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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

It turns out that the Federal District Court Judge who will be deciding the Prop 8 case, Judge Vaughn Walker, is gay.  Unfortunately I worry that if he decides that Prop 8 is in fact unconstitutional, conservatives will be quick to blame it on his sexuality – suggesting that he’s biased.  The fact that his sexuality is even making news headlines worries me, especially because there are people questioning whether he can be impartial in deciding this case. (Walker, as it turns out, is fairly conservative as politics go – his decisions have angered the gay community in the past.) I wish this didn’t have to be an issue, but it reminds me that people who are part of any kind of majority, be it sexual, racial, or gender, always forget that they too have a sexual orientation, a race, and a gender. Just because you are a straight, white male does not mean that you are free from bias. Unfortunately, however, if a straight judge was deciding this case we would not see article after article questioning whether he be able to remain unbiased. We do not question whether he will decide in favor of the Prop 8 supporters because he is straight. We assume that being straight (or white, or male) is the neutral center, and we don’t look any deeper. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that when the decision comes out, the media will focus on the legal reasoning and not Judge Walker’s sexuality.

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Today Scott Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder of Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider in Wichita, KS. I am incredibly relieved that the judge did not give the jury the instruction for voluntary manslaughter. (Roeder wanted to argue that his motive for killing Dr. Tiller was to save the life of unborn babies, therefore reducing the charge to voluntary  manslaughter). However, not even a sentence to life in prison can lessen the incredible sadness and tragedy surrounding Dr. Tiller’s death. I fear that there are others in this country like Scott Roeder who feel that they are justified in taking the life of someone working to help women and promote female agency, in order to save the life of a fetus.  I fear that these people will not be deterred by Roeder’s conviction.  I fear that some judge in some state will be willing to give a jury a voluntary manslaughter instruction.

The loss of Dr. Tiller also means the loss of another doctor who is willing to perform late-term abortions (and abortions in general). This means that more women will lack access to safe abortions. More women will be forced into making certain decisions about their bodies, in which they really had no choice. More women will turn to unsafe methods to ending their pregnancies. Dr. Tiller’s death represents another loss of women’s rights in this country. It is another way in which women’s control over their own bodies is being stripped away.

I hope that Scott Roeder is sentenced to life in prison without parole, because it frightens me to think of what he would do if released on parole. It is at times like this that I wish I had gone to medical school and could lend a hand in providing women with safe, comprehensive reproductive health care. As a lawyer I will be able to contribute to legislative changes and protecting women’s legal rights, but it is hard to sit back and not be able to directly provide women with the medical services they desire.  I only hope that there are others like Dr. Tiller who will not be afraid to continue fighting for women’s access to abortion.

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Will Phillips is a 10-year-old 5th grader in West Fork, Arkansas who refuses to stand up and say the pledge of allegiance at school (Arkansas Times article here). His reason? LGBT people do not have the same rights as other people, and as he says “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.” Let me just reiterate two important points: (a) he’s 10 and (b) he lives in Arkansas. This brilliant 10-year-old wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, and to him freedom of speech means “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.” His parents, who also sound like amazing people, are totally supportive of Will and are not trying to stifle him or prevent him from speaking out at all. Unfortunately for all of his bravery, Will is facing homophobic teasing from his classmates and threats from homophobics everywhere.

I think we can all learn a big lesson from Will. At 10, this little boy has more courage than many (or most) adults in this country. He has the courage to act against the beliefs of his teachers, classmates, and many in his community, because he truly believes that we, as Americans, are not living up to the meaning of the pledge of allegiance. Will deserves our full support, and he has something to teach all of us. If we all started acting like this on a regular basis, people will start to notice and change may just start to happen even faster. I hope Obama learns a lesson from Will as well – that if one little boy can stand up (or sit down as the case may be) against so much evil in this world, then the President of the United States can certainly push back against the conservatives who are trying to keep him from making policies that support the rights of women and the LGBT community in this country. Furthermore, Will is also sending a message of hope to all of the LGBT youth in this country who may be afraid to speak our or reveal their dissatisfaction with their lack of rights.

I am in awe of this little boy, and I hope that we all can start following in his example by questioning authority and refusing to participate in certain “patriotic” acts just because we are told we have to.

Watch Will (and see for yourself how brilliant and fabulous he is) on CNN:

Read Kate Kendell’s post about him here.

You can become a fan of him on facebook here.

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777px-Gay_flagToday has been a sad day. I had high hopes that Maine would vote to allow gay marriage, and we would be celebrating a victory today. Unfortunately, the Yes on 1 campaign won out, with numbers strikingly similar to the Prop 8 numbers in California last year. As Kate Kendell from NCLR said, this deja vu is far from comforting. It is so disheartening to know that there are still so many people in this country believe that same-sex couples do not deserve the same rights as different sex couples. Of course, no one can ever take away the ability of people to form loving, long-term relationships with same-sex partners, but every state that takes away the right to marry continues to impress upon us that there are those out there who do not think LGBT are as deserving, or not full citizens in some way. 

