News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

I had a miscarriage. Fetal burial rules would only amplify my grief. “My son would be turning 20 this month. He was due on December 15, 1996. But in June of 1996, when I was entering the second week of my second trimester, I had a miscarriage — in medical terms, a spontaneous abortion — while preparing to deliver a paper at a prestigious women’s history conference a thousand miles from home.”

The Progress and Pitfalls of Television’s Treatment of Rape “Sexual assault is a human experience. It happens to men, children, elderly women, and it’s all traumatic. So why do screenwriters almost exclusively reserve rape for sexually attractive young women on screen?”

How white supremacist hatred drives acts of violence against powerful women “In the U.S., girls and women are twice as likely to die in school shootings as boys or men. During the past 30 years, 97 percent of the school shooters in the U.S. have been male, with 79 percent of them white. That the media has failed to attach relevance to these clear facts is “identity politics” that few people even notice.”

Flying While Fat presents the voices of fat passengers as they talk about the hatred and stress they encounter upon boarding.

Potty talk

Last week, I spent some time on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman. I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the annual Women of Distinction luncheon, the theme of which was “Forming a More Perfect Union: Women in Public Service and Government.”

Believe it or not, I don’t talk about politics very much. It’s not in my wheelhouse to convert intuition and passion into the law of the land. I wish it was, but I know I would worry about losing my way, my self, to the process. As I prepared for the WSU event, my mind was buzzing and my heart ached with the political crises we face here and around the world.

I thought about my travels in India 5 years ago. There I had the opportunity to meet with activists whose strategic approach to political organizing I will never forget. Their belief that access to a toilet is central to a woman’s dignity was the centerpiece of the “water taps and toilets” campaign, in which they visited rural, impoverished, unplumbed communities and installed water wells and toilets. They also educated women about civics, registered them to vote, and encouraged them to bring their voices to the demand for women’s rights and equality.

Toilet-paper-roll-patentHere in the U.S. the relationship between politics and access to toilets appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Here we have a political system being used to control and restrict access, to deny what should be a fundamental right, to violate the dignity and privacy of transgender people, and to undermine our collective humanity. Witness what happened last week in North Carolina and Kansas. We must ask ourselves not only about the content of these policies, but also about the political maneuvering that produced them.

It’s easy to say that’s North Carolina and that’s Kansas and that’s NOT Washington. But the only way to be sure is to be vigilant. Our political muscle can be flexed with more than voting. We can make sure that our elected officials remember that WE elected them and they represent US, and we can do everything in our power to make sure that what they do is who we are.

I never imagined my work would lead me to think so much about toilets. I didn’t know they could be so inspiring or so troubling—either way a source of political organizing and, for me, irony.

I didn’t talk about toilets at WSU—people were eating lunch—but I did talk about politics. Here is some of what I said:

“I hope we will form a more perfect union, and deliver on the constitutional vision of justice, domestic tranquility, a common defence, general welfare, and the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations to come. In the formation of this union, we should heed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  that begins with “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” We have the power to refashion our union. We do. There’s no doubt it’s a heavy lift, and I know it will not happen in my lifetime. But for the granddaughters of my grandchildren, I keep this union in front of me every day.”

Anti-violence organizations call for an end to discrimination against transgender people

We bring you this post from the executive directors of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault ProgramsThe Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse, and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As leading anti-violence organizations in Washington, we support public policies that promote and protect the civil rights and human dignity of all.  For over ten years, the Washington State Law Against Discrimination has protected people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The current wave of legislative bills that attempt to take away transgender people’s access to sex-specific facilities, such as emergency shelters, restrooms and locker rooms, would roll back the progress we have made, not only here in Washington, but all around the country.

Anti-violence organizations are leading the nation in creating inclusive programs and ending discrimination against transgender people because we decided as a field not to leave any survivor behind. Every person has the right to access critical domestic violence and sexual assault services in our state. Every person has the right to live as their gender. Every person has the right to freedom from fear and violence. We must reject any legislation that threatens the safety of survivors of violence and we must continue to recognize transgender people as part of the fabric of our communities.

