her from purchasing a gun. It would also eliminate law enforcement’s ability to arrest a defendant who threatens to use physical force against a victim or her children.

New Hampshire residents can petition here.


“Saving Grace” – Mueller on One Catholic Family’s Late-Term Abortion

December 6, 2009

Amanda Mueller, at Truthout, has an interesting piece about a family coming to grips with a late-term abortion and their strong Catholic faith. Gail and Robert Andersons have deep ties to their families and to their Catholic community. They were both raised with strong faith and never questioned their beliefs. Yet, when they discover a severe birth defect 27 weeks into Gail’s first pregnancy, they question everything. After intense soul-searching and long discussions with their doctors, they decide on a late-term abortion.

“We are Catholic. We are supposed to be against abortion, but the church teaches mercy as well. The church examines quality of life. It isn’t a black and white issue as so many like to make it,” Robert says, looking away while fondling with his fingers the golden crucifix he wears around his neck.

The Andersons sought the help of Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who was shot and killed by “pro-life” activist Scott Roeder last May. Tiller operated one of only three clinics in the country willing to perform late-term abortions. As such, he was particularly vilified by the anti-abortion community. However, Gail Anderson didn’t find the root of evil she had once envisioned.

“Dr. Tiller was a very gentle man to my husband and me. He wasn’t the villain that people, me included, had often painted him. He was soft-spoken. He held our hands while we mourned our loss. He even prayed with us.”


“The staff was respectful and allowed me to have a little bit of dignity where I didn’t think I had any left. It made me sad that I didn’t get that from my friends or my religious community, but from strangers in a hospital setting. To this day, I am bitter about that,” Gail confessed.

The Andersons managed to mourn their lost child, Grace, and come through with their faith in tact. However, they worry that the church is becoming “dangerously involved in politics and losing sight that the world simply is not black and white.” [Em.mine]

They continue forward, despite for some calling for their removal from the church, because they know that they are not alone. They move forward because it is their hope that other Catholics faced with similar situations will realize that they are not alone.

It’s worth a read – along with the voices of these men and women who share the heart-wrenching tales of their own late term abortions.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 26, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Womendecreed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Women around the world are the very linchpin keeping families, communities, and nations together. On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s human rights; let us invest more resources in countering [violence against women]; and let us do all it takes to end these horrific assaults once and for all.

Today also marks the first of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, which itself will conclude on December 10th, Human Right’s Day.  Interstingly, Australia has independently themed the day White Ribbon Day, and urges Aussie men to take the following oath:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

Pretty basic, huh? If you want clarification about what constitutes violence against women, the White Ribbon Foundation says,

“In simple terms, violence against women is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately.” [Em. mine]

This last is important because many of these abuses happen to men and boys as well, but the rate of occurrence and global levels of tolerance for these kinds of behaviors overwhelmingly validate this as a women’s issue.  Consider 

  • domestic violence, family violence, wife-beating, intimate violence, intimate homicide, femicide
  • sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, marital rape, gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment
  • genital mutilation
  • enforced prostitution
  • enforced sterilisation, enforced abortion, killing of unwanted female babies, enforced motherhood

Earlier this month the UN began Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, an initiative that “records what individuals, organizations and governments worldwide are doing to end violence against women.” Say NO strives to reach 100,000 actions by March 2009 and 1 million actions by November 2010. They count volunteering, donations, outreach, advocacy, and even individual instances of helping someone in need.  If you’re doing something, stand up and be counted.

