Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.
Texas lawmakers turned their attention to public education this week—or perhaps, more specifically, to tearing the very concept apart.
You see, the Texas public school system is, according to state Sen. Donna Campbell, a “monstrosity.” What makes it so bad? It’s a “monopoly,” she said, wherein Texas families do not have the choice to receive taxpayer dollars in order to send their children to private—often religious—schools. I don’t think the word “monopoly” means what Donna Campbell thinks it means, but I’m just working with what I’m given.
In any case, taxpayer-funded subsidies for private religious instruction have been sold to Texas voters under the moniker “school choice,” as “vouchers” that will enable parents whose children attend struggling public schools to transfer their children to more expensive private institutions. Funneling more money to public schools is apparently out of the question; only private entities, including charter schools, can be trusted to educate our kids now. Campbell’s SB 276 is meant to make such a dream a reality.
I have tried, and failed, to find a way to understand this as something other than a plan to forcibly use taxpayer dollars to effectively pay people to receive religious instruction.
But this is all very necessary, according to the “school choice” crowd, which had nothing nice to say about the state of public education here in Texas during hearings this week. They alleged that classrooms are overrun with children who fail to get the one-on-one attention they need, that lazy teachers have no incentive to ensure that their students pass any of Texas’ myriad standardized tests, and that Texas’ decrepit public schools have “over a 40 percent dropout rate.”
It’s hard to see this last claim, made by former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm as he testified in front of the legislature, as anything other than an outright lie meant to manipulate lawmakers into funding private education with public dollars.
In fact, Texas’ dropout rate for middle and high schoolers was 1.6 percent in 2012-2013. As the Texas Observer’s John Savage pointed out, Gov. Greg Abbott himself just got done bragging about Texas’ top nationwide graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students.
Another piddly detail that the “school choice” crowd failed to examine is this: If Texas public schools are failing and teachers are struggling—though perhaps not to the degree that voucher proponents claim—it might be, just maybe, due in small part to the fact that the Texas legislature made $5.4 billion in cuts to public education in 2011.
Remember that when you hear lawmakers talk about Texas’ broken public schools: They themselves are the ones responsible for the damage. And now, their fix isn’t to shore up public school funding and strengthen districts across the state, but to cut a few parents checks so they can send their kids to private school. And sure, some parents might be able to supplement their taxpayer-funded subsidy enough to make private school a reality. Others? Will watch as their kids navigate the consequences of an increasingly socioeconomically stratified educational landscape.
Now, public education is not my area of expertise. Instead, I concern myself predominantly with reproductive health policy. But this week’s political posturing about the dire state of public education in Texas triggered something in my Lone Star-addled brain: the way these “school choice” proponents talk about education sounds a whole lot like the way anti-choice lawmakers talk about health care. First, lawmakers decimate public funds needed by an important social institution, then they propose non-solutions that benefit their donors and allow them to woo highly conservative primary voters.
In 2011, our anti-choice lawmakers slashed more than $70 million in public funds for reproductive health-care and family planning programs so that they could brag about taking a hardline stance against Planned Parenthood. Two recently released studies have shown that more than 200,000 Texans lost access to contraception and cancer screenings as a result of those cuts.
In 2013, lawmakers realized they needed to do something about the havoc they’d wrought—without, of course, admitting that the havoc was deliberately engineered in a froth of anti-choice posturing. So they reallocated funds to primary health-care providers, hoping that general practitioners would suddenly become conversant in the nuances of specialized reproductive health-care provision. The success of that decision has yet to be determined, and it does little to help the 200,000 Texans who needed and failed to receive care before the new program.
This year, in 2015? Texas lawmakers are doubling down on a bad idea again, and trying to make further modifications to the state’s breast and cervical cancer screening program, ousting Planned Parenthood from providing care and likely leaving low-income Texans without the screenings and treatment they need.
But come election time, lawmakers will get to brag about their “pro-life” crusade against Planned Parenthood. What they’ll also be bragging about, inevitably? How they stood up for “school choice” freedom.
Texas already spends very little, per capita, on its residents. Now, “pro-life” lawmakers, and those who tout “school choice,” are ensuring that even fewer resources will be provided to the Texans who need it most, whether we’re talking about low-income Texans with cervical cancer or parents hoping to keep their neighborhood elementary school open.
I wonder: freedom for whom? Life, for whom? Only for those who are already economically advantaged enough to be able to buy it on their own.
The post Losing My Lege: Texas Republicans’ Anti-Public School Crusade appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In too many countries around the world, abortion is criminalized, stigmatized, or otherwise restricted. Although pregnancy termination is one of the most common experiences people have across the globe, reproductive rights are often ignored by local health, community, or legal systems. In response, women have advanced incredibly innovative strategies for challenging the system and meeting their own needs. This women’s history month, it’s time we honor the contributions of the international “sheroes” who have been leaders on spreading information about the use of pills to safely terminate a pregnancy.
