Tag Archives: cissexism

Remaking LGBT America: by the numbers

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

Social media went abuzz yesterday with the announcement that the 2020 census will not ask respondents whether they are LGBT. Many reported the news in a somewhat sensationalist way, mistakenly implying that the census would not count LGBT people at all.

Rather than an overt tool of anti-LGBT policy, this decision to continue to not ask for LGBT people to self identify echoes a more quietly delivered executive order Trump made on Monday. The order focused on data collection rather than LGBT people themselves – leaving intact Obama-era protections of certain LGBT workers while completely dismantling the regulatory process designed to document and thus prevent discrimination.

The issue here is deceptively simple. Many took the census announcement as a declaration that LGBT lives are too unseemly or undesirable to discuss on the census. Rather than that kind of cold sneer or haughty disgust, the explanation offered by the census’ director is tepid, measured, and legalistic. As he put it, “there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection” which he and others did not see as merited on this issue. In the history of both of these data collection projects, critics have asked for observation and study. The purpose of that is to demonstrate that anti-LGBT sentiments and practices exist and therefore understand how to challenge them. Thompson made quite clear that that’s simply not a consideration for the Trump administration.

Frankly, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Trump branded himself throughout the Republican primary as atypically amicable with LGBT people, even as he held us at arm’s length. What many cisgender and straight observers of that often seemed to miss was the expectation of what he would receive in return for that – not only did he assume we would be desperate to support him for the slightest tolerance but he expected us to curtail our experiences with anti-LGBT policies and attitudes to what he needed.

In his hands, anti-LGBT animus became not a common experience in this country, but a marker of foreignness. The reality that most LGBT Americans experience bigotry more regularly and acutely from other Americans is an inconvenience to the grand narrative Trump wanted to paint. Now, in the halls of power, he is doing what he can to disarm LGBT people of the overwhelming data that shows that.

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The Movement Advance Project constructs maps like this above one of the estimated overall LGBT population in different states without census data, as it has never been collected as part of the survey, from here.

Beyond his quixotic bid to build LGBT support, there’s an implicit threat buried in all of this. There is, as of now, supposedly no need to collect that data. What that admits is that the facts on the ground could change. If LGBT people become understood as not a group to hide the data from, but to gather it on, then perhaps they would put it back on the census. Or, failing that, let slip the dogs of war – Republicans in state government are already pushing to reinstate pre-Lawrence laws or similarly invasive and hostile measures, especially against transgender people.

The choice the administration is giving LGBT people is a simple one – obey or become reacquainted with survellir et punir. The self-styled deal-maker is offering LGBT people one: accept the quiet and private anti-LGBT bigotry that pervades the country or prepare to feel the heat turn up again.

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Legacies

Antonin Scalia – the justice who gave us so much unnecessary contempt while handing down dismissive and even capricious decisions – died on Saturday. While many have focused on the astounding kerfuffle that’s developed, in which Senate Republicans apparently are going to avoid confirming a Supreme Court Justice for eleven months, I’m more interested in taking a moment to remember Scalia before his prominence in this “originalist” era begins to gather dust.

Justice Scalia was a man that’s easy to dismiss as a motley of contradictions. He demanded that LGBT people remain a criminalized class in the name of preventing governmental tyranny. He argued that Black people should receive lesser educational opportunities in the name of their own well being. He cheerfully supported the limits to election spending being the size of your donors’ pocketbooks in the name of free speech. Underneath these baffling justifications, so easily torn down – often delightfully by Ruth Bader Ginsburg – is a kind of stunningly consistent judicial logic. His guiding principle seems to have been that the powerful could define how things were and should be, and that he was very glad to hold an appointed life-long position of power.

At times it’s been presented as a bastardization of his own claims to “textualism” that he supported such a deeply anti-democratic view of politics and the world. That of course involves a certain rosey look at the past that Scalia elevated into an all-encompassing justification. The writings he, and for that matter his colleagues on the court, pour over and cite either were written by or derived from the works of slave owners engaged in genocidal campaigns of colonization. Might makes right isn’t that much of an importation really. What set Scalia apart, even from other conservatives on the court, was his dogmatic insistence that the framers were literally never wrong.

Scalia was a product of an often forgotten era – of Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. The 1980s saw the sudden emergence of an almost mythic devotion to a historically murky period, drawing phrases from a 1630 sermon and connecting them to institutions born from a 1787 political convention. Reagan gave a voice to a conservative backlash to what for some was a frightening new world of LGBT liberation and the Civil Rights Movement. It didn’t matter if they were nonsensical appeals to an inconsistent and complex past as long as they served those suddenly on the defensive as a source of comfort. Scalia’s constitutionalism was to some degree little more than an intellectually buttressed version of the same argument from historical authority in the name of authority itself.

The term-less appointment to the Supreme Court let Antonin Scalia sit as a reminder of that time period even while Reagan gave way to Bush, then Clinton, and ultimately Obama. Anthony Kennedy, a centrist alternative put forward after Robert Bork had made it too clear what power for power’s sake looked like, never so fully encapsulated what that Reagan-era moment in history looked like, and has had a judicial career that lived beyond it. Scalia was there alongside him of course, writing more dissents and opinions than almost any other justice in history, but his judicial outlook seemed frozen in time compared to Kennedy’s. At the end of the day, he could only shout at the slow but steady advancement past that Reagan-era reaction or align himself with the positively Macchiavellian rightwing adaptations to that new climate.

Even as people politically opposed to him – again there’s always Ginsberg – mourn him, there is some recognition in liberal circles that what has passed is not just this man but the era that produced him. Far more than former Chief Justice Rehnquist’s passing of his position to current Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia’s death portends a new structural alignment on the court. Any nominee from Obama, even a comparatively centrist one, is going to tip the fragile balance further to the left on most issues.

A Republican blockade against sitting any appointee from the president is the perfect procedural issue to fire up the liberal vote in the 2016 races, and an almost guarantee that another Democratic president would issue their nominations to a more friendly Senate in 2017. Insisting that no one be seated is a complaint with essentially no point, since the anger is that an era is over. Republicans might as well direct those complaints at the demographic shifts in the country, at the transformation of their social wedge issues into liabilities, at the failure of their promised prosperity to manifest for most.

Much like how liberal appointments in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s, the growing liberal bloc on the Supreme Court is a reflection of what has followed Reagan – Clinton’s and Obama’s two-term administrations. The Supreme Court serves as a sort of record of what came before, softly echoing the presidency and to a lesser extent congress. Part of what died on Saturday was the tangible impact of Ronald Reagan, and the political party which still holds debates at his presidential library doesn’t seem to be taking it well.

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Reproductive freedom is economic stability

Trigger warning: abortion, sexual assault / rape, sexism, cissexism

Against the backdrop of the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood, that and other abortion-providing organizations have seen not only intimidating violence but institutional attempts to shutter their doors of the past few years.

