Monday, February 25, 2013

A Woman's Identity...

“Part of their identity is the potential to be a mother,” Pedulla said. “They are being asked to suppress and radically contradict part of their own identity, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are being asked to poison their bodies.”
Dr. Dominic Pedulla of Oklahoma on why birth control is poison and insurance companies shouldn't have to cover it.


This is a quote that infuriated me from an article on ThinkProgress about a bill which has recently passed an Oklahoma State Senate committee and is on its way to the full Senate in the nearish future.  The whole bill infuriates me.  It's another one of these bills designed to allow a woman's employer to decide what she should do with her body.  Super-quack, Dominic Pedulla, wanted to buy a small-group insurance plan for his family, but he is morally opposed to birth control and thus does not want his insurance to cover it.  Is your wife morally opposed to birth control, Dom?  Do you have daughters?  Are they morally opposed to birth control?  Oh, I'm sorry.  I get it.  See, you don't want your health insurance to cover birth control in case one of your women-folk go behind your back and get some.  

Birth control doesn't suppress or radically contradict a woman's identity because, like a man, a woman can decide who she is and what she wants to do with her life.  Now, you may call me a femi-nazi or whatever the popular terminology is these days for a woman who thinks with her brain and then transfers those thoughts out into the ether so that you have to consume them.  As a feminist, I believe that women have the right to make their own choices about their bodies and their lives.  If one woman chooses to get married and make a career of raising children, that's her choice.  I respect that.  If, however, a woman chooses to follow the path to a career outside the home, I support that too.  One of the choices that every woman should get to make for herself, but that increasing numbers of crotchety old white dudes are trying to make for them, is whether or not to have children and when.  Having the right to choose to be or not to be a mother is meaningless without the means to make that choice a reality.  If you're interested in reading about all the many and fantastic rational reasons that access is a huge and important part of reproductive justice, please read this article.  

Know that when people like "Dr." Pedulla say that birth control suppresses a part of a woman's identity, what they mean is that women are meant to be baby machines.  They mean that women are useful only for cooking, cleaning, and raising children.  The attitude of many conservatives in this country towards women makes Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale seem frighteningly possible.  (If you haven't read it, you should.)

It was only last year that Pennsylvania's own Governor, when talking about the scandal over forcing women to have trans-vaginal ultrasounds in an attempt to guilt them into not having abortions by forcing them to look at the fetus inside them, "I don't know how to make anyone watch an ultra-sound, you just have to close your eyes."  Yes.  That was his answer.  We're going to make someone shove a medical instrument in your vagina for no actual medical reason in order lay some sort of guilt trip on you, but hey, just close your eyes.  In my own personal opinion, mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds are nothing less than state-sponsored rape, and feel free to quote me on that.  

The fight continues over reproductive rights in this country against all possible logic.  The argument is nearly the same for access to reproductive health care options as it is for LGBT equality: I don't believe in it so you shouldn't have it.  This is an argument that gets equal billing with science and rational thought.  I will say, at least once a day, that no one is forcing anyone to take birth control pills.  This is much the same as when I say, "hey man, no one is forcing you to marry a dude."  

Women are not your breeding stock.  We are no longer your chattel.  A woman's identity does not rely solely on her ability to produce children.  Our bodies are our own and not yours to make decisions about.  Anyone is free to disagree with what I do with my body, but their disagreement does not rise to the level of being able to decide what I should or should not do.  I think "Dr." Pedulla's beliefs are abhorrent, but I'm not trying to get legislation passed to stop him from having them and there's the difference.  You can apply your beliefs to yourself until the cows come home, but when you start applying them to millions of women, then we have a problem.  

I see that the legislator who's attempting to pass this heinous bill, State Sen. Clark Jolley, is one of those delightful state legislators who are so fond of gerrymandering their way into what basically amounts to a lifetime appointment to office.  Quelle surprise! Sometimes my sarcasm goes so far that it jumps right out of the English language.  Seriously, though, as atrocious as this man is, he is no anomaly.  There are legislators like him all over the country.  His breed should be very familiar to us here in Pennsylvania.  People like this will continue to try to legislate us into their own personal conservative wonderland unless people stand up and say, "Enough!"  If you respect that all human beings, whatever gender they may be, have the right to make decisions about their bodies, then you must speak loudly against people like this.  If there is any tyranny in government, it comes from people like this.  




Friday, February 22, 2013

It's an issue because I'm making it one...

I was told this week that "the gay thing" wasn't an issue in Blair County because no one is talking about it right now.  Guess what?  I'm talking about it.  Why is it an issue?  Let's pop over to Equality PA's website and find out...

Did you know...

  • "in most parts of the Commonwealth it is perfectly legal to be fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression?"
  • "in only 17 of the state's nearly 2,500 municipalities are there anti-discrimination laws in effect to protect LGBT Pennsylvanians"
  • "there is no legal recourse for LGBT Pennsylvanians who have been sexually harassed at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in most of the state"
  • "and of course, it is still illegal for same-sex couples to get married"
In 2009 House Bill 300 was introduce to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in public housing, employment, and public accommodation.  Shall we take a look at Pennsylvania's General Assembly website to see how the vote went on that?

