Gender & Sexuality

The War on Contraception Enters the Courts

WikiMedia Commons
Forty-three Roman Catholic plaintiffs—including the archdiocese of New York and the University of Notre Dame—have filed lawsuits alleging that the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage requirements violate the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In case there were any doubts about the political nature of the lawsuits or the unpopularity of this war on contraception, as Salon 's Irin Carmon points out , the Notre Dame lawsuit alleges repeatedly that it would be required to cover "abortifacients” or “abortion inducing” substances although the regulation explicitly excludes them (and the claim that emergency contraception induces abortion is erroneous.) That the lawsuit is cultural warfare, however, does not in itself mean that it is without merit. Should the courts take these claims seriously? Will they? On the first question, I have argued at length elsewhere that both the constitutional and statutory arguments should be rejected. To allow institutions...

What Real Anti-Gay Bullying Looks Like

In much of the United States, Pride parades have become more or less the equivalent of St. Patrick's or Mardi Gras parades, or really, any ethnic festival: a subcultural celebration where everyone's welcome, with floats and trinkets and T-shirts abounding. It's not quite the same in former Soviet bloc countries. Take a look at what happened to Svyatoslav Sheremet, head of the Gay Forum of Ukraine, for trying to arrange a Pride Parade in his country. Then scroll down past the Russian, here , to see pictures of the results. You don't need Google Translate to understand. Hatred is ugly.

Dharun Ravi Goes to Jail

A year and a half ago, Dharun Ravi pulled a stupid, clumsy, and cruel prank. He used his webcam to spy on his male roommate kissing another man, and tweeted about it. Three days later, his roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped off a bridge to his death—and Dharun Ravi's stupid prank became the focus of national outrage about bullying. As I wrote here in March, my fear was that Dharun Ravi would become the scapegoat for a nation that is just awakening to how deadly anti-gay cruelty can be. You know what a scapegoat is, yes? Millennia ago, before the rural Hebrews transformed into the urban Jews—before the Babylonian Exile, in other words, where the Talmud was written, the Jewish equivalent of Christianity's New Testament—those Hebrews annually atoned for their sins by repenting and symbolically putting them all on a goat. The rabbi said prayers making the transfer. The community either killed the goat or sent it off into the wilderness to die. Poof, the community's sins were gone. But with...

Hope and More Hope

I don’t know about you, but Jaclyn Friedman’s series last week filled me with all kindsa hope, or, at least, tamped down my hopelessness. Ending rape in conflict zones ? Ending rape at all? My Eeyore side was looking askance at her pieces every day, slowly and cautiously persuaded that perhaps All Is Not Hopeless. Reading her was like reading Nicholas Kristof’s Mother’s Day article about the fierce spirit of the Ethiopian woman Mahabouba Mohammed, who managed to find her way to Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, an American doctor who has dedicated himself to repairing African fistulas, those horrifying consequences of unattended childbirth. You mean people can do something about the horrible waste of life, about the things we read about that make me want to crawl under a bed? Really? I wouldn’t say it quite made Eeyore’s tail wag, but she did lift an ear. So let me add to the all-is-not-hopeless list. You’ve heard one or two people mention that President Obama made an announcement about gay...

A Farewell and Friday Roundup

This being Friday, seems like the way to wrap up this week's series on ending rape in conflict is with a good old-fashioned link round-up. Before we get into the clicking, a huge thanks to E.J. Graff and the Prospect for hosting me this week, and to all of you for reading. For the first of two rounds of links, and to give you a sense of the movement that's already underway, let's focus on recent actions happening in the four focus countries of the campaign: Congo In the Eastern Congo city of Bukavu, about 150 local people and nearly 50 Congolese community groups gathered to hear survivor testimony and debate the best strategies for action. This new coalition is now quite energized to keep working together. I'm told a lot of video was recorded at the event, so stay tuned. And in the DRC capital Kinshasa, a delegation of local grassroots activists met with the president of parliament to discuss the role of government in preventing rape and protecting the population, leading to a pledge...

How the Sausage Gets Unmade

We've been talking this week about how to stop rape in conflict . As with many massive social changes, I think one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating this atrocity is the common belief that it can't be done. I tried to address that some in Monday's piece , but I thought we could all use a little more nitty-gritty. So I went straight to the source: Liz Bernstein. Bernstein is not only the founding Director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative , but is also a former Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). For those less familiar with ICBL, the important thing to know is that it worked. Five years after the official launch of the campaign, 122 states signed the ban treaty , a feat which earned the campaign and its leader, Jody Williams , the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, stockpiles of the weapon and landmine-contaminated-land have both been drastically reduced, and the only states known to be currently using landmines (as of 2009) are Burma and Russia . While...

Why Sex Matters

We've been talking this week about ending sexual violence in conflict, both why it's an achievable goal , and why it's one that affects you . Now I'm going to get a little personal. I'm a survivor of sexual violence. The details of what happened to me are unimportant to this story, but it's important to me that you know. The experience politicized me, and my anti-sexual-violence activism has taken a lot of forms over the decades. I've taught self-defense, written (and successfully changed) institutional policies, performed educational theater, marched and protested, walk-a-thonned, facilitated infinite "discussion groups," and written what must at this point be hundreds of thousands of words on the subject. And over that time, collaborating and conversing with all kinds of people doing overlapping work, I've slowly come to understand that we can't end the global public health, security, and human rights crisis that is rape without changing the sexual culture that enables it to...