The use of misoprostol—a pill available over-the-counter in many countries—as a safe, low-cost, and easy-to-use method to terminate early pregnancies is a shining example, to me, of women “doing it for themselves,” as the Eurthymics once put it. Self-use of misoprostol for abortion began in the 1980s, when women in Brazil living under criminal abortion laws realized they could take advantage of the contraindications of an otherwise readily available drug. The label on Cytotec (the brand name for misoprostol), a medication sold over-the-counter to treat gastric ulcers, included a warning that it might induce abortion in pregnant women. Recognizing that this could serve their needs when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, women began to pass on this knowledge through word of mouth, person-to-person. In later years, they used new technologies—such as hotlines, mobile phone texting, and the Internet—to continue to spread the information. Effectively organizing informal networks, they thus enabled more and more women with the knowledge of how to safely end unintended pregnancies on their own terms.
Even abortion providers in those countries have reported learning about misoprostol’s abortifacient properties from local people, not vice versa. My colleague at Ipas, Virginia Chambers, interviewed more than 25 Latin American providers, researchers, and activists several years ago in an effort to learn more about the history of misoprostol use in Latin America. Chambers found:
Respondents recalled that in the late 1980s medical professionals began observing women coming into the hospitals for treatment of incomplete abortion with abnormal symptoms. In some places, its use seemed to be confined to a geographic region and/or an at-risk population, such as adolescents, commercial sex workers, or women living in poverty … But respondents agreed that women did not learn about misoprostol abortion from doctors or scientific sources; rather that it was the other way around,” she noted.
In the words of one OB-GYN respondent, “It was as though women started teaching us that there was this way of inducing abortion.”
Because misoprostol’s effects mirror that of spontaneous miscarriage, it isn’t easily detectable. This is an advantage for people in nations where attempting to self-induce an abortion or using misoprostol in this way is against existing laws.
Since the 1980s in Brazil, word has spread widely across borders and continents, and we now have global evidence that women are informing others about how to safely use misoprostol to induce abortion in countries where the procedure is unavailable or restricted. In Ghana, for example, abortion is legally available in only some circumstances, such as to save the life of the woman or to protect her mental or physical health. There, people have begun to take Cytotec to induce abortion and then go to the hospital, where post-abortion care is free. “The word has gotten around and in fact, it has actually saved women’s lives,” said Ipas Ghana Country Director Dr. Koma Jehu-Appiah.
Around the world, women have continued to promote this and other reproductive health information in a variety of ways, including in the workplace, via mobile health platforms, and on interactive websites. Because safe abortions are restricted, criminalized, or non-accessible for so many people, these grassroots efforts are both lifesaving and life-affirming.
Now that’s history. That’s woman-to-woman, sisters doing it for themselves. These women, our sheroes, are among the drivers of some of the most innovative approaches to the biggest issues of our time.
We, as advocates and activists, can continue to support women’s rights and our unsung sheroes by:
Since last year’s Women’s History Month, thousands of women have died and millions of others have experienced injuries, stigma, and discrimination because their most basic rights to life, to good health, and to self-determination are being undermined.
That too, unfortunately, is history. Isn’t it time that we build the global political will to really uphold all people’s reproductive rights?
The post How Women Took Their Reproductive Rights Into Their Own Hands appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Arizona state Sen. Sylvia Allen (R), during a committee debate on gun legislation Tuesday, got a little off-topic, telling appropriations committee members that she believes Sunday church attendance should be required by law for every American.
“It’s the soul that is corrupt. How we get back to a moral rebirth in this country I don’t know, since we are slowly eroding religion at every opportunity we have,” Allen said in a statement captured in part on video. “Probably we should be debating a bill that would require every American to attend the church of their choice on Sunday, to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth.”
The bill being debated, HB 2320, would allow a person to keep their gun on them in a public establishment or event so long as that person has a valid concealed carry permit. Currently, the operator of a public establishment can request that an person with a firearm forfeit the firearm, if the operator has a temporary and secure storage area to keep the weapon.
The bill makes an exceptions for public places with metal detectors or security staff.
Allen, who made her way into the Arizona senate as an appointee after the death of state Sen. Jake Flake, won election in 2008. She’s a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Allen said that because legally required church attendance “would never be allowed and we would not even be debating that,” she would “vote yes that people who are responsible and have a [concealed carry] permit don’t have to worry about their gun as they’re out and about doing their business in whatever building they’re in,” according to the blog of Allen’s colleague, Democratic state Sen. Steve Farley.