I’ve spoken to too many people (men and women, incidently) who roll their eyes upon what they think are “women’s issues” or “feminist” complaints in a world they like to view as more or less equal by now. The finer points of sexism, discrimination, and gender politics aside,  according to UNIFEM:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available , up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today […] It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

I highly recommend reading the factsheet in its entirety (all stats documented), but here are a few nuggets:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually,7 with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Further Info:

WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Violence Against Women – We Can’t Look Away: Blogging and Updates from the International Rescue Committee

Ending Violence Against Women: What Works – 2006 Report from the UN’s WomenWatch (pdf)

Prop 8 & Gay Marriage – A Point by Point

December 18, 2008

I have a hard time understanding the current fervid “defense of traditional marriage” position. How is marriage being attacked, again? As Jason Linkins pointed out recently on Huffingtonpost:

…it’s a lot like saying that my preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla threatens the sanctity of dessert. Must we have these conversations over harms that are entirely imaginary?

But way too many Americans voted for Prop-8 or similar legislation, so what did they tell themselves to make that okay? I’m trying to understand. I am. Which is why when Jon Stewart managed to have a civilized discussion about gay marriage with Mike Huckabee this week, I sat up and paid attention. Huckabee speaks for the core of social conservatives, right? What did he have to say when Stewart questioned him?

…um, that’s all he’s got? Sadly, I was expecting more. If you look closely at what he asserts, you find merely age-old rhetoric without an ounce of logic or demonstrable fact.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:

  • Marriage between a man and a woman should be the only marriage because “it’s always been that way.”

Since when has this been a vaild reason for anything? Earlier in this country it had “always been” that a woman had no right to enter into a contract of any kind and she legally held no possessions. First she was a dependent of her father and then a dependant of her husband and held no legal rights to make life choices that might go against their wishes. (See Debran Rowland’s awesome book,  The Boundaries of her Body.)

In 9th century Europe, and for centuries before, it had “always been” that a woman who learned to read was sinful, dangerous and very likely possessed.

Things that had “always been” but were eventually changed for the betterment of society are so numerous you could dedicate a book to the topic.

And besides that, it HASN’T always been that way. Far from it. Although Huckabee boldly asserts that it was one man one woman for “the past 5000 years of recorded history,” it’s just not true. In a 2006 article historian Stephanie Coontz writes:

Pundits and politicians love to pontificate about strengthening traditional marriage. But as someone who has studied marriage forms and family life for more than three decades, I wonder how many of them have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about.

I suppose they mean the “traditional” marriage of one man and one woman.

But through most of human history and in most cultures the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy — one man and multiple women. We’re not just talking about exotic island cultures or lost tribes in the African jungle. Polygamy is the family form most often mentioned in the first five books of the Old Testament.

In some societies, traditional marriage meant one woman wedded to several men. In others, a woman could take another woman as a “female husband.” In China and the Sudan, when two sets of parents wanted to forge closer family ties and no live spouse was available, one set sometimes married off a child to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of the other family. Among the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl native societies of the Pacific Northwest, two families who wished to become in-laws but didn’t have two sets of marriageable children available for a match might even draw up a marriage contract between a son or daughter and a dog belonging to the desired in-laws. Most traditional marriages were concerned with property and wealth, not love or sex.

But what about the sanctity of marriage in the Christian tradition? It is true that Jesus, contradicting Moses, forbade his followers to divorce. But Jesus was not very keen on having them marry in the first place, holding that it was better to abandon worldly ties and dedicate oneself to building the faith. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke, 14). The Apostle Paul thought that getting married was better than burning in hell for unmarried fornication, but that the truly good thing was to remain a virgin and devote oneself to spreading God’s word. [Em. mine]

  • Marriage is all about making babies and hey, they just ain’t got the plumbing for it…

We’re talking about the law here. What part does procreation play in the law of marriage? Barren couples can marry. A couple can marry who has no intention of ever having children. A couple can marry and then proceed to adopt the offspring of others. All perfectly up and up. So the feeling is basically “As long as you’re having sex the way we expect you to, your marriage doesn’t have to be about procreation at all!”

And seriously, what does he mean by

“But even anatomically- let’s face it, the only way that we can create the next generation is through a male female relationship.”

So… gay marriage would replace heterosexual marriage and therefore lead to our eventual extinction?

  • If you “open up” the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, then you “have” to open it up to include everything else – (with multiple spouses, children, and animals ostensibly the first in line.)

