Mayhem Around the World: A Roundup

Inspired by a Tumblr post, I decided to expand and succinctly contextualize some of the mayhem going around in the world right now. The following is a corrected and much expanded version of this postworld globe

Brazil: Massive Nation-Wide protests and riots caused by, among other factors, monetary focus on the World Cup and Olympics instead of the well-being of the populace. Government happily destroys important monuments and displaces indigenous folks from their homes to make way for things like parking lots.

Russia: Government creates laws against “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (the vote is 436 to ZERO), people protest (and get abused by anti-gay individuals), and the Human Rights Watch reports that anti-gay violence spiked once the bill started getting considered in January.The law imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships” (source). Also, the Duma approved a law that criminalizes blasphemy with a 3-year prison term for anyone who organizes an activity or stages a performance that aims to “offend religious sensibilities” (on the heels of the whole Pussy Riot debacle, in “which three members of the feminist performance art group Pussy Riot were tried and two of them sentenced to two years in a penal colony for staging a profane performance in an empty church that hurt no one and caused no material damage”).

Venezuela: Massive protests and riots caused by elections that put Maduro in the presidential seat by a narrow margin and people claim it was due to fraud (here’s another source, too). However, after the recount, the National Electoral Council still says the results of the audit corroborated Maduro’s win (CNE). Either way, it is a way closer race than some people expected and sounds like the government might be shifting for future elections.

Greece: Trans* people and sex workers are being rounded up in internment camps, and the health minister has condoned forced HIV tests conducted by the police. Some of the folks who have been detained and found to be HIV+ have had personal identifiable information (including names and photos) published in the media “to protect public health.” And this isn’t counting the many innocent individuals that have been jailed for being “presumed prostitutes.”

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The awesome TX Senator Leticia Van De Putte who also participated in the filibuster and uttered the now-famous line she’s printed on her shirt.

United States: Republicans in Texas aim to pass draconian abortion law (SB5), give media incorrect information about its passing after a 13-hr filibuster, and change online records to fake time of voting, despite the bill being voted on after a deadline and being protested by both the people and a state Senator. (TL;DR: SB5 didn’t pass, but a special session has been convened and further actions will happen after the holiday weekend). Protests at the senate growing, and law enforcement called in. Also, and  even MORE importantly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been gutted and states that used discriminatory practices to bar poor people, immigrants, and people of color from voting no longer have the same restrictions placed on them re: changing voting rules. People will have to prove claims of discrimination AFTER the fact. Less than a few days after the gutting (and in some, after less than 24 hours), several states changed their voting regulations without needing to clear it with any higher authority. Finally, on the LGBT front, tons of reports of anti-gay violence are coming out, and my eye is on New York City (check out the NY Anti-Violence Project’s reports and blog section for more details.)

Australia: Julia Gillard is dumped as prime minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party, while previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is reinstated.

Turkey: Protests escalate as people fight back against state-violence (including violence against the press) and “Erdoğan’s increasingly assertive Islamist administration,” sparked by protests against the redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The government violently cracks down on the dissent, detaining even the medics who were trying to treat the protester’s injuries.

What else is going on, folks? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start.

[UPDATED] Debating on Ultra-Conservative Radio

So…I’m apparently debating Laura Ingraham and Isabel Marin (from Yale’s “Choose Life” and “Undergraduates for a Better Yale College“) on the place of Sex Weeks on college campuses. This will be happening FRIDAY (April 20th) at 11:15 AM EST on The Laura Ingraham Show.

You can listen to it by clicking here.

Long story short, Harvard’s Sex Week got profiled in the New York Times and I was quoted in the article. I’m assuming this is what caught folks’ attention and led them to email me this morning asking if a representative from SHEEC wanted to go on air to speak about Sex Week. They were asking if we could do it “today” (read: within less than 30 minutes of the show having sent that email, which is horrible protocol) or tomorrow. Talk about short notice! But still, I said yes. It’s an interesting opportunity and I feel I can hold my own on the air (or at least I hope I can!). (NOTE: the appearance was originally scheduled for April 18th, but they decided to reschedule for the 20th to give us more on-air time. The first paragraph of this post has been changed to reflect that update).

Wish me luck!

For a bit of background on Laura and her show, let’s look at some of the topics she addresses and the stances she takes (via Wikipedia):

  • Illegal immigration: Ingraham frequently advocates “securing the borders” by putting more resources into stopping illegal immigration. She has a segment called “The Illegal Immigration Sob Story” alert, in which she highlights media articles that she believes are gathering emotional sympathy for illegal immigrants who, she states, are simply breaking the law.
  • Pro-life issues: Ingraham is opposed to abortion on demand, and often talks about human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research and abortion, taking a pro-life stance against all three. She was an outspoken advocate against Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2 (2006), a ballot measure that she felt was deceptive and that legalized human cloning. Every January 22, Ingraham promotes and lauds the marchers participating in the March for Life, which calls for outlawing abortion, and takes place on the same day as the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States.
  • “Pornification” of the culture: Ingraham frequently highlights sex and pornography on her show. She has criticized people such as Howard Stern, Hugh Hefner, and others who she claims have pervaded the culture with what she describes as “filth” at the expense of “traditional American values.”

I think we can safely say Laura and I are not going to end up BFFs. As for Isabel (who’s part of an organization that recommends fake clinics or “crisis pregnancy centers” to pregnant women), the same applies.

