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Six Supreme Court Cases to Watch This Term

12:08 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The US Supreme Court

These Supreme Court cases could affect women’s rights in the near future.

The United States Supreme Court term begins in October, and while the entire docket has not yet been set, already it’s shaping up to be a historic term, with decisions on abortion protests, legislative prayer, and affirmative action, just to name a few. Here are the key cases we’re keeping an eye on as the term starts up.

1. Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice

The Supreme Court looks poised to re-enter the abortion debate, and it could do so as early as this year if it takes up Cline, the first of the recent wave of state-level restrictions to reach the high court.

Cline involves a challenge to an Oklahoma statute that requires abortion-inducing drugs, including RU-486, to be administered strictly according to the specific Food and Drug Administration labeling despite the fact that new research and best practices make that labeling out of date. Such “off-label” use of drugs is both legal and widespread in the United States as science, standards of care, and clinical practice often supercede the original FDA label on a given drug. In the case of cancer drugs, for example, the American Cancer Society notes that “New uses for [many] drugs may have been found and there’s often medical evidence from research studies to support the new use [even though] the makers of the drugs have not put them through the formal, lengthy, and often costly process required by the FDA to officially approve the drug for new uses.” Off-label use of RU-486 is based on the most recent scientific findings that suggest lower dosages of the drug and higher rates of effectiveness when administered in conjunction with a follow-up drug (Misoprostol). According to trial court findings, the alternative protocols are safer for women and more effective. But, according to the state and defenders of the law, there is great uncertainty about these off-label uses and their safety.

When the issue reached the supreme court of Oklahoma, the court held in a very brief opinion that the Oklahoma statute was facially invalid under Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In Casey, a plurality of justices held that a state may legitimately regulate abortions from the moment of gestation as long as that regulation does not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Later, in Gonzales v. Carhart, a majority of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, interpreted Casey to allow state restrictions on specific abortion procedures when the government “reasonably concludes” that there is medical uncertainty about the safety of the procedure and an alternative procedure is available.

Cline, then, could present an important test on the limits of Casey and whether, under Gonzales, the Court will permit states to ban medical abortions. But it’s not entirely clear the Court will actually take up Cline. At the lower court proceedings, the challengers argued that the Oklahoma statute bars the use of RU-486’s follow-up drug (Misoprostol) as well as the use of Methotrexate to terminate an ectopic pregnancy. If so, the statute then bars both any drug-induced abortion and eliminates the preferred method for ending an ectopic pregnancy. Attorneys defending the restriction deny the law has those effects, and do not argue that if it did such restrictions would be constitutional. With this open question of state law—whether the statute prohibits the preferred treatment for ectopic pregnancies—the Supreme Court told the Oklahoma Supreme Court those disputed questions of state law.

So a lot depends on how the Oklahoma Supreme Court proceeds. Should the Oklahoma Supreme Court hold that the Oklahoma statute is unconstitutional because it prohibits the use of Misoprostol and Methotrexate, this case could be over without the Supreme Court weighing in. But if the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidates the law insofar as it prohibits alternative methods for administering RU-486, the Supreme Court will almost certainly take a look.

2. Town of Greece v. Galloway

The Roberts Court is set to weigh in on the issue of when, and how, government prayer practices can exist without violating the Establishment Clause’s ban on the intermingling of church and state. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court upheld Nebraska’s practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer, based largely on an unbroken tradition of that practice dating back to the framing of the Constitution. In Marsh, the Court adopted two apparent limits to a legislative prayer practice: The government may not select prayer-givers based on a discriminatory motive, and prayer opportunities may not be exploited to proselytize in favor of one religion or disparage another.

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How the Military Discriminates Against Transgender Individuals

10:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Autumn Sandeen for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Mural: Hero Chelsea Manning

“I enlisted in part an attempt to be the man I wasn’t. Chelsea Manning recently gave that same explanation as to why she enlisted.”

When I joined the U.S. Navy back in 1980, I knew I was transgender. I didn’t know the word transgender, but I knew deep down that’s what I was.

