Tag Archives: homelessness

Onwards and upwards, but not for all

Trigger warning: gun violence, racism

Yesterday, ten people died and seven were injured in a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Motivated by the public outcry, President Obama gave a speech on the event and the issues it raises yesterday which still dominates my newsfeed and in all likelihood yours as well. He laid out a basic argument for gun control and against a hypervigilance for over-regulation of firearms and related weapons:

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.  It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?  There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true.  We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

That is understandably deeply moving. It taps into one of the great beliefs in the United States about this country – that we are an evolving country, tethered by traditions but not ensnared by them. We can – and do – blaze forward, the story goes, changing ourselves in order to make life better. This story is sometimes about this type of regulation on a product, but can also come in the form of appeals to how the franchise has expanded, widening the voting population towards something today considered to be an approximation of universal suffrage. Obama is, I suspect, quite consciously marrying those two tales together, crediting the ostensibly safer and healthier life of the average US citizen to the theoretically democratic achievements of this country. We can literally vote ourselves to safety.

Unfortunately, it’s increasingly unclear that any part of this narrative is true. Past regulations on firearms and present day regulations on cars and other products Obama later mentions were opposed at almost every step by a major industry if not several. Those two are some of the most successful campaigns for that matter. Even as cars have reduced the dangers in an accident, they’ve gotten better at concealing their emissions, disguising the threat they pose to a stable and useful climate for us and ultimately everyone else in the world. Almost all of these improvements are rooted in economic bottom lines. It’s better to make a product that doesn’t easily and regularly kill your customers – that’s just basic business sense. But longer term damage to its consumers, to their descendants, and to the broader world can just be “externalities“, at least for much longer than that other kind of threat.

When it comes to more general issues of social and economic security that same statistics crop up repeatedly showing that many problems have lingered or even worsened. Food insecurity remains prevalent in the US. Union membership – long a bulwark for lower and middle classes to protect their interests – has drastically declined, as has (for that and other reasons) the political effectiveness of unions. Fear of poverty, of want, and of homelessness are barely considerations in the economic and political system in which we live, and so have at best been allowed, and at worst encouraged as “motivation“. The idea that we have become safer than those before us downplays these concerns and denies the observable reality that sometimes things actually have gotten worse.

Suffrage, still full of historical holes like felon disenfranchisement, has recently taken a hit from the dismantling of the pre-clearance system. Already, Alabama appears to be coordinating mass suppression of voters of color in advance of the 2016 election with no effective federal oversight. Other states are likely to follow suit. Even before that structural link in US democracy crumbled, we were already facing an effective plutocratic check on at the very least national elections, and by one study’s standards, were no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy. A majority of people in this country – citizens or not – might want basic regulations on weapons, but does that mean anything? For years, in spite of popular outcry, it hasn’t.

katrinaNew Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, from here.

Further along in his speech, Obama presented what he viewed as a few analogues to what he hopes we could accomplish on gun control, saying among other things, “When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.” One needs only point to Katrina as an example of how limited those improvements often can be. Over a thousand died, and over a million were displaced. More valued populations threatened by later hurricanes have been better protected, so perhaps the government learned something from that disaster. But those lessons learned in catastrophe haven’t been applied to repair the still hurting (and specifically Black) communities in New Orleans, but to preserve the business centers of Houston and the greater New York area. In fact, as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina created the opportunity for a wealthier and Whiter demographic to move in and replace dead or displaced residents, parts of New Orleans seem poised to attain a similar status, only without the people who originally lived there.

Progress appears to be a privilege, increasingly reserved only for some in this society. It seems vital that we ask who gets left behind, and not only when the answer is “almost everyone.”

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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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And you’ll like it!

TW: anti-Roma violence

So a few people have been abuzz over the recent Hungarian constitutional changes. There’s pretty clearly a precarious political situation developing in that country, as the inability to use existing hate crimes laws to prosecute anti-Roma hate crimes shows (sorry it’s only available in pdf format). I have significant qualms about the agendas pushed at times by Der Spiegel (which has supported the politicized aid stipulations put upon Greece) and by Human Rights Watch (which had many high-ranking members lobby for the Iraq War), but their reporting puts together a rather worrisome picture of Hungary’s current trajectory. Ignoring their prescriptions to the problem (since both organizations have proven all too fallible in terms of determining the correct course of action), their descriptions (which are corroborated elsewhere) tackle very different dimensions of the developing problems.


(A 2012 vigil for a 2009 killing of a Roma man and his son in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary, from here.)