Andrea Piper-Wentland, Executive Director of the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

Connie Burk, Executive Director of The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse

Nan Stoops, Executive Director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Giving degrees the third degree

I recently came across this article about a woman who had lied on her resume about her education. Of course lying about such things is not ethical or wise—but I think this is an excellent opportunity to look at the misplaced emphasis our society has on college degrees.

job-descriptionAccording to the article, she did her job quite well and was well-liked and respected. She made significant improvements and added value to her workplace for almost thirty years. So, does that one lie mean more than her good work?

Many organizations automatically require a four-year degree for every job (even the ones paying minimum or near-minimum wage), often for no particular reason. There have been jobs I’ve been disqualified from despite having the exact work experience needed, simply because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. I can understand the temptation to lie, the frustration of not being able to get your foot in the door despite your qualifications.

Requiring college degrees bolsters inequity and discrimination. Think about who does and doesn’t have access to college. For instance, we know that abuse is a huge disruptor to domestic violence victims’ lives, including their attempts at education or getting a better job. Abusers may actively sabotage victims’ efforts to study or attend classes. And for victims who’ve had to take the extreme measure of obtaining a new identity, they may not be able to even acknowledge college degrees, if they have them.

My friend Laura Pritchard Wirkman runs Sharehouse (it’s like a food bank, but for furniture and household items) so job access and economic justice are already on her radar. She’s managed to revise the job descriptions there: “I try to talk to other management-types about this as much as possible and always encourage them to question the education requirement for any position,” she says. “If it’s not a specialized position that literally necessitates a degree or license, then the next question should always be: ‘Does direct or related experience make up for (or even outweigh) a degree?’”

If you have any authority over job descriptions at your workplace, talk with your colleagues about your standard requirements. Look at each job and actually think about whether applicants need to have a four-year degree. You could be weeding out qualified candidates and inadvertently discriminating against domestic violence victims and other marginalized groups of people.

Really America—this again?

It’s State Legislative Session season! While we are working here in Washington to strengthen Protection Orders and secure paid sick and safe leave, others are dealing with something entirely different: Bills that codify discrimination. From Arizona to Georgia to Missouri, states are introducing legislation that would allow businesses and employees to refuse goods and services to those they feel live contrary to their religious beliefs.capitol-building

My dear home state of Georgia is trying to pass a bill with one of the broadest scopes of any of its counterparts. It could not only mean state sanctioned discrimination for the LGBTQ community, but also that women would have a tougher time accessing contraceptives and other family planning services.

Growing up in the South, even 20 years after Jim Crow laws, the lasting effect of these laws was palpable. I can still see today how the rhetoric and treatment of African Americans during that time influences my parents (and many others). Wasn’t that a lesson learned, America? Can we take a moment to reflect on how discrimination breeds hate and violence, and then choose to not go there again?

But what about religious freedoms? After all, the justification behind most of these bills is an outcry about religious liberties being infringed upon. Freedom of religion is an extremely important value to protect. But I don’t buy the argument that it justifies denying someone else their rights or basic dignity. Rev. Emily C. Heath outlines how we can determine if our religious liberties are actually at stake.

To me, these bills feel like a call for superiority for a particular group—not freedom. The messages they send, if they become law, will seep into our communities. Harmful messages about LGBTQ individuals, women, and any other group that might face discrimination because of them. They will worm their way into our lives and our relationships eating away at love, respect, and understanding. It’s one (bad) thing when our lives are invalidated and demonized by individuals. It’s another (even worse) thing when our government says that they think that discriminatory behavior is totally cool.

Love, respect, understanding. These are the things that will strengthen our relationships and dissolve violence. Part of me becomes deflated when I think about these discriminatory bills, but a bigger part of me is actually hopeful. I think they are an indicator of change and are the growing pains that happen before something beautiful emerges.