Speaking of Women's Rights: 01/11

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Raising Our Voices in Olympia

by Evangeline Simmons

It takes energy to get off your couch, or away from your desk, to get directly involved in the legislative process. On Monday, January 24th, I did just that—I lobbied. One of the many important bills supported by Legal Voice this legislative session is the Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act. And on Monday afternoon the Washington House of Representatives held a hearing on the bill (HB 1366), to solicit feedback and testimony from supporters and opponents alike.

I wasn’t In Olympia last session when a similar bill died, but apparently we were completely outnumbered by opponents of the bill. These opponents do not agree that such Centers need or should be regulated in any way, let alone be required to provide accurate information and protect the privacy of the women who use the Centers.

Opponents of the bill had begun arriving earlier in the day (you could tell by the “I heart pregnancy resource center” buttons they were sporting). And honestly, it was a bit intimidating. Whether I like to admit it or not, I felt uncomfortable at first—they seemed to be everywhere. Where did they all come from? How were they organized?

But then, a wonderful thing happened. I wasn’t the only one who got my lobby on that day in support of the LSPC bill. In addition to our Raise Your Voice committee members, other supporters of Legal Voice, Planned Parenthood and NARAL supporters, and those without affiliation who simply wanted to protect women’s health started showing up in droves. (Did I mention we had even bigger orange stickers to wear proudly in support of the bill?)

Although the hearing did not begin until 1:30pm, the hallway outside the hearing room was entirely packed before noon. The waiting area was so chaotic, that even signing in to register our presence and whether we supported or opposed the bill was a feat. Eventually, House staff made a decision to allow in an equal number of constituents from each side (about 60 each, including those giving testimony). Overall, I believe the hearing went well. And I know that this year at least, our legislators can point to the number of supporters of the LSPC bill who attended the hearing—in addition to the number of constituents who directly contacted and met with representatives—to bolster their votes in favor of this important legislation.

For those of you out there who ever wanted to go to Olympia to lobby and just haven’t—do it! Taking that first step can be difficult, especially on your own. That’s why it’s so important to get involved with groups of like-minded folks who can be supportive and provide the opportunities you need to finally get involved in the way you know you always wanted to. Lobby on!

Evangeline Simmons is a graduate of William Mitchell College of Law, as well as a former intern and current volunteer at Legal Voice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 3 R's: Readin', Writin', and Educational Redlining

In theory (and often in nauseatingly hypocritical rhetoric) we in the United States want all children to receive a good education. In fact, in Washington the education of children is the state’s "paramount duty," though its fulfillment of that duty is certainly debatable.

Yet, with most states facing massive budget deficits likely to extend for several more years, legislators and governors are scrambling to cut spending, and education is a common victim of the budget axe.

Too often overlooked in this disturbing and disheartening discussion is something equally troubling: the wide disparity in the quality of education provided to children in different school districts, and even between different schools in the same district. Though it’s been 55 years since the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in schools, we cannot escape the fact that schools attended primarily by students of color and poor students continue to lag behind those attended primarily by white students in academic achievement across virtually all subjects.

Which is why I was so appalled and saddened at the news that a judge in Cleveland has sentenced a mother to jail for altering school records so her children could attend in a different district. Appalled and saddened, but not surprised. First, the mother is African-American and the district into which she sought to place her children is predominantly white, and apparently wealthier. Why wouldn’t she want the best possible education for her kids? Don’t you want that for yours? For all kids? That’s the promise of universal compulsory education, or it was at one time.

Second, she’s African-American and relatively poor, so of course the legal system hammered her. No need to elaborate on that, I trust. Except to say that now she’ll be even poorer, as her dream to become a teacher will be destroyed by the felony conviction. Yes, she broke the law. No, she shouldn't have done it. Yes, the system and the judge almost certainly discriminated against her.

What’s more, the judge found that sending the students to the wrong school ‘cost’ the district $30,500. And how much was ‘saved’ because the children did not attend it? I’m guessing it’s not $30K, because chances are their home district does not have as much to spend per student.

So when we look at proposed budget cuts, weigh them in the context of “Only Some Children Left Behind”, and, I hope, act out our values through our spending, think of Ms. Williams-Bolar, spending her time behind bars, repenting her ‘crime.’ And then think again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Gay Globes

Last Sunday, my partner and I hosted our annual Golden Globes party. Usually, my favorite part of this event is watching the stars walk the red carpet as we provide amateur fashion critiques. But this year, I was much more intrigued by how the awards reflected the progress of LGBT Americans – and how far we still have to go.

