Gender & Sexuality

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

AP Photo

Since he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry, which he says would kill “good union jobs”; spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion; and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending.

He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on the Pennsylvania state House floor in which he was blocked from speaking about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, which a Republican colleague said would violate “God’s law.” The Prospect recently sat down with Sims to talk about where things are headed in Pennsylvania.

When I'm Old and Gay

The American Prospect/Steve Moors

When Marcia Hickman and Sue Spirit first started talking retirement 20 years ago, they mostly worried about the location and the weather. In Ohio, where they met and ran a women’s retreat together, Marcia missed the mountains of her upstate New York youth. Sue wanted a place “with seasons.” The pair, who will celebrate 30 years together in August, describe themselves as “mostly out”—Marcia hasn’t told her three children she and Sue are a couple, but she figures they’ve put it together by now. She and Sue hadn’t thought about settling down with other gay people until they learned about Carefree Cove. “Around 2000 we heard about ‘lesbian land’ being started in North Carolina,” Sue says. A planned residential community for older gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people, “the Cove” was then an empty 165-acre plot 20 miles outside of Boone, a small university town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The backers had an opening bargain: For $2,000, you could come down and pick your lot. “We put down the money, and six months later we were building,” Sue says.

Promises Aren't Enough to Deter Campus Sexual Assault

As a recent report at Yale shows, voluntary resolution agreements won't stop rape.

Flickr/CanWeBowlPlease

On a blistering day in mid-July, several dozen college students rallied on an unshaded plaza in front of the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., wearing their schools’ colors and carrying megaphones. When Martha J. Kanter, the undersecretary of education, heard their shouting and emerged from the air-conditioned building, they handed her a stack of boxes containing a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. The petition called on the government to take a more punitive stance against universities that fail to protect survivors of sexual assault. These schools, the document declared, are in violation of Title IX, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in higher education.

Sticking It to Sochi: Russian LGBT Activists on What Works

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

There’s no sugarcoating what’s happening in Russia in the days since the Duma and Prime minister Vladimir Putin passed its anti-gay laws earlier this summer. In a jaw-dropping video that Moscow-based journalist and longtime LGBT activist Masha Gessen posted to her Facebook page over the weekend, Dmitry Kiselev, anchorman and deputy director of VGTRK, the Russian state broadcast holding company—in short, a top representative of the Kremlin’s media machine—makes the following statement:

Against Douthat on Abortion Restrictions, Round Two

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Ross Douthat has a thoughtful response to two critiques—one from me at the Prospect and another from Katha Pollitt at The Nation—of his recent column on European abortion policy. It would help to clarify some of the empirical issues that are central to our disagreement.

Sex Workers vs. Spitzer

The former "Love Guv" is back in the public eye and calling himself a feminist, but the anti-prostitution measures he signed into law make life more dangerous for women in the sex trade. 

AP Images/Seth Wenig

Yes," Eliot Spitzer told host Chris Hayes on MSNBC, he is a feminist. Hayes had just played him a clip in which Sonia Ossorio, the National Organization for Women's (NOW) New York City chapter president, denounced him for paying for sex. "Do we want an elected official," Ossorio asked, who has "participated in sustaining an industry that we all know has a long history of exploiting women and girls?" Spitzer countered that, as governor, he passed a tough anti-sex-trafficking law (never mind that he broke part of it). It was a conflict you rarely see in public: two people competing for feminist cred over sex work—Spitzer the prosecutor (and repentant customer), Ossorio the spokeswoman (that sex workers never asked for). As is often the case, their sex trade bona fides don't extend to actually having done sex work, but in using sex workers to make a political point. What they missed was that they were shouting from the same side of the stage: Both NOW's Ossorio and comeback-hopeful Spitzer believe the feminist thing to do is enact laws that result in taking power away from sex workers and putting more of them through the criminal-justice system. Both present losing propositions, where those who suffer most are women who are already among the most marginalized and criminalized individuals in our society.

Will North Carolina's Abortion Restrictions Backfire on the GOP?