Concentrated in Republican-controlled states, one of the strictest provisions on abortion providers is set to advance to the Supreme Court for review with a decision expected in late Spring of next year. That ruling will affect the legality and further room available to legislatures in at least a score of states which if current trends continue would likely restrict abortion further if given the option.

Former Texan state Senator Wendy Davis appeared on national news recently to discuss the potential ramifications of that ruling. As part of a changing voice within the debates surrounding abortions and other reproductive healthcare, she explained that to her and others like her abortion access is not only a means of physical, bodily autonomy, but also a lifeline to basic control over personal financial planning. In her own words, “when women’s reproductive autonomy is controlled, their economic opportunity is controlled.”

Wendy Davis during her Texas Senate filibuster

Former state Senator Davis, while filibustering a new set of restrictions on abortion in 2013, from here.

With her limited time, Davis couldn’t expand on her point about the economics of reproductive healthcare to those seeking abortion or similar services. Others have made it clear how the people most in need of an option other than pregnancy, let alone parenthood, typically have the fewest resources to devote to simply accessing an abortion. With a dwindling number of providers in many of these states, someone finding themselves in that sort of situation would have to spend more money to travel further and most likely take off time from work to avoid the huge economic costs of pregnancy or parenthood.

This is typically where the moralizing starts. The unnecessarily incurred costs to access an abortion under these increasingly difficult restrictions are, supposedly, just the price paid for failing to abstain from sex or to use birth control. The people most likely to seek out abortions for economic reasons, however, are also the people with most inconsistent and mistaken sex education and the fewest resources to commit to a birth control regimen.

Running through that understanding of how they became pregnant, there’s a presumption that the pregnant person necessarily consented to have sex. In addition to sexual assault, there’s also the (not at all hoped for) failure of birth control plans, which is more likely the less consistent and less accurate the sex education on receives. There’s a number of factors at play here, but it’s clear that people with fewer resources to draw on are more likely to end up stuck in this type of situation.

Likewise, overwhelmingly the opponents of access to abortion want to similarly restrict sex education and access to contraceptives, offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood far more often than abortion services. The intent doesn’t appear to be preventing abortion, so much as making it a shameful and shame-able activity. The political goal isn’t to end abortion, but to hide it within a nightmarish corner of the world that the broader society doesn’t have to consider.

The moralizing isn’t just another conversation intruding into others’ personal reasons for preferring to have an abortion, for those with that perspective, it is the conversation. The desire to be a parent, filled with a kind of urgency that accepts the financial and other costs of that, is either treated as universal or is evangelized – without hearing that other people, directly living the effects of that decision, have different priorities.

Even as abortion in popular conversation is increasingly a part of an economic plank – argued for in combination with improved education, greater access to other healthcare, and better personal financial standing in general – there’s ways in which it is left out of a broader economic argument. It’s still often thought of as a separate issue, even if one increasingly harmonious with a broader view of how to structure the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, excluded it from their recently released twelve-point Women’s Economic Agenda. Aspects of their policy plank address the underlying economic issues by calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, asking for policies to encourage labor organization, and specifically for an end to wage theft and wage discrimination. All of those are key financial factors that weigh heavily in the decisions of many to have an abortion.

Some policy prescriptions even more directly confront the economic situation that many pregnant people find themselves in. The agenda also called for greater access to childcare, as well as paid family and sick leave. Those are often specific economic realities that motivate people unsure if they can become parents to decide that they aren’t in a place where they can have children. In short, the policies here are designed to give people the resources to become parents, if they so choose.

What’s more, some of those policies useful to parents are also useful to those who for other reasons aren’t interested in having children at this time. The call for longer term scheduling, to ease planning, is vital for parents to be able to best interact with their children. It also is one of the key ways for someone who needs an abortion to plan ahead and not face the prospect of forgoing a potentially significant amount of pay to avoid the even larger costs of pregnancy and parenthood.

In short, this emerging set of policies, which has deep ties to a progressive vision of how to improve the current economy,  is rather compatible with the increasingly economic argument for retaining or even improving access to abortion. Still, abortion remains another issue for now, and has yet to be specifically invoked in the broader policy plank.

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The resurrection of anti-LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

The coming 2016 elections have struck many as a retread of the same issues that dominated the past couple presidential elections. Already, much of the national discussion has centered on the morality of restricting and ability to limit the social and economic options available to women and people of color. Most immediately, there has been a steady focus on the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, refugee status, and freedom from police violence, all familiar subjects particularly in 2012.

It’s interesting to see the ways that similar discussions around LGBT rights have been a less remarked on element. Rachel Maddow’s post-2012 recap, which highlighted issues like marriage equality and anti-LGBT hate crimes, almost sounds like a dispatch from another country.

Part of why the conversation has shifted so much is the huge shift on marriage – there aren’t fun maps about varying legal recognitions to circulate anymore – but also, that the anti-LGBT rhetoric has taken on a different tone. Republican movers and shakers have stayed more on course with the plan of avoiding this type of conversation about marginalized groups. It’s still a key topic in the primary, but one that’s less boldly discussed.

In the past couple of days, there’s been some indications that the comparative quiet within the GOP on LGBT rights may not last much longer. On Monday, the Heritage Foundation released a report throwing every argument in their arsenal at anti-discrimination laws. From tradition to the free market to a perceived insult to race-focused anti-discrimination measures, they pulled almost everything out.

Heritage is no longer the huge player that they once were in social conservative politics, but this still speaks loudly about the continuing anti-LGBT animus within the conservative movement. Spurred on by the defeat of the Houston area’s anti-discrimination measure and the Family Research Council’s recent libertarian-friendly arguments against anti-discrimination laws, it’s a pretty telling indication of how conservatives are mobilizing against LGBT rights. The FRC has been making noises during the past few weeks about federal work towards broader anti-discrimination laws.

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Kevin Swanson, from here.

So far, much of the Republican presidential field has competed to appeal to the conservative political base on the issues of abortion, counter-terrorism, and immigration. Ted Cruz’s brief but recurring interactions with anti-LGBT figures like Kevin Swanson hint that more uniquely LGBT-related issues might make a return. If the FRC, Heritage Foundation, and other major policy groups within the conservative movement continue to push for action against LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws, it’s likely that this could again resurface as a defining issue in the race, both in primaries and in the general election.

Marrying the visceral anti-LGBT language that remains common in some of those circles to the more libertarian-friendly and business-minded language the FRC and Heritage Foundation have been developing is an interesting strategy. The Supreme Court’s rulings against  anti-LGBT laws on personal conduct and marriage recognition have depended on the support of Justice Kennedy, a libertarian-ish Republican, not particularly moved by traditional, socially conservative arguments. Using this type of language to justify discriminatory practices might be an attempt to drum up support among economic conservatives, containing their periodic defections – whether in court or in the ballot box – on this issue.

That’s admittedly just one of the many arguments advanced against the various anti-discrimination policies. Only time will tell if Republican candidates pick it up with the hope of recreating the anti-LGBT lurch towards their party that many credit with their only win in the presidential popular vote in over two decades.