One of the first awards went to Chris Colfer, an openly gay actor who plays a gay high school student on the television show Glee. He closed his acceptance speech by giving a powerful statement against anti-LGBT bullying: “Most importantly, to all the amazing kids that watch our show and the kids that our show celebrates, who are constantly told ‘no’ by the people in their environments, by bullies at school that they can’t be who they are or have what they want because of who they are. Well, screw that, kids!”

Soon after, Jane Lynch won an acting award. Lynch, another openly gay actor who appears on Glee, ended her acceptance speech by sending her love to her wife and their children.

Then the film The Kids Are All Right, which depicts a married lesbian couple and their family, won two major awards: An acting award for Annette Bening and the award for Best Musical or Comedy.

As I watched award after award go to LGBT actors and films, I remembered how I’d felt as a gay teenager in the 1980s, growing up in a small town in Wisconsin. I would spend hours combing the local video store, trying without success to find even one movie that might help me understand who I was.

I also thought back to 1997, when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her TV sitcom. It was a huge event; Ellen was on the cover of Time Magazine, advertisers pulled out of the show, and the network put a parental advisory on the episode. I was in law school at the time, and our tiny LGBT law student group got together for a viewing party. We literally jumped out of our seats and screamed when Ellen said “I’m gay” on national TV. It was that important – and still that rare – for us to see an openly gay person in pop culture.

Of course, increased visibility does not mean equality. Jane Lynch can thank her wife on national TV, but her marriage is recognized in only a handful of states. The Kids Are All Right reflects how common LGBT parents have become, yet many states still fail to provide any legal recognition or protection for those families. And while Glee has helped build national awareness of the devastating impact of anti-LGBT bullying, schools remain unsafe for far too many students.

Still, I was thrilled to see what some have called the “Gay Globes.” You can’t achieve equality unless you can visualize it, and this show gave millions of viewers across the country a glimpse of what LGBT equality might look like.

Photo credit: Robert Todd Williamson for H Magazine

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let's take a moment to consider the consequences of our words.

Perhaps it was because I was reading the article mere hours after the fatal Arizona shooting that this particular phrase caught my eye: “Our lawyers are sharpening their knives.” This was from the executive director of the ACLU in reference to a possible law suit against the county over controversial anti-Israel bus ads that were recently pulled from Metro buses.

Do I think that ACLU attorneys want anyone to be injured over the constitutionality of a bus ad policy? Of course not. Do I think that there’s perhaps another way to communicate their intent using words that do not invoke violence? Yes I do.
The rhetoric in this country is reaching a dangerous caliber: The classic likening of political foes to Hitler; Slurs against the LGBT community; Accusations of “death panels.” Last year’s congressional session saw an increase from 29 significant threats on senators to 49. Here’s the question we need to ask ourselves: Whether or not we’re the ones pulling the trigger, are our words having fatal consequences in the lives of others?

Does Bill O’Reilly deserve any piece of responsibility for the death of Dr. George Tiller, after calling him the “moral equivalent to NAMBLA and Al-Qaeda,” and accusing him of being guilty of “Nazi stuff?”

Should school board member Clint McCance be blamed for LGBT suicides after announcing on his Facebook page that (for spirit day) “The only way I'm wearin' (purple) for them is if they all commit suicide,” and “I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die."

Sarah Palin seems to be catching the majority of flack after Saturday’s attack, mostly due to the graphic she posted back in march that portrays cross hairs over the districts of 20 different congressional representatives who Palin urged her supporters to “target.” "These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response," Senator Dick Durbin said in reference to the graphic. Palin staffers have been swearing up and down that she was simply focused on giving the legislators on the map a “pink slip,” which is interesting seeing as how the graphic was accompanied with the message "Don't retreat; reload."

If you’re feeling particularly brave, you might check out some of the vitriolic content that Palin’s Facebook page has been carrying over the past 48 hours. How a person can look at the kinds of comments her posts are eliciting and not feel any responsibility to change her tone is beyond me. Condemning the violence is not enough. Palin needs to refute the violent words that her camp has been spurring on.

Our new speaker of the house had some nice things to say after Saturday’s tragic events. "What is critical is that we stand together at this dark time as one body. We need to rally around our wounded colleague, the families of the fallen, and the people of Arizona's 8th District. And, frankly, we need to rally around each other."

While I appreciate Boehner’s spirit of togetherness, I hope that Congress will also use this as an opportunity to show leadership in toning down the rhetoric that has been plaguing our nation, and fueling the uptick in violence. As Rep Giffords said herself last March “…the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.” Let’s hope this is a lesson in consequences that sticks.

Photo Credit: Susie Harrison