Prior to joining the Navy, in 1979, my pentecostal parents considered transgender identities and transgender expressions to be sinful, and made going to “conversion therapy” a condition of living at home. Due to my own internalized transphobia, I thought I was sinful too, so I underwent the therapy, which had the goal of having me become “ex-transgender.”

A goal of both gay and transgender conversion therapy is to embrace societal gender role norms, so in my case embracing masculine norms was the goal. It should come as no surprise then that when I enlisted in the Navy in 1980, it was in part an attempt to be the man I wasn’t.

Chelsea Manning, who enlisted under the name Bradley Manning—and who in August received a 35-year prison sentence for releasing classified government documents to WikiLeaks—recently gave that same explanation as to why she enlisted.

If either of us had admitted to being transgender before we joined the military, we wouldn’t have been allowed to join. This is because Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03, the Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services, states that “[c]urrent or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias” precludes induction.

Department of Defense (DOD) policy also discharges currently serving personnel if they admit to, or are discovered to be, transgender. For enlisted service members, Department of Defense Instruction 1332.14 (the Enlisted Administrative Separations) is the controlling regulation. The Army’s applicable regulation is Army Regulation 40–501, the Standards of Medical Fitness, which states:

A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit [to serve].

This transgender exclusion is backed by case law. The first such case in which such exclusion was discussed is 1981′s Doe v. Alexander. Tarynn M. Witten wrote about the case in a 2007 whitepaper entitled “Gender Identity and the Military – Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Identified Individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces,” saying:

[T]he Army defended its policy of denying enlistment to transsexual persons, arguing that transsexual persons presented a medical problem in that their requirements for hormone supplementation might not be available at some location where they could be assigned.

The 2007 DeGroat v. Townsend decision by the U.S. Southern District Court in Ohio, Western Division, echoed the decision in Doe v. Alexander, finding Joanne E. Degroat, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces (USAF) from 1974 to 1989, medically unfit to serve. In the decision, the court stated that “USAF medical staff encouraged and counseled her to dress in female street clothing when off-base and off-duty” as part of the treatment plan for her gender dysphoria. Major DeGroat was seen attending church in female clothing, and then “was notified that she had to show cause for retention on active duty for substandard performance due to a failure to show acceptable qualities of leadership required by an officer of her grade, based on her wearing female clothing on two instances and subjecting herself to public view.” Her separation for service was upheld.

The Leyland v. Orr decision is also on point. Jane Anne Leyland was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserves as being found mentally and physically unfit to serve due to being transsexual and receiving trans-related medical treatment. As Witten wrote in her paper, “Leyland’s fitness for duty recommended discharge on the grounds of psychological unsuitability, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records affirmed the discharge on grounds of psychological unsuitability and physical unfitness.”

From the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Dr. Donald Novicki, a urology consultant to the Air Force surgeon general, stated that the known and potential long-term effects of a sex change constitute a risk significant enough to restrict the individual’s performance of Air Force duties, especially when remote geographic assignments are involved. Dr. Novicki stated that assigning such a person to such places “would be equivalent to placing an individual with known coronary artery disease in a remote location without readily available coronary care.” He added, “It has been and remains the policy of the Surgeon General that such abnormalities be identified and that such individuals be denied entry or continued active duty for their benefit and for the benefit of the United States Air Force.”

Lastly, in 1988′s United States v. Davis, the appellant was charged under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice after having several Navy psychiatrists diagnose her with what the DSM-V refers to as “gender dysphoria,” and was recommended for continued treatment of the condition. The U.S. Court of Military Appeals ruling on the case stated that expressing gender as one’s target sex while on base in a manner as required by the relevant standard of care “virtually always would be prejudicial to good order and discipline and discrediting to the Armed Forces.”

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#IntersectionalityIsForTwitter: How to Be a True Ally

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Briana Dixon for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from Amplify Your Voice, a project of Advocates for Youth.

Mean Twitter Bird

Feminist conflicts on Twitter highlight ways to be (or not be) an ally.