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How HIV/AIDS warns us

Trigger warning: HIV/AIDS, heterosexism, cissexism, anti-Black racism

Once again, it’s World AIDS Day. Just like last year, there’s no google doodle, which helps dampen the discussion around HIV/AIDS as an on-going problem. It probably didn’t help stir up conversation around the issue that rather recently the disease has already been in the news – either because of price gouging on immunodeficiency drugs or new research into a possible HIV vaccine.

That vaccine – which pushes the limits of common definitions of a vaccine because of HIV’s unique viral structures – actually demonstrates what can happen when public interests are privatized. While to some extent publicly funded (too much to the taste of some), research into ways to combat HIV/AIDS has long sought either this type of vaccine or similar solutions designed around preventing the spread of HIV. What medical options exist for the millions already infected worldwide – who are disproportionately LGBT and Black – is kind of ominously given less focus.

Zambia
A public sign reading “Know your HIV status” in Simonga, Zambia, from here.

This isn’t a new dynamic either. From its inception, the HIV/AIDS crisis was greeted with solutions aimed at containment. From the early debates over abstinence versus protected sex, to the recent sexual revolution heralded by PrEP and PEP, that’s been where most public attention, professional research, and money has gone. A vaccine is just another chapter in that history.

There’s some understandable reasons for the emphasis on preventing infection, admittedly. In the early years of the epidemic, HIV was really baffling, and so medically treating it was basically guesswork. Preventing infections was the easiest and best way to save lives, and to a large extent remains so. Even now, when living with HIV has become less difficult and dangerous, having options for both HIV positive and HIV negative people to choose between in order to reduce risk of infection has its benefits. People can use methods that work best for them – what’s wrong with that?

The logic there is subtly consumerist, of course. The funds – public and private – that have gone into developing different ways of addressing HIV look in the long run more like business research and development. The Martin Shkreli controversy should once again remind us that the medical items designed and tested with those resources, are increasingly lining the pockets of a private medical industry.

Like any business, they’ve assessed their potential clients – and they saw little money to be made in a tighter focus on the marginalized populations with the highest infection rates. Prevention has a broader set of potentially customers, a section of whom have more disposable income than the average person in sub-Saharan Africa or transgender woman in the industrialized world.

The social costs of that commercial outlook have been staggering.

hiv aids subsaharan africa
(From here.)

Since I mentioned this in light of the more market-driven solutions being touted on climate change, I will admit, those are two radically different issues. The flaws inherent in a response to global warming that values certain populations over others will look different than the preference for prevention over treatment in HIV/AIDS research. That said, who’s to say that isn’t already happening?

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A broader understanding of LGBT issues

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

It’s hard to believe, but much earlier this month, Senator Al Franken was campaigning for a new batch of anti-discrimination measures at the federal level for LGBT people. Designed to impact the negative experiences of members of those communities when seeking out or using housing, employment, or other basic economic arrangements, this was just a new chapter in a far longer history, of seeking a broader set of anti-discrimination LGBT-minded protections.

It’s strange to note that that’s where some prominent members of the federal government were focusing at the beginning of this month, because public discussion has quickly move on to other topics. Franken hasn’t changed positions on that or any other LGBT-related policies, nor have most people in the federal government or at more local levels. In the wake of the Paris attacks, however, political debate in the US has solidified around the on-going humanitarian and security concerns raised by the intensifying conflict born out of the unresolved Syrian Civil War.

All Out, an international LGBT advocacy organization, has implicitly called into question whether we can necessarily talk about either of those issues that way – with LGBT rights and the instability in the Middle East as totally separate topics. While a recent fundraising request from them highlighted LGBT asylum seekers from countries in that region with various experiences with the Syrian Civil War, it included a key mention of a same-gender Syrian couple, displaced by a number of factors in the war-torn nation.

In a months-earlier debate about asylum seekers and refugee camps in the US, the anti-LGBT aspects of who had been displaced and what special considerations they might need were largely overlooked. This new refugee crisis is an opportunity for the US to be more thoughtful of those dimensions of what people are at greatest risk and need inclusion and respect in the asylum-seeking and refugee-status-attaining process.

Even now, the legal statuses of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America remain uncertain. In the near future, many are expected to undergo immigration court assessments, often only swayed when children “prove they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent” – but not necessarily with particular attention to anti-LGBT animus that may have motivated or influenced the abuse, abandonment, or neglect.

gay_asylum_seekersFrom here.

The chance to step up and address the complicated aspects of these and other immigration-related crises is on-going. In both of these major incidents, unique attention to the needs of LGBT people hasn’t been paid.

There is growing awareness of the need to do just that in the basic functioning of our society with policies like ENDA. In a more complex examination of how countries and institutions work, not so much. An LGBT-mindful approach to immigration has yet have been incorporated into the legal oversight that determines the fates of ultimately millions of people. The way in which discussions so far about LGBT rights have been treated as fundamentally a different discussion than those about the needs of Syrian refugees suggests that unfortunately, that will likely remain the case.

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The local electoral grab bag

If you switched on the television this morning you probably saw some reporting on the results of the battery of local elections held yesterday. At least in my neck of the media woods, there’s a pretty narrow focus within that – on the Democratic loss of the Kentucky governorship to a Republican.

That story has everything. There’s the glacial pace of party realignment, with the South steadily converting from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican even at the state-level. Entangled with that is the convoluted history of Kentucky itself, the famously neutral state in the Civil War. If you want to say or write something that, instead of being deeply historied, makes this a dramatic reversal there’s something to draw on there as well – as the predictions remarkably reversed at more or less the last minute. Suddenly, Republican Matt Bevin overtook Democrat Jack Conway in what was ultimately revealed to not be a fluke poll but an accurate prediction. That race and its results are rich in narratives and national meaning.

Let’s look a little more broadly though. Here’s some interesting things that happened last night that are going a little under-noticed compared to that one race.

Ohioan Redistricting: don’t hold your breath

Ohio voters roundly supported Issue 1, giving it 71 percent support at the ballot box. The proposition overhauls Ohio’s districting system for its state legislature, which arguably has served as the gerrymandering model for Republicans around the country. In spite of a very narrow preference for Democratic candidates as an entire state, the internal boundaries have been carefully drawn (some argue for more than two decades) to pack Democratic-leaning areas into a few districts, allowing Republicans to be numerically over-represented in the state legislature. Issue 1 is designed to encourage less partisan district maps by forcing the panel that creates the maps to have more members of both major parties and to require more frequent votes to maps passed without support from both parties.

Many aren’t particularly impressed with the new system this sets up, however. Arguably many of the current Democratic representatives have a personal investment in the broken system, since the Democratic “sink” districts are incredibly safe seats for them to hold. Only one of them needs to accept a Republican-biased proposal to make the results “bipartisan” defeating the whole point of the measure. Besides that, even if the Democrats remain firm, the Republicans can arguably retain the existing map or a similarly favorable one with the more regular votes indefinitely. Either way, we’re back to square one with a gerrymandered Ohioan legislature.

