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                    Female Genital mutilation/cutting

“Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is the ritual removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.” Genital mutilation has been around since B.C, yet many countries have stopped this procedure such as Europe and America. The fact that it’s still happening in other countries in this current time is honestly shocking and frightening. (FGM) has been outlawed or restricted in most of the countries in which it occurs still, but the laws are poorly enforced and still continues on within behind closed doors. It is all over the world, such as Africa, the middle east, and Asia. Twenty nine countries in Africa are still using (FGM) to this day..

The process varies from culture to culture, but the procedure is very severe. Shock due to pain, and severe bleeding or infections kill 3,000 girls each year. Many girls are as young as five or six but it can vary up to fifteen years old. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been victims in countries like Africa and Middle East where (FGM) it is mainly concentrated, yet the odds that there’s more than 125 million girls are very high. Mutilation is not so much of a religious factor, but it is more of a tradition. It is known to protect a girl’s virginity such as staying pure for marriage, but also to control sexual desires with masturbation as a girl will go throughout puberty. Other factors consist of the girls vagina being “dirty” if the labia is not removed, or that this procedure brings upon a girl’s adulthood, or even that it helps the girl to get her identity and personality. This process is supposed to teach the girl her role in society and in life, such as in societies in which the man controls the women’s sexuality when married.

Recurrent infections, chronic pain, cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding are just some of the long terms of this procedure. Physiological effects may be post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Being a young teen girl myself I would hate to be put in that position of having this procedure. There are no benefits of this procedure, just harm and pure torture. It is an extreme form of discrimination against women, and also violating these young girls rights as children, and their health, security and physical integrity.

There has been many ways to help prevent Female genital mutilation by the united nations, activists,campaigns, organizations, and also charities such as Unicef that have helped bring awareness of (FGM) and help stop this horrible crime and torture. The main concern is that these young girls and women in these countries have no comprehensive sex education, or no sex education at all, it’s pretty much unspoken of. If these girls were able to get the right sexual education they could stand up and help prevent future generations and other girls from getting this procedure. Comprehensive sex education can show these girls that they have rights over their own body, and learn information about their genitalia and so much more. If you are interested in helping this cause there’s petitions you can sign to help, organizations you can join, or using your voice is one step closer to help make a difference!

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They beat her, put spices into her eyes and to be literal- Tortured her but she did not go home. Her husband beat her with the mop, she did not leave. His In-laws mocked her cooking skills- she did not leave but then, her husband lent her to a friend after loosing a bet. She left her home at 12 in the night, absolutely drowned in tears and depression. She walked 3 miles,till she found a taxi for which she could not pay but to her luck the driver let her go seeing her condition. She barely controlled her emotions as some faith in humanity restored just to be broken to pieces by her own father who refused to let her in. Absolutely drunk her father said:

“Tum usko choor kar kabhi nai aa sakti. Woh tumhe chore to aana warna meri taraf se bharr mein jao”

“Never come back leaving him alone. Until he leaves you with will, you can’t come back. Go to hell for all I care”

Having committed a crime by drinking in the country- the drunk father refused to let her daughter in. Her hope declined as her brother also refused to help her. No one except her mother and 17 year old sister empathized with her. Her mother cried as her father kicked her out but she was left absolutely alone.

She did not go back to that horrific place and today; Janzeh is a branch manager at the National Bank of Pakistan. She spent the night under the cold sky until she shifted to a local welfare nursing hall soon. She worked as a nurse and studied till she qualified as a MBA Professional but not once did she even talk to her family. Neither did they bother to register a missing person report for 2 years.

Number one, the government needs to take actions and provide women the same accommodation men get in the society. Brother and fathers need to understand the problems of their daughter and try at least to bring a positive change because otherwise- there can not be a successful future for women.

This story goes out to tell all the women out there that no matter whatever problems you face; be strong-Be patient t and take risks if you find no support from your partner and family. Always know that one can achieve anything with determination. #BeIndependent #NoToOpression #SelfDependence

JUST ONE MORE THING-If you have such a story; DON’T GO RUNNING HOME, prove to them what a Jem you are, make them realize your value and stand firm at the face of the tide or rise above the sky while it rains.

Categories: Disability Rights
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I n the place whereI live,there is family composed to ten children and most of them are girls!when we were still young,life seemed to be easy and not that hard for them but now tha they grow up,the fairy tale was transformed into a nightmare!the older ones started to get married and have children but they seem not to be happy because of poverty and also because one of the older girls was forced to marry someone that she hates!So they tend to hit the ceilling and express their anger on the young ones!but what they don\’t know is that,besides of being rejected and yelled by their older sisters,those littlte ones are also exploited by their parents!

It\’s really sad to see their troubles and how oppressed are they!now most of them had to stop school as their dear parents think that it\’s time for them to help  as life is getting hard and as those kids are making good efforts to stay dumb at school,so why not stopping them!that\’s what parents tell in the neighbourghood and It\’s driving me crazy to know that such parents exist and have this kind of mentality and this thoughts about their children.Every morning,those littlies wake up at an early hour,some help the mother doing the laundry(it\’s her work),and the others try to find little works like fetching water,lift somene\’s goods,and even worse,my mum told us once that the mother forced them to sell their bodies when they don\’t find job to do!it\’s just disgusting and awful!how can a mother inflict that on her children?

I want to do something for that as nobody cares about them!but I do not know where tostart and who to talk!

Categories: Disability Rights
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It’s been a tough few days for us here at Advocates. Last week the Supreme Court ruled against buffer zones at abortion clinics, and just a couple hours ago the Court put women’s access to contraception in jeopardy.

We could give you a long, legal explanation of the cases, but in short—until our society recognizes that sexuality is a normal, healthy part of being human, we’ll continue to get devastating decisions like these.

Donate today so we can continue to fight for our personal freedoms and reproductive health services.

Shifting the culture around these issues is one of the most powerful tools we have as activists. Young people in communities around the world are already fighting for change. Help support them. Donate today.


Tweet now!It’s been a tough few days in the battle for #sexual & #reprorights. But it’s not over. Help us continue the fight! http://ow.ly/y64og

tweet-now-toutLast week the #SupremeCourt ruled against #bufferzones at #abortion clinics and just a couple hours ago the Court put at jeopardy women’s access to #contraception. It’s been a tough few days in the battle for sexual and reproductive healthcare. But it’s not over. Help us continue the fight! http://ow.ly/y64og

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I have seen people change and at the same vein witnessed a retrograde in youths. I have been around areas where there\’s no hope for light and peace, but in this same situation some people still survive.

I have been around youths – Boys and Girls, that have made life difficult for themselves due to lack of knowledge. And my countenance has dwindled, because I have witnessed a holocaust of ruined lives in the past, even now.

I love peace and the prospect it brings. I love sanctuary – a foundation laid on the rocks of simplicity and the Arm of Justice.
I stand against the illegal acts displayed by the so-called Governmental body. I stand against rape, child abuse and its associated acts. I stand against the malfunctioning of child rights and value – I stand for a change, as an \”Advocate\”.

I stand as a Youth, Not a man, alone. But with men – the colony of change.
\”A man cannot be a faculty, men can. The necessity of change begins with not one man, but with the uniformity of all\”.
(Victor Omovbude Brown)

I stand against – Child punishment, Tribalism, criticism, Discrimination, and Queer visions. I stand for change, which is my first goal. As a youth, I stand for Unity, Peace and Progress.

I stand for a free and transparent Health service attributed to (children,youths and adults) – I stand against unequal rights and segregation in roles.
I stand for Quality Education – Void of preferential treatment, equal for all.
I stand against poor governance.

I am an \”Advocate For Youth\”.

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I have seen people change and at the same vein witnessed a retrograde in youths. I have been around areas where there’s no hope for light and peace, but in this same situation some people still survive.

I have been around youths – Boys and Girls, that have made life difficult for themselves due to lack of knowledge. And my countenance has dwindled, because I have witnessed a holocaust of ruined lives in the past, even now.

I love peace and the prospect it brings. I love sanctuary – a foundation laid on the rocks of simplicity and the Arm of Justice.
I stand against the illegal acts displayed by the so-called Governmental body. I stand against rape, child abuse and its associated acts. I stand against the malfunctioning of child rights and value – I stand for a change, as an “Advocate”.

I stand as a Youth, Not a man, alone. But with men – the colony of change.
“A man cannot be a faculty, men can. The necessity of change begins with not one man, but with the uniformity of all”.
(Victor Omovbude Brown)

I stand against – Child punishment, Tribalism, criticism, Discrimination, and Queer visions. I stand for change, which is my first goal. As a youth, I stand for Unity, Peace and Progress.

I stand for a free and transparent Health service attributed to (children,youths and adults) – I stand against unequal rights and segregation in roles.
I stand for Quality Education – Void of preferential treatment, equal for all.
I stand against poor governance.

I am an “Advocate For Youth”.

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(Image reposted from Amplify Facebook – click here for more)

Urban Retreat 2013 was truly an experience beyond any tier.  Never have I ever been surrounded by so many like-minded individuals–as much of an oxymoron as that might sound.  We were all individuals because we all had our own story to share.  We came from many different walks of life and parts of the world.  All of us had to overcome some type of unique trauma and oppression that we were facing in our own separate lives.  But we celebrated our diversity.  And we were all there in unison trying to contribute to the vision we shared for the world.

I might have been a tiny bit apprehensive about making the trip to Washington, D.C. at first.  I wasn’t really enthusiastic about being away from my girlfriend.  It was a place I had never been to on my own.  I would be surrounded by strangers.  But these strangers quickly became my friends.  And these friends were all activists and advocates for social progress in their own communities from all over the world, so I had a lot to learn from them.  And I found, to my surprise, that I had things I could share with them as well.  Together we received training to become more effective activists and leaders.  And after the inspiring trainings and workshops, we headed to Capitol Hill together to share our stories and insight with our representatives.  It was a self-affirming and inspiring experience.

I even got to meet Janet Mock!  We talked and had dinner.  She even tweeted me and followed me on Twitter!

It’s thanks to Urban Retreat that I’ve gained new tools, resources, and concepts that would empower me and inspire me to be more involved in activism and advocacy for social justice.  And it’s thanks to Urban Retreat that I’ve gained a new family with YouthResource.  Today I woke up this morning and found myself in my own bed in Michigan.  I wasn’t in Washington, D.C. with my fellow advocates anymore.  The realization was bittersweet.  But I know I’ll see these faces soon enough with stories to share.


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When we hear about politicians making unqualified and uneducated statements about abortion and reproductive/sexual health, we just shake our heads, asking ourselves and our peers, “How does someone like that get into office?”

Not to diminish your faith in humanity, but less than a couple weeks ago, Brian Nieves, a Republican state senator of Missouri, commented in a Facebook argument to a pro-choice priest, “‘Life of the Mother?’ Your own argument proves it is a matter of convenience!”  State senator Brian Nieves later denied that he said this.  But the denial wouldn’t do him any good since his comments have been screencapped and the comment is still on the Facebook page.

There are people who treat this like it’s an isolated incident.  Like it’s nothing to worry about, but you’d have to imagine the kind of culture it takes to condition people to be able to say these things.  You don’t even have to imagine because that’s the culture we’re living in.  It’s not just one old, white male politician.  It’s several.  And they’re not necessarily always white men.

Brace yourself.  This is pretty triggering.

“These Planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness…We are not going to have our men become subservient.”

— Florida Rep. Allen West expresses a clear understanding of how oppression and privilege works.

“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.”

— Texas state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, discussing why there shouldn’t be a rape or incest exception in bills restricting reproductive health care because clearly she understands how health care works.

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”  —Richard Mourdock, an Indiana state senator candidate who fortunately did not win.

“Understand though, that when we talk about exceptions, we talk about rape, incest, health of a woman, life of a woman. Life of the woman is not an exception.”

—Joe Walsh, former Illinois congressman revealing just how “pro-life” he really is.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

—Missouri Representative Todd Akin basically sharing how much he doesn’t know about a female body in one terrible sentence.

“The facts show that people who are raped —who are truly raped—the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.”

—former North Carolina Rep. Henry Aldridge using imaginary doctors as his sources.

“As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

—Clayton Williams regarding rape, he was a former Texas Republican gubernatorial contender and a past fundraiser for John McCain.

This is one of the many reasons why I’m in total support of Advocates for Youth.  The politicians I’ve listed are the kind of people who have been supporting legislation that not only hurts people who need abortions, but rape victims and teens in desperate need of comprehensive sex education.  It hurts people who need access to contraception, affordable health care, and everything else a person would need to live a quality life.  And it’s not going to stop until we change the culture and institutions that allows it to happen.  So, we advocate for the youth.  We have a responsibility to them to ensure that they have their rights and are to be respected.

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Young sexual and reproductive rights advocates continue to push for the full integration of a rights-based approach in relation to advancing population and development goals. That was the overarching message of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Regional Youth Summit.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul, Turkey, where activists representing over 40 international organizations gathered and developed a Call to Action, ensuring young people sexual and reproductive rights continue to be integrated in development agendas.

The summit brought together a diverse group of 40 young people from Eastern Europe, North America, Central Asia and Israel (EECARO region), to discuss and develop priority goals. During the summit, we organized ourselves into three sessions based on interest and expertise

  1. Population Dynamics and Sustainable Development,
  2. Families, Sexual and Reproductive Health over the Life Course,
  3. Inequalities, Social Inclusion and Rights.

After lengthy conversations, each group came up with a number of recommendations to share with the entire forum for us all to debate and finalize. The culmination of our work was translated into a solid document that represents what the youth from the EECARO region want elected officials and  leaders to take into consideration. You can access the full document here.

The outcome of the summit embodied the youth vision and development priorities for the region over the next decade and was presented at the Regional Conference in Geneva. Fifteen delegates from our group (bearing in mind equal representation) attended the Geneva Conference and shared our declaration (Youth Call to Action). The speech, delivered by Grace Wilentz from YouAct (European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights) and Jakub Skrzypczyk from Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights can be found here.

On a personal note, I had a great time interacting with all the youth participants at the Regional Youth Forum and learning more about the EECARO region. It became clearer to me that the same sexual and reproductive health and rights issues we are advocating for in the US are found in other parts of the world. I was happy to discover that we are not alone in this battle. Young people from all over the world are rising up to the challenge, demanding greater youth representation in world affairs and better human rights conditions for all.



About United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA)

Tasked with the mission of delivering “a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person’s potential is fulfilled,” UNFPA is a UN organization whose efforts are guided by two main frameworks, 1) the Program of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and 2) the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which are eight targets to reduce extreme poverty by 2015.

With the date for achieving these goals fast approaching, UNFPA and its partners, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), have been working together to ramp up their efforts. UNFPA and UNECE have been involved in the Beyond 2014 Review, an effort to engage world leaders from governments and civil society in drafting a new global commitment to create a more equal and more sustainable world.

The ICPD Operational Review has been taking place as part of the Beyond 2014 Review, and UNFPA and UNECE have been facilitating this process. Within this process, UNFPA and UNECE organized three thematic meetings on the following topics:

  1. “Population Dynamics and Sustainable Development”,
  2. “Reducing Inequities, Fostering Social Inclusion” and
  3. “Life Course, Sexual and Reproductive Health, and Families”.

As a culminating event, the agencies planned for a two-day Regional Conference entitled “Enabling Choices: Population Priorities for the 21st Century,” which was just held in Geneva (1-2 July), gathering leaders from all over the EECARO region (Europe, North America, Central Asia and Israel).

Young people are at the core of the UNFPA’s mandate, offering an essential voice to help shape the future development agenda. Therefore, young people have participated in the operational review at the country level and in all the thematic meetings mentioned above. In order to continue their involvement, UNFPA EECARO has organized the Regional Youth Forum in Istanbul (30-31 May) and in which I participated, representing Advocates for Youth and the US at large.

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sex ed

So lately I have been on a health kick. I partake in so many things to try to get to my goal weight. Green smoothies, juicing, exercise, detoxes, weight loss challenges, you name it. This health binge that I’m on is basically like a whole new lifestyle. Today while I was in the gym I noticed there were many other dedicated individuals who were working hard towards what ever goal they wished to achieve. As I sweat bullets on the elliptical I though to myself that if people where as concerned about their sexual health as they were with their physical health there would be a significant change in the number of sexually transmitted diseases. There are individuals who dedicate hours in the gym each day, eliminate carbohydrates from their diet, and even refrain from eating meat to be “healthier” but do not even know their HIV status. Obviously, there is a disconnect somewhere. Your sexual health is just as, if not more, important as your physical health. We need to focus on the body as a whole and not only the outer part. Let’s start working out and getting our sexual health in shape. Knowing is half of the battle. Know your status, get tested, use protection, and spread the knowledge.

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Success is in the student not in the university, greatness is in the individual, not in the library, power is in the MAN , not in his crutches. A Great Man will make Great opportunities even out of the commonest Situations..

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WD time is now

What if all the empathy that transpired in the speeches and talks of policy makers I listened to today at the Women Deliver pre-youth conference could immediately be converted to action? This is the question I asked myself during my reflection on the pre-youth conference that ok place on the 27th May 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Passion, enthusiasm, and determination were perceptible in the way the policy makers I listened to and spoke with today spoke about how painful, frustrating, and humiliating the consequences of inequalities that exist in todays world are.   But does this mean these people have finally heeded to the call of social activists to act now for inequality to be eradicated? Only time will tell as youths will be keeping a keen eye on these people to ensure that all the promises they will make this time around are kept and within the minimum possible time frame.

The biggest risk to the continuity of humanity is inequality, declared UNFPAs deputy Director; Kate Gilmore during an intervention at the Women Deliver pre-youth conference. Conscious of this, it is unavoidably true that, by delivering on their promises to not only reduce but eradicate inequalities and injustices of every nature, policy makers will be contributing to the continuity of humanity. Therefore by failing to deliver for Girls, women, and Youths, policy makers of this generation will be committing a crime that present and future generations will not pardon.

But well, we the youths of this generation wont sit arms folded to see you commit such heinous crimes, because our silence-that of Girls, Women, and Youths is a roar that will degenerate into something worse if not listened to.

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April is Autism Awareness Month, and although most of us would like to think that organizations like Autism Speaks are doing autistic people a world of good, it turns out that may not be true. I came across a post on Tumblr, written by an autistic individual, who finds fault with the way that Autism Speaks portrays the people it is supposedly advocating for.

April, as you might know, is Autism Awareness month. If you want to help, I’d urge you to follow Autism Acceptance Day, check out & donate to ASAN, and educate yourself on what the Autistic community is and looks like. Hint: we’re people, not puzzles.

As you probably know because I say it all the time, I am Autistic. Therefore, April is generally the month where I get to hate myself, and the entire world, the most. I have a whole drinking game done up to survive watching the media teach the world how to fear me. Bingo cards and everything.

The post goes on to discuss the way that autism is portrayed in the media – like a contagious disease that every parent is terrified of. Reading that post, I could kind of see how this particular type of advocacy could be damaging instead of helpful. The aim of the whole campaign is to educate people and raise money for research right? But that doesn’t mean that we should forget about the faces behind the cause. Combine that with the fact that whatever services provided for autistic kids supposedly ends when they transition into adults, and the reason for that Tumblr post is understandable.

Another blogger wrote a post in March last year outlining the many reasons why people should not donate to Autism Speaks but to other organizations. Some of which include the fact that only 4% of the AS budget actually goes to helping autistic children and families (as of 2010) and the fact that there are no autistic people on their board of directors or in some other form of leadership. How is it possible to advocate for people without them?

Overall, it seems like AS is doing a very good job of contributing to the negative stereotypes about autistic people rather than combating said stereotypes. They have been known to describe autism as a disorder that works “faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined,” will ensure that your marriage fails, will bankrupt you, cause you not to sleep and make it “virtually impossible” to go out in public without experiencing embarrassment or pain. Yes it’s important to let people know what living with autism entails, but why portray them as less than human?

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It has been quite a while since my last time blogging.  In a way I have been so disenchanted, scared, and jaded about “most” things associated with advocacy in the last two years that I had given up.  Given up on the very skills that I had developed with ICAH (Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health) during my time with the IYPC (Illinois Youth Policy Council).  Given up on the People that depended on me, on my ability to ADVOCATE  WITH THEM, and HEAR THERE TESTIMONY.   More so, I had given up on myself.  I had allowed the world to start happening to me, like an ebbing boat at sea.  That was till that boat overturned and I began to drown.  Time elapses so quickly when you are under water without the need to breath.  I remained suspended in that way for countless days until just under two years passed and a hunger arose in me.  A leviathan hunger for the sun and beaches of that feral world I had drifted away from.

In late January, my perception of my surroundings was jarred.  Just a bit, not enough to fracture the ever so delicate structure that is our emotional biome.  I have worked for a sixteen bed, privately owned, group home for the developmentally delayed since just after high school.  It is a job I loved.  It had the flexibility and variation that kept me in that “new car smell” mood.  I was hired with a starting wage of $7.75 and was given a dollar raise when Illinois raised the minimum wage.  Twice a year the residents got to clear out there closets and buy new clothes if they wished.  Every five years or so, I’ve been told, they buy new vans for the group home. The group home keeps, as much as possible, the employees certified for direct care and give some medication training.  All of these things are not out of norm.  It was none of the above that alerted my senses to a binary yes/no lifestyle our society has created for these individuals.  It was a small opinion article in a weekly paper in my home town.  Unfortunately at this time I am unable to cite said article, but will add it below when it becomes available.

For those who do not know, group homes are intended, in there very being, a) The ability to rationalize and think critically while performing daily duties (i.e. cleaning, eating, doing dishes, laundry), b) Developing employment once resident has exited the group home, c) Aid in the transition from home to community living.  It is tasking work.  The daily grind can and, in my experience often does, become monotonous.  However, that day in late January I found myself astounded after reading this opinion article.  The article suggests that the tools used in group homes, not just the one that employed me but all group homes, was both counter productive and self serving to the administration of said group homes.  The article suggested that the prompt system used to scale performance served little purpose because the goals are subjective and often become lengthened or increased.  The example the author used was as follows, ”  April will brush her teeth for two minutes with out prompts for 65 days or her next Interdisciplinary Team Meeting.”. The author suggest that programs like these do little to create daily habits that our society deems healthy, because it is a blanket program that is not individualized for April.  The program doesn’t list the tools she will need to perform the task, neither does it give April the ability to get off the program.  In my experience in group homes, this is true.  In the unlikely event “April” did complete the program goal, the administration would just extend out the time, from the example 65 to 150 prompts.  The author of the opinion article concluded that this is a self serving practice that only keeps the developmentally delayed individual in the group home longer.

I was very much bothered by what I was reading.  It had never occurred to me that the process could be manipulated in such a way that the intent of the establishment could be in question.  The practices I had been performing I had assumed where the norm.  The articles last two paragraphs where about the second aspect to the programing shortfall, choice.  If April decided one day not to brush her teeth the program would be marked refused.  Refusal and Choosing not to do something is semantically the same thing, however refusal suggest that April was told to perfume the tooth brushing program and thus invalidating the prompting system that is used to grade performance.  The author suggest also that the refusal aspect creates a hierarchy between those who live in the group home and those who work in the group home.  I imagine this would be much like living with you middle school English teacher, always correcting your grammar.

Reading that article prompted a change in me in more then just my awareness of the bad practices of my employer, but also how much of my life it had sucked away.  It has been four years.  It has been four long years of caring for others, when in fact I was only disabling them farther.  I don’t have answers to how to fix this enigma.  All I can do is validate the question.  Do group homes use a system that benefits the administration more than the resident? Yes it does.  Dose the implementation of programing include some practices that create outbursts and behaviors that endanger others needlessly?  Yes they do.

Categories: Disability Rights
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“To be clear, reproductive justice is not a label—it’s a mission. It describes our collective vision: a world where all people have the social, political, and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about gender, bodies, sexuality, reproduction, and families for themselves and their communities. And it provides an inclusive, intersectional framework for bringing that dream into being. Reproductive justice is visionary, it’s complex, it doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker, and it has a lot to teach us about how to be successful in a changed and changing world.”

— Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Kierra Johnson, Beyond Choice: How We Learned to Stop Labeling and Love Reproductive Justice

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1. One who solicits alms for a living.
2. An impoverished person; a pauper.

– thefreedictionary.com

Begging, is all around me. In Nigeria I mean, not literally around me, trailing me, holding me down with entreating eyes and dirty hands holding my shirtsleeves begging for a few nairas to spare. Alright, that does happen. They are everywhere: by motor parks, along the streets in busy traffic, at the doors to shopping malls, at restaurants looking through the mirror at you – a ploy to make you feel guilty for stuffing yourself with that chicken while they and their children are out on the streets, begging for scarps to live on so they could survive for yet another day…

Sad, I know. True….probably not.

I have often heard, read and even observed that begging, especially in developing countries is something that would be described as a very lucrative business, if for instance, one happened to be without personal shame, had no qualms about exploiting themselves and especially their loved ones to the contempt and pity of society and its dangers, and also, if one happened to be doing it professionally.

How low can they go? How far do they come? These are some of the questions that are answered in full on one’s first visit to Lagos State, Nigeria. This is not to say that beggars are present only in Lagos. From my years lived in Nigeria, I can tell you that so long as it is urban, populated and profitable, the begging masses will materialize from everywhere – including the nations of Chad and Niger Republic.

Life as a beggar is profitable, believe it or not. The more dense and urban the area, the more they appear with their arms stretched out, palms turned upwards begging for your pity and religious piety.

But what about the risks? Yes some of these people do it for profit, the “corporate beggars”, while others do it because they are disabled in a society that largely scorns those with disabilities, children who are homeless and forced to beg to survive and give their earnings to a “master”, women whose authoritative male head forces her to do so – what about the health risks: the attacks and molestation, the kidnappings and assaults ..the murders for ritual sacrifices? They are often vulnerable targets for predatory and manipulative people, pedophiles and ritualists.

Street Medicine is practices by some to help those who cannot afford to find treatment and medication from formal or informal health centers or pharmacies. People like Dr. Uche Uruakpa of the Doctors for Humankind Foundation who I have written about previously on my blog, provides such aid. But he is one amongst few organisations who go out of their way to provide such services for the poor.

In a nation who seeks to reduce sexual and reproductive health risks and diseases in hopes of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, where did we go wrong? How can we improve the health of those who are at risk – the women and children who risk their lives in hopes of garnering the pity of passersby and tourists?


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Talking about young people in the part of the world where I come is already a sensitive issue and adding ‘rights’ which is another very explosive issue to this makes advocacy for the placing of youth rights at the heart of development a very difficult but not an impossible task. Behind these words lies the fears, doubts, and optimism of a participant at the just ended International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)-Beyond 2014 Global youth Forum (GYF) which held from the 4th to the 6th December 2012.They are also the words that come to my mind whenever I think about this forum and the impact its outcomes will have on the future of young people and therefore our world as a whole. The fruits of the optimism raised and the hopes re-enkindled by the ICPD-Beyond 2014 GYF not only in the young persons that attended this event but above all in the lives of the millions of young persons that are marginalized, down trodden, and persecuted because of their gender, age, political choices, and sexual orientation, will no doubt become reality as youths irrespective of their social status, religious beliefs, and gender have been empowered and energized by this forum. With most of the recommendations from the ICPD-Beyond 2014 GYF urging governments, international bodies, and civil societies to recognize the rights of all young persons especially the marginalized, suffering and persecuted(the girl child, sexual minorities, rural dwellers, the uneducated) and establish an enabling environment for the potentials of every young person to be unleashed and his/her dreams fulfilled, the forum is ended but has opened an avenue for youths to claim what is theirs and take their places in decision making cycles in their various countries. Enlightened, empowered, and inspired by the passion and enthusiasm I witnessed in Bali, the following words came to my mind in the evening of the 6th of December as the forum ended: ‘What happens when it comes time to part? Well you know how when you’re listening to music from another room and you’re singing along, because it’s a tune you really love, when the door closes, or a train passes, and you can’t hear the music anymore, but you sing along anyway?’ Just like the song described in this scene from the movie, ‘Music from Another Room’, the journey towards achieving youths rights might have begun long ago, Bali marked a new beginning in this fight for the rights of young people in all their diversity to be recognized and respected in the society where they live.

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Anti-Choice Senators Block Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Treaty

Sadly, we’ve all grown used to the idea that nothing gets through the U.S. Senate these days without the support of at least 60 senators. Procedural tricks and a misuse of the filibuster rule has ground legislation to a near halt in the years since President Barack Obama took office. But when it came to a vote to ensure that disabled persons have the same rights as anyone else—including the right to avoiding pregnancy or terminating unwanted ones—even 60 votes wasn’t enough.

The Senate voted 61 to 38 to ratify the United Nations Rights of Persons with Disabilities Treaty, which stated “nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens,” according to the Associated Press. The treaty was modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, but anti-choice activists rallied against it, claiming it “sacrifices the most vulnerable—the disabled and the unborn—all in the name of population control,” according to Bradley Mattes, president of the International Right to Life Federation.

Although anti-choice activists claimed concern that the treaty, if ratified, could expand access to abortion and somehow impede their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, many of those who voted against the measure, such as Utah Sen. Mike Lee, pointed to fear of losing United States “sovereignty” as their reason for opposing the treaty.

Source: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/12/04/anti-choice-senators-block-convention-on-rights-persons-with-disabilities-treaty

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Another day has come and gone over Bali ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum.But as days come and go, the discussion intensifies and young people are more demanding to their governments, religious and traditional authorities, parents, and society at large.

Universal access to education,inclusive education, relevant education, quality education ,financing and partnerships, as well as ccomprehensive sexuality education were identified by participants at the ICPD beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum participants as being vital for comprehensive education to become a reality in our world and were thus recommended in that other for discussion by the United Nations and possible inclusion in its post-2015 international  development agenda.

Transitions to decent work, and famiies,youth Rights and well being are the themes which were on the discussion table today.These being of course issues which are relevant to every young person irrespective of  where he/she hails, the debate in the plenary was so intense and continued into the various work groups.

During the plenary on transitions to decent employment, it was revealed by the International Labour Organisation’s representative that we now have the highest number of unemployed youths that the world has ever. Also, during this plenary it was disclosed that 1 in 9 young workers in Africa are in the informal sector, 4 out of 10 young workers are working on a temporary basis, and 5 in 10 low paid persons are youths.

Productivity, fairness, and rewarding are the major characteristics of a decent job as defined by the International Labour Organisation(ILO). If one is to go by this definition, one will have no choice but agree with the above statistics. One other area in which there was total agree is on the fact that  stronger families, respect of  youth rights, and the well being of youths are the basis for any society and so for  a world at peace with itself, there was need for these issues to be tackled with maximum care.

According to Mr.Anatole Makosso, the president to the conference of African youth ministers and youth minister of Congo Brazzaville, there exist three reasons for governments to carefully consider the above mentioned issues and ensure that the needs of youths are met: They are the majority, they are the future, they will not identify with any decisions taken without them.

Another day is come and gone,  and the desire for action by youths on the part of their governments has not faultered Youths want to make the Bali declaration not only a declaration but a platform for action. Hear our voices!

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What a long awaited and historic day for mankind has today being. The ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum was officially opened today. In the presence of   close to a thousand participants, Indonesian officials, and  representatives of governments the world over, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA’s executive Director , in his speech  decried the  situation in which so many young people, especially those in the global south, live in before pointing  out the importance of this event, and then inviting  representatives of governments and those he termed “Seniors” to look  at the  young people around them and  challenge  how they  relate to them, and then think of how they can release  the potentials of these young people.

Further setting the context of the Bali ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum, the Indonesian minister for people’s welfare, declared that: we believe that a meaningful dialogue is necessary on the means and ways of engaging young people to release their potential. He further emphasized that , young people need to understand the values of life that will make them  stay healthy, be educated, foster family life, actively participate in building the  world they have always dreamed of.