By now much of the advocacy community has heard of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen, and #FuckCisPeople, started by @karnythia, @JamilahLemieux, and @Stuxnetsource, respectively. Intersectionality (the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities) has run rampant on Twitter, and I’ve been having a blast voicing my grievances, listening to other’s grievances, and fighting trolls with every bit of strength embedded in my keyboard. But not everyone has been having a great time with these hashtags, and I am here to help with a few tips:

One: Check your privilege at the door.

I don’t know what kind of privilege you’re packing, but it’s weighing you down. Set it down for a minute and consider the fact that you are not the only person out there being oppressed. In fact, you may indeed be unconsciously benefiting from an unjust system. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person—it just means that you live in a society that prizes certain groups over others and you were unlucky enough to be born into one. If you think you have it bad, just think of the people who weren’t born into the privileged group.

Two: Keep in mind that your movement can be flawed…

…without you being an evil master-overlord. Calling out the flaws in our movements is the only way we are going to get better. Movements are constantly demanding that society stop silencing the voices of their oppressed people. It is fair to say, then, that silencing people who are oppressed within those movements is the worst kind of hypocritical.

Three: Remember that unity does not equal silence.

The hashtags are only divisive if you don’t plan on addressing the grievances stated within them. If the movement intends to continue as it is and ignore the pleas stated for all of the Twitterverse to see, then yes it is divisive. But the only way we are ever going to be truly unified is if we listen to each other’s complaints and work to fix them.

Four: Be aware that anger is an emotion…

…and that oppressed peoples, as human beings, are entitled to emotions. You have no way and no right to monitor and/or control these emotions. These emotions are not irrational. These emotions are not silly. The best way to deal with these emotions is not to pretend they don’t exist and/or brush them off as unwarranted whining.

Five: Know that there is one condition to being an ally…

…and it isn’t that the oppressed groups appease you at every turn. It isn’t that they be wary of your feelings. It isn’t that they don’t air the movements’ dirty laundry. It isn’t that they do what is best for the movement even if the movement isn’t doing what’s best for them. The only true condition for someone to become an ally is for the ally to support the oppressed group because it is the right thing to do. You help them the best you can, not the way you think is best.

And if you are really having a problem with the hashtags, I present you this hypothetical situation:

Every day my friend and I walk down the street together. We are very close, but every once in a while my friend falls to the ground and scrapes her knee.

This friend and I have braved bullies together. We have faced down mean girls and jocks alike. We are more than friends, we are best friends. We love each other.

And every day she falls. Sometimes she trips. Most times someone pushes her to the ground as I watch. And sometimes I even push her myself.

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Is Marriage Equality Almost Here? Six Possible Outcomes of the DOMA and Prop 8 Cases

11:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The Defense of Marriage Act

A Rainbow flag

There are several different possible outcomes of upcoming Supreme Court decisions.

In 2007 Edie Windsor married Thea Spyer after already being together for 40 years. When Spyer died, in 2009, their home state of New York recognized marriage equality, but because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the federal government did not. As a result, Windsor was faced with paying more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes because Spyer had left her estate to Windsor. Had the federal government recognized their marriage and given it the same status as opposite-sex married couples in the state, Windsor would not have to pay any estate taxes.

But it didn’t, and Windsor sued, arguing DOMA violates Equal Protection protections and seeking a refund in her estate tax bill. In October 2012 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled DOMA was unconstitutional. In that decision, the court for the first time held that when government passes laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals those laws will be presumed unconstitutional and that the must have a compelling reason to justify that discrimination.

The Supreme Court now has to answer those two questions: Is Section 3 of DOMA (the part of the law that defines marriage) constitutional, and do gay and lesbian individuals qualify as a protected class for purposes constitutional protections? There are three ways the Court could answer those questions.