Really? Why? Because you need to equate two men falling in love, getting married and spending their lives together with the profound abuse of children and animals? (assuming the animal marriages were, uh…consummated.) Sadly the equating of “grave sins” with whatever he disagrees with is not new territory for Huckabee.

Let’s look at other groundbreaking moments of  “redefinition” over the past 60 or so years.

* When “free man” in the US was redefined to include all races, were children suddenly emancipated from parents? Live stock emancipated from owners? Pets roaming the streets? Zoos emptied?

* When the definition of a legal voter changed to include women, did the floodgates open so that children, animals, and immigrants suddenly lined up at the polls?

* When an interracial couple could legally marry – did that immediately pave the way for marriage between homosexuals, children, animals, and next of kin?

Then why? Why would gay marriage lead to everything else you propose? Never once has anyone elaborated on this. Why.

  • It says so in the bible.

This one is so flawed that even Huckabee didn’t touch it during his Daily Show chat. First of all, contrary to the opinions of some, the bible does not inform our laws. Cheating on your spouse, disrespecting your parents, shouting “Goddamnit, Jesus Christ!” and lusting after another dude’s wife are all perfectly legal. Rather, our laws are explicitly informed by the US Constitution and the Separation of Church and State is in its oldest amendment.

That really is all that needs to be said to on the topic. Separation of Church and State. Yet, it’s only the beginning of why this “reasoning” is flawed. So although I don’t have to go here, it’s so much fun, why the heck not?

Yes, the bible says a man shall layeth with a woman, etc… The bible, in fact, says a lot of things. Deuteronomy Books 21 and 22, for example, have an awful lot to say…

  • You must stone to death a disobedient child. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
  • “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whomever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5
  • Any man whose bride has not shown sufficient evidence of virginity upon the wedding night must publically stone her to death upon her father’s doorstep. You know, to “purge the evil from the midst of [him].” Deuteronomy 22:13-21
  • If a married man cheats with another woman “both of them shall die.” Deuteronomy 22:22

(The previous culled from the wonderful Michael Shermer in his book Science Friction.)

Sure, there are lots of positive “do unto other” sentiments in the bible, especially once God has a son and everyone mellows out. But if you proclaim that what is written in the bible is the word of God, how can you dismiss some points while emphasizing others as absolute truth?

As Shermer says:

The problem here is consistency, and selecting ethical guidelines that support our particular or social prejudices. If you are going to claim the Bible as your primary (or only) code of ethics, and proclaim […] that homosexuality is sinful and wrong because the Bible says so, then you’ve got to kill rebellious youth and nonvirginal premarried woman.

Instead, the social conservative culture chooses to target homosexuals (no marriage!) while going easy on equally offending sexually active single women (please marry!…Oh, and have babies as soon as possible…)

Prop 8 proponents also spew another attack line, which again Huckabee was smart enough to avoid in his tete a tete with Stewart – Gay marriage defiles children. How?

The official Prop 8 site has this cute video (I’ve linked to it before, I know…) where a couple fears for the well being of their child because a teacher spoke about same-sex marriage in class. How the child would be harmed is never delineated.

This woman, gets more specific with

If you look at homes where one parent abuses the other parent, especially if the child is a girl, she will grow up to pursue guys who abuse her. My prediction is that if two lesbians raise a little girl/boy, the child will have a very high chance of either committing suicide or turning homosexual himself. Especially if one of the parents has been artificially inseminated.

She also happens to believe

…homosexual lifestyle leads to high rates of suicide, depression, HIV, drug abuse, STDs, and other pathogens.

What kind of koolaid has she been drinking? I don’t even feel the need to rebut this, as it’s a sentiment that has never been substantiated in any way – not even in theory.

Random House defines homophobia as “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.” Now, explain to me how actively supporting Prop 8 (or similar legislation) doesn’t make you homophobic.