Staying healthy, comprehensive education, transition to  decent work for youth, Families, youth rights and well being, leadership and meaningful youth participation, and realizing youth rights are the themes which will be discussed and recommendations made by the over 650 participants for  discussion and adoption  by the UN member states as one of its post-2015 agenda.


Staying healthy and comprehensive education were tackled today in discussion groups (world Cafés) and recommendations made on the former. Access to data, putting in place of an enabling environment for youths by governments, religious and traditional authorities, access to   quality, affordable, and comprehensive health services, and finally  the abolition of laws and policies that   that hinder youth empowerment   are the recommendations that came out from the 15 sort of work groups that brainstormed on this topic. The recommendations on the comprehensive education will be presented  tomorrow, Wednesday December 5th 2012.

It should be noted that the above recommendations were arrived at by participants including representatives of governments, UN agencies, and civil society in a very interactive, safe, and open environment  after attending the plenary session that addressed  the issue of staying healthy for a young person. At this plenary Advocate for Youth’s Meredith Waters acting in her capacity as young person commentator for this theme, declared amid thunderous applause from the audience  that: the Global Youth Forum is a great way to start but not enough. Dr Nafsia Mboi, Indonesian minister of health, answering to questions from the participants declared to conclude the plenary that: Every person, I repeat every person including young people has the right to health.

Good as the speeches may be, world leaders should be conscious that young people are tired of speeches and want to see concrete actions being taken solve the pile of problems in which young people from all part of our beloved world are drowning. World leaders! Take action now or be fired! We are ready for the fight and I assure you we will always out power you; for we are the majority.

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Fighting HIV/AIDS and other diseases like malaria is one the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) voted by the United Nation’s in the year 2000. Given that this fight seems to be slowing down and that more than 5% of Cameroonians are living with HIV/AIDS-60% of which are women and 40% falling in the youths category-there is a cause for concern on the strategy to be used for the achievement of MDGs.


Conscious that handicapped persons are also celebrated in December and given that living with HIV/AIDS is more and more considered a handicapped. This article is going to dwell on the inclusion of the handicapped in the achievement of MDGs.


Concerning the non-achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by most countries of the global south, much has been said and so much more left unsaid. But if there is one thing that has so often been ignored by policy makers, politicians and all those in charge of implementing policies that will lead to a timely  achievement of MDGs, it the absence of human rights in these goals. The non-inclusion of human rights in the MDGs means the exclusion of handicapped persons, indigenous people, and other minority groups in their achievement.


Given that handicapped persons constitute 10% of Cameroon’s population and are among the poorest people in the country, it is evident that talking of poverty, the fight against hunger, improvement of maternal health care and reduction of infant mortality child is pretentious if nothing is done to the more than 85% of these handicapped persons aged14-64 years who are jobless and the other 15% of them who are confined to shoe mending, shoe shinning and other informal sector activities.


Also, talking about achieving universal access to education without paying particular attention to the fact that less than 5% of handicapped children in Cameroon can afford to

go to school with only 2% of these handicapped children completing secondary school, is wishful thinking.  What about the  ever increasing number of albino children who because of their sight defect and the inability of their parents to buy them glasses drop out daily from school?


The government of Cameroon recruited 25000 certificate holders in 2011 under a special recruitment scheme. But none of them was an handicapped person and as if this was not enough, a good number of handicapped persons were sent away from public schools because they could not afford to pay the required fees. This despite the fact that they are officially exempt from the payment of school fees in public schools in Cameroon. To protest against the above acts, the handicapped organized a protest march in front of the prime minister’s office in October 2011 but were violently dispersed by the police and military forces.


Can we say of a country whose government carries out such horrible acts against its own very population, even if it achieves all the MDGs, that it is developed? Can MDGs be achieved if the strategy to achieve them is not inclusive? Can the achievement of MDGs, as they are now, lead to sustainable development?


My answer to the above questions is ‘NO’. Because I am intimately convinced that, unless inclusive and people-centered, no development plan can produce any sustainable results. It is high time for our government and civil society to listen to and amplify the voices of the handicapped so that they are heard and acted upon by policy making and implementing structures because like all poor people, “they long to belong to, and participate in their communities on equal footing with others. Most of all, they do not want charity. They want opportunity”, as former world bank President James Wolfehnson once put it.  Anything short of this will make the achievement of MDGs in Cameroon, even by 2035, a far-fetched dream.


How can one expect a country like Cameroon to achieve the MDGs related to literacy, health, and economic empowerment when it does not take the handicapped into consideration when designing and constructing public buildings and other infrastructure like roads, hospitals, universities, and schools?


How can one expect Cameroon to be democratic, united, and emerging by 2025,as exposed in its vision 2035,when more 10% of its population(handicapped persons) are disenfranchised due to their non-consideration when designing and producing electoral material(especially ballots) and situating polling stations(Most being inaccessible to the handicapped)?


Realizing that the above is impossible without respect for human rights, we, at the Education 4Development (E4D) have made human rights the 9th MDG and therefore one of the elements of our advocacy and awareness creation campaign on a participative, timely, and inclusive achievement of MDGs in our community. Through our MDGs participative achievement programme, we reached out to more than 1000 pupils and students in 2011 and look forward to reaching out to a greater number in 2012.


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by Deb Hauser
President, Advocates for Youth

Advocates for Youth congratulates President Barack Obama on his historic reelection. We also celebrate the amazing role that young people played within his administration and his reelection, and we recognize the growing power of youth to drive social and cultural change for a better world. Young people represented approximately 19 percent of the electorate yesterday—a larger percentage even than in 2008!

In the years ahead, we call on President Obama to stand with us in recognition of every young person’s right to honest sexual health education, safe and affordable sexual health services, and an equity of social, educational, and economic opportunity – the type of opportunity that builds healthy lives and strong communities.


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Click to watch: Fundamental Human Rights.

Every day, governments all over the world violate the fundamental human rights of millions of women. The Center for Reproductive Rights fights on the front lines every day to beat back these assaults — and Meryl Streep, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Billy Crudup, Audra McDonald, and many more are standing beside us in this call to action in the global battle for reproductive freedom.

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Crossposted from www.youthaids2012.org.

Throughout the YouthForce 2012 preconference to the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, over 130 young activists and leaders collaborated to create the YouthForce Declaration – a document that details the policy and programmatic demands of youth in the global response to HIV and AIDS. Powered by codigital, the YouthForce Declaration project allowed participants to submit, edit, and vote on ideas in realtime.

The YouthForce Declaration: Top 10 Ideas

All young people have the right to sexual and reproductive health services that are accessible, available, safe, affordable, quality-approved, youth-friendly and adapted to their specific needs.

Meaningful youth participation at all levels of decision-making is crucial in the development of effective SRHR and HIV programmes; participation must include not only those with resources but also those on the ground levels.

We demand ACCESS to youth-friendly prevention, treatment, care and support services for all young people, including young people living with HIV, so that our right to the highest attainable standard of health may be achieved.

Comprehensive and appropriate information about HIV should be accessible to all young people including those with disabilities, in & out of schools, migrants & those living in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.

We demand increased funding for research that focuses on HIV among young people addressing not only prevalence rates but also lifestyles and behavioral patterns, risk factors and other areas needed for HIV response.

Increase ACCESS to financial & technical support that strengthens youth organizations and youth led initiatives to increase our impact in the HIV response, by creating mechanisms that assure money transfers down to the ground.

We demand universal access to sexual and reproductive health integrated services that includes the specific needs of women and girls, respecting their human rights and an emphasis on equity and respect for diversity.

Eliminate social, cultural and political barriers in accessing health services among young people by making interventions gender and age-responsive, rights-based, and sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive.

We demand more support for capacity building programs that empower youth and enable them to participate effectively in policy making especially concerning areas that affect them like environment, health and rights.

We demand PROTECTION by the law. We must not be criminalized because of our sexual orientation and gender identity, drug use, HIV status, disability and/or sex work.

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Advocates for Youth is proud to join a coalition of organizations participating in Strong Families’ Mama’s Day 2012 — a campaign to lift up and celebrate the mamas and others among us who do the amazing, inspiring, and often grueling work of raising our kids and anchoring our families.

Mama’s Day is a way to build a new definition of mamahood – a diverse collection of voices to explore and appreciate the complexities of building our families – beyond just Sunday brunch once a year. As Strong Families explains:

We are all engaged in families and communities in motion–from immigration status to sexuality and gender, from health and ability to disability and transformation. Day to day, the most constant thing is a commitment to figuring it out.

We wanted a way to recognize the day that would bring us back to it’s roots. Originally a cry against the Civil War, Mother’s Day was meant to be a radical revisioning of what is possible when you put mothers at the center of things.

From now through Mother’s Day, our blog will feature posts by mamas on an amazing range of topics, from nursing and working, to being pregnant while gender queer, to race, immigration and mamahood. Click here to learn more and get involved.

As the conversation continues through the weekend, we wanted to share a few Mama’s Day stories from Amplify – and to invite you to submit your own. Don’t miss these wonderful posts from Sandra and Ebony – and we can’t wait to hear your own stories soon!

Sandra’s Story

“My name is Sandra Lubian.I am 18-years-old and a senior in high school, and I have a 9-month-old baby named Adrian Giovanni. He has to be the best thing that has ever happened to me. I first found out I was pregnant on my 17th birthday. My boyfriend at the time and I didn’t know what we were going to do, and we especially didn’t know how we were going to tell our parents. I mean we didn’t know what we would need to raise a child, especially since we were still children ourselves…”

Click here to read more.

My Love Letter to You on the Third Day of Motherhood

“Who knew that your heart could expand this much and feel so overwhelmed with love and joy? I know; it feels wonderful and extremely scary at the same time. To hold this little one in your arms and feel the awe of the beauty and perfection that is your son. You helped to create this wonderful being. And now you have the honor, privilege, and the responsibility to care for, nurture, teach, love, discipline, and guide him for the rest of your life. Terror is right on the cusp, as you hold your son tighter with the vow to protect this special little boy with all of your being; because you know that as the mother of an African American male, that your protective instincts will be called upon sooner than you would like.

I know that your initial instinct will be to try to shield him from all that is ugly and unjust, but you know that will be impossible. You can’t keep him locked up from the challenges, ignorance, and fear that he will face because of the color of his skin. I wish that I could have given you this letter the day that we were preparing to take him home, but it has taken me 15 years of motherhood to figure this out for us. The only thing that you can do is to love him, teach him, trust him, and let him go (and I have so much more yet to learn).”

Click here to read more.

Happy Mama’s Day!

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This week the Senate could be voting on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act (S. 1925) (VAWA). While VAWA has previously been a strongly bipartisan bill and even currently has 61 co-sponsors in the Senate, there have been efforts from the extreme right wing in the Senate to pull out key provisions of the real VAWA meant to protect some of the most vulnerable.

Call these Senators now and ask them to support the real Violence Against Women’s Act!

Why? Because VAWA has improved the criminal justice system’s ability to keep women and families safe and hold perpetrators accountable. That means better access for immigrant women who fear deportation if they report violence and better access for LGBTQ people who are facing barriers accessing services.

There will likely be an alternative bill offered as a substitute, and perhaps other harmful amendments. So we want to make sure that S. 1925, the real VAWA, with key provisions that will protect all survivors of violence against women, is the bill that passes.

It’s time for you to make the call to ensure these Senators will continue to back S. 1925.

ACTION: Call the Senators below and tell them:

"Hi, my name is _____. I’m calling to ensure that Senator _____ supports S. 1925 — the only Violence Against Women’s Act bill that protects ALL survivors of violence. It is important that Senator _____ votes to keep all of the critical provisions that protect all women, including those protections for immigrants and LGBTQ people, in the bill."

Help support these Republican co-sponsors in standing strong for S. 1925, the real VAWA:

Ayotte, Kelly (R – NH) – (202) 224-3324, @kellyayotte
Brown, Scott (R – MA) – (202) 224-4543, @USSenScottBrown
Kirk, Mark (R – IL) – (202) 224-2854, @SenatorKirk
Murkowski, Lisa (R – AK) – (202) 224-6665, @LisaMurkowski
Snowe, Olympia (R – ME) – (202) 224-5344, @SenatorSnowe

Once you call, be sure to ask your friends to do the same. And don’t forget to tweet about VAWA using the hashtags #ReauthorizeVAWA and #VAWA.

The vote could happen this week, so call now! For more information on VAWA (fact sheets, toolkits, and videos) visit our friends at www.4vawa.org and like them on Facebook.

Also — If you’re looking for more ways to defend women’s rights and pursuit of equality, UniteWomen.org is organizing marches and rallies across the country on April 28th. Tell members of Congress and legislators in all 50 states, "Enough is enough!" UniteWomen.org strongly supports diversity and welcomes men and women of all ages without regard to their race, color, creed, political affiliation, disability, religious or spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, education or income level, marital status, employment status, or immigrant status. Everyone is invited to join, plan, and rally as we unite to demand that every person be granted equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal representation.

The main rally happens in NYC at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Site, but also look out for the march or rally in your city.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on RH Reality Check.

By Jodi Jacobson

In his testimony at the February 16th, 2012 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the contraceptive coverage mandate under health reform, the Most Reverend William E. Lori, the Bishop of Bridgeport and spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), defended the claim of "religious freedom" by comparing the provision of essential primary health care for women to a kosher deli being forced to serve pork.

I’ll call it the "ham sandwich defense."

This was but one of a series of you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it episodes during a hearing on women’s health care that featured nine male members of the religious right and only two female witnesses, all of whom in any case are opponents of the birth control mandate, and the majority of whom oppose the use of contraception per se; saw the constant and intentionally misleading re-definition by the religious right of modern methods of contraception as "abortifacients"; shut out not only the many religious leaders who support both the mandate and women’s moral agency, but also medical and health professionals and witnesses who’d experienced denial of contraceptive care; and also featured constant and strident chiding by the Committee Chair, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), of his Democratic Party counterparts that the hearing was "not about women’s health, contraception, or health reform," while allowing all the anti-contraception, anti-health reform witnesses to speak about nothing but denying women health care, contraception, and health reform. The Democratic women representatives walked out of the hearing in protest.

Moreover, not a single witness provided a compelling case for granting "conscience rights" to institutions, for why providing women insurance coverage for birth control would violate religious freedom, nor for why the accommodation created by the Obama Administration to make sure women working in religiously-affiliated organizations that object to contraception can still get coverage of birth control without a co-pay created a burden for said institutions. In fact, not a single one provided any compelling reason whatsoever that any one’s "conscience rights" trump access to a proven health intervention.

Which brings us back to pork.

To illustrate the basic premise of his argument, Bishop Lori told what he called "The Parable of the Kosher Deli.” In summary, Bishop Lori’s parable told of a new law requiring that "any business that serves food must serve pork."

He continued: 

There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.  The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

I’ll let you read the rest of it here.

Bottom line: as the leading witness for the religious right, Bishop Lori made an astonishingly weak case by urging the nation to compare a fictitious law to override religious traditions governing whether or not to eat a certain type of meat with an actual law intended to dramatically expand access to contraception, a necessary, and often life-saving, essential public health intervention that the Bishops and other religious right denominations desperately do not want women to have.

While Congress is often swimming in "pork" (and there are many members these days who are, to put it mildly, full of baloney when it comes to facts) there is no foreseeable reason any government body in the United States would mandate that kosher delis must serve pork. There are, however, rational and compelling public health, medical, social, and economic justifications for providing universal health insurance coverage without a co-pay for birth control.

Modern contraception is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and virtually every major medical association as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. It enables women and men to voluntarily plan, space, and limit pregnancies and determine the ultimate size of their families. By reducing unintended pregnancies access to contraception also reduces the need for abortion. In fact, the use of contraception as a voluntary, responsible, and effective means of planning families is, as we have noted here repeatedly, virtually universal in the United States, where 99 percent of all sexually-active women and 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women have used contraception.

Access to contraception also enables vulnerable women to avoid potentially life-threatening pregnancies (i.e. a woman with a serious heart condition or cancer might be advised to avoid pregnancy). It has been proven to dramatically reduce maternal death and disability, and increase infant and child survival. And it is a critical intervention for often painful, sometimes crippling conditions such as dysmenorrhea and polycystic ovary syndrome, which can affect young girls as early as age 11, and which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates affects as many as 5 million women of childbearing age in the United States.

Contrary to the recent protestations of many a male member of the United States Congress and many a male presidential candidate, contraception is not "available everywhere" nor is it "cheap." Paying for birth control pills can run a woman well over $600 per year, not including visits to the doctor for primary care and to obtain a prescription. Insertion of an IUD may carry a high initial cost of well over $1000.00. For students and low-income women, cost is the single most important factor impeding consistent access to birth control.

Providing birth control without a co-pay, however, yields enormous savings both for insurance companies and the public, something one could fairly assume to be attractive to those many bloviators talking about government spending.  And yet… no.

By comparing coverage for a major public health intervention to a law mandating that kosher delis serve pork, Bishop Lori revealed just how out of touch the USCCB and the religio-patriarchy writ large are with the needs and rights of women to live as normal human beings, and profoundly trivialized the experiences of women who struggle to manage their fertility, their health, and the well-being of themselves and their families.

If nothing else, the ham sandwich defense underscored just how shallow legally, philosophically and practically is the "religious freedom" argument against access to contraception. It revealed just how desperate male patriarchal religious bodies and their political surrogates are to curtail the ability of women to make decisions about their bodies and their lives. And it laid bare once again the sheer digust and contempt many of them hold for actual, living, breathing women.

Legally, the claim of "religious freedom" to deny women health care doesn’t have a leg to stand on. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has noted:

"[N]othing in the rule prevents anyone from espousing their beliefs about birth control or attempting to persuade others not to use it. The high courts of California and New York have rejected claims that requiring coverage of contraception somehow violates the First Amendment, and our courts have long held that institutions that operate in the public sphere are not above the law.

Moreover, as has been noted frequently at this point, 28 states already require insurance plans to include contraception, several with the same house-of-worship exception adopted by the administration and several with no exception at all.  In several states, Catholic universities and other institutions already comply with state law in providing coverage for contraceptive care. In those that do not, women are often denied access to contraception even when their health and potentially their lives are at risk. How it can be viewed as moral or righteous to deny women basic health care is beyond me.

To my knowledge, unlike contraception, the decision of whether or not to eat pork due to religious edicts does not involve major public health implications. Somehow the sheer banality of this parable escaped whomever it was that drafted Bishop Lori’s testimony.

Contraception is not a side of bacon in a kosher deli, but maybe if it were pork in a barrel we’d get universal access.

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Walking down town about two days ago, I see a woman with two very beautiful babies a girl and a boy. One was on her back and the other on her front, they looked about three to four months in age and they also looked like they were twins too! And I am there thinking: “lucky woman, she must be happy! She’s even singing and doing little dances…wow!” Then she started picking out all sorts of things from the rubbish dump, it is then I noticed her clothes were ragged and dirty, she was barefoot, and she was not singing, she was actually talking to herself. She was a mentally chalenged woman. I was not shocked, just saddened by the whole scenario which is becoming a common sight in my home town-Kabwe. Over the past year, I have noticed similar cases in other towns within Zambia too. Currently, the percentages for the issue of mental illnesses is at; 7.4% for the mentally ill, 4.9 for the mentally retarded and 33.3 for the ex-mental patients (www.ilo.org/../zamb_np.doc). That is country wide. What bothers me is;
1. There are bad people out there, people sick enough to take advantage of a woman who has no control over her mind. After some research with the local people, it showed that many people slept with such women because it was some sort of ritual to get themselves rich, rid themselves of bad omen or get cured of diseases etc. (All this as prescribed by some traditional witch doctors). Yes in this day and age some people still believe in getting ahead this kind of way.
2. That my government does not see the need to prioritize a serious issue as this. There are no specific support services for people with disabilities ie. Counseling, allowance, personal assistant etc. Also, within the schools, very few recreation and sports activities are available specifically for people with disabilities. School’s offer recreation and sports activities to the physically challenged and hearing impaired never to the mentally challenged. Also, there is only one piece of legislation on disability namely: ‘The persons with disability Act No39 of 1996. However, since its enactment, it has never been enforced.
The thing is, people are aware of the general existence of persons with disabilities, but there is very little awareness from Government, Development agencies, NGO’s, and the community on the rights, needs, potential aspirations and services for persons with mental illness and all disabilities at that. (www.ilo.org/../zamb_np.doc, www.postzambia.com/post-read_article….)

That lady with the two beautiful babies went on her way without a care in the world; but I worry what might happen to her next or her two adorable ones, just like I worry about what all the mentally challenged people have to go through throughout their lives ( stigma, abuse, prejudice etc. ).

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Each week, I’ll be posting a list of the most news-worthy and/or inspirational, informative, well-written, thought-provoking, and/or unique posts of the week. While every post and every contributor is valuable to our community, these are the blogs that I feel are must-reads.

October 9- October 15

Stats this week: 25 posts by 19 writers

New Healthcare Law and Young People: What You Need to Know- by AFY-Sarah

Inside this article:

Some important details on the Affordable Care Act that pertain particularly to women and young people, including how long you can stay on your parent’s insurance, whether you can be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition, birth control co-pays, and the expansion of Medicaid.

Out of the Darkness, and Into The Light- by BoyPrincess32

Inside this post:

One activist finds their calling in social justice and the effort to bring an end to bullying and suicide- the number one killer of teens.

Legal Ramifications of Personhood- by ashthom

Inside this post:

What are the real consequences of state laws declaring that a fetus is a person? Where do such laws lead and what are the implications of forcing “one person to care for another because its rights are superior?”

Flashback To Revolutionary TV: The Golden Girls- by Media_Justice

Inside this post:

Some of the topics they discussed, and that I remember to this day, include: HIV, condom usage, dating, sexism, homophobia, single parenting, marriage, divorce, healthcare, aging, disability, race, and of course friendship.
They were, and still are, on the vanguard of television.

Thank you to everyone who posted a blog this week! You are part of what makes this community great!

~ Samantha 
Community Editor

My post this week:
Obama, HRC,& the culture of change: Understanding the equality movement

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So we’re aware of the war on the backbone of our American society, aka those from beneath the "border" who are here to support their families since NAFTA undersold their markets right from under them, and how much of America and Congress and our damned President Obama is trying hard to eradicate, as if they were rodents? Yup, well Alabama actually made some moves, good for you! But umm, those moves may have definitely been the wrong ones.. ooops??

See, they actually thought that Americans, albeit we all are scrambling around for jobs, would want to work the fields. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, oh Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama, you silly goose! Americans are a spoiled people, we really are. I include myself in this, why? Because I still profit from the capitalist structure I am working to dismantle. Although I am working on myself, we all profit from the system, whether we are trying to break free or not…

Anyways, as my title perfectly demonstrates, this test to hire Americans to do the jobs immigrants did in the fields failed.. big time. Acording the an article highlighting this failure, Test fails to replace immigrant laborers with U.S. citizens in Alabama, Jerry Spencer, chief executive of the Birmingham-based Grow Alabama, which sells and promotes produce grown in the state of Alabama, suggested they hire Americans to do what the immigrants did in the field. Apparently, Americans aren’t as gung-ho about picking fruits and vegetables as anticipated;

Spencer said that of more than 50 people he recruited for the work, only a few worked more than two or three days, and just one stuck with the job for the last two weeks."It’s pretty discouraging," said Spencer.

And it’s not just Jerry Spencer who noticed the lack of oomph Americans have for picking:

Tomato farmer Helen Jenkins agrees that there is a problem filling a labor void she said was created by the new law, parts of which have been blocked by federal courts.

"It’s just not working," said Jenkins, who grows tomatoes on Chandler Mountain, near Gadsden. "You can’t get the (American) workers out here to do the work that the Hispanics were doing. They’re just not capable."

Lana Boatwright, another tomato farmer near Steele, said many of the people she has tried to hire since the law went into effect were concerned about losing their government disability payments if they worked in the fields.

I really hate to ruin the article for you, but just in case you were never planning on reading for lack of time or what have you, I just have to keep quoting parts, to really show the effect that this discrimination has produced (or rather, has failed to produce, hehe) in Alabama. Naturally, the Governor is fully behind the initiative to give these jobs, which were no doubt stolen by the theiving, homicidal, "illegals" <<GRRRR>> to the good-mannered, tax paying American citizens, but guess what: THEY DON’T WANT THEM!!

"There are people today who want these jobs," Bentley said in announcing the program. "I think it is almost insulting to say people in Alabama won’t do a hard day’s work for a decent day’s pay."

That may be true, but Spencer said he hasn’t been able to find unemployed people who would work quickly enough or long enough to make the decent money that Bentley talked about.

A four-person crew of immigrant workers can pick and box more than 250 crates of tomatoes in a day, Spencer said, or enough for each person on the crew to earn about $150 at the height of the harvest.

A 25-person team of citizens recently picked and processed about 200 boxes in a day, he said, earning each member only $24. Spencer said the people weren’t in good enough physical condition to work harder or longer hours and typically gave up when faced with acre after acre of tomato plants ready to be picked.

Point blank, immigrants are still just people; if they commit a crime, guess what?! It’s that one person that should be held responsible, not the entire migration of their people. That’s called RACISM!! Even though we do it all the time anyways; Black Americans are dangerous, murderers and rapists, Latin@ Americans are homicidal, promiscuous and gang bangers, Asian Americans are bad drivers and lazy, it goes on and on and on and……….


All it is. Hopefully other states will come to their senses about whether they want to drive out immigrants, simply because they are immigrants. This situation in Alabama really puts to rest the lie that immigrants take jobs from Americans. Americans are not looking to wash dishes in kitchens, or clean hotels and offices, or harvest fields under strenuous weather conditions. They want office jobs with window views, they want a title, they want more than what they actually need.

I’m just glad this actually happened, now we can move forward, and this is the pinnacle moment of myth busting. Maybe soon we can really become a land of the free, and Americans will once again be brave and not listen to just anything a zealot with congressional power will tell them.

Here’s to the freakin’ weekend,

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by Bianca Laureano

Part of me has wanted to feature some revolutionary television shows that have inspired me in so many ways. These are shows that we don’t often have accessible on basic television (not including cable) but that were available when I was growing up on basic national networks. This may be a series depending on the response I receive from readers, or this may be a one-shot deal. Either way, I’m too excited to write about The Golden Girls! 

Earlier last week I saw an image shared on a social media site of The Golden Girls and it inspired this post. I remember watching The Golden Girls on television growing up and I would not be surprised that watching this show encouraged me to go into the field of reproductive justice. Growing up with this type of media really impacted me and still does today and I knew I had to share, even if just a bit, with readers.

Many of you reading may have a background with The Golden Girls as the one surviving cast member of the show is Betty White who is experiencing what some may call a “come back” (but it’s not like she went anywhere to begin with). With White being at the center of a hugely successful social media campaign to get her to host Saturday Night Live and now with a “rap” song released called “I’m Still Hot,” she’s making it clear she’s not going anywhere. Her song also makes references to The Golden Girls either by name or by referencing cheese cake.

For those not knowledgeable of the show, it takes place in Miami, Florida and features four women: Rose performed by Betty White, Blanche performed by Rue McClanahan, Dorothy performed Bea Arthur and Sofia, Dorothy’s mother, performed by . We follow the four women who are all over 55 years old in their everyday lives as single women. Estelle Getty. All of the women are widows except for Dorothy who is divorced and her husband Stan has a returning storyline. They are all parents and some even grandparents. We follow them as they age, find work, date, and remarry.

The Golden Girls discussed and represented so many aspects of our lived realities. How is it that I connected so much to a show that featured older white women living in Florida? I do believe it is because of how the characters are created and the topics they discuss. This was also one of the first times I saw a representation of a Caribbean gay man in a television series who was normalized and not targeted or harassed. Each episode had an amazing script written and the performances were stellar! Some of the topics they discussed, and that I remember to this day, include: HIV, condom usage, dating, sexism, homophobia, single parenting, marriage, divorce, healthcare, aging, disability, race, and of course friendship.

They were, and still are, on the vanguard of television.


In the pilot episode of The Golden Girls where we are introduced to all of the characters, Blanche, who owns the home all the ladies rent a room from, is seeking roommates. We are also introduced to her cook named Coco who is a gay Latino man. Throughout the series homophobia was challenged by normalizing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

For example, check out the conversation Dorothy, Sophia and Blanche have about one of Dorothy’s childhood friends who identifies as a lesbian.

When Blanche’s brother wants to marry his partner, she struggles with understanding why two gay men would want to be married. Their discussion is one that has been used often during the various conversations in the US regarding same gender marriage.

And they discuss the term “queer” and cross-dressing among Dorothy’s older brother. Sophia explains how she finds the term to be useful in certain ways. Blanche’s discussion of queer shows us how time specific language may be, but also how it evolves, especially how we use the term today.

Teen Pregnancy, Single Mothers & Birthing Options

The characters often discuss pregnancy and parenting on a regular basis as each of them are mothers. However, teen pregnancy is specifically featured as Dorothy became pregnant while still in high school. She carried the pregnancy to term and parented her child while marrying her partner Stan. Many of the stereotypes about teenage mothers and familial (specifically Italian as Dorothy and Sophia’s characters are and originally from Brooklyn, NY) responses to teenage pregnancy are presented in a humorous way. We hear Sophia’s narratives of how she responded when Dorothy told her she was pregnant, Dorothy’s fear and challenges in being a teen mother and married so young, and we see the successes their family has experienced.

Blanche’s daughter Rebecca chooses to have a child without a partner and raise the child as a single mother. She also chooses to have her child in a birthing center. Here is a clip of the visit to the birthing center which also discusses some of the challenges Rebecca experiences.

Normalizing Sexuality In Older Adults

Blanche is the most infamous character for normalizing sex and sexual activities for older adults. Her character is the main one who was dating often and easily discussed her experiences and dates with her male partners. She dated the most and was also not as monogamous as the other women. A part of the series did make fun of her experiences with men, but Blanche didn’t let that phase her. The wealthy up-bringing and self-entitlement she had only normalized her choices: why couldn’t she have as many lovers as she desired? Why couldn’t any of us? Blanche’s ideas definitely impact the ability to date among her roommates. Here is one clip of Blanche setting up a double date. Rose agrees to go and shares her frustrations with dating as an older woman. She also shares her resistance and fear of having sex with other men besides her husband. This is real talk!


As this show was seen during the mid to late 80s, HIV became a topic of discussion around the US. In the episode on HIV and AIDS, Rose has a blood transfusion that may have been contaminated with HIV positive blood. This was something that happened many times in the US early when we were beginning to understand HIV. Today, however, we have not had a case of HIV transmission through a blood transfusion in decades. However, Rose is sad and scared about her HIV test results she’s waiting 2 weeks to receive. She talks with Blanche about her fears and concerns and states that she thinks Blanche is the more likely person who “deserves” to contract HIV because of her active sex life. Check out Blanche’s response to that assumption.

Aging and Dying

One part of our lives that we often don’t enjoy discussing is dying and aging. Because The Golden Girls are all over 55 years old, this is a recurring theme. Sophia often is the one character who talks the most about aging and dying. In this clip Sophia believes her dead husband has sent her messages about her upcoming death and she is preparing for it with the girls. Also in this episode Blanche’s brother Clayton comes out to her as a gay man.


With all of the women having been married, Dorothy’s storyline is the one that features infidelity the most as her husband Stan left her for a younger woman. However, the ideas all the women have about their dead husbands are sometimes shaken. In one episode Blanche is challenged when a man comes to her home claiming he is the son of her dead husband George. Some of the things that come up for a person who believed their partner was not one who went outside of their monogamous marriage are shared in this episode.

Race & Ethnicity

Although race and ethnicity were not paramount in the show, which is something that is defintely one issue that is problematic. However, when The Golden Girls did address race and ethnicity it was done in a way that brings attention to the ridiculousness of racially white people being cast as people of Color. It also brings attention to what happens when folks try to do race, and fail. In this clip we see how the ladies go to a high school reunion and Rose gives all of the women other identities taking the one of a Korean exchange student for herself.