1. DOMA Is Unconstitutional

Equality advocates are hoping for a ruling from the Supreme Court that would broadly declare DOMA unconstitutional. Should the Supreme Court strike DOMA in its entirety, then same-sex couples who receive marriage licenses in the 12 states and District of Columbia that recognize same-sex marriages will enjoy the benefits of more than 1,000 federal laws, benefits, programs, and protections that currently favor opposite-sex marriages. A ruling declaring DOMA unconstitutional would likely have no impact on marriage equality bans though.

If the Court does rule DOMA unconstitutional, it could do so via several different analytical tracts. First, the Supreme Court could issue a sweeping ruling under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Historically the courts have applied the equal protection clause to protect against the government unfairly infringing on the rights of specific groups and to ensure that certain fundamental rights such as marriage receive heightened legal protection. Advocates have argued that DOMA violates the 14th Amendment both because it targets a specific group of people for unequal treatment and because it affects the fundamental right to marriage.

If the Supreme Court relies on the 14th Amendment to strike DOMA and rule that LGBTQ individuals make up a class that should receive heightened protections because their history of being discriminated against, then the ruling could reach beyond invalidating DOMA and would mean that any law — state or federal — that treats gay or lesbian individuals differently based on their status as gay or lesbian would likely be struck down. That kind of broad ruling is not very likely though, especially given the conservative majority on the Court. But that doesn’t mean hope is lost. The Court doesn’t have to decide the issue of gay and lesbian people as a protected class to strike down DOMA. The Court could rule that because DOMA does not serve legitimate governmental interests it is unconstitutional. Typically, evidence of animosity toward a particular group and the desire to impose a set of morals on the public are not considered by the courts legitimate reasons for the government to pass a law. If ever a law fit that example, it’s DOMA.

There is one other way the Court could find DOMA unconstitutional, and that is through some variation of a “states’ rights” or federalism argument. During oral arguments Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed very concerned with whether or not the federal government had any role in defining marriage to begin with. According to this reasoning, Congress never had the authority to pass DOMA in the first place since it is an attempt to regulate what is traditionally considered within the power and regulation of the states.

The states’ rights theory is not likely to get a majority of votes, but it could be a way for the conservatives on the court to strike DOMA without advancing LGTBQ equality beyond the issue of marriage like a broad 14th Amendment ruling would. But such a decision would be a short-term win, as conservatives have argued federalism concerns invalidate the majority of the social safety net programs. Should the Roberts Court give conservatives broad legal reasoning to support that theory then we can expect to see a host of new legal challenges to everything from Social Security benefits to Medicare and Title X programs.

2. DOMA Is Constitutional

As hard as it is to imagine, the Court could find Section 3 of DOMA constitutional. Should that happen, then those legally married same-sex couples in the 12 states and Washington, D.C., that recognize marriage equality will continue to face systematic discrimination and be denied equal protection under the law as well as access to federal benefits related to more than 1,000 federal laws and programs.

3. SCOTUS Punts on the Merits of the Case Read the rest of this entry →

Griswold v. Connecticut and the Evolution of Personal Privacy Rights

8:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth control pills

How the fight for contraceptive freedom & LGBTQ rights sheds light on privacy protections.

Over the past three years, more than 60 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage benefit. These legal challenges are based on a central theme of today’s conservative movement, which argues contraception is immoral, and that the Supreme Court decision preventing states from criminalizing birth control was wrongly decided. That’s where things stand on the 48th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut.

Why now? Why is the right gunning so hard to take down Griswold and gut individuals’ rights to privacy that include keeping the government out of their most intimate decisions? And what has changed legally, to bring this issue to a boil now? As it turns out, the answer has very little to do with contraception and more to do with same-sex marriage. At its core, the legal foundation of personal privacy rights rests in the institution of marriage and family. As older definitions of “traditional families” give way to more expansive realities, including same-sex partnerships, single-parenting, co-parenting, and myriad family arrangements today, conservatives must face a stark legal reality: Without drastically changing the way the courts define issues that once were simply matters of privacy, they will have lost the culture wars. It’s now or never.