Testimony Around Reproductive Health and Abortion Bills in RI

On Wednesday, I went to the RI Statehouse to testify because there was a hearing for a group of bills around reproductive health. I’d gone last year and found it important to go once again and have my voice heard. Being part of the political process in a room with passionate people (even if they’re not all in my camp) is invigorating and bizarre, especially stuck up in a balcony…but anyway. More on my feelings, thoughts, and observations about the process later. I wanted to capture my testimony (which I wrote as I waited to speak) and share it with y’all.
(BEFORE PROCEEDING: Look at the bills and their text! Check them out here.)
The following is my testimony:
My name is Aida Manduley and I’m here in support of bills 7754 and 7041, and in opposition to the rest of the ones on the docket.

Before I discuss my support of those 2 bills, I want to address what previous speakers have mentioned around intent <Note: For context, this was directed at the legislator who proposed the bill around mandatory ultrasounds and “informed consent.” She kept talking about her intent this and her intent that, how we were “misinterpreting” her intent and blah blah blah>. In making major political decisions, we need to look at context, intent, AND effect…and ultimately, effect trumps intent. Even “well-meaning” legislation can have unintended effects, and THESE effects are what can create barriers to care, misinformation, and unnecessary political interference with personal, medical decisions.

As someone who works at a domestic violence agency, as someone trained in dealing with sexual assault and crisis assistance, as a sexuality educator, and as a woman, I have personal as well as professional experience in what these bills would mean to women across Rhode Island.

In regards to bill 7754, this is a bill to keep our youth SAFE. This isn’t a bill to take parents out of the equation, but to give pregnant teens bodily autonomy–to give them the option to, through contact with trained professionals and authorities, make personal decisions about their future and care. 

In my work, I educate, and encourage parent-child conversations around these issues, but must admit that these conversations are NOT always possible, and not always safe. I’ve encountered minors who are NOT supported by their families, who regardless of their own wishes, would be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if this bill did not pass. I’ve encountered young women abused by their own families (emotionally, physically, and sexually), for whom it is not safe to require parental consent for an abortion, for whom it is even re-traumatizing to event attempt to do so.

I’ve served and counseled young women, scared and pregnant, some already with children, who are in abusive relationships where condom negotiation isn’t possible, whose families don’t know about their relationships or who are even buddy-buddy with the abusers–women who are already experiencing health disparities and barriers to care…am I supposed to tell them I must repeat the patterns of their abusers? Am I supposed to tell them our legislators have decided that they ultimately have NO choice about what happens to their bodies? Please consider what I have said, as someone who has both personal and professional experience with these issues, and support bills 7754 and 7041.

In Mississippi: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26! Save the Vote on 27!

This is reposted from an email bulletin by Sister Song, a women of color reproductive health collective:

In Mississippi: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26!
Save the Vote on 27!
What is Initiative 26?    
 
     On November 8, 2011, Mississippians will be given the opportunity to vote on a dangerous amendment to the state Constitution, which will read, “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof?” This amendment would redefine personhood at conception and it seeks to undo laws that protect abortion rights, stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and even birth control.
     Many of the amendment’s supporters view it as a means to overturn Roe v. Wade in the state of Mississippi, in order to persecute women who decide to have abortions and the doctors that perform them. However, there are implications for people who decide to parent. By defining “personhood” at conception, this could end up criminalizing women who experience miscarriages, stillbirths, or women whose lives are at risk who decide to save their own lives, rather than the fetus.  Initiative 26 could lead to more government intrusion into women’s personal lives, such as accessing our medical records to investigate miscarriages, dictating what kind of birth control we use and interfering with medical decisions in treating women whose lives are at risk. By giving constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, the amendment could ban emergency contraception, birth control pills and IUDs as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. In short, our rights will be violated in order to uphold the rights of the fetus.
     This amendment will disproportionately criminalize (low-income) women of color as we have seen in other states. Mississippi has the highest concentration of African-Americans, high poverty rate and low education ranking, allowing for this issue to be at the heart of intersectionality for women of color, especially Black women. Because the majority of anti-choice proponents are Republican and white, this issue is highly racialized. Pro-life often means something different in the African-American community. Because of issues around gender, race, class and cultural history, Blacks may describe themselves as being both pro-life and pro-choice.   We cannot allow Initiative 26 to become a moral issue, especially when it directly impacts and criminalizes so many women, especially poor women of color. We must not be influenced by rhetoric that considers women who choose to have an abortion as “murderers” when 61% of women who undergo the procedure are mothers, and 84% will become mothers.
What is Initiative 27?
     On the same ballot there is also a controversial Voter ID exclusion measure, Initiative 27, which will allow voting restrictions that will directly impact women of color. This initiative, if passed, will implement measures that are reminiscent of the 1960’s lack of access to the ballot. These two initiatives may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. To read more about these two Initiatives and what the related intersections mean to women of color, specifically Black women, click here to read an article by our National Coordinator Loretta Ross.
How to join the fight:
What You Can Do..
  • First educate yourself on what these Initiatives really mean and the consequences of their implementation.
  • You can help in this get-out-the-vote effort by voting and urging everyone you know in Mississippi- your friends, family, co-workers, or members of groups you are affiliated with-to Vote No on Initiative 26 and 27 on November 8, 2011.
  • To take direct action, you can donate to various organizations to help the statewide Mississippi coalition campaign buy desperately needed television and radio ads.
  • You can share informative posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to dispel any myths and clarify the impact of these Initiatives.