Go on , Huckabee. I’m listening…

“Proposition 8 is an Embarassment…To ALL Americans”

November 9, 2008

I’ve had zero time to blog recently, but came across a well-written comment on the passing of Prop 8 in California and want to quickly second it. Although a significant mental disconnect exists in embracing the intelligent musings of one whom I’ve come to unconsciously view as the horny and hapless Charlie Runkle, I have to admit that Evan Handler is spot on with the sentiment

“[T]he passage of Proposition 8 in California is an embarrassment to, and an indictment of, all Americans.”

He also noted that although the gay community is vocally protesting the measure, the straight community has been shamefully quiet. He’s right, and it’s another reason I’m taking a few minutes to write this tonight.

Handler continues

Denying any Americans any rights that other Americans hold is discrimination. Period. It doesn’t matter whether the discrimination is motivated by morality, or religious beliefs, or a Ouija board, it’s still discrimination. And that makes it illegal. (And that comes after the fact that it’s wrong.) It should be clear to everyone (or made clear to them) that it puts us all in danger of the same kind of discrimination being pointed our way the moment someone decides we’re on the wrong side of their moral or religious measurements.

He suggests supporting those businesses who openly opposed the proposition – notably Google and Apple, each of whom formally denounced Prop 8 – and denying business to those who supported it. This is my favorite way to protest, capitalism at its very best – hit ’em in the pocketbook!

Already the struggle has begun to overturn Prop 8 in court. You can sign a petition to Gov. Schwarzenegger or donate to the Invalidate Prop 8 campaign at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. All donations are made in the name of the Thomas Monson, head of the Mormon Church, which spent $15 million on a PR campaign to convince people gay marriage would corrupt and defile their children. Many more suggestions are available on the What Do We Do Now? page at

Thanks to Ann at Feministing, here are the outcomes of other Nov 4th ballot measures affecting LGBT rights:

Amendment 2 in Florida: Passed. Yet another gay marriage ban.

Proposition 102 in Arizona: Passed. As Dana noted previously, “Arizona became the first state in the nation to reject an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2006, but they’re likely to pass the measure this year, now that it has been stripped of language that also denied domestic partnership benefits to hetero couples.” Looks like that was the magic change to make bigotry palatable to Arizona voters.

Act 1 in Arkansas: Passed. Now gay couples are unable to adopt or foster-parent children. This from a state with 3700 children in the foster-care system, and only 1000 foster homes. Disgusting.

Question 1 in Connecticut: Failed! Lindsay at Female Impersonator explained earlier that this initiative would have allowed the state constitution to be changed — essentially clearing the way for anti-gay and anti-choice amendments to be tacked onto it. Glad it didn’t pass.

CA Corporations Step Up To Say NO to Proposition 8

October 23, 2008

California-based mega-companies are uncharacteristically coming forth to speak out on a political issue.

Yesterday Apple publically came out against Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative to reverse the state’s recent legalization of gay marriage by amending the state constitution.

Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.

In September Google did the same, stating

…while there are many objections to this proposition — further government encroachment on personal lives, ambiguously written text — it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 — we should not eliminate anyone’s fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.

For more information visit No On Prop 8. For some outrageous/head-shaking/hilarious propaganda (depending on your viewpoint and/or mood), check out the interview of

“Robb and Robin Wirthlin, the Massachusetts parents who courageously decided to fight the system after teachers began teaching second graders about gay marriage in public schools.”

at Because as everyone knows, “protection of marriage” is all about protecting the poor little children! Seriously, God-fearing Robb can barely choke out the words “homosexual” and “gay.” He pauses then practically whispers them. What’s wrong with these people?

