Monthly Archives: October 2010

Transgender Woman Harassed by DMV Employee

Going to the DMV is already a special sort of Hell without employees inventing new ways to make the whole experience even worse. But Amber Yust had to deal with more than just long lines, a stuffy waiting room, and an endless request for more paperwork. She had to deal with serious transphobia. And it didn’t stop at the DMV doors: it followed her home.

Jordan Rubenstein reports on the Gay Rights blog that Yust, a transgender woman, was getting her name changed on her driver’s license in a San Francisco DMV. Actually, that official part of the visit went pretty smoothly: she came prepared with a court order for the change, and went home with her shiny new license.

Soon after, she received a letter at her home. It contained all the typical hateful rhetoric: that she was going to Hell (one similar to the DMV?), that she was an abominated, that she had done an evil thing. The letter was festively decorated with Biblical quotes being used to back up the vocal transphobia.

The DMV employee who helped Yust committed a severe breach of security by taking the woman’s private information and used it to send a harassing and hate-filled letter. People shouldn’t have to fear that providing personal information to government employees will give somebody the power to harass and threaten them.

The California DMV must hold the employee responsible accountable, investigate this case, and assure its customers that this kind of breach of trust is not standard practice at the Department Motor Vehicles.

Photo credit: Chris Harrison

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Why I Can’t Just Go Back to Where I “Came From”

Update November 24, 2010: A number of organizations, and hundreds of members, filed petitions to California Senators Feinstein and Boxer demanding a deeper investigation into Li’s case. On November 20 Senator Feinstein introduced a private bill delaying Li’s deportation process and allowing for him to return home.  Although this is just a temporary fix, it demonstrates how legislation like the DREAM Act would be a step forward in immigration reform. Read the full story here.

Believe it or not, even in this day and age, there are still those who have a hard time grasping the concept that non-white people are born in America.  Those of us who are familiar with the “No, where are you really from?” question have figured out quick responses in order to avoid awkward silences or racial gameshow questions.  It typically goes something like this:

“So where are you from?”
“My parents are from Hong Kong.”
(they don’t always say that last part)

The funny thing about growing up with people assuming that I’m from China is that I eventually became convinced that maybe I’m sort of from there.  After all, when people tell me to “Go back to where I came from” (yes, I’ve actually been told that before) I know they don’t mean California.  While in the past my reactions were something along the lines of “I AM from here, you racist jackass!” I was recently itching for a vacation – and so I changed my response to “Hell yeah! Wanna come?”

It took a five-week solo trip last month to show me that I am so not from China. Besides only being able to speak Mandarin with the skill of a caveman (and not even a Chinese caveman), spending my life in the United States left me completely at a loss when it came to the cultural nuances that are helpful to understand when you’re in a place where you know nothing and no one. I realized that if I were to actually go back to where I “came from,” I would be faced with a plethora of challenges building my life in a culture that is … foreign.

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Don’t Deport Domestic Abuse Victim Back to Violent Husband

Had Irma Medrano known she could apply for asylum when she fled to the United States in 1995, she would have. And if she could apply today, she would probably be granted her request as a survivor of domestic violence. But America’s arbitrary one-year rule, under which an asylum seeker has a mere 365 days upon entering the country to file, means that no matter how much her life would be put in danger by deportation, asylum is out of her reach.

Medrano’s abusive husband, having heard she is likely to be deported back to El Salvador, is waiting for her.

The repeated victim of beatings, strangling, and death threats, Medrano appealed to the police for help. But police in El Salvador refused to help her, because this would be interfering with a domestic dispute. In El Salvador, as in many areas of Latin America, if it’s your husband who brutalizes and torments you, then law enforcement will shrug their shoulders and say a woman just has to put up with it. It is for this very reason that recent asylum cases have agreed that this is an act of discrimination against women as a social group, and thus domestic violence victims have the right to seek asylum.

As long as they know about the one-year requirement, of course. But Medrano didn’t, and now, as Lauren Markham has reported on the Immigrant Rights blog, her deportation is imminent. To save her from being deported to a country where she fears “certain torture or even death,” please sign this petition asking for her deportation order to be stopped.

Photo credit: ghetto_guera29

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IRS Denies That Breastfeeding Qualifies as Medical Care

Dear Internal Revenue Service: You appear to be a little confused, so I wanted to clear something up for you. Breastfeeding has extensive health benefits to both women and their babies. Certainly, it is at least as medically beneficial as acne medicine, denture glue, contact lenses, and support hose. Breastfeeding pumps and supplies, thus, count as medical equipment.