Stephen Wolf at DailyKos noted that the fundamental problem here is party involvement. Increasing the diversity of party involvement in planning these maps isn’t really a solution. He pointed instead to Arizona as a model for dismantling a gerrymandered map, saying:

The biggest risk with this proposed commission is that it will destroy any appetite for further redistricting reform among Democrats and reform-minded independent organizations, just as flawed redistricting reform measures have done in other states. At best, it might just induce reformers to include Congress under the same bipartisan process as the legislature, leading to maps that, while not as aggressive as the current Republican gerrymander, would still have a clear rightward lean.

A far more ideal solution is to establish a truly independent redistricting commission free of self-interested political officeholders. Arizona did this very thing, producing a commission reformers regarded highly. After a crucial United States Supreme Court ruling validated establishing redistricting commissions by initiative, there has been a renewed push for similar reforms in other ballot measure states. It’s quite possible that renewed independent reform efforts spurred Republicans’ desire in Ohio to block a more aggressive future reform by agreeing to Issue 1 now.

The next few years will show if Ohioans can capitalize on these changes. Maybe this can be the start of a more systemic reform, but if commentators like Wolf are to be believed, that’s not likely.

Pennsylvania Swept, Republicans Wept

Amid the decline of the Democratic Party in Kentucky, there’s some bright news from the other end of northern Appalachia. Pennsylvania has been swept in an off-year election by Democrats. The bulk of the positions up for election were judicial, which in Pennsylvania have as of late been held by Republicans, and been a key part of the Republican policy control in the left-leaning state. Yesterday, for the first time since 2007, Pennsylvania voters elected a Democratic candidate to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (more or less an appellate state court), and likewise changed their state Supreme Court into a majority Democrat body.

While those were statewide elections that indicate the political temperature of Pennsylvania is shifting bluer, the mayoral election in Philadelphia indicates how the already Democratic-leaning portions of the state are moving. The Republican candidate, Melissa Bailey, lost to Democrat James Kenney by a 72 point margin. You read that right – the Democratic candidate got 85 percent of the vote to the Republican’s thirteen.

Others have previously pointed out that Republicans tend to regularly sink resources into fights they can’t win in Pennsylvania, but this indicates how out-of-reach the state has really become for their party. The state as a whole is becoming harder to win in the local, off-year elections that are supposed to be Republicans’ high water mark, and they’re barely a second party in some parts of the state. Pennsylvania may be becoming the Atlantic California.

Houston: The Arc of Justice… can double back

Trigger warning: transmisogyny, heterosexism, cissexism

There’s been some national attention on the election in Houston which changed the city policy on discrimination against LGBT people, but my impression is frankly that it’s being mischaracterized. For instance, here’s how the Texas Tribune explained the vote in one of the most widely circulated pieces on the issue:

Houston voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents and several other classes. With 95 percent of votes counted, 61 percent of voters opposed the measure. The embattled ordinance, better known as HERO, would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different “protected characteristics,” including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The article, to its credit, does correctly go on to describe the deeply transmisogynistic rhetoric that was successfully used to create a public rejection of the ordinance. It also ultimately notes briefly that the ordinance was already in place following a 2014 vote by city officials, a bit of a different situation than implied to exist in the above description. This wasn’t legal protections and rights for LGBT people (among others) not be extended, it was them being rescinded. Combined with the on-going insult that particularly the rights and recognition of LGBT people is something to be put to a plebiscite, this flies in the face of many triumphalist narratives being pushed currently about LGBT rights.

The nation’s fourth largest city just rolled back the rights of LGBT people, and particularly indicated that transgender women can’t feel safe in public in it. This echoes some of the most painful parts of the now closing fight for marriage equality that many seem to want to forget today. Marriages were nullified. The availability of marriage was revoked. Among other important things obscured in the hazy glow of Obergefell is this: things can move backwards. Rights awarded are rights that can be withdrawn.

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The more things change

If this year has seen a unifying story about homophobia, heterosexism, however we want to label that, then it’s been this: a desperate plea from many corners of the LGBT community to both fellow members and outsiders to not discount it as “over”. Within the US, marriage equality has not only become national policy but withstood most challenges so far, and increased rights for many students have gelled in particular. The only sometimes spoken fear is that this recent history of modest victories will lull people into a false sense of security. Maybe the only good thing about the National Religious Liberties Conference, to be held in Iowa this coming Friday and Saturday, is that if properly covered it might deflate those illusions about what progress has been made.

A shocking number of people to this day shrug off the statements from the conference’s head organizer on HIV/AIDS. Saying that the debilitating disease that disproportionately affects non-straight men and transgender women is essentially a divine retribution has become almost a cliché, sarcastic device. Well, Kevin Swanson, the organizer in question, brought it out seriously in a recent radio broadcast, in which he called HIV/AIDS “God’s retribution to their [LGBT people’s] sexual habit”. What’s more, he characterized any sort of government financing of research to treat, prevent, or cure HIV/AIDS “support for their homosexual activity” and  “accommodate their activity”.

hiv_aids_godA woman wearing a shirt reading “Thank God for AIDS,” from here.

He and his guest commentator agreed, “This is a politically protected disease” – and they didn’t mean that its spread and effects have been encouraged through and framed as just desserts for LGBT people. They meant that the status as someone slowly dying from a treatable infection that was historically underfunded and underexamined in part because of the marginalized classes it affected is privileged over them. This is fueled by and fuel for almost every modern heterosexist fire in America – that true persecution is a purely straight experience, that HIV/AIDS is comically over-addressed, that LGBT people in general are a shadowy conspiratorial class, and so on.

This might originate as a theological argument about sin, sexuality, and disease, but it has become a political argument in favor of societal resources not being structured in a way that accounts of the unique needs of LGBT people. Quite the opposite of changing society to make it more livable for LGBT people, this argument can only tolerate one form of organized collective social action towards LGBT people other than direct, unambiguous violence – neglect. For anything active and positive, Swanson is very clear on his perspective: “The solution is private charity”. The emphasis on private cannot be ignored, as he stresses it. In spite of that, he can’t even imagine private liberal churches or other organizations being able to stomach supporting people with HIV/AIDS. The argument against it being publicly addressed is both a way of denying HIV/AIDS research some of the most extensive resource pools and, it’s imagined, a way of ultimately making the problem one that society as a whole neglects.

The political dimensions of this aren’t something to be laughed away. The conference will only draw a small number of devoted attendees – by most estimates around 1,600 – but has confirmed three Republican Presidential candidates (Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz) will be among them, and Ben Carson might make an appearance as well. The conference is quite blatant about the point of the presidential involvement. Their website notes that in the Iowan caucuses “the Christian conservative element will have its largest impact at the outset of the race” and that “presidential candidates need to hear from us”. The Republican Party, for all of the 2012 promises to rise from their electoral ashes like a more tolerant phoenix has at least four presidential contenders with some involvement in this conference, predicated on spreading a virulently anti-LGBT agenda.

