The Lady is a Tramp: My Adventures Defending Sex Education on Far Right Radio

Martha Kempner

The other day, I was called a tramp on a national radio show with 3.5 million listeners. I was not the least bit offended and only a little outraged. In truth, it was the first moment in the hour long live broadcast in which I relaxed.

The other day, I was called a tramp on a national radio show
with 3.5 million listeners.  Contrary to what you might expect, I was not the least bit
offended and only a little outraged. 
In truth, it was the first moment in the hour long live broadcast in
which I relaxed.

I was a guest on the Michael Medved show.  In case you’re not familiar with him,
he guest hosts for Rush Limbaugh on occasion, and the pre-recorded introduction
to his show calls it another afternoon “in this greatest country on God’s green
earth.” I was on to provide a counterpoint to Dr. Miriam Grossman, a
psychiatrist who has written a book called You’re
Teaching My Child What?:  A
Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child
.

We were there to talk about sex education. Ostensibly.  In truth, she was there to promote her
book, in which she mentions SIECUS on just about every other page, and I was
there to give her someone to yell at. 
At the beginning of the interview, our host mentioned that he and his
wife had written a book in the nineties on the loss of innocence of youth and
that in it they discussed the problems with sex ed. So much for any hope of
impartial mediation on this particular subject.

SIECUS has been attacked by the far right for 45 years now.
We’re used it.  Most of the time,
we don’t bother responding to attacks. 
Okay, when Robert Rector wrote a piece in the National Review which claimed SIECUS promoted incest, we responded.  But when the twelfth book this year
comes out claiming we have a radical leftist agenda and want to hand out
condoms to five year olds on the playground, we pass it around the office and
chuckle.  You see, that book was
written for a certain audience—an audience that already believes that sex
educators are liberal intellectuals out to undermine parents and corrupt
children.  An audience of people
whose minds I will not change no matter how charming, smart, or interesting I
am in writing or on the radio.  Moreover,
that book will likely only get noticed by its intended audience; calling it out
risks bringing more attention to it, buying it free media, and ultimately
selling more copies.

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This is why we were prepared to let Dr. Grossman’s book slide
by the wayside.  But, because we’re
human, we could not resist the offer of 3.5 million listeners.  She would have the audience with or
without us, and, with numbers like that, the odds were in our favor that one or
two of them would be part of the infamous moveable middle.  So we agreed to debate.

In preparation for the debate, one of my coworkers, a brand
new intern, and I sat down to read the book.  I don’t know where to begin except to say this, like so many
attacks on sexuality and sex education, it has very little to do with sex.  As far as I can tell, Dr. Grossman is
not a big fan of 2009.  She does
not like today’s reality in which sex is part of the popular culture, women
pursue education before families, and premarital sex is no longer verboten.  (This sentence from her website summed
it up best for me: “Women complete their PhDs at 35, and realize the hardest
challenge lies ahead: getting their Mrs., and becoming an Mo.M.”)  In the book, she goes into great detail
about the dangers that lurk around every sexual corner for young women and her
desire to protect them from STDs, infertility, and heartbreak.  And she throws around a lot of blame –
liberal organizations like SIECUS with our post- 1970s feminist agendas are apparently
the cause of the downfall of society. 
(There are so many inaccuracies, misstatements, and downright lies in
her book that it would be difficult, and seems almost pointless, to go through
and try to correct each one.)

What she doesn’t do is offer any solutions. She’s not a
proponent of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. She claims to want to
provide young people with accurate information, but the only examples of such
information are the scary ones (on the show she chastised SIECUS for not saying
HPV leads to throat cancer in all of our literature), and she doesn’t explain a
forum or format she would use that would be preferable to sex education
classes.  She also says she
realizes young people will have sex regardless of what we tell them.  It is truly hard to know what she
wants.

It gets even harder to figure it out because some of the
exchanges she recommends having with young people sound very much like those we
(the liberal sex educators she’s bashing) would have.  After saying we’re wrong for suggesting kids should use
proper body part names like vulva and penis, she describes a model conversation
with a five year old about where babies come from.  Her suggestions: 
don’t give too much information, ask what he/she thinks, don’t have one
“talk,” provide one new item at a time, and make it a dialogue, not a
lecture.  Gee, where have I heard
this before?  Wait, I think I’ve
written it.   Similarly she
suggests that we tell teens that they alone are responsible for their sexual
health.  I’m all for that—as long
as they’ve been given the tools and information to take on that responsibility,
of course. 

I actually started our hour together saying that I thought
she made a number of good points about young people and that some of her
suggestions sounded just like what I would suggest.  She called me a liar. 
Okay, she didn’t use that word. 
She said I was duplicitous. 
That SIECUS would represent itself as “rational, down-to-earth, and
common sense” in public forums like the radio show but that really we have a
liberal agenda.  She accused us of
this at least four times during the show, including once when she said we would
be common-sense in our publications as well.  (I wanted to ask her, “If we’re rational in the media and in
everything we produce, where is it that we carry out this liberal agenda?”  I didn’t.)

So begun the first segment; she made some points and I
countered them, apparently in a rational way, because that’s when she called me
duplicitous the first time. In the second segment, the two of them ganged up on
me in a discussion on anal sex that I tried (but failed) to talk my way out
of.  Then came the callers, who
all, for some reason, insisted on shouting into their phones as if they were
tin cans on a string.  One
discussed how happy he was to have his daughters in private school if I was in
control of the public school curriculum (if only, I thought).  The second called me a tramp—I believe
the exact words were an “intellectual fool” who “must have been a tramp back in
her day.”

And, as I said, that’s when I calmed down.  Because that’s when I realized who was
listening to me.  Sure, maybe a few
people in the moveable middle were listening and maybe one of my rational
points made it through to them. 
But the people who were glued to their radios and moved to call in were
individuals who were willing—in the same breath in which they accused me of
corrupting their daughters—to call a perfect stranger a slut.  And to do so without realizing how
ironic, hypocritical, and downright uncivilized it was. 

Dr. Grossman’s book didn’t provide any answers because her
audience doesn’t want any.  They
want to be mad.  The world is a daunting
place.  The rules have
changed.  And they are scared and
angry.

I get it.  I
worry about it for my daughter growing up in this world.  That’s why, I, like the rest of the
liberal sex educators I work with, are trying to fix those things that are
clearly problems (like the STD epidemic), and help young people navigate the
rest of today’s reality—without turning back the clock or relying on fear.  The truth is, we really are common
sense and down-to-earth, and we have no hidden agenda. We just want to make
sure that young people will have the information and critical thinking skills
they need to make good decisions throughout their lives.

But if Dr. Grossman and her followers seem content to just
yell about it, so be it, and, if, for one hour, they want to yell at me; I’ll
take it.     

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”