Yet as Brie Cadman writes on the Health blog, the IRS has decided that breastfeeding “does not have enough health benefits to qualify as a form of medical care,” and thus cannot be included in the tax-sheltered health care accounts that many companies offer their employees. But support hose? Totally qualifies.

Breastfeeding equipment can tally up to $1000 a year, which isn’t anything to sniff at. Yet the only way a woman can get tax breaks on this expense is to secure a doctor’s note calling breastfeeding a medical necessity in her case. This deters women from breastfeeding, despite its host of medical benefits, passing on immunities to the baby and reducing the risk of certain breast and ovarian cancers in mom. The idea that a woman needs to secure a doctor’s note calling her individual case of breastfeeding medically necessary is absurd: while breastfeeding is not the sole option for women, it is without a doubt medically beneficial for just about any mother to decide on, and certainly as necessary as pimple cream.

Representative Carolyn Maloney and Jeff Mekley have sponsored the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which would include breastfeeding equipment as tax deductible medical care and mandate workplace break time and privacy for mothers to pump. Ask your representative to support breastfeeding mothers today.

Photo credit: myllissa

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Rally to Restore Sanity: Politicians Make Crappy Doctors

This Saturday, swarms of people who approve of sane, rational discourse will descend (politely) upon the National Mall for the Rally to Restore Sanity. The event, just a few days before election day, is being orchestrated by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and Comedy Central, who are well-versed in the problems of insane political discourse, since they mock it on a daily basis.

On a regular basis when I pick a topic to write about, I think: whoa, that’s insane. Earlier this morning, it was a Rand Paul campaign coordinator who stomped on a defenseless woman’s head as she was restrained against a curb. I mean, seriously, he stomped on her head? And let’s not forget the protesters that scream “baby killer” at an already traumatized woman aborting a deformed fetus with no chance of survival or who try to blow clinics up. Violence against and harassment of women definitely does not count as sane political discourse. It’s safe to stay that head-stomping will not be welcome at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

Of course, even a Rally to Restore Sanity wouldn’t be a real sanity without the three S’s: signs, stickers, and slogans. Huffington Posts has a collection of sign suggestions, with reasonable messages along the lines of “I don’t agree you you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.” Because nothing says crazy extremist like comparing your opponent to a genocidal maniac. Some are solidly in-the-middle statements of proper etiquette, while others are a bit more targeted political statements: “The Religious Right Is Neither.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America has decided to jump on the Sanity Bandwagon by holding a contest for a sanity sticker slogan. And the winner is: “Vote Pro-Choice: Politicians Make Crappy Doctors.” Okay, not quite as light-heartedly humorous as “Obama is a Muslim” or “God Hates Hommos!! It’s Too Garlicky!” But sane? Yeah, I think it qualifies.

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Rand Paul Campaign Coordinator Stomped on Woman’s Head Outside Debate

Before a debate between Kentucky Senate candidates Rand Paul (R) and John Conway (D), Paul’s Bourbon County campaign coordinator, Tim Profitt, was caught on video stomping on a woman’s head.

That’s right: He stomps on her head. The 23-year-old woman, Lauren Valle, was there to present a fake “RepubliCorp” award to Paul as part on a campaign calling attention to the way conservatives have sold people out to corporations. Valle is attacked by Paul supporters, who yank her to the ground, and while she is lying still in the fetal position, held down by multiple large men, Profitt picks up his foot and stomps on her head.

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Father of Student Forced to Cheer for Her Rapist Fights for Justice

Since hearing the story of a 15-year-old Silsbee High School cheerleader who was kicked off her squad for refusing to cheer for a basketball player who assaulted her, over 12,000 of you have sent messages to school officials insisting on a public apology and the implementation of better policies on sexual assault. And though we haven’t heard anything from the Texas school district, the outpouring of support hasn’t gone unappreciated by H.S. and her family.

In a follow-up to her original article at Ms. Magazine’s blog, Caroline Heldman spoke to H.S.’s father, who said that after his daughter reported being raped, her high school and small community all seemed to side with the basketball star, Rakheem Bolton. In addition to kicking her off the squad, Silsbee school officials pushed H.S. to keep a low profile. Meanwhile Bolton, who pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault, had the audacity to say he has “no hard feelings toward the girl.” In regards to the outrage of people across the nation and thousands of members like you, father C.S. reports: “It’s refreshing to see her feel like there’s some support.”