Allen later expounded on her comments, said Farley, comparing society to what she described as the morally superior moment of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when she could take the bus to the soda fountain with her friends without fear of violence.
Farley, who posted Allen’s original statement on Twitter, wrote in a blog post that “had Sen. Allen been African American in the South at the same time, she and her girlfriends would have had to ride in the back of the bus and been refused service at the soda fountain. Different people see the moral standing of the 50s and 60s in somewhat different ways.”
The bill, which passed the house this month in a 25-2 vote, was approved by the appropriations committee on Tuesday in a 5-3 vote.
The post Arizona State Senator: Church Attendance Should Be Law appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A regressive overhaul of North Carolina’s tax code, passed in 2013 by state Republicans, is beginning to hit home as residents prepare their tax returns in advance of the April 15 tax filing deadline. Democrats say the reaction to the changes could stir a revolt at the polls next year among low-income and middle-class voters.
The new tax laws, which were implemented last year by the state’s massive GOP majority, eliminated North Carolina’s tiered income-tax structure and established a flat rate for all taxpayers at 5.8 percent for 2014 and 5.75 for this year. The Republican tax plan also eliminated a variety of deductions for medical expenses, child care, college savings, and more.
The earned income tax credit, which is an income refund for low-income workers, was also axed in the tax system overhaul.
Brandon Britt, owner of three Liberty Tax Service franchises in North Carolina, told the Charlotte Observer that low-income taxpayers are having “sticker shock” when they see how much their tax refunds have been dramatically reduced.
“A lot of the lower income people who were used to getting refunds of, say, $100, $200, $300 from the state of North Carolina are ending up owing the state of North Carolina $100 or $200,” Britt told the Observer. “I am seeing a larger percentage of my clientele owing the state of North Carolina than has happened in the past.”
State legislators are hearing from their constituents about these tax changes, said Cedric Johnson, public policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center, an organization that advocates for economic and social justice in the state.
“The elimination of the medical-expense deduction has been burdensome to seniors,” Johnson told RH Reality Check. “And the elimination of the earned income tax credit is causing big problems. The plan benefits the wealthy by eliminating the progressive tax rates, lowering corporate income tax rate, and expanding the sales tax base to include selected services.”
Johnson said that North Carolina, which is legally required to balance the state budget annually, could be looking at a “worst-case scenario” budget deficit this year of $1 billion thanks to the GOP’s regressive tax changes, forcing serious cuts in education, health care, and public safety. These, he said, account for 85 percent of the state budget, leaving little room to cut elsewhere.
The sweeping tax changes, which have affected a wide range of North Carolina residents, could have an impact on next year’s election, Democrats and other political observers say. When it became law in 2013, the tax overhaul was trumpeted as a success by Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature and by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“The tax changes are definitely having an effect on middle-class families,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. “We’re seeing families not getting refunds that they used to count on, seniors not being able to deduct medical expenses, and middle-class families paying more taxes. All this is the result of Gov. McCrory and his allies in the legislature.”
“Gov. McCrory has repeatedly put the interests of the ultra-wealthy and out-of-state corporations first,” Porter told RH Reality Check. “What middle-class families have seen is the governor raising their taxes while not creating good new jobs. They’ve seen cuts in education that have hurt our students’ ability to compete in the global economy. And thanks to Gov. McCrory, they are seeing other states start to pass us by. Ultimately, this comes down to priorities. And I think voters will want to change priorities here in Raleigh by electing leaders who will put the middle class first.”
Porter said the voter backlash might affect not only McCrory, who’s up for re-election next year, but numerous 2016 campaigns, including that of Republican Sen. Richard Burr, as well as state house and senate candidates.
“The conversation voters will be having will focus on who’s doing most to grow the middle class and create jobs,” Porter said. “It will be a large conversation that will encompass a lot of races.”
McCrory’s office did not return a call and email for comment, but there are signs Republicans are concerned about the political fallout of the tax overhaul.
The Charlotte Observer reported that GOP state Rep. Rick Catlin has been hearing complaints from his constituents and introduced a bill to reinstate the deduction for medical expenses.
“It’s a major impact on our senior citizens,” Catlin told the Observer. “It’s my job to be fair to all taxpayers, so I’m trying to restore that deduction.”
The post North Carolina GOP’s Regressive Tax Changes Could Incite Backlash at Polls appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Kansas lawmakers this week become the first in the country to pass a ban a medical procedure used for second trimester abortions and the management of miscarriage. The radical legislation is part of a coordinated effort by anti-choice activists in states across the country.
SB 95 would outlaw dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures used during many second-trimester abortions and to treat miscarriages. The bill is model legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
The bill redefines the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion, language that is key to NRLC’s strategy, as anti-choice advocates push similar bills in other state legislatures, many controlled by Republicans. The NRLC strategy is to pack the bills with graphic, medically inaccurate language describing the D and E procedure.
“We’ve never seen this language before,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told the Kansas City Star. “It’s not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”
An amendment was proposed that allows physicians to use the procedure prior to 24 weeks of gestation if the pregnant woman’s membrane ruptures. Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), who offered the amendment, said that if a pregnant woman’s membrane ruptured, it could expose her to serious infection.
“When the water breaks the clock starts ticking, because infection can set in,” Bollier said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “A doctor’s goal is always to do what is safest. In this very, very tragic circumstance, the safest thing may be to do this procedure.”
The amendment was defeated.
During the floor debate, opponents of the legislation criticized Republicans who champion limited government but continue to push laws that intervene in private medical decisions.
“I know a lot of you here don’t like the government very much, but you are the government,” Rep. Boog Highberger (D-Lawrence) said, reported the Associated Press. “If you vote to pass the bill, it will be you who will cause the overreaching, taking away people’s liberty.”
One of the legislation’s supporters compared abortion to the holocaust.
Rep. Mike Kieger (R-Olathe) made his points by referencing medical experiments in World War II by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “This procedure we discuss today is the ultimate evil. You’re literally ripping apart a live human being,” said Kieger, whose professional background is in residential and commercial property management as CEO of PRM Incorporated.
Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have repeatedly criticized lawmakers who compare abortion to the holocaust.
There are bills to ban the D and E procedure under consideration in Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Carolina, where Republicans dominate state legislatures. Legislative action has yet to been taken on the bills pending in Missouri and South Carolina.
The Oklahoma Senate Committee on Health and Human Services on Monday voted 7-1 to approve HB 1721, sponsored by Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa). The legislation is nearly identical to the Kansas bill.
An abortion using what is known as suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks a D and E is the safest means of performing an abortion, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The Kansas bill would effectively ban abortion as early as 14 weeks post-fertilization.
There were 7,479 abortions performed in the state in 2013, with 89 percent performed before 12 weeks’ gestation, according to a Kansas Department of Health report. Among the 807 abortions that took place after 12 weeks, 584 were performed using D and E.
Laura McQuade, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a statement that the bill would place an undue burden on women because it would prevent them from having access to the safest kind of abortions.
“This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients,” McQuade said. The bill “puts women in harm’s way by denying doctors the ability to provide the safest care available for their patients.”
Trust Women, a reproductive rights organization that operates the South Wind Women’s Center reproductive healthcare clinic in Wichita, said it will challenge the law in court, reports the Associated Press.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri told the Associated Press that the group is consulting with lawyers about possible litigation.
The NRLC litigation strategy relies heavily on Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the federal ban on so-called “partial birth abortions.” However, in that decision the court said that it was not banning all methods of second-trimester abortions, including D and E procedures.
The state of Kansas has spent more than $1.2 million in recent years defending legislation passed by lawmakers restricting reproductive rights. The state could spend an estimated $50,000 in 2015, and up to $200,000 in 2016 in 2017 defending the legislation, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.
SB 95 now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback (R) who has already said he would sign the bill.
Brownback called for an end to abortion in the state while speaking at a rally in front of the state capitol building during the anti-choice March for Life rally in January.
“Let us see an end to the killing of children in Kansas, the most pro-life state in America—Kansas,” Brownback said, according to an Associated Press report.
Brownback has been a vehement opponent of reproductive rights since he took office in 2011, signing 13 bills to limit access to abortion care during his tenure; even more bills to restrict reproductive rights were introduced by state lawmakers during that time, but never made it to the governor’s desk.
SB 95 will likely be the 14th anti-choice bill Brownback has signed.
The post Pro-Choice Advocates On Radical Kansas Abortion Law: ‘We’ve Never Seen This Language Before’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In a surprising show of filibuster-proof, bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a budget amendment to let workers earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.
The amendment, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), is similar to the Healthy Families Act, which Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced this year in Congress. That measure would let workers at companies with more than 15 employees earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days per year; employees at smaller companies could earn up to seven unpaid job-protected days.
Those days can be used to care for oneself or a family member during an illness, or to recover and seek assistance after an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The amendment received 61 votes, including 15 Republicans. It only needed a simple majority to be adopted, but the vote count suggests there could be a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to pass the stand-alone Healthy Families Act, if the amendment isn’t adopted as part of the final budget passed by both chambers and signed by the president.
“It’s a strong showing, and we certainly weren’t expecting anything like that, to be honest,” a Senate Democratic aide told RH Reality Check. “We were hopeful, certainly, but unfortunately this legislation hasn’t always gotten the bipartisan support you’d hope for.”
The vote was part of a marathon “vote-a-rama” session to consider hundreds of amendments to the Senate’s budget.
The budget is non-binding, so there’s no guarantee any of its provisions will become law. But it’s an important indicator of policy priorities—since these votes will be fodder for campaign ads, they are telling signs of which issues lawmakers want to go on record as supporting or opposing.
Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), both considered vulnerable in 2016, changed their votes at the last minute. Both of their offices said the initial “no” vote was a mistake.
On Toomey’s home turf, Philadelphia recently became the 17th U.S. city to pass a paid sick leave law. State and local laws mandating paid leave have exploded in just the last few years as advocates have convinced lawmakers of the benefits—happier and more productive workers who won’t infect others when they come to work sick, and all without harming business interests.
“To see 61 senators—Democrats and Republicans—go on record in support of paid sick days is a clear sign that elected officials are hearing from their constituents and taking note of the many cities and states that are adopting paid sick days laws, which are working well for businesses, economies, workers and families,” Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.
Ness called the vote a “milestone” and a “sign of progress in establishing family-friendly workplace policies at the federal level.”
Advocates consider paid sick days to be crucial for women’s equality, since women are less likely than men to have paid sick days, yet 80 percent of mothers take responsibility for a child’s doctor visits.
It’s also an issue of economic fairness overall. Forty-three million Americans don’t get a single paid sick day, and low-wage workers, including food servers, overwhelmingly lack them.
“I am thrilled that the Senate showed strong support today for expanding access to paid sick days and giving more families some much-needed economic stability,” Murray said following the vote. “No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child.”
The post Senate Shock: Bipartisan Support for Paid Sick Days appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Content note: This article contains descriptions and images of graphic threats that include slurs and descriptions of sexual assault.
What’d you do last weekend? Oh, that sounds fun. Yeah, I’m glad you had a nice time. Me? Oh, not much. I just spent three days reporting the myriad rape and death threats I received over social media.
See, I accidentally broke the news about my secret gun vaporizer on Twitter. The gun vaporizer—a real thing that totally exists—modifies the molecular makeup of firearms and renders them into airy nothingness. Of course, the gun vaporizer has its limitations: It cannot vaporize all the guns at once. I mean, it’s not like this is science fiction here. Perhaps unfortunately for white men, their predilection for committing mass murder has put their weapons first in line for vaporization under the evil matriarchal regime of which I am the ruling despotress.
I understand that when the white men see their guns disappear into thin air before their very eyes—a fate that most certainly awaits them, due to the actual existence of an actual gun vaporizer over which I have complete actual control—they may feel distress or sadness. This is why my evil matriarchal regime will be collecting white men’s tears during the vaporization process, for research purposes and also to sweeten the beverage of my people: a strong tea brewed of oppression and misandry. It is, of course, naturally very bitter.
You may, at this point, get the feeling that I’m pulling your leg. You may understand me to be joking. You may rightly perceive that gun vaporizers do not exist, and by extension deduce that I do not own one, nor do I intend to use it, on a white guy’s gun or anybody else’s.
If that is the case, you are leaps and bounds ahead of the Daily Caller’s political reporter, Patrick Howley, who apparently felt he got the scoop of the century when he discovered my public tweets on my public Twitter profile following the news that a white man had gone on a shooting rampage in Mesa, Arizona. He then crafted 188 credulous words about my nefarious plans. As a result, hundreds of angry white guys descended upon my Twitter and Facebook accounts over the weekend—helped along by the fact that the libertarian-bro clearinghouse Infowars and the white supremacist Nazi group Stormfront both picked up the Caller‘s, uh, “story”—demanding that I rescind my plans to vaporize all the world’s guns starting with the white guys’, and threatening to rape and murder me if I did not comply.
Many members of the Daily Caller‘s esteemed readership suggested I “come and take it” and provided other variations on the theme—”I will shoot your smelly ass dead” was a colorful one—even though the whole point of the vaporizer is to ensure that there’s nothing to “come and take,” as it were. Still more of these guys seemed unduly fixated on the fact that I’m a fat lady, though one apparent stalker who claimed to be following me around the park seemed to think I looked pretty good, regardless.
I posted screenshots of these threats to my own Facebook and Twitter, just in case any of these guys decided to actually try and act on any of them—many came from members of the Open Carry Tarrant County group, based out of my own hometown. I wanted a paper trail, and I didn’t want the admins and moderators at Facebook and Twitter to be the only ones who knew where it was.
I also just plain wanted folks to see the kind of boiling, bubbling bullshit I had to put up with just because men can’t take a joke—even though, as the stereotype goes, it is feminists who are the humorless fun police. I make a crack about a non-existent gun vaporizer, and some guy named Mark suggests forcibly removing my “bloody tampons & apply the crusted blood &piss as makeup” on my “nasty face.”