The Supreme Court first laid the foundation for an individual right to privacy early in the 20th century in Lochner v. New York, a case that has become synonymous with activist judges looking for any means to support and expand corporate, monied interests. In Lochner the majority relied on the reference to “liberty” in the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause to support striking down a New York state law that restricted the number of hours bakers could work each week. The 14th Amendment states that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” According to the court majority, the law was an unconstitutional violation of an individual’s privacy rights because the Due Process Clause implicitly guarantees citizens the “fundamental” right to enter into employment arrangements free from state intrusion in this “liberty” interest.

From Lochner, privacy rights more clearly became associated with the home and traditional, patriarchal constructions of family. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the court ruled that an Oregon law banning all private education violated the Due Process Clause because it directed how parents may educate their children, infringing upon parents’ fundamental right to rear their children as they see fit. The majority opinion in Pierce lists a series of other privacy rights guaranteed by the Due Process Clause, including “the right of the individual … to marry, establish a home and bring up children … and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

But it wasn’t until 40 years later, in Griswold, that the Supreme Court turned its attention to whether the Constitution implicitly contains fundamental privacy guarantees that are not dependent on the Due Process Clause. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas departed from the Lochner line of privacy reasoning and held that a right to privacy exists not because of a specific constitutional provision but rather because it flows from several provisions relating to privacy, to create “penumbras”, or shadows, in which “zones of privacy” exist. Within these zones, the court explained, are other rights, including the right of married couples to determine whether or not to have children.

Two years later the court would again reach the issue of privacy rights in Loving v. Virginia, the famous case that challenged a Virginia law banning interracial marriage. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled the Virginia law violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law and thus prohibits the government from discriminating on the basis of race. The court could have stopped there with its analysis, but it didn’t. Instead, it pushed further, moving beyond the obvious issues of racial discrimination to hold that the right to marry is itself protected by the Constitution. By the end of the 1960s, and with the civil rights and anti-war movements smoldering in the background, the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence showed both a slow acceptance of racial equality and a preference for the traditional construction of marriage and family.

Griswold v. Connecticut may have recognized a right of married couples to use contraception, but it wasn’t until March of 1972 in Eisenstadt v. Baird that the Court recognized a corresponding privacy right to use contraception for individuals. “If the right of privacy means anything,” Justice William Brennan wrote, “it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” The following year, the court famously extended these individual privacy rights even further when, in Roe v. Wade, it established a constitutional right to choose abortion grounded in an individual right to privacy and this legally recognized zone of intimacy that inherently surrounds issues of reproduction but that was no longer immediately anchored in the constructs of traditional marriage.

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TV Recognizes the “Modern Family”—Why Not Governments?

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Modern Family title

The definition of family shown on television is far more progressive than the one understood by US law.

I don’t watch Modern Family, the prime-time sitcom depicting “non-traditional” — e.g., same-sex, interracial, and inter-generational — couples. Still, I’m struck by how fast family realities change and how slowly laws and societal perceptions about what’s “right” reflect those changes.

The couples depicted in Modern Family were surely seen by society at large as more unusual in 2009, when the show first aired, than even just five years later. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases that might pave the way for federal benefits for same-sex couples, the number of interracial marriages is steadily growing, and the combination of reproductive technologies, longer life-spans, and the normalization of serial monogamy has taken age somewhat out of the equation when it comes to forming a family.

Even so, real-life individuals in same-sex couples, or those who live with someone of a different race or generation from themselves, often face daily struggles to protect their families from legal uncertainty and publicly articulated disgust. Depending on where we live, our intimate lives and families may be subject to criminal sanctions, unequal legal protections, scrutiny, shaming, and belittling.

Often, the protection of our families in law — while welcome — does not mean we are immune to community shaming and violence. In Latin America, for example, a wave of new marriage equality laws has not yet had an impact on pervasive community violence against LGBTI individuals. And though it is more than 45 years since the Supreme Court invalidated the prohibition of interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, prejudices against interracial couples — in particular where one of the partners is Black — are expressed frequently in social media and in some cases result in discrimination.

This tug-of-war between perceptions, laws, and reality expresses itself clearly where courts have to decide to what extent legislators get to put their own — or their constituents’ — prejudices before principles of equality and facts about child welfare.

