Archive for the 'queer' Category

Another stupid argument against marriage equality – and adoption?

Like others, I’m kind of excited about the prospect of same-sex marriage being legalized in New York state, despite my ambivalence around marriage in general and my disagreement with the centrality of same-sex marriage to the mainstream gay rights movement. So I was happy to read that the New York State Assembly approved the same-sex marriage bill yesterday. But in reading the Reuters article, I read yet another idiotic argument against same-sex marriage that offended me more deeply than usual, not only as a queer person but also as an adopted person:

Rev. Duane Motley, a Christian lobbyist, said in Albany on Wednesday that legalizing gay marriage would “undermine the stability of our society” because he said a child of a gay couple could only have one biological parent.

Um, WTF? First off, I don’t know whether Motley was misquoted or partially quoted by the article’s author, because I can’t imagine that anyone would be so stupid as to assert that a child of a gay couple would actually only have one biological parent. Until science makes greater leaps than it has so far, every human that is born will have two biological parents.

Whether they have both biological parents in their lives is another matter, of course, and I’m assuming that’s what Motley is ineptly referring to as a possible destroyer of the fabric of our society. However, same-sex marriage is hardly the first or only cause of one or both biological parents being absent from a person’s life. As a happy adoptee of two wonderful non-biological parents, I can personally assure Motley that the absence of my biological parents in my early life didn’t cause me any damage. (Well, unless he’d count my queerness, leftist politics, and assorted other perversions as damage done by only having one biological parent.)

Perhaps we’ll soon see Motley and his fellow “Christian lobbyist” fighting against adoption, child rearing by non-parental family members, and all forms of single parenthood (including parenting by widows or widowers) for fear that these scenarios will undermine the stability of our society!

Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a fund for Duanna Johnson’s funeral expenses that you can donate to via PayPal. This seems to be the most legitimate and secure way of donating. Any funds collected above the cost of the funeral will go to Johnson’s family. Please donate if and what you can, and do it soon. A special request to everyone (like me) who donated to the No On Prop 8 campaign: try to match that donation, or even just half of it if you can’t manage the whole thing right now. We can get this raised fast if we all commit to that.

UPDATE 2 (11/14/08 7:46 EST): TTPC reports that they have received $4745 in donations for Duanna’s family. “The response has been tremendous. We have received around 165 donations from as far away as Japan. Duanna’s family will be thrilled. Thank you world!” I echo their thanks to everyone who donated and helped spread the word today. I wish we hadn’t had to raise this money in the first place, but I’m glad that we did. While no amount of money can undo the tragedy of their loss, at least we can help ease their financial burden and give them one less worry as they grieve. (end update)

Duanna Johnson On February 12, 2008, Duanna Johnson was brutally beaten by a Memphis police officer after she refused to respond when the officer called her “he-she” and “faggot.” That night, Johnson became yet another of the countless trans women of color to be targeted and brutalized by police in this country. Two officers were fired after the attack; neither was prosecuted.

Just to be trans, just to be a woman, just to be a person of color in this country is enough to drastically increase one’s exposure to hatred and violence; when oppressions overlap, violence tends to multiply.

This past Sunday, Duanna Johnson was found murdered on the streets of Memphis. I didn’t hear about this until today, when I read a post on my friend Dean’s blog. When I read the awful news, I felt heartsick in a way that has become all too familiar and all too frequent.

After reading Dean’s post today, I was surprised to find out that Johnson was murdered nearly three days ago already and that I hadn’t heard about this until today. I know that I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the news or the blogosphere these past few days. But I can’t help but notice that despite this relative disconnection, I’ve read and heard no shortage of commentary, protest, and outrage about Proposition 8.

A Google News search for “Duanna Johnson” yields 50 results, many syndicated and therefore redundant. Much of the coverage is tainted by the transphobia and victim-blaming that tends to inflect media coverage of violence against trans women of color (like this Associated Press article). A search for “Proposition 8″? 18,085 results – 354.6 times more than for Duanna Johnson.

