Monthly Archives: October 2014

The “A” Word: We need to walk the walk AND talk the talk on abortion.

I recognize the incredible work of Elizabeth Warren and the role she has played in really pushing on student loans, debt and financial security.  She is smart, inspiring and just plain amazing most of the time.  But I am tired of so-called pro-choice champions and progressive leaders getting a pass on abortion.

When Senator Warren gives an impassioned speech about the key issues of our day, but does not specifically mention abortion it matters.  We know that one in three women in the United States will seek an abortion over the course of their reproductive lives and yet people think they don’t know anyone.  Well when even someone with the power and platform that Warren (or the President or too many decision makers) has will not talk about abortion, what do we expect?

When we have huge progressive conferences and meetings and speeches where every other issue is loudly, repeatedly called out with fervor and commitment, but abortion is either completely ignored or hidden away on one token panel, what is the impact?

When our so-called leaders are afraid to talk about abortion – to really talk about it, not fall into the epidemic of euphemisms where we talk around it or when advocates are so busy talking about women’s health that they never explicitly say the word “abortion”, what are we doing?

We are perpetuating abortion stigma. We are allowing abortion to be a dirty secret, a word that is not to be spoken in polite conversation. It is something politicians should run from.  This has a HUGE impact on how people who have sought care feel about themselves and whether they think they can tell their stories or seek support.   It also contributes to a political climate where the myriad of restrictions that are being advanced are sort of allowed to happen.  There is almost a “get out of jail” free card as long as you stand up for contraception or speak out on pay equity to show you care about the ladies.

We are tacitly supporting the idea that abortion is a fringe issue. This makes it hard to hold politicians accountable or even the people in our lives.  It makes it difficult to push back on things like “abortion should be legal, but I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for it” or “why do women wait so long to get an abortion and need to get it after 20 weeks”.  We are not expecting enough from people or from ourselves.  We are not doing our due diligence to advance the conversation, introduce values and nuance and build a stronger movement when we avoid having the tough conversations….or any conversation about abortion in public spaces.

You can’t (or shouldn’t, since Elizabeth Warren did) talk about “a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power” and talk about values and ignore a HUGE issue that fits into that frame and that must be addressed to be a candidate that is truly helping to support and meet the needs of women in this country.

When it comes down to it, when someone calls themselves “progressive”, especially in a way that is meant to distance or separate themselves from another potential candidate and does not utter the word abortion or really take on reproductive health, rights and justice then I have to question just how progressive they really are and if they will really be there to stand up for abortion access when it gets hard.

Elizabeth Warren’s own website says,” At a time when a minority in this country wants to cut off such access for women, it is important to speak out to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.” I agree, so let’s make sure we don’t just speak out when it is easy to do so.

Elizabeth Warren Tetifies Before Oversight And Government Reform Committee


Change is Slow But it is Worth the Fight

I read a headline today about the fact that Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was killed is now a state where same sex couples can marry.  His tragic and violent death was a real turning point for the work on hate crimes protection.  I know that many criticize that it took the death of a young, white, upper middle class, gay man for hate crimes to get attention – and that criticism is deserved – but it was not only a moment that really changed the course of the efforts on hate crimes, in many ways it was a moment that changed my life and where I would go next.

I started my time at Trinity College as an English and Secondary Education major with the vision of being the cool, high school English teacher who introduced students to a love of literature.  My own coming out in the midst of Vermont’s fight for marriage equality and the Baker v. Vermont case politicized me.  I decided not to do my student teaching and to head to Washington, DC instead. I was there the fall that Matthew was killed.

Here is a piece I wrote back in 2009 on the anniversary of his death right before I started at Equality Maryland and right after the hate crimes prevention act was signed.


Remembering Matthew

When I was in college, I interned at the Human Rights Campaign in the Field Department. I was there the fall of my senior year. I was an overly enthusiastic student thrilled to be part of the inner workings of the movement. Even making copies gave me a thrill.

My girlfriend at the time, Stacy was back in Vermont. She came down to visit me over Columbus weekend. I dropped her off at the train on Monday morning. In my youthful drama, I was distraught to see her go. I decided the best cure for my melancholy was to go to the office on the holiday and get more work done. A workaholic even then.  

I was sitting alone in the HRC offices when I first read about Matthew Shepard. I sat in my cubicle and cried as I read about how he was tied to a fence and beaten. How he was left to die alone in the cold. I think I was changed in that moment. Many of us were.

The next day we came in early to notes from the Field Director, Donna Red Wing that said,” We are going to mobilize 10,000 people today”. In my stash of memorabilia somewhere I still have that note.

We called and emailed and faxed and pulled out every stop to get people to the US Capitol. Betty and Ellen DeGeneres were there…along with Anne Heche. Senator Kennedy was there with many other members of Congress. And Matthew’s friends were there. It was cathartic and wounding at the same time to be together. We were mourning. We were angry. We were calling on someone to do something to make sure that his death would not be in vain, that it would have meaning.

