E.J. Graff

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Demonstrators chant during a rally against Proposition 8 outside City Hall in San Francisco, March 4, 2009. The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the ban this week. T omorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I’ve written about and followed LGBT issues, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin , the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn’t occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime. This will be...

What Will It Take to Stop Violence Against Women?

Flickr/ Donovan Shortey
My lord, it’s a privilege opining in this spot week after week. But periodically I get a hankering to dig deeply into meaty and underreported issues, so that I can return with something more informed to say. In collaboration with broadcast journalist Maria Hinojosa’s The Futuro Media Group, we’ve landed a seed grant to do just that. I’ll return to blogging in April. The topic is one on which I’ve written here with passion: violence against women, which House Republicans don’t seem to believe merits a law . In all its forms, this is an epidemic that impoverishes and scars on women and their families in ways that can last generations. A few years ago, Hinojosa and I discovered that we were both passionate about telling the untold stories—and exploring the potential policy solutions—of this ongoing public health emergency. While our country has come a long way in the decades since advocates first introduced the concepts of "domestic violence," "no means no," "sexual harassment," and "...

Our Customers Don't Want a Pregnant Waitress

Fox Searchlight
Having a family shouldn’t cost you your job. It does, again and again—especially if you’re female. Which is one of the reasons women’s pay still isn’t equal. I’ll be writing about this in the months to come, but for today, here’s one way having a family can cost you your job: women still get fired for being pregnant. Although it’s been illegal since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act , women are still refused a job or let go if they’re pregnant. You’d be shocked, EEOC and employment law folks tell me, at how often employers say so point-blank: Come back after you have the baby . The guys don’t want to look at a pregnant waitress . Housekeeping is hard work; your pregnancy is a potential liability. Our customers are uncomfortable with a pregnant driver . All that’s illegal. It’s wonderful that we can talk about Sheryl Sandberg going home every day at 5:30 to be with her kids. And it’s wonderful that we can have the advanced conversation about women needing to stand up for themselves...

Equal Opportunity Soldiers On

Flickr/Beverly & Pack/U.S. Army
You know what repealing "don't ask, don't tell" did to change the military, right? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It acknowledged what was already true: lesbians and gay men were doing their jobs, just like everyone else. With the repeal, of course, thousands of people were freer to breathe easily, but nothing else changed. That’s going to be the biggest consequence of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement yesterday that women can serve in combat roles: nothing, absolutely nothing. Because women are already there, dying on the front lines. They’re already “attached” to combat units in roles that aren’t officially combat positions—maintaining equipment, taking fire after setting up camps as logistics officers, going on combat patrols as intelligence officers, and piloting helicopters and planes through combat zones (check out the plaintiffs ' brief in the ACLU's lawsuit against the Department of Defense for the exclusion rule). They’ve gotten Purple Hearts , been hit by IEDs, and...

Freedom to Choose, Freedom to Marry

Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe , the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans. While many of us in the LGBT community see parallels between the gay and women's rights movements, we often overlook the direct role of Roe in establishing a right to same-sex marriage: If women are permitted to have sex without offspring—even if their contraception fails and those little cells start dividing inside them—then it must also be okay for women and women, or men and men, to have sex without the possibility of fertility. Reproductive freedom and LGBT freedom are two sides of the same idea. To explain, let me take...

Roe v. Wade Was About ... the Environment?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file
Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name? Here’s the background: Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released a poll on American attitudes toward Roe v. Wade on its 40 th anniversary year. Among the findings: while upwards of six out of ten Americans know the historic decision was about abortion, fewer than half of those ages 18-29 did. Just 44 percent, in fact. Numbers are higher if you’ve been to college or graduate school, of course, where you’re likely to have been forced into some public policy or contemporary issues class or conversation. But once they know what it is, they want it to stay legal. Less than one-third—27 percent—of that age group wants it overturned. Young people...

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past? Here are the parts that suggested coming out most clearly: So I'm here being all confessional and I guess I just have the sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public, so a declaration that I'm a little nervous about. But maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? Um, but uh, you know, I'm just gonna put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I'm gonna need your support on this — I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I'm kidding. But I mean I'm not really kidding, but I am kind of kidding…. I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’...

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists . Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about some such efforts in the United States. Bystander-intervention efforts, in which groups train young men and women in what it takes to derail a situation that could lead to rape. Today I spoke with Mallika Dutt, founder of the binational organization Breakthrough, which works in both the U.S. and India to build a respect culture and prevent all kinds of violence against women—one by one, at the local, personal level,...