Let me run that one by you again. A guy hears a joke second-, third-, maybe even fourth-hand, and his reaction is to fantasize about assaulting me with my own bodily fluids.
Perhaps this man sees himself as one of the apocryphal “good guys with a gun” who the NRA claims are necessary to stop crime. So too, the good-hearted brothers, sons and fathers of Open Carry Tarrant County, who, by some group members’ own admission, want to use my picture for target practice.
Good guys with guns, indeed. Certainly what we need are more reasonable, cool-headed men like these running around a grocery store with pistols just in case any “bad guys” show up.
Many of my guy friends were horrified. They expressed sympathy and fear on my behalf. Several of them—independent of each other, guys who wouldn’t know the others to say hello at the corner store—offered assistance, should I need it. They sent me their phone numbers “just in case” and let me know that they would be on the scene in minutes if anything scary were to happen.
I appreciate these demonstrations. I’m glad and proud to know men like these guys. They are good dudes. But giving me a phone number doesn’t stop men who hate women from threatening to rape and murder me.
I don’t need men to individually and personally step up to protect me. I need them to collect their fellow dudes and actively work, every day, to end widespread cultural misogyny and to improve the lives of non-cisgender-dude people the world over.
Good dudes of the world, please hear me out: Not actively being a sexist shitbag as an individual is not enough. Because somewhere, somehow, the guys who dedicated themselves to harassing me—many of them under their real names on Facebook—have brothers, dads, uncles, golf buddies, tennis partners, co-workers, favorite bartenders, and an entire universe of dude friends and acquaintances, all of whom have failed to make it clear, either through their words or their actions, that this kind of behavior is not OK.
Perhaps you will plead ignorance. Perhaps y’all didn’t know how bad it was. That’s fair, and I am sympathetic to that. Often, women who are harassed are told to ignore it (this is actually one of the suggested responses that Twitter provided after I reported the guy who told me he hopes I get “gunned down in the street”), to keep it quiet, to just pretend like it doesn’t exist and it’ll all go away. I have done that on many occasions. I probably even do it on most occasions, because if I re-tweeted every creepy rape threat I got, it would fill up a quarter of my feed.
But I’m telling you now. I’m showing you now. Now you know.
Now you can do something about it. You can start by sharing this very article with your guy friends, so that they too will no longer live in ignorance. You can read and share this fantastic, in-depth piece from my colleague Imani Gandy, detailing her two-year ordeal trying to keep a dedicated online stalker at bay. You can read about Lindy West’s travails trying to report threats of gendered violence.
Looking for more than just a first-person account? There’s plenty of research available concerning gendered harassment online. Have a gander at this piece in Time. Or this one in Slate. Or this one in the Pacific Standard.
And you can talk about them, proactively, with your buddies. Because I know how guys talk. They talk like people, right? They talk about politics and beer and clothes and good shit they read on the Internet today. They share how they think and feel about things. Do that.
Take five or ten minutes out of that conversation you were about to have about Ted Cruz and talk about how fucked up misogyny is instead. Talk about the statistics on gendered violence online and off. Let your guy friends know that dudes are spewing this kind of virulent shit at people like me, and that you don’t stand for it, and that you won’t stand for the men you know doing it—or ignoring it. You have to end the culture of ignorance and silence that allows guys to comfortably engage in this kind of harassment.
I mean, sure, gather your roommates around the kitchen table to watch the funny video of the dog who can’t catch a damn piece of pizza, but also make an effort to consume and share media created by people who aren’t cisgender guys. Read books written by people who don’t look like you. Watch movies directed by people who don’t just reflect your own experiences back to you.
And then talk about them with your friends, and engage with them just as you would with anything else you liked, or didn’t like, or felt confused by. Women are people, for fuck’s sake. We’re more than just your moms and wives and partners and daughters: We create things, we have stories to tell. When we are only seen as sexual objects (note how many times guys lobbed “gutter slut” and variations at me), or delicate flowers to be protected, we lose our agency and our humanity, and harassment like this is allowed to live on.
I am asking you to do a very simple thing. I am asking you to not be a sexist jerk, and I am asking you to be deliberately public about it.
Hell, do like any of these 101 super basic, but very important, things. Educate yourself on the basics of feminism. Be the guy who brings up the parental leave policy at work. Don’t keep your mouth shut when you hear your friends call women bitches, or sluts, or cunts.
Be the guy in front of whom the next Mark knows he can’t get away with threatening to assault someone with a bloody tampon. Don’t just talk to me about misogyny. Talk to him about misogyny. Call out your friends. Be brave. Women can’t make this cultural shift happen all on our own.