That is one of the major parties in the country, and this is the continuing political reality. One in which LGBT lives are uniquely disposable.

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Broader skepticism

With the surprisingly emergence of a bipartisan budget agreement in the House of Representatives and the on-going flashy presidential race, it seems that the familiar retread of anti-abortion activists fight against Planned Parenthood has fallen off of most people’s radar. Somewhat shockingly, this has happened while violent rhetoric coalesced into attacks at various Planned Parenthood locations – most recently, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Washington. According to many, those incidents have largely been treated as low-priority local stories by national print and television journalists. The little coverage that has happened on that scale has also missed the forest for the trees, discussing one or only a few of the incidents as totally encapsulated, independent events. The primary exception has been Rachel Maddow, who has a history of focusing on patterns of violence, particularly against vulnerable groups.

The implicit set of priorities revealed by this coverage – that violence oriented towards particularly low-income women and transgender people and denial of their medical needs are more local, less of a cause of nationwide concern – doesn’t seem unique to major media. The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood at the (largely Republican-controlled) state level led to several states quickly passing new budgets and legal standards that pulled funding for Planned Parenthood. Texas, however, has not quite yet joined them, although sitting Governor Greg Abbott has announced his intent to defund the organization. Amid that, a representative for the Texas Office of Inspector General appeared at the Dallas Planned Parenthood with subpoenas for five years of medical records for ten different facilities scattered across Texas. The requests have all the hallmarks of the purposefully burdensome regulatory regime long hoisted on Planned Parenthood facilities in many parts of the United States.

texas protest abortionA woman holding a sign saying “Rural Texas women deserve choices” in Austin, Texas, 2013, from here.

The timing is obscured by the lack of coverage, but it still seems jarringly illogical. In the middle of a wave of anti-abortion violence, thankfully non-lethal so far, Texas officials have made it clear that their scrutiny will remain tightly fixed on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, rather than the various groups threatening them. That not only speaks volumes about what many people “count” as violence or as threatening, but also warns that public awareness of the issue and political policy are being profoundly informed by a skewed understanding of the situation. Hopefully, any regular reader of this blog is by no means a stranger to the unrealness of political ideas in the United States, but this demonstrates how an entire social and political system has built up around that Potemkin village of imagined dangers and dismissed threats.

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Broken bones, changing parties, resilient coalitions

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism, HIV/AIDS, medical violence, islamophobia, racism

After months and months and months, it’s time for a purely Let-Me-Link-You post about interesting coverage of the world’s happenings.

Lie on twitter, ???, profit!

In ultimate fluffy feel good news, for me at least, the Martin Shkreli vs Bernie Sanders feud has reached epic proportions. Following widespread outcry that Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager turned pharmaceutical executive, had drastically increased the cost of a key medicine for people with compromised immune systems because he just wanted to, he tried to clean up his image by donating to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. I have my quibbles about Sanders, but let it never be said that he’s not a Mensch – he took the money and donated all of it to a DC area, LGBT-focused HIV/AIDS clinic (ground zero for the effects of price gouging on immune system reinforcing drugs). Shkreli appears to have been snubbed as well of the meeting he hoped the donation would earn him.

Bafflingly, Shkreli seems to have tried to pass off on twitter a stock image of a wrist fracture as what he did to himself when he found out about Sanders’ White elephanting of his donation. The entire situation doesn’t make sense – if the misattributed image hadn’t been found out, wouldn’t the rouse been discovered if he held Sanders’ or anyone else responsible for it? How would he have even benefited from that, even if he had broken his wrist? Does Shkreli ever think things through?

While he works out a new approach on Twitter, here’s a petition in support of a new law that Shkreli has inspired to outlaw the type of price gouging he engaged in.

Canadian left parties falling apart

With less schadenfreude, Daily Kos has a fascinating look at the recent Canadian parliamentary election results. The initial positive reports – that this was a huge victory for the left with the fall of the Conservative Party government – hide more than a few worrying issues. Among the findings is that this is is less of a new voting pattern in Canada but more of a return to the 1990s with a few tweaks:

HistResultsNew(From here.)

Admittedly some of those changes are ones that many leftist Canadians will look on positively. The overall share of the vote that went to today’s Conservative Party or its two predecessors (Progressive Conservatives and Reform/Alliance) has a decades long trend of slowly declining, with this election punctuating it with a decisive loss. In that light, the merger between the two parties looks like a desperate bid to prevent a split vote on the right, which was especially effective with a clear split between the centrist Liberal Party and more leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 2000s.

But outside of that, the current gains of the Liberal Party appear to have largely been at the expense of more leftist parties, with the NDP and the Green Party having both seen their vote returns shrink considerably from their peaks (in 2011 and 2008 respectively). To be fair, that is something of a return to the 1900s norm of Liberal dominance. That said, there are some changing parts of the electoral landscape, with Bloc Québécois (BQ) not only disintegrating, but seeing a large part of its lost voters give support to the Conservative Party in the form of its tightest concentration of gained parliamentary seats, in Québéc City itself:

cartgains(From here.)

Historically a left-leaning party open to working with organized labor and with clear LGBT-inclusive policies, this suggests a key reorganization of the left-right split, particularly within francophone parts of Canada. Many have noted that this has long been hinted at with the use of islamophobic and racist rhetoric gaining traction within many BQ circles. If this election is any indication, many aren’t interested in the québécois version of those politics and would prefer the anglophone articulation of that instead. With that once deciding party moving to the right and bleeding voters to the right, it suggests a potential realignment within Québéc, the second most populous Canadian province.

The Republicans can’t quite fracture

Lastly, as long as we’re talking about coalition haggling and negotiations between parties, it looks like the far right and less far right camps in the US House of Representatives have reached some type of consensus around Paul Ryan and will be retaining their coalition. As I’ve noted before this unfortunately will mean maintaining the polite fiction that Republicans are a single functional party, which, well, isn’t how things are practically working out within that body. Chris Hayes tweeted about an interesting facet of that Wednesday:

The best coverage of the Freedom Caucus has come from the Pew Research Center’s reports this week which tried to grasp exactly who this murkily identifiable group was. Their first assessment, of the known Freedom Caucus members’ districts, suggests that unlike prior iterations of Republican proto-separatists, they aren’t from a particularly distinctive part of the country. That’s not too shocking to note, since membership is more or less shielded from public view so how can voters know if they’re voting for someone affiliated with that faction or not (without voting for a Democrat, of course)? Their second look finds some key differences that ultimately boil down to process. The two factions within the Republican Party are more or less of one mind on policy, but are deeply divided on process. That leads to a fuzzy ideological boundary, not especially suited to developing into a political fault line.