Building a Respect Culture

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
So much is disturbing about the Steubenville video , released by Anonymous, in which Michael Nodianos makes horrifying jokes about the raped woman, that I can hardly begin. Here’s one: the guy saying “that’s not cool.” Oh, I’m glad he’s saying that rape, and joking about rape, aren’t funny. But “ that’s not cool ” isn’t enough. If two football players took the body of a drunk and unconscious young woman and used it as a plaything all night, why didn’t someone intervene? For god’s sake, even if it was too hard to take her body away from them, why did no one call the police? I know, that’s easy for me to say. I wasn’t there; I don’t have to live in that town where football is the primary industry, where football is the central social currency, where standing up to football bullies could mean social death and physical danger, not just at the time but later as well. Those social norms were already in place—enforced, Jessica Valenti at The Nation contends , not just by the town’s football...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

Call it Trafficking

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
Last week, in a horrifying move, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to ban American citizens from adopting Russian children—ironically enough, in retaliation for U.S. efforts to punish Russian violations of human rights. It's ironic because thousands of Russian children (and children across the former Soviet bloc) live in institutions, as no child should. Denying those children desperately needed new families could almost be considered a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that countries act on behalf of the best interests of the child. Many of the children in those Russian institutions have medical or developmental challenges, whether that's HIV, fetal alcohol syndrome, or attachment disorders, so finding families for them is difficult. But American adoptions of Russian children hurt Russian pride, and some of those adoptions have gone so terribly wrong (as with the 2010 incident in which Tennessee woman returned her adopted son by...

2012's War on Women

Flickr/Vince Connare
For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it was all so over the top that very early on it seemed that the Republicans were determined to get out the ladies’ vote for the Democrats in 2012. In one outrageous incident after another, old white dudes and anti-choice women made it clear that they think single women should spend their time smiling modestly, gazing at the floor hoping for a marriage proposal—and that married women should stay barefoot and pregnant, relying on menfolk for pin money and taking care of their babies. By August, it was obvious that women, especially young women and single women, would turn out in force to be sure that President Obama kept the keys to the White House. And we did. We shook up the capital with an electoral genderquake. But before we hoist our year-end champagne, let’s recall some of the...

Paying for Having Been Raped

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Cross your fingers, but it looks a s if Congress is going to let women in the military rely on health insurance to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. That’s been a long time coming, as Mother Jones reports : Current Department of Defense policy only provides abortion coverage if the life of the mother is at stake. Under the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal money cannot be used to provide abortion services, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the woman's life is endangered. But since 1979, the DOD has had an even stricter limit on abortions, refusing to cover them in cases of rape despite the high rate of sexual assaults in the military. (Over 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the armed services in 2010 alone.) If [New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne] Shaheen's measure passes, the 400,000 women in the armed services will have the same access to abortion that other federal employees get. If a Department of Health and Human Services employee working in Washington, D.C. is raped,...

What Do You Tell the Children?

When the Sandy Hook news first came along, my wife and I had the same instinct: turn off the news before the boy gets home. We’re practiced, here, in information lockdown; we’ve protected him from hearing about Aurora or the Sikh temple or any other of the mass shootings. There would be no NPR and no TV news; newspapers would go face down, into a private pile, where he couldn’t see a headline. The fact that someone had shot up a school whose oldest children were in his grade, maybe two hours from where we live, was not a fact we wanted to enter his emotional world. Every parent I know had a different strategy, and rightly so. Every child is different. Ours has long had a particular anxiety about “bad guys” breaking in and trying to hurt him or his family. His mom is a prosecutor; while she doesn’t talk details, he does know there are some really bad people in the world who do bad things, and that when she can she keeps them in jail. His Lego projects have regularly included jails...

Whether Scalia Likes It or Not

Flickr/U.S. Mission Geneva
Last week, when the Supreme Court decided to take both the Proposition 8 case, which challenges California's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barrs the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, my inner Eeyore got a little carried away. I realized that when Brian Brown—head of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the chief opponent of marriage equality, started quoting me in his fundraising e-mails. While I’m honored he would notice, that made me recognize I should explain my thinking more clearly. So here it is: Within ten years, most American states will be marrying same-sex couples. Within 15, the Supreme Court will knock down the remaining bans on marriage equality. All of that could come sooner if the Court rules with us this year in the two gay-marriage cases. But marriage equality is going to win within our lifetimes. (Here, I am morally obligated to...

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