Marriage, Already Redefined

Now that's a traditional marriage. (Flickr/Sam Fam)
As the debate over same-sex marriage has proceeded, one of the arguments you hear most often from those opposed to marriage equality is that there is this thing called "traditional marriage" that has been exactly the same for thousands of years, and if we "change the definition of marriage" to include gay people, well then things are really going to get crazy. There'll be no more rationale for keeping siblings from marrying, or keeping a guy from marrying his dog, or keeping a fish from marrying a toaster. What I don't often hear liberals say in response is: Yes, we are changing the definition of marriage. And that's OK. I think it's because advocates of marriage equality understand that change can often be scary, so the impulse is to say, don't worry, this really isn't any big deal unless you're gay. There's no reason why your extremely, adamantly heterosexual marriage will be affected one way or another if your gay neighbors tie the knot. That happens to be true, and one of the...

George Clooney Cares About It

Yesterday I wrote about the new global campaign to end rape in conflict, and why it's a winnable goal . Today, it's time to bring home the reasons why we need to put in the required effort. We’ve all got our lives to live and our own pet issues to look after, and it’s easy for those of us in the U.S. to think of “rape in conflict” as a conceptual "Terrible Thing" that happens to those Other (Poor, Brown) People Far Away. But when we tie it in a tidy little “Over There Issue” bow, we totally erase the ways it’s a "Right Here Issue," both in that we’re complicit in it, and, relatedly, that there are things we in the US can uniquely do about it. Herewith, then, are "Four Ways Rape in Conflict is a Right Here Issue." It’s by no means a complete list—if you’ve got others, please share them in the comments. It’s a crisis in our own military. One in three women in the military are survivors of sexual violations that happened while on active service, according the Department of Veterans...

Marrying Yourself

A radical re-envisioning of marriage, or just reinforcing the pressure to say “I Do?”

(Flickr / Sakura Photo - Dallas Wedding Photographer)
Nadine Schweigert got married this February, but there was no exchange of rings or vows. Schweigert got married to herself. At 36 years old and a mother of two she decided not only is she happy with her life—but she wanted to share and celebrate that happiness in front of a room full of family and friends. Whether she meant to or not, she also showed the world she didn’t need a man to get married. The pressure people—women especially—face to get married is severe, from women’s magazines describing the perfect wedding to every romantic comedy ending with happily ever after. Maybe no one asked you directly (which is rare), but everyone around you is getting married, so you stick out, and everyone wants to know, well, what happened to you? So, does marrying yourself offer a way to fight the nagging insistence that everyone should get partnered up, or does it just perpetuate the idea that everyone should inevitably get married? One perfect day for “one” is not exactly the “happily ever...

Town and Country

On North Carolina’s Amendment One, the fault line was not racial—it was urban-rural.

(Flickr/mediacutts)
In the week since North Carolina voters adopted a constitutional amendment banning recognition of any "domestic legal union" other than heterosexual marriage, a consensus has formed among journalists about African-American complicity. According to this narrative, black voters let their Protestant traditionalism trump any sense of fairness toward lesbians and gay men—and became the critical voting bloc that gave Amendment 1 its landslide victory. Although the language has been cool this time around, it nonetheless has echoes of the widespread vilification of black voters after California passed the similar Proposition 8 in 2008. "Citing deeply held religious objections to homosexuality, African-Americans, many of whom are evangelical Christians, have consistently voted for state bans on gay marriage, most recently in North Carolina," reported NPR . The Charlotte Observer declared that "many conservatives and African-Americans set political differences aside to vote along spiritual...

Let's End Rape in Conflict

As you'll soon notice, I'm not E.J. Graff. She's been kind enough to give me the keys to this joint for a week, and I'm going to do my best not to put too many dents in it. (I won't bore you with bio, but if you're wondering who I am, here's a good place to start .) You will either be alarmed or intrigued to hear that this temporary takeover has a very specific focus: sexual violence in conflict. Stay with me! I’m not going to flood you with statistics and sad stories until you curl up in a ball in the corner. What I hope to do here is convince you that there are things you, actual person reading these words right now, can do about the situation. That said, a few factoids are in order to set the stage, so brace yourself. Rape is as old as war itself. The ancient usage stemmed from a conception of women as property, to be lumped in with the “spoils” due the victors. This still happens today in some places, but the current relationship between rape and conflict is much more tangled...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

(Flickr/rudisillart)
You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

LGBT Groups Need to Play Offense

Gay marriage often ends up on the ballot after a push by conservative groups, meaning the outcome often ends in their favor.

(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Basic Rights Oregon (BRO)—the leading LGBT advocacy group in the state—faced a difficult decision this past November. In 2004, Oregon voters approved a constitutional measure to ban same-sex marriage. The vote wasn’t even close. The amendment passed by a whopping 57-43 percent margin as part of a larger push by Republicans to incite fervor in their base during George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Since then, Basic Rights Oregon had been eying the 2004 amendment for possible repeal. Should the organization hit the go button to bring the issue to the voters again in 2012? For now, that looks like a risky move—BRO’s internal poll numbers predict a evenly split electorate. The organization didn't want to risk putting the amendment up only to see if fail, and they just weren't quite confident enough that the state had shifted enough since 2004. “Who would ever choose to go into a ballot measure at 50-50?” says Jeana Frazzini, the group's executive director. “We need a solid cushion of...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

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