I hate that politics is so often soaked in death. That it takes unspeakable tragedies in order to get lawmakers to take action. And I understand that many are upset that other victims of hate crimes have not been given the same attention as Matthew. But there was truly something about that crime. About its starkness. About him being left like a scarecrow to die along in the cold winds of Wyoming. Something that finally sparked a community to say “no more.”

Now ten years later the House has approved an expansion of the federal hate crimes protections to cover acts of violence motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity. Given past support in the Senate and a pledge of support from President Obama, it looks likely that this law will finally be enacted.

Many of us are troubled that it took so long. That a young man’s death was the required catalyst for so many members of Congress to finally take notice of these crimes.

I will always remember sitting in front of that computer crying feeling the fear and despair not only of Matthew’s death, but of living in a country where ignorance could breed such blind and violent hatred. I have seen changes since then. They have not always come as fast as we would like, but we have made great progress.

Though I do not have the same wide eyed innocence I had then, I have held on to my ability to see the good in people and to celebrate even the small steps forward. That is what we must hold on to. We must remember Matthew and Billy Jack Gaither and James Byrd Jr. and Brandon Teena and Rebecca Wight and so many others who were struck down well before their time. But we must also honor their memories by keeping up the fight.


To now see the couples in cowboy hats or smiling  as they stand by a split-rail fence is a dramatic reminder that while change can be slow, far too slow, it is possible.



Smile for the Camera.

Many organizations and campaigns use stock photography on their websites or in brochures.  The challenge is when these images are used to imply broad support when that really is not the case or people are photoshopped into a scene they were not part of to try to represent diversity.

You would hope that conservatives would have learned from the National Organization for Marriage.  In 2010 they had a bus tour with pictures of smiling couples and families that were ALL stock photos.  No real supporters of their efforts to deny marriage for same sex couples.

READ about NOM’s photo fakery.

The University of Wisconsin was called out on a recruitment brochure. The cover was supposed to be a picture of real students – and it was – but they were not all really at the game.  A picture of a black student was inserted into a photo of a football game.

READ – “A Campus More Colorful Than Reality“.

Now Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign website was found to have photoshopped a picture of a black woman into what was supposed to be a picture of supporters.

READ – “Pennsylvania’s GOP Governor Has Black Friends, and He Has the Photoshopped Images to Prove It.

It is not new to includes pictures of women, LGBT people, young people or people of color as part of an advertising campaign to try to show inclusiveness.  The issue is when a party or group that has a history of excluding or working against a group turns around and implies they are all cozy through the use of photoshop and stock images.

Go ahead and use your shiny photos, but there had better be real people and political actions and commitments to back them up!

A Feminist By Any Other Name

We waste too much time telling other women if they are or are not a good enough feminist. This includes the whole “can you be a feminist and change your name” debate.  Rae and I talked about the whole last name issue a lot before we got married. As a queer couple, it was important to us that our names represent the joining of our lives and that the children have both of our last names.  People can feel however they want to about that and ask me (over and over) what our girls will do if they decide to get married.  I think that is their decision to make when the time comes.

The fact is that some people will change their names or hyphenate for a number of reasons.  It may be tradition or what is expected or it could be that they do not have a strong affinity for their last name and families of origin.  They may even have very bad memories or baggage from the family their name comes from. If they want to change it to start a new chapter, who are we to judge?

If we want to talk weddings and marriage, how about we spend time supporting healthy relationships and cultural change and education about domestic violence, work for family friendly workplaces and make sure loving same sex couples can marry, support people who want to be parents to be able to raise their children in a safe community – all of this sounds like a better use of our time than questioning name choices.

READ – “Can You Be a Feminist and Take Your Husband’s Last Name?”.


Not Waiting for Fate to Improve Workplace Policies: Response to Sayta Nadella’s Statements on Women Asking for Raises

Far too often lately, I have to double check to make sure that a story I am reading is not from the Onion. Here’s an example.  On Thursday at a conference focused on helping women to advance in the tech industry, the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella told women that they should not ask for a raise.  He said that women should simply rely on karma and trust that the system will ensure that they are paid fairly.

So let’s back up here. There is a need for a conference to ensure that women are better supported in the tech industry and there is a constant stream of conversation about the need to help support girls in the STEM fields, but karma is going to ensure that we can pay our bills and take care of our families?  Now I will grant you that in today’s economy there is plenty of praying going on as people struggle to make ends meet, but I’m not sure that people should be waiting around for fate to make sure there is food on the table.