Sometimes I wonder if the marriage battle is worth all of the money and energy, because the lack of progress is so frustrating, but then I step back and think about everything that comes along with marriage. Without marriage, same-sex couples cannot protect basic parts of their relationship. Without federal recognition of marriage, same-sex couples are not entitled to the same healthcare benefits, cannot secure the same medical rights, or death benefits, and often have trouble securing parentage rights over the children they raise together. I like to think that marriage is just a meaningless status, but when the government makes so many rights contingent upon it, marriage becomes so much more. And unless we get rid of the institution of marriage all together, I think it will continue to be important to fight as hard as we can for marriage equality (not, of course, at the expense of anything else).

And just a word on blame. Everyone seems eager to blame someone or something for the disappointment in Maine, but I really don’t think this is the way to go. The people who worked on the No on 1 campaign worked incredibly hard, and gave all they had to turn out the vote and to convince people to vote no. In order to get the numbers where we want them to be, everyone needs to step up, and not just in the states where the battle happens to be centered. Everyone who thinks that same-sex couples deserve the right to marry (and everyone who thinks that the LGBT community deserves every right straight people have, for that matter) needs to take some time to talk to the people they know who don’t share those beliefs. It will never be possible to suceed if everyone is not participating in the effort.

On the bright side, we will hopefully see a victory in Washington (although the numbers are a little too close for me to be totally satisfied), and there was also victory in Kalmazoo, MI. Houston will (hopefully) have a lesbian mayor, as will Chapel Hill, NC, and Detroit elected an openly gay city council president. Despite the loss in Maine, progress continues to occur.

Now that the election is over, I urge you to continue to move forward and fight for the passage of ENDA, which will secure federal employment protections for LGBT people. If it passes (which it can), it will be an incredible sign of progress and hope. Contact your congressperson to urge them to support it.

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This afternoon Obama signed the new Act to Prevent Hate Crimes. This is Obama’s first big LGBT rights move.  I sincerely hope it won’t be his last.

Read a statement from major gay rights organization here.

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I’ve been reading/hearing a lot about parents who are opposed to vaccinating their children. Admittedly, I am not a scientist, or particularly knowledgeable about science, so I decided to do a little reading. I came across this article in Wired, which details why vaccinating is a good idea and why there really is no scientific evidence that it will cause autism. This article is incredibly persuasive, but what struck me the most is this quote:

But researchers, alas, can’t respond with the same forceful certainty that the doubters are able to deploy — not if they’re going to follow the rules of science. Those tenets allow them to claim only that there is no evidence of a link between autism and vaccines. But that phrasing — what sounds like equivocation — is just enough to allow doubts to not only remain but to fester.

I think it’s interesting to think about how important language and messaging is to a campaign. In this case, there is only so much scientists can say without breaking ethical codes of conduct, whereas those who are opposed to vaccines can be as hyperbolic and forceful as they want. They can make sweeping claims appealing to the emotions of others, without having to worry about violating anything. Of course, many people react more to passion than to science, and this fuels the movement.

Swine flu is enough right now, I really don’t want to face another polio or measles epidemic. I hope people will read the actual scientific literature on vaccines and make rational decisions, rather than listening to people like Jenny McCarthy.

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I’m just going to post the NCLR Press Release, because it explains this wonderful news much more eloquently than I can.

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LESBIAN RIGHTS APPLAUDS FINAL PASSAGE of HATE CRIMES BILL

(Washington, DC, October 22, 2009) — Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauds the United States Senate for final passage of the hate crimes bill, now known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Department of Defense conference report was approved with the hate crimes bill provisions included by a vote of 68-29; earlier in the day Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii cast the final affirmative vote on a procedural motion to limit debate that cleared the last hurdle to final passage as an honor to his long service to the Senate. The conference report accompanies H.R.2647, the underlying Department of Defense Authorization bill. The measure now heads to President Obama for his signature.

The hate crimes legislation gives the Justice Department the authority to fully investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes where the victim has been targeted because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. President Barack Obama has vowed to sign the bill.

“We thank the Senate—indeed the full Congress—for passing the hate crimes bill, and especially those who provided strong leadership on this measure,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “My heart is very full today as I think of families who have lost loved ones, of Senator Kennedy, who championed this bill for so many years, and also as I imagine all those who may be saved by this measure. I look forward to President Obama swiftly signing this measure into law.” 

On October 8, 2009, the United States House of Representatives voted 281-146 in favor of a joint House-Senate “conference report” on a defense authorization measure that also includes provisions that would expand the definition of federal hate crimes to cover attacks based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and military service.

The bill was introduced in the Senate on April 28, 2009 by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), among others. At the June 25, 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified that the Obama administration strongly supported the bill, stating, “The President and I seek swift passage of this legislation because hate crimes victimize not only individuals, but entire communities.”

 NCLR has long supported passage of this key measure, assisting with drafting bill provisions, drawing public attention to the problem of hate violence and the need for hate crimes legislation, and providing grassroots support necessary for its passage.

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