To See Ourselves

Lon Newman

Most people see them as they are and most people disagree with their beliefs and with their tactics.

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us. (O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.) Robert Burns, Poem "To a Louse" – verse 8
Scottish national poet (1759 – 1796)
 For almost a year now, Pro-Life Wisconsin (PLW) has maintained a protest campaign at our family planning and WIC clinics in Central Wisconsin. PLW activities have included a ‘verbal hijacking’ of our Raising Women’s Voices “Speak Out” on women’s health care so that those who wished to speak on issues unrelated to abortion or contraception were by-and-large unheard in the auditorium. Over the Lenten season, PLW and its local supporters participated in the "40 Days for Life" national campaign — conducting a ‘continuous’ prayer vigil outside our clinic offices.  When asked by local reporters why they were participating in this effort, they said it was to stop abortion.  We do not perform abortions at any of our facilities.  As the 40 Days effort has come to an end, we want to share what we have learned. The 10 Suggestions:

           I.      Publicly express sincere concerns about patient and public safety. We wrote an editorial which focused on traffic conditions near the clinic and how patients had been affected by the protestors. After the editorial was printed, the protestors stopped harassing patients and obstructing visibility for drivers.     II.      Leave the religious debate to religious organizations. We spoke with supportive local parishioners of many denominations and asked for their help. The Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice held a news conference that received front page coverage and many church leaders explained that their religious traditions do not oppose family planning or, in many cases, abortion. III.      Respect the rights as well as the responsibilities of the protesters. We consistently and publicly expressed our respect for the right to protest, but we also reported any obstruction of clinic entrances or exits (a violation of federal law).   IV.      Maintain Security and Surveillance. We used digital cameras and recorders to record video covering the entrances and exits at all time.  We also took routine photographs of the protesters. We reported the minor acts of vandalism, entrance and exit obstruction, and harassment to local law enforcement and were able to provide the computerized records as well.  

         V.      Act don’t React and have a sense of humor. We hung three large red, white, and blue banners with one word on each one: Condoms Save Lives. When the local newspaper took photos of the protestors, the banners provided a public health message. We also ran general awareness ads on television talking about the services we provide and the value to women’s health. I put up a shadow box with a stone inside, a mallet on the side, and had the glass inscribed “The First Stone – John 8:1-11.” Someone in a hooded sweatshirt stole the mallet, but they left the stone where it was.   VI.      Keep your eyes on the majority. Quantity matters in the political world, where public policy is decided.  Support for contraception and sex education is growing, even within the parishes recruiting protesters. There is no need to belittle our opposition or demean ourselves.VII.      Stay focused on facts, evidence, and your mission.We resisted temptations to be diverted from scientific evidence, provable facts, and the mission of our organization.  Ours is a health services mission of universal access to maternal and child health including reproductive care.  The mission of our opponents is theological and political, so we invited others to speak from those perspectives whenever possible.

VIII.      Follow the law and enforce the law.One of the opponents complained to city zoning officials that the “Condoms Save Lives” banners intruded over the public right-of-way. We moved them to comply and showed the officials photographs of protestor signs placed in violation of the same ordinance. We asked for equal enforcement.    IX.      Thank contributors and supporters. You can never express too much appreciation to your supporters, contributors, and your employees.  Use the opportunity to express appreciation and to network.

         X.      Let them speak!The opposition has been unsuccessful persuading even their parishioners on contraception and sex education. Since their position is fundamentally faith-based and authoritarian, it is unlikely to look rational from other perspectives. At the Women’s Health Speak Out, at our news conferences, in web-postings, in letters-to-the-editor, and even standing in front of our clinics, they communicate quite clearly.  Most people see them as they are and most people disagree with their beliefs and with their tactics.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.


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