Helping Individuals is Good, Changing Society is Better – On Chicago’s Proposed Gay-Friendly High School

October 13, 2008

NPR just did a piece on the Social Justice High School Pride Campus – a proposed high school specifically for LGBT & allied students in Chicago. The website explains its objective as, in part:

The Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice believes that, to further the mission and vision of the school, it should replicate the successful components of the Social Justice High School and create a new high school campus to address the needs of the underserved population of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and their allies (LGBTQA youth). Research shows that there are low attendance rates and high drop-out rates among LGBTQA youth, and they struggle with harassment, depression, poor academic achievement, and suicide. Our goal is to provide a school with a safe, affirming, and supportive environment where every student — particularly LGBTQA youth — would develop the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives for themselves and their families and to succeed in their post-secondary pursuits.

My problem with this is that we should be working to make all schools “safe, affirming, and supportive environment(s) where every student…would develop the knowledge and skills needed to create better lives for themselves.” Why is bullying and harassment against LGBT (and questioning youth and allies…) accepted as so inevitable that the best recourse is to remove kids from “mixed” schools? “Separate but equal” springs to mind, although I realize no one would be forced to attend Pride Campus.

The idea of a temporary “safe haven” just doesn’t make sense to me. We obviously still live in a world where these teenagers are treated with intolerance and bigotry – so how are we best serving them by sheltering them from this conflict, when upon graduation they will only be returned to it?

Efforts should be directed at the climate of hatred and intolerance that prevents these schools from being safe and supportive for everyone. If you have a certain population that skips classes and drops out because of the aggression of another population – the answer cannot be to reward that aggression by removing the persecuted kids from the school!

A message needs to be sent that the problem is NOT LGBT teenagers, but the bullies who abuse them. If the very people in the public school system who support LGBT teens won’t hold the student aggressors accountable, who will?

CNN reports a study released Wednesday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):

The national study, which the group says is the most comprehensive report ever on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students nationwide, found that 86.2 percent of those students reported being verbally harassed, 44.1 percent physically harassed and 22.1 percent physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Hey kids! Adults! LGBT’s are a part of your community – YOU, whoever you are. So take the stick out of your ass and get used to it! What are we still in the days of Brown v The Board of Education?

Instead of segregation, I’d rather see heightened awareness and support programs along with higher discipline for harassers. I’d rather see a community, a school system that says “We don’t accept this behavior. We don’t want our children mired in the hatred of an entire group of people. This is NOT okay!”

New York City expanded its partnership with GLSEN last month in a training initiative called “Respect for All.” According to press release on GLSEN’s site:

Having already trained more than 1,000 New York City educators, the Respect for All Initiative will now include additional interventions to reduce bullying and harassment of students in city schools. The program began last school year training school staff to identify and address bias-related bullying and harassment, including bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

New components of this year’s program include the designation of a Respect for All liaison in every school and the school-wide distribution and posting of Respect for All materials, mandatory incident reporting and a requirement that every principal have a plan for the full implementation of the Chancellor’s Regulation and the Respect for All initiative.

A liasion is a fantastic idea – especially since students aren’t the only ones that mishandle themselves when it comes to the treatment of and attitudes toward LGBT’s.

This is a hard issue. If I was a LGBT high schooler afraid to attend classes, I’d be pretty happy about the Pride Campus. But as someone who expects more from society, I just can’t help but see it as a step backward.

Then again, there’s the Harvey Milk School in Manhattan (named for New York native and California’s first openly gay politician), which admits only LGBT teens who are at risk of dropping out. Their graduation rate is 95%, much higher than the state average of 58% (in 2003). More striking is the fact that the majority of HMHS students are black or Latino, and graduation rates for this demographic average 35.5% in New York State. Whatever else I feel about the concept of separate schools as a solution, HMHS takes near high-school drop outs poised to fall through the cracks and helps them transform into 60%+ college students!

I think my reaction comes down to this – I appreciate that these teenagers are being given a resource that will help them live the kind of lives they deserve, but I don’t like the fact that it’s being done in a way that allows a hate-filled segment of society to carry on as usual. Helping individuals is good, changing a society is better.

