News Abortion

Operation Rescue Thinks Bubble Zone Should Be Just One Inch

Robin Marty

Spokesman Troy Newman invokes the Bart Simpson defense in sidewalk counseling.

One advantage to the Obama administration for those who advocate for reproductive health rights has been the growing enforcement of FACE Act violations — arrests over “counselors” who try to harass or intimidate women and doctors away from clinics under the guise of “saving babies” or “educating females.”

But as NPR notes, anti-choice activists aren’t happy with the new focus on enforcement, saying that their right to protest and “counsel” should give them nearly unlimited access as long as they don’t physically contact their targets.

[Troy] Newman leads Operation Rescue, a group that protests at abortion clinics across the country. He calls this Justice Department’s approach to the FACE Act “a political tool to shut them up, shut them down and make them go away.”

“This is a ridiculous overstepping of the federal government’s bounds and with the intent of restricting our freedom, our liberties and our speech,” says Newman, who says he was sued under the same law by the Justice Department when Bill Clinton was president.

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Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa says the department takes “seriously our responsibility to enforce FACE fully and fairly and in a manner that does not infringe on any First Amendment rights.

“The department has stepped up civil rights enforcement across the board, and will continue to vigorously enforce all the laws under its jurisdiction, including the FACE Act.”

But, Newman says, he follows a simple rule: “My rights and your rights end at where our nose begins. So in other words, I can swing my arms wildly on the street but as soon as I hit you in the nose, that’s a violation.”

Nothing like an activist who bases the legality of his advocacy activities on a Simpsons episode.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

How One Couple Is Putting Bathroom Safety on the Map

Ryan Thomas

Like the Negro Motorist Green Book, the Safe Bathrooms map is not so much a novelty but a vital resource to protect the safety of its users at a time when history is repeating itself in a way that is marginalizing an already vulnerable population.

This piece was published in collaboration with Generation Progress.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) seems to think it’s a governor’s duty to classify which men and women are the “real” ones and which aren’t. Because of this, he has put the lives of all of North Carolina’s trans residents at risk by signing HB 2 into law.

Last week state legislators proposed changes to HB 2, but those changes do nothing to mitigate an unabashed blastoma of transphobia that is now lawfully spreading at a vicious pace.

In response to HB 2, droves of businesses and musicians have boycotted the state in hopes of stopping this unmitigated discrimination toward trans people from moving any further.

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People have banded together to show their support for the trans community, and businesses across the state and country have declared themselves safe havens for trans-identifying individuals by submitting to the Safe Bathrooms map.

The map’s creators—River William Luck, a trans community activist, and his partner (and as of recently, fiancée), web design specialist Emily Rae Waggoner—both live in Boston, but the fight to protect trans rights affects them on a deeply personal level: They’re both from North Carolina.

When HB 2 was signed into law, Luck says, “I was on guard, because I’ve been told I’m in the wrong bathroom my entire life as a masculine-presenting female for more than 30 years.”

Now his home state has become one big ”Do Not Enter” sign for him and his friends still there. Luck’s reaction, however, was not one of helplessness. His instinct, which he learned to follow after years of experiencing and bearing witness to bigotry, was to bind the community and help strengthen it through tangible acts of love and support.

One Reddit commenter likened the map to the Negro Motorist Green Book of the 1930s to 1960s, which was published to help Black travelers in the United States find safe passage in times when racial persecution was legal. Like the Negro Motorist Green Book, the bathrooms’ map is not so much a novelty but a vital resource to protect the safety of its users at a time when history is repeating itself in a way that is marginalizing an already vulnerable population.

Before the Safe Bathrooms map, Luck started mailing hundreds of buttons from the #IllGoWithYou campaign to friends and family back home. The #IllGoWithYou campaign was developed as a means for allies to offer solidarity and protection to transgender and non-binary individuals. By wearing a button, participants pledge to stand up and speak up during instances of harassment and physical endangerment.

“This is my way of paying it forward,” Luck says. “What I’ve done is buy a shit ton of buttons and if someone wants one, I send them one. If they can’t afford it, I send them one. If they want to know more about it, I write them a note and ask people to pick up more.”

His reasoning is simple: “I would have given anything to have seen one of these when I was in North Carolina.”

Luck’s meaningful gestures extends to the clothes he wears, as he frequently can be found sporting a t-shirt that says “No Hate in Our State” or a tank top with the words “Proud Transman” printed in bold. River models several lines of what he refers to as “activism wear,” as a product ambassador a variety of labels including a Greensboro, North Carolina-based company called Deconstructing Gender, and another called Proud Animals.