The skew in the blogosphere is less severe but still pronounced. A Google BlogSearch for Duanna Johnson: 2,300 results. For Prop 8? 240,839, or 100 times more.

Don’t think I’m being deliberately unrealistic or dismissive here. I don’t deny that the passage of Proposition 8 is harmful to the LGBT community and bears much anger, attention, and agitation. I understand the difference in magnitude of the number lives directly affected by the passage of Proposition 8 versus the number of lives directly affected by Duanna Johnson’s murder. I get that.

Yet still, the disparity in attention is damn stark. And that skew isn’t limited to this particular incident; it is a skew that is present in the collective coverage of and attention paid to all violence against trans women of color. And it is a skew that reflects what the GLb(t) mainstream chosen to prioritize with time, energy, and resources, and what it has chosen to address primarily with lip service and leftovers. An apt example of this: the Prop 8 op-ed written by Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese communicates more anger, more commitment to an enduring fight for justice, more of a sense of giving a damn than his brief, comparatively tepid statement in HRC press release on Duanna Johnson’s death.

There is a call out for people to donate money to help Johnson’s mother pay her funeral expenses, which are right now expected to total $1195. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about how to make donations and concern about whether the funeral home is doing right by Mrs. Skinner. I advise folks who wish to donate to use caution; I hope that a clearer, more secure way of donating is established soon. UPDATE: It’s been established.

But when it is possible to make donations safely, I hope that many people donate whatever they can. $1195 is a relatively small amount to raise. Given that the No On Prop 8 campaign was able to raise $37.6 million – or 31,464 times the cost of Duanna Johnson’s funeral – raising this far smaller amount should be no problem for our community. Right?

Cross-posted at Feministe and Racialicious

After 20 years’ fight, expanded domestic violence law in NY state

Twenty years ago, Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein of Brooklyn introduced legislation that would expand protections for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence in New York state. After reintroducing similar legislation every year since, the Fair Access bill has finally passed in the state legislature and will soon be signed into law by Governor David Paterson. From the NY Times:

The new law would make it possible for people in dating relationships, heterosexual or gay, to seek protection from abusers in family court. As it stands, New York has one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child …

“New York lagged behind all the other states in the Northeast in terms of addressing orders of protection,” the governor said. “We expanded the coverage to include what we would consider to be intimate relationships. They do not have to be sexual. Theoretically, it could be two people who are dating and haven’t had sex. They’ve come close, one refuses the other and then the stalking starts.”

Advocacy groups say that current law has deterred teenagers and gay men and women from seeking protection from abusers, because their only recourse is the criminal courts. Getting an order of protection in criminal court requires reporting abuse to the police, the arrest of the alleged abuser, and the cooperation of a prosecutor.

Civil protection orders in family court accept a lower burden of proof and do not require police involvement, and an accuser can be represented by a lawyer and not have to rely on a prosecutor.

This is an incredibly important development. My partner works as a lawyer representing victims of domestic and intimate partner violence and has frequently voiced her frustration and anger at the lack of recourse available to clients whose relationships with their abusers do not fall within the incredibly narrow requirements of the current law.

These limitations do work against many adults in heterosexual relationships – as it stands, the law only allows orders of protection “against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child,” excluding a vast swath of intimate and domestic relationships of any sexuality – but they also tend to severely limit the options for queer people and teenagers, as the NY Times article points out. Both populations are particularly vulnerable to domestic and intimate partner violence, both because of the lack of options and because of the lack of awareness that this violence happens all too frequently to teens and queer people.

A survey released on Tuesday reveals that “sixty-nine percent of teens who had sex by age 14 reported some type of abuse in a relationship, with slightly more than one-third saying they had been physically abused.” That is one horrifying statistic. And safer sex education isn’t the only thing that’s severely lacking; education about abuse in relationships is also missing, and the results are clearly damaging, as the CNN article states: “Despite the number of teens and tweens who say they have experienced abuse or say they know someone who has, only about 51 percent say they are aware of the warning signs of hurtful dating relationship.”