By Nadella’s estimation, I guess the reason for the wage gap must be a big issue with wrong deeds by every woman in America. I guess women make an average of 77 cents on the dollar with black women making only 64 cents and Latinas 56 cents because we somehow messed up in a past life.  What about women with disabilities who make about 67 cents compared to every dollar a man earns?  Or what about the gap in pay and increased poverty in the LGBT community, especially for transgender people?

Then I thought about it. Karma can refer to the idea that our actions impact the future – a causality of sorts. Perhaps Nadella was talking about the decision that some of us make to become moms.  We know that mothers earn less and encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceptions in their competence, and benefits compared to their colleagues who do not have children. Maybe we are getting bad karma points because so many of us decided to become parents.  Damn that biological clock.

“Trust the system.” It sounds simple enough, but this is the same system that has denied fair workplace accommodations for pregnant workers and support for nursing moms, prevents policy change for paid maternity and sick leave and in which LGBT people can still be fired in most states.  I am not sure that this is a system that feels altogether trustworthy.

But the thing that really gets me is that his ludicrous statements play into the insecurity that so many women have about talking about money or even thinking about asking for a raise. Women are taught that nice girls don’t discuss money.  I push against this every time I work with young women on how to negotiate when they are being hired.  I tell them that they should value their own skills and experience and not be ashamed to ask that they be paid well.

I learned this the hard way. I remember years ago finding out that my friend and colleague made almost $10,000 more than me even though we worked in the same job and started on the same day.  What it came down to was she asked for more.  She had the confidence to push for a wage that was commensurate with her experience and the higher end of the average in our field.  I did not do that.   Frankly, I did not even think they I could.  Statements like Nadella’s contribute to the idea that we should just shut up and take what we get.  This is not only insulting, but has long lasting implications for the financial stability and opportunities of women given that your salary range today impacts what you make in the long run.

This also speaks to the culture of pay secrecy that is really about keeping people from talking about their salaries lest they find out that the person down the hall doing the exact same job is making more than them.  It was certainly to the benefit of my past employer that they had me doing the exact same position for less money.

The United States is falling short in almost every area when it comes to the way women are paid, treated and supported in the workplace.  We often look to policy change as the solution – bills like the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act or the Paycheck Fairness Act.  We should absolutely demand that our decision makers do all they can to promote fair workplace policies.  But at the end of the day what is clear is that there also needs to be a culture shift.  If we continue to have leaders of major companies who are willing, able and allowed to make these kinds of statements, we will continue to be limited in the progress we can make in creating truly equal and family friendly workplaces.

In the meantime, if Nadella wants to talk karma, I have a few ideas about what statements like these from a man who makes millions should mean for him in the next life. I am thinking something of the vermin variety.


Women are from Venus and the GOP is from Mars: RNC’s Quest to Court Female Voters

The Republican National Committee has a new ad featuring GOP women in which they talk about “taking back the future”.  It would be easier to envision this bright future for women if the party didn’t work so damn hard to push us back to the 1950’s.

It is always great to see better representation of women, but it would be more effective if more of them supported key issues like access to abortion and contraception or equal pay.

  • Elise Stefanik and Susana Martinez were endorsed by Susan B. Anthony List, a group dedicated to eliminated access to safe, legal abortion care.
  • Shelley Moore Capito has voted against equal pay five times. She’s also supported attacks on contraception and abortion.
  • Mia Love said making abortion illegal and birth control less affordable will create “more free choice” for women.  Now that is some very interesting Republican logic right there.
  • Marlinda Garcia said talking about equal pay is distracting from “real issues” and called women “emotional rollercoasters.”
  • Terri Lynn Land has stated that she supports the GOP platform, which includes an amendment to completely ban abortion.
  • Martha McSally does not support abortion access and would repeal the ACA, which provides expanded contraception access.
  • Joni Ernst does not want access to abortion.  Her stance in support of bans on abortion coverage certainly helps with that, since these kinds of restrictions push care out of reach for some many people.  She is also in support of repealing health care reform.

I keep seeing that the GOP wants to talk to women and show that they care. Let me just clear up any misconception that sticking a bunch of women in a video will make us all swoon. We  need actions, not just words!

At the end of the day, I have to say that I totally agree there is “too much at stake” this election. That’s why I’m showing up to vote Democrat!


So you think racism is over? Seriously?!

Well if you really think racism is over or that you are “sick of hearing about Ferguson”, you are closing your eyes to the pain and injustice that is all around us in this, the “land of the free”.

Think racism is over? On Monday, DeShawn Currie was pepper sprayed by cops after entering his white foster parents’ home.


Think racism is over? Cops smashed a car window to use a Taser on Jamal Jones in September during a seat belt traffic stop with kids in the back seat.

READ (and video):

Think racism is over? John Crawford. Michael Brown. Marissa Alexander. Jordan Davis. Trayvon Martin. And so many more young lives cut short and individuals’ dignity, rights and humanity denied.

MUST WATCH – “The deaths of black men in America”: