Monthly Archives: December 2010

Deported Widow and Son of Slain Marine Allowed to Return to America

Last January, I wrote about the major red, white, and blue fail of a fallen Marine’s widow being deported back to Japan with their son because Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to recognize the marriage. But there’s good news: yesterday, President Barack Obama signed a rare private bill into law granting Hota Ferschke, wife of Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke, permanent residency status in America.

As a U.S. citizen’s wife, Hota should have been entitled to permanent residency status. She wanted to raise their child in Tennessee, as had been Michael’s wishes, with the aid of his parents, but was snatched away by immigration agents that apparently have nothing better to do than to target the widows of marines killed in the line of duty. Their excuse was that the marriage wasn’t real because the couple married by proxy and failed to consummate the relationship. What, where did that kid come from then?

Hota and Micahel were married by over the telephone while he was stationed in Iraq, a common procedure for those deployed with the military. Hota was already pregnant with Michael’s son. But before the newlyweds could see one another again, Michael was killed in the service. Though the military recognizes the validity of the marriage as par for the course, dispensing widow’s benefits to Hota, immigration says no consummation, no marriage. Of course, immigration authorities are able to be certain about this prying into the couple’s bedroom because they know Michael died fighting for the United States before finding himself lucky enough to return to his now-wife. Obvious premarital sex and a son belonging to the couple doesn’t alter the marital validity in the eyes of immigration.

But Michael mother, Robin, having lost her son, wasn’t about to be deprived of her grandchild as well. She took Hota’s case to Congress, winning the aid of Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., (R-RN), and got the private bill pushed through Congress and onto Obama’s desk. Way to go, grandma power.

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

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Victory! Washington Board of Pharmacy Stands Up to Contraception Opponents

In November, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy was ready to capitulate to pharmacies who threatened a big bad lawsuit if they weren’t permitted to refuse to dispense emergency contraception (EC). Never mind that these pharmacies had a weak case; the Board didn’t want to shell out any money to defend women’s contraceptive access, so they were all ready to give in. But concerned members, Washington state residents, and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington took advantage of the public comments period to let the Board know just what they thought of that kind of spineless behavior. And their voices were heard.

Fellow Women’s Rights blogger Amie Newman reports on RH Reality Check that, last week, the Board of Pharmacy voted that there would be no rule change, and women will retain access to legal drugs at any pharmacy in the state. Under the preserved rules, any individual pharmacist may refuse to dispense a given drug on grounds of their “conscience,” but the pharmacy as a whole must have somebody willing to dispense the item in their place. This latter regulation is what a group of pharmacies led by Ralph’s Thriftway wanted to change, so that an entire pharmacy could bear the “no EC here” stamp.

Since Plan B emergency contraception is a time-sensitive drug, barring people from purchasing this at a number of pharmacies in the state could cost many women the opportunity to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy. And though EC was the main target of this push by pharmacies claiming a “moral” opposition, the proposed change would have allowed them to refuse to dispense any legal drug to any person they didn’t feel like serving. One of the concerns Newman brought up along these lines would be a pharmacist refusing to dispense HIV/AIDS medication to a gay person out of homophobia.

With over 80% of the 5,300 comments directed at the Board of Pharmacy being registered in opposition to changing the rule on contraception access, including a couple hundred emails from members signing a petition from NARAL Washington, it seems clear that the outpouring of criticism pushed the Board members to do an about-face. And though the pharmacies plan to go through with their threatened law suit, women’s rights legal defenders feel confident that the current rule will stand up in court.

Photo credit: Michael Lemmon

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Happy Holidays: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Signed Into Law

It’s shaping up to be a Happy New Year for gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) troops in the military: over the weekend, the Senate finally passed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, and this morning, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.

DADT was an absurd policy which forced GLB servicemembers to stay in the military closet about their sexuality — they weren’t supposed to tell, others weren’t supposed to ask, and we could all live in a little fantasy land pretending that the only people who serve and die for our country are straight perfect zeroes on the Kinsey scale. It’s the same land where the Air Force rides on magic carpets and members of the Army steer unicorns instead of tanks.

But back in the sphere of reality, there were gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons serving and dying for the American flag, and thousands of others being found out and shipped home no matter how important their expertise might be to the military. The policy came down hardest on lesbian and bisexual women in the service, who were discharged at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, challenges to the law from women like flight nurse Margaret Witt helped to bring the attention and criticism to the policy needed to bring it down.

In fact, DADT repeal ame about in large part due to the concerted efforts of LGBTQ organizations and activists, servicemembers and veterans organizations, the star power of celebrities like Lady Gaga, and finally military leaders who admitted that doing away with the absurd policy would just strengthen our military. DADT was not a gift from the Democratic party leadership: it represents a hard-fought victory by advocates and countless people who stepped into the role of “activist” with their opposition to this destructive policy. Kudos to them.

And a Happy New Year to everybody in the military service.

Photo credit: DVIDSHUB

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#MooreandMe Feminist Twitter Protesters Blocked by Progressive “Allies”

The current debate over Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, being charged with rape is like a rerun of the Roman Polanski defense: if a man has done some really cool stuff during his life, like direct excellent movies or leak tons of government secrets, then the criminal justice system doesn’t apply to him, especially when it comes to trivial matters like rape. Add Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, $20,000, and patronizing censorship to the rape apologism mix, and we’re really cooking.

After Moore donated $20,000 toward getting Assange out on bail, feminist bloggers following the lead of Sady Doyle on Tiger Beatdown took to Twitter with a protest under the hashtag #MooreandMe, reminiscent of Moore’s early film “Roger & Me” about a little guy trying to stand up to the big guy. They want an apology and an equivalent donation to an anti-rape organization. Because it’s not just that, as Doyle writes, he “put $20,000 hard, cashy dollars on the line, so that Julian Assange, white male left-wing darling, will be able to get out on bail despite posing a substantial and acknowledged flight risk.” It’s also the way Moore attacked the “official story” — in other words, rape charges by two women — and called their case “hooey.” “Never, ever believe” women’s rape accusations, right?

Then there’s Olbermann, who helped to spread the names of the women bringing the rape charges, opening them up to harassment for daring to report sexual assault by the god of Wikileaks, in addition to disseminating the unprotected-sex-in-Sweden is rape myth (or the Assange-was-jailed-for-a-broken-condom version). In an ironic twist, these lies Assange’s defenders have run with were contradicted by a leaked police report the Guardian gained “unauthorised access” to, wherein charges are detailed of forcibly holding down one woman who didn’t want to have sex and penetrating another while she was unconscious (without using a condom, even though the woman had previously made clear she would not consent to unprotected sex).

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Georgia Football League Fails to Denounce Racist Rants

Last week, Carol Scott reported on Education that parents in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, were horrified by the racist rants found on their 10-year-old kids’ football coach’s Facebook page, which included racial slurs such as “Beaners” and “illegals” for Latinos and “Red Dots” for Asians. Frank Samuelson has since apologized (sort of), but the Brookwood Football Association has refused to issue a statement against these racist and xenophobic remarks being made by one of their coaches and a member of their board, a man in a position of influence over impressionable children.

Among Samuelson’s choice rants that have been reported: “How to solve illegal immigration: Arrest the 30+ million illegals that are here first. Have them build a huge brick wall across the border [those guys do great brick work], and make them build it from the Mexican side of the border. Mount 50 calibre machine guns across the top and shoot anyone trying to climb over.” The coach claims rants like these were “inside jokes” between friends. That’s strange, because it looks like typical serious extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Another, uh, joke: “I was dining in an Asian buffet today [big surpise], and I heard this morning how Asian students are suppodely so much smarter than American kids. My personal observation is that those fishheads still eat with chopsticks. It took Western ingenuity to invent the fork. I’m just saying. … they a’int that friggin’ smart.” Fishheads — haha, that’s hilarious. I hope Samuelson doesn’t coach any “fishheads” on his team.

Despite Samuelson’s insistence on defending the racist and anti-immigrant remarks as jokes and taken out of context, he did offer up an grudging apology to those of us, including many parents, who don’t find it so humorous: “If there is somebody offended by it I definitely apologize from the bottom of my heart.” He also voluntarily resigned from the Brookwood Football Association board, though he plans to continue coaching.

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Anti-Trans Bias and Arresting Victims in the D.C. Police Department?

Chloe Alexander Moore, a 25-year-old transgender woman living in D.C., says that she pepper-sprayed a man in self-defense after he hurled transphobic comments at and pushed her. He then tackled and seriously hurt her as she tried to get away to safety, at which point Raphael Radon revealed himself as an off-duty police officer. He and his buddies claim that she launched an unprovoked attack, and that’s the story the official police report is sticking to, charging Moore with assault while Radon goes along his merry way.

But Moore’s version is backed up not only by her companion, but by the one witness on the scene who wasn’t with either party.

In fact, the responding officers found Radon to be at fault, but were prohibited from charging him by a supervisor at the other end of a telephone. According to the Washington Blade, which obtained leaked documents about the case, “two police sources said a sergeant and detective who responded to the scene determined through interviews with witnesses that Officer Radon initiated the altercation and may have committed a bias-related assault against Moore.” But when they called in the attack, Capt. Michelle Williams at the First District D.C. Police Station insisted that Moore be charged with assault instead, a move that smacks of a higher-up trying to protect one of their own and perhaps anti-trans bias. Moore further alleges that she was initially denied medical attention despite her requests.

The D.C. Trans Coalition (DCTC) has rallied in support of Moore and against police transphobia. DCTC attorney Allison Gill points out that while they and other LGBT organizations have been training volunteer officers on appropriate sensitivity, “What this incident shows us is that training self-selected volunteers is only a small step toward ensuring that MPD officers fully comply with DC’s human rights law.” Of course, it’s rarely the people willing to volunteer who really need this kind of training. Gill further calls for “a swift rejection of this kind of behavior from the highest levels within MPD, along with a real plan for making sure that every law enforcement officer knows and follows the law, including mandatory training for the entire force.”

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28 Die in Factory Fire Making Clothes for the Gap

The Bangladeshi garment industry is rife with labor abuses, taking advantage of the vulnerability of its primarily poor, female workforce. In a particularly shocking incident last week, 28 workers perished in a factory fire that never would have wreaked such damage if some basic safety protocols were in place. The workers died in the service of making clothes for a brand you’re no doubt familiar with: Gap.

Whether you go more highscale at Banana Republic or casual at Old Navy, all these store chains (and Piperlime and Athleta) are owned by Gap, Inc., which just doesn’t seem to care much about the lives of its workers. The Hammem factory also provides clothes to other recognizable brands in America, such as H&M, Walmart, Sears, JC Penny, and Target, though Gap is the chief buyer. Benjamin Joffe-Walt reports on Human Rights that, in the recent fire, two of the exits by which workers could have escaped the flames were locked, a practice employed by abusive overseers to prevent breaks.

With large piles of highly flammable clothes all over garment factories, the major safety abuses are unconscionable. And it’s not like this tragedy is coming out of the blue for retailers like the Gap, either. Labor rights activists have been calling for the institution of better safeguards for years, but their cries have been falling on deaf ears. Yet what was Gap, Inc.’s response to the fire and resulting deaths? The company is “terribly saddened” and would work to “understand what occurred.”

Hey Gap: it’s not all that difficult to understand what occurred. You ignored calls from labor rights organizations like the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Clean Cloths Campaign who in April called upon companies to review factory safety standards in multistory factories. “The brands have failed to act and, once again, we see the gruesome consequences of this inaction,” stated Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium. That’s “what occurred.”