Peruvian Women Denied Legal Abortions

July 23, 2008

Therapeutic (to preserve the life and health of the mother) and eugenic (in the even of a non-viable fetus) abortions are legal in Peru, but you wouldn’t know it by living there. Men, women, and doctors alike share ignorance or confusion about the legality of certain types of abortion, and as a result women are suffering and dying needlessly.

Human Rights Watch recently published My Rights, My Right to Know: Lack of Access to Therapeutic Abortion in Peru. The 52-page report examines a system with vague laws and regulations, legislation passed yet ignored by federal government, fear of criminalization and malpractice, lack of public funds for the procedure, lack of protocols on any level, and exceptionally low awareness levels about the criteria for a legal abortion.

It also tells the sad tales of three women who were denied a procedure they desperately needed.

“M.L.” was 31 years old and pregnant with her second child. An ultra-sound at 30 weeks revealed a malformation. Eventually she was told that the fetus had no brain and no bladder and would likely die in utero. Devastated, she asked for a therapeutic abortion, but was told by the hospital that it was illegal. In fact, legislation legalizing abortion “in cases of sexual violence, non-consented artificial insemination, and fetal abnormalities incompatible with life” was passed by Peruvian Congress in 1989, but was never made widely known by the Executive government. Neither the doctors nor M.L. knew it was an option.

She considered an illegal procedure, but she and her husband decided that it was too dangerous. Besides, they had no way of raising the $700 fee. At 38 weeks she returned to the hospital with contractions and was given medication to delay labor. By the time her full term was up, the fetus had died inside her and had to be removed by Cesarean.

After the trauma M.L. suffered severe anxiety and depression. She said

“I wouldn’t want this to happen to any other woman; it’s something horrible that happened to me…. I dropped down to 40 kilos (about 88 pounds). People don’t know how much one suffers [in this situation]; they don’t want to know the truth about that kind of suffering.”

“K.L.” was a 17 year old girl who, at 14 weeks, discovered the fetus she carried was anencephalic. Anencephaly is a birth defect where the brain and spinal cord fail to develop and the child either dies in utero or a few days after birth. It also jeopardizes both the mental and physical health of the mother. Her physician recommended ending the pregnancy. K.L. and her family prepared for this and returned to the hospital, where they were told they needed the consent of the hospital’s director, who then flatly refused the procedure. She carried the child to term and when she gave birth (three weeks late) she was forced her to breast feed for four days before the child died.

K.L. required psychiatric treatment following her ordeal.

The final case is the saddest. “L.C.” was raped repeatedly for several months at age fourteen. She told no one, not even when she discovered she was pregnant. Instead, according to her mother, she threw herself from the roof of her family’s home. The suicide attempt failed, however it did injure her spinal cord and render her a quadriplegic. In the hospital, her mother first learned of the rape.

L.C. and her family requested a legal abortion so that she may undergo an operation on her spinal cord that might restore some mobility. The request was denied on the grounds that it was illegal. When her mother protested and said that a medical committee could review and approve the abortion, they met with resistance and unexplained delays. When the window of opportunity for the spinal surgery had passed, a review came through denying the abortion on the grounds that the fetus didn’t negatively effect L.C.’s health. She later miscarried in the hospital, when there was no longer anything that could be done to restore her mobility.

International human rights groups have criticized Peru for their lack of reproductive rights, but it is unclear how this criticism is being received by Peruvian officials. Ii can understand confusion and fear on the part of medical personnel, but I cannot understand the feet-dragging on the part of the government that allows this to continue.

Abortions are not more rare in Peru. They are simply more deadly. As in all countries, that number of abortions remains constant whether it is legal or not. What rises are simply mortality rates and mental anguish.

Standard Operating Procedure – Behind the Camera at Abu Ghraib

April 11, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure, a searing documentary that takes us inside the walls of Abu Ghraib, is the latest work by filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line).

Checkout the trailer:

SOP is also a book co-penned with Philip Gourevitch, author of the shattering, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, one of the first intimate portraits of the Rwandan genocide.