In an unfortunately not atypical situation, H.S.’s father points out that many people decided that his daughter couldn’t really have been a victim of sexual assault because she stood up for herself. It’s quite the Catch-22 assault survivors find themselves in: if they seek justice after an attack, well now, how unladylike, they can’t possibly have been raped — but if they act like a “proper” victim, which I guess is a doormat, they’ll never get any form of redress. By supporting survivors who demonstrate strength in speaking out, 12,000 members have helped to change that culture. Have you added your voice yet?

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Husband Gives Clinic Protesters a Piece of His Mind

In order to access an abortion — or, sometimes, a host of other reproductive health services provided by the same clinics — women regularly have to walk by frothing anti-choice protesters screaming about baby-killing. It’s trying almost no matter what their reason for having the procedure. Most women hurry past the harassment as charges of “murderer” fall about their heads, helped along by loved ones or clinic escorts. The protesters, rarely confronted or stopped by police, wait for their next victim.

Aaron Gouveia and his wife walked into the clinic on what he terms the worst day of their lives, past shouts of: “You’re killing your unborn baby!” In an essay written for the Good Men Project, Gouveia writes: “Hell is sitting next to the person you love most and listening to her wail hysterically because her heart just broke into a million pieces. … Across a crowded street, two people with ‘God Is Pro-Life!’ signs and pictures of torn-up fetuses managed to drive the blade in even deeper.” Gouveia and his wife deeply wanted the pregnancy and had been planning to name the baby “Alexandra” (seeing my own name here definitely yanked on the heartstrings), but the 16-week-old fetus had a severe defect that left it with zero chance of surviving.

Unable to make his wife feel better or follow her into surgery, Gouveia went back to the protesters, and filmed the exchange for all of us.

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Congolese Women March Against Rape and Sexual Terrorism

For women in the Congo, rape isn’t just a crime: it’s a terrorist act. And they’re marching to put a stop to the sexual terrorism.

Long used as a weapon of war in the ongoing conflict that has torn apart the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape and other forms of sexual violence afflict thousands of Congolese women every year. Violent rapes and gang rapes leave scars both visible and invisible, can result in long-term problems such as fistulas or HIV infection, and still carry a stigma for the survivor. Women are raped in front of their husbands and children as part of the terror campaign to keep the population in fear of rebel groups.

Meanwhile, after a massive attack in which hundreds of women and girls (the count is now up to as many as 500) were systematically raped by rebel Rwandan and Congolese forces mere miles from a United Nations peacekeeping compound, it doesn’t seem like anybody in the area is truly looking out for the ladies. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Atul Khare stated outright that the peacekeepers stationed in the Congo have simply “failed” to protect women and girls from sexual violence.

So the ladies are looking out for themselves, with a march last week calling for an end to sexual violence, lead by the DRC’s first lady, Olive Lembe Kabila. They believe — and who can disagree — that the estimated 15,000 people who were raped in the Congo last year is too many. And though the sexual terrorists would make Congolese women into victims, they won’t be silenced or shamed, and are instead standing up to their government and the international community, demanding to be heard.

Photo credit: Steve Evans

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Arizona Teachers Sue Against Ethnic Studies Ban

Arizona’s ethnic studies ban is set to go into effect at the end of the year, but like the much-debated “paper’s please” SB 1070, it’s not going through without a fight.

Carol Scott reports on the Education blog that a group of Arizona teachers have resorted to suing against the ban, which was primarily intended to target Mexican-American studies but also impacts African-American and Native American programs, for infringing on free speech and equal protection laws. Just because state Superintendent Tom Horne can’t stand the idea of students learning something that might not be all about white people or how wonderful they are doesn’t mean Arizona’s educators will stand by and let their classrooms be whitewashed.

The ethnic studies program has been demonstrated to boost grades, reduce drop out rates, and improve student behavior: that’s what speaks to teachers. Not a law that’s afraid of looking too closely at history.

Ironically, if the ban is overturned, ethnic studies courses will have a lot more interested student as a direct result of this narrow-minded law. Enrollment in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American studies program has already doubled since the ban was passed. What makes a class more appealing to a kid then telling them it’s being censored, that you’ll be reading material the state government doesn’t want you to see?

While the teachers battle it out in the courts against Horne and the Arizona Board of Ed, you can tell board members to save themselves the trouble and do the right thing by supporting the ethnic studies program.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

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