It’s actually the former that planted the seed for the Safe Bathrooms map, as Luck and Waggoner were inspired by the photos of gender-neutral bathrooms posted on the company’s Instagram account. While the two were talking to Deconstructing Gender’s founder and CEO Avery Dickerson, who was transitioning at the time, Waggoner said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a map of safe bathrooms where trans people could go without hassle?”

And so with Waggoner’s web design expertise and Luck’s social media skills, the Safe Bathrooms map came to life as a child of both necessity and wishful thinking. As they built it, the people came in droves: businesses, affected community members, and media alike.

With over 200 businesses included to date, the two have put together a functioning survival guide for trans residents and travelers who also possess bladders.

Waggoner shared one email with Rewire that she received from a man who owns an architecture firm in Maine, who requested to have his business be included on the map:

I, therefore this business, stand for equality, acceptance, and kindness to all. As a gay man, and one living with HIV for 30 years now, I know too well that indifference to discrimination, condoned cruelty, and legalized oppression are terminal illnesses. These behaviors killed the dreams, and injured the very souls of our young, and further darkened the roads the rest of us continue to travel. It must stop.

To be included on the Safe Bathrooms map, businesses need simply fill out this form and verify their trans-friendliness with a photo of a gender-neutral bathroom placard or other clear form of expression. Upon approval, businesses are represented on the map as a roll of toilet paper. For those lacking, the Safe Bathrooms website goes one step further and shows businesses where they can obtain gender-neutral bathroom signs for their private spaces.

Waggoner and Luck know personally how useful such a map can be. Waggoner says she’s had to stake out bathrooms to make sure the coast is clear, like a Secret Service member. One time, she says, “We were in a restaurant waiting to use the bathroom. We could feel the tension in the air and feel the stares. And it became very uncomfortable because people at the bar were openly just watching which bathroom River was going to go into. And we feared for his safety and our safety.”

Luck continues, “We ended up having to leave and go to a friend’s house so I could use the bathroom and detoured the whole evening plans so I could pee safe.”

Clearly the problem won’t end once HB 2 and other anti-trans laws like it are repealed. The attitudes that brought these policies into being still exist and must be dealt with. But, as Luck attests, there is a definite support system of love and acceptance in North Carolina. He found it in Greensboro as a music teacher at New Garden Friends School, a Quaker school. “They were so open and embraced diversity that I could be an out lesbian,” says Luck.

Greensboro has very distinct pockets of support, which is where a lot of the safe bathrooms appear on the map. But even in places less supportive deeper south, Waggoner notes there are still good friends to be found: “It’s been cool to see some of the small-business owners in some of the more rural towns popping up. Like in Salisbury, North Carolina. It’s really brave of them to do that—to be the first in their town to speak up and say something, and be the first on the map.”

The outpouring of support may be having an effect: University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings recently gave a statement saying that she would not enforce HB 2 or change any of the school’s current provisions. Spellings did originally plan to enforce HB 2. It wasn’t until U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch declared the state in violation of civil rights and threatened to cut up to $4.8 billion in federal funding to the school that Spellings changed her position (and McCrory sued the federal government).

Before Spellings changed her decision, students from various on-campus alliance groups held loud protests outside of buildings in which she was attending meetings, in efforts to sway her judgment. Students at schools across the state affected by the law are making their opposition known.

On a K-12 level, there are organizational efforts through nonprofit Gay-Straight Alliance groups such as Time Out Youth, which offers resources and aid to LGBTQ minors living in inclusive North Carolina and South Carolina school districts. Its website lists student rights, including the rights to gender expression, confidentiality, and respective pronoun usage, as well the right to attend school functions and report on instances of bullying (which state public schools are required by law to deal with).

Luck has spent most of his life traveling against the grain of society’s intolerance–from a misunderstood kid living with his grandparents, to a determined and proud trans man working hard to end the ritual persecution of his fellow person.

Growing up in North Carolina in a conservative Baptist household, Luck remembers being called a “tomboy” and being told “not to act like a boy” as young as 3 years old. Luck attended and was eventually kicked out of a Christian high school for identifying as a “lesbian” (this was before he identified as trans). Luck says he’s been working steadily since he was 13, when his first job was at a Chick-fil-A.

In college, Luck had a psychology professor who taught that homosexuality was a disorder.

“I remember sitting in the class waiting for someone to say something, because I didn’t want to say anything,” Luck says.