 

Q&A: I Think I Might Be Pregnant…

I might be pregnant. I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend and I’m about 5 days late (I’m pretty regular). I have NO idea what to do about it. I consider myself Pro-Choice, but I’m also a believer that things happen for a reason? I’m very confused. While I believe it is every woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her body, I feel that if I were to choose aborting this hypothetical child, it’d be selfish that another being got denied life because I was too careless to prevent it.

Post last updated on 7/8/15

Hi Anonymous! It’s normal to feel confused, especially around a situation like this. Because you’re already 5 days late, I’m assuming this sexual contact was more than 5 days ago and thus taking emergency contraception wouldn’t do much. So, my suggestion would be to first assess your risk (to see how likely it is that you are pregnant), and then take a pregnancy test ASAP to check it out. In my opinion, you don’t need to think further ahead until you have the results and facts more concretely; over-thinking the possibilities will probably just stress you out. First of all, though, remember that many things can throw off your cycle, including changes in diet, stress-levels, and exercise…it doesn’t have to be a pregnancy.

In terms of assessing risk, I’d ask you a few questions

  • Did he ejaculate inside of your vagina (or on your vulva)? If yes, there is a chance you could be pregnant.
  • Did he pre-cum inside of your vagina? If yes, there’s a possibility, but it’s fairly slim. Pre-cum doesn’t contain sperm unless there was a previous ejaculation and the guy didn’t pee between ejaculating and pre-cumming; then the sperm comes from semen still in the urethra.
  • Did you engage in any activity that could’ve led semen to enter your vaginal canal (e.g. anal sex with bf ejaculating when you were facedown and thus it could’ve dripped)? If so, there is a chance of pregnancy.

Like I said before, it’s perfectly normal to feel confused and even feel at odds with your political beliefs/thoughts. Remember, though: being pro-choice doesn’t mean automatically having to get an abortion; it means considering the options and having the freedom to pick the one that best suits you in a variety of ways. Keeping a child or putting it up for adoption doesn’t make you any less of a pro-choicer (or feminist, if you ID that way). There are support groups, message boards, counselors, and a variety of folks available to talk you through these thoughts and situations. See what resources you have at your disposal. Be wary of crisis pregnancy centers, though–many are anti-choice/pro-life and use scary rhetoric that doesn’t actually give you all the information you need to make an educated choice about what to do if you’re actually pregnant.

After assessing your risk, I’d suggest a pregnancy test ASAP. (The longer you wait, the narrower your options get for dealing with it.) They have them at drugstores and some HS/college health clinics, but access to them depends on your location. Some places even offer them for free! I could perhaps help point you in some direction if I knew your area? Feel free to private-message me or email me, if you want! If you can’t access them or don’t feel comfortable doing so, perhaps asking a friend would work? Some folks even ask strangers because there’s little investment in their opinion! While pregnancy tests are not infallible, they can at least give you a preliminary answer. I’m a fan of always taking two tests just in case (one a few days after the other). For more info on how to do them, how they work, and all that, click here.

You can choose to mention that you’re going to take a pregnancy test to your boyfriend, but you can also choose to do it without notifying him. Depending on how you feel about your relationship and how long you’ve been going out, you may feel a need to talk through this with him (before, during, and/or after), but it’s also perfectly fine for you to take care of yourself first. Bottom line, though: you don’t have to go through any of this alone, and you get to decide who you talk to–find someone who will be helpful, respectful, and supportive. If you’re in the US or Canada, you can call Planned Parenthood’s hotline (1.800.230.PLAN), the NAF hotline (1.800.772.9100), and/or Backline (1.888.493.0092).

If for some reason you feel you need another test or another opinion, you can try to visit a local Planned Parenthood or any sort of clinic with access to a physician, and OBGYN, and/or some sort of professional that can either perform a fluid (urine/blood) test or do an ultrasound.

So, post-test, if you AREN’T pregnant, this is a good opportunity to think through what you would’ve done if you had been. It can be something to bring up with your boyfriend, and something to keep in mind next time you are thinking of how to protect yourself against pregnancy. Maybe using another birth control method could be useful? Maybe making up some rules regarding contraception and when you can have sex? Who knows. If you ARE pregnant, you should learn about your options so you can make the best decision for you. The short-list would be: put it up for adoption, keep it, or abort it. You don’t have to make the decision immediately, but definitely be aware of your time-frame!

(Now, this is my VERY PERSONAL VIEW on others bringing life into this world and by no means do I wish to impose it on you; I wish to merely share it in an attempt to provide perspective.) I’m someone who considers overpopulation and the fact that we have so many kids in the foster system already when thinking of bringing new life into the world. For someone who currently does not want a child and/or feels unprepared to (and/or cannot) care for one, I feel it’s best to put it up for adoption or to abort it. Due to the aforementioned issues, I believe that if a fetus is going to grow into a baby, then it should be born into a space that can nurture it, and it’s often more sensical to pursue abortion rather than adoption when such a space can’t be provided/secured.

It’s not an issue of being selfish or not, especially now; this fetus is something that can grow only if you help it grow, and you have the choice to make that happen or not, and to decide what will come of that. Since you feel everything happens for a reason, consider the fact that if you get pregnant, the implication doesn’t HAVE to be that you should keep it. Perhaps this happened so you would change your birth control, have a conversation with your partner, or any number of other reasons. Personally, I don’t think it makes you selfish to not keep it, but in the end, the opinion that truly matters is your own. At the end of the day, you should make the choice that, given everything, is best for you and you can safely make.

For more information, feel free to contact me again + please check out the amazing Scarleteen resources on this topic.