Another scene when Dorothy begins dating exclusively and finds a man whose company she enjoys. Her mother Sophia acts out her happiness by embracing some southern stereotypes laced with racialized ones as well. This is a great example of how some skits can be funny even without the blackface.

If you’d like to see how they ended the show without any spoilers check out this scene and see who gets remarried and moves away, who stays with Blanche in her home, and how the women decide to continue their friendships.

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“I suffer mornings most of all,I feel so powerless and small By ten o’clock I’m back in bed
Fighting the jury in my head”-Amanda Palmer, Have To Drive.

Suicide. One word to describe one thing no one ever expects having to deal with in their lifetime. It’s also one of the hardest things to deal with for a family, Suicide causes an unimaginable, indescribable feeling of loss and only leads to questions and more hurt. 20% of Ohio’s high school students have considered suicide and 14% have made a plan to attempt suicide The scariest thing to me at least is that Suicide is almost completely preventable by schools, family, friends, and the community if only we took the time to look out for others and recognize the signs of depression. To help prevent Suicide I attended the Into The Light Walk sponsored by the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance (SPEA) with the Dare2Care team from Human Rights Campaign. The focus of the event was to raise awareness and create a healing and understanding atmosphere for all of those who have been affected by suicide

Suicide is a serious issue, and it affects almost all of us in some way shape or form, and suicide is a one-hundred percent preventable cause of death. “Suicide is not the answer, it only leads to more questions, more people asking Why?” Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers, “more teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined: (National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action, 2001). Bullying, Mental-Illness (such as depression) and sexual abuse all can lead to suicide. Here are some GLSEN studies done in 2009 and 2010 on bullying and harassment in schools which show that “two thirds of teenagers (65%) have reported being verbally harassed or physically assaulted because of their appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race/ethnicity, disability or religion” 39% of students say that they have been harassed based on their body or their looks the most. and 33% say they are harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The walk moved me emotionally and spiritually, once our group started walking on the dimly lit path of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, I felt a soft and quiet reflecting calmness come over me. I spoke with another walker about their experience and how suicide has touched and affected her life and it came to me. All of this is part of my calling in life, I believe we all have callings in life to do certain things for the world around us, and I believe social justice is my calling. The walk brought about absolute peace and a pure healing and powerful emotion. After returning home I immediately felt restored and rejuvenated. It was as if the walk put my life into perspective for me, helped me realize my purpose, and really showed me the demographics I was trying to help.

The SPEA’s objective is to bring recognition of depression and suicidal tendencies to schools and teenagers, to enable teachers and students to speak up in order to help more young people. With speaking up we must also remember not to be silent about bullying and harassment, if we are silent about it we are just as guilty as the perpetrators. This ‘no-snitch’ rule among young people has to stop, for the sake of protecting the lives and well-being of young people. It’s not ‘snitching’ if you’re doing the right thing. If you know of anyone suffering from depression or other debilitating mental illness, or someone being harassed and bullied for any aspect of themselves whether it be their weight, height, race, sexual orientation or identity please be courageous enough to speak up you may save a life or prevent suicide.

In Conclusion the Into the Light Walk taught me about how I can help others through my field of Activism, it again struck me emotionally with how real and how terrible to deal with suicide is, both for the victim and their family and friends left behind. Everyone deserves a chance to live a full and wholesome life, no amount of hate or bullying or depression should take anyone away from their family or friends. We must help those suffering from the invisible illness of depression and those who are victimized by bullying and harassment come back into the light and out of the darkness.

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by Bianca Laureano

This is a series of posts from the sexuality course I am teaching this summer. Check out the first week of notes here.  If you are interested in receiving some of the readings, syllabus, and workbook assignments please leave a comment with a way to contact you!

Day 3
Gender & Sexual Orientation

For this class there were some fairly long readings that I had scheduled. The two main readings for our topic on gender were the third chapter in Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing The Body called “Of Gender & Genitals: The Use & Abuse Of The Modern Intersexual” which will totally challenge everything I taught them the first two days! The other reading is the introduction and first chapter of Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl which discusses trans people and how our societies have constructed ideas around identity, sex, experience, and ways we may begin to challenge and unlearn. The final reading for the gender section is called Words That Are Transphobic And Why.

The second part of the class will focus on sexual orientation as folks usually confuse gender and sexual orientation, especially when it comes to gender expression and exaggerations! The readings for sexual orientation include a discussion of asexuality based on Dan Savage’s exclusion of this as a sexual orientation, Queertionary 2.0, and the Media Maker’s Salon: Espie Hernandez. 

Before I started class for these themes I forgot to lecture on one topic that is important to discussions of sexuality. These are the Circles of Sexuality.  We discussed each circle (5 in total) which include reproductive health, sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, and sexualization. Each circle intersects with the other and we are at the center of that intersection. Reproductive health focuses on managing health care and understanding the postive and negative consequences of sexuality and sexual activities. Sensuality has to do with our sense (touch, vision, hearing, taste, smell) and awareness of our bodies and what we enjoy as well as others ability to enjoy their bodies and experience pleasure. Intimacy is about emotions and being able to create relationships with others (or animals). Sexual identity includes sexual orientation and gender. Sexualization includes using sex as a form of power and coercion to influence and manipulate others. This may include assault, rape, violence, but also things many of us do like flirting and seduction.

I then asked the class what they thought was missing?

I asked where they would put class, race, ethnicity, disability, immigration status, education level, incarceration history, language spoken, and other aspects of our identities. We agreed that these were vital parts of our identities that do inform our sexuality and sexual health in various ways. So, why weren’t they included? And where would they include them? Personally, I include these identities in the center of where the circles meet. Other students believed they would put others in various different circles. I think this is an important discussion to have with students to demonstrate that even in the field of sexuality not everything is included and there are ways to improve and expand the field!

To begin our discussion of gender I discussed the different between sex and gender. Sex being based on biological reproductive organs and genitals that is assigned to us at birth. While gender being more psychological, not having to be connected to the genitals. Yes, this is a very limited way of discussing gender. One of the reasons I begin these conversations in such a way is because I’ve learned that for the past 3 years teaching at this location, students have never had discussions on gender, sex assigned at birth, and trans communities as we will have in our class. I see these as small steps. These are doses of conversations that once begun can then be explored further and then challenged and critiqued. I completely recognize this is limiting, and I acknowledge that and build from a basis to help students unlearn and challenge assumptions and socialization as well as theories and critiques on gender and sex.

Sometimes I begin by asking students to take a few moments and write in their notes what the first time they realized their gender was like. Where were they? Who was there? What was the environment and context? Some students say “I just knew” and this is a useful discussion to have regarding gender and our knowledge of ourselves.

As many sociology courses are known to do, we discuss how sex and gender are social constructions; things that society creates and gives value, importance and meaning. I introduced the phrase “sex assigned at birth” (SAAB) as what we are given/assigned by physicians based on what our genitals look like which is how society has crafted fe/male identities. Because doctors and physicians are a part of society, this is one way SAAB is a social construction. SAAB may also be argued as a social construction because it is happenstance that the decision was made that females have vulvas and ovaries, et. al. and males have penis’ and testicles, et.al. Sometimes students ask “what about what the Bible says,” and my response to that is usually that people interpret the Bible differently, that some people interpret the Adam & Eve story as a transgender narrative. Another reply I have is that this discussion and our ability to have certain types of knowledge is one of the gifts we are given by the universe, god/desses, etc. Other responses I have is that these are arguments people make and they can choose to believe what they want, but they must understand people’s ideologies and why the come to these conclusions. Finally, SAAB may be argued as a social construction because we are able to change our sex, it is not ridged and static.

From here we discuss gender roles, expectations, and expressions. We create a list of how we are socialized into understanding and assuming we are to behave and act based on gender. From this list I introduce gender binaries and ideologies around gender and how folks challenge and affirm gender within these binaries. I then begin to discuss how gender is not just two different options/sexes/genders, that gender is significantly more complicated and to put them in these small spaces limits everyone.

We then begin to discuss transgender communities and refer to the reading by Julia Serano. In her introduction and first chapter, she discusses her reasons for writing her book, her goals, and what she seeks to put forth, challenge and affirm. We discuss masculinity and femininity, and how Serano argues for liberating femininity in specific ways, her challenging of gender binaries as an ideology and approach, and connecting back to SAAB.

This conversation was a challenge for some students. Many became confused with gender expression and identity. One student asked (and I’m paraphrasing) “but when I (a woman) go to play soccer I wear the same clothing as men, this does not make me a trans person or wanting to be a man.” This is a great point and an interesting perspective on where some of us may get confused. I was glad we had read Serano’s article as I could refer to passages she wrote where she states that women have more flexibility with expressing femininity than men are provided. That when men embrace any aspect of femininity they are ridiculed and isolated. We connect this to misogyny as Serano does, and the ideas that masculinity and things that are identified as representing men as being strong and powerful. That men are considered to be the “better” gender because of ideas about differences versus similarities. From this perspective of understanding misogyny, we can understand Serano’s argument that women having a gender expression similar/stereotypically associated with masculinity that it makes “sense” because men are stronger and more powerful, of course a woman would want to dress/behave/do what men do! After explaining this a bit more an connecting with the Serano reading it seemed to “click” for many students.

I then highlighted some of the terms and language that Serano used in her chapter. These included transmisogyny, cis, cissexual and cisgender, and sexism. As with many new terms that are introduced at certain points in our lives, they were a bit confusing for some, on how to properly use them what they represent, if they are adjectives, nouns, or verbs. I asked what their reactions were in discovering terms that may describe some of them, labels that trans people have come up with to identify them. I then referred to the Queertionary 2.0 reading that included terminology that has also been created by trans and gender queer people, these included ze and hir. We had a brief discussion of how language can also shift and change when we begin to challenge and question our socialization and build more inclusive and libratory communities.

One example of this limitation would be people who are intersex. This is when the third chapter of Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book is useful. I introduced intersexuality and defined it very generally as “ambiguous genitalia.” I often find that some students want to know specific details of genitals that are considered ambiguous even when they may not be clear what their own genitals look like! Instead of giving them specifics, we talk about how we may know if an enlarged clitoris is a clitoris or a penis. One way to know this is that a urethra passes through the penis and if one is present we understand that body part to be a penis. I also mention that there is nothing wrong with have a large(r ) clitoris and that these ideas are often connected to our ideas of “normalcy” which we all have a responsibility to challenge.

Instead of discussing each of the most common types of intersexuality that occurs, as Fausto-Sterling does a great job of outlining them in an accessible way in her book, we discussed a societal response to intersex people. We talked first about why doctors and parents may rush to perform surgery on babies, what motivations the doctors and the parents have and if they are the same. We also discussed in what capacity someone would know if they were intersex if they were not told, if the idea by parents and doctors is for them to have “normal” looking genitals how would they know what “normal” is? What images in our society and families may help us understand what “normal” genitals look like when we do not all live in societies where we show our genitals to others outside of specific encounters.

As part of their preparation for discussing intersex communities and experiences I had them watch a four part series of a documentary following Caster Semenya, a South African track runner (videos below). You may remember conversations about Semenya, as some of her competitors were suspicious on why and how she was so much faster than them and winning often (i.e. the faster in track is a few seconds). We discussed what was seen in the documentary, how Semenya coped with what was going on, how the world now knew what her chromosomal make up and genitals may look like (when ironically a majority of us do not know our chromosomal make up and some still don’t know what our own genitals look like because we have not ever looked in a mirror!) Many students vaguely remember Semenya, or what the societal and institutional response was to her. They were each disappointed in the response and all picked up on the fact that although Semenya was one of the fastest women runners in the world, she was not the fastest and she was not close to the fastest man runners in the world. I hope that if they one day find themselves in a position to support an intersex person they are able to remember our class and their experiences and responses to Semenya’s story.

Sexual Orientation
Originally I did not put these two topics after one another. The reason for that is because often students confuse sexual orientation with gender. I often like to do separate days and lectures for each topic, however, since we only meet three times a week for a few hours and I had some guest speakers coming in, this was one of the only options I had to discuss both topics in depth.

I began by making it clear that students understood WHY gender and sexual orientation were separate. I asked them why they thought they were different and heard their responses. We then made a list of the sexual orientations that they have heard about or are familiar with. The list we created as a group included: lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and queer. As is often something that happens the group forgot that heterosexuality is a sexual orientation. I used this opportunity to remind them that this is a good example of how we are normalized to understand and see heterosexuality as “normal” in our society.

I explained that sexual orientation is not just about sex. It is an attraction and a connection. That sometimes these connections and attractions are physical and/or sexual, but when thinking about how they identify their sexual orientation it is more inclusive and centers connections that are also spiritual, emotional, sensual, and fulfilling in various ways. That when we think of sexual orientation think of who you may want to spend your life with, build a family with, and find comfort. It is far more complex than engaging in sexual activities.

Part of their readings for this section was focused on discussing asexuality as a sexual orientation. One reading focused on Dan Savage recent ignoring of asexuality as a sexual orientation and how harmful and inappropriate that approach is for a sexuality educator. The Queertionary 2.0 also acted as a good resource. Some students confuse asexuality with celibacy. So, I made it clear that brothers, sister, monks, and nuns may have their own sexual orientation, but their vow of celibacy means they are not acting upon their desires, but that does not mean they never existed!

We also discussed the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality. Some students did not see the difference and my explanation was that people who identify as pansexual may often “date the people they like” regardless of gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and identities. That often folks who identify as bisexual may be clear that they are attracted to a specific gender expression and sex assigned at birth, that the term alone is a good example of clearly being interested in people who are a part of the gender binary and that is ok!

I then went through a discussion of how trans people also have a sexual orientation. That being trans is a about gender, not sexual orientation; a completely different part of our identity. I explained that if a trans woman partnered with a another woman that would be a lesbian relationship; if a trans woman partnered with a man that relationship is heterosexual, if a trans man partnered with a man that is a gay relationship and if a trans man partnered with a woman that is a heterosexual relationship. Again, just as with intersex, some students get caught up on the genitals. These relationships are not always about genitals. I make it clear that it is none of our business what two (or three or four) people do in their relationship with their genitals unless we are one of those people. That to assume that a coupling would participate in certain sexual activities is problematic, and sexual behaviors do not define us. Since we had already discussed anatomy and physiology, we know where nerve endings are located on our body so it makes sense if some folks find pleasure in certain activities that we may not enjoy for ourselves. These are important things to know about ourselves for our partners, but they are not to be used to oppress other people’s pleasure, that is a misuse of power.

Now, some folks confuse these two: gender and sexual orientation, also because some folks may not perpetuate a stereotypical gender expression. That some people who identify as something other than heterosexual, that their gender expression challenges what we assume and are socialized to understand men and women presenting and exaggerating. I use myself as an example and share that my gender expression is very stereotypically feminine. Yet, my students do not know what my genitals look like or what my SAAB was just as I do not know what theirs is. We base those off of gender expression. Because I wear dresses, have long hair, my name is “feminine,” my voice is high, my body has fat deposited in places we assume is correct for “curvy” figures, and I wear make up (to name a few), I express femininity in this way. That does not mean that folks can assume what my sexual orientation is by looking at me. Some folks who are women may express their gender in what we understand to be stereotypically masculine qualities and that is also not grounds to assume anything about someone’s sexual orientation. Gender expression is about what we feel comfortable doing that day, how we wish to present ourselves to the world and for some people it is connected to gender, for others it may be connected to sexual orientation, or for others connected to both.

A video I asked them to watch before class was Jay Smooth’s “An Old Person’s Guide to ‘No Homo’” which I find to be accessible, and sadly, still relevant. Check the video out below:

They also watched the film Mariposa about Espie Hernadnez’s experience with planning her quinceñera (sweet 15). Some folks did not know what a quinceñera was so this was a new experience for them. Many of my students are from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean where quinceñera’s are not always/often celebrated as in other Central and South American communities. One question was if Espie was “pushing” her sexual orientation onto her parents. I explained that for this rite of passage it assumes heterosexuality, thus it is a heterosexist rite of passage, which also privileges heterosexual people. For Espie to request she be partnered with her girlfriend for her quinceñera is challenging hetersexism and also speaks to her desire to be true to herself and truthful and honest with her family. Check out Mariposa below:

The next class is a quiz (if you want to know what the quiz questions were to practice or quiz yourself let me know in the comments and I’ll send them to you) for the first hour in short answer format with a diagram for students to complete. We then discuss pregnancy and birth options with our first guest speaker!

Day 4
Again, if you want to know the quiz questions, let me know! Some sample quiz questions I offered students to prepare and try to answer in short question format include:

1. What is the path sperm goes to exit the body?
2. Is PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) real? Support your opinion.

You’ll notice that we did not discuss PMS specifically when we discussed the menstrual cycle, however it was in the textbook readings and they are responsible for those readings even if we do not discuss them in depth in class. Also, in the syllabus are lists of terminology that are important to know. Many of these terms I discuss in class but if not they are in the text and readings and they are still responsible for know.

Pregnancy Options and Birth
Our guest speaker is someone that I’ve mentioned here before, my doula mentor Sparkle.  I asked Sparkle to talk about her experiences working with pregnant and parenting people and providing support for them as well as what occurs during pregnancy and birthing options. To prepare for this session, students were reading Doula Right Thing: About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts  which discusses how to work with trans and genderqueer people who are pregnant and how to discuss genitals without assigning a gender to them. They were also asked to watch clips from the documentary “The Business of Being Born” which discusses the medicalization of birth, home births, working with midwives and doulas, and how medication given to pregnant people at the hospital impacts the body and baby. The clips are below:

Before Sparkle began to present I defined three terms for students: fertilization, implantation, and human chorionich gonadotrophin (HCG). Fertilization is when a mature egg hooks up with a mature sperm. Some folks believe this is when “life” begins, but I am going to leave that definition of “life” up to individual students. Implantation is when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine/endometrial lining which helps nurture it and grow into a fetus. HCG is considered the “pregnancy hormone” as this is what is trying to be detected in home pregnancy tests and pregnancy tests at doctors and clinics. I made it clear that home pregnancy tests do NOT have to be expensive and that the dollar store tests work just as well as the expensive name brand ones.

One of the reasons I have Sparkle come to my class to discuss pregnancy and birth options (she came last year as well) is because it is one topic that I do not enjoy discussing. I’m honest with students about this (just as I don’t like discussing deviance in introductory sociology courses) but I do it! However, if I can get an expert who is excited about pregnancy and birth I’d prefer them to have someone to talk to versus myself who is not as excited about the topic. Sparkle basically went through this article  and discussed each point in detail and incorporated a personal narrative and story when appropriate. In addition, Sparkle suggested this article about pregnancy and birth for future reference. She also took questions as they came up.

Sparkle shared that as a birth doula she may be present for the birth of the baby and the birth of the placenta providing pain management and support for the birthing parent. She also noted that she is also a support for parents after pregnancy where she will help with breastfeeding, cleaning, coping with parenting, and making sure the transition from being pregnant to being a parent is smooth.

Many students were surprised to hear that working with a midwife in a home birth or a birthing center is significantly less expensive than working with an OB/GYN in the hospital. They were also surprised to hear about how an episiotomy (when the perineum must be cut or severed to help the baby move through the vaginal canal) done by midwives who often allow the perineum to tear are more careful to stitch up the perineum than doctors are who cut the perineum which requires more stitches and a longer recovery time. I have one student who is a parent and chose to share her experience with childbirth with the class. She shared that she felt very empowered by her doctor who supported her desire for a “natural” birth (i.e. no medication) and that to this day she is proud of her accomplishment. It was such a privilege to have her share her birthing story and for it to be one that is positive as she will carry that with her for the rest of her life!

Day 5
Contraceptives and Birth Control

This session focuses on contraceptive and birth control options. For a social and historical perspectives on how these options have been used as coersive forms of population control among people with disabilities, working class and working poor people, and people of Color in the US (and abroad) we read a chapter from Dorothy Robert’s book “Killing The Black Body.” This chapter is called “The Dark Side of Birth Control” which focuses on how birth control advocate Margaret Sanger worked toward making contraceptives and birth control available but also how she aligned herself with eugenicists and the eugenics movement in the US that worked to eliminate racially Black people (and other non-white people) as well as those with disabilities. This chapter is very long! But it provides such an important amount of information about how people’s bodies were seen as valuable, disposable, and how racism, classism, ableism, and ageism played a role in the US history of reproductive health.

I then discussed the difference between the terms contraception and birth control. The term “birth control” does exactly what it says: prevents a birth from occurring. Contraception attempts to limit fertilization, an egg and sperm hooking up. As a result, birth control may allow fertilization and implantation to occur, however a birth does not occur. I then made a list of hormonal and non-hormonal methods and said that after we discuss each we will be able to identify which are contraceptives and which are birth control.

Hormonal methods discussed included a list that students provided: oral birth control pills (obcp), Depo-Provera (the shot), Nuva-Ring, Reproductive Patch, Mirena (IUD), Implants, and Emergency Contraception/Morning After Pill. The non-hormonal methods we discussed included male and female condoms, Paraguard (IUD), diaphragm, spermicides, natural family planning/calendar method, sponge, cervical cap, withdrawal, sterilization (tubal ligation, essure, and vasectomy), breastfeeding, abortion, and abstinence. One website I offered for students to check out prior to this class was Bedsider which offers a discussion of almost each method in depth and in an accessible way. I had samples of each (except for the cervical cap, sponge, implant, and Depo-Provera). We discussed each method, how it is supposed to work, what the side effects are, what folks like and do not like about the method and the cost.

When discussing EC, I shared that it is available over-the-counter for folks over the age of 16 in NYC and the cost may range from $20-60 depending on what that pharmacy chooses to charge. I also indicated that I’m not sure how men who go to the pharmacy to purchase this are treated and if they are given EC. I’m not aware of any men who have tried to get EC and what their experiences were (this may be a great social experiment for some of you reading!). I also noted that if men are not provided with EC when they request it, since men should also know about EC, that it is a good example of leaving contraception and birth control up to the person with the vulva, and that pharmacists are making assumptions about someone’s genitals based on their gender expression. The man in front of them may have a sex assigned at birth that requires them to need EC.

We also discussed how lesbians (some of which I have in my classroom) often think they do not need birth control or contraception, however, again we do not know what our future holds, and it may be that we find ourselves in a relationship with someone who is a woman but whose sex assigned at birth is male and that is a lesbian relationship, but one where if penetrative vaginal intercourse is occurring a barrier method and/or birth control option is needed. Plus, barrier methods like condoms, dental dams, gloves, and finger condoms are useful for many folks regardless of sexual orientation.

Finally we ended with discussing abstinence, which I defined as “waiting to have sex.” I shared that many people define abstinence differently and that “waiting” may mean waiting until you get condoms, waiting until you graduate college, get married, fall in love, whatever! That it is important for each of them to define abstinence for themselves and to be comfortable sharing that with any of their partners. It is also important to discuss what abstinence means to them and to their partner as they may have different definitions as well. We also discussed how abstinence may not work such as instances in domestic violence situations where a person who may not want to have sex with their partner may need to for safety and survival purposes, or when someone is a victim and survivor of rape.

Although I included abortion in our list of non-hormonal methods, I leave that up for a separate class lecture where we will discuss what the procedures actually include, laws surrounding abortion, and debunking myths. We will also discuss female sexual dysfunction and how that is diagnosed and discussed among the sexology community.

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Maternal mortality (death of a woman while pregnant, during delivery or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy from a cause related to or made worse by pregnancy) and morbidity (illness and health complications) affect women of all ages and nationalities. However, women in developing countries are disproportionately affected. The health risk risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth are far greater in developing countries than in industrialized ones. Globally efforts to reduce death among women from complications related pregnancy and childbirth have been less successful than other areas of human development. (The State of The World Children, 2009). Huge disparities exist in maternal death rates between rich and poor countries and within rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and those with no formal education groups within countries. The divide between industrialized countries and the developing regions particularly the least developed countries is perhaps greater on maternal mortality than any other issue. No other mortality rate is so unequal. The gap in risk of maternal death between the industrialized world and many developing countries, particularly least developed is often termed the “greatest health divide in the world”.
As a Nepali woman has 1 in 32 chance of dying because of pregnancy or child birth. In comparison, a woman in a developed country has only a 1 in 10 chance this difference exists because of following reasons:
1. Three delays
• Delay in seeking care
• Delay in reaching care
• Delay in receiving care

2. Health system reasons
• Inadequate number of skill birth attendants
• Inadequate blood transfusion facilities
• Inadequate quality maternal health services
• Inadequate physical health facilities for maternal health services

3. Obstetric causes

a. Direct obstetric deaths: Those resulting from obstetric complications of the pregnant state (pregnancy, labour and the puerperium), from intervention, incorrect treatments or from the chain of events resulting from any of the above.
Short term

_ Post partum hemorrhage
_ Sepsis
_ Abortion
_ Antepartum hemorrhage
_ Obstructive labor

Long term

_ Ectopic pregnancy
_ Eclampsia
_ Pre eclampsia
_ Vesico-vaginal or rectovaginal fistula
_ Uterine prolapse
_ Pelvic inflammatory diseases

b. Indirect obstetric deaths: Those resulting from previous existing disease or conditions developed during pregnancy and are not due to direct obstetric but is aggravated by physiological changes:

• Anemia
• Tuberculosis
• Cardiac and renal infusion
• Asthma
• Gastro-enteritis
• Encephalitis
• Malaria

The vast majority of maternal deaths are avoidable when women have access to vital health care before, during and after childbirth.
Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability for women in developing countries. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth include uncontrolled bleeding, obstructed labor, infection and high blood pressure. Societal factors include gender discrimination and social, cultural, legal, economic and logistical barriers to lifesaving health care.

4. Psychological Obstetric problems
Post- partum psychosis or depression
Mental health problems related to pregnancy and child health

5. Socio-economic and cultural factors: Too early, too late, too frequent, too many child birth leads to high maternal mortality and morbidity.

• Priority to sons
• Family size
• Broken family
• Poverty
• Gender based violence
• Lack of maternity services
• Social customs
• Lack of access to material health services
• Lack of access to family services
• Low socio-economic status
• Heavy workload
• Inadequate nutrition
• Some harmful traditional
• High parity
• Poor communication and transportation

6. Educational factors: The lower the literacy rate, the higher the maternal mortality.

7. Common medical causes of Maternal mortality and morbidity
• Severe anaemia- cardiac failure
• Hemorrhage-shock, cardiac failure, infection
• Hypertensive disorder-eclampsia, Cardio-vascular disease
• Puerperial sepsis-septicemia, shock
• Obstructed labour- fistula, uterine rupture
• Infection during pregnancy- pre- eclampsia, ectopic pregnancy, PID
• Unwanted pregnancy-unsafe abortion, infection, PID, hemorrhage, infertility
• Unsafe delivery- infection, maternal tetanus
• Malaria-severe anemia, cerebral thrombosis

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Ohio has two important pro-LGBT equality bills that have been or will soon be introduced in the current legislative session:

Comprehensive Safe Schools Act
State representatives Nickie Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood, and Michael Stinziano, a Democrat from Columbus, introduced the Comprehensive Safe Schools Act in April.

Ohio House Bill 208 defines actual or perceived sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression as traits commonly exploited by bullies, and calls for these characteristics to be specifically mentioned in anti-bullying policies in Ohio schools. Other protected statuses include age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, gender, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political preference, political belief, socioeconomic status and familial status.

This legislation would give schools jurisdiction over cyberbullying and harassment through other electronic means. It would also require school districts to provide anti-bullying training to staff and volunteers, so they know their legal responsibilities to prevent and respond to bullying.

Equal Housing and Employment Act
The Ohio House approved the Equal Housing and Employment Act (a state-level Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in the last legislative session, the first pro-LGBT equality legislation to pass any chamber of the Ohio General Assembly. The bill saw no movement in the Ohio Senate, so it died when the current legislature took office in January. A version of this bill will be reintroduced this year.

Lobby Day 2011
The Comprehensive Safe Schools Act and Equal Housing and Employment Act won’t get anywhere if Ohioans don’t talk to our lawmakers. Equality Ohio is asking constituents to join them for the sixth Lobby Day to tell your state elected officials LGBT people and our allies live throughout Ohio, and we support this legislation. (For more on the importance of talking to lawmakers, read Equality Ohio Director Ed Mullen’s account of his first lobby day in Illinois.)

Equality Ohio Lobby Day 2011 is slated for May 18, in Columbus.

Crossposted from Stuff Queer People Need To Know.

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Young people with disabilities especially those in Africa are amongst the most discriminated upon since most policies do not cover their needs and their access to opportunities wherein they can voice their concerns are very scarce to find. Even In meetings like this one, very few young people with disabilities were present (one) who had to sponsor his interpreter.

I met with Robert Nkwangu, a youth activists from Uganda who is deaf and dumb and regardless of his disability was able to come to this summit and had his voice and those of thousands of young people with disabilities in the African continent heard. It might interest you to know that Robert attends a regular school, is a holder of a degree in the social sciences and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Social Sector Planning and Management.

Abongwa Victor, International Youth Journalist from Cameroon

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April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month for over 10 years. Its goal has been to bring awareness about sexual violence as well as educate communites about prevention of these crimes.
This year, SAFER(Students Active For Ending Rape) is advocating for a change from awareness to activism. One way to be a part of this initiative is to sign the pledge promising to take an active role in ending sexual violence. Anyone, not just students, can do it.

At the University of Cincinnati this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, here are just some of the many things going on:

Reel Sex Film Festival: Dinner & Movie about film relating to sexual health issues. The first film is Let’s Talk about Sex, an award winning film by James Houston

Pop Praxis: Social Justice & the Media : a conference discussing the implications pop culture has on ideas about race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, and more…and how pop culture can be an avenue for social change

Relay for Life Team: If you didn’t know, Relay for Life is a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society where teams stay for 18+ hours walking around and participating in fundraising activities. UC has the largest Relay for Life in Ohio and volunteers from the Women’s Center are participating. For our fundraiser, we are doing a Panty-Palooza! We are buying a bunch of different kinds, styles, and sizes of panties, stenciling on sexually positive phrases like “Consent is Sexy”, “Reclaim”, and “yes Means Yes”, selling them, and providing cool accessories like feathers, glitter, fabric paint, & more to make them extra awesome. Take Back the Night is the same night as Relay so we are providing information on that at Relay. We will also have teal ribbons and suckers with sexual statistics!


Passing out free condoms & playing awesome games!

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but overall I think this will be the best Sexual Assault Activism Month UC has ever had!

What are your plans for Sexual Assualt Activism Month?

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On March 8th, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), along with 17 co-sponsors re-introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act. While the bill has been brought up before, this is the first time that the bill has been introduced with bipartisan support with the inclusion of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

As described by the HRC:

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. Additionally, the SSIA would require the Department of Education to provide Congress with a report on the state reported data, along with other specified data, every two years.

We all know that bullying in schools is more or less an epidemic, and protections for LGBTQ youth is an undeniable necessity.

"While we do have federal laws to provide support to promote school safety, there is nothing currently in place to comprehensively and expressly address issues of bullying or harassment,” said Senator Casey.

Statistics have shown for years that LGBTQ youth have suffered from bullying and harassment at absolutely unacceptable levels.

(Info courtesy of HRC- )
(Stats from the 2009 National School Climate Survey, conducted by GLSEN)

84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. Moreover, 63.7 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2 percent reported being physically harassed and 12.5 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

I think it’s wonderful that the Safe Schools Improvement Act has bipartisan support. I am also incredibly proud to say that the reason SSIA is bipartisan is because of Mark Kirk- my Senator from Illinois! He also voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so it’s encouraging to see him continue to lead among his Republican colleagues on issues of equality.