After going to the head of the psych department, and then the head of the school, Luck managed to get the homophobic lesson pulled from the syllabus.

“That was a time in my life where I realized if I didn’t say something, no one would. And so I had to. That’s when my activism really started,” Luck says.

Coming to Boston for grad school, Luck found his new home to be much less critical of his outward gender appearance, and found true love in his partner. Luck says Waggoner accepted and supported his transition every step of the way—from coming out (a second time) as transgender, to life-affirming surgeries and ongoing treatments, to his sweeping romantic proposal involving a trip to New York City, a rare Harry Potter book, and a cleverly inserted engagement ring.

Luck and Waggoner hope to expand upon all the ground they’ve covered in North Carolina and take their Safe Bathrooms map to national and international levels.

Luck says he wants to ultimately see the whole state of North Carolina become “a giant roll of toilet paper.”

“We’d [also] love for it to grow to be an international thing, especially given all the anti-LGBT sentiments in other countries. Because we’re everywhere. And everybody needs to have that access,” he says.

The two do have an app in the works to accompany their Safe Bathrooms map, which they hope to give a Yelp-like interface to allow community members to find safe bathrooms on the go, and review and share their own individual bathroom experiences.

All of this work points to a very simple goal: to make it so trans people don’t have to endure daily humiliation exercises to find a toilet that comes with no strings attached.

“The bottom line is … I’m a human being who happens to be trans. But before I would label myself trans, I would say I’m an activist, an actor, a student, an artist, a musician, a good partner, a good relative … All these other qualities that define me that have so much more weight,” says Luck.

To show support for the trans community and be included on the Safe Bathrooms map, visit SafeBathrooms.club.

News Violence

Eleven Months, Five Clinic Arson Attacks, One Arrest, and Countless Unanswered Questions

Nicole Knight Shine

Arsonists have attacked five Planned Parenthood clinics around the country since last July, wreaking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, closing down the facilities, and sowing fear among staff and providers.

Nine months after a blaze erupted inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, Detective Sergeant Jake Opgenorth is left with few leads.

The Pullman arson remains unsolved, as do similar arson attacks at clinics in Illinois, California, and Louisiana.

Here’s what a Opgenorth, a Pullman police investigator, believes: Someone, shortly before the attack, got access to a computer in the clinic and disabled the main security camera over the parking lot.

Was the computer hacked remotely? They’re not sure.

Opgenorth said surveillance footage from other cameras captured an arsonist hurling a flammable device through a clinic window at 3:30 a.m. on September 4, 2015.

What was the gender of the arsonist? Authorities can’t tell.

Opgenorth said they’ve shipped off the computer hard drive to a crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is analyzing it for clues. Federal agencies are involved in the Pullman arson because of the history of domestic terrorists targeting abortion providers in the region, FBI Special Agent Frank Harrill told the Spokesman-Review. In 1997, four men were convicted of pipe-bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Spokane Valley, about 75 miles from Pullman.

Meanwhile, a $10,000 reward offered in connection to the Pullman arson has generated no leads, Opgenorth said.

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“We don’t have much more,” Opgenorth told Rewire in a recent phone interview.

Arsonists have attacked five Planned Parenthood clinics around the country since last July, wreaking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, closing down the facilities—sometimes for months—and sowing fear among staff and providers over safety.

“It doesn’t have to burn down a clinic to have a terrifying effect on the people who work there,” said David S. Cohen, law professor at Drexel University and co-author of Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism in a phone interview with Rewire.

Even a small blaze, Cohen noted, “sends the message that people are willing to go to extreme measures.”

In the 11 months since the start of the chain of arson attacks, authorities have made one arrest, as Rewire recently reported.

Arson is one of the most difficult major crimes to solve, with arrests occurring in only about one in five arson fires, according to the most recent FBI statistics. Murder, by comparison, has a nearly 65 percent arrest rate. An accounting of four decades of arson attacks by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which tracks anti-choice violence, shows that only 28 percent of the 192 cases resulted in convictions.

This violence, including the blaze that Opgenorth is investigating in Pullman, has followed in the wake of discredited videos that tried to make it seem as if Planned Parenthood officials unlawfully sold fetal tissue. Multiple state and federal investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.

Five days after the anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the first video on July 14, an arsonist struck a Planned Parenthood in Aurora, Illinois. Then came three more videos, and on August 1 an arsonist set fire to a car outside a New Orleans Planned Parenthood construction site. CMP released another five videos before the Pullman attack on September 4, 2015, and released its tenth video before a September 30 firebombing at Planned Parenthood in the California town of Thousand Oaks.