Advocates for Youth: Criminal Miscarriage (repost)

New Utah law defines miscarriage as “criminal homicide”
Utah is poised to become the first state in the U.S. to criminalize miscarriage and punish women for having or seeking an illegal abortion. Utah’s “Criminal Miscarriage” law:
  • expands the definition of illegal abortion to include some miscarriages
  • removes immunity protections for women who have or seek illegal abortions
This law doesn’t punish individuals who perform illegal procedures; it punishes women. As someone who grew up in Salt Lake City, it takes a lot for Utah to surprise me anymore. This time there aren’t even words for my outrage.
Advocates for Youth has been working with activists in Salt Lake City to see how we can help. Their request was simple: Tell everyone you know about this law.

So far, the national media has been silent on this issue. If each of us does these three simple things, we can break that silence.
Will you take 60 seconds to spread the word?
STEP ONE

Send this link to three people right now: http://bit.ly/CriminalMiscarriage

STEP TWO

If you’re on Facebook, click here to post this story to your profile.

STEP THREE

Simply click here to share this story on Twitter.

Activists in Utah asked for our help. Let’s make sure we deliver.


Sincerely,
Will Neville Associate Director, E-Campaign Strategies
Advocates for Youth


P.S. For more background about why Utah’s “Criminal Miscarriage” law is so dangerous for women and girls, click here.

How [Sex] Laws Are Used To Fuck Us Over

Thanks to Gypsy for posting this article. <3

I urge you to read ALL of the cases. Some you may already be familiar with, but others didn’t receive crazy amounts of international coverage or anything, so they may be new to you. While some sex-laws are definitely necessary in order to protect us, there are definitely some laws that serve to HURT us. Check out the sex-related laws in the United States here. And, um, may I remind y’all that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still in place? Yeah. Let’s talk about that. According to the U.S. Penal Code:

  • (13) The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service
  • (14) The armed forces must maintain personnel policies that exclude persons whose presence in the armed forces would create an unacceptable risk to the armed forces’ high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
  • (15) The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.

Excuse me? 😐 And this is the policy to “take care” of those crazy homosexuals:

(b) Policy.— A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations:

(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts unless there are further findings, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations, that the member has demonstrated that—

(A) such conduct is a departure from the member’s usual and customary behavior;
(B) such conduct, under all the circumstances, is unlikely to recur;
(C) such conduct was not accomplished by use of force, coercion, or intimidation;
(D) under the particular circumstances of the case, the member’s continued presence in the armed forces is consistent with the interests of the armed forces in proper discipline, good order, and morale; and
(E) the member does not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.

(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect, unless there is a further finding, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in the regulations, that the member has demonstrated that he or she is not a person who engages in, attempts to engage in, has a propensity to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual acts.

(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

*facepalm*

There are also laws regarding items that are non-mailable because they’re obscene and/or crime-inciting…and materials in some way relating to abortion are mentioned. O.o Check it here.

And on a related note, I still can’t believe the district court in Williams vs. Pryor (1998) considered banning the commerce of sex toys because they promoted “sexual stimulation unrelated to marriage, procreation or family relationships.” I mean, I can believe it, but I don’t LIKE it. Sigh. Dammit, unmarried people have a right to have sex lives, too! They also argued the ban was a good idea because there was legitimate legislative interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex” because “commerce in the pursuit of orgasms by artificial means for their own sake is detrimental to the health and morality of the State.”

WHAT. THE. SHIT.

And William Pryor (assistant attorney in Alabama) is quoted as saying there is no “fundamental right for a person to buy a device to produce orgasm.” -_-;

Eventually (and thankfully), Reliable Consultants Inc. v. Earle (2008) happened and resulted in the federal appeals court declaring the Texas Obscene Device Act as unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment on the right to privacy. Read about it here.

Other cases/info you should be aware of:

  • The 11th Circuit Court (discussing Williams vs. Pryor): “The fundamental constitutional rights of privacy recognized to date by the Supreme Court in the area of sexual activity each have followed from the Court’s protection of a person’s right to make the decision not to procreate without governmental interference. …None of these cases, however, is decisive on the question whether the Constitution protects every individual’s right to private sexual activity and use of sexual devices from being burdened by Alabama’s sexual device distribution criminal statute.” Citing a case involving assisted suicide, Washington v. Glucksberg, this decision favorably quoted: “That many of the rights and liberties protected by the Due Process Clause sound in personal autonomy does not warrant the sweeping conclusion that any and all important, intimate, and personal decisions are so protected….”

So basically, even though decisions pertaining to our sexuality and even our LIFE are “important” and “personal,” that doesn’t mean we always have a “right” to make them without the government butting in somehow. WTFBBQ! It makes NO sense to me that we don’t even own our BODIES in that way. (By the way, assisted suicide is legal in 3 states: Oregon, Montana, and Washington. Read more here.)

Stuff like this (the penal code and the following article) is why I’m so into/involved with the queer, feminist, sex-positive movements. Sheesh. This is also why I think I have only a few good options in terms of where I will eventually live in the United States (best choice so far seems to be MA). But now, onto the article!

——-

15 Shocking Tales of How Sex Laws Are Screwing the American People

By Ellen Friedrichs, AlterNet. Posted June 12, 2009.

The older I get, the luckier I feel not to have been busted for breaking a sex law. It’s not that I have been doing anything particularly scandalous. Public sex sure isn’t my thing, and I’m not in the habit of spamming my friends and colleagues with XXX emails. But in a world where a teen can get arrested for texting a boyfriend her own nudie shots, I don’t want to take anything for granted.