Co-sponsors for the Safe Schools Improvement Act include:

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
John Kerry (D-MA)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

If you don’t see your Senators on the list, please call their office and ask them to become a co-sponsor of this important and necessary legislation and/or to support it when it comes to a vote. Or, if one or both of your Senators are already co-sponsors, call them to say Thank You!! You can call the capital switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office.

There’s no reason this bill shouldn’t be more bipartisan. Bullying can effecting anyone, and it can effect anyone’s children.

"Anti-LGBT harassment hurts the children of both Democrats and Republicans, as do all of the forms of bullying and harassment addressed by this important bill," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.

Another feature of the bill is that it “clarifies that ‘electronic communications’ are a context in which students could experience harassment.” This was a priority of Senator Kirk, who wanted to address the “growing problem of cyber bullying.”

From The Log Cabin Republicans:

“Bullying on basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion has been growing at a rapid pace in the age of texting and online social networks,” said Kirk. “Our children need to feel protected and safe so they can learn, and I hope the Casey/Kirk bill will encourage schools and districts to develop effective prevention and responsible protocols.”

From The Washington Blade:

“It’s incumbent on the national legislature to keep up to speed with what’s happening in the country, and cyber-bullying is now very much a part of 21st century American life,” Kirk said.

I applaud Senator Kirk for acknowledging such a necessity. According to GLSEN, Rep. Linda Sanchez is expected to introduce similar legislation in the House within a few weeks. I look forward to seeing some real leadership on this issue. As young people, we see the everyday consequences of bullying, and as bloggers here at Amplify, we have become familiar with the stories of too many LGBTQ youth who are no longer with us because of bullying and suicide. We have lost real and potential friends and allies who should have stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our fight for a better future.

Here again is the phone number for the Capital Switchboard.  (202) 224-3121. Call and ask your Senators to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act. It’s important.

~ Samantha
Community Editor

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by Bianca Laureano

This is not an article about Charlie Sheen. Instead this article uses the conversations and reporting around Sheen to bring to light ableist language that is being used. My hope is to have us all think about how language is alive, and how we can make good decisions to use language that is effective yet does not oppress or isolate others.

I’ve heard all sorts of terminology around what is going on with Charlie Sheen, most overly used being “crazy,” “nut,” “loony,” and “lost/losing his mind.” Folks are also using other terms, more profane, in addition to these. What strikes me is the obvious misuse of certain terms when it comes to mental illness and disability. I have been working on this myself, especially since my mother was recently diagnosed with dementia, and thinking about what that means for my future mental wellness. I am not without misusing these terms either, however, now that these terms impact me and my family and the community I’m a part of, I’ve learned. I’ve made the conscious choice to learn and do things differently and treat language as an important part of the work I do. It’s a struggle, it’s not always easy, but it’s something I’ve committed myself to doing and it’s a process.

Caring for an aging parent really puts disability in context, especially for someone like me who enjoyed almost 25 years of being able-bodied. When I was disabled and could not walk for extended periods of time I was very isolated and had lots of time to think. It was then that I realized that being able-bodied was temporary, that I will always now be someone with a disability and how that will impact my life. How to move through the pain that is very real and impacts my sense of self and gender expression; how to cope with my body changing because of lack of movement, were all things that came at me very quickly because I was never prepared to think about such things. This is because we live in an ableist society

Our society, and many all over the world, privileges people who are able-bodied. Yes, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act, http://www.ada.gov/ and yes some forms of limiting access are illegal, yet that does not eliminate the prejudice that can, and often does, follow. So, as Sheen’s actions are televised and shared virtually, so are the insults, name-calling, and isolation. The ableism spreads quickly without critique or mention.

Folks, please be aware of the ableist language you use and how it harms us all. Using terms that oppress others who are living with mental illness is not trendy, funny, or appropriate. I believe that language is alive, it is important, and has power. I was writing to my homegirl Erika Lopez  who has written extensively about Sheen and what he’s said and represents at her clog,  but we both agree that language can do a lot of good and a lot of damage.

She share with me how some terms, that she had never heard of and are not slang, are difficult for her to understand and use properly. She shared that it challenged her, but not in a way that was affirming or that taught her anything, but in ways that made her feel inadequate. I told her I know exactly how she feels as I often find myself in that space too. I think a lot of language does this because that is the goal of some folks who use such language. I shared with her my experience in a PhD program and having to learn the language of theory, and all the big words “scholars” made up to share their ideas. They made these terms enormous as a way to only speak to the people who are members of their community. It excludes folks and that is the goal. In that exclusion it also has others doubt their own intellect, thus reinforcing an elitist space.

There are some similarities in code-switching, when folks move from one language to another (think moving from English to another language for folks who speak more than one, this includes sign language). When folks code-switch they may often do so because that is the language they are most comfortable speaking, a hybrid of more than one language. It is also a way that folks can keep outsiders out. I wrote a little about this and language in my post about Lady Gaga and her choice in using certain terms in her songs. 

This is the same issue I find with the term “colorblind” when folks talk about racism and race neutrality. Affiliating people with a specific disability that impairs their vision with people who perpetuate discrimination based on race is wrong on numerous levels. Not only does it equate a disability (which can be an outcome of numerous situations from biology, age, injury, etc.) with a lack of knowledge, but it also reinforces stereotypes that people with disabilities are not intelligent, thus disposable, thus ignored.

Many of the anti-racist communities and activists use the term “colorblind” on a regular basis,  even some folks who we may admire, and it is one of the reasons I have slowly removed myself from such spaces. It is not effective to think that the language we use does not isolate or impact others, especially if we do not understand how identities intersect and make us all complicated. Imagine what a person of Color with a disability or an anti-racist White person with a disability may experience when in their community of practice, their gender, race and ethnicity or culture is prioritized over their disability. None of us should ever have to be forced to choose one identity over the other. Ever.

One of the things that triggered this post for me was seeing this image come across my Tumblr dashboard. I think this image offers some great suggestions and examples of how we have such a vast amount of choices in the words we choose, why not accept this challenge of not using ableist language? The image at the time was posted at the site  however at this time Tumblr does not seem to be showing that page. For now you can view it or reblog it here .  

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of the 2011 Amplify International Women’s Day Blogathon. Click here to learn more about how you can join this week of action.

I’d like to take on the question of equal education, because it’s something that’s directly relevant to my life, and I’d like to look at a somewhat less-blogged-about facet of the problem. There are tons of great blog posts about how to solve the problems of women having no access to schooling, or less access to schooling than men, or less access to particular disciplines. These are the basic problems and we can’t go anywhere until we solve them. But I’d like to look at the next step, based on some of my own experiences.

If we look at education in terms of the simple question, do men and women both have a chance to go to school and perform well, I honestly don’t have much to talk about. I was lucky enough to live in an area where going to school was a given, and I never really noticed gender-based discrimination in school. I graduated from college and law school with honors and awards. But equal access is not that simple. Equal access also means:

Access to a broad range of concentrations and skills. When you think about education, you have to think about who writes the curricula and who decides what classes are taught. I had no access to women’s studies, queer studies, sociology, anthropology, development studies, cultural studies, Black studies, native studies, or Latino/a studies courses before college. Many women don’t have access to much more basic classes in math, science, or computer skills. Certain skills also may be easier to learn for men after formal studies–networking, business skills, and public speaking might be more commonly transferred in “boys’ clubs,” whereas women area at a disadvantage when these skills aren’t taught in school.

Access to different ways of thinking within an area of study. Within the courses I did take in high school and college, I rarely had a chance to explore differing perspectives. Feminist perspectives were never brought up in school, nor were POC perspectives. I read few authors from the Global South. Disability was rarely mentioned. Queer perspectives, including non-binary ideas of gender, were never discussed. History, literature, civics, etc. were taught from the perspective of dead white guys. Alternative methods of teaching, study, and expression were also discouraged. Poetry is a valid form of communication. So is song. So is activism. So is art. So is digital media.

Being treated as a subject, not an object. The education I received tended to subtly place students as objects, not subjects of their learning. Sometimes, this was general–learning was received, not participatory in many cases. But other times it was felt more strongly by certain groups in the classroom. White, straight, male views were presented as “mainstream.” Unique ideas were not discussed and debated in the classroom. If not objectified, minorities were marginalized and made invisible–queer people, for example, did not appear in the books I read. Relationships were assumed to be heterosexual. Everyone was assumed to have a gender. And yes, the male pronoun was often used to refer to doctors, lawyers, and politicians.

Presenting a diverse picture of womanhood. I was thinking about my American literature course in 11th grade, and though we had a really phenomenal teacher, I can only recall three female authors that we read in that class. Two of those were white, one was Black. We didn’t read any Native American, Asian American, queer, or Latino/a authors in that class. Just as “man” is understood to mean “white man” in mainstream academics, so too is “woman” understood to mean “middle class white woman.” Nor were alternative pictures of womanhood really presented. The concept of “femininity” was never challenged.

Basic resources and support outside the classroom. This is something I was lucky enough to have in my own experience, but I want to mention it because I think that many women do have access to education, but are hampered in their academic performance by poverty, by lack of mentorship or support after school, by difficulties in getting healthy meals or enough sleep, by the need to work while going to school. Female poverty, young motherhood, and many governments’ absolute failure to support their citizens must be addressed if education is to be effective.

Focus on barriers that affect women disproportionately. Equal access is impossible when boys are socialized to harass, coerce, and rape women. Equal access is impossible when youth who transgress gender norms are threatened, terrorized, and beaten in their schools and communities. Equal access is impossible when pregnant teenagers are ignored and written off, and when young women are denied access to comprehensive sex education, contraception, reproductive health services, and abortion. Sex education is an issue regardless of gender, but the lack disproportionately harms those who are able to bear children because of the stigma against pregnant teens and the practical challenge that these teenagers face. It also disproportionately harms women and queer people in general because no sex education means no education in consent, no education against harassment, and no education in respecting gender and sexual minorities. Members of these groups live in fear and find it difficult to learn as a direct result of this lack.

Creating safe spaces and providing mentors. I have heard of some really amazing projects in a number of cities that provide safe spaces for young women and for particular groups such as girls of color, immigrant girls, and queer kids and adolescents. We need more of these, and we need them in every locality, in every country. Most young women I know have never experienced a safe space. I have been in one once, and I ended up crying from both joy and relief. Such spaces and groups act as a refuge for kids and teens who feel ostracized. While boys are encouraged to group around their talents as athletes, girls’ groups tend to focus on frivolity. This grossly underestimates the ability of girls as thinkers, entrepreneurs, and creative forces. Similarly, adults need to step in as mentors to young women, providing positive role models where there have typically been none.

Not using gender as a factor in how students are taught and socialized. My final point speaks to my own experience as a person outside of the gender binary, and to a long and ongoing struggle to find myself in a binary world. The question posed to us was about women, but I think that equal access goes beyond that. It gets at the heart of a huge problem–the way we are socialized into two genders, as men and women, according to cultural norms, early in our education, and then taught as men and women for the rest of our lives. Not only are women harmed by being taught in a different way from men, but we are all harmed by the way we are labeled as men or women and then shoved into an educational box. We can talk about how education privileges male forms of communication, but it also teaches us those forms from an early age, and teaches them as male-appropriate. This is a disservice to the immense creativity, ingenuity, and diversity of the human race.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog, Radically Queer, and was edited for Amplify’s blogathon.

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A friendly reminder. The 30th anniversary conference of the Civil Liberties & Public Policy program is fast approaching! Read more below, and register here.

Also, the deadline for applying for a travel stipend is this Friday, February 25th! More info here. The conference will be held at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

On April 8-10, 2011, join other activists from across the U.S. and internationally to build a stronger movement for reproductive justice and social change. Come to revitalize your political passion, energy and imagination, and celebrate our collective leadership and strength.

Speakers from the U.S. and abroad will offer more than 50 workshops and trainings highlighting the interconnections between reproductive freedom and a broad range of human rights and social justice issues, including health care, race and class, LGBTQI+ rights and gender justice, pregnancy and the freedom to parent, disability justice, criminalization and militarization, immigrant and worker rights, youth liberation, and freedom from violence – just to name a few.

Learn, network, strategize and build a stronger movement for social change.

Over the weekend, you will deepen your understanding of issues you already know about, make new connections, and unite with others who are passionate about working for social justice.

You can check out the 2010 conference highlights here.

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Minneapolis was rocking last weekend as 2,500 activists gathered for the 23rd annual Creating Change conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

There were over 200 workshops throughout the conference, so it was impossible to go to everything I was interested in. Still, it was exciting and inspiring to be around so many activists who each brought attention to a different, intersecting aspect of this work. I really appreciated the attention given to racial, economic, and disability justice within the movement for LGBT equality.

I went to workshops on everything from poverty in the LGBT community to trans feminism to audism and the Deaf community (where we watched this powerful documentary). There, I was struck by the facilitator’s reminder that just as 90 percent of LGBT people are born to straight parents, 90 percent of deaf people are born to hearing parents.

There was also an entire track called “Practice Spirit, Do Justice,” which gave activists a chance to think about doing activism as part of, and in partnership with, faith-based communities. So often, religion and progressive values and activism are pitted against each other, so it is awesome to see investment and interest in this work. Just like at the SYRF Summit, it was fulfilling and inspiring to learn from other activists in an interfaith setting.

Sarah and I led a workshop on sex education policy and advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels, and together, everyone in the room brainstormed all the things that would be included in our ideal comprehensive sex education. All I can say is—I wish I could take the class we came up with!

I am also really stuck (in a good way) on something that came out of a workshop I went to called “Resource Revolution.” In it, we talked about how we can rethink what we have, what we need, what we want, and how we’re going to get there. We have so many resources (tangible or not) that we can use to help each other and collectively work for justice, but we are always still figuring it out. One of the facilitators talked about this as “building the bicycle as we ride it.” What an awesome way to envision our lives and our work together!

If you’re interested in hearing more about Creating Change, I hear twitter was abuzz with #cc11 commentary (as well as post-conference culture shock of entering back into a 90% heterosexual population and gendered bathrooms)—check it out!

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Ohio University’s decision this week to allow men and women to live in the same dorm rooms starting next fall as part of a yearlong experiment drew support and criticism from the Cincinnati area on Thursday.

Student activists have been pushing for "gender-neutral" housing since the start of the school year as a way to help gay and transgender students feel more comfortable living on campus.

Housing officials at the Athens campus had been independently studying the issue since the summer as a way to allow all students – gay, bisexual or straight – to pick their most-compatible roommates.

OU President Roderick J. McDavis approved the test program Tuesday, and campus leaders announced it last night at a Student Senate meeting.

How will this change living experiences in dorms? I’m sure many questions have been raised about this topics such as will students have options on whether they able to live someone of the same sex or opposite. ? Will students be sent their roommates preferences and sex by email before move in day? I think this is a great idea when it comes to individuals that are either LGQBT, but heterosexual and parents are going to cause an uproar. People have to realize this is not 1600’s, an individual is an individual and their sexual preference should reflect your judgment of who they are. Parents do not want anyone judging their child if they have disability, one of their eyes is smaller than the other or crossed, so why is it acceptable to judge someone by their sexual preference. People enjoy casting limitations until it become sensitive to their situation. Many may feel that imposing this on college students during their freshmen year is wrong, but this is the world we live in and college is the real world, this change will be an eye-opener. SO EMBRACE IT. 

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Lifestyle is a choice. Unfortunately, many people disagree with lifestyles of their peers, neighbors, and fellow citizens. As a politician, you take on the responsibility of serving all of your constituents, regardless of race, gender, political affilitation, sexual orientation, or physical disability. You are not able to pick and choose which of your constituents to cater to, although many times that is exactly what happens.

North Carolina State Representative Larry Brown has made it his goal to exclude the HIV/AIDS Community from his legislative goals. He stated the government should not spend money to treat adults with HIV or AIDS who "caused it by the way they live."  Rep. Brown continued to allude that "perverted lifestyles" are what causes AIDS, and the the government should not waste money on AIDS funding. He also expressed his support for amending the NC constitution to include defining marriage as between a man and a woman, further limiting the ability for homosexuals to get the right to marry in North Carolina.

What worries me is this: when does the government retain the right dictate what lifestyles are permitted and which are condemned? And if this is a power of the government, will tobacco and obesity prevention be stricken as well since they are "lifestyle choices."? Also, if a medical condition like AIDS isn’t funded by the government, what will happen to those individuals who absolutely need this care?

I shudder at the thought where I, a seventeen year old student, will be ignored because I live the life of a student… where I’m not a priority because I live a different lifestyle than those in power.

This blog was written in response to this article:

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I am a proud person, but I have never really considered myself to be “proud” of being trans or genderqueer or queer or femme or disabled. However, I have always been proud of being an activist. I live in a conservative city where even the most “liberal” people are barely recognizable on any “coastal activist” scale. The general concept of community involvement is an HRC sticker on your car and getting drunk at Pride and terms like “privilege,” “ablism,” and “appropriation,” are barely in stock, and we just got them in last year. After 12 years on the activist block, I’m used to my comments about some problematic show or song being accompanied by friends’ groans and eye roles. What I’m not used to is being fed up with it.

Possibly regrettable statement: I am f**king tired of bad politics. Yes, I know I am using a subjective qualifier and using my own ideals to measure “good” and “bad.” And I feel the need to clarify that I know “bad” politics does not equal bad people. I have always striven NOT to be the type of activist who shoves PC crap down people’s throats without taking experience or perspective into account. That method isn’t productive or inclusive. But it may be that my being too curbed has been part of the problem… maybe in my attempts not to be a total social outcast I have let my city down. Or maybe I’m just sick of my friends making fun of me for giving a damn about language and community politics. But in Cincinnati-speak, ‘giving a damn’ is more commonly called ‘over reacting’ or ‘reading too much into things.’ Under this mentality, when I see something f**ked up I’m supposed to let it go, banking on someone’s good intentions. Well, good intentions don’t drive revolution and revolution is what our people need.

But not according to folks around here. According to them things are fine, inclusiveness is stupid and weak, and pop-culture is god. If you don’t agree with this you deserve ridicule and rejection. Being ‘gay’ and being a fan of a singing diva or show is nothing new, and perhaps it is this history that has fused the concept of ‘gay pride’ and pop-culture. Recently I told some friends that I personally preferred not to choreograph or perform songs from Glee because I felt hypocritical (I hate Glee) and that I felt the particular requested song, “Baby Its Cold Outside,” to be sexually coercive and problematic. In response, these folks insensitively made fun of me, both for my “PC” comments and for not liking Glee, and then told me that I needed to get over myself. Now, 1) last time I checked rape was always bad and 2) I didn’t say anything negative about the friends themselves, just the show Glee. But these two factors didn’t matter because it wasn’t the political issues that were the problem, it was me “over reacting” about Glee and being “lame” (and yeah, I commented on that word too and got shit for that as well). Apparently an insult to Glee is an attack on “gay” life as we know it, making defense of it needed by whatever means necessary, even if it means emotionally hurting another “gay” person, even if they are your friend. We get so distracted fighting for survival and jumping at scraps of privilege and recognition we don’t even notice when we put down our own to get it.

And at this point I would like to redundantly point out the difference between a personal attack and a political dialogue. Just because I don’t like something you like or agree with something you say / language you use, doesn’t mean I don’t like or respect you as a human being. And I would expect that if someone didn’t like my politics they would recognize the difference between me politically analyzing language and me being an overall terrible person who is out to destroy them and all they love, burning all their hopes of happiness away with a flaming torch of indiscriminate activist fury… but this expectation has not worked out for me as of late.

I guess the obvious reason for all this is that people don’t like to be challenged nor do they like being told that something they like could possibly be bad. Yeah, f**king up sucks. Its embarrassing, I get it. I’m make mistakes all the time! I’ve not checked my privilege, slipped on a word, laughed at a bad joke… and when I see (or am shown) my error I pull myself up, admit it, and apologize – all this without my face catching on fire or some other catastrophic result. (gasp!) Who could guess others could do the same thing, even in the Midwest? But I could be wrong. Maybe the right thing to do is to be a pop-culture drone and lazily let mainstream society spoon feed me my identity in whatever flavor it sees fit. Do people really think that defending Glee or someone like Katy Perry or Ke$ha is helping them? Should we be thankful for celebrities throwing us a bone, even if they hit us in the face with it? (Get your mind out of the sex-club. Politics now, sex later.) Aren’t queers supposed to have something called “pride?” Queer pride is supposed to be an unabashed fight  for our right to be ourselves, not latching onto cultural fads at the whims of sanitized music and TV.

I refuse to take what I am given, not because I am greedy or impatient, but because I am realistic. I know that in the real world words hurt. How did our society come to (sort of) learn that other semi-culturally recognized oppressions weren’t ok? We stopped allowing them in our media (sort of). The more we let slide the farther back we slide in the progress we are trying so hard to make. Is this what our proud people have been reduced to? Taking hand outs from celebrities who claim to care about the “gay cause” but don’t care enough to actually live their politics through their language and/or their performance? Yet when real people in our community speak out they are cast out as some sort of heretic. Am I reading too much into things? I think the problem is that too many people don’t read enough into things. If oppression were always out in front where everyone could see it there would be no question of right and wrong, but it isn’t. It hides in words, in TV shows, in songs… There is a big difference between obsessing over every tiny thing without thinking of the source’s experience(s) and recognizing the intricate layers of oppression within comments/products that promote problematic language and politics for the sake of entertainment and false belonging. I think if we were really proud of our community we would want to work hard to make it as inclusive as possible and be active in its growth, not leave it up to pop stars and TV to shape our image. Oppression comes from a lack of challenging the status quo. Yes, it is more work to think, and sometimes you don’t like what you find, but responsibility isn’t always easy or fun. And though I don’t necessarily think of myself as being “proud” to be any of my identities, I think that being able to say “I try my best with every option available to me to help my communities” enables me to be proud of who I am. Sure, I like seeing my identity recognized in media so I take the effort to find work created by queer and trans people for the sake of helping our community instead of those who use it for monetary gain or cool points. No, I can’t laze back and watch it on Fox or hear it on Clear Channel, but I’d rather have the real thing in its rarity than some money-making imitation that makes me feel good about myself at the cost of my own community’s dignity and pride.

xposted – MidwestGenderQueer.com

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By Peter Young
Creative Director, INTA Gems & Diamonds
Crown Designer for the Miss California USA organization

Bullying is not beautiful, especially when it’s done to you as a teenager. I know because I had to cope with abuse from a young age for being gay. It was all around me in some form at school, at church and in the media.

Ironically, at school, I was actually a popular, well-liked student. I received excellent grades, was on the student counsel, and was even voted having one of the "best smiles" my senior year in high school. However, I was not out at the time and was quite unhappy on the inside.

What my classmates, teachers, friends and family didn’t know was that the bullying and harsh words towards gay people were taking their toll on me. Hearing constant homophobic slurs like "faggot," "queer" and "dyke" used to demean people (even if they weren’t gay) left me feeling sad, alone and depressed and not wanting to go on with my life.

In my both my high school and college years, I was fearful of graduating and going out into the adult world. I didn’t know what to expect and I expected the worse. My teenage years were a very hard time for me. But, I hid it well and focused my efforts in becoming a better person.

Luckily, even with all the abuse I was feeling, I also had people who I knew cared about my well-being like my parents, teachers, and close friends in school, church and the community. They provided the extra support, care and love that helped me withstand all the attacks that I was feeling.

One college professor in particular was extremely supportive of me and I will not forget his care for my well-being back then and even now. With his help and the support of others, I got through those confusing teenage years. And as an openly gay adult, I am proud to say that I’ve lived an amazing life so far. I now know that there is so much worth living for.

Nonetheless, it’s has been heart-wrenching to watch all the recent teenage suicides lately in the news as I can relate to the pain and suffering that the our gay youth are going through these days…especially with cyber-bullying. I felt I had to do something to send out a more positive message for youth.

As the official crown designer for the Miss California USA organization, I’ve been working together with Shanna Moakler, former Miss USA and Co-Executive Director, and Keith Lewis, Co-Executive Director, of the Miss California USA organization to help remedy the problem. We have been working with gay civil rights organizations like the NoH8 campaign and "It Gets Better movement" to help send out a positive message out to the gay community and into the world.

As an artist, designer and jeweler, I expressed my feelings though my work. Over the past year, I crafted two new crowns for the Miss California USA organization. One for Miss California USA and one for Miss California Teen USA which I hope will promote unity, love and the beauty of California.

As in all works of art in any form, I hope they become conversation pieces for years to come. In my design expression, I hope the crowns become tools for teaching tolerance in the world. These crowns will be passed on year-to-year to each Miss California USA and Miss California Teen USA. And I hope that each titleholder will continue to support a message of promoting love, unity and beauty of California.

So, with the hope of ending bullying amongst teenage youth, the Miss California USA® organization and INTA Gems & Diamonds has dedicated the newly designed Miss California Teen USA Crown to the Love is Louder movement.

Love is Louder was started by actress Brittany Snow, The Jed Foundation and MTV to build on the outpouring of support online after the lives of multiple teenagers were lost to suicide in September 2010. The movement strives to amplify the momentum of other inspiring online campaigns and invite anyone who has felt mistreated, misunderstood or isolated into the conversation.

The Miss California Teen USA Crown has a similar style to the senior Miss California USA Crown; however, the Teen Crown incorporates a rising sun in the center symbolizing the dawn of a brighter day and future. There are fancy yellow diamonds that represent radiant sun rays shining upon a curving California coastline. The design elements derived by the natural beauty of California incorporates glistening waves and vivid sun rays which together form a heart outline to symbolize LOVE.

In addition, there are natural purple sapphires that are set in the crown in memory of the teens who have taken their own lives because of bullying. The purple color is a reminder to the Miss California Teen USAs who wear the crown to not forget their pain and to speak out on their behalf.

The heart that symbolizes love of the Miss California Teen USA Crown is not noticeably visible at first. However, if you look closely at the waves and sun rays of the crown, you’ll see the elements form a heart because love is at the center of it all. To young people who are bullied and harassed for any reason, I encourage you to seek out and share your feelings with your friends, family, school faculty. Together, loved ones in the center of your life can actively speak out and find ways to stop the bullying.

The center inside border of the crown has a permanent inscription that reads "LOVE IS LOUDER" to remind the next Miss California Teen USA® titleholders to promote the theme of the campaign.

Recently, I made a video with Emma Baker, Miss California Teen USA 2010, supporting the movement to stop the bullying in any form and for any reason.

And with camera phones, you too can make your own video supporting Love is Louder movement and post it online to your Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter profiles like we have already done. It could definitely help a teenage friend or family member who is being bullied to reach out for help to stop the abuse. Everybody can make a difference to stop teenage bullying.

Bullying comes in many forms and it’s not only targeted towards gay people. A person can be bullied for being a guy or a girl, too skinny or too fat, too smart or not smart enough. Or even having a physical disability. And yes, you can be bullied for being not only being ugly, but too pretty as well. Bullying, especially in the teenage years, is a universal problem that needs to be resolved.

I encourage those being bullied to reach out to those who care about you. And if you feel that the problem is too big, and need to talk to someone else, please visit www.loveislouder.com. The website has resources with organizations that you can call to talk with someone to get you through what you are feeling. You will get through this. With support, it will get better.

Also, If you have the opportunity to stand up for someone being bullied for any reason, do something to make a difference.

Most importantly, know that that although bullying may never go away, take peace in knowing know that there are those in the world that are working on your behalf to proclaim LOVE IS LOUDER.

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by Bianca Laureano

I’m really devastated right now and that kind of distracts me from writing from a certain space and perspective. Knowing that the Senate blocked the DREAM Act really bothers me (and if you think it was all Republicans who were against it think again). Here at Amplify we’ve covered the DREAM Act for the entire year, and the work and activism many of our peers are doing to fight for this act passing.

So what messages are we receiving when DREAM Act is not passed? What questions do we have to ask ourselves about the people who we democratically elected and put in power? How will the continued works of activists shift? What role do we now all have to play to ensure this passes? Are we each willing to donate or volunteer directly with DREAMers?

One of the first messages I think this sends us is that the US does not value knowledge or education. Now, we already know this to be true, especially with the lack of comprehensive sexuality education. After all, many of us know that education is a form of power. Being able to produce knowledge, inside and outside of a ‘traditional’ classroom is power. Creating a community of critical thinkers is seen as a threat.

This is the message I get when DREAM Act is not passed. Knowledge and critical thinking are power, and when young people have those things they are a threat.

It’s as if the folks in the Senate were never young, never a part of any movement over the past 40 years (ok maybe some of them weren’t). To live in a country where youth have been at the front and center of movements in this nation from the Civil Rights Movement, Disability Rights, Reproductive Rights, and Immigrant Rights, and have established some of the most amazing parts of this country, then to have that history ignored is devastating and shameful.

We need to remember this. We need to remember for when we are older not to ever do the same thing that has happened here. We cannot become those adults who misuse their privileges, lack empathy, and turn away from establishing and upholding the right to knowledge and power that is transformative.

My homegirl Paz mentioned on Twitter: “The DREAM [a]ct would have passed if the military enlistment requirement were the only condition for residency.” I have to admit that I agree with her. We live in a country that values the lives of our youth enough to send them to war, hope they become Veterans and then can have access to “socially acceptable welfare benefits” as my homegirl Kim B. states. Yet, the US don’t value our youth enough to educate them, encourage them to read, learn to write, and challenge themselves, their peers, and educators.

And the US definitely doesn’t value queer or LGBTQ youth or people enough to want them educated, but they can serve in the military. Make no mistake that DREAMers are queer too! I’m not knocking peoples’ choices to volunteer to join the US military. They are doing work that is incredibly important, even though they will not always be loved and supported the way they should/need to be. That is an amazing act of love and pride. What does it mean that the US won’t allow that same type of love by people who were brought to this country as minors by their parents, or who fled war, rape, murder, abuse, and have created a home here and want to do the same?

It is difficult to separate these issues because they are one in the same. The nation-state has chosen to allow the people they value the least to risk their lives for a set of laws and rules that won’t protect them if they come back alive. There is not too much I can celebrate right now.

On a positive note, one that reminds me that change is possible, that love is revolutionary and transformative, and that the work we do as a community is powerful: my homegirls Stacey aka Cripchick and Mia Mingus have found an accessible place to live together in the Bay area! They chronicled their search and fundraising efforts publicly for us to witness on their Tumblr page The Other Side of Dreaming.  As two young women of Color with disabilities living in the US south and wanting to move, they knew the challenges they would face. As Stacey had written, it is rare for people with disabilities to move their geographic location in such ways; especially to establish an independent living space that centers them.

This week Stacey wrote to Mia and shared with us that they have found a space to call home. This is part of their dream and knowing they have achieved it with the support and love of their community allows me and reminds me to dream bigger. When you reach a goal/dream, it’s permission to keep dreaming and to imagine a new dream that is larger and grander than the last. Now that is inspiration! It’s that inspiration that I know DREAMers and the dreamers in us all will continue to fight for the power we all have, deserve and will not misuse, but use to create new spaces for others to grow.

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I just found this clip on YouTube that I found really interesting. It talks about the HIV/AIDS population that affects people with disabilities (PWDs). Besides the fact that I really dislike the use of "handicap" and "disabled" due to its derogatory nature within history and emphasizing of the body being flawed or not up to par (I prefer using person first language)…I think this video hits the issue dead on and brings things into perspective and into light of what is missing in our everyday dialogue and education of sexual health.

Check it out:



Things to point out that I see that are relevant for PWDs on a national level and global level. (I am making a correlation here based on my life and of my peers’ experiences and life experiences seen in the video:

-PWDs feel like we have something to prove: being good in and at sex (which I am developing a theory based research on internalized asexuality or hypersexuality of PWDs) 

-PWDs are last to know sexual health education. We are not taught therefore can be put at higher risk to get HIV/AIDS   

-often PWDs are even being taken advantage of sexually 

-Because PWDs want to feel loved and get love, PWDs engage in sexual activity to fulfill this need.