This week, the European Court on Human Rights issued a ruling in one such case. The court held that Austria had violated human rights by denying two lesbian women a proper evaluation of their adoption petition. One of the women had petitioned to adopt the biological son of her female partner, a child they both had been parenting since infancy.

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Anti-Gay/Anti-Choice Kansas Democrat Challenged in Primary by Openly Gay Man

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

“Morality” used to be the established code word for anti-gay and anti-choice discrimination. It seems that “morality” has run it’s course, however, and it is now time for new and improved phraseology to push the anti-choice, anti-gay theological agenda in Kansas. The new catch phrase for discrimination is “religious freedom” and the queen bee of spreading the pollination of religious freedom in Kansas is Representative Jan Pauls.

Erich Bishop

Erich Bishop, Kansas challenger (Photo: Erich Bishop campaign)

Representative Pauls is another one of those anti-choice Democrats that pervades the Kansas political landscape. She has served in the Kansas Legislature since 1992 and has used her time there to sponsor numerous anti-choice bills. She wrote a law prohibiting same sex marriage in the state, backed the successful state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, and blocked the attempted repeal of Kansas’ antiquated sodomy ban.

Religious freedom has been creating a lot of buzz nationally and red-state legislatures and red-state politicians have latched on to this discriminatory defense as the life preserver that might “save” them from the evils of Obamacare. Pauls has provided not only her vote for two Kansas bills based upon the false premise of “religious freedom,” but also her strong words of favor. She heralded the Kansas legislature’s so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” and the expansion of the existing “Conscience Refusal Act,” which both gained momentum from “Obama outrage” over contraception care afforded under the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Pauls resides in Hutchinson, Kansas. Pauls’ stance on these “religious freedom” initiatives may garner her usual votes and favor from many of her constituents at large in this conservative Kansas community, but in this election cycle there is a question as to whether or not Pauls will earn a place on the general election ballot. This time around, Jan Pauls and her “religious freedom” have earned her a Democratic primary opponent, and that primary opponent is gay.

Erich Bishop is a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a gay rights organization that has waged a full on political war against Pauls for her public statements, votes and actions against the gay community. Pauls, for example, made the following comment on February 20, 2012:

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Why It’s Terribly Wrong For Gawker To Offer Money for Tips on Who Transmitted HIV to Magic Johnson

12:01 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Margo Kaplan for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from Concurring Opinions.

No more magic (129/365)

(photo: LifeSupercharger/flickr)

 

On Wednesday evening, popular blog Gawker.com aired a post offering a cash reward for the identity of the individual who transmitted HIV to Magic Johnson. It was particularly interested in confirming decades-old rumors that Johnson contracted HIV from sex with a man or transgender woman. The post came on the heels of a Frontline report on HIV in the African American community. Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio faulted Frontline for allowing Johnson to reveal only that he contracted HIV from having sex with numerous women. “[I]t seems odd,” Daulerio wrote, “that there’s been no follow-up about which of these women was HIV positive.”

One can imagine a world in which Johnson’s potential sexual activities might be legitimately newsworthy — say he denied that HIV was sexually transmitted or he waged a public campaign against the LGTBQ community. But that’s not the case. What will generate page hits for Gawker in this case is the public naming and shaming of an individual who is HIV positive and the public humiliation of Johnson if he engaged in something other than straight sex. Daulerio’s post coyly capitalizes on the stigma of HIV and the stigma of non-straight sex. In doing so, it plays to the very prejudices that keep people in the closet about their sexual orientation and their HIV status.

The post reflects more serious problems with how we as a society approach HIV. Sexual transmission of HIV provokes a mix of fear, disgust, anger, and fascination. We want information, but mainly information that give us someone to point to and say, “I’m not like that. That couldn’t happen to me.” As a result, even today people living with HIV are subject to discrimination and abuse, ostracized from their communities and families, and — as the Gawker post aptly demonstrates — derided in the press.