Just last month, an early morning blaze tore through a Modesto, California Planned Parenthood. The fire has also been deemed an arson, a criminal investigator with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office told Rewire in an email Thursday.

In this recent wave of arson attacks, authorities have charged one individual: a California man who authorities said fire-bombed the Thousand Oaks Planned Parenthood because his former girlfriend worked there.

Such a climate of hostility isn’t new. NAF has reported 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, and thousands of other incidents at clinics since 1977. Last fall, however, the FBI warned of “an uptick in attacks on reproductive health-care facilities,” and said that arson attacks were “typical of the pro-life extremist movement.” NAF’s numbers have supported this; the organization logged 94 death threats in 2015, compared to one the previous year.

“This is an obvious consequence of the smear videos that were released this summer,” Cohen said of the rash of attacks. “It’s coming to fruition.”

Indeed, gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who admitted in court to unloading a barrage of bullets at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic last November, killing three, defended his actions with the chilling credo: “No more baby parts.”

This April, NAF’s analysis of clinic violence revealed disturbing details about a man calling online for a wholesale burning of “murder house[s]” nationwide:

“One person setting fire to an abortion clinic will not do anything but thousands setting fire to an abortion clinic will speak volumes….It is not violent to set a building on fire…If thousands rallied together to set each murder house on fire, we would see the end of abortion…”

Within three months of the man’s call to action, the NAF analysis notes, facilities in Washington, Louisiana, California, and Illinois were targeted by acts of arson. NAF turned over information about the man’s threats to federal authorities. He was interviewed, but not arrested, NAF president Vicki Saporta told Rewire in a recent phone interview.

She said the organization met in August 2015 and again in February with the U.S. Department of Justice Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers, and noted, “I think that when law enforcement aggressively enforces the law, it does act as a deterrent.”

The task force, formed two weeks after the 1998 shooting death of New York physician Barnett Slepian, counts among its responsibilities coordinating national investigations of anti-choice violence.

Even so, determining the degree of involvement by federal agencies, such as the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), in this recent chain of arsons is difficult. Fire Marshal Javan Cross, in Aurora, Illinois, where one of the arsons took place, responded to Rewire’s email inquiry by directing a reporter to the ATF, but a spokesman from the Chicago ATF office told Rewire that its office is not involved.

Brian Garner, a national spokesman for the ATF, told Rewire that the bureau typically gets involved at the request of state or local authorities.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s public information office, responding to Rewire’s information request, wrote in an email “while we are unable to address specific cases, the FBI’s general practice is to assist our law enforcement partners and we take these matters very seriously.” Local authorities that Rewire reached in New Orleans and Modesto, California, confirmed the FBI’s involvement in those arson investigations.

Asked whether law enforcement could be doing more, Saporta offered, “We were hoping they would be more proactive in identifying the threats.” She said that NAF had requested just that, but was told, “no.” She said NAF has hired an outside security firm, and hands over information on the threats it uncovers to law enforcement.

It was through NAF’s monitoring that authorities learned of death threats against an executive of StemExpress, a California fetal-tissue procurement firm that once worked with Planned Parenthood. A Washington state man recently pleaded guilty to the charges.

“We do have federal law enforcement’s attention and cooperation,” Saporta affirmed.

Still, she notes the toll of the violence, saying, “There’s a cost to society: In a democratic society, you cannot allow people to use violence to settle political differences. It needs to stop. Enough is really enough.”

Advocacy groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America are increasingly demanding that federal authorities sharpen the focus on anti-choice violence, given the fresh wave of clinic attacks.

“Where is the outrage?” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue asked in an online statement in October following the recent chain of clinic fires.

More than 68,000 supporters have signed NARAL’s online petition calling on the Department of Justice to investigate clinic attacks as domestic terrorism across the board. The equality group UltraViolet is advocating for the same, posting its call to action on YouTube. Such a move, advocates hope, would discourage copycats and ensure that officials would give investigating and preventing this violence the same attention as other attacks.

What we’re concerned about is how limited the resources and the scope of the investigations as they currently stand must be, because they are being investigated locally. What we’re missing is the ability to investigate across these various attacks for connections,” Shaunna Thomas, UltraViolet co-founder, told the Nation in December 2015.

“Is there a driving connection between all these attacks?” she continued. “Right now, those questions are not being asked.”