It is vital to include PWDs in sexual health and in our dialogue. The lack of information on sexual health and sexuality of PWDs is REALLY harming how other people see PWDs as well. This is what some abled bodied youth actually think about PWDs:


We need to make more of an effort to inform everyone and give them factual information. Ignorance is not bliss….

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Hello everyone!

I hope this meets everyone well today….

For those who don’t know me, my name is V.  I am a Latina with a physical disability (cerebral palsy) and non-heteronormative (I just like to say I am a sexual being or simply queer, although I hate labels). Talk about oppression olympics! 

Today I want to talk about ableism within the LGBTQ "community". It is sad to say but I see so much ableism in my LGBTQ community to the point that I have been denied access! Why you may ask? Alot of the establishments (i.e LGBTQ hang outs etc) are not wheelchair accessible or disability friendly! 

As a queer with a disability, this is a slap in the face. People are not acknowledging that they are being ableist and oppressing their own in their "community".  Frankly, I say community is quotation marks because I really don’t feel like its a community, its a ableist hierarchy because, like most people, people within the LGBTQ community do not acknowledging their own ability status causing barriers for others who do not have the same ability – and people with disabilities are always the ones who are at risk of being denied.

I have brought this to the attention to my LGBTQ friends but I feel like it will be a long process to see change and see access…

We need to create more conscious building, more awareness of LGBTQ individuals who have disabilities, to acknowledge that we do exist and need to be included within the community!

We need to create disability friendly spaces and have access to other people who identify as LGBTQ.

Lastly, we need to all work on acknowledging our own ability status because this is the root of the oppression that is being caused within the LGBTQ community.

I hope that this blog will inspire action and awareness.

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by Bianca Laureano

Since April I’ve wanted to write this article. While on a panel at the CLPP Conference on Media Radicals, there was an interesting conversation about Net Neutrality. During that time I realized three things about this topic 1. I did not know anything about it or why I should, 2. There were few young people involved in the education and movement around Net Neutrality and 3. The language of the conversation was not as accessible as I thought it could be for different communities such as youth, people whose first language is not English, older adults, and people without regular access to the Internet.

With those three things in mind I took some time out to investigate what goes into this topic of Net Neutrality, why there was a disconnect, and what we at Amplify can do to help spread the word. The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition’s zine really helped me and I encourage you all to read them as well as they had a great glossary of technology terms and tips for all sorts of technology questions! I’d like to think this article could be an accessible piece of information that can reach different people, but I also recognize that I write a lot and this post is no different. My hope is that this may lead to some more activism by many of us who write and read at Amplify because we care about the work we do and the information we can access.

I also want to put a disclaimer on this 50th post for this column (!): There’s a huge learning curve here for me, and part of that learning curve is that we are talking about airwaves and I don’t understand completely how an airwave, something we can’t see or touch, can be regulated and restricted. But I know this happens and hopefully some of you readers can also help build on this conversation and teach me something and we can build new knowledge together! Oh, and if you didn’t notice by now, or didn’t guess from the title of this column, I support Net Neutrality!

What Is It

Net Neutrality is basically a free and open Internet and views communication as a human right. It is anti-censorship and pro-equality for all Internet and websites. It’s about choice.  A Columbia Law Professor named Tim Wu created the term. As many of you know, our First Amendment right is freedom of speech and using and accessing the Internet falls under that Amendment. Having an open Internet allows anyone from any computer (except for certain areas such as public schools and libraries) to access any information they choose to or to provide and share information of their choice (think blogs). Here’s a video created by the Save The Internet campaign

Why Is This An Issue

A bit of history: In short, Comcast did some ish that led to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sanctioning them in 2008 because Comcast had unfairly slowed traffic to the website BitTorrent, a file-sharing website. Reporter Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post writes

“The FCC’s predicament stems from a 2008 sanction against Comcast for violating the agency’s open Internet guidelines, which were meant to force broadband providers to treat all network traffic equally, so as not to put any Web site at a disadvantage. In a 3 to 2 vote, the FCC found that Comcast had improperly slowed traffic to the BitTorrent file-sharing site and urged the company to halt the practice. It did not impose a fine. Comcast appealed the FCC sanction, saying that the agency’s order was outside the scope of its authority. The court agreed on Tuesday, saying the agency relied on laws that give it some jurisdiction over broadband services but not enough to make the action against Comcast permissible.”

President Obama is interested in making high-speed Internet (not just dial-up) available nationwide, so when the US Court of Appeals in DC ruled in favor of Comcast in April of this year, many activists, who had already started to make moves on this topic, put this issue as a top priority for communities and Congress.

New York Times reporter Edward Wyatt states that Net Neutrality is when “no form of content is favored over another. In its [Net Neutrality’s] place, consumers could soon see a new tiered system, which like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

Why You Need To Care

If we don’t care about Net Neutrality we don’t value producing and accessing knowledge. Net Neutrality, in many ways can be seen an issue of the “elite” or of the “privileged” and I do not argue against this. It is a privilege to have access to a computer, a space where you can use it, to have electricity, and the ability to care for the equipment, as well as use the equipment correctly.  

At the same time we can use our privilege to ensure that this is a privilege that can one day expand to all people, or that can one day be available to help anyone who needs it around the world. Stephanie C. Webster wrote in her article “After committing to ‘Net Neutrality’, Rep. Waxman pushes bill to kill it”  that Net Neutrality proponents argue “that bloggers or whistle-blowers publishing content the network providers object to could simply be deprioritized, leaving their material in a gray zone devoid of traffic, which many Internet users cannot easily access.” When I read this article I immediately thought about how Wikileaks has been used. My homegirl Barbara shared with me “wiki leaks has been an invaluable resource for journalists – it’s a place where whistleblowers can put information or documents that would usually be too sensitive for people to give to journalists ‘on the record’.” Other communal sharing spaces, like blogs, Wikipedia, and other such spaces are also going to be limited. Be critical in consuming what this Verizon ad tells you!  This is when y/our media literacy skills become invaluable!

What Are Some Challenges

There are some folks who argue that Net Neutrality is not the main issue for them and their communities. For folks who can’t even access the Internet, their main concern is simply getting the Internet in the first place! This is for sure a class issue. This is an area that is a challenge for me, because I realize that many working class and working poor people, of which I am, don’t have access to Net Neutrality even now, or even access to the Internet. So why push Net Neutrality agendas forward if this is the community we are from?

I think of myself and the community I am a part of. I’ve got no problem saying I’m working class, that there are times when I (still) find myself living below the poverty line (yes even college professors don’t make a lot of money) to get the work I’m dedicated to do (there is not lots of money in sexuality education as many of you already know). However, as someone who has access to the Internet, I have been able to create my own website, create a blog and share my radical opinions on sex, race, gender, disability, and class which has helped me apply for paying jobs like writing this column on Amplify. An open Internet has really helped me go from working poor to working class, and I know I’m not the only one.

Take for example two sites I have contributed to in the past: Vivir Latino and Racialicious. Many writers have discussed Racialicious in their posts, and currently the staff there is using the Internet to raise funds for future projects (they call it the $2 Challenge). At Vivir Latino we are currently doing this as well to move to a more secure and working server. Doing this fundraising on the Internet allows the content of these two sites to continue. My homegirls and activists Cripchick and Mia Mingus are moving to California to create “a living record of two queer disabled korean american radical women of color being intentional, vulnerable, fierce and loving with each other” and have used the Internet for similar purposes. The book sale to help cover costs of the move, open (love) letters to one another, and support of their radical and revolutionary love  has been possible because of Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is the one issue many communities, often on opposite sides of several debates, agree on. Supporters of Net Neutrality include people from various religious organizations, politicians of every political party, youth organizers, non-profit organizations, media outlets and sex workers.

There are also people who are against having the Internet regulated in a particular way as we regulate telephone lines. One of the reasons they are against this, which many Net Neutrality proponents are for, is that if we treat the Internet similarly to telephone “airwaves” new rules apply. Some of these new rules are maintaining an open Internet. I’ve already stated my bias in support of Net Neutrality; I mean this column is called “Media Justice” for a reason. I’m also totally in support of each of you reading what all sides have to say about their positions before making a final decision if you are still on the fence. One way to continue investigating this topic is by understanding the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) and its connection to the Communications Act. Also check out wikipedia’s entry on Net Neutrality which has various positions presented.

What Could Happen When spaces are privatized (hospitals, the postal service, et.al.) their services are limited to those people that can access them and they are monitored. The same thing will happen with the Internet. Here are a few things that could happen if we no longer have an open Internet:

  • You will not be able to access some or any pages that you often visit, like Amplify.
  • Users will have to pay for accessing some online information.
  • Like cable channels, users will only be able to access from SELECT sites and online resources their provider approves.
  • Paying online bills or sending money/remittance via the Internet will be limited
  • Long distance and international telephone calls using phone cards may be impacted if they use the Internet to use the service. (Skype would be affected too)

What YOU Can Do NOW

There are several organizations you can join and support that are working towards ensuring Net Neutrality for everyone. Check out some of these spaces doing amazing work, including working with migrant populations, communities of Color, older adults, and Spanish-speaking communities.

Free Press http://www.freepress.net/ Latinos For Internet Freedom http://www.latinonetlibre.com/ Network Neutrality FAQ with Tim Wu http://www.timwu.org/network_neutrality.html NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad) http://www.nnsquad.org/ Open Internet Coalition http://www.openinternetcoalition.com/ Save The Internet http://www.savetheinternet.com/ The Center For Media Justice http://centerformediajustice.org/

Consider attending the Allied Media Conference and meet other media makers, media radicals, and folks creating and challenging media representations! And. as the folks at SaveTheInternet.com write: Urge your member of Congress to support this important piece of legislation  today!

Make your own media like these local youth activists did and share it with us!

Many thanks to Misty Perez Trudeson who facilitated the Media Radicals discussion and shared several resources with me to write this piece! Thanks to Cripchick who shared the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition zine’s with me earlier this year! 

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The first thing I want to say about the Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words conference is this: it is remarkable to be able to discuss abortion at all without people simply retreating into (metaphorically (mostly)) armed camps. That seldom happens in the normal course of things, and the conference was valuable for bringing us all together, even if the spirit of listening was sometimes forgotten — especially near the end, when I think we were all a bit worn.

One of the conference’s stated goals was to "Explore new ways to think and speak about abortion." However, much of the discussion would not have seemed out of place twenty years ago. For my part, I was intensely frustrated – to the point of anger – that the same old anti-contraception official stance of the Catholic Church was the only pro-life opinion heard on the pregnancy prevention panel. Whoever chose the speakers for that panel missed an opportunity to do something really different – bring the other 80% of pro-lifers into the conversation for a change! How can we talk about pro-life and pro-choice people working together to prevent unintended pregnancies when that many voices are shut out right from the start? We also needed to hear much more from young people, people of color, working-class people, and people with disabilities. Those voices are often not a part of the "same old" debate.

One of the most productive panels I attended was the session on supporting pregnant women. The participants were able to come to a remarkable accord both on the types of social and economic support that pregnant women need, and on many of the barriers to providing it. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike vocally agreed that it’s hypocritical for politicians to praise the work of crisis pregnancy centers while cutting funding for the social welfare programs they rely on. Several participants also wished aloud that people who object to war could do as well as people who object to abortion have done in preventing the government from paying for it! I would have preferred for more panels to have a real-life, practical emphasis like this one. Abortion is a fascinating topic for philosophical discussion, but it’s also a real issue of flesh and blood and life and death, and we must always remember that.

Next, I want to discuss the comments Marysia referred to in this post. I was finally able to watch the recording of the "From Morality to Public Policy" panel last night, and I didn’t hear Helen Alvare say that bodily integrity wasn’t important. I genuinely can’t figure out how Ms. Thorne-Thomsen got that from her words. In fact, Alvare specifically mentioned the centrality of the body to women’s rights. I also appreciated Cathleen Kaveny’s acknowledgment that the abortion issue isn’t just a simple matter of “It’s killing; ban it,” but involves two very legitimate interests – the mother’s bodily autonomy and the child’s life – that both need to be considered.

Unfortunately, that same panel was severely marred by David Garrow’s sweeping and factually incorrect generalizations about pro-lifers in general being motivated not by desire to protect human life, but by opposition to non-procreative sex. Garrow started his presentation by admitting that he had erred in agreeing to speak at this conference, and I have to agree. He was a totally inappropriate and disrespectful panelist – at one point he even silently mocked Helen Alvare while she was speaking. The other pro-choice panelist, Dorothy Roberts, was as good as Garrow was bad. She did a wonderful job of putting abortion in the context of the intersecting oppressions faced by so many women on the basis of gender, race, class, and disability. Although I disagree with Dr. Roberts in that I think abortion itself is another form of discrimination against human beings, I wholeheartedly agree that it simply can’t be understood in isolation from the social conditions that contribute to it. I would dearly love to see Dorothy Roberts and Mary Krane Derr on a panel together some day!

Was the conference a success? We probably won’t know for some time. It wasn’t much more than a baby step – there was still too much "talking at" and too little "listening to", and I heard a disheartening amount of prejudiced and thoughtless remarks both on panels and in casual conversation. Still, five hundred people thought it was worth their time and expense to come and talk to people they oppose on one of the most bitter subjects of the day. Personally, I got contact information from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers who want to work together on practical proposals of importance to all of us. There was talk of putting together a coalition of pro-life and pro-choice groups to oppose budget cuts for social services that help pregnant women and their children. If we can start taking steps like that together, that at least must count as a success.


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As summer begins I am often looking forward to the sun kissing all parts of my skin. I can’t wait to visit the beach, which is one of the few spaces I find peace of mind and am reminded that there’s so many bigger things out there and that my problems are just a small speck of something larger. In addition to this ritual beach trip and the sun kissing my skin, I know I must prepare for another type of exposure: showing my ink.

As a fat sexologist of Color who is also inked and over six feet tall with a disability, there is often an additional element of awareness that my body is being read by others. This is something that has come up for me since I was 18 years old and began to adorn my body with images, words, and symbols that are meaningful to me. As I’ve aged, I’ve continued the journey of using my body as a canvas, it sounds cliché, but it’s true! There have been many issues that have come up for me as someone who is getting older and my multiple identities intersecting in various spaces have resulted in extremely diverse interactions with people and amazing opportunities to share and create knowledge.

One of the reasons I chose to write about tattooing, or ink as I like to call it, is because I believe that tattooing is a form of creating media. As someone who started their first ever tattoo with symbols and words, I’ve had a very interesting path to figuring out why and how I want to choose an image or term and on what part of my body I wish to do so. I know today, that just as I put glitter on my camouflage jacket back in the early 90s, that my tattoos also send a message about who I am, what I wish to represent, and how I choose to move my social justice agenda forward.

I have one large tattoo on my upper left arm, which gets me a lot of attention, especially unwanted attention. I’ve shared this foto with many readers before but as a refresher here it is (this foto is from the Adipositivity Project, read more about why I chose to be an AdiPoser):

While away on a chosen family emergency in my homeland of Puerto Rico last week, there were many people who approached me and had something to say about my ink, specifically this image. It is an image by artist and sex worker Isis Rodriguez. Her series called "My Life As A Comic Stripper," created in 1997 is where this image, No More! is found. One of the many reasons I chose this piece is because of the amazing detail and thoughtfulness behind the art. Not only does Isis challenge stereotypes about Latina (and women of Color’s sexuality) and the dichotomy we are often forced to fit into (i.e. the virgin/whore dichotomy), but she is also discussing a new way of being a responsible sexual being.

Introducing the series "My Life As A Comic Stripper," Isis writes on her website:

"My Life as a Comic Stripper" was a cartoon survey that observed the commercial sex industry in relation to society and ourselves. I used cartoons in the editorial manner commenting satirically on exotic dancers, customers, managers and owners, children toy manufacturers and advertisement. Working as an exotic dancer for over 10 years in most of San Francisco’s strip clubs, impacted me as an artist and individual. The strip club was a place where I learned of profound humanity. It was there, that I saw the empowerment, the vulnerability, the rewards, the consequences, the drugs, the exploitation, the determination of everyday people.

The experiences she had as a sex worker and student was one I could relate to on numerous levels. Never had I gone into the sex work industry as an undergraduate, but the fact that I wanted to study sexuality from a sociological and anthropological lens (and not a psychological one that pathologizes people and our choices) there was a huge question of my motivations, goals, desires, and expectations to "make money" in such a field. Under the image No More!, Rodriguez writes:

Be careful what you wish for because that ain’t no p*&%y between her legs! How does a woman in this industry become liberated from societal stereotypes and the ridiculous expectations of a sex worker?

When people stare at this image on my body it is often with a certain assumption. It is rarely the intense and thought provoking ideologies that guided Isis when she began working on this project. Often the main people who approach me to ask me about the tattoo are people whom I read their gender identity as men. They often assume it is a sexualized message about what kind of lover I am or the image may represent. They are not ready for the actual message. When people get a closer look it’s as if that "ah-ha" moment occurs and they each "get it" whether they wanted to or not. Often they don’t want to "get it" and are kind of disappointed they just had to learn something. But that’s what they get!

The reactions I often get from people whose gender identity I understand to be women, is different. It is rare when I get a woman who approaches me and has supporting, encouraging and/or affirmative things to say, although it does happen and when it does I know the work I do is important. Often there is teeth sucking, eye rolling, "hmmphs" shared, and judgment in the tone as they ask me "now, what’s that supposed to mean?" I wonder why there is such a harsh reaction to something that I find so beautiful and affirming. I’m confused how something so liberating is resulting in such rigid disgust. Then I remember that even if the message I am sharing is constructed and that I want to share it in a particular way, that different people have different perspectives. Another principle in media literacy.

There have been a few instances where I have experienced what I would call street harassment. Now I have to admit that it is not often that I find street harassment to be something that I do not desire. I think the fat thing comes into play when people on the street choose to say something to me about the way I look, and often people who speak to me say specific things that are rarely vulgar or unwanted. For example, I have never been told what a person would want to do to me sexually, or that they find a certain body part that is connected to an oversexualized part attractive/desired. Instead, I often have people from the community comment on my hair, my make up, my jewelry, my smile, the way I walk with confidence (and not fear), and of course my ink. I often simply reply with a "thank you" and keep it moving. Rarely have I ever experienced what filmmaker Nuala Cabral has shared and presented in her film "Walking Home."

With that said, since I have begun to show more skin, The warm weather has always resulted in more eyes on my body reading me. Recently while visiting a friend in Manhattan, a man stood behind me and attempted to take a foto with his iphone without my permission. I can’t begin to explain to you all how upset and violent I instantly became when I noticed he was doing this without my permission. I quickly slapped the iphone out of his hands and yelled to him: "If you had asked me I would have allowed you to take a picture now erase it." He was so startled and fumbled with trying not to let his cell phone drop that he obliged to my demand quickly and without comment and left in the opposite direction. While in Puerto Rico last week I had a man approach me on the beach asking permission to take a foto of my ink and I granted him that telling him other people have rarely been as honest and courteous as he was.

Then there are the people who think if I have it out people can look and think what they want. I don’t disagree with this ideology, where my concern lies is in such people thinking they have the right to speak to me and share their opinion or thoughts. It sounds harsh, but what do I care what a random stranger may think? What makes people think I care about their opinion about my body? Is it that whole "women are supposed to look a certain way" form of socialization that I’m supposed to care what they think because I should? I’m very privileged to not ever having experienced this in public to feel unsafe. Yet, there have been several times I have felt unsafe when someone is hitting on me in a confined space (i.e. a cab driver). There is also a lot of privilege I have to be inked and have that ink in places where others can see and still keep a job in a certain environment.

How many of your professors have ink? Have you seen their ink? I have double digits and I can hide a majority of those pieces, but not all of them. It is rare when I think that because I have a visible tattoo I may not get a job. It is also rare that I worry that if I show my ink I may risk losing my job. And if you don’t remember I work at a private Catholic college in the Bronx. Privilege, I have a lot of it!

I asked all my followers on Twitter to tell me their tattoo stories, why they chose the ink they did, what they hope to gain from the experience, and how they see the symbolism and messaging of their ink. I did not get into details about their experiences getting the ink or how they chose to pay for it (which is also a form of privilege) and how they found artists they appreciate. My artist is Louis Barak, a Moroccan Jew from Chicago whom I met in NYC and has a degree in fine art. I immediately fell in love with him when I realized he knew the color wheel and what colors would look amazing together!

My homegirl PazEnLaVida, who is currently crafting her first tattoo, shared that she was getting something that represented her radical woman of Colorness. She said she wanted "either an eagle or a snake. I want to get it on my arm. I want it because I want to mark my body with something that represents who I am. It’s something I’m doing for me. To love my identity and link to my community."

My friend PostModernSexGeek shared that her tattoo on her back is the "image/representation of Coatlicue. To remind me of where I came from but also to remind me that I am powerful in my own life. The message for others? Here be Goddess energy, Proceed with caution ;-)"

My other homegirl Bianca, a tattoo enthusiast who is engaged to a tattoo artist, shared that her first tattoo was one that she wanted to mark a "coming of age" on her 16th birthday. Her second was a matching tattoo she got with her high school best friend and her third marked a change in her life. This third tattoo was during a time when she "had gone thru a really bad depression the year I graduated high school. I got the tat to symbolize the pain I overcame. When I added to it, I was closing a chapter in my life & starting new."

For me, when I got this arm tattoo it was in the winter. I knew that I wanted to show it off that following summer and it was one of the many ways I began to appreciate my body. Before getting inked there I did not expose my upper arms thinking they were far too fat and unattractive to expose. When the summer came and I knew I had this ink on my body all of that went away. I was proud of what I looked like, how my body moved and what I felt like when the sun kissed it as it was exposed with no clothing covering it. I was sending messages of appreciating and loving my body and people noticed.

I’ve had this experience before with other tattoos that I have. For example, since having my disability I’ve also gotten tattoos that are in the area of my disability and that are representative of the pain and stigma I survive daily. In addition, I’ve inherited what I call "skin tags" from my father. These are small pieces of skin that form extensions of skin off my body and that are attached to a blood vessel. I have them all over my body and one large one at the back of my neck in the center. I chose to have an image of the Mujer de Caguana, the goddess who is believed to have birthed all the people in the Caribbean (which is why she is squatting in a amphibian like position). I asked that the skin tag be positioned in between her legs to act as either an enlarged clitoris or a penis. I like the idea of having her be a gender-bending goddess. I also like that my hair can cover it and I can share this image when I chose to. It was one way I chose to come to terms with having my skin tags and it has worked!

Although my parents constantly tell me that this was probably the "worst decision I’ve ever made in my life" (I’m glad that dedicating my life to a sex-positive agenda is not the first one!), I’m happy with the person I’ve become and the media I continue to make. I do know that there are people who may not see their ink as a form of media, yet I think for many of the people I know and the artists I’ve worked with it is media, it is art, and, as a past lover has said, art is evolving life. I evolve through my media and my media that is with me wherever I go is my ink.

I’ve written in the past on things to consider and how to prepare for new ink especially as a way for surviving and healing scars on our body. To read that article, click here. If you are inked, or if you aren’t, what are your thoughts about consenting to wearing media on our bodies forever?

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Ken Cuccinelli is many things, but aside from being the Attorney General of Virginia, he is also a homophobe- a dangerous combination, to be sure.

He was elected Attorney General last November and took office in January of this year. As Attorney General, he is the “chief law officer and legal counsel of the government of a state.” He has made quite a name for himself in the short time since then.
* He filed a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of the federal health care bill.
* He sought judicial review of the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gasses endanger public health.
* He challenged the Obama administration’s new fuel standards for cars and trucks.
* He altered the Virginia state seal to be more “family friendly” so that Virtus, the Roman goddess of bravery and military strength, no longer had a exposed breast.

There are probably a dozen different posts that I could write about Ken Cuccinelli, but this one will focus on his homophobia.

Back in March, Cuccinelli sent a letter to all of the public colleges and universities in the state in order to “ensure that no confusion exists” on the matter of their non-discrimination policies. He said:

 It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia  prohibit a college or university from including “sexual orientation,” “gender  identity,” “gender expression,” or like classification as a protected class within its  non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General  Assembly.

He references several occasions when sexual orientation  and gender identity/expression had previously been rejected from inclusion in city, county, locality, or state non-discrimination policies, and he explains, thus:

 Taken together, these legislative, executive, and legal actions establish a  consistent public policy of the Commonwealth regarding the classification of  sexual orientation and gender expression as a protected class. A Board of Visitors  cannot adopt a policy position for which no authority has been granted or that has  repeatedly been rejected by the General Assembly.

He concludes the letter by saying:

 Accordingly, I would advise  the Boards of each college to take appropriate  actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of  Virginia.”

I don’t understand Ken Cuccinelli’s problem. If the colleges and universities decide on their own to not discriminate against their students (and staff, for that matter) why does he feel he should stop them from doing that? It would make more sense to step in if the universities decided to remove someone from their non-discrimination list, but this is the opposite. They are adding to the list of people they’re going to be respectful of. To Ken Cuccinelli, that’s a bad thing. It’s like he’s saying “You can’t be an upstanding university unless the state of Virginia says so, and right now, the state of Virginia says you must discriminate. Not just that you can, but that you must- because if he says “You cannot include them,” that’s the same as saying, “You must exclude them.”

Yet, it is my informed impression that by including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in their non-discrimination policies, these universities are not breaking any state laws. If that was the case, then the colleges and universities that already included sexual orientation and gender identity/expression would have already been told that such an addition was illegal. But now, because Ken Cuccinelli decides he doesn’t like gays, every public college and university has been told to exclude them from their non-discrimination policy. Now, any university that was considering including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in their policies may be deterred from doing so because of Cuccinelli’s threat. (And I do think threat is an appropriate word.)

Another thing he talks about in the letter is the Virginia Human Rights Act. He quotes the policy of the VHRA as:

 to “safeguard all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful  discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy,  childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability, in places  of public accommodation, including educational institutions”

But I looked it up, and there’s a little more to the policy. It continues:

  …and in real estate transactions; in employment; preserve the public safety, health  and general welfare; and further the interests, rights and privileges of individuals  within the Commonwealth; and
 2. Protect citizens of the Commonwealth against unfounded charges of unlawful  discrimination.

While the VHRA does not currently specifically protect LGBTQ people, I believe that its wording invites its inclusion. Don’t you believe that a college or university choosing to  include LGBTQ people in their non-discrimination policy would “preserve the public safety, health, and general welfare, and further the interests, rights, and privileges of individuals within the Commonwealth”?

The second part is also intriguing. Here it is again:

 2. Protect citizens of the Commonwealth against unfounded charges of unlawful  discrimination.

To me, Cuccinelli is admitting the lawful discrimination of LGBTQ people. Maybe that’s not surprising, but it’s worth noting.

But all of this happened in March. Why am I writing about it now? Because this story has a part two.

On June 25th, Ken Cuccinelli was speaking at Boys State. According to their website, “Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high-school students.” Cuccinelli was asked by a student, in reference to the letter he sent out in March:

 “How is that not a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th  Amendment?”

Cuccinelli’s response? Think Progress reports….

 “State universities are not free to create any specially protected classes other than  those dictated by the General Assembly,” Cuccinelli said. “Your question is, why  is that not a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Frankly,  the category of sexual orientation would never have been contemplated by  the people who wrote and voted for and passed the 14th Amendment,” he  said.
 “There are judges who think these things ‘evolve,’ is the word they like to use,”  Cuccinelli said, but the correct approach to making such a change would be a  constitutional amendment, he said.
 (emphasis belongs to Think Progress)

Really, Ken Cuccinelli? Really?

Let’s get some history on the 14th Amendment, shall we?

The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. That’s three years after the end of the Civil War. The end of the war brought the abolition of slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865. I learned from Answers.com that:

 In 1865–1866, southern states and localities enacted black Codes to regulate the  status and conduct of the newly freed slaves. The codes deprived blacks of many  basic rights accorded to whites, including full rights to own property, to testify in  court in cases in which whites were parties, to make contracts, to travel, to preach,  to assemble, to speak, and to bear arms.

In addition:

 The Court in Scott v. Sandford (1857) had held that blacks, including free  blacks, were not citizens under the Constitution and therefore were entitled to  none of the rights and privileges it secured.
 (Emphasis is mine)

In response, in June of 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment. As a condition of their re-admittance to the Union, the 11 Confederate states had to agree to ratify the Amendment. The first state to do so was Tennessee, in July of the same year. The last was Georgia, in July of 1870. Virginia was 8th in line, in January of 1870.

According to Article 5 of the Constitution, 3/4 of the states must ratify an Amendment before it is officially included as part of the Constitution. By 1868, enough states had ratified the Amendment and it became part of Federal law.

Now let’s get to it. The Fourteenth Amendment says:

 "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the  jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they  reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges  or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any  person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any  person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

There are two basic things I take from that:

1) There shall be no “second class citizens.”

2) Any law that effectively renders someone a “second class citizen” shall not stand.

Yet, somehow, this doesn’t click in Ken Cuccinelli’s mind. He doesn’t understand, or refuses to understand, that LGBTQ people deserve the same rights, privileges, and protections as non-LGBTQ people. It makes absolutely no difference whether or not the Congressmen who wrote the 14th Amendment and the states that ratified it were thinking of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer people while doing so. And you know what- it’s a bit insulting to imply that LGBTQ people didn’t exist in 1868, or that no one had even considered the possibility. There have been LGBTQ people since the beginning of people. It is not a “new trend.” And another thing: even if, in some possible construction of time and place, the people who voted on the 14th Amendment had never entertained the possibility that some people are attracted to people of their same sex, it wouldn’t make one lick of difference. You know why? Because the 14th Amendment protects the citizens of the United States. The 14th Amendment doesn’t care about sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression. It cares about citizens. About the people of the United States.

We once went to war with ourselves because some of us regarded some others of us as only 3/5 of a person. Where is our rage now? Why aren’t more of us epically pissed off that some of our fellow citizens are being treated like 3/5 of a person?

And why aren’t more people pissed off that Ken Cuccinelli, a State Attorney General, the top law officer and legal counsel of the State of Virginia, says it’s okay to discriminate against citizens of the United States?! Why aren’t more people pissed off that Ken Cuccinelli is defending the legal discrimination of our fellow citizens?!

Maybe because some people still see LGBTQ people as only worthy of 3/5 of our rights?

If you’re as pissed as I am, do something about it. You only have power if you use it, and the more you use your power, the more you have.

Office of the Attorney General
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Phone: 804-786-2071

Fax: 804- 786-1991

Online comment form

~ Samantha
Community Editor

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The past several months have been amazing! Not only have I had a rewarding time teaching some fabulous students, and engaging with people here at Amplify, but I’ve also made 6 stunning new friends! In January of this year I saw a call for fat dancers at my friend Joe’s blog. When I heard about the Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (JBDC) it was like my life finally began to make sense.

I not only was I immediately interested, because I love to dance, but because this was a space that people were seeking to create with dancers who are often excluded from dance communities. The call stated:

Jiggly Boo Dance Crew is a much needed project for exploring the intellectual and creative potential of the fat dancing body. Within the Western performance context, fat bodies are systematically excluded or typecast into demeaning or ancillary roles.

Within this framework, Jiggly Boo Dance Crew (founded by Alice Fu and Kantara Souffrant) will run a series of workshops which will culminate in a performance. These workshops will create a space in which other self-identified female “fat” dancers, movers, and performers, can dialogue about the following questions: What is a "fat dancing body"? How are fat bodies read, understood, felt (emotively and viscerally) and represented? What does it mean to identify oneself as a “fat dancing body” and what are the political implications of identifying oneself as such? How can (re)presentations of fat dancing bodies be understood alongside critical discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and the political movement of bodies that have been traditionally marginalized and invisibilized within Western stage dance?