They are even subject to special criminal sanctions. It is currently a felony in several states to have sex with another person without revealing that you are HIV positive. This makes intuitive sense to a lot of people. But more often than not, these statutes reflect outdated information or even myths. For example, almost no statute provides a defense of having taken the precaution of using condoms. Several statutes criminalize sexual activities like receiving oral sex or using a sex toy, which pose risks of transmission so small they are only theoretical.
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Scouting a New Path: Girl Scouts of America Creates Inclusive Gender Policy

1:53 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Avital Norman Nathman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A few months ago, the Girl Scouts of America (GSUSA) found themselves in the midst of a unique controversy. A Denver, Colorado troop initially refused to let 7-year-old Bobby Montoya join. Montoya, who identifies as female, was denied entry to the troop when Felisha Archuleta, Bobby’s mother, first approached them. After protests from Archuleta, and some media coverage, the Colorado Girl Scouts of America ended up welcoming Bobby into the scouts, and released a statement through GLAAD, clarifying the organizations policy:

“Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members. [...] If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”

However, not everyone associated with the scouts agreed with this message of inclusivity. Just last month, three troops in Louisiana have disbanded over this policy when their troop leaders resigned from their positions. One of the former troop leaders, Susan Bryant-Snure, claimed that the message from the GSUSA is “extremely confusing,” and that it “goes against what we (Northlake Christian School) believe.”

In addition to disbanding some troops, thereby not allowing any girl in these area the opportunity to join the scouts, some parents are calling on a cookie boycott to protest the GSUSA’s inclusion of transgender girls into their organization. With a video quickly going viral, a 14-year-old girl, identified as Taylor from California, speaks on behalf of the group, Honest Girl Scouts, and is calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies.

Not only is this video filled with an inaccurate description of transgender, but it does not seem to be espousing any of the Girl Scout values that I learned as a young scout. Compassion, diversity, education, and tolerance were all values that I, and my fellow troop members, held dear. In fact, part of the Girl Scout mission includes the following, “Girl Scouting helps girls develop their full individual potential; relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect.”

To call for a boycott of cookies based on a decision to become more inclusive on the part of the GSUSA seems to go against everything the organization actually stands for.

I spoke with Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book that takes a look at modern girlhood. Orenstein weighed in on the current Girl Scout issue.

“If you start regulating what is a “girl” and what it is not, you quickly devolve into something really ugly. Think about the controversy over Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was called into question because she was “too fast” for a girl. That was shameful. But what’s next? Should a girl born with no uterus be barred from Scouting? What about one with no ovaries? Should we test chromosomes to make sure there are no girls with Turner’s syndrome (meaning they have only one X chromosome)? What about girls who are chromosomally male but appear (and identify as) totally female because they don’t respond to their male hormones? Obviously, this particular issue affects few girls; the radical Right is using it to create a sex panic, to further its own agenda of intolerance and homophobia. By picking on little girls with cookies. That is so sad.”

For the most part, the video has ended up having the opposite affect. Instead of encouraging people to participate in the boycott, it has actually spurred many more folks to support the GSUSA by buying more cookies this year. Crystal Harvey, mother of two young girls from Massachusetts, shares her reaction to the video, “I honestly feel really sorry for that girl, that she’s been raised so bigoted and small minded. But on the other hand, I now have a really good reason to buy their cookies!!”

I know for a fact that I, too, will be doubling my order of Thin Mints this year in support of a national organization that welcomes, supports, and empowers all girls.

STOKING FIRE: Ultra-Conservative Doctrine May Be the Reason for Unreported Sexual Crimes in the Military

10:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units–trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since under-reporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report rests with an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians, and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns in 1971, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” The school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

While most of its students are undoubtedly attracted to this mission, others attend Liberty because tuition is low: $1900 a term for residential students and $2200 for distance learners. During the 2011-2012 year, nearly 9000 students from 46 countries registered for online classes; of them, more than 1000 hope to complete the 72-credit program and become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—an article posted on Times Union.com in February 2011 blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given. Read the rest of this entry →