Jenny Warburg

In the days since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a restrictive new abortion bill into law, directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics like surgical centers, the first-term Republican has gotten a sharp taste of abortion-rights advocates’ wrath. Only one clinic in the state currently meets the new regulations; the rest will have to undergo expensive renovations or face closure. On Monday, dozens of protesters held a 12-hour vigil outside the governor’s mansion as they waited to hear whether McCrory would sign the law. Returning the next day, after they learned that McCrory had approved the measure, the protesters wore Mad Men-style shirtdresses and old-fashioned lace gloves to emphasize the law’s regressiveness. They waved signs and chanted slogans, encouraging passing motorists to honk in support of their cause. In a nod to the motorcycle safety bill that contained the restrictions, motorcyclists circled the mansion. (No one crashed.)

Should Rape Porn Be Banned?

Given that consumption of "extreme" pornography does not lead to real-world violence, outlawing it only sends the message that those who enjoy it—including women—are deviant.

Press Association via AP Images

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to make it a criminal offense to own or view pornography that simulates rape. It’s already illegal to produce such “extreme” pornography in the United Kingdom; the proposed law will make it illegal to possess it, too. Some American groups, such as the interfaith non-profit Morality in Media, have been fighting for the United States to pass similar legislation for a long time. Morality in Media’s “War on Illegal Pornography” campaign, for example, holds violent porn responsible for a host of social ills, including domestic abuse and increased crime. These activists have an important goal: to protect women from real-life sexual violence.

Going Rogue for Marriage Equality

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Tamara Davis, left, and Nicola Cucinotta kiss after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania despite a state law banning such unions.

Iowa's High-Tech Abortion Battle

Free Verse Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ennuipoet/5479828006/sizes/l/in/photostream/)

One night in 2007, Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, couldn’t sleep. She was grappling with a problem that vexes rural pro-choice advocates everywhere: the lack of access to abortion. At the time, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which performs most of the abortions in Iowa, had 17 clinics in its network but only three with an on-site physician. Doctors would travel, sometimes as far as 200 miles, to three other clinics in the state to perform intermittent care. The remaining 11 clinics did not offer abortion services. In all, 91 percent of Iowa’s counties, the more sparsely populated regions that are home to more than half of the state’s women, lacked an abortion provider.

The Filner Scandal Isn't a "Sex Scandal"

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

San Diego mayor Dan Filner has refused to resign amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, saying that he will undergo therapy instead. As Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post notes, it seems implausible that two weeks of therapy can fix Filner's very serious issues with women. But there is a much deeper problem with Filner's refusal to resign. His invocation of therapy suggests that the scandal is a purely private affair without direct implications for his conduct in office. This is dead wrong. It's crucial not to conflate consensual and nonconsensual actions together into a single catch-all category of "sex scandals."

Why the Courts Matter to LBGT Rights

AP Images/Elaine Thompson

The eminent legal scholar and federal judge Richard Posner has a self-described "revisionist" piece on litigation and same-sex marriage in The New Republic. Since it is partly a review of Michael Klarman's From the Closet to the Altar, much of what I have to say about Posner's piece is contained in my review of the Klarman book, and I won't repeat all of those arguments in the same detail here.

Run, Women, Run!

Rebecca D’Angelo

Susannah Shakow's first impression of Tristana Giunta was that the high school junior was awkward. "Like couldn’t look you in the eye kind of awkward," Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first Young Women's Political Leadership conference—the flagship program offered by Running Start, the organization that Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started in 2007 to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office.

Obama's Silence on LGBT-Rights Abuses in Russia

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn't kidding about cracking down on LGBT rights. On Sunday, four Dutch filmmakers were arrested under the country's new "gay propaganda" law. Signed by Putin on June 30 after passing unanimously in the State Duma, the measure bans both private and public expressions of support for gay rights deemed to be accessible to minors and prescribes fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000) for violations. The filmmakers, who came to the country earlier this month to shoot a documentary about gay life in Murmansk, were taken into custody after police went through their footage and found an interview with a 17-year-old gay man (a minor under Russian law). While the foursome was fined for visa violations and let go, it is the first instance of the anti-gay law being enforced against visitors to the country.

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