Regarding their use of the word “fat” co-founders Kantara and Alice write:

On the usage of “fat”: Jiggly Boo Dance Crew intentionally reclaims and uses the word "fat" as opposed to other euphemisms (i.e. "plus-sized" or "big-boned") to explore the politics of size-deviant bodies. Our reclamatory gesture also pays homage to area studies, such as queer studies, that have viewed the reappropriation of words as part of a larger political process of creating visibility and challenging hegemonic discourses and systems of oppression.

I knew I wanted to join. Every part of my body and mind and spirit needed this. I even began to shamelessly plug the crew to my friends, encouraging them to join with me. One of my current homegirls, Sparkle, who I’ve mentioned before , decided to go for it and signed up for an interview. When we first met Kantara and Alice at the NYU campus, of which I graduated from 10 years ago with a masters degree but still got lost, I knew it was love. Not just love like puppy, butterflies-in-the-stomach love, but love in all the most revolutionary ways. Love for our bodies, love for how we move, love for what we bring, love for simply surviving in a world that doesn’t love us back in the same way we love the world.
A few weeks later we all met and started to move. We had Jiggly Boo Journals and a syllabus and exercises. Each of us gave voice to what we needed the space to be for us, how we could commit to the project and one another, how we could create a communal space for healing. Our first session was devoted to logistics, how we could make and sustain a collective, what we would be interested in leading the group in a communal movement, and what we planned for a final event/workshop/performance.

As with many collectives and organizations there were challenges with regards to time. There were some scheduling challenges for all of us, I mean life happens: some of us got sick, some of us got jobs, I missed my Sunday Caribbean Book Club, and there were times when I didn’t have enough money to even get a metrocard to go to a session. It was also winter and we had several snow storms as well. Plus, I have active sweat glands and had to wear sneakers or really thick socks because I was worried I’d slip on all my sweat under my feet (was that too much information? Oh well, it’s true!)

But we all moved. Even if we were not all together we moved. I knew I could move more than I had before joining JBDC because my Boo’s have my back! There’s something about being in a dance crew that gives one a sense of being 3D! And sometimes we really are 3D through dance crews.

We even had our own photographer! Sherley Camille Olopherne joined us for each session and documented our movements, processing, and planning. 

Our first few sessions were a challenge for me because when I thought of dancing and movement I never thought about my voice or throat. Kantara led us through a voice/throat exercise that was intense and extremely healing. We made noises and grunted and felt the vibrations in different parts of our bodies, how we moved, how that sound was released from our body. Then we made communal sounds together that reminded me of the ocean.

Each of us led other sessions on yoga, imagery , African dance movements, folk dancing, Dancehall and art therapy.  We had homework of reading texts by Frantz Fanon  and Audre Lorde and coming up with movements to share with the group. We did activities where we thought about parts of our bodies we think too much about, and parts that we never think about and how they would speak to one another. We shared with the group and created movements about each. I think too much about my lips/mouth and if they are glossy, or if the red lip color is still on or if it’s bleeding, or if I have lipstick on my teeth, or something in between my teeth. I also rarely think about my wrists. We then used those parts of our body to communicate with other people’s body parts they shared. Another of my favorites: we were blindfolded one by one and had to dance/run across the room that we had created some barriers in and all the Boos had to make sure you didn’t get hurt by protecting the blindfolded person from the barrier with their body. This was a special challenge for my Boos because I was the tallest Jiggly Boo and my arms are long too!

The first homework I remember doing, and that still speaks to me today, was about how we police our bodies. How we limit our movement. I shared how I limit my movement to only doing dances that don’t require a partner, which is kind of a no-no when dances such as salsa, merengue, cumbia, and partner dances in general are important cultural practices in my community. I don’t want someone holding me and telling me where and how to use my body. Plus, I’m 6ft tall and fat with bushy hair, it’s rare to find a partner that’s even close in height to me. And even when I do they may try to spin me and it’s always possible my hair could get caught in something they have on: a watch, a bracelet, a ring, cufflinks, anything! And, if they are too short, it becomes an opportunity for them to rest on my breasts and that is really uncomfortable. I shared that the only partner dance I do is zouk,  a dance done in the Caribbean.

My main concern in joining JBDC was that my disability would be triggered and I wouldn’t be able to dance. I have a back injury that I’ve been living with since 2005 and it is something that has challenged and helped me evolve as a person living with a disability. When I was moving from one apartment to the other in late March and early April and hurt my back and could barely move, my Boos surprised me and we squeezed into my small apartment and they all cooked me an amazing dinner. To this day the memories of having them come to me (I live in a land far far away called the Bronx), and waking up the next morning to a full refrigerator of delicious fruits, vegetables, and soup homemade by women who love me is my best memory of 2010!

I share my time with my Jiggly Boos because I think we are media makers. We are using our bodies in ways we have been told we should not. In ways that we are told nobody wants to see; that challenges and redefines movement, as we know it today in this country. There are multiple ways of creating media and being media makers. Dancing, I believe is one of those forms. It is also a form of art, which is something I believe and define as creating knowledge. The past six months I’ve been a part of working with amazing activists to create art, knowledge, and media. We want to engage with more people to do something similar.

Today, Thursday June 17, 2010 we are hosting our workshop: Power Of Our Jiggle: Body-Positive Movement.  If you are in NYC and want to come join us it’s not too late! You can still register online or just come down to the Judson Memorial Church in the NYU area! Registration is sliding scale or you can bring a beverage to share. There is childcare offered and we are so excited to have created this opportunity to share all that we have worked hard to create and heal! I’ve had some people ask if you have to identify as fat to attend, and you do not. This is a space for “non-traditional” Western dancers or people who have been told they can’t and should not dance because of what their body looks like.

All fotos are of JBDC dancers and sessions by Sherley Camille Olopherne.

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Nebraska’s Governor, Dave Heineman, recently signed into law two anti-abortion bills, which are scheduled to take effect on October 15th. You know, it may be more appropriate to say that Nebraska’s Governor, Dave Heineman, recently smacked women in the face. (And yes, I mean all women, not just women who live in Nebraska.)

The first bill, LB1103, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act,” makes abortions after 20 weeks illegal. This makes Nebraska the first state to put such an early time restriction on abortion. They are basing the 20 weeks mark on the concept of “fetal pain,”…even though,according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (and they ought to know!) there is no credible scientific evidence that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.

"There is certainly no solid scientific evidence establishing that a fetus can  perceive pain at these earlier stages, so any court decisions to uphold such broader  laws could only do so by disregarding the importance of good scientific  evidence," said Caitlin Borgmann, a law professor at The City University of New  York.

For this reason (among others) all other states draw the line of criminalizing abortion at the point of viability instead, that is, at the point where the fetus could survive outside the womb (which, at the most conservative, is 22 weeks). The exception to the “point of viability” rule is in cases where it is determined that the fetus will be unable to survive outside the womb at all or would only live for a few days, and/or has an extremely debilitating condition. There is also an exception if the life of the mother is in danger. LB1103 would only make exception for the life of the mother.

The second bill, LB 594, is what I find even more insulting. This is what I see as the real smack in the face. The law states that women wanting to get an abortion must have their physical and mental state examined before being granted an abortion. What the ****?! They say that they want women to be aware of the various physical and/or mental ailments that they might experience as a result of the abortion, which is a poor motive in and of itself because  of all of the completely baseless lies and exaggerations that women are told to discourage them from getting an abortion. They say they want to make sure that women aren’t getting abortions because they were “pressured into it,”- also a poor motive because it assumes that women are malleable enough to be talked into aborting a pregnancy when what they really want to do is have a baby.

But the worst assumption that they make is that if you want to get an abortion there must be something mentally wrong with you, or you must have an (unbeknownst) physical disability so severe (or the potential to have one after the effects of an abortion) that would make you unable to have a child. What the ****! First of all, just because a woman chooses to have an abortion, that does not mean that she needs a psychological evaluation! She’s not crazy just because she doesn’t want to be pregnant. What a slap in the face this is! Damn!

Secondly, aren’t they suggesting that if their “evaluation” shows that you would be adversely effected, physically or mentally, from having an abortion, or that your current mental state was unstable enough as it is- that you are exactly the kind of woman who should be having children? What? An abortion would be a bad idea for your mental well-being, but raising a child should be a walk in the park? What? They care about your  mothering ability and stability while the fetus is in your womb, but not after it’s born? Color me unsurprised but extremely pissed off.

From my understanding of what I’ve read about these new laws (some of which has been a little confusing) I don’t think that the new law would require that a woman be denied an abortion if she “fails” the evaluation, but she will be read a laundry list of largely bogus risk factors. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a woman to be sad or have some physical complication from having an abortion, but the anti-choice militia has greatly exaggerated and, in many cases, completely made up a long list of risk factors meant only to scare women into disregarding their own intelligence. Unless this law is changed, it will be law in Nebraska to scare women out of getting an abortion by lying to them!

Here is some more information and some proof that I’m not exaggerating or over-reacting.

 First, some background facts about Nebraska, gathered from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

NARAL gives Nebraska an F on issues of choice. Here’s why:

97% of Nebraska counties have no abortion provider.

 Nebraska has a criminal ban on abortion.

 Nebraska law subjects women seeking abortion services to biased-counseling  requirements and mandatory delays.

 Nebraska prohibits certain state employees and organizations receiving state funds  from counseling or referring women for abortion services.

 Nebraska restricts insurance coverage of abortion.

 Nebraska law includes a strongly anti-choice policy statement.

 Nebraska allows certain individuals or entities to refuse to provide women  specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals.

 Nebraska restricts low-income women’s access to abortion.

 Nebraska law restricts young women’s access to abortion services by mandating  parental notice.

 Nebraska prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing  abortion care.

 Nebraska ranks last among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in efforts to  help women avoid unintended pregnancies.

But all that wasn’t restrictive enough for Nebraska. So what was it that pushed them to take this next step? Why did they feel that their current anti-abortion laws and policies weren’t enough? As Emily Ingram reports for ABC News

 “Nebraska is fastly becoming the mid-America late-term [abortion] capital."  
 Quote from:
 Mary Spaulding Balch, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group National Right to  Life, during a press conference before the committee hearing.

If that’s how they feel…what made them feel that way? What would make them think that?
It has become crystal clear that these two new laws were largely prompted by an interest in stopping Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions, and a resident of Nebraska himself.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk said he introduced LB 1103 to  stop Carhart from doing more late-term abortions at his Abortion and  Contraception Clinic of Nebraska after the murder of a Kansas late-term abortion  provider.

Want another quote? This one is from Julie Schmit-Albin, the Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, speaking at a press conference about the motivation behind passing the bills. 

 “He had a burden when he heard LeRoy Carhart last summer, upon the death of  George Tiller, when he heard LeRoy Carhart talk about how he wanted to make  Nebraska the late-term abortion capital of the Midwest. And Speaker Flood took  up that gauntlet and it has resulted in the passage of LB 1103.”

The abortion capital of the Midwest? Really? Although, you know, when there are only four or so late-term abortion providers left in the country, isn’t it hard to have each one not be the “capital” in their area? Don’t they know that they wouldn’t be the “capital” if there were more providers across the country? If they’re worried about being “the capital” shouldn’t they be encouraging more doctors to perform the procedure in other areas around the country so that fewer women would have to come to Nebraska for abortions?

You might be wondering what Dr. Carhart’s reaction to all of this has been. Here ishis statement on the passage of the bills, courtesy of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

 "I am extremely saddened that my state has passed two laws that seriously  jeopardize women’s health under the awful pretense of protecting them. Under one  law, even a woman who has been hospitalized and diagnosed suicidal or a young  girl who has been raped, even raped by a close family member, would not be able  to obtain an abortion after 20-weeks of pregnancy. A second law would put any  questionable medical study that has ever been published above a doctor’s informed  medical judgment and expertise.

 "These laws will make it harder for patients to get an abortion when they really  need them, when they are under the most desperate of circumstances and even  when they are clearly medically, morally and religiously justified. This latest anti- woman and anti-health legislation merely strengthens my commitment to fight for  women’s reproductive health and rights."

My favorite part of that statement is the last line because I think he is absolutely right. Being a pro-choice advocate/activist is often frustrating, but we cannot let that frustration and the setbacks we face stop us from fighting for what we believe in. We have valid beliefs, and we shouldn’t apologize for them. We have the right to trust women.

The problems with these laws, though, go beyond being utterly insulting to and dismissive of women and their rights. A lot of people have been talking about the unconstitutionality of these new laws, and the intention of those who passed it to bring the issue of choice back to the United States Supreme Court.

The Center for Reproductive Rights had this to say about theunconstitutionality of the screening law, LB 594.

 Both bills suffer from serious constitutional flaws. Among them, the abortion  pre-screening bill imposes requirements that doctors cannot possibly comply with.  A doctor has to screen for risk factors for post-abortion complications based on  an almost limitless range of information published in peer-reviewed journals. It is  quite common for studies to reach contested, ambiguous or incomplete  conclusions. This bill fails to give doctors any guidance about how to evaluate  which studies or findings must be included in their screenings. The U.S.  Constitution requires that laws adequately describe the conduct that is prohibited  so that people who must follow the law and those that enforce the law can  understand their obligations.

Nancy Northup, the President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, describes what these laws mean for a Constitutional challenge… 

 “It absolutely cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades  of court rulings.”

…and how the effects of these laws compare to previous anti-abortion laws…

 “Courts have been chipping away at abortion rights…this would be like taking a  huge hacksaw to the rights.”

What’s the deal, here? WHY is this happening? Why is Nebraska so afraid of Dr. Carhart? Why is Nebraska so afraid of women being able to choose and have access to an abortion? Why are they legally condoning the “heads in the sand” approach to reproductive health and rights? People are and will continue to suffer because of their actions- because they were and are too afraid to confront the realities that women face.

Julie Burkhart, in an article for RH Reality Check, writes about the need that Nebraskans have for accessible abortion services, and uses this story to demonstrate the real consequences that these laws would have.

Take Tim Mosher, who testified before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee this  past February at the request of Trust Women PAC. Tim and his wife, Dawn,  learned at 20 weeks that their baby was suffering from the most severe level of  untreatable Spina Bifida. After consulting with medical experts and their families,  they decided, in Tim’s words, that, “We couldn’t force our little girl to live in  constant pain and suffering before dying a pre-mature death.” But under LB 1103,  if the woman’s life isn’t in danger — one of the few health exceptions in the bill  — parents who find themselves in the same situation as Tim and Dawn in the  future will be forced to carry these painful, ultimately fatal pregnancies to term.

By passing these bills, Nebraska has shown that they don’t give a **** about Tim and Dawn Mosher or their baby girl. What Nebraska doesn’t understand is that late-term abortions are not merciless…they are merciful. Think about it! Why would you want a mother and father to prolong their suffering of knowing that their baby will die soon after it’s born? Or if the fetus won’t live long enough within the womb to have a live birth? Think about this: For a couple who wants to have a baby, a miscarriage can be incredibly difficult to deal with. So why, if you know the baby won’t be able to survive, would you want to prolong that couple’s suffering?

Amanda Marcotte, also of RH Reality Check,  offers an incredibly interesting answer: Misogyny.  

I’ll let her explain:

What’s interesting is about the anti-choice focus on late abortions is that it really  shows how intellectually bankrupt the anti-abortion rights position is. […] By  focusing on late abortion, anti-choicers demonstrate two major contradictions  between their stated point of view and their actual point of view.

 “Life begins at conception.” The major anti-abortion rights argument has always  been that a fertilized egg has the same moral worth as a 5-year-old child, and that  abortion is therefore murder. By that measure, an abortion at 8 weeks is the same  kind of evil as an abortion at 25 weeks. So why focus more on the latter? Why  spend more time trying to restrict the latter, or drawing attention to it? Why focus  on doctors who provide late abortions, if they aren’t any morally different than  those who perform early abortions?

 It’s almost as if anti-choicers agree with the pro-choice view that there’s a  difference between a fertilized egg, a fetus later in pregnancy (since most pro- choicers support some restrictions on later abortion), and a baby. Anti-choicers  can’t have it both ways. Either a fertilized egg is a person or it’s not. If you think  later abortion is worse than early abortion, you admit that you don’t really think  early abortions are the same as infanticide.

 “We’re ‘pro-life’!” The official anti-choice argument is that they’re not against  women, they’re just "for life." But if that’s true, then abortion becomes more  understandable if someone’s life is threatened by the pregnancy, or the fetus has  defects incompatible with life. In other words, if you’re “pro-life,” late abortions  that are all, by law, medically indicated would ostensibly be more defensible than  an early abortion done because the woman simply does not want to become a  mother.

 To be intellectually consistent with both the argument that a fertilized egg is the  same as a baby and that this is about life—and not about controlling and  punishing female sexuality—the anti-choice movement should work to secure the  right of women to obtain medically necessary late abortions.

 The anti-choice approach on late abortions is consistent with one viewpoint:  the misogynist one. Let’s assume for a moment that the motivation behind anti- choice activism is not a love of life or a belief that a fertilized egg is the same  thing as a baby. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, they’re motivated by a  belief that the main role of women in this world is to be baby machines, and that  women should mindlessly reproduce even if it kills them. Is this viewpoint  consistent with the focus on late abortion?

 Absolutely! If this is how you feel, you’d be extremely interested in portraying  women as callous, stupid, and mercurial, then you’d be all about portraying late  abortion as something that happens because stupid, heartless, fickle women  change their minds 6 months into a pregnancy. You wouldn’t be interested in the  truth about the medical indications that lead to late abortions, because in your  mind, if they can’t have babies, they should die trying.

 Considering that the most intellectually consistent reason for anti-choice  obsession with the relatively rare procedure of late abortion is misogyny, the  willingness to draw energy from terrorist actions like Scott Roeder’s murder of  Dr. Tiller makes more sense.

I am becoming quite a fan of Amanda Marcotte. But I will wrap up this blog with the work of a woman I am a huge fan of and have an immense respect for- Rachel Maddow.

Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, has done an excellent job covering issues of choice. She dedicated several segments of her show last year and this year to the murder of Dr. George Tiller and to the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Scott Roeder, whom she unapologetically refers to as a domestic terrorist.

On Thursday night, Rachel reported on Nebraska’s two new anti-abortion laws. Onthe show’s website, they title this segment “Nebraska targets doctor with bill,” and describe the clip using these words:

 Tracey Weitz, a director at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, talks  with Rachel Maddow about a new law in Nebraska based on bogus science, meant  to block legal abortions.

A link to the video of the segment is below, but if you are unable to view it now, here part of what she says:

 “In the wake of the terrorism that took George Tiller’s life, there are a couple of  ways that elected officials could have reacted. One way would be to recognize the  real threat faced by these doctors who are providing a legal service in the United  States and take steps to support them and protect them. Another approach would  be to join in the attack from the legislative side.”


 “How did Nebraska’s elected officials react to the targeting like that of one of  their constituents, after another doctor who did the same thing had been murdered  in Kansas? How did they react to a doctor regularly getting death threats for doing  his job- a job that is legal under American law? Nebraska politicians changed the  law.”

Rachel is then joined by Professor Tracey Weitz and asks about the exact point/concern that I mentioned earlier:

 Rachel Maddow: “The other law that Governor Heineman signed into law  yesterday, he did it at the same signing ceremony, mandates that doctors sort of  extensively mentally screen women who come for abortion services. I don’t, I  have to admit I don’t understand it. As far as I read it, I feel like their allegation  here is that women have abortions because they’re crazy. Is that the implication  that they’re making here?

 Tracey Weitz: “Well, I think there’s two things. Like the fetal pain bill, this is an  extensive misuse of science. This bill says that doctors need to inform women of  any characteristic- that may be a demographic characteristic, that may be a social  characteristic, that may be a health condition, that may be a mental health  condition- that is then shown to be associated with a problem after abortion. It’s a  long list of things. People don’t know what it means. But it’s clearly meant to say  to women: If you have any kind of health condition, you need to know that you  might suffer poorly after an abortion. Something that, again, science doesn’t  support.

Click on the image to view the video.

I guess that all there’s left to say is: What are your thoughts? How do these new laws make you feel? What are you going to do about it?

~ Samantha

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I AM!!!
I’m writing this post to share with everyone what feminism means to me. I have been hearing the phrase "I am not a feminist, but…" a lot lately from girls and guys (yes, there are male feminists, http://www.engagingmen2009.org/42?locale=en_US) alike. What do people mean by this? Are people clarifying the fact that they believe in feminist ideals but not in labels? Are people saying that they agree with some feminist theories but not with others? Maybe some of you are probably thinking about bra burning and other popular images of feminism (and yes that is Tyra Banks…wait is she more of a feminist than you are?)…

Bottom Line – according to Merriam Webster, "feminism" is:

1)"The theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes"
2) "Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests"

I call myself a feminist because I believe in that definition, for these reasons:

1. I believe in gender equality. That means equal rights and equal work for equal pay. In case you have not seen the news (the Boston Globe) lately women are systematically paid less than men.

2. Violence against women AND GIRLS is still a big problem in the United States and around the world. I am very passionate about this huge but often not talked about problem. (Think Rihanna and Chris Brown), and as a victim of violence I can tell you that I really appreciate being able to take back my power and fight for women’s rights!

3. Reproductive Health – as the receiving partner, women are at a higher risk for contracting AIDS and other STI’s then men. Women are also the ones who have to deal most directly with the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy. Regardless of how you feel about the debate over abortion, as women we should all be active in making the legislation that governs what we can do with our bodies—from  birth control access to abortion policy.

Below is a picture of me in Liberia where I worked on women’s health issues this past summer. It was great! That is what feminism means to me.

4. Images of Women- Think about how there is no male equivalent for the word "slut" and how women can be portrayed as objects in everything from hip-hop videos to daily news shows to the SPIKE channel (hey I love the SPIKE channel bc it shows CSI, but come on guys what’s with the depiction of the ladies?). Because of course women cannot be evaluated for their character or intellect but instead based only on how they look.

5. Women’s health – There are some particular health issues that disproportionately affect women – for example the feminization of HIV/AIDS. I think we need to continue to bring these issues to light in order to get the funding and policy that we need.

6. Gender inequity – This is basically when people are restricted from what they can and can not do because of gender. Thanks to the feminists who came before us this is not as big of a problem in the United States but think about in some other countries where women still do not have the right to vote.

7. I also believe in the rights of all oppressed people from all of the LGBTQ community, racial/ethnic minorities and the disability rights community. I believe that although feminism is about improving the lives of women and girls, that goes hand in hand with other social justice movements. Lets all fight this fight goether! 

So those are some of the reasons why I call myself a feminist. Do you find yourself also feeling the same way about those issues? Is it possible that you too could be —gasp—a  feminist? I mean I do not care what we call ourselves boys and girls but I think that it’s important to not throw out a certain label because of what we THINK it entails. I am VERY appreciative and thankful for all the feminists who came before me because without them I would not have many of the rights that I have now—like voting, attending Cornell, becoming a doctor, etc.

Great article from the Daily Princetonian about this! 
1.    Explore your views on feminism and gender equality: take a class at your school, and if there is not one offered demand that there be one! Here’s a nice little site with information on feminist theory:
2.    Check out some of the various organizations working on women’s rights, nationally and internationally
3.    Get involved with your on-campus women’s rights organization
4.    Fight for gender equity whenever you can, see whats actions are going on here and GET ACTIVE 

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It is  common for parents in Jamaica to say that their child was a mistake. Many children have to live with the harsh reality, to know that they were the product of two persons who did not want them. Unplanned pregnancy and the harsh economic conditions are always reasons to justify this.

According to the International Family Planning Perspectives (2007)[1], “Barbados and Jamaica have high levels of sexual violence and unprotected sexual intercourse, particularly among young people”. The report also highlighted that “57% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unwanted or unplanned, and 20% of Jamaican women have experienced forced sexual intercourse”.

Like many developing countries, abortion remains an illegal act in Jamaica. Many women practice unsafe abortion. This is so because “abortion is highly restricted in this country, women with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies often resort to clandestine, unsafe abortions, which are a leading cause of disability and maternal mortality” (IFPP, 2007).

These figures maybe alarming to some upper-class families as they usually have one to two children. One female in a poor  community believe that this is as a result of the females in her community having little or no opportunity for constructive engagement in education, skills training or employment. As a result they engage in sexual activities on a regular basis. Generally, this is uncommon in families that are career driven and have specific goals to achieve. From observation another contributing factor is that a number of births in Jamaica are by teenage mothers, some of whom have not yet completed secondary school. The story is told of a woman in her mid-30s who went to have her baby delivered at a public hospital in (Kingston). It is said that she was in shock and felt ashamed when she realized that there was no one in her age group. Data from the Registrar General Department reveals that in 2004 “live births to mothers under 15 totaled 278”. To add to these births in the 15-19 age groups totaled 7,956. Together these births accounted for 8,234; which is 19.4% of all births in 2004. The figures for 2003 were also 19.4 per cent. While it is believed that these figures are decline, more needs to be done to address the situation urgently. The social costs of these alarming figures are many. These high births in young girls can have serious implications on the educational future of the young mothers. It increases the number of school dropouts, poverty, illiteracy and poor health.

In April of 2008 the Government of Jamaica implemented the free health care system. Every Jamaican is now in a position to access services free from public hospitals and clinics island-wide. With this ease in access, I believe Jamaican youth should utilize the services including family planning. One such is the Copper T intrauterine device (IUD). The Family Health International explains that “Copper T is safe and reversible, and requires little effort on the part of the user once inserted, and offers 10 years of prevention against pregnancy.”The IUD is quite an effective method and has a lower rate of complications than hormonal methods," Dr. Carlos Huezo, medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) highlighted.

Dr. Huezo further opines that “it is regrettable that its use is low in many countries. We need to create an awareness of the safety of the IUD and how effective it is." He also believes that "the most common misconception was that IUDs work by causing an abortion." "We also heard that the IUD causes cancer. This was a quite common perception, but it came as a surprise to researchers. Another concern is that the IUD moves outside the uterus and can travel as far as the heart or brain. This is just one of the many contraceptive mechanisms that are available free by the Jamaica Government. It is the responsibility of youth to seek information and access the services as the need arise. The Copper T in particular has a life span of over ten years. While it does not protect against viruses such as HIV, it goes a far way in protecting one from unwanted pregnancy. This is important for population control and economic development.

There are many short falls of government but when services are offered, we need to, as young people use them as much as possible. There is no right time to start having sex as we all have different ideas about sexual initiation. However, my advice is that we delay sex until our bodies are fully developed or be sure to use proper contraceptive (and protection) if we must. Above all if you can abstain, do so as it the only full prove contraceptive that exist presently.

[1] Volume 33, Number 4

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Earlier this week Colorado Congressman Jared Polis introduced H.R. 4530, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination against public school students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Polis is clear about why he’s taking the lead on this bill:

"Every day innocent students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and fellow students based on their sexual orientation…[t]hese actions not only hurt our students and our schools but, left unchecked, can also lead to life-threatening violence. Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s, my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear."

The SNDA is a significant advance in the struggle for GLBTQ rights — albeit a partial one, since achieving real victory means getting this bill passed. Congressman Polis and the sixty original co-sponsors of the SNDA should be applauded for defending an essential moral right: a quality education, free from fear.

You can expect the usual ideologues to attack the SNDA as a veiled attempt to promote homosexuality. Indeed, the scaremongering has already begun. An analyst from Focus on the Family said in response to the bill’s introduction, "This [protecting youth] can and should be done without politicizing the classroom and introducing controversial sexual topics to kids against parents’ wishes."

Controversial sexual topics? Politicizing the classroom?
What can these accusations possibly mean in light of the bill’s actual purpose? If I’m a teacher, and if I tell my students that bullying and violence against anyone will not be tolerated at school, then that should be fine. If I emphasize the fact that we are all born with equal human dignity, regardless of our in-the-flesh identities and the lives we choose to live, then that should be fine. And if I concretize these lessons by telling my students that gay classmates are not to be singled out for abuse, then that should be fine — because these are lessons about the rights that we all have, not "controversial sexual topics."

The SNDA is necessary because it addresses a shameful gap in the law. Federal civil rights statutes expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and disability, but these same statutes are practically silent when it comes to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The real-world result is astonishing: GLBTQ students who have suffered harassment, discrimination, and violence in their schools often have less legal recourse and fewer options for meaningful legal remedies than their straight counterparts.

Such a perverse legal inequality cannot stand. Of all places, the American classroom should not be a sanctuary for discrimination.

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As much as it pains my feminist heart to say this, I do not believe that women rule the world. Let me say that, as a feminist, I do not want women to rule the world- that’s not what feminism is about. Feminism, most basically, is about equality between the sexes. So really, I don’t want either sex to “rule the world.” Yet, again, I am disappointed. As much as I don’t want it to be true, as I see it now, men rule the world. And I hate that. Not because I’m an “angry feminist”…or wait…maybe that’s exactly what I am. And maybe that’s exactly what I should be.

As much as I want to believe that equality between the sexes really does exist, I have come to realize that, in the most important ways, it does not. And until it does, I will continue to be an angry feminist because I cannot and will not accept being seen as less than just because I am a woman. Inequality will never be okay with me. So, until people realize that one sex does not rule the world (or, in other words, until people realize that one sex does not rule over the other) I will continue to be angry.

I think that we have two big problems in the United States when it comes to combating this issue. The first, simply, is that because of our successes in certain areas of this struggle, we forget that there are huge, though possibly less visible, issues that still need significant attention. Our second problem is our difficulty in seeing and comprehending the world outside our borders. We think that the whole world is like us, and if they’re not, they don’t matter anyway. I believe it is this kind of thinking that has allowed the worst inequalities against women to continue.

In the United States, it is illegal to discriminate against women for being women in housing and employment matters. Women are legally permitted and socially expected to control their own finances, attend school (including higher education), have sex with whomever they choose who gives their consent, get married to the person of their choice (this right is obviously different for lesbian women and some bisexual and transgender women) and divorce them if things get too bad, receive medical attention and care, and plan how many children they want to have and when they want to have them. With all of these positives, I can see how a lot of otherwise uninformed or unaware people wouldn’t realize that underneath many of these accomplishments, there remains unresolved inequality and lasting gender bias. 

Example 1: When you look at how much money women make in this country compared to how much men make in this country, you get this- 77:100. If the median income for a man is $100 a week, the median income for a woman is $77. This figure includes all jobs at all levels, so it is admittedly not a marker of a wage gap between sexes for the same job. But why is it that women, on average, have lower paying jobs? If men and women were really equal, they would have access to the same higher-paying jobs and the ratio of median income would be a lot closer.   

Example 2: Not all companies offer maternity leave to new mothers, and those that do often don’t offer an adequate amount of paid leave.

In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act:

 [FMLA] entitles most workers to up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave  for birth or adoption. However, the FMLA doesn’t cover those who work for  smaller companies and guarantees only unpaid leaves.

Twelve weeks of unpaid leave when you’ve got a new baby at home? Who are they kidding? There are some more catches to this “safety net,” though.

 You are among the 60 percent of U.S. workers who are eligible if you meet both  of the following conditions:

 • You work for the federal government, a state or local government, or any  company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of your  workplace.

 • You’ve worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250  hours during the previous year (an average of 25 hours per week for 50 weeks).

 There are a few exceptions: Your employer isn’t required to keep your job open  for you if you’re in the highest-paid 10 percent of wage earners at your company  and your employer can show that your absence would cause substantial economic  harm to the organization.

 Another exception is if you and your partner work for the same company. In this  case, you’re only entitled to a combined 12 weeks of parental leave between the  two of you.

Ah, the joys of motherhood. BabyCenter.com predicts that while “some enlightened companies do offer new parents paid time off, up to six weeks in some cases,” many new mothers should expect to “use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave during your time away from work.” Why all the hassle? Why so little respect?

Example 3: Abstinence-only education is a punishment to self-respecting women and girls. It promotes male supremacy and severely restricts female sexual autonomy. It shames women into ignoring their own natural, sexual desires, and makes them think that only their husband will know what’s best for them, sexually or otherwise.

