Archive for the 'youth' Category

Healthy Transitions for Adolescent Girls: working session at the CGI

Panelists at the CGI Global Health working sessionYesterday I watched the live video feed of a Global Health working session at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. (The press can’t attend the actual working sessions, so we had to sit and watch from the press room.) A bit of background – at the CGI Annual Meetings, government, corporate, and NGO leaders get together to discuss major world issues and figure out ways to tackle them. Each day they break out into working sessions, each one devoted to one of this year’s four focus areas: Poverty Alleviation, Energy and Climate Change, Education, and Global Health. This particular Global Health working session was entitled “Healthy Transitions for Adolescent Girls,” which immediately jumped out at me as a topic of great interest, both personally and for folks at Feministe.

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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

Latina teacher fired for not regurgitating the same old crap

Karen Salazar at a rally in response to her firing

cross-posted at Feministe

Yesterday while listening to Democracy Now! I heard about Karen Salazar for the first time. She is a high school teacher who was fired from her position at a school in LA because her curriculum was too “Afrocentric” – instead of, you know, the usual Eurocentric curriculum that’s delivered to American students on the daily. From a letter by Salazar posted on the Vivir Latino site:

I am being fired because I am trying to ensure that my curriculum is relevant to my students’ daily lived experiences, and in the process, create a space for them to be critical of Eurocentric society and curricula that only serve to reinforce their dehumanization, subjugation, and oppression …

I have been observed in the classroom and evaluated by administration over a dozen times (almost twice a month) this school year, whereas in comparison, most teachers are observed and evaluated 1-3 times per school year. The evaluations claim that I am creating “militancy” within students, promoting my personal political beliefs, and presenting a biased view of the curriculum. It has also been implied that I have been teaching students “how to protest.”

Three weeks ago, things began escalating when I was again observed, and in his evaluation, the administrator accused me of “brainwashing” my students and “forcing extremist views” on them. The class had been reading a 3-page excerpt of the Autobiography of Malcolm X (an LAUSD-approved text, of which we have several class sets in our school bookroom), in which Malcolm describes the first time he conked his hair…My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.

Needless to say, this shit is disgusting. And of course, as Democracy Now! reports, it’s not an isolated incident:

In 2006, Jay Bennish, a high school teacher from Aurora, Colorado, was briefly dismissed because one of his lectures was deemed “anti-American.” On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Deborah Mayer, an Indiana schoolteacher, was fired after telling her class, “I honk for peace.” A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld the school’s decision last year and ruled public school teachers do not have the constitutional right to express personal opinions in the classroom.

But this isn’t just about expressing personal opinions; it’s about the restrictions imposed upon teachers who may wish to counter the so-called history in most history books with information that actually reflects the many cultures and histories that make up this country – histories that often don’t make the United States look so swell.

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ACTION ALERT: Tell the NY Post to quit its transphobic “reporting”

3/2/07 Update: I’ve been kind of busy since posting this, so I wanted to post a quick thank you to everyone who’s written to the Post, and to everyone who’s reposted this. I didn’t expect such a great and large response, and it’s wonderful. Please keep reposting!

NOTE TO OTHER BLOGGERS: Please link to or repost this!

An important victory was recently won in the struggle for trans rights, specifically around health care. Judge Sheldon Rand of the Manhattan Family Court found, for the second time, that the City of New York is obligated to pay for the sexual reassignment surgery of Mariah Lopez, a young trans woman of color who was denied this important and necessary medical care while in the care of the NYC foster system. The City is constitutionally required to provide adequate medical coverage for all children in its care, and SRS is a medically approved procedure, one that is often necessary for trans people. In the decision, Judge Rand wrote: “Mariah L. should be treated in order that she may go on with her life and be in a body which blends with the gender with which she identifies.”*

Fortunately, Judge Rand was far more understanding and respectful than most of the media coverage, which has ranged from iffy to downright disgusting. (This article from is the most respectful one I’ve found thus far.)