Really though, my clean record probably has as much to do with where I’ve lived, as with what I’ve done. Growing up in Canada, meant that I didn’t worry about the legal ramifications of losing my virginity to my high school boyfriend. Had I spent those angst-ridden years in Texas, or even Maine, I could have been charged with the crime of underage sex.

Similarly, accompanying a terrified 16-year-old to a New York City clinic for an abortion a few years back could have been illegal if I had done the same thing in many of the 34 states with parental consent and notification laws for this procedure.

So I’ve been fortunate. But plenty of other people haven’t. We often don’t realize that sex regulations extend beyond archaic blue laws banning things like having sex in a toll booth, or forbidding sororities on the basis that women living together constitute a brothel. Such prohibitions may remain on the books, but people seldom, if ever, face charges for breaking them. The sex laws that do get enforced every day tend to be a lot less laughable.

Occasionally, the focus on a particular case can lead to a law’s repeal. For example, in 2004, a Texas mom was arrested for violating that state’s ban on selling sex toys after she was busted hawking vibrators to her friends. The coverage of the incident drew attention to the statute and eventually lead to its 2008 nullification. And famously, following a 2002 arrest for having anal sex with his boyfriend, John Lawrence argued his case before the U. S. Supreme Court, and succeeded in getting the federal sodomy laws overturned.

Nevertheless, for many people, simply paying their fine or doing their time is preferable to embarrassing publicity that can accompany fighting charges. Still, plenty of cases do make the papers, whether those involved want them to or not.

Here are fifteen recent examples highlighting the fact the land of the free, the freedom to express your sexuality can still be pretty limited.

1) Over the past year, New York City has seen thirty-four gay men arrested for prostitution in what many people are calling an anti-gay sting operation. One case, reported by the New York Times, involved Robert Pinter, a fifty-three-year old massage therapist, who was approached by an undercover police officer in the adult section of a video store. As Pinter told the Times, “[the man who propositioned me] was very charming and cute, and we agreed to leave the store and engage in consensual sex.” Pinter explained that man then offered him $50 for doing so–an offer which he says did not respond to. Once outside, Pinter was handcuffed and arrested on charges of, “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” The relationship between gay men and the police has often been far from harmonious (hell, arrests of gay men in the sixties are what prompted the Stonewall riots in 1969), and this situation has renewed fears that old habits die hard.

2) Despite the fact that Georgia has some real problems with youth sexual health — among other things it boasts the eighth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country — this state has put a lot more effort into targeting teens than it has into helping them stay safe. One particularly outlandish case involves a young man named Genarlow Wilson. Genarlow was recently freed after serving almost three years in a Georgia prison. He had been sent there at seventeen for getting a blow job from a consenting fifteen-year-old girl. Though Generlow was only two years older than the girl, in Georgia, he was above the age of consent and she was below it. As a result, the high school senior was charged with aggravated child molestation. At the time, Georgia had a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for this crime, so that’s what he got. A year into his sentence, the law was changed to make the maximum penalty a still pretty serious twelve months in jail. Even so, it took another two years for a judge to order Genarlow’s release.

3) Florida is famous for it’s liberal views on how little clothing can be considered publicly acceptable. It’s not so liberal, however, when it comes to the kind of sex it considers acceptable for people to have privately. In February, a lawsuit was filed against a strip-mall based private swingers club. The charges came after a year-long undercover operation, and despite the sheriff’s acknowledgment that, “detectives never found any evidence of drug use or sales and never saw any instances of anyone paying for sex.” Swinging is legal, so in the end, the best the cops could do was charge the club with violation of local zoning codes.

4) Starting off 2009 with a bang, seventeen Pennsylvania teens — thirteen girls and three boys — were busted for child pornography. The charges came after a teacher confiscated a student’s cell phone and discovered that the girls had sent “provocative” pictures of themselves to the boys. Initially, the boys were charged with possession of child pornography, and the girls with manufacturing, disseminating and possessing child pornography. These charges could have come with jail time and the requirement to register as sex offenders. The New York Times reports that given such daunting prospects, almost all of the students accepted a deal requiring them to attend a ten hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence. But three of the girls rejected the deal and instead filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, claiming that offering them such a deal was illegal, as their actions never should have been considered criminal.

Public panic over sexting is growing and as a result the Pennsylvania case is far from an isolated incident. In fact, USA Today reports that between January and March police had already, “investigated more than two dozen teens in at least six states…for sending nude images of themselves in cell phone text messages.” And as a girl busted for sexting in Idaho this June can tell you, that number has surely grown since then.

5) No one has ever claimed that Georgia is a haven for the LGBT community. But a recent decision by a custody judge to bar a gay dad from “exposing” his kids to his “homosexual partners and friends,” is a reminder that in this state, the notion that everyone is equal under the law only applies if the “everyone” in question isn’t gay. In this case, the man’s soon to be ex-wife argued that the fact that her kids have a gay dad has landed them in therapy. So she asked that the restriction be imposed to protect them from discomfort. But as the father said, “In general, that [restriction] will never allow me to have my children present in front of any friends, whether they’re gay or straight — no one hands you a card saying are you gay, straight, heterosexual, bi, whatever.”

