Speaking of Women's Rights: 09/12

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sisterhood of Marriage

By Anna McAllister

I’m lucky to have five sisters: four I grew up with, and one that came to me by love. All of us have— or are about to have— children. And all of us are in strong, loving committed marriages. Except one of them isn’t recognized by law.

Here’s another way I’m lucky: my sister Molly is also just about my very best friend. She’s got a huge, loving, generous heart. She couldn’t be a more devoted aunt to my two daughters. She makes me laugh, she cries with me, she loves and supports me always. I like to think I do the same for her.

Just about 10 years ago, Molly told me she was gay. She was married to a man at the time— but even so, I wasn’t surprised to hear the news she shared so anxiously with me. It was like a subconscious part of me had known it all along. Throughout the difficult months that followed, as Molly ended her marriage and began dating women, we reached a whole new level of closeness.

I couldn’t have been happier when Molly and April became a couple. Not just because of how great they were together, but because of how much I connected with April. Almost instantly, she became an integral part of our family. I warned Molly that we might have to keep April around instead of her if they broke up. I was only half kidding.

So naturally, I was thrilled when they decided to commit themselves to one another. And beyond honored when they asked my husband and me to lead the ceremony, our elder daughter to sing, and our younger daughter to serve as their flower girl. I had already been thinking of April as my sister for months, but on that joyous day I started referring to her as my sister-in-love.

Now, nearly five years later, Molly and April have a family of their own: a sweet and hilarious 2-year-old daughter and a son due any day. And although I have been married to a wonderful man for 21 years—and gave birth to my first daughter five years after that—I am constantly learning about the true nature of love from Molly, April and the family they’ve created together. I am so lucky to have April as my sister-in-love. Someday soon, though, I hope she can be my sister-in-law as well. 

Anna McAllister is a Pride Foundation Parent Ambassador, sharing her story in order to change hearts and minds around the freedom to marry.

Anna's story first appear at Why Marriage Matters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Women’s rights + immigrants’ rights = inseparable

by Becky Pogany

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is outrageously easy to support – or at least, it should be.  VAWA protects all women living in the U.S. from harm.  It provides programs and services for survivors of violence: rape crisis centers, hotlines, legal aid, and protection from eviction, among other things. 

VAWA also illustrates an important link between women’s rights and immigrant rights.  Fearing retribution by both their abusers and immigration authorities, immigrant women are far less likely to speak up and seek help. By providing special attention to the difficult situation faced by immigrant women who are victims of violence,  VAWA makes it possible for thousands of immigrant women to escape dangerous, violent situations every year. 

VAWA is the compassionate heart of our country’s efforts to protect women’s basic human right to safety, and Congress renewed it in both 2000 and 2005.  So why is it in danger of not being renewed again this year?

Immigrant women who survive serious crimes (domestic violence, rape, torture) and who help law enforcement investigate and prosecute those crimes can get a special form of protection through VAWA, called a U visa.  This allows women to testify against their attackers without fear of negative immigration consequences; it also grants them legal status and work eligibility.

Earlier this year, conservative House Republicans moved to block VAWA’s reauthorization because they objected to these protections for immigrant women; they also objected to protections for same-sex couples.

VAWA’s U visa provision is a rare expression of one our county’s highest values: that protecting women’s lives and bringing domestic violence criminals to justice are paramount, regardless of immigration status.  In a landscape of increasingly restrictive immigration laws across the country, VAWA upholds and honors the contributions of immigrant women to our society.

Why worry about this now? A resolution may not come until after the November general election, but that doesn’t change the fact that thousands of immigrant women urgently need the protections VAWA has provided for many years.  Women have been in limbo since late August, when the last of the 10,000 U visas available annually was approved.  This is the third year in a row we have hit this ceiling, and the earliest date that U visas have ever run out.  Clearly this is a much-needed and well-utilized protection that benefits the women who receive it AND the law enforcement efforts they assist.

There is urgent need for protection for women like Juana Villegas:

“In July 2008, a routine police stop … triggered Villegas’ arrest for a traffic violation and not having a driver’s license. Villegas was an undocumented immigrant. The charges were later dropped. Two days after her arrest, authorities shackled her wrists and ankles during an ambulance ride to a hospital, shortly before she went into labor.”

Villegas is currently awaiting approval for her U visa.  (Legal Voice fought successfully against the practice of shackling of pregnant & laboring women in Washington state.)

Advocates are not letting VAWA fall by the wayside.  As Washington Senator Maria Cantwell said, “We're mad, and we're tired of it.”   Women’s rights and immigrants’ rights are (and should be!) a bipartisan issue – so it’s encouraging to see Republican Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff team up with Democratic Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler to demand VAWA’s reauthorization with expanded protections for immigrant women: “All women who have lived through violence and abuse should have the certainty that the law will protect them — no matter their race, creed, color, religion or immigration status.”