Der Spiegel’s coverage is quite clear: one issue is how Hungary is effectively creating an incentive for those educated there to stay and work there for at least a few years following their post-university entrance into the labor force. As Der Spiegel puts it, it’s a “measure meant to curb the emigration of highly-educated workers and academics”. That seems imminently reasonable for a comparatively small country with highly liberalized immigration laws that allow workers to be easily poached by other EU nations. The article briefly lays out a few other changes in the same section of new laws that the parliament has now effectively written into the constitution, but it doesn’t exactly dwell on their purpose or function.

That’s where the Human Rights Watch’s piece comes into play. It doesn’t actually examine the impacts on immigration much at all, and instead cuts straight to the heart of how life within Hungary will be impacted by the assorted other changes. In short, the results don’t sound very good. A few Fidesz (the currently governing party) officials have put out English language explanations which I won’t link to provide them any more coverage, but suffice it to say, they’re claiming that new language defining families with explicit references to sexual reproduction are no cause of concern for queer Hungarian families. They’re claiming that the Hungarian state’s preservation of a vague commitment to provide housing makes up for the de facto criminalization of homelessness. They’re pretending that preferential support of certain religious groups over others is something other than religious establishment. They’ve passed over the fact that among the new changes also allow the National Judicial Office to transfer cases (particularly political corruption cases) to inexperienced rural courts that are rarely reported on.

Many politically-active Hungarians have been raising the alarm for some time now that a tide of antisemitic and anti-Roma sentiment was rising, but that seems to have been part of a larger vision among conservative Hungarians of a better Hungary with “proper” families, no undesirable homeless, and no corruption (within eyesight or earshot). An apparent lack of Jews or Roma was merely one facet of how society needed to be reformed in their view. But what’s more, that vision comes along with laws designed to keep many younger Hungarians stuck there with them. You’ll partake in their utopia, and supposedly, you’ll like it too.

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The struggle: some of it is forgotten, but some is erased

Jonathan Chait over at New York Mag actually has a pretty excellent piece on what seems to be the trajectory of marriage equality in this country. It does seem likely that eventually it will become policy in many of the states and tolerated at the federal level – which for many queer families would end key policies to misrecognizing or ignoring their kinship structures. The need of many queer families for access to right of attorney, the ability to select a next of kin, and easier management of custodial rights is clear.

But Chait, like many commentators, seems to treat that as the whole of the struggle for queer liberation, and frames his work as examining how quickly amnesia of the battles fought for just those policy corrections has set in, with Republicans and conservatives claiming that they were on the side of queer families all along. That’s merely one dimension of the problem. There is a problem with declaring the struggle complete with legal equality becoming available in some states without federal barriers to it. What that signals is a belief that queer families outside of the few states (which admittedly have about three fourths of the population of the US) with marriage equality don’t matter or count.

Beyond that, however, that suggests that partial reform on this single policy “completes” the struggle. Nevermind if Kansas wants to round up HIV positive people. Nevermind if a broad swathe of the country lacks housing or employment protections for queer people. Nevermind the higher rates of homelessness that still plague queer youth. And absolutely don’t worry whether misleading use of acronyms like LGBT* is going to convince bystanders to those communities’ struggles that the needs of transgender and genderqueer people have been addressed by partially instituting marriage equality.


(States in purple bar housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in blue for only sexual orientation. The majority of the country fails to protect from either.)

In short, the heterosexists are already forgetting where they stood during the fights for marriage equality, much as they have with regards to the Civil Rights Movement. But they’re also declaring heterosexism “over” so that issues that are more complex than easily identifiable inequalities under the law are easily ignored, much like racist criminalization and other forms of racism more complex than literally unequal legal standing remain today in this “post-racial” country.

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Dan Savage: you’re on notice

TW: suicide, trans erasure/fetishization, bisexual erasure, female LGBT* erasure, poor LGBT* erasure, LGBT* of color erasure

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time now, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to help out with what some have called the left’s “circular fire squad”. I’ll appreciate a point by Andrew Sullivan but still call it erasive. I’ll quote Rachel Maddow at length, but I don’t think that means refusing to criticize her. So now it’s Dan Savage’s turn. If you don’t tend to watch Chris Hayes’ weekend show a few days ago, you probably missed a relatively uneventful interview. But if you did as always or for the first time tune into the show, you got a big helping of why Savage is the recipient of quite a bit of derision from liberals as well as conservatives.


(Yeah, I’m rooting for Black Dahlia Parton in this match, sorry.)