Intimate partner violence is also a serious problem in the LGBTQ community, but one that frequently goes overlooked and unreported. People tend to think of domestic violence as resulting from clearly gendered power dynamics, with abusers tending to be men and victims tending to be women. And though it is true that sexism and misogyny create a society in which this is true, that doesn’t mean that the gender dynamic is always the same in instances of domestic and intimate partner violence. We can’t pretend that same-sex relationships create instant equality, eliminate power dynamics and erase the chance of intimate partner violence. That only serves to limit the resources available to LGBTQ survivors of abuse and force them into silence and even shame. The LGBTQ community must recognize that this is a problem for us as much as it’s a problem for straight people, and we must respond as a community by acknowledging and condemning abuse and supporting survivors.

I hope that the passage of legislation like the Fair Access bill will help LGBTQ, youth, and other survivors of abuse not only by giving them more recourse for protection from their abusers but by also bringing attention to the problems of abuse in these communities. Tremendous thanks to Assemblywoman Weinstein and all of the domestic violence advocates, including my partner, who have fought this twenty year battle to win protections that should have existed as a no-brainer in the first place.

cross-posted at Feministe

Rinku Sen on Same-Sex Marriage and Communities of Color

Qualms about the marriage equality movement aside, I appreciated this perspective from Rinku Sen at Racewire.

Rather than fixating on communities of color as though we’re the last of the homophobic holdouts, we should be thinking of ways to bring people together, socially and culturally, across sexual lines.

Very true.

And yeah, qualms aside again, the images of these couples getting married were thoroughly heartwarming, especially the couple in Fresno!

Convictions overturned for 2 of the Newark 4

Free the New Jersey 4 Two of the four young Black lesbians who were convicted after defending themselves from a homophobic attack in 2007 have had their convictions overturned. From the New York Times article:

An appeals court on Thursday overturned the convictions of two women accused in the beating and stabbing of a man who they said made unwanted sexual advances to them in Greenwich Village two years ago.

One of the women, Terrain Dandridge, whom a jury found guilty of second-degree gang assault, had her conviction reversed and indictment dismissed; as a result she can no longer be tried on those charges. A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled that there was not enough evidence to support a guilty verdict for Ms. Dandridge. She had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The second woman, Renata Hill, who was found guilty of second-degree gang assault and third-degree assault, had her gang assault conviction vacated, but she can be retried on the charge. The court ruled that the judge’s instructions to the jury on the charge were erroneous and that therefore her conviction could not be upheld.

She was sentenced to eight years in prison, but if the Manhattan district attorney decides against further prosecution, she is likely to be released because the maximum penalty for the third-degree assault is a year and she has already been in prison longer than that.

Alexis Agathocleous, the lawyer who handled Ms. Hill’s appeal, said he was pleased and was hoping “that the district attorney’s office will also do the right thing and dismiss the remaining charge.”

The appeals for Patreese Johnson and Venice Brown are still pending, but let’s hope that they’re as or more successful than these. I also hope that, as Agathocleous says, the DA will do the right thing and drop these sham charges.

Kenyon Farrow and Jonathan Adams at Racewire both point out that in addition to the lawyers and families who have been working so hard to see justice done here, there are some awesome organizations that deserve hearty congratulations and continued support: FIERCE, Human Rights Watch, Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Also: while some elements of the NY media had a field day tearing these women apart when they were on trial, calling them things like “killer lesbians,” “a wolf pack of lesbians,” and a “seething sapphic septet,” they’ve been remarkably quiet about the overturned convictions so far. Funny, that. We should probably be thankful for that, though; one can only imagine what sort of fucked-up things they’d say if they did take up the story.

Edited to add: More info from the Free the NJ 4 blog. Their press release is definitely recommended reading.

cross-posted at Feministe

Thanks, Tila!

Tila Tequila

A little levity for you: while the debate about whether marriage equality is something to unequivocally celebrate continues, at least one thing has been cleared up. We now know who to thank for the victory in California! And no, it’s not LGBT organizations and activists who have worked tirelessly towards this goal; that would make way too much sense. No, folks, we should actually be thanking Tila Tequila.