This month’s New Yorker featured an excerpt from SOP entitled “Exposure: The Woman Behind the Camera at Abu Ghraib“. The piece centers on Military Reserve Specialist Sabrina Harman, the women who took and appeared in many of the infamous photographs that surfaced in 2004.

Having not yet seen the film or read the book, I can only tell you that the 12-page excerpt alone paints a wrenching, horrific, yet page-turning portrait of human beings under conditions of prolonged and near unimaginable stress.

The instant reaction to the abuses at Abu Ghraib is one of shock and repulsion. Members of Congress are said to have gasped at the sight of some photos. Various military personnel at the prison at that time, and certainly anyone appearing in photo, were vilified, scape-goated and replaced. The public was left to wonder how such disturbed individuals escaped notice of those around them. How were they left in charge? Congressman Nighthorse Campbell reportedly said, “I don’t know how the hell these people got into our Army.”

Morris and Gourevitch suggest that these types of questions are, at best, misguided. The New Yorker piece portrays a vivid reality where an “a few bad apples” mentality simply doesn’t fit. Instead it pulls back the curtain on an Abu Ghraib where most of the MP’s acted not out of sadistic glee, but desperate survival.

According to those assigned there, the only rule the White House set for Abu Ghraib was that there were no rules. The prison was guided by no protocol and offered its personnel no psychological support. Instead it was staffed by militia who were unprepared for live action and untrained in prisoner detention, who worked 12 hours shifts for forty days straight, and lived in cells exposed to sniper fire, while attempting to fulfill the duty of “breaking down” the enemy, without being trained on exactly how to do so.

And this wasn’t just any enemy, the enemy-by-default, the soldier in a different uniform. These enemies wore no uniforms and hid among the innocent. These enemies, the MPs were told, were the ring leaders, the American-hating extremists who would stop at nothing until another, greater 9/11 occurred. They were supposed Al-Qaeda insiders who quite probably knew of plots underway at that exact moment that we can only stop if we break them, if we get them to speak.

And this was hardly a “think for yourself” environment. It was the army, during a war, within an overcrowded military prison positioned, without precedent, in the heart of a war zone.

All of this excuses nothing. The attempt to understand the darker side of human nature doesn’t absolve those involved. We’ve all heard the stories and seen the photos. It wasn’t pretty and it’s not at all clear it was even effective.

Yet given the circumstances, it’s hard to image a more moderate or reasonable outcome than what transpired at the prison, or how the daily abuses couldn’t have become, in fact, “Standard Operating Procedure.”

It’s easy to look at the the MP’s who existed within the walls of Abu Ghraib, to point fingers and judge. But what about the administration whose lack of either foresight or concern created and perpetuated the environment that turned well-intentioned soldiers into dehumanizing tormentors?

Yes, war does this itself. Surviving war necessitates a disconnect. Dehumanizing the enemy is standard, necessary. But these were not combat troops. This was a reserve unit that was supposed to engage in peacekeeping tasks. They didn’t know what the rules should have been, and that seems to have been the point.

Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil and defense witness for Abu Ghraib guard Sgt. Chip Frederick, tells Wired Magazine that although reasons don’t eclipse culpability

[s]ituations can be sufficiently powerful to undercut empathy, altruism, morality and to get ordinary people, even good people, to be seduced into doing really bad things — but only in that situation.

Understanding the reason for someone’s behavior is not the same as excusing it. Understanding why somebody did something — where that why has to do with situational influences — leads to a totally different way of dealing with evil. It leads to developing prevention strategies to change those evil-generating situations, rather than the current strategy, which is to change the person.

Sabrina Harman, shown smiling by corpses and laughing while pointing a gun at a naked soldier’s penis, also horded candy and small toys for the children imprisoned in the lower cells with the “regular” detainees. She gave them a bit of freedom to play and an elevated status by assigning them little tasks such as helping with meal times.