Purity balls, references to chewed gum, clowns that threaten children with cinder blocks, and inaccurate information about condoms and STDs/STIs is not what is best for young people. Women and girls need to know that their desires are not shameful and do not mean that they are “dirty.” Having sex does not make you less valuable. We deserve the truth, not guilt-mongering lies.

And, rather than being harmfully skewed,  bisexual, lesbian, and transgender women and their feelings, wants, needs, and desires are completely ignored. In the world of abstinence-only education, they don’t exist. Women of all sexual orientations deserve to be represented with dignity in their classrooms and in society at large.

Example 4: Many women feel pressured to be married by a certain age. The “old maid” stereotype isn’t as strong as it once was, but this kind of thinking starts young. Young girls await their “Prince Charming,” want to be married by a certain age, and have x number of kids by a certain age. But where’s the talk about a job, a career, making a difference in the community?

It’s not that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is never talked about, but (if you’re female) think about when you were younger- what did you talk about more often or more extensively?- The career you would have and how you would get there?, or The guy of your dreams, what kind of flowers you would have at your wedding, the color of the bridesmaid’s dresses, what your dress would look like, where you would honeymoon? Society still says it’s “normal” for girls to put more thought into their wedding than their career.

Example 5: In terms of social pressure, there is another issue that women are never allowed to forget about: The constant threat of rape. As Jill Filipovic writes in her essay “Offensive Feminism: The Conservative Gender Norms That Perpetuate Rape Culture, And How Feminists Can Fight Back” (found in the book “Yes Means Yes”)

Men are 150% more likely  be the victims of violent crimes than women are. […]  Men are more likely to be assaulted, injured, or killed when alcohol is involved.  Men are more likely to be victimized by a stranger […] And yet it is women who  are treated to “suggestions” about how to protect themselves from public stranger  assaults… [which] send the false message that women can prevent rape. -p. 23

 …[T]he emphasis on rape as a pervasive and constant threat is crucial to  maintaining female vulnerability and male power. That narrative, though, does  more than just paralyze women- it privileges men. -p. 24

Victim-blaming is rampant in rape culture. And it’s disgusting. Think about this: If someone had their house burglarized and it was discovered that they had left their front door unlocked, would anyone suggest that the robber shouldn’t be punished because the homeowner was “asking” to be robbed?

Example 6: Independent health insurance for women can cost as much as 30-40% more than the cost for men. According to the New York Times, insurance companies say that women are charged higher premiums because “they are more likely to visit doctors [and] get regular check ups…” So now we’re being financially punished because we chose to keep our bodies healthy? That doesn’t seem fair. What makes sense is that an insurance company would encourage people to go on regular doctor visits so that they could prevent a serious illness and/or catch a serious illness in its early stages. But American health insurance companies make money, not sense.

But the 30-40% price disparity for independent coverage doesn’t even take into account the price of coverage for maternity costs. When applying, women must chose between a more expensive plan that covers pregnancy costs, or a less expensive plan that does not. But let’s say you chose the plan without pregnancy coverage and then, unexpectedly, you get pregnant. If you don’t want to have an abortion, you’re stuck paying out of pocket. And that’s a huge bill, especially if something goes wrong.

Speaking of planning for the unexpected, it has also been proposed in the Senate, as part of health care reform, that if women want insurance coverage for one of the most common medical procedures available to them (abortion), they must purchase an separate, additional rider to their policy. As if getting an abortion wasn’t already hard enough. (More on that later.)

Example 7: Right before leaving office, former President Bush implemented a “conscience clause.” According to CNN:

Under the rule, workers in health-care settings — from doctors to janitors — can  refuse to provide services, information or advice to patients on subjects such as  contraception, family planning, blood transfusions and even vaccine counseling if  they are morally against it.

There have been many articles written about the fact that President Obama “plans on” reversing the regulations and that he is “in the process of” reversing them. But what about an official reversal? Where are those articles? The fact is, despite all the talk, President Obama has not reversed this incredibly harmful policy.

Example 8: Getting an abortion in this country may be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, for many women it’s quite difficult (even when you don’t factor in the social stigma that still exists, even though for the past 30 years there have been over 1 million legal abortions performed each year. Which means that someone you know has had one.) The laundry list of hoops that women have to jump through just to receive this medical procedure is flat out insulting.

From stateline.org:

 In 2007, 29 abortion restrictions were enacted in 14 states, capping a rapid rise in  the number of new laws since 2000. Between 1985 and 1999, states passed an  average of 11 new abortion restrictions each year. Since 2000, the rate has risen to  16 per year, according to Guttmacher.

The list of restrictions include parental notification laws, ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, and time limits. The restrictions also extend to clinic access- many states have only one or two clinics that offer the procedure. It’s also a quite expensive procedure (depending on many factors), and with no federal funding going toward helping women afford it (because of the Hyde Amendment), many women are forced to turn to other options (which sometimes means that she is risking her life to obtain an unsafe, illegal abortion).  

Add to all of these examples the struggles that transgender women go through when they are told that they aren’t really women. The level of disrespect is shameful. Women must be allowed to make their own decisions, have the opportunities to implement those choices, and be free of ridicule or social stigma in doing so.

Outside of the United States, these inequalities and abuses, and their consequences, grow exponentially.

Women throughout the world are notoriously and chronically unemployed. This moves well beyond any notion of a slow economy or a weak job market, and goes much deeper than the idea of a pearl-wearing, dinner-preparing housewife in heels. Women have been flatly rejected or are brutally disrespected by employers who are willing to hire them (and who do so, largely, because they feel that women are more willing to work in poorer conditions and for lower wages). And don’t think for a moment that most of these women are permitted to self-manage their meager earnings. These money troubles become even more troublesome when you factor in how many women aren’t paid at all because their work is more accurately described as slave labor.

One powerful reason that women are so disadvantaged economically is directly related to their significant lack of education. While a quality education is hard to come by for both men and women in many parts of the world, boys have always been given priority over girls when it comes to schooling. Girls in developing countries are lucky to get just one or two years of schooling- never mind the 12 or 16 years or more that women in this country not only hope for but have come to expect. Deeply entrenched gender roles play a large part in this issue, and many others.

The striking lack of female sexual autonomy (that is, the power that females have over what happens to them sexually), is one of the biggest problems that women currently face. It has a wide range of implications and consequences and manifests itself in a variety of ways. This lack of basic control is one of the largest, most deeply entrenched, and most harmful barriers for women. Here’s why: How can anyone be expected to succeed- financially, mentally, and emotionally- when the promise of a job turns into the horror of being the victim of sex trafficking and being forced to smile at your rapists?, when the threat of HIV, other STIs/STDs, and pregnancy is constant because condoms are disregarded  even when they’re available?, when marital rape is legal?, when abortion is illegal and women are forced to procure highly dangerous, “back-alley” abortions?, when maternal mortality rates are sky high?, when sick female children are kept at home while sick male children are taken to see a doctor because male children are seen as more valuable? Statistically, women live longer than men, so it makes sense that female populations would outnumber male populations. Yet, in the countries with the most dramatic gender inequalities, the opposite is the case. Any guess as to why that is?

So, when someone says “women rule the world”…what world are they living in?

If this is depressing you, that’s a good thing. Why? Because it means that you’re not okay with what’s going on. It means that, to you, this isn’t business as usual. But to so many, that’s exactly what it is- which is why this is still such a huge global problem.

This is why gender inequality is not a small or irrelevant issue. This is why feminism isn’t dead. This is why when you experience, or even hear about, an instance of gender inequality or an abuse toward females, even when it’s a “small” instance, you have to do something about it. You owe it to yourself, and every woman, to stand up, speak up, and keep being a “loud, angry feminist” until someone takes you seriously. It’s time to take women and girls seriously.

To read more on this subject, I highly recommend the following books, which were the inspiration for this post:

- Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape- by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide- by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

~ Samantha

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Young in different concept it has its own meaning. In terms of age group most books defined young’s in age between 14 to 24.Some times it may be 30. Obviously People in this age group shared the same behavior. In addition to their bodily growth their mental activity also changed as before. Differently changes from kids and olds. Their way of thinking, talking, acting even dressing is completely changed. In every aspect of their life, young do things energetically. But those people in the age group of young, didn’t perform like young, Can we say those are young? In the other side, people above or below the age group take action like young, do we say those people are not young? So, who is young? In my opinion to be young, beside age, peoples must identify with their activity. Except disability of person Young must think, work and admit his/her mistake actively. Young must generate new ideas and practice it carefully. If you are young, think actively and contribute some valuable thing for your self, your family, your country and your world. Otherwise, you are not young.

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According to Yahoo News, “Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.More than 230,000 American women have fought in those recent wars and at least 120 have died doing so, yet the public still doesn’t completely understand their contributions on the
modern battlefield.”


There are millions of women who give their lives each day for our safety and we can’t even give them praise when they return, how is that patriotic?

Aimee Sherrod, an Air Force veteran who did three war tours, said years went by when she didn’t tell people she was a veteran. After facing sexual harassment during two tours and mortar attacks in Iraq, the 29-year-old mother of two from Bells, Tenn., was medically discharged in 2005 with post-traumatic stress disorder.


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America’s Next Top Model has exposed us to so many different types of models…Plus size, short girls, tall, skinny, what else can we expect?

Well..Britain is taking it to a whole new level…they are giving women who have disabilities a chance to show that they can be amazing models as well!

According to the New York Times, "The fashion world may be the last bastion of prejudice, a field that overtly discriminates against people because of their looks. So there is something both bold and troubling about Britain’s Missing Top Model,” a reality show that begins on Tuesday on BBC America that pits disabled women against one another to compete for a photo spread in the U.K. edition of Marie Claire magazine.

One thing never changes in the beauty industry, however: an ounce of fat is a greater hurdle than a missing limb. “Rebecca’s disability didn’t cause me any problems,” a photographer says after shooting Rebecca, 27, a stunning brunette who was born with a deformed hip and wears a prosthetic leg. “It was just the fact she’s not really in shape. Most models are pretty toned, slimmer, more agile.”


-click here to view more photos of the women on the FLICKR PhotoStream


The author discusses and compares both Britain’s Next Top Model to America’s Next Top Model. The crazy irony of how Tyra tries to mix it up in her show, but still manages to eliminate a group or offend another.

"it’s a contest designed to raise the profile and confidence of disabled women but makes a spectacle of their hunger for acceptance. “Missing Top Model” tries to bolster self-esteem yet revels in the piquancy of physically imperfect women competing in a profession that demands physical perfection, which one judge defines this way: “It’s what 99 percent of the population do not have and never will.”

So, what does that say about society? Does imperfections determine how far you can go in your life? Will America’s Next Top Model tackle women who are disabled?

Does shedding light on young women who are disabled with fashion dreams really make a spectacle of their disability and does it make it harder because 1) they are disabled and 2) they also have to worry about the fashion world and society’s obsession with weight on top of having a physical condition?

@BBC/FLICKR Photostream

-click here to view more photos of the other contestants on the FLICKR Photostream for BBC America

During the experience people passing by are introduced to the aspiring models, and many believe this will be both empowering but also cause conflict and discomfort with the readership….especially when they have a disabled model with a amputated leg modeling lingerie…

A young man in a fleece cap says he is impressed that she is not scared to show her stump, “because she’s beautiful at the same time, so she’s got nothing to hide.” A middle-aged woman agrees, but worries about using amputees to appeal to prurient tastes. “Personally I think it should be emphasized,” she says. “But if it’s to sell something like lingerie I think people are going to be troubled.”

Any thoughts? What do you think?

According to the New York Times, "Whatever initial shock there is at seeing pretty young women who are missing an arm or a leg wears off quickly. All eight aspiring models are good-looking and likable, at ease with their disabilities and the camera. They are told by their mentor and coach, Jonathan Phang, a fashion consultant, that they were not chosen to make a political statement but to prove themselves as models: the one with the best chance of actually having a career will win. The contestants’ desire to be desired, not pitied or patronized, makes sense."

My Thoughts….

This is going to be an interesting season to watch. How do you feel each of the contestants will fair with the criticism and questions? Being disabled is not something that is to be glamorized, it’s something people have to deal with on a daily basis. They are strong, beautiful, and courageous normal people just like you and I. Do you think this show is making a mockery of being disabled? How do you feel about the fashion industry catering to a new audience? Is this a step in the right direction or is this ridiculous?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

To read more of the article, click here.

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It’s that time of year, and I, for one, am glad. It’s easy, when you do this kind of work, to get mired in all the horrible things that need to change, like, two decades ago, and to miss out on the fact that we’ve actually got a lot to celebrate. Here, in no particular order are a few of the things that are making my gratitude list this year:

-I’m thankful that Emma Thompson responded to the petitions of feminists and withdrew her name from the list of famous Roman Polanski apologists. And I’m even more thankful that Caitlin Hayward-Tapp and everyone at Shakesville had the vision and optimism to inspire her to do it.

-I’m thankful for Glee, despite its flaws, for continuing to be such an unabashedly sex-positive show. And for being so freaking fun to watch. And I’m thankful for Precious, despite its flaws, for presenting the story of an abused young black woman who manages to transcend her brutal circumstances without a makeover or a man. And for introducing us to the fantastic Gabby Sidibe, whom I hope to be seeing a lot more of on my movie screens in the near future.

-I’m thankful that Tucker Max’s movie bombed at the box office. For a ton of reasons, but primarily because that means we probably won’t get a sequel, or a bunch of copycats.

-I’m thankful that Amanda Hess started writing her The Sexist column for the Washington City Paper, because she makes me laugh and makes me think and makes me feel so much more sane and generally cuts through epic amounts of BS on the regular. The only part of me that’s not thankful for her is the part that’s jealous of how good she is.

-I’m thankful that congress passed The Matthew Shepard Act, which expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and that Obama signed it.

-I’m thankful that Obama cut all funding for abstinence-only education from his 2010 budget. I am far from thankful that the Senate has put it back in. I’d be thankful to you if you called your senator and demanded that it come out again.

-I’m thankful to all of the leaders at CounterQuo who are working together to challenge the way we as a culture respond to sexual violence. I learn from them every day.

-I’m thankful that the book I edited with Jessica Valenti, Yes Means Yes, Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, has sparked so much inspiring discussion about enthusiastic consent, female sexuality, and how to stop rape, and I’m thankful for Jessica and all of our amazing contributors and everyone else who made it possible. This time last year, it would have been impossible to imagine that our little book would become a course at Colgate University, or be selected by Publishers Weekly as one of their Top 100 Books of the Year. And I never would have known how encouraging it would be to get to travel the country talking to hundreds of young people who are already fired up and ready to do what it takes to change the culture for good.

-I’m thankful that over 75% of MA voters support passing a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. And I’m even more thankful for the work that the Mass Trans Political Coalition has done in getting such a bill introduced in the state legislature. I’d be even more thankful if the state legislature would stop "studying" it and actually debate it and vote it into law. And those legistlators would be thankful, too, because a majority of voters in MA say that they’re more likely to vote for their legislator if their representative votes for the bill.

-I’m thankful that Rihanna has decided to turn the horrible thing that was done to her into a way to stop other girls from facing the same violence. Because she didn’t have to.

-I’m thankful that Caster Semenya gets to keep her gold medal, even if the whole concept of gender testing in sports is profoundly problematic.

Above all, I’m thankful for everyone here at Amplify – and you better believe that includes YOU – for daring to believe not only that we deserve so much better than the sexual culture we’ve got, but that we can do things every day that bring us closer to the healthy, safe, pleasurable world we deserve.

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As the new fall season in television begins, I’ve been finding myself following the same US shows I used to, and some new ones. I’ve been impressed with the imagery, writing, and content of some series, but not enough from just one show to focus just on that for an entire post. Instead, I’d like to share some of the highlights that I enjoyed, and some that were troubling.

Law & Order: SVU
I’ve watched SVU since it first began a decade ago. It almost seemed like an expected show for me to include on my roster with my focus and interest in sexuality. I’ll be the first to admit there are several things about SVU that unnerve me and perhaps that list of things requires a separate post, but just know that I know. Now, on a recent episode, “Hardwired” which aired October 21, 2009, Dr. George Huang performed by B.D. Wong came “out” as an Asian gay man. The episode focuses on a young boy who is being molested by his stepfather. The stepfather has found an online community of pedophiles who argue that their relationships are not taboo. The group is called Our Special Love (OSL), which Dr. Huang argues goes a step further beyond the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). While discussing the science that president and CEO of the group use to validate their relationships to advocate for pedophilia to be seen as a new genetically based sexual orientation and compare their “persecution” to that of gay people in Iran and Iraq, Dr. Huang states “Pseudo science like this insults my intelligence as a psychiatrist and my humanity as a gay man.”

When I shared my surprise with some friends a few thought: “that was implied” already in Dr. Huang’s character. Now, I can’t recall any time this was implied, and perhaps that’s because I was not looking for such implications or hints because I was focused too much on another issue in the show. Or perhaps it is because it is rare that a gay Asian actor is cast to play a gay Asian character. If you watch the show, what were some of your thoughts?

Private Practice
I’ve watched this Grey’s Anatomy spin-off since it first began. I watch it for a few reasons: first, there is a Black heterosexual couple (Sam Bennett performed by Taye Diggs and Naomi Bennett performed by Audra McDonald) they are both doctors and have speaking and lead roles. Second, I really like Amy Brenneman and missed her since her last show, Judging Amy, which she played the lead. Third, They incorporate a holistic approach to healthcare (they have a male midwife, and a doctor who offers and performs acupuncture, acupressure, and massage among other services), which I appreciate and am involved in. And finally, I appreciate the writing that calls out the elitism and classism among wealthy “old money” characters such as Addison.

In past seasons they addressed topics such as if to offer abortion services to clients, what roles doctors play in working with families of a child who is intersex, and coping with sexual violence and rape. The new season has kept the same ethical debates regarding various topics and last Thursday’s episode “Slip Sliding Away” followed suit. In this episode a new character is introduced: Dr. Gabriel Fife performed by Michael Patrick Thornton, who is a man with a disability. His specific disability is not indicated in dialogue but he uses a wheelchair for mobility in his office and on the show thus far. He was introduced to Naomi, his supervisor, and we watch as Naomi struggles with speaking with him, negotiating/working with him, and exerting her authority because he has a disability, or as the writers crafted her to say “because he’s in a wheelchair.” We watch as Naomi struggles with how to approach and communicate with him.

I’m torn on this representation because not only did it normalize the ableism in our society, but it also offered far too much opportunity for writers to create ableist jokes and language for other characters to use. For example, on the Private Practice site it is written “He’s a brilliant, arrogant, wheelchair-bound specialist.”  On the other hand part of me appreciates having a popular culture reference for discussing disability and ability with older audiences. Plus, I appreciate that they chose to cast a person with a disability to play a character with a disability. Thus, Thornton is not “performing” disability as this is his reality.  If you watch the show and saw the introduction of the Dr. Fife character, what were your thoughts? Sadly, the focus of the online community chat on the Private Practice site is on the cat lead character Addison has adopted. Watch the video below at the 1:50-4:15 mark and again at the 6-minute mark for Dr. Fife’s introduction:

Sex Rehab
Sigh. Just sigh. There are so many layers to unpack, deconstruct, and evaluate from this new reality show on Vh1. Part of me thinks this deserves a full post immediately, and another part of me wants to write a post after the series comes to an end with the current group. If you have not heard of this show, know that it is about “sex addicts” seeking help from Dr. Drew to overcome their addiction. More on this coming soon!

America’s Next Top Model
Tyra Banks demonstrates questionable judgment again when she does a foto challenge for the remaining contestants in Hawaii requiring the contestants to be in Black and Brown face. I’m not making this up! See:

I’m not going to write any more about this topic because several great writers have already deconstructed and evaluated it in such an extensive way there is really nothing more for me to add. To read more from an intersectional academic standpoint with information on how to contact Warner Brothers, Benny Medina and, Bankable Productions go directly to Prof. Susurro’s blog post here. For a mash-up with fotos from the shoot written Deputy Editor of Racialicious, Thea Lim, check out her post here. If this is your first visit to Racialicious (and I’m sure it’s not if you’ve been reading posts by other Amplify bloggers) this is the space where you WANT to read the comments because readers are important part of the conversations that occur on the site.

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In case you haven’t heard, congress has choosen to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people by now including them as part of the group of classes of people that are discriminated against in this country and around the world. LGBTQ victims of hate crimes, illegal acts against people motivated by an intolerance or prejudice, will now be ensured that their assailants will not go unpunished or treated tepidly. Since 1969, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, sex, and religion have been recognized as protected classes, and now because of the passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability will soon be included as protected classes of people. So what does the new law mean?

For more than a decade, senators have been fighting to extend protections for LGBTQ people and this Thursday their efforts along with the efforts of civil rights and gay rights activists paid off when the Senate passed the extension of hate crimes legislation. Because several states already enforce hate crimes protections upon LGBTQ people, the federal government will not change existing laws but will instead broaden the range of actions that can be considered biased against LGBTQ people such as preventing someone from voting or going to school because they are LGBTQ. The bill also includes available grants to help state and local governments fight the prevalence of hate crimes. Although the bill won’t prevent hate crimes, per se, the Matthew Shepard Act is a sign of great things to come during this era of rising progressivism in our nation. There is no doubt that the passage of this bill will pave the way towards future pro-LGBTQ legislation under the Obama administration.

Now that the bill has passed both the house and the senate, all we have to do now is wait for the president. We’ve been waiting for years for this bill and months for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promises to the LGBTQ community. We’ll be watching what he does when he signs this bill and what he has in store for the future of civil rights.

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Monday marked the eleventh anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, the young man who was brutally beaten and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay.
Since Matthew’s death, his mother and countless others have lobbied Congress to pass hate crimes legislation that extends protections to sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability; and it finally looks like it will head to Obama’s desk in the next week or two (despite Republican outcry that it will imprison people for their homophobic thoughts).
Shortly after his murder, the New York-based Tectonic Theatre Project headed to Laramie with the intention of interviewing people affected by the event. The resulting play, The Laramie Project, has become one of the most-performed plays worldwide. I had the privilege of being a part of the cast at one of the first high schools to perform the show in 2002 (in Kansas City, Missouri).
To commemorate the Matthew’s death, Tectonic returned to Laramie to interview those individuals who had been included in Laramie Project to see what, if any, impact his death still had on the community. The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later was performed in hundreds of cities across the US, as well as several countries, and showed us that even though Matthew Shepard has remained a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community, many in Laramie would just as soon forget about the entire incident.
I was able to catch the performance in Washington, DC produced by Arena Stage and it was spectacular.


One of the more depressing aspects of this epilogue is the fact that, even though it really woke up America to the violence facing its LGBTQ citizens, so many have spent the last eleven years trying to disprove the murder was a hate crime. ABC’s 20/20 produced an episode casting the event as more of a drug-induced robbery gone wrong (PBS later disproved most of ABC’s accusations). Earlier this year, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) called his death a hoax. And now that it looks like hate crimes legislation will finally be passed on the federal level, Republicans and conservative pundits are coming out of the woodwork and revealing their hatred towards LGBTQ individuals.  
As I sat in the theatre on Monday and listened to the producers tout the fact that Laramie Project has been seen by thousands of people, I found myself wondering how much of an impact theatre, and this play in particular, could have on audiences? Is theater – a stereotypically gay safe haven – the best artistic medium to change people’s minds? Or has The Laramie Project simply been preaching to the choir?
I remember being a senior in high school and putting on the show. I was still coming to terms with my sexuality so I was not very knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues, but I do remember the school-wide dialogue the play cultivated. And surprisingly, most of the conversations were generally very supportive. And while television, film, and the internet certainly have a larger audience, perhaps plays are better tools for younger generations, being more interactive and engaging. And even if the cast members are the ones most affected by the production, it’s a start.
The Laramie Project may not have changed the minds and hearts of millions (as evidenced by many of our elected officials), but it gave a voice to those who had none. And if nothing else, I can speak on behalf of those who are a part of the show’s production: It really does make you want to stand up and fight!

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**Spoiler Alert**
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to see Jennifer’s Body simply to support one of few women of Color directors: Karyn Kusama . This weekend I went to 42nd Street/Times Square with my homegirl Erika Lopez to see the film. We caught an evening show on Saturday night. The theater was small even though the film was showing just about every hour. However, the showing was close to sold out. Erika and I sat in the front fourth row because we like horror and enjoy being all up in the middle of the screen.
Now, the audience was most definitely 98% people of Color, 90% under 25 years old, and a mixed group of gender identity. Erika and I knew to expect that we would be the “old heads” in the crowd, but neither of us mind. I knew to expect a lot of call and response from the audience, and that’s exactly what happened.
Here’s the deal: the film is terrible. I know I wrote a nice long article about how marketing was less than exceptional, how Kusama spoke about the skewed marketing, how her comments about that made me want to see the film even more. The reality is, the script is incredibly awful and tries so hard to sound “cool” that viewing the film was painful. And not just painful in the Bianca-is-not-the-demographic-for-the-film kind of way, but in the way where Erika exhales loudly about four times, I had to adjust myself in my seat over 10 times, and when the film was over I asked Erika if she wanted me to pay her back the money she dished out to see the film (she didn’t want to go but went with me because she’s my homegirl and I convinced her a double header to see Capitalism: A Love Story was a good idea for her rainy Saturday in NYC).
The most fascinating part of the film was how the audience responded.

Not only did they not laugh at the parts of the film that screenwriter and executive producer Diablo Cody wrote, but also when they did laugh it was more of a pointing and laughing response. For example, there’s one point in the film when Megan Fox’s character Jennifer says to her friend “Needy” played by Amanda Seyfried, “You are such a player hater.” Now, the audience I was a part of laughed at this, not because it was true, but because Cody attempted to write a character who was attempting to appropriate, use, and perform the phrase that became commonly used within specific communities of which neither Cody or Fox have membership. They laughed at her performance. They laughed at her attempt to appropriate language they no longer use. They laughed at them. I laughed with the audience because of their reaction.

Now, the poor writing and lack of any horror in the film is just the beginning of where the pain begins. There are the characters, clearly racialized violence in the film, over-emphasis on disability, and “the kiss.”
Let’s begin with characters and racialized violence. The first time we see people of Color they are institutionalized in a mental health facility. Within that space, we meet the first person of Color with a speaking role, a Nutritionist played by Candus Churchill. The Nutritionist has no name, yet is a Black woman who speaks to Needy in the cafeteria. She is kicked in the face by Needy and spits out a tooth on the floor while the other patients cheer. Prior to being retrained, Needy spits on the Nutritionist who is bleeding on the floor. Great. Just 5 minutes into the film, in one of the first scenes a Black woman is being kicked in the head by a White teenage girl.
I had to tell myself to take deep breaths.
The audience was not impressed either. There were no reactions similar to those that were prompted by watching trailers of buildings blowing up and men fighting that were mixed with laughter and awe. Instead, the response was one of “oh hell no.” The audience was not happy and neither was I. Yet, it says something about those involved in creating the film that they feel confident presenting violence against women of Color. It also says something about those of us in the audience who did not appreciate the scene and made it known.
We are then taken back in time to discover how Needy became institutionalized. We are taken back to high school. There are only three people of Color at school: A Black heterosexual couple who has no speaking role and that we see only once, an Asian American student named Chastity played by Valerie Tian who was also in Juno, and Ahmet from India played by Amen Johel who was also in Juno, but Ahmet has no speaking role. Now other identities are also presented, such as people with disabilities through the character Mr. Wroblewski played by J.K. Simmons (he was also in Juno). Mr. Wroblewski is a science teacher who has a “mechanical arm” that very much looks like a hook versus the prosthetics that are now available.
Now the most complicated character is Chastity. She speaks the most, and challenges the stereotypes of Asian women being passive, docile, and quiet. She speaks her mind, gets angry, is aggressive, and has convictions. However, her convictions and anger are focused on maintaining that an all White boy band maintain their status as community heroes. She protects the White men in the film; the men, we later learn, harmed Jennifer, which resulted in her demonic ways.
Part of Jennifer’s demonic conversion is to feed off of humans to gain energy. Her first victim is Ahemet, who we are believed to be a foreign exchange student. Ahmet from India is called that by everyone in school as if those three words make up his entire name. Even Mr. Wroblewski calls him “Ahmet from India.” Ahmet becomes Jennifer’s first victim who she murders and feeds on after realizing that nobody knows he’s alive and that she can kill him and make it seem he died in a fire they both survived. Take home message: Ahmet is so disposable he can be murdered and nobody cares about him enough to miss him.
When it comes to presenting the small city of Devil’s Kettle as having some diversity, including communities of Color is not the only attempt. There is too much emphasis on Mr. Wroblewski’s disability. Each time he is on the screen there is an attempt to show his arm. The second time he is on the screen he is introduced by focusing on his arm that is holding papers and walking toward his desk. Was that really necessary? It gave me the impression that I was supposed to laugh during that shot. What a great way to continue the socialization of staring at people who are different versus examining how difference is a strength not a weakness.
The entire time I was watching I wondered: how could Cody not know this would be DOA? She boo-hooed to Entertainment Weekly about the bombing of the film the first week in theaters yet refuses to recognize why this could be. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are more clever and astute than people give them credit for. I wasn’t surprised to witness the failure of this film. I wasn’t surprised it was not well received. But I was surprised with what occurred when “the kiss” was shown.
By the time the scene with “the kiss” between Jennifer and Needy arrives, we are halfway through the film. The clips that were shared to prove to be a teaser were just that, a tease . The kiss was more than just a few seconds. Not only did the kiss begin with the women standing up, but also it ended with the women laying down. Now, call me old fashion, or call me honest, but for me kissing standing up is totally different than kissing lying down. We watched Jennifer and Needy kiss for almost two minutes. That’s a pretty long time for a film that we are led to believe is heterosexist (and it is) based on the marketing to men.
During “the kiss,” young men in the audience began to verbalize their excitement and the twitching of their body parts. One young man sitting on the right hand side of the theater yelled out “lesbian!” A handful of other young people laughed when he said this, but it was the reaction of one young woman that made me smile. In a crowded movie theater a young woman sitting on the left hand side of the theater said: “Hey, there are lesbians in here too.” Now don’t get this twisted, she was not saying it in a “we can do that too” kind of way, but in a defiant, you better respect us kind of way. To the young woman in the theater that day, high-5!
And high-5 to everybody in the theater who didn’t find the “Thai food” line as funny as Cody hoped. Nobody in the theater had anything to say when this line was spoken. I want to think we all simultaneously rolled our eyes. A collective eye roll.
A few other things that came up for us while watching was the representation of women and how we build and sustain relationships and friendships with one another. At one point during the film when Jennifer is being sacrificed to Satan by a boy band, Erika looked over to me and asked: “This is supposed to be feminist?” To which I simply responded with a “humph.” Then I thought about her question for a moment, leaned over toward her and said: “perhaps they validate the feminism because Jennifer ‘rises from the ashes’.” Is this really where feminism(s) is/are going? If it is, what does it teach us?
I thought about this on the subway ride back home. What does this film tell us about the abusive relationships girls and women have with one another? Are we expected to maintain friendships with women even when they are filled with pain and violence? The relationship between Needy and Jennifer was established in childhood and for that reason we are to believe it should and will sustain them into adulthood. How does this film push stereotypes of heterosexual women constantly arguing over men in their lives and fighting for the men versus for one another? My hope is that just as the weak attempts at creating and introducing new language and terms to the audience didn’t work, the messages about women constantly being in competition with one another won’t work either.
So, what was “right” with the film? I really can’t say. There were times when I tried really hard to focus on the cinematography because that is why I went to see the film. But it was difficult to get beyond the horrendous script. Erika and I both agreed there were moments where Kusama did shine, such as in the focus of the movement of Needy’s dress towards the end of the film, her close up of characters faces, and the movement of spanning across a room. If you do decide to see the film wait until the credits roll when you will see scenes that, in my opinion, are the best of the film.