“It is because of me. I definitely think [my show] has helped the movement,” Tila told Us Weekly at the Hollywood premiere of “The Love Guru” on Wednesday.

“A Shot At Love” pits men and women vying for Tila’s affection against each other in a series of challenges designed to help Tila find the man or woman of her dreams.

“Before it came out, everyone was still a little apprehensive about [same sex relationships],” she said. “Then they realized, ‘Wow, everyone is really into this stuff, and it is fine.’ The next thing you know, [gay marriage] is legal.”

Or maybe the show just reassured everyone who was apprehensive about the gays getting hitched that even if queer people look like they’re gonna marry a hot, interesting individual of their own sex, in the end they’ll wind up going with a boring person of the “opposite” sex named Bobby?

(Yes. I will admit it. I watched that train wreck of a show. And DANI WUZ ROBBED!)

Also, I am amazed that the image in this post is the only one that showed up on the first page of my Google Image Search (SafeSearch turned off) for “Tila Tequila” that was not hyper-sexualized or featuring major nudity. Actually, why am I surprised?

(Thanks to Myles for the tip!)

Why this queer isn’t celebrating

I’ll admit it: I couldn’t help but get a bit happy when I heard that California was legalizing same-sex marriage. And today, when I heard about the first couples in line to enjoy their new rights, couples like Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin who got married again after their 2004 marriage was declared invalid, my heart was kinda warmed. After all, politics aside, it’s beautiful to see people celebrate and commemorate their love, out in the open, and with a long-awaited sense of equality and societal recognition. It’s hard for me not to get a little bit sentimental and proud in the most rainbow-flag-waving sense of the word.

But it didn’t take long for that warmth to turn chill and that pride to shrivel up completely when I read this article from the LA Times:

The gay and lesbian couples who packed a Hollywood auditorium last week had come seeking information about California’s new marriage policies. But they also got some unsolicited advice.

Be aware.

Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to convince California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying the other side.

Sitting close to his husband-to-be in the audience, hairstylist Kendall Hamilton nodded and said he knew just what she meant. No “guys showing up in gowns,” he said.

The article goes on to discuss how “proponents of same-sex marriage are now taking care to emphasize mainstream unions.”

Many of the … early weddings around the state were also of long-term couples who could have been selected by central casting to appear both nonthreatening and mainstream.

And as the SF Gate reports, even the gay-marriage-themed window displays are being engineered to be as normative as possible:

In window one: two men on a wedding cake, one in a $6,000 Brioni tuxedo, the other in a $4,000 Belvest tux.

In window two: two women, one in a black Roberto Cavalli skirt tuxedo ($3,655) and the other in a $1,900 Catherine Regehr white dress.

“Describe them as straightforward,” [San Francisco clothier Wilkes] Bashford said. “I definitely did not want them to be camp.”

That’s right, folks: no camp here. No gender non-conformity, either. And definitely no guys in gowns.

Why? Because the marriage equality movement is largely predicated on the notion that us queers are just like “everyone else,” meaning mostly white, mostly middle-class or up, gender conforming monogamists. You know, the non-threatening queers. The rest of us should apparently find a nice closet to go hide in for a while, lest we threaten the rights that are apparently meant for the more upstanding, respectable members of the LGsomeotherlessimportantletters community.

Continue reading ‘Why this queer isn’t celebrating’

Sanesha Stewart, Lawrence King, and why hate crimes legislation won’t help

I’ve been out of town and subsequently out of touch for a while now, visiting El Paso with my partner to meet her incomprehensibly adorable two-week-old nephew. But in the midst of the happiness that babies and family and vacation bring, two pieces of tragic news have weighed heavily on my mind. Both of them demonstrate how dangerous and hostile a world this is for people who are trans and gender non-conforming.