Because Mark, and guys like him, aren’t listening to me. But they might listen to you, and you never know when they’re paying attention.
The post I Made a Joke About Guns and a Man Threatened to Assault Me appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) this week declared a public health emergency for Scott County, a rural part of the state that has seen an alarming number of new HIV cases in the past few months, all of which have been among injection drug users.
Calling this an epidemic and a “crisis of drug abuse,” Pence—who has vehemently opposed needle exchange programs in the past—issued a temporary order allowing health officials in the county to hand out clean needles for at least the next 30 days.
There have been 79 confirmed HIV diagnoses since December, and others are under investigation. Scott County, in a typical year, would see about five new HIV cases. The outbreak appears to have begun with people who shared needles to inject Opana, a type of oxymorphone that is only available by prescription.
It is prescribed less frequently than other similar pain medications like OxyContin because it is so strong. Some of those infected also report injecting other drugs, including methamphetamine.
Scott County is a rural area close to the Kentucky border with about 24,000 residents, 19 percent of whom live below the poverty line. County officials told Business Insider that they have fought narcotics use in the area for years and that addiction to prescription drugs has been the main issue.
Using an unclean needle is considered one of the most efficient ways to transmit HIV. Research has estimated, for example, that for every 10,000 times a woman has penile-vaginal intercourse with an infected male partner, four would likely end up with HIV transmission. In contrast, for every 10,000 times an uninfected person shares needles with an infected person, 63 would likely end up in HIV transmission.
Sharing dirty needles is not the only way injection drug users can transmit HIV—it can also happen by sharing water to clean needles and syringes, sharing bottle caps or spoons used to heat drugs and dissolve them in water, and sharing filters (such as cotton balls) to filter out particles before injecting drugs.
Whether or not a person becomes infected depends in large part on the quantity of blood to which they are exposed, and the viral load of the person with whom they are sharing (the more blood and the more virus in the blood, the higher the chance of transmission).
This is why many public health organizations support programs that make clean needles available for drug users. A position paper signed by numerous organizations—including AIDS United, amFAR, and the Human Rights Campaign—argued for such programs:
Infected needles result in 3,000-5,000 transmissions of HIV each year and an estimated 10,000 transmissions of the hepatitis C virus. Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs) are a proven cost-effective approach for preventing transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis among injection drug users, reducing risk of “accidental pricks” to sanitation workers and police, and engaging injection drug users in substance abuse treatment programs.
SEPs are controversial, as some people fear that providing needles will encourage drug use and send the wrong message to the community. A federal law prevents the government from funding such programs and about half of the states, including Indiana, have banned such programs.
Pence has supported his state’s ban on needle exchange, saying that SEPs are not good anti-drug policy.
In the midst of a clear public health crisis, however, Pence is putting this view aside for now. Pence said that after meeting with federal advisers, he has decided to make an exception for Scott County.
“I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first,” he said.
State officials are setting up a mobile command center in Scott County, and experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been in the area since Monday.
“I have deep compassion for people who are trapped by this addiction and we want to make sure people know they’re no alone,” Pence said in an interview, according to The New York Times. “There is help, there is treatment, and we’re surging into the county now to make that available.”
The post GOP Governor Opposed to Needle Exchange Programs Changes Tune During HIV Outbreak appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In far too many public health research, policy, and practice circles, there is a perception that high HIV rates in Black communities are due to pervasive homophobia. People in the media often affirm this notion, with Lee Daniels, executive producer of the addictive and entertaining new show Empire, being one of the most recent offenders. This notion is overly simplistic and does not advance discussions around building bridges among heterosexual and LGBT Black communities, nor does it advance discussions around improving health outcomes related to HIV prevention, care, and treatment. #ThisIsLuv, launched in February, is the latest anti-stigma campaign aimed at correcting misconceptions around the Black LGBT community, and medical researchers, policy advocates, and practitioners, including those focused on HIV and AIDS, would do well to take note.
Daniels, who is openly gay, remarked at a Television Critics Association event earlier this year that while doing background research for his 2009 film Precious, he was surprised to learn how significantly Black women have been affected by HIV. Indeed, Black women account for the majority of new infections in the United States each year among women. From this observation, he arrived at the conclusion that “down low” Black gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men in secret), are killing Black women.
According to what Daniels said at the event, Black gay and bisexual men can’t come out about their sexuality because of the extreme level of homophobia in Black communities, so they must engage in secret sex with other men, wherein they get HIV that they later pass on to their female partners.
The role of economic distress, sexism, poor health-care access, lack of transportation in rural areas, child care (or lack thereof), and mental health injustice does not register in Daniels’ views on HIV prevention, treatment, and care in the lives of Black women. Nor does resilience.