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A groundbreaking bill was introduced, the Ohio Prevention First Act, a bill requiring comprehensive sex education in Ohio schools. Not only does the bill mandate age-appropriate medically and scientifically accurate sex education about abstinence and safe sex, it is also inclusive of gender, race, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Some key points of the bill:

*"Ensure that sexual assault victims have access to emergency contraception and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in all hospital emergency rooms.

*Create a state teen pregnancy prevention task force that would recommend medically accurate and scientifically proven effective programs for reducing Ohio’s teen pregnancy rate.

*Require a pharmacy to dispense any prescribed drug, device or over-the-counter medication in stock without delay, consistent with the normal timeframe, and ensure that every licensed pharmacy does not intimidate, threaten or harass its customers in the delivery of services.

*Require the Department of Health to create materials to educate medical professionals and the general public about emergency contraception and to make them available on their website.

*Forbid a health insurance company from limiting or excluding coverage for FDA-approved prescription contraception if the policy covers other prescription drugs or devices."

Two senators are presenting the bill, Senator Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Cincinnati -woot!). This is a major step for Ohio sex education, and for bettering the lives of our youth. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

x-posted Midwestgenderqueer.com
x-posted buckeyestateblog.com
x-posted ohiodailyblog.com

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Life is hard.
Life is painful.
Life is short.
Life is precious.

I have been waiting pretty much all my life for a movie to come out like this. I have watched the trailer at least 3 to 4 times now because I simply can not get enough. I am elated to see  a film coming out that deals with so many powerful issues. Here is a brief synopsis of the film from the Official Website

"Based on the Book Push by Sapphire, [this film is] ….Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidlibe), a sixteen-year-old African-American born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnat for teh second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother (Mo’Nique), a poisonously angry woman who abuses her both emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos and Preicous has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write.

Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an ichoate but unshakable sense that other possiblities exist for her. Threatened with expulson, Precious is offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. Precious doesn’t know the meaning of "alternative", but her instincts tell her that this is the chance she has been waiting for. In the literacy workshop taught by thte patient yet firm Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination." 

Precious, the title character, is a young woman that has been dealt a very difficult card in life. She lives in a world where her size and body are not accepted. In addition, she struggles with a disability at school and then goes home to face poverty and abuse. Although some of us have faced a few of the struggles that Precious must tackle in these films it is rare that someone goes through all of them at once. Life is certainly hard for Precious but it seems from the trailer that the filmmakers did not  want to stop at merely describing her horribly disadvantaged situation.

This is a film about resilience.

I can not wait to see how Precious is able to escape from her current life and moves on to a better one. It definitely seems like it will be a challenge but I want to be there as she experiences that challenge. This film resonates with me because I too have struggled and overcome some of the same issues. Also, as a young black woman I find it rare that films like this come along that seem to tackle "hard" issues like urban poverty, inter-familial violence, incest and problems in school.

I am excited about these aspects of this movie because I hope that it can open up the eyes of many in America who are blind to urban poverty, today’s racism, child abuse and the problems of inner-city schools. For many people out there the only exposure they get to urban poverty is the BET/MTV pop version of "ghettos" where money, gangs, drugs and misogyny are exploited, glamourized and packed for consumption. However this is quite far from reality. The facts speak for themselves, for example, in 2003 the US Census reported that 8.2% of European Americans live in poverty compared to 24.4% of African-Americans. ABC News also ran a report that the disparity in education outcomes at the higher education, secondary education and primary education may be narrowing in some areas but is actually getting worse in others. Unfortunately, those who believed that the US would transform into a post-racial society on January 20, 2009 were very mistaken, there is still alot of work to be done in terms of addressing inequality in America.

My only fear however is that those same people who may get their first exposure from this film, may also be quick to generalize what they see in the film to all black girls, families, neighborhoods and culture. Another fear I have is that people will personally disconnect from this film because they can not "identify" with the feminist, disability rights and human rights issues that arise therein. These problems are not simply "other people’s problems" but are real problems that can affect anyone. You do not have to be black or be a woman to be a victim of bias, objectification or isolation.  Anyone can face difficulties in life and we all do– this movie is about the strength of the human spirit and how we can form supportive communities to lift ourselves and each other up from bad situations.

I hope that people can realize that although we may not all go through these exact problems, that does not mean that they should be any less real to us. Nor does it mean we should look down on or patronize those who are affected. Wanting to help or spread awareness of problems is great but stereotypes, objectification and forced alienation are very limiting and counterproductive.  Black people, women and people with impairments do not need pity nor do they need paternalism. Everybody deserves respect and dignity. Everyone also deserves a level playing feild from which acess to safety, health and education that does not have to be divided according to ability, socioeconomic or racial lines. 

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As I said in my last blog, the main concern for us at Advocates for Youth is the preservation of the health and lives of this generation‘s youth, and granting all people the right to know about their bodies, and learning how to experience sexuality safely, by means of comprehensive sex education. This is a huge issue, and (for some reason) incredibly controversial one. So with the current health care reform conversation and work circulating around the offices of our politicians, the AFY peer educators and community and campus organizers put on our fancy duds and made our way up Capitol Hill (which I came to discover is an actual, honest-to-blog hill that I was way not prepared to take on) to get some one-on-one with the representatives and senators from our districts about their knowledge involving the very closely linked issue of comprehensive sex education, their views in regards to it, and their position on the REAL Act.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the REAL Act (Real Education About Life), this is a bill sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, and Representative Barbara Lee from California (and co-sponsored by over 60 senators and representatives) revolving around designating federal funds specifically towards the support and development of comprehensive sex education curriculum in American schools. Currently, there is no federal funding allocated for comprehensive sex ed. (However, President Obama did not make note of any funds that would be allocated for abstinence-only sex ed in his 2010 budget plan, which is a definite step in the right direction.) While the contents of the bill hold some similarities to that of the Prevention First Act and Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act, the REAL Act goes much farther into specifics, and on a much broader level. Through the REAL Act, students would be given the opportunity to receive age-appropriate (using the rhetoric that this demographic is familiar with, while avoiding an overall condescending tone), as well as medically accurate information. While these programs do talk about abstinence, and its place as the one sure method of birth control and a clean bill of sexual health, it also avoids the marginalization of  sexually experienced students by providing accurate information about the pros and cons of each individual contraceptive and/or barrier method. This also means that, unlike Prevention First and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act, it covers the issues revolving around HIV/AIDS and STI prevention, as well as going so far as to develop skills about making healthy and responsible decisions regarding sexuality, identifying and preventing dating and sexual violence, teaching about the effects of drugs and alcohol on responsible judgment, all while steering clear of religious connotations and language. The REAL Act also prides itself on containing only all-inclusive language. This means that the REAL Act overtly and intentionally does not discriminate against any students, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. Last, and I believe the most important thing the REAL Act offers our nation’s youth, is the encouragement of family communication between parent(s) and child about sexuality.

A key argument that is going to be given from the ab-only advocates is the notion that sexual education is the job of the parents, and should be kept out of schools entirely. However, this severely discriminates and marginalizes a wide variety of students on several different levels. It leaves out the possibility of orphaned youth, homeless youth, and/or youth in foster care. It forgets about immigrant families where the child may be the only English speaker in the home, making the parent(s) unfamiliar with American views on sexuality. It disregards students who are queer-identified, and are not get ready or feeling safe to come out to their families. It ignores youth whose parent(s) are vehemently abstinence-only, and leaves them with the uninformative lesson of “just don’t do it”. Herein lies the most beautiful, beauteous beauty of the REAL Act; through take-home lessons, as well as lessons taught within class, students are taught how to initiate conversations about sexuality with their parent(s), guardians, or key adult leaders, and create a dialogue about sexuality from a comprehensive stand-point. This brings me to my main point: issues revolving around social justice require not just public policy, but even more so require the EDUCATION of the people, or change will not occur. In this situation, the public policy is indeed necessary in order to implement the curriculum in every school through out the nation. However, the act is nothing without follow-through. Developing communication between affected parties, and educating them in the process, is the most effective way to create real change. I find this to be the case in regards to all public policy. Take, for example, the safe schools movement. In D.C., the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) public policy office networks with legislators, and provides input and support on acts revolving around safety in schools for students, focusing on protection of students in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. But without the education of the students that are harassing these youth in the first place, what good does the act do? In reality, it could only put these victims in greater danger through potential backlash coming from these oppressors after the discipline has been carried out. In order to truly protect victims of queer bullying and harassment, students must be educated revolving around the issues facing the queer community, and learn the effects of their actions through the persynal stories of queer harassment victims. Continuing to push authoritarian rules and regulations is not going to change behaviors the way intimate, egalitarian conversation and education will.

In short, grassroots grow on the sides of the streets. When that’s where you’re working, and marching, and teaching, it’s much easier to watch them grow.

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Now that summer school is over, I can get back on track on updating you on all of the info that I got from my activist camp experience earlier this month.
Gay-Straight Alliances face many challenges in school. It can come from low recruitment, low visibility and awareness, little to no activity on campus, student/staff acceptance (or unacceptance), and fundraising. However, above all of these complications that can arise, there are laws that protect students from discrimination, grant rights to students for comprehensive sex education, and ensure that no student-organized club is discriminated against.
One of the workshops that took place at the GSA activist camp was “Fight 4 Your Rights!!!” There were three laws that we were taught about that were either in place already or have yet to be passed by the California legislative system.
AB537: California Safety and Violence Prevention Act:
AB537, the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, changed California’s Education Code by adding actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing nondiscrimination policy. State law says that “‘gender’ means sex, and includes a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.” The nondiscrimination policy also prohibits harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnic group identification, race, ancestry, national origin, religion, color, or mental or physical disability.
AB537 protects students and school employees against discrimination and harassment at all California public schools. The protections cover any program or activity in a school, including extracurricular activities and student clubs. This includes GSAs. According to the law, every youth, adult, public agency, or organization has the right to file a formal complaint to the school district’s superintendent if the law is not enforced. The school district is also obligated to investigate all complaints and deliver a written report within 60 days of the complaint and how it was addressed. The California Department of Education is responsible for making sure that all schools follow AB537.
SB71: California Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Law:
SB 71, the California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Act of 2004, replaced a patchwork of confusing and often contradictory statutes on sex education with one clear and comprehensive new law. The law was authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl and sponsored by the California affiliates of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. It went into effect on January 1, 2004. The new law has two purposes: “1) To provide a pupil with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect his or her sex­ual and reproductive health from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; 2) To encourage a pupil to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, dating, marriage, and family.”
SB71 removes all reference to “abstinence until marriage.” Sex education instruction and materials may not teach or promote religious doctrine. It also requires that all instruction and material be appropriate for use with students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and students with disabilities. Anti-bias trainings covering gender, sexual orientation or family life are not sexual health education. SB71 clearly defines that there is difference between sex education and anti-harassment or anti-bias trainings that include education on safety for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

AB394: Safe Place to Learn Act:
The Safe Place to Learn Act requires the California Department of Education to regularly monitor school districts regarding what steps have been taken to ensure compliance with the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, AB 537. This legislation will help to ensure that current school safety standards regarding harassment and discrimination are fully and properly implemented.
AB394, if passed, would make available information on trainings, curricula, and other resources that specifically and effectively address bias-motivated discrimination and harassment in schools. The law is necessary because unlawful bias-motivated discrimination and harassment continue to be pervasive in California schools and many schools’ districts are not in compliance with the law. 14% of all students report harassment because of their race or ethnicity. 9.1% of all students report harassment because of their religion. 7.5% of all students report being harassed on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. This means that over 200,000 students are harassed because they are gay or lesbian or someone though they were, and nearly 400,000 students are harassed because of their race.
I hope that reading all of this information helped you learn about some of the laws that are in place and that need to be enforced in order to ensure better schools across the state. I hope that someday similar laws will be passed across the nation and that maybe someday the federal government will recognize laws similar to California’s.
Have a great weekend everyone!

(I’m the one with the fro and green shirt. We were working on our "Queer People of Color History" project.)

For More Info Check Out The Following Links:

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(Ok guys, I know this blog may be a different style from what I usually do, but, hey, thought id do something a bit different this time. However, here goes! Enjoy!)

"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins." This powerful statement made by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. can be regarded to be quite adequate when one seeks to assess the issues of the infringements of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and also the issue of the infringement of human rights. The World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Reproductive Health and Research provides a comprehensive definition of sexual health and rights. The WHO defines it as a right to achieve "the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services". Other sources note that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) can be defined as the right for all to make choices regarding their own sexuality and reproduction, providing that these rights respect the rights of others to bodily integrity. This definition also notes the right to access information and services needed to support these choices and optimize health care for all those who are in need of it.

Now in seeking to understand what is meant by human rights, one needs only look to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to article 1 of this document, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” As such, with these key definitions noted, one shall now be seeking to assess if these rights are indeed being infringed, and more importantly, how much, if anything at all, is being done to see these persons, whose rights were infringed, truly receive redress.

So, issue number one: are these rights really being infringed. The issue of sexual reproductive health and rights unfortunately is not one which has been given much importance in many developing countries, especially in Latin America, the Caribbean and in many parts of the African Diaspora. According to the United Nations (UN), it is estimated that about 1,600 women die each day from complications caused by pregnancy and child birth, with 99% of these deaths occurring in developing countries. The UN also notes that each year, it is estimated that approximately 2 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, fifty-one percent of all pregnant women are suffering from iron-deficiency anemia, cancer of the cervix, which is noted to be the most common form of cancer in developing countries, is often linked to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, and finally, domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse are a noted to be a significant cause of disability among women.

Now upon seeing such overwhelming evidence, it is only too clear that these persons are seeing the infringement of their SRHR and human rights on a daily basis for according to the WHO, everyone has a right to "the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services", which these women obviously are not receiving and hence many of them end up dying or facing many serious health complications and abuse. Thus it is all to clear a point that these rights are indeed being infringed and thereby there is a need for something to be done.

Ok, so yes, infringements of rights, but the meat of the matter: what, if anything at all is being done to remedy this disregard for these persons’ rights? Undoubtedly, on a global scale, much is being done to try and combat the infringement of such rights. According to the UN, in December 1996, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) signed off on an agreement to pursue joint efforts to combat sexual violence, particularly against migrant women and girls, as well as enhanced reproductive health programmes for migrants. The agreement also noted that there was a need for close cooperation in advocacy, research, and technical cooperation between the two signatory agencies.

However, when one brings into focus how much is being done within these developing countries, one sees an obvious need for more effort. In many African countries, the conviction rate for rape is pathetically low. Access to proper health care in many Latin American countries is often nothing more than a dream to many persons and especially in the Caribbean, specifically Haiti, cases of domestic violence and other such violence against women have become common placed and yet very little is being done by the authorities to address it or to seek to lessen it. Hence, in this regard, in many of these developing countries, the need for more legislation and practical application and enforcement of such legislation is desperately needed. Thus, in conclusion, one would like to recommend that many of these UN agreements which seek to protect the rights of these individuals should be drafted into the legislations of the developing countries, so that there will be existing legislation to offer protection. One also recommends that these countries need to take a more practical stance in ensuring that the rights of individual are not infringed by making more valiant attempts at informing individuals about their rights and also what circumstances can be seen as an infringement of their rights. Undoubtedly, for many of these persons, ignorance of their rights has been their biggest stumbling block as to them receiving redress, hence a more aware populous would go a long way to reducing the infringement of such rights.

In closing, Kudos and 2 thumbs up to YAM, JYAN, AFY, aYA, EVA, and all the other groups who dedicate their time to taking a stance for the defense of the SRH rights of the youth in their country =)

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Bullying in schools is a huge problem, and GLBTQ people face violence, verbal abuse, and discrimination everyday in schools across North Carolina.  There is a great organization called Equality NC, and they are working very hard to promote an anti-bullying bill called the School Violence Prevention Act.  It which includes "gender identity or expression" and "sexual orientation" as reasons why you cant bully someone at school.  Heres what they have to say on their website:

Bullying and harassment, including acts targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, are an epidemic in our schools. Equality NC is part of Prevent School Violence NC, a coalition of groups working together to pass the School Violence Prevention Act (SB 526) and prevent bullying in our schools. We need your help to pass this important bill!

They have a video on their website that talks about the impact of bullying in NC:

The School Violence Prevention Act aims to create a safe space in schools for all people, using the following launguage:

Bullying or harassing behavior includes, but is not limited to, acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.

Pam’s House Blend, a progressive blog in NC, wrote about this bill as well.  Pam posted this interview with Kat Gipson, a member of the GSA in Chapel Hill.  She recounts the harrasment and violence that went through last year through because she was gay:

This kind of thing is all to common in schools, and we really need to stop this, NOW. 

This bill is going to be voted on TODAY (June 22) at 7pm EST, and I ask that you click here to send an email to your representative asking him or her to vote YES on this bill.  

The North Carolina Family Policy Council OPPOSES this bill.

I got an email from the NC Family Policy Council asking me to fight against the dangerous “homosexual agenda.”  The email started like this:

A bill that would expose millions of North Carolina children to homosexual concepts is scheduled for a vote in the North Carolina House of Representatives on Monday, June 22 at the 7:00 P.M. session. Please  contact your Representatives NOW and ask them to vote AGAINST Senate Bill 526-School Violence Prevention Act.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The Family Policy Council WANTS the school violence prevention act to fail-because it would expose people to “Homosexual concepts."  Concepts like “it is NOT okay to bully someone because they are gay.”  

This is their reason for not supporting the bill:

And if you care about your children, your grandchildren and future generations, you will take action now to stop this madness. There are some topics and policies over which reasonable people can disagree, but in this instance we are talking about the welfare of our children. Senate Bill 526 is a blatant attempt by adults to use our laws to help recruit the next generation of homosexuals. If you think this statement is harsh, consider this-homosexuals cannot reproduce.

Ten years ago, this statement completely stopped consideration of another pro-homosexual bill dead in its tracks in a Senate Committee. Because homosexuals cannot reproduce, they must have new recruits-just as the army cannot grow new soldiers, they must be recruited.

I read that twice, and I couldn’t believe it. They oppose this bill because they believe that people want to recruit a new generation of homosexuals? It made me angry, and I was shocked at the ignorance of these people. The NC family Policy council will never support gay marriage (read my post about that here), but they are also  OPPOSE a bill titled “School Violence Prevention ACT.  Opposing this bill could lead to increased bullying, and I don’t know why anyone would be in favor of that.  There is no "Homosexual agenda," just people who to create a safe space for GLBTQ youth in our schools.  They come from a place of fear and hatred, and someone needs to point out how ridiculous this all it.  How can they be opposed to preventing school violence? Crazy!

You can read the rest of their action alert here, but it will only make you angry.  

We really do need the School Violence Prevention Act to pass in North Carolina, so please click here to send a letter to your representative.

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Warning: This post contains language that some of my readers may find offensive – I am discussing these terms in an academic sense, not using them as insults or modifiers, but they are still there (under the cut) so be aware!

Awhile back a conversation in the Feministing comments over the use of the ableist term ‘lame’ got me to thinking about what is and is not appropriate to say. The conversation got heated with one side claiming that taking offense over the word ‘lame’ was overly sensitive, taking political correctness too far and the other side claiming that the word was wrong to use because it caused pain to differently abled individuals who feel ostracized by its use.*

Around the same time as I saw this conversation I read Dan Savage’s column, Savage Love, for the first time. In the unfortunate article I read Savage "apologizes" to a reader who feels offended by his use of the term ‘retarded’ in a previous article. Savage offers this response:

I’m going to turn over a new leaf […] and make a conscious, conscientious effort to break myself of the bad habit of using the word "retard." […] From now on, instead of saying "retard" or "that’s so retarded," I’m going to say "leotard" and "that’s so leotarded." I won’t be mocking the mentally challenged, just the physically gifted. I will pick on the strong—and the limber—and not the weak.

In this case I can clearly say that Dan Savage was being offensive and disrespectful because of two factors: first, his intention was to mock – the apology was not written in a sincere manner, it was rude and took on a tone that made light of his reader’s very real concerns. Second, I think its important to note that in the context of our society ‘retarded’ is still a word that is actively used to demean a marginalized group. Those two factors together indicate an intentional hurt – Savage knew what he was saying was offensive but he said it anyway.

After sorting my thoughts on Savage Love I moved back to ‘lame’ – can it be considered offensive in the same way as a word like ‘retarded’? I think the current meaning of lame needs to be taken into account here, because it has a serious effect on the factor of intention.
Lame is defined as:



1. disabled or crippled in the legs or feet

2. weak; unconvincing: lame arguments

Going by that definition, of course, ‘lame’ is clearly an offensive term. However, when you consider the social context – how often do we hear ‘lame’ being used to describe a differently-abled person, rather than an idea or something inanimate? (Especially when compared with how often we hear ‘retarded’ used in that manner.) For all of my life I have only known lame as a word that describes something ‘not cool’ – I’m sure I’m not alone in that. When the social context is considered it becomes clear that ‘lame’ is rarely used with the intent of doing harm.

Now, I’m not saying that ‘lame’ is an okay term to use, given its true definition, its understandable how differently abled individuals and those who advocate for them would be offended by the term. What I am saying, however, is that people often are not aware that ‘lame’ is a hurtful word because of the social context surrounding it. It is our responsibility, as people who realize the implications behind the word, to educate others so that, even if they don’t stop using it, they know more fully what they are saying in that little four letter word.

This blogger explains it well:

The definitions offered by the dictionary — and as we all probably know from hearing the word "lame" used so much to mean something derogative — show that the word has migrated, as have most older or "archaic" words about disability, into a second, metaphorical meaning: ineffective, bad, incompetent, etc. I’ve written about this happening with blind and also with deaf. And now I’m blogging about "lame."


Because "lame" has been "taken over," if you will, by others using it to mean "weak, ineffectual," it now seems like a slur even when used in its original sense.

Basically, your best bet with words like ‘lame’ and ‘retarded’ is just not to say them. Same goes for words that degrade gay and transgendered people (like using gay as an insult), words that degrade women (like bitch, pussy, c*nt, and so on used as an insult), words that insult men (calling someone a dick) and so on.

There are ways to express yourself that don’t involve oppression. For instance, I like the term douche-bag as an insult*** because douching is a practice that is (for the most part) unnecessary, archaic,  useless, and potentially harmful.

I made the decision a few weeks ago to strike all of these offensive words from my vocabulary. (While I never use gay or retarded as insults, every once and awhile I’d find myself slipping with lame or even bitch etc.) At first I was uncomfortable with how few words I was left with to express discontent or anger – but then I got to thinking… why is that such a bad thing?

If I have fewer words to express anger/discontent then I am likely to avoid expressions of that feeling as often as possible, in order to avoid expressing those feelings I’ll have to avoid feeling them as well** which means I’ll have to work more to find the good in bad situations, and to understand people and find common ground with them, instead of getting angry…

Making offensive words off limit could actually make me a happier person, how’s that for a side effect to doing good?

* I don’t have a link to the exact conversation that sparks this, but a similar argument seems to crop up every time the term "lame" is used on feministing.

**I’m the kind of person who needs to say pretty much everything that comes to mind.

*** Although I try to avoid insulting people/things as much as possible, sometimes you just can’t help it – people can be douchebags

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Just in case you haven’t heard yet: 

This morning, the Obama Administration announced the appointment of longtime HIV/AIDS health care advocate Jeff Crowley to lead the far too long-vacant Director position of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), which is charged with developing the National AIDS Strategy.

Below is the White House Press release and a few other reactions from California-

This is a HUGE step towards the elimination of the epidemic!



Office of the Press Secretary




February 26, 2009


President Obama Selects Health Policy Expert to Head Office of National AIDS Policy

Jeffrey S. Crowley will join Domestic Policy Council as Top Advisor on HIV/AIDS issues  

President Barack Obama today announced the appointment of one of the nation’s leading public health policy experts as the Director of Office of National AIDS Policy. Jeffrey S. Crowley, MPH, Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute will coordinate the federal government’s efforts on HIV/AIDS policy and will help guide the administration’s development of disability policies.

“Jeffrey Crowley brings the experience and expertise that will help our nation address the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis and help my administration develop policies that will serve Americans with disabilities,” said President Obama.  “In both of these key areas, we continue to face serious challenges and we must take bold steps to meet them.  I look forward to Jeffrey’s leadership on these critical issues.”  

The Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is the White House Office tasked with coordinating the continuing efforts of the government to reduce the number of HIV infections across the United States. The office emphasizes prevention through wide-ranging education initiatives and also helps to coordinate the care and treatment of citizens with HIV/AIDS. The President has made a strong commitment to developing a national AIDS strategy, which will be a top priority for the Office of National AIDS Policy.  In addition, ONAP coordinates with international bodies to ensure that the fight against HIV/AIDS is fully integrated around the world.  The ONAP is part of the Executive Office of the President’s Domestic Policy Council (DPC).

Jeffrey S. Crowley’s Bio:

Jeffrey S. Crowley, M.P.H., is a Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute and a Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center. In these roles, he is recognized and respected for his capacity to integrate public health research with political strategy to achieve policy changes.  He has authored numerous reports and policy briefs, and has testified before various Congressional Committees and the Institute of Medicine on several occasions. His primary areas of expertise are Medicaid policy, including Medicaid prescription drug policies; Medicare policy; and consumer education and training.

Crowley previously served as the Deputy Executive Director for Programs at the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).  While at NAPWA, he helped implement several key initiatives including The National HIV Testing Day Campaign and the Ryan White National Youth Conference.  

Crowley has spent the last fourteen years working to improve access to health and social services for people living with HIV/AIDS, people with physical and mental disabilities, low-income individuals, and other vulnerable populations.  His writings have been printed in numerous publications and journals.

Crowley received his Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, and his Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Kalamazoo College. He is also an alumnus of the United States Peace Corps, where he served as a Volunteer/High School Science Teacher at the Nsongweni High School in Swaziland.

From Ernest Hopkins, San Francisco AIDS Foundation

Jeff is a long time friend and member of both the HIV and LGBT advocacy communities. Cornelius Baker and I worked with Jeff at NAPWA in the early 90’s and he has been an invaluable partner with us ever since providing his unique and deep knowledge of how both Medicare and Medicaid work for people with HIV/AIDS. He has also provided great advice to the Health Care Access Working Group of the FAPP on ensuring that any health care reform legislation that moves meets the needs of people living with HIV.

 We have very good news today

From Anne Donnelly
, Director, Health Care Policy
Project Inform  

We are certainly in agreement with Ernest. This is wonderful news. I would add that Jeff’s unique background as a strong advocate for people with HIV/AIDS and disabilities in general coupled with his depth of knowledge on the health care systems, and particularly the programs that serve the most vulnerable make him an excellent and thoughtful choice for this position.

From J
ulie Davids, Senior Consultant
Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)

Today, the Obama Administration announced the appointment of longtime HIV/AIDS health care advocate Jeff Crowley to head the long-vacant Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), which is charged with developing the National AIDS Strategy. Crowley, M.P.H., is a Senior Research Scholar at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute and a Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center.

"This is brilliant," was the reaction of David Munar, who chairs the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), where Crowley worked from 1994-2000. "The Administration made a strategic choice about someone who knows health care above all else, so they got a two-fer: he is passionate about HIV, and he knows health care systems. This means the office will be relevant. He will champion us and our needs in the health care reform process."

Advocates note that ONAP had already gained relevance in the eyes of the Administration due to the AIDS community’s work to secure $1.4 million for the development of the National AIDS Strategy (NAS) in the upcoming omnibus budget bill, which is poised go into effect on March 6 when the continuing resolution ends. The Domestic Policy Council, is where ONAP is based. Advocates anticipate that the funding, which has to be obligated (committed to specific spending if not literally spent) by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, could pay for a six or seven staff members for ONAP. It could also go towards the additional costs of establishing a cross-government/community panel, which is the structure that the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy has recommended to develop and monitor the NAS.

"Clearly, health care will be a cornerstone of a successful NAS," noted Chris Collins, "Jeff’s appointment is great news and I look forward to working with him to create a NAS that brings more accountability, coordination and an orientation to outcomes in our response to HIV in the United States."

The White House release cites Crowley‘s primary areas of expertise as "Medicaid policy, including Medicaid prescription drug policies; Medicare policy; and consumer education and training." And indeed, those who have worked with him on these issues were clearly excited, even gushing, about the appointment, including Robert Greenwald, Director of the Treatment Access Expansion Project (TAEP). "I think it’s amazing," said Greenwald. "He is one of the most hardworking, diligent, non-ego-involved people I’ve ever worked with, just a good person. I can’t even believe it. He’s incredibly plugged into the community."

While Crowley helped to develop the National HIV Testing Day Campaign during his tenure at NAPWA, those who have worked closely with him in recent years do note that prevention is not his main area of expertise. But Munar, calling Crowley an "instrumental team player," says he expects that, far from having a deaf ear towards prevention, Crowley recognizes its importance, will bring in those who know it well and will talk about it from a health care perspective, emphasizing a cost-savings paradigm that he believes will resonate well.

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Blah blah blah

Categories: Disability Rights
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Yes, nowadays we are beginning to accept that we live in a diverse society. Or so it seems. There is a community whose sexuality continues to oppressed – the disabled community.
Sex. It’s a risky subject to talk about, even “sinful”. Yet what most people don’t understand, we are human and have needs and desires, no matter who we are. From time to time we even find ourselves “craving” (it’s how I call it) some form of it. It can kick in randomly. It can be triggered by a touch, a word, an image, sound, or etc. Then it feels like time stops and you go “oh crap I just need to it RIGHT NOW!…” and you weight your options. And with that craving, each of us find ourselves to either a) do nothing about it and let it pass, b) fantasizing a bit of the person of your choosing and do what you got to do, c) call the person you are craving or whoever is willing and “talk it out”, or d) get some action first hand with a person. All of these are options we have. If we choose option A, we try just to stop thinking about it and get ourselves busy with something else. Option B, well, you try to release that tension until it stops. Option C, is when you don’t feel like doing all the work yourself and actually want some attention, body connection, or just communication to feel affection.
Options A,B, and C are pretty easy to choose. Now option D is where we might find some problems. If you are experienced with this type thing it’s not too problematic. Yet, whether or not you are in a relationship, “getting some” is can be the set-up of stressful territory. You may be asking yourself, why “stressful”? Well this is where the enlightening happens people. Let’s look at the sexual imaginary we are exposed to. Have you ever noticed the type of people the media makes the object of desire? These people are near perfect. Yes I may have said it before the reality is no one is perfect, right? However, you are missing this essential thing. Every single one is “able-bodied.” So what do I mean? Well it is as simple as it sounds, these people’s bodies have the ability to do whatever they want… without boundaries…. without a physical disability. It is a known fact that all people who have the same mental capabilities are sexual beings, yet since society emphasizes the need of a perfect body and illustrates who can be the object of desire, thus one can claim this leads to the oppression of people’s with physical disabilities sexuality.
You never see a person with a physical disability the object of desire. Let us take a second to think outside the box. As stated, we all have the same sexual urges, as long as we have the same mentality. Now think of a person you are sexually attracted to. What if they were physical disabled the very next day? Are you still attracted to them? Or does your perception change? Let us switch it a bit. What about your favorite actor or actress in a love scene? This time they too have a physical disability. Are you still attracted by them or are you taken back?
Ok… what does all of this stuff mean??? Well because you never see a person with a physical disability be the object of desire can lead to a form of anxiety for some people, not only for the person with the physical disability but for the other party as well. Because people with physical disabilities are not openly shown in sexual activity, the other party feels an anxiety because they feel that the person with a physical disability is fragile. This concept is not correct, in actuality, it is all about finding a comfort level with the other person and what feels good to them. Ask questions! So take risks, empower yourself by informing yourself with real facts, and deconstruct the ideals that society and media have constructed.
It may be too much to ask but it is worth trying, to break down barriers and create a social change.