6) After his boxers were spotted by cops as he peddled his bike around town, a twenty-four-year-old Bainbridge, Georgia man became the first person arrested there under a new city ordinance that prohibits wearing pants low enough to expose a person’s underwear. Arrests like this have become common all over the country as more and more cities adopt such so-called baggy pants bans. But it isn’t only men who are targeted by these laws. This June, the city of Yakima, Washington, voted to change the city’s indecent exposure laws to include “cleavage of the buttocks.” This means that women whose thong or G-string show can now be fined $1,000 or face up to 90 days in jail. If a child under the age of 14 is thought to be a victim of this form of indecent exposure, the perpetrator is looking at a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Still while most cities choose to focus on legislating visible underwear, some laws take the clothing restrictions even further. For example, an ordinance passed in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana in 2007, not only outlaws “any indecent exposure of any person or undergarments,” but also bars a person from, “dressing in a manner not becoming to his or her sex.”

7) In February 2008, Wisconsin mom, Amy Smalley, was charged with the felony of “exposing a child to harmful descriptions.” The issue came to light after her eleven-year-old son told a counselor about conversations his mom had with him and his brother. These included talking about her sex life, explaining how to perform oral sex and showing the boys a sex toy. The charges, which could have landed Smalley three years in prison, were plead down to a misdemeanor. Smalley was placed on probation and had to undergo court ordered counseling. As the Court TV website put it, “Smalley called it education. Prosecutors called it a crime.” I call it terrifying. As a mom myself, I can easily see having similar conversations. (Okay, not for a while as my kids are only both under three. But still…). Sure, Smalley probably made a bad judgment call. But really, is this any worse than parents who let their kids watch Family Guy and South Park, despite the endless stream of rape jokes and blow job humor?

8) Come 2010, a law designed to protect child prostitutes will take effect in New York State. Until that time, kids as young as twelve can continue to be charged with the crime of prostitution. This is true even if they were forced into the business by pimps. Interestingly, since 2000, foreign-born teens have been protected from prosecution by anti-trafficking laws which view them as victims. For the next year, however, teens with American citizenship may still find themselves in juvie for being the victim of something most people would consider pretty horrific abuse. Hopefully, this is a sign that we are making progress not only the issue of sex work, but on the treatment of juvenile offenders in general.

9) In December, a Florida woman reacted to the penis being forced into her mouth by biting. Twenty-seven-year-old Charris Bowers told police that despite the fact that she didn’t want to have oral sex, her husband, Delou pushed himself into her mouth, and that she clamped down to get him to stop. He responded by punching her in the head until she let go. In the end no charges were filed against Delou, even though it is illegal for anyone, including a spouse, to make another person perform a sex act. Charris, on the other hand was arrested and charged with battery. Apparently, the era of blaming the victims of sexual assault is not a thing of the past.

10) That sexual double standards for men and women are alive and well shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. But a Wisconsin town recently showed just how damaging such notions can be. On consecutive January days in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, seventeen-year-old Norma Guthrie and seventeen-year-old Alan Jepsen were charged with sexual assault for having consensual sex with their fourteen-year-old partners. However, that’s where the similarities between the cases end. Guthrie was charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum nine months in prison. Jepsen, on the other hand, was charged with a felony, which carries a maximum twenty-five years in prison. The Sheboygan Press reports, “Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch, who filed both complaints, said the misdemeanor charge was filed in part because Guthrie has no prior criminal record. But online court records show Guthrie has a pending charge of misdemeanor battery, filed in October. Haasch would not say whether Jepsen has a prior juvenile record — which is typically sealed — but the boy has no adult charges listed in online court records. Haasch also said the cases are different because Guthrie’s boyfriend is “almost 15,” with a birthday in February. Jepsen’s girlfriend turns 15 in April.”

11) In December, something called a paramour clause was used to force a lesbian in Tennessee to move out of her house and away from her family. The clause prohibits cohabitation of unmarried partners if minor children are in the home. In this particular situation, the lesbian couple had lived together for over ten years. Much of that was with the biological mom’s kids, who were the product of a previous relationship with a man. There was no indication that this living situation was harming the thirteen and fifteen-year-old teens. Nor had the father requested that his ex’s partner move out. Still, a custody judge imposed the rule, leaving few options for the women in a state where same sex couples cannot legally marry. And people wonder why Proposition 8 matters?

12) As a sex ed. teacher, I believe in answering teens’ questions honestly and in using language that they will relate to and understand. So had I overheard a conversation between a New York State high school teacher and some of her students, I probably would have applauded her candor. But I didn’t get wind of this conversation. Josephine Isernia’s school board did. According to the board, when asked for advice on oral sex by one of the girls, Isernia used words that were, “vulgar, obscene and disgusting.” The words in question? Head job, hand job, and fellatio. Isernia was a teacher with over twenty years of experience who had never been in trouble before. Yet despite her clean record and the fact that the students sought her out for information, when 2009 rolled around, she was out of a job and educators everywhere were given a sad wake up call.

13) Remember a few years back when PDA policies were making the news every other day? Lately stories about sexting and mom’s who pose as teens on MySpace, have been stealing the headlines. But rules regarding public displays of affection never really went away and this February, twenty-two-year-old Jessica Garica was arrested at her local mall for kissing her girlfriend. According to Garcia, mall security told the couple, “This is a family mall, y’all can’t do this. Y’all kissed, and if y’all do it again I’m going to write you a citation or I’m going to kick y’all out.” The mall countered that after being asked to leave following the kiss, the couple returned and became belligerent. This, a mall spokesperson claimed, and not the kiss, is what lead to the arrest. Regardless, Garcia is considering suing for discrimination.