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Protect Sex Workers by Telling New York That Carrying Condoms Is Not a Crime

Since we reported in January on outrageous police policies in Washiginton, DC, New York City, and San Francisco, CA, in which condoms are being used as evidence of prostitution, essentially criminalizing safe sex preparations, a steady stream of members have denounced the policy. At this time, over 20,000 emails have been sent to the mayors of NYC, DC, and San Francisco telling them that carrying condoms isn’t a crime and to direct police and prosecutors to stop treating it that way.

Today, December 17, is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers are a whopping 18 times more likely to be killed than other women; as Tracy Clark-Flory explores on Salon’s Broadsheet, sex workers make attractive targets because they have to work their illegal trade in secret and often fear going to the police to report violence. In addition, police often take crimes against sex workers less seriously, heightening their vulnerability to somebody who wants to kill without having the full force of the law coming down after him.

As Audacia Ray writes for the Guardian, “It is not just violent clients who hurt sex workers.” State policies and stigma create the vulnerability these primarily women face, jeopardizing their lives and health. Ray focuses on problems in Uganda in particular, but we don’t need to go overseas to see policies harmful to sex workers. I can look right in my own backyard, New York City, and see how we’re putting sex workers at risk by criminalizing carrying the items that can protect them against HIV/AIDS.

The Urban Justice Center, which runs the Sex Workers Project, has created a petition pressuring New York State legislators to finally pass a bill (that’s been introduced multiple times) that would ban the use of condoms as evidence. Join them and 4,000 members in protecting sex workers’ right to protect themselves against fatal disease as a first step toward improving these women’s safety.

Photo credit: uberzombie

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Pakistani Woman Faces Death for Insulting Islam

Pakistan has never put anybody to death for blasphemy against Islam, despite laws on the books permitting this harsh approach to religious disagreement. But Asia Noreen Bibi, currently sentenced to hang, could break that tradition.

Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman and mother of 5, denies the charges against her. But even if they are true, death is a punishment out of proportion to the so-called crime. Women’s rights advocates are concerned that Bibi is poised to break ground as the first Pakistani to receive the death penalty for blasphemy in part because of her vulnerable status as a woman.

Though nobody has been executed by the state for blasphemy in Pakistan, people accused of blasphemy have been killed over their words. In July, two brothers charged with blasphemy were shot to death while in custody. Bibi’s life, and the lives of her family, are in danger — there’s also a bounty on her head, courtesy of a conservative Muslim cleric.

Bibi’s supporters include the Pope and the governor of the Pakistani Punjab province, and Pakistan’s president has been listening to the voices against her execution. But other conservative forces want her head on a platter, and their voices have also been loud in the president’s ear. It’s vital that we continue to let Pakistan’s president Asif Zardari know that the world is watching and wants Asia Bibi’s life to be saved. Please sign this petition to President Zardari, Minister of Human Rights Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani, and Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani calling for a stop to the execution of Asia Bibi.

Photo credit: Brett L.

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Publix Says: Atrocities in Our Supply Chain? None of Our Business

As one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, you’d think Publix could afford a competent PR person. But the most recent statement from Media and Community Relations Manager Dwaine Stevens suggests otherwise: he said that Publix just doesn’t care if there are “atrocities” being committed against the workers who grow the food they sell.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) put together a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to protect workers, many of them immigrants, from human rights violations, enslavement, and exploitation. Then CIW went to Publix, asking them to sign onto their Campaign for Fair Food, which would increase workers’ wages by a penny per pound of tomatoes and institute safeguards against slavery and exploitation. At a recent Publix grand opening in Alabama, students and workers should up to rally and demand that Publix listen to consumer desires to buy food untainted by slavery, Amanda Kloer reports on End Human Trafficking.

Publix responded that they had no intention of meeting with CIW. Not because they think everything in their supply chain is a-okay, but because “If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business.” That’s right: they aren’t saying there are no atrocities in the food they sell to consumers. They aren’t even attempting to allege that they can’t do anything against the atrocities that, yeah, might be there. Publix is just wants to pass the buck and say: Exploitation? Slavery? Atrocities? Not our business.

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