Worst of all has been the coverage from the New York Post. Now, anyone who’s familiar with this sorry excuse for a newspaper should know that it’s usually chock full of shoddy, sensationalist, decidedly conservative-leaning rubbish that they attempt to pass off as journalism, so racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are all par for the course. But the two pieces that they’ve run on this story – an “article” entitled “Free To Be He-She” and the even worse editorial, “Justice Isn’t That Blind” – are really just awful and enraging. Not only are the articles thoroughly transphobic, but the editorial also falsely paints her as a “sociopath” due to her criminal record, completely ignoring her history of activism and community service and the fact that she and other trans women of color are targeted and abused by the NYPD (see Holly’s comment on this post for more.)

The New York Post needs to be sent a strong message: quit the transphobic “reporting”! Show some respect, some decency, and some attention to journalistic standards.

I ask all of you to join me in writing to the Post and giving them a piece of your mind. Below is a letter to the Post. You can copy and paste it as is, or you can add your own touches to it or write something completely new. Whichever one you choose, send it to and (the writer of the first article.) (It would be great if you also commented here, so I can get a gauge of how many emails they’re getting.)


SUBJECT: NY Post: Quit the Transphobic Reporting!

I was angered by the Post’s coverage of the recent Manhattan Family Court decision in favor of Mariah Lopez (“Free to be he-she,” February 25, and “Justice isn’t that blind,” February 27). Both articles were deeply disrespectful of Ms. Lopez’s gender identity. By referring to her as a “he-she,” a “wannabe woman,” and, in the editorial, using her old name and incorrect pronouns in direct violation of AP style guidelines, the Post has clearly demonstrated that it is more interested in playing to societal prejudice towards transgender people than in following good journalistic practices and treating trans people with the respect that they deserve.

Additionally, the articles’ sensational treatment of this story ignored the fact that the ACS is required by law to provide medically-approved treatment to children under its care, and that Ms. Lopez was indeed a child under the care of the ACS when she initially sought transgender health care, including sexual reassignment surgery. Ms. Lopez was denied access to a necessary treatment that is widely approved by the medical community. Judge Rand’s decision will hopefully ensure that no other child, trans or not, will be denied treatment in the future simply due to prejudice.



* Partly in anticipation of certain questions, I’d like to clarify that I don’t believe that SRS is always a necessary part of a trans person’s transition. Transition can mean all sorts of things, many of which are not medical or surgical; it’s all about what one feels is right for them. I think it’s important, actually, to get away from a medicalization of trans-ness, because that often leads to people passing judgment on who’s “really” or “fully” trans or not based on their medical history. Which is, of course, complete bullshit, given that not everyone chooses – or can afford or access – the same treatment.

Required Viewing: “A Girl Like Me”

A Girl Like Me

I think I’m a few months behind in blogging about this, but I hadn’t seen this film until a friend emailed me a news clip about it today. “A Girl Like Me,” by teen filmmaker Kiri Davis, explores how race and racism affect the self-esteem and self-image of young Black women and even younger Black children. (The link brings you to the film’s page on the Media That Matters Film Festival site, where you can watch the film in its entirety.) The young women who are interviewed are insightful and articulate about their experiences around what is perceived as beautiful; many talk about straight or relaxed hair, lighter skin, and body types that are more typically white than Black.

Davis goes on to replicate the doll experiments conducted by Drs. Mamie and Kenneth Clark in the 1940s, which were presented as part of the Brown vs. Board of Ed Supreme Court decision. In the experiment, Black children were asked to choose which of two nearly identical dolls, one Black and one white, they preferred. The majority of the Black children in those experiments chose the white doll.

Davis reproduced the experiment with young Black children living in NYC; after six decades, the results are much the same. At one point, Davis asks a young girl which doll is the good doll, and the girl holds up the white doll. She asks which one is the bad doll, and the girl indicates the Black doll. Then, Davis asks the girl which doll looks like her. The girl looks to the white doll first, but then turns back to the Black one and slowly pushes it forward.

So admittedly I’m an easy crier. But yes, this made me cry. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s infuriating, that young Black (and Brown, I’m sure) children continue to grow up in a world that makes them think that people who look like them are bad and people who look like their oppressors are good. Not that I didn’t know this is what our society is still about, but this film brings it home in a skilled and poignant way.

Kudos to Kiri Davis for making a powerful, brilliant film. In her bio, Kiri says that she wants to continue to be a filmmaker; I certainly hope she does so, because I can’t wait to see what more she accomplishes.