14) Imagine this: You’re sixteen and having sex with your boyfriend. You want to be safe so you ask your mom to take you to the doctor for birth control. Most people would call this a sign of maturity and responsibility. The state of Mississippi would call it an incident to be reported to the cops. That’s because a bill that passed in January makes it a crime for parents not to report to the police that their kids are having sex. The Mississippi Child Protection Act of 2009, requires mandatory reporting of sex crimes against children and imposes new abortion restrictions on minors. Though there is much to quibble with in the bill, one section is particularly alarming. This is the clause that prohibits, “the intentional toleration of a parent or caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person.” Supporters of the law claim that they are trying to protect young people from abuse. But nowhere does the bill distinguish between sexual abuse and consensual sexual encounters between teens. Mississippi already boasts the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Maybe they are striving for the number one spot in preventing parent/child communication, as well…

15) This past November, a convicted sex offender in Oklahoma had little reason to celebrate having his criminal record expunged. That’s because the requirement that he register as a sex offender for life remained. This is particularly problematic seeing as the individual in question is a kid. Due to age of consent laws, he was convicted at sixteen of having consensual sex with a thirteen year-old girl. His mother explains that sex offender status meant the boy was, “removed from high school [and] prohibited from being in the presence of children other than his younger brother. He can’t go near schools, day care centers or parks. His brother, age 11, can’t bring friends into their home. If his brother had been a girl, Ricky [the offender] would have been removed from his home.” The United States has some of the toughest sex offender laws in the world and Ricky is far from the only teen forced to live under such conditions. As Human Rights Watch reports, “Some children are on registries because they committed serious sex offenses, such as forcibly raping a much younger child. Other children are labeled sex offenders for such non-coercive or nonviolent and age-appropriate activities as “playing doctor,” youthful pranks such as exposing one’s buttocks, and non-coercive teen sex.”

There has been talk recently about America’s liberalizing morality. But as long as teens and gay men are still under attack for having sex, and teachers and parents still get in trouble for taking about it, then it would seem as if there is still quite a ways to go before we can claim that this is the dawn of a progressive new era.

Taking Responsibility, Corporate Style

BLOUNT RESPONDS TO QUESTIONS REGARDING AN EVENT SPONSORSHIP IN RHODE ISLAND.

FALL RIVER, MA (AUGUST 11, 2009) – Corporate philanthropy and good citizenship has been part of Blount’s mission since inception. In keeping with that, we have a long track record of donating Blount-brand chowder and other products to all non-profits in our home area that request it for events. These donations of soup are just simple gestures of goodwill and were certainly not intended to be interpreted otherwise. It’s very concerning to us that anyone would think otherwise and as a result, we are reviewing our policy going forward.

Additionally, Blount notified the organizers of the Rhode Island event in question that the company would not be providing a donation, soup or otherwise.

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I repeat: it impossible to construe donations for this event as “simple gestures of goodwill” with no ideological ramifications. If BFF gave donations to EVERY cause that sidled up asking for chowder and products, things would be different, but if they are actively picking and choosing who they donate to, that means they are exercising judgment of some sort and knowingly supporting whatever cause they are sponsoring. Being a sponsor of an event has its obligations and implications, and it’s not like NOM is an organization whose mission is not understood, so the mock surprise and concern on the part of Blount Fine Foods is kind of offensive.

But regardless of what Blount Fine Foods has ended up doing, the person I’m most pissed at is Christopher Plante–the Executive Director at NOM, Rhode Island Chapter. I personally believe Mr. Plante is a douchebag. That may be harsh, because I believe everyone has positive attributes…but when it comes to civil rights, respect of freedoms, and championing for justice and fairness? No. He fails. And he’s deceitful and deluded.

In relation to the Tim Horton’s lack of support after a media backlash, Plante said: “They rescinded the offer today as a direct result of the hubbub in Canada,” in this article. “This is an issue only north of the border.” Oh, my mistake. I thought this was an issue in the United States as well. *eyeroll* I don’t care if the local rep for Tim Horton’s approved supporting the event–the company’s policy states that the company “does not sponsor individuals, those representing religious groups, political affiliates, book endorsements or traveling sports teams.” Anyway, my biggest beef with him is because he is, like I said, deceitful and deluded and hypocritical. Let’s start looking at the blatant hipocrisy and ridiculousness, in 3 parts.

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PART ONE: THIS ISN’T RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL…except it is.

The celebration will feature food, gospel/worship music, and a chance for couples to renew their wedding vows. It is described (on the event website) thusly: “This is a great opportunity to take a stand for marriage as God ordained it. Our goal is to esteem marriage to its proper place in society and make a statement that Christians in Rhode Island believe strongly in this cherished institution.” *AND YET* Plante says “My concern and my disappointment is that my event has been tainted as religious or political. Neither of those are correct. The event itself was not designed to be political, as a rally would be.” Furthermore, he states that “It’s held by an organization that, whatever you think of our politics, is not religious, we accept folks of all faiths and of no faith.

WHAT?

First of all, because the event isn’t “political as a rally would be” doesn’t mean it’s not political. Having a friendly little barbecue with people who share your beliefs is very different from having a big, advertised, sponsored event that actively seeks to further and celebrate the (VERY POLITICAL) missions of your organization.

Secondly, because you “accept people of all faiths and no faith” doesn’t mean it’s not religious (e.g. a religious/spiritual summit that caters to “everyone,” but is, oh, whaddya know, STILL RELIGIOUS).

And, finally, let’s review the National Organization for Marriage’s mission:

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it. NOM works to develop political messaging, build its national grassroots email database of voters, and provide political intelligence and donor infrastructure on the state level, with a focus on developing new strategies for increasing influence in the Northeast and West Coast, where marriage is most under threat.