Let’s continue joining our movements together to support immigrant women.  This important women’s and immigrants’ rights legislation deserves our focused attention and spirited defense.  United, advocates for women’s and immigrants’ rights can make the biggest impact on preserving the right to be safe.

Becky Pogany is on staff at OneAmerica, Washington State’s largest immigrant rights advocacy organization.  She’s also a Legal Voice volunteer, former staff member, and megafan.

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Friday, September 21, 2012

Women’s Work in the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

by Amy Shebeck

The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) voted on Tuesday to end its historic seven-day strike against the Chicago Public Schools. Although the strike inspired a great deal of commentary nationwide, a few issues were often overlooked. For example, how 87% of the CTU are women, mirroring 76% of public school teachers nationwide. Or how commentators who vehemently opposed the strike characterized the CTU. Adjectives like “fat,” “lazy,” “greedy,” and “selfish,” were common, as were sentiments expressed in one Fox News editorial, proclaiming that the strike was “Exhibit A for what ails America...for why America is broke...why America is dysfunctional...and why our public school system is in a shambles.”

Given the demographics of Chicago’s public school teachers and the language used to undermine and scapegoat them, shouldn’t this be a bigger story?

It’s often true that when sexual or racial minorities organize and advocate on behalf of themselves, American public opinion can be swift to condemn, in which case maybe descriptions of the predominantly female CTU as a gang of conniving, lazy ingrates is hardly news. However, the CTU strike occurred during an election season in which both Democrats and Republicans have sought to cater to women by highlighting their contributions to the social and economic fabric of America. At both parties’ national conventions, held in the weeks preceding the strike, women were touted for their roles as moms helping with book reports, or hardworking members of the middle class, huddling with their husbands over the kitchen table to make a household budget. They were not portrayed as labor activists (led by a woman of color, no less), or as rank and file individuals who could unite in the face of extreme opposition and, to most observers, successfully achieve something better for themselves and their students.

Perhaps for that reason, some of the shrillest insults directed at the CTU strikers have an unmistakable note of fear in them. In contrast to the images of women as domestic, virtuous, and, most importantly, obedient that have become useful political currency in 2012, the CTU teachers subverted the traditional idea of teaching as women’s work, revealing how women workers who dare to challenge the status quo can transform it, no matter who’s running for office.

Amy Shebeck, a former Legal Voice legal intern, is a third year law student at the University of Washington. She lived in Chicago before attending law school.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Will Women Make the Difference in Winning Marriage Equality?

In just 50 days, Washington voters will decide whether to keep our law to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry. In case you haven’t been following closely, voters will need to Approve Referendum 74 on November 6th to keep the freedom to marry in Washington state.

We’ve always known that women voters will be key in winning this historic vote. But this point was underscored last week by a poll that measured voter support for approving Referendum 74.

The poll found voters would approve the marriage equality law by a margin of 56% to 38%. But the poll also showed a significant difference in support between women and men. The poll found that support among women was a whopping 65% to 29%. By contrast, men were evenly divided at 47% to 47%.

Of course, we can’t read too much into one poll. Our opponents haven’t yet unleashed any commercials to try to mislead and frighten voters, and we need to keep working harder than ever to educate voters about why marriage matters for lesbian and gay couples. But the strong support among women in the poll was striking - and it closely matched the breakdown of support among female and male lawmakers when the Washington Legislature passed the marriage equality law in February of this year.

Women currently hold 47 of the 147 seats in the Washington Legislature. Back in February, women lawmakers voted for marriage equality by an overwhelming margin of 33-14 – which translates to 70% support. The male lawmakers literally split their votes 50-50.

Simply put, the marriage equality law wouldn’t have passed the Legislature without the outsized support of women lawmakers. And this November, woman voters can make a similar difference in winning the fight to Approve Referendum 74.

That’s especially true because in a referendum, every voter is like an individual lawmaker and the entire electorate will decide whether the marriage equality law should be retained. Since the electorate is just about evenly divided between women and men, that means women will have an equal voice in deciding the issue.

Unfortunately, that’s still not true in our legislative bodies. Today, women hold only 17% of the seats in Congress, which puts us 80th in the world in terms of women’s representation in national legislative bodies. And while things are better In Washington, women still hold less than 32% of the seats in the State Legislature – and that’s down from a high of 41% that was reached back in 1996.

Want to learn more about how you can help win the fight to Approve Referendum 74? You can visit the Washington United for Marriage website for more information about how to volunteer, donate, or contribute in other ways. You can also help make a difference this week by joining Legal Voice on Wednesday night to phonebank for Approve 74, or by coming to happy hours tonight and tomorrow in Seattle to learn how you can help mobilize support for the freedom to marry among your friends, families, co-workers, and neighbors.