In fairness, Daniels isn’t the first person to succumb to this notion of the “down low” Black gay man; it’s not a new narrative, and it’s one advocates have persistently refuted. In his 2004 book, Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America, writer and advocate Keith Boykin blasted the myth of the “down low.” While discussing his research in a 2005 interview, he stated, “There is a great deal of hype and hysteria, and we have no evidence that the down low is responsible for the rates of HIV in the black community.” He went on to clarify that the “down low” is “not new, it’s not just the black thing, and it’s not just a gay thing. The issue is how we can prevent the spread of the epidemic.”
Despite the error in Daniels’ views around how homophobia might affect HIV rates, Empire should receive some credit for its exploration of gay identity in the Black community. The hit show is about a music mogul, Lucious Lyon, who is trying to determine which of his sons will take over running his record label. One of his sons, Jamal Lyon, happens to be gay, and throughout much of the series, Lucious uses homophobic slurs in reference to his son. The dynamic between Lucious and Jamal resonates with Black gay men, because many of us have had similar struggles with fathers, brothers, cousins, and uncles. (Daniels has said that his real life experiences inspired the interactions between the two characters.) So to see how their relationship develops on the show has been truly extraordinary. But it is Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of Lucious, who has a compelling relationship with her son Jamal, showing many Black gay men that there are mothers, sisters, aunts, and other women who are courageous allies.
But back to the Television Critics Association event: The kind of stigma Daniels perpetuated when he suggested Black gay and bisexual men are complicit in the spread of HIV is extremely problematic because of his platform, and because this position fits all too neatly into existing racist myths about Black men, particularly the “hypersexual criminal” trope. These views, associating Black men’s sexuality with criminality, murder, and death, carry dangerous policy implications.
Stigma does not exist in isolation. It informs laws, like the ones that ban comprehensive sexuality education. And stigma isn’t just about personal feelings and beliefs. It can carry significant cultural weight; it has structural consequences. One of the most critical examples of this is HIV criminalization laws.
In many states, if someone with HIV is accused of “exposing” an HIV-negative person, they can be charged with a felony. “Exposure” may even refer to things like spitting on someone, which carries no HIV-transmission risk. These laws are not rooted in science, but rather in stigma. Daniels, in his assessment of “down low” men “killing African-American women” is legitimatizing HIV criminalization laws that perpetuate systemic homophobia and racism as well as dangerous stereotypes against HIV-positive people.
One positive thing that has come from Daniels’ criticism of homophobia in Black communities is the dialogue that has emerged through the #ThisIsLuv campaign, which seeks to increase awareness about the ways Black LGBT people are also affirmed, welcomed, and loved by other Black people.
Founded by activists Darnell Moore, Tiq Milan, and Wade Davis, along with GLAAD, the National Black Justice Coalition, Politini Media, Feministing, the HRC Foundation, and EBONY.com, #ThisIsLuv counters the prevailing perception that Black communities are more homophobic than communities of other races. This perception that Black communities are anti-gay also has a hint of racism, in that yet another negative association can be attributed to Black communities.
The pieces written and images posted as part of #ThisIsLuv have already sparked some amazing conversations about how Black communities love and support each other.
#ThisIsLuv is also valuable because it offers positive and more complex stories of Black communities on the platforms where young people are most active, and both the campaign and the stories it highlights resist narrow formulations like the ones put forth by people who draw false connections between Blackness and homophobia, and by extension HIV and death.
There must continue to be stories shared on- and offline about love: stories from Black LGBT communities about being loved, affirmed, and supported; stories that seek to understand the complex, messy, and beautiful way Black LGBT people exist and have always existed in the broader Black community; and stories that both familiarize and de-familiarize the world with the complex ways Black communities grapple with love.
For its part, the public health community must also take a more active role in these kinds of conversations. HIV service providers and advocates in particular can learn from the stories shared through #ThisIsLuv about how Black LGBT people fit into the larger cultural landscape of Black communities. Ultimately, they could develop a more nuanced understanding of homophobia, perhaps dispel many of the stereotypes that are embedded within the medical system, and improve how they care for and advocate on behalf of HIV-positive persons.
The false notion that Black communities are somehow more homophobic than other communities must no longer guide how public health researchers, policy advocates, and practitioners grapple with the impact of HIV in Black communities. A more in-depth understanding of the ways Black communities engage with and affirm Black LGBT people is required if we are to ever be effective in responding to the impact of HIV in these communities. The #ThisIsLuv campaign is one part of the long struggle to move these efforts forward.
Image: Empire via YouTube
The post Myths About ‘Down Low’ Gay Men and Homophobia in the Black Community appeared first on RH Reality Check.