On February 10, Sanesha Stewart, a young trans woman of color, was brutally murdered in her apartment in the Bronx. This is tragic and deeply saddening in and of itself, and part of a frightening and enduring pattern of violence against trans people. But because of this woman’s identities – trans, woman, person of color, low income – the tragedy doesn’t end with her death and the grief of those who knew and loved her. Instead, the mainstream media, specifically the Daily News, has managed to add to the tragedy with grossly disrespectful and transphobic journalism – if such garbage can even be called journalism. This, too, is part of a pattern, one that I’ve written about before. And yet, every time I read another disgustingly transphobic article, I’m still shocked and appalled that some media sources will stoop so low. Even in death, even after having been murdered, trans people are given no respect and are treated as less than human.

In an eloquent and resonating post on Feministe, Holly posits a world in which Sanesha Stewart’s murder would be treated with respect for the victim and a cold eye for the killer, then contrasts that with the lurid reality:

There was no respect and no cold eye, none at all. I must be imagining some completely different universe where young trans women of color aren’t automatically treated like human trash. Where we all live, business as usual is to make a lot of comments about what the murder victim dressed like and looked like, reveal what her name was before she changed it, automatically assume she’s getting paid for sex, and to make excuses for the alleged killer.

Only days after Sanesha was murdered, Lawrence King, a 15-year-old, openly gay, gender non-conforming junior high schooler was shot in the head and killed by Brandon McInerney, a fellow classmate, a 14-year-old boy. McInerney has been charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime, for which he could face a sentence of 24 years to life with an additional three years because of the hate crime status.

It’s mind-boggling. Mind-boggling that someone so young could be so severely punished for simply being himself; mind-boggling that someone so young could have so much hatred or anger inside of him that he could kill another kid. Or, as Holly suggests in another post, that perhaps McInerney was not acting out of simple hatred:

I fear the worst — and the worst would not just be that some homophobic asshole killed a child. There’s an even worse worst: that a child is dead, and the other child who pulled the trigger did so because he couldn’t deal with his own feelings. And now that second child will be tried as an adult, and another life destroyed.

When crimes like the murders of Lawrence King and Sanesha Stewart occur, I often hear queer and trans advocates call for strong hate crimes legislation. In a statement from the Human Rights Campaign about King’s murder (mind you, I doubt the HRC would ever release any statement about Stewart’s murder), Joe Solomnese reiterated this demand:

While California’s residents are fortunate to have state laws that provide some protection against hate crimes and school bullying, this pattern of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is repeated too often in schools and communities across America each day. This tragedy illustrates the need to pass a federal hate crimes law to ensure everyone is protected against violent, bias-motivated crimes, wherever they reside.

I disagree with this response. I cannot see how hate crimes legislation can do anything to protect anyone – queer and trans people, people of color, women, and other victims of hate crimes. Hate crimes legislation only works after the fact, after someone has been victimized, hurt, or killed. Hate crimes legislation cannot undo what has been done. Nor can it undo what has been done to our society and to the individuals within it: the inscription of hatred, of intolerance, of prejudice upon our psyches. Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place. Hate crimes occur because, time and time again, our society demonstrates that certain people are worth less than others; that certain people are wrong, are perverse, are immoral in their very being; that certain people deserve discrimination, derision, and disrespect.

Perhaps advocates of hate crimes legislation believe that such laws would send a message to people that homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice and hatred are wrong. I don’t think it will. How could such laws counteract the prejudices that permeate our society? I seriously doubt that hate crimes legislation that is only brought up after someone is hurt or killed can make a dent in the ubiquitous flood of messages that we receive from politicians, religious leaders, the media and pop culture that queers and trans people are less deserving of respect and rights than straight and non-trans people. In this country, all signs point to queer people being second-class citizens, and trans and gender non-conforming people being maybe third or fourth-class citizens. That is what sets up a situation where someone is targeted because of their sexuality or their gender identity, just as such dehumanization is what has fueled racist and sexist violence for centuries. And that’s simply not going to be undone by hate crimes legislation. Attacking a few of the symptoms of hatred while leaving others unhindered and the root causes untouched is never going to change much of anything.