She let them out to run around the tier in a pack, kicking a soccer ball, and she enlisted them to help sweep the tier and distribute meals—special privileges, reserved only for the most favored prisoners on the M.I. block. “They were fun,” she said. “They made the time go by faster.” She didn’t like seeing children in prison “for no reason, just because of who your father was,” but she didn’t dwell on that. What was the point? “You can’t feel because you’ll just go crazy, so you just kind of blow it off,” Harman said. “You can only make their stay a little bit acceptable, I guess. You give them all the candy from the M.R.E.s to make their time go by better. But there’s only so much you can do or so much you can feel.” [Em mine]

On an earlier mission, training Iraqi policemen, Sabrina bought provisions for Iraqi civilians, including a refrigerator for one family. Fellow soldiers report that she would scoop up an insect and carry it outside her tent, rather than kill it.

In Abu Ghraib, MP’s were largely on their own. When Sgt. Frederick reported concerns up the chain of command – that they had mentally ill prisoners mixed with the general population, prisoners with TB, children being held with adults, he was reminded that this was a war and told to do “whatever you have to do.”

Zimbardo explains

The military intelligence, the CIA and the civilian interrogator corporation, Titan, told the MPs [at Abu Ghraib], “It is your job to soften the prisoners up. We give you permission to do something you ordinarily are not allowed to do as a military policeman — to break the prisoners, to soften them up, to prepare them for interrogation.” That’s permission to step across the line from what is typically restricted behavior to now unrestricted behavior.

Banning extreme physical violence, authorities left psychological means to get the job done. Harman herself seemed confused at the time by the emotional damage inflicted by, for example, telling a hooded prisoner he will be electrocuted if he falls off the box upon which he must stand for hours at a time. “I knew nothing would happen to him,” she explains. In contrast with corpses and beatings and sodomy, it must have somehow made sense.

Even when a prisoner is having an obvious emotional breakdown, the general reaction seems to have been, poor guy. Glad it’s not me.

It’s not an excuse for abuses beyond the call of duty. It’s simply a hard shoulder-shake for anyone who piously shook their head and slept soundly within an assured whistle-blower fantasy of how they would have behaved differently, rallied against injustice, and changed things for the better.

Sabrina Harman herself planned to blow a few whistles. Already an avid photographer, she began to snap pictures of everything she saw at the prison in an effort to prove what went on. She felt no one would believe her without proof. She seemed to operate on conflicting levels of awareness – participating in the abuses while recognizing them as abnormal or wrong.

Late in her tour she came across a prisoner that her superior claimed had died from a heart attack. She did what had by then become normal for her, she unzipped the body bag to snap a few pictures. It was then she discovered the man had been savagely beaten to death, with bandages applied postmortem to imply medical treatment where there’d been none. It was, the article implies, the first time she stopped to consider that they were being lied to. That everything they did might not actually be for the greater good.

Harman explains after she realized what had happened, she took photos

“…to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.”

She later showed the photos as proof of the murder, but a case was never made of the issue. Harman however, was

convicted by court-martial, in May of 2005, of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, dereliction of duty, and maltreatment, and sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank, and a bad-conduct discharge.

Others in photographs were similarly disciplined. Only abuses documented by publicized photos were ever punished.

Obvious comparisons have been made to the infamous Milgram experiment and the Standford prison experiment, and both dynamics show otherwise moral and compassionate individuals, under far less stress, acting out cruel and dehumanizing behaviors even when to do so causes them a greater level of emotional pain or discomfort.

The MP’s were cogs in a larger wheel and, much like those imprisoned there, what they wanted more than anything was to simply go the hell home.

Further Reading:

The Abu Ghraib Files – Salon’s in-depth 7-part piece on the prison, including lots of pics and video.

Standard Operating Procedure – The film’s official site. Includes lots of clips from the film including officials speaking about specific photos.

The Man Who Shocked the World” – Psychology Today on the life and work of Stanley Milgram.

Philip Zimbardo’s 2007 re-creation of the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971.