Here’s the thing I loved about talking with Mara Keisling this week: her flat-out declaration that transpeople are winning their civil rights and cultural acceptance battles. I’m crazily Tiggerish on lesbian and gay issues: we’ve come so far so unbelievably fast, over my lifetime, that some days I bounce with glee. But given that the trans part of the LGBT coalition got started about 15 years later and has had very different challenges, I was still an Eeyore about their efforts. So it made my day to hear Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality executive director, declare a coming victory. “Science is on our side, first of all,” she explained. “Common sense is on our side. Decency is on our side. When you get that combination, you win every time.”
This fall, opponents of marriage equality will lose a much-beloved talking point: that in every state in which the issue has gone on the ballot, voters have rejected same-sex marriage. On November 6, the freedom to marry someone of the same sex is up for a vote in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minneosta, and Washington. Each state's initiative and situation is quite different, but in at least one, and possibly three, voters are going to offer marriage licenses to their lesbian and gay neighbors.
Let's start by looking at Maryland. The backstory: In February, the Maryland legislature passed, and on March 1, Governor Martin O'Malley enthusiastically signed, a marriage-equality law. The law was set to take effect in January. Named in jujitsu fashion, "The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act" explicitly addressed the canard that allowing civil same-sex marriage would force churches to perform religious marriages that they oppose theologically. As expected, opponents launched a petition drive to put the measure on the ballot after it passed.
The story so far. Last week I objected to the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” I object to the idea that my well-being can be reduced purely to economics, or to few things that the president can affect. (One colleague wrote: My 90-year-old mother would certainly say she’s not better off than she was four years ago, but that’s more about her health than about her wallet!) So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall?
Unless you live in Massachusetts—or maybe even if you do—you probably missed the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown debate last night. That’s too bad, because it was a kick-ass debate—a model for political debates—run by Jim Madigan, from Springfield, Massachusetts’s public television station. (I know, I know—like Big Bird, he has to be careful, lest Romney fire him.) Here’s the truly groundbreaking part: Madigan actually moderated. He asked substantive questions about policy, drawn from those voters sent in. He kept the candidates to strict time schedules, giving them 20 seconds here and 5 seconds there, forcing them to articulate their beliefs quickly and crisply. He actually cut Brown off mid-sentence as Brown meandered around one point. Imagine that!
Last week, I launched a series simultaneously attacking and hijacking the quadrennial question: Are you better off than you were four years ago? For the first one, I reported on how women are doing economically compared to four years ago. But one of my sentences confused readers—apparently because I myself was confused. For my correction, let me simply quote what Heidi Hartmann of IWPR, one of the labor economists I cited, wrote me:
I do have a little trouble with this sentence though because I’m not sure what you were trying to get at. If I said something like this I was not very accurate:
Like so many people—most, I would argue—I don’t so much listen to the presidential debates as watch them. As the words drone on in the background, I watch how they stand, where they look, what they emphasize. You’ve already read Bob Moser’s and Robert Kuttner’s detailed critiques of the President’s debate performance, and you don’t need my echo. But what I saw last night—whether accurately or not—was this: An exhausted President Obama isn’t completely sure he still wants the job.
Last week I confessed that I don’t like presidential election season. I don’t like the trivialized reportage, the horse-race-ification of serious subjects, and the narrowed vision that settles in on policy folks during these months. I especially don’t like the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” This suggests two things to which I object: first, that the president is in charge of how well-off I am, when all of us know that American politics and global economics are far more complex . Second, that “better off” or “worse off” can be reduced to my current income and immediate financial prospects, even if those were dependent on the president. So I’m going to hijack that question for my own purposes and ask: Are women better off than we were four years ago—not just financially, and not just in ways affected by President Barack Obama’s administration, but overall?
You want another reason I hate presidential campaign season? It obscures real problems, the very problems the election is about. Okay, so that’s the same gripe I had yesterday. So let me introduce you to someone who's not just griping, but is doing something about it.
This morning, the Supreme Court did not decide to take Perry v. Hollingsworth, the California Prop. 8 case. According to the conference schedule, the Justices were supposed to discuss it yesterday. They didn’t actively decline to take it; they could still make a decision to hear it in the months to come. But at least for today, no news is good news.
150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln released his draft Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." NPR has a brief exploration of some little-known history here, including this:
Faced with being despised and threatened, the normal human instinct is to hide. You keep your head down. You pass, if you can. If you can’t, you try not to draw attention to whatever it is about you that your government and your neighbors believe is evil. Throughout history, those who’ve tried to pass have had mixed success. Think about the maranos and conversos, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews who, facing the Inquisition, publicly converted to Christianity but privately still observed Jewish law.
Two weeks ago, I heard from Andy Kopsa, an American reporter in Uganda whom I know glancingly as a colleague. While in Kampala reporting for The Washington Monthly on U.S. funding for faith-based organizations there, Kopsa found herself helping “a trans woman [who] was beaten to a pulp”—and who, Kopsa told me, had difficulty getting appropriate medical or police attention, again because she was trans. The beating was brutal, as you’ll read below. One man started it, and bystanders joined in. The police wouldn’t help. Doctors wouldn’t help. All these things are shocking to Americans. But as you will read later in this series, the only thing that stands out about this incident is that the transwoman, Mich, was willing to seek help.
E.J. Graff writes on social-justice and human-rights issues, particularly discrimination and violence against women and children; marriage and family policy; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lives. She is a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center and the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press, 1999, 2004).