Moreover, hate crimes legislation is far too tied up with our unjust judicial system and prison industry. How can we rely on systems that continuously target and abuse people of color, queer folks, and trans folks to protect us from targeting and abuse? Can we really trust the police, the courts, and prisons to protect us when much of the time they’re violating our rights, tearing apart our families, and ravaging our communities? Is it likely that hate crimes legislation will be applied fairly across the board in a system that consistently fails to treat all people equally? I think not. For communities that often find themselves being victimized by the judicial and prison systems, there can be little to gain in bolstering those systems and giving them more power to imprison, possibly unjustly. For my part, I’m invested in prison abolition, so “protections” that serve primarily to send more people to jail for longer periods of time are counterintuitive.

In fact, because hate crimes legislation involves no analysis of power – it’s not legislation against homophobic or transphobic or racist acts, but rather against general hatred in any direction – such laws can even be applied against oppressed people. Now, I’m not defending or condoning acts of violence or hatred perpetuated by oppressed people, nor am I saying that one form of violence is better than the other. But the lack of a power analysis built into such legislation reminds me of accusations of “reverse racism” in that they both completely miss the point. Queer folks, trans folks, people of color aren’t disproportionately victimized simply because some individuals hate them; that hatred is backed up, reinforced, and executed by an entire system of institutionalized power that allows and in fact encourages such acts of violence. The lack of acknowledgment of these systems of power in hate crimes legislation only reinforces my belief that such legislation is relatively useless in doing anything to stop homophobia, transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression, and therefore won’t do much to stop the violence that stems from said oppression.

Hate crimes legislation won’t bring Sanesha Stewart or Lawrence King back, nor will it protect other trans and gender non-conforming folks and people of color from violence fueled by hate. Instead of reacting to hatred with disapproval after the fact, we need to instill a proactive condemnation of hatred, prejudice and discrimination into our society. Sure, that’s a much more difficult job to do, but it can be done, slowly but surely, and it’s the only way we’re truly going to protect those who need protection most.

NYC Queer and Trans Youth of Color – Know Your Rights!

FIERCE! is offering an awesome training (details below) at their office this Friday. While FIERCE! is an organization for queer and trans youth of color, their FIERCE Friday events (like this one) are open to all allies. Trainings like these are important because the cops most definitely take advantage of folks not knowing their rights when it comes to dealing with the police. It’s hard to know how to deal with a cop, especially when you already feel targeted and vulnerable because of your age, your race, your sexuality, your gender, your class. Hopefully this training will help folks understand what rights they do have in such situations (not to say that some cops won’t completely disregard those rights anyway, but still.)

Queer and Trans Youth of Color: Do You Know How to Talk to the Cops When They Start Talking to YOU?

No, really? Do you?

You have the right to learn your rights when dealing with encounters with police. FIERCE is offering KNOW YOUR RIGHTS training and self-defense workshop on FRIDAY the 27th

Where: FIERCE Office 147 W. 24th Street. 6th Floor;(Right by Paws on Chelsea)
Take the F/1/C/E to 23rd street.

When: FIERCE FRIDAY!!! July 27th from 600-800pm

Allies Welcome

More info: www.fiercenyc.org 646-336-6789 x203

Gender/queerness and street harassment

Yesterday morning I listened to a segment on the Brian Lehrer show about street harassment (cat-calling) in NYC. Lehrer interviewed three women: Latosha Belton and Ashley Lewis, two Brooklyn teenagers who worked with Girls for Gender Equity to create “Sisters in Strength Strikes Back: Our Struggle with Street Harassment,” a city-wide summit this past May; and Maggie Hadleigh-West, maker of the anti-street-harassment film War Zone.

The three women talked about their extensive experiences with street harassment directed at them from men of all ages. Ashley Lewis described how she feels like her new way of responding to street harassers is better than staying silent:

The approach I’m taking now, I feel like it’s better ’cause I’ll ask a man something, “Do you really think it’s appropriate to come at me in the street?” And they’re so taken aback by the question that they’re stunned, they don’t know what to say. So instead of answering it, they kind of walk away from me, so it kind of helps.

Hearing that, I couldn’t help worry that the girls would encounter some men who would do far more and far worse than run away. Continue reading ‘Gender/queerness and street harassment’