In short, the US House looks like it will be stuck in this quagmire for a while. The coalition between these two groups to create the Republican caucus is fragile enough that it can’t move on policy or even carry out many basic votes necessary for the body to operate. That said, the distinctions can be byzantine to many and have been actively disguised from the general voter. Both governmental and public checks on the coalition are by and large ineffective as a result. The Republican caucus can’t quite function but also can’t quite break.

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At a crossroads for LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism, transmisogyny

The recent politicking around a Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to provide any marriage licenses (as long as she would have to hand them out to same-gender couples) has a strangely familiar feel to it. Jim Obergefell, the titular plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, gave his pen to the Human Rights Campaign to call for signatories in support of the various couples denied marriage licenses by her. It’s intriguing to note that not all of the couples involved in the suit against their county clerk are even same-gender. While the shows of support for all of them are quite kind, these are marriage-minded politics that treat the relevant needs and rights of LGBT people as an important but added on complication.

The comments on a YouTube video of one of the same-gender couples being denied their license makes it clear how peripheral their status as LGBT is within this understanding of what’s happening. Instead, as they make clear, it’s about love, or civil service standards, or almost any other reading of the situation that downplays their identities which fall outside of hetersexist and cissexist norms and creates LGBT politics that put the focus on something other than being LGBT.

2015-09-04_1319From here.

This isn’t to deny the importance of accessing among other basic civil services and rights, marriage, for LGBT people. But there’s a well-worn specificity here, that among the various legal statuses and processes, marriage is beyond central, it’s dominating. From the image conscious use of a figure in the fight to expand marriage rights to the political focus on making the use of those marriage rights as accessible as possible, the marriage centered notion of what are LGBT rights appears to have just been reborn in a post-Obergefell era with the HRC as midwife. Far from clearing the air and recasting the structure of how LGBT people will politically interact with each other and the cisgender and straight mainstream, this casts a doubt on the transformative effect of the spread of marriage equality.

It wasn’t clear that this was going to be the outcome a scant few months ago. Even the HRC itself engaged in a membership and donation drive in August that emphasized that their upcoming legal focus would be on anti-discrimination measures for LGBT people in workplaces, schools, and other spaces. Marriage was a part of their program, but it was mainly part of a broader set of rights compromised by civil discrimination with a clear indication that other forms of discrimination would likely take up a larger portion of the discussion. Securing the right to marry specifically was a distant concern, presented as one that would mostly concern electing supportive candidates rather than confronted the already elected, like Davis.

The HRC wasn’t alone in dipping a toe into a less marriage-focal set of LGBT politics. The Victory Fund, which has long fundraised to increase LGBT representation in local and state governmental bodies, sought support for two lesbian candidates for Nashville’s city council in late July. Caitlyn Jenner came out and began conversations both between trans and cis people and within the trans community about trans visibility. Over the summer she also drove a national conversation on trans athletes. I have myself been personally involved in efforts to redesign California state parental laws – which deliberately intended to make them more accessible to both married and unmarried LGBT parents.

Even on the other end of these and other issues of LGBT rights, there were the perennial debates about trans women’s legal right to use women’s restrooms and the Family Research Council began to prepare for fights around particularly workplace-focused anti-discrimination measures. The post-Obergefell terrain of both LGBT and anti-LGBT politics was vast and open to discussions that extended beyond marriage and marriage rights, and yet the HRC has apparently decided to fight the same battle once again on the same terms with the same names even.

This kind of complaint – that LGBT politics are dominated by a debate over marriage to the exclusion of other issues in large part because of the HRC’s political choices – is itself pretty stale to many LGBT people because this has been such a recurring problem. Beyond that overwhelming sense of familiarity, however, this is a structuring set of priorities within our communities. As I noted last week, part of what I was advocating for in California was that LGBT parents didn’t have to pay additional costs to parent – to conceive, to adopt, to be safe, secure, and stable families. In sharp contrast to that, David Moore, one of the people denied a marriage license by Davis, was broadcast on national news reminding her: “I pay your salary.” This echoes how he and by extension all other LGBT people are expected to financially bargain for acceptance. This specific type of marriage-focused politics seem like they’re quite capably reinforcing the idea that we should pay more to access what is a right for cisgender and straight people, and encouraging LGBT people to think in those terms. After all, that very line of thought came out of Moore’s mouth.

In short, we have been standing at a crossroads within LGBT politics. We can broaden our communities’ conversations, imagine a brighter future, and hopefully ultimately build that better world. We can have a political sense of self that moves past “I pay your salary” to one where it doesn’t matter what one pays, we’re still human and we still have rights. Or we can perpetuate what feels like little more than a remix of the same debate about marriage, with the same socio-economic implications for LGBT people, the same limits, and the same pitfalls. The rights of a mix of same-gender and male-female couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, are already being spoken for and advanced by organizations that fight for civil rights on a broader platform, namely the ACLU. Why does the HRC need to have to repeat the same priorities, the same focuses, the same conversations that lead to the same places when someone else can advance them?

As of this writing, Kim Davis’s county office has been handing out marriage licenses to the long-waiting couples. They still don’t have her signature on them, which a county official has said will be valid without that. Davis is facing jail time for refusing to perform mandatory duties to her clerk position. The fight for this specific form of this specific right for this specific license in this specific county appears to be near its end. Maybe the HRC and other LGBT organizations will have another chance to choose what they will prioritize how they will prioritize it from here on out. Maybe this isn’t a post-Obergefell world, but a post-Lund one.

This article’s featured image is of David Moore and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from an earlier confrontation in July, from here.

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Pay up

Trigger Warning: heterosexism, cissexism, assistive reproductive technology

If you followed along on twitter this morning, I attended an event organized by California Assembly Member David Chiu this morning in San Francisco about one piece of pending legislation – the Equal Protection for All Families Act. One of the speakers at the event, Polly Pagenhart, spoke about her personal experience as a parent affected by the current state policies on the recognition of her parenthood. The years-long process of making certain that both her and her partner were legally and custodially recognized as such was spurred by a hope to make a potential family disaster (such as an unexpected death) as manageable as possible. That’s what current law is designed to do for families who do not use gamete donation, in vitro fertilization, or other assistive reproductive technologies to have children, but not ones like hers.

Pagenhart spoke particularly movingly about how not only was the process of giving her family security a difficult one, but also a costly one made her her words “insurmountable” when she lost her then current job. In the midst of my liveblog, that prompted me to tweet-

That cuts to the very heart of a number of problems in terms of how even well-intentioned people both within and outside of LGBT communities fail to actually address LGBT people’s needs. A refusal to understand the struggles against heterosexism and cissexism as having economic dimensions is disastrously common. The past talk of boycotts of everything from pizza places to entire states might make that sound strange, but there’s a recurrent pattern to how economics enter the pictures of LGBT rights. The recent announcement of The Economist’s conference on how LGBT inclusivity could encourage economic growth shows how when economic issues are brought up, it’s almost always framed in the other direction – in terms of how LGBT people could benefit others economically, even including how others should accept our business with the implication that we are a community with resources to be tapped if not taken and removed. This runs directly into some of the most toxic aspects of how even “liberal” and “accepting” parts of straight and cisgender dominated culture continue to exploit LGBT people and organizations, with Pride and other community spaces for example framed as places for self discovery and actualization for everyone, not only LGBT people.