Nothing further with the witness, Your Honor. Hmph.

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PART TWO: EVERYONE IS WELCOME…except not really.

“We knew full well in opening this event to the public that we were inviting people who might oppose us,” says Plante. “If they choose to come and enjoy the food and beautiful venue, they’re more than welcome. They’re not welcome to come and protest. We’ll expect them to be respectful and treat us with dignity as we would do with them.”‘ Mmm, respect and dignity. I’d love to get some of that from all you NOM people. OH WAIT. You won’t give it to me. 😐

Plante’s main argument against the backlash Tim Horton’s and Blount Fine Foods received was based on the supposed fact that the event was “apolitical and non-religious” and that it was “open to everyone.” While the latter may TECHNICALLY be true, allowing queers to go to an event doesn’t mean they SHOULD go or that they’re HAPPILY INVITED or that they’re even WELCOME. It’s like telling a person of color “oh, hey, you can come to this nifty little KKK gathering.” Honestly. Come on, Plante. You’re not buying it and neither are we.

Plante said that gays and lesbians are welcome to attend the event, and added that if they want to, they may also rise to renew their vows. “If gays and lesbians want to come in with their children, they are more than welcome to come, and make sure they find me, and we’ll have a Coke and sit down and talk.”

What the article neglected to mention was that the queers could stand if they wanted, sure, but that the vows to be taken will be specific to man and woman, to celebrate heterosexual marriage and will not apply to same sex marriages at all. Like I said–allowing someone to attend and event is VERY different than WELCOMING them at it and making them feel comfortable. I’m fine with you having events for your organization (it’s within your right), but just don’t fucking LIE about them.

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PART THREE: THIS IS ALL ABOUT GAY BULLIES…except it’s not

In regards to Plante’s allegations that “This is about the organized approach to squash all private and public comments on marriage” and that Tim Horton’s had been “bullied by a vocal minority” into pulling out of an apolitical celebration that was “open to all,” including same-sex couples. *facepalm* This is not about squashing dialogue! This is about us asking a company to NOT GET INVOLVED AT ALL or at least OWN UP TO what they’re DOING. This is about us saying that, if they take this route of action, there will be consequences.

It’s within our right to boycott a company whose views we do not agree with, and I feel it’s a perfectly viable way to create pressure for change or just demonstrate our allegiances and funnel money to organizations whose values we agree with. It’s NOT okay for a company to support certain movements and not expect a backlash, and it’s COWARDLY for a company to support something and then back out of it because they fear losing money. I’d prefer a company that is open about the beliefs they espouse than one that flip-flops when the water in the pot starts getting hot. I mean, I’d prefer one that stays out of these debacles in general, or at least supports the side(s) that are all for dialogue and equality and fairness, but that may be asking for much.

“It’s stressful, it’s sorrowful, it’s saddening,” Plante said. “The marriage equality folks are making this a boycott threat. That’s sad. It has become our job now to remind Rhode Islanders that this is what’s to come.” Um…what does that last sentence even mean? Is he implying that we’re crazy gay bullies who will boycott everything we don’t agree with? Because, well, that’s probably true (save for the bullies part). It’s NOT true, however, that we’re bullying people into not having a right to express themselves.

Personally, I think this debate about marriage is totally ridiculous and shouldn’t be happening in the first place. An organization like NOM shouldn’t even exist. Why? Because this is not about agreeing with homosexuality or not–this is about EQUALITY and JUSTICE. Kind of like what Voltaire said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” I don’t care if you love me or hate me, but GIVE ME THE SAME RIGHTS. As a human being and citizen of this country, I’m entitled to them.

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And now, some ranting:

  • You know what I really FUCKING HATE? When people act victimized to gain sympathy. “Omg, halp, I’m a lil’ intolerant Christian douchebag and my religious rights are being taken away from me! Haaaaalp!” No. Your religious rights are not being taken away. Oh, and if by “religious rights” you mean “right to talk shit about others and advocate for inequality and intolerance and even hatred,” then I really think we need to redefine what “rights” mean. If you had half a brain cell you might realize this, but as long as you’re kissing the ass of the “Gathering Storm” ad and NOM and other organizations like it, you won’t notice. No one is taking your rights away by GRANTING RIGHTS TO OTHERS. This is the whole point of people fighting to allow same-sex couples to marry. One doesn’t even have to agree with homosexuality! One just has to agree with the ideals of equality and choice and freedom and civil rights/liberties.
  • Other things I hate–twisting language to gather sympathy and MANIPULATE THE TRUTH. Oh, I’m “pro-family” and “pro-marriage.” Guess what? Me too! But ohhhh, by pro-family you meant MOM AND DAD AND KIDS family and by pro-marriage you meant OPPOSITE-SEX PARTNER MARRIAGE. Oh, my bad. I thought we were on the same boat, being pro-family and pro-marriage and all, but I guess I was wrong. 😐 (That’s the reason why the pro-choice vs. pro-life labels annoy me a bit, but at least those labels make a little more sense.) That’s why I also think NOM’s name itself is stupid. No, you are not “pro-marriage,” you are pro keeping marriage as a solely male-female institution and keeping the links between specific religions and the state alive and well. You are pro denying same-sex couples the right to marry and get the same rights as opposite-sex couples. You are not pro-marriage; you are pro inequality. Let’s talk straight here (no pun intended) and actually say WHAT WE MEAN.