If manage to let the messages just role over you, you’ll notice a few interesting things in the interview, which are hopefully enlightening if you’re one of the people who looks to Dan Savage for advice:

He’s erasive of other gender identities and sexualities. In the interview, he pointedly avoids using the words trans/transgender or bisexual while listing gay and lesbian a few times in the show. Thanks to the acronym of LGBT*, when using the full names for those identities, it’s customary to at least list those four together. But Dan Savage has made it quite clear that he has his doubts about bisexuals, and his failure to mention genderqueer people until he starts talking about kinks is perhaps reflective of some parts of the oppression of trans men and women. He also decides that it’s an irrelevant extra bit to note that genderqueer people are still banned from military service in the US, while discussing DADT. He likewise is hardly conspicuous in speaking of “gay marriage” rather than “same-sex marriage” – which erases every part of the LGBT acronym other than, naturally enough, the one he identifies with.

He restricts the cause of further LGBT* liberation primarily to marriage equality. Part of the blame should lie with Chris Hayes for quite cheerfully encouraging and then perpetuating this throughout the interview, but Dan Savage, as a self-proclaimed advocate, should have known to challenge such narratives. You are more likely to become a homeless youth if you are LGBT*. Even for LGBT* people with the resources to house themselves without familial assistance, federal bans on housing discrimination on the basis of being LGBT* in the US are relatively new and not yet fully implemented. And that assumes that LGBT* individuals have a stable income, which is often called into doubt as protections from being fired simply for being LGBT* are not secure, but rather a patchwork of state-based initiatives that are not present in all places, do not always apply to private industries, and are not necessarily inclusive of genderqueer people. As a member of the comfortable socio-economic class, the dominant ethnic group, and the privileged sex and gender, Savage has seemingly never had to deal with these “complications” that very easily arise when combating anti-LGBT* biases as well as other inequalities.

He literally says “We are born into straight families” and that there’s nothing more straight than raising children. Queerspawn. We’re a thing. Sometimes we’re not straight or cisgender or either. Look it up. There’s no big speech prepared following this bit, because it’s just categorically erasive.

His remaining idea of how to further the cause of LGBT* liberation is suicide prevention. Now, that in and of itself is a sign of hope. Here is something that hasn’t personally effected Savage that he cares about. Until you realize that he’s unwilling to discuss suicide prevention in any sort of a context of mental health, but just “needing someone to talk to”. It’s showing that he’s not someone with training or much experience in how to assist people with mental health issues, but he’s continuing to comment on what people in that place should and shouldn’t do, as well as should and shouldn’t feel. It’s also worth noting that even if this is the first issue I’ve raised that doesn’t appear to affect Savage directly it does – he’s the founder of the It Gets Better Project, after all.

He automatically assumes his own child is straight and cisgender. The offensiveness of this is profound. Savage is a person who has made his fortune in discussing how damaging and difficult it was for him and his partner and people like him and his partner for their parents to assume that they were straight. Why is he going down that road with his own child?

Feel free to add to this in the comments if you saw anything else in their discussion that makes you want to put either of them on notice, because I’m just skimming the top honestly.

EDIT: I interpreted Savage as having implies his own child would be straight and cisgender when I watched the show live. That’s not coming up in the portions available on the website. Apologies if I misunderstood those or any other statements. That being, said, I found more to complain about, while reviewing the clips one last time. He admits the idea behind the It Gets Better Project was that he no longer needed to physically meet with suicidal LGBT* youth, but could just talk them out of acting on those feelings over YouTube. That immediately presumes that the youth in question have internet access, have means to use that internet access to a degree that they’ll come across his videos, and that they’ll be free enough from potentially hostile parents to watch the videos. That’s quite a bit of assuming, which will probably make the youth simply reached by his message wealthier among other pressures.

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Everyone’s on strike

This was a week of strikes. Throughout Southern California, one of the largest walk-outs by Walmart employees was held yesterday in protest of working conditions. The non-unionized organizers chose to use that tactic, rather than the archetypal, picket-line strike of indefinite length, because it carries much lower risk of participants being terminated. In Israel, the Haaretz newspaper’s staff responded to management announcements of downsizing 100 employees with a general strike yesterday, which might continue today and for following days if negotiations don’t occur. Meanwhile, unemployed and underemployed youth, some of whom were homeless, began some light rioting as well yesterday, creating a bonfire of tires in Hammam-Lif, Tunisia, before being driven off public roads by (not very graphic, but some police violencepolice using tear gas.

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