This transfer of money for essentially basic respect and of community spaces and resources for the weakest form of tolerance fits a very specific definition: that of material oppression. An essential part of this process before any exchange even happens is the projection of an image of power and wealth to ease the bargaining process. The issue, of course, is that that provides rhetorical cover to those who don’t want to help the LGBT people unable to make whatever payment is demanded of them for their security and stability.

A hearing on this very bill by the California State Senate’s Judiciary Committee saw a hint of this in fact. Cathy Sakimura from the National Council for Lesbian Rights stated (viewable here, after 1:45:00) that

“We receive hundreds of calls from families who are conceiving their children through assisted reproduction and a large number of these calls are coming from families who are doing at home insemination because they just cannot afford the cost of using a sperm bank or a doctor to assist them with the conception […] Unfortunately we have to let these families know that they’re currently unprotected under California law. […] For non-married parents, the non-biological parent is not able to get on the child’s birth certificate and may not be able to put the child on their health insurance.”

This was followed up by personal testimony, which committee chair Hannah-Beth Jackson interrupted (at 1:49:52), saying, “It is my hope […] that things have improved dramatically since then [the time of those personal experiences]. So let us… let us assume that they have.” This presumption of security, safety, and stability is part of the challenge LGBT activism now faces.

lgbt homelessnessThere’s no economic hardships to accessing civil services among those… at higher risk of homelessness? Image from here.

Even with the current bill having passed both houses of the California state legislature, there’s the possibility that a similar line of thought could influence Governor Jerry Brown, motivating him to leave the bill where it is. That’s part of why Assembly Member Chiu held the event this morning, however, to encourage people to write to him directly and discuss how important and relevant this bill is. If you don’t have the time to craft a personal letter, here‘s a petition I’ve put together to urge him to sign the bill. Maybe we won’t have to pay up this time.

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Full disclosure, I was conceived in California by a couple affected by the current law. My mother shared our experiences in the personal testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Planned Parenthood: the medical provider we need, not the one we want?

Trigger Warning: eugenics, abortion, racism, sexism, cissexism

The US Senate is scheduled to vote on Planned Parenthood’s funding today. In light of the recent videos released by David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists, what that vote has focused on are some of the outcomes for services that only account for three percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget. In cases of abortion where adequate fetal stem cells (which medical researchers can use to treat and understand certain illnesses and disabilities) can be taken from aborted fetuses, Planned Parenthood asks if patients are comfortable donating those tissues that would otherwise be disposed of as either medical waste, mourned and buried, or otherwise not used for medical purposes.

In the grand scheme of modern medicine, this isn’t a radical break from much of anything. Organ donor stamps have become an unremarkable sight to see on driver’s licenses, and one of the places those tissues and organs end up is ultimately in the hands of researchers – whose own websites make it quite clear they will reimburse the people doing the difficult work of removing and safely transporting various organs and tissues. The payment involved in Planned Parenthood’s “sale” of fetal tissues is more or less the same, a coverage for the work involved, to maintain a system that makes sure the donated tissues are, well, actually usable to the researchers who receive them.

The moral outrage and demand for reform seems tied to the actual specifics of what tissue is being taken and which organization is doing it. From that oddly unique criticism of Planned Parenthood, a whole host of shifting, chimeric complaints has emerged in the past few weeks. Chief among those are the implications that Planned Parenthood is essentially a eugenic enterprise, seeking to curb if not undermine the reproductive freedoms of people of color and particularly Black people. Sarah Palin has been among the most vocal advocates of that line of criticism, which she has in her classic style muddied into the also on-going debate over confederate imagery. Last Sunday, she put up an image on Facebook contrasting the Confederate Battle Flag and Planned Parenthood’s logo, which asked “Which symbol killed 90,000 Black babies last year?”

Among the problems with that question is the fact that you could argue Planned Parenthood is drastically underserving Black communities and other communities of color in the United States. How many deaths in those communities has Planned Parenthood prevented, and how many more could it be preventing? The majority of its budget and services go to providing help in ways other than providing abortions, and while a large chunk of that is contraceptive in nature a large amount involves perinatal care. As a key source of medical care for low income people, there’s a valid question to be asked if Planned Parenthood and medical centers capable of offering an abortion if needed are inadequately available in majority Black neighborhoods. Only six percent of them nationally are in those types of areas.

There is a worrisome discussion to be had about those types of medical providers admittedly, given that more abortion-heavy clinics (which provide 400 or more abortions in a given year) are slightly less unusual to see in majority Black and Latin@ neighborhoods. Black academics in particular have been promoting an open analysis of that for decades now, with one of the most topical being Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. She lays out quite explicitly the needs of cisgender Black women in the US when it comes to reproductive freedom in the introduction, saying

“The story I tell about reproductive rights differs dramatically from the standard one. In contrast to the account of American women’s increasing control over their reproductive decisions, centered on the right to an abortion, this book describes a long experience of dehumanizing attempts to control Black women’s reproductive lives. The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America. Considering this history – from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers – paints a powerful picture of the link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

From there, she immediately transitions into discussing how underserved Black cisgender women were by the denial of access to abortion in public hospitals following Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The Black community, to say nothing of the various communities of color in the United States, is not a monolith, but when describing the intersections of race and reproductive freedom, their tendency has been to emphasize the need for freedom from coercion, for bodily autonomy, and for economic security. Those goals then underpin what policies should be pursued. In light of that, Planned Parenthood and similar organizations – capable of providing abortion but focused on more generally giving low cost high quality medical care – are perhaps exactly what those communities need, as an alternative to the current alternatives of inconsistent, low quality, overly abortion-focused types of care or worse no care at all.

planned parenthood health care happens hereProtesters in Oregon on July 28, 2015, from here.

That’s possibly the key misunderstanding that continues to crop up in these discussions. Planned Parenthood is a medical provider. Like other medical providers in similar contexts, they pay people to transport donated tissues and organs. Like other medical providers in our privatized medical care system, they generally do not provide enough care or the right kind of care in low income neighborhoods and to communities of color. Almost all of these criticisms of Planned Parenthood ultimately lead back to a criticism of medical care in general, and the need for it to be administered more carefully and compassionately. From a reformist mindset, Planned Parenthood is hardly perfect, but seems committed to improving itself and improving the world.

But that’s quite clearly not where the current complaints are coming from. The desperate search for a problem to have with Planned Parenthood shows that there are issues with all medical services that can induce discomfort and concern for many if not most people. The use of that, however, is just against Planned Parenthood, or perhaps abortion providers in general. What’s developing here is yet another way of codedly confronting the issues that abortion stirs up in a way that won’t openly process where those come from and what drives them, and what’s more will obscure the concerns and problems around other issues dragged into it as justification fodder. We’re having a national anti-conversation on abortion, in which everyone walks away from it more unclear over what’s at stake.

But that’s the anti-conversation the US Senate would like to have, going by the eighteen Senators now threatening a government shutdown unless and until Planned Parenthood is defunded in full. The Center for Reproductive Rights has begun circulating a petition to convince them that not only is this unproductive, but also wildly unpopular, which might be the only way of convincing them to stop.

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The F Word

TW: racism, heterosexism, cissexism

With both the 2016 presidential race now beginning to dominate national media and a whole host of Republican candidates running, many people have felt its time to check the temperature of one of the US’s two major parties.

Although still a major, national party in this country, it’s easy to forget the Republican Party technically went into the “political wilderness” after losing the presidential election and remaining the minority in both houses of Congress in 2008. While congressional elections since then have chipped away at the federal dominance of the Democratic Party, internal divisions have made it hard to talk about there being any unifying, specific themes to the Republican Party. The only near universal trend seemed to be opposition to the Democrats and President Obama specifically. Even though the presidential field is quite wide this year, the fact that only one candidate can secure the nomination promises that there will at least be some open debate among Republicans and others about who Republicans are and what they represent.

The meaningfulness of who stands in for the party in the presidential race is compounded by the possibility of someone less of a consensus candidate, like Romney or McCain, taking the lead. Both of them were able to navigate different types of popular conservative circles and placate (or even represent) the wealthy interests that exert considerable influence over the Republican Party. If they symbolized anything, it was the increasing difficulty to maintain the Reagan era bargain between various non-economic populisms and the most economically powerful individuals in the country. 2016 may ultimately come down to a similar tortured dynamic, but so far, there’s a palpable hope among Republicans for something far more engaging to emerge (and among Democrats for something even less effective).

As of now, Trump remains the front runner and the clearest embodiment of a possible alternative. Although he more or less shares Romney’s and McCain’s economic status, he openly notes his wealth rather than hides it or attempts to have it overshadowed. He argues for his candidacy in part on the basis of it. Also like Romney and McCain he similarly comes with a far more moderate-seeming past, but again he’s broken with their tone. He taps into the contemporary conservative political language and philosophy so deeply that he so far has largely not been declared an outsider seeking support. Gone are the days of economic elitism donning the mask of virulent faction politics – he’s coming across as openly wealthy and truly motivated by conservative cultural and social standards.

Trump hasn’t just changed how leading primary candidates speak but are also spoken about. Noting that Republican ideals seem to be increasingly uncomfortably close to fascism – once the third rail of politics in the US – is something that no longer has to wait until after Republicans are elected or remain unnoticed outside of alternative media. Newsweek ran an opinion piece that doesn’t even stop at the low-hanging fruit of Trump’s racial, religious, and “traditional” convictions (although it notes their historical, fascist analogues) but delves into how he demands a return to the specific mercantilist moraines long ago fossilized within fascism and abandoned in democratic capitalism. Slate has already put up one response which reminds us that this isn’t just a fascist “Trumpism” but “the underlying passions of the GOP base.” That’s why he’s the frontrunner after all.

But again, just like Trump isn’t just shouting what McCain and Romney tiptoed around, here Trump isn’t even the only one excavating a fascistic philosophy from within the Republican Party. While his image-conscious campaign draws most national attention, among others his fellow candidate and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been making more or less the same noises. His comment about possibly waging a war on Iran from his first day in office managed to attract some attention, but Walker has a long history of more or less hitting the same notes that have galvanized Trump’s surge to the top of the primary’s polls. And that’s paid off for him almost as well as Trump – he’s now contended for second place with Jeb Bush, once the presumed nominee.

This sort of politicking defines Walker though. It’s not a gimmick, as some are quick to dismiss Trump’s most recent political incarnation. There’s his lengthy history when it comes to a disquieting comfort with racism and his contempt for economic redistribution perceivable as “socialism” or “communism”. His recent statement about warfare only add a checkmark under most definitions for fascism, with its obsessive drive towards conflict and conquest. It almost seems as though Trump’s bombastic style is lending credibility to calling him fascist, which unfortunately lets a more mild-mannered packaging of the same politics slide by with possibly no criticism of that type. A not too distant cousin of the invisible racist, are Walker and possibly others in the current campaign now inaudible fascists? Is the US public at risk of not just letting Trump get away with this, but failing to hear the same dangerousness coming out of a more calm mouth?

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Say what you want to say

As I mentioned the last time I posted in – good lord – July, I’ve been reexamining a lot of aspects to how I put together articles here. At that time it was mostly about just how I drew on outside resources, specifically that I wanted to broaden my horizons in terms of what news sources I read, and as a result who shaped the meta-analysis that I tend to give here. Since then, I haven’t posted much because I’ve been a busy bee for other reasons, what with an internship at 429. That’s been a learning opportunity in a number of ways, but a key part of it has been changing how I look at the news cycle, and with that reexamining my writing tendencies and strategies.

On here (and even to some extent other places I write, even 429), there’s a driving sense to say something relevant. I can make decisions about what to talk about, but my choices should be comparatively narrowed to what other people are already talking about. Actually working in the media, not just doing what I do here, has taught me how nonsensical that is. Just take the example of the on-going detention crisis. You read that right, on-going. It might seem like the discussion on that is over, that presumably some sort of solution has been reached since the blanketing coverage from this summer has disappeared. The reality is, however, that the coverage of this issue has never reflected the reality on the ground.

The reality that many major news resources were late to the party in discussing minors being excessively and inhumanely detained was hinted at on shows run by some of the bigger names, such as MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” which acknowledged that other programs had long recognized that a refugee population had been created by instability in Central America. José Díaz-Balart, a dual MSNBC and Telemundo newscaster, was brought on to augment Hayes’ coverage, something of a nod to the face that many Latin@ news circuits had been discussing the militarized border and increasing reliance on detention systems for months if not years previously.

Since then, the Obama administration and a patchwork of legislators and administrators have cobbled together a family detention system, which attempts to create larger facilities, to at the very least not separate families within the process. Feminist media covered the ways in which these new systems have failed to recognize the often sexual violence many women and children were fleeing and even perpetuated those experience in new forms. Latin@ media likewise stayed atuned to the story. And even I covered some LGBT dimensions to it over at 429. One thing you’ll note about those articles other than mine is that they aren’t, like Chris Hayes’ segment, terribly reflective of prior coverage. Mine makes note of some of the last major news pieces that discussed the problem, while the other two almost exclusively focus on the policy on the ground, with media coverage having long since moved on to other topics.

news cycle
(“The News Cycle” – it doesn’t quite work like that.)

That’s not a fluke. What that’s a reflection of is how much major media’s focus is driven by other reporting, and how desperately necessary smaller and more “ideological” or “perspective-taking” reporters are to covering what’s happening in the world. As a news-watcher, you need to look for more creative and less responsive media as much as possible, and if you are a news-creator, you need to be very careful in what sources you draw from because some of them are already out of touch.

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