The legislators that represent people in this area are overwhelming very conservative Republicans who are perfectly content to allow the civil liberties of LGBT Pennsylvanians to be violated because they don't hear the voices of people who say otherwise.  The very nature of the legalized discrimination against LGBT Pennsylvanians makes it unbelievably difficult to fight against this injustice.  If you don't live in one of the 17 municipalities or work for one of the handful of companies that include LGBT-specific non-discrimination policies then LGBT people are forced to fear for their livelihood if they speak up and that's why I refuse to shut up about it.

Just this past August, in the Altoona Mirror, State Sen. John Eichelberger had this to say about LGBT anti-discrimination laws:
"Adding sexual preference to this law would help to establish a special class for LGBT people. Advocates for same-sex marriage push for this change in the hate crimes law to strengthen their argument for same-sex marriage," he said. "Sexual preference does not meet the legal standard set forth in the state's hate crimes law." 
Eichelberger must keep his fingers firmly plugged into his ears all day because he apparently also believes that the majority of Americans believe in a "traditional" definition of family.  I believe that my family are the people I love, and who love me.  I believe that if two adults are in love and want to make a legal bond of that commitment, then we should honor that love just as we honor the bond between a man and a woman.  Just recently, a Franklin and Marshall poll showed that 52% of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality.  Do you think they probably also support adding sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to standing anti-discrimination laws?  I bet they do.

Enough people simply don't know that an LGBT person can be fired just for being gay in PA.  Every person that I have told about this legalized discrimination has been both shocked and appalled.  Many people simply assume that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Pennsylvanians are protected by standing laws.  The protection simply isn't there, except in very specific places.  Even if, as an LGBT Pennsylvanian, you're lucky enough to work at a company with an LGBT anti-discrimination policy, if you don't live in an area that has LGBT anti-discrimination laws in place you can still be discriminated against in public housing and accommodation, as well as sexually harassed without legal recourse.

A religious belief that homosexuality is a sin is not an excuse for discriminating against people's rights to lead a different life than you.  Many of my Jewish brothers and sisters don't eat pork, but they don't demand that I abstain from eating it as well.  If I'm on a diet, I don't make everyone else stop eating cookies.  No one is asking you to stop believing what you believe.  If, however, one of the things you believe is that people shouldn't be discriminated against because of who they are, then I urge you, I beg you to write a letter to your local legislators.  Call them.  Email them.  Tell them that this injustice has gone on long enough.  Let them know that this is an issue, not just for LGBT Pennsylvanians, but for all Pennsylvanians.

Edited to add:
If you're interested in writing some letters and need a little inspiration, please feel free to check out my letters to State Sen. John Eichelberger and PA General Assembly Representative John McGinnis.





Monday, February 18, 2013

Loud and Proud for LGBT Equality

It's hard to keep track of all the news that's out there and I think it's safe to say that, even among newshounds like myself, you tend to keep track of the issues that matter most to you.  The issue that matters the most to me is LGBT equality, and for that reason, today I'd like to share with you some of the news stories that hit my computer screen over the last several days.  I know that here in Blair County we don't hear very much LGBT news, so here's hoping that if you're checking out the blog today you'll see some stories that you may not have come across otherwise.

1. New Sex-Education Bill Acknowledges LGBT Students Actually Exist

Sexual education in this country is hit and miss at best.  Sometimes it's downright destructive, as in the millions upon millions of federal dollars that have been funneled into abstinence only education.  Study after study after study has shown that abstinence only education is not only inadequate, it's actively harmful to the future health and well-being of students.  The bill in question here would go further than setting aside the harmful practice of abstinence-only education in favor of educational programs that look at the full picture.  The bill would seek to promote and fund programs that are inclusive of LGBT youth and which avoid gender stereotyping and give honest and accurate information about contraception, pregnancy, and HIV.  Like the author of the article I cited, I don't see a future for this bill with the House of Representatives that we have right now, but that doesn't mean that I won't be writing letters and making phone calls about it.  Your Representatives don't know what you care about unless you tell them.  


2.  eHarmony founder: Homosexuality is ‘a painful way for people to have to live’

Well golly.  I wonder why?  eHarmony co-founder Neil Clark Warren says:
“I have said that eHarmony really ought to put up $10 million and ask other companies to put up money and do a really first class job of figuring out homosexuality. At the very best, it’s been a painful way for a lot of people to have to live. But at this point, at this age, I want America to start drawing together. I want it to be more harmonious.”
Do you think that the way you discriminate against people in same-sex relationships has anything to do with how "painful" it is to be LGBT in the United States?  I mean sure, if people just stopped being so gay they wouldn't have to be offended because you wouldn't have to treat them as subhumans.  Barring people completely changing who they are to suit your whims, though, it's possible you may want to consider not being so...in an effort to not use the colorful language in my head I'll just say...mean.

There is nothing inherently painful about being LGBT.  What is painful is the blusters of bigots who refuse to allow that the love that two adult people share doesn't have anything to do anyone but them.

Speaking of bigotry...

3. Mefferd: Gay rights should not ‘trump the rights of Christians’ to not see gays

You don't have a right to "not see" a particular class of people.  You cannot sweep people under the rug and and forget they exist.  Separate is not equal.  Never was, never will be.

4. Publisher Linda Johnson Rice makes an argument for marriage equality

It's not all bad news.  There are many good people out in the world who believe in true equality and one of those people is Linda Johnson Rice who wrote:
"We know in our hearts that none of us get ahead when some of us are stuck with second-class status." Linda Johnson Rice, Chicago Tribune News
I couldn't agree more.  Ms. Rice wrote a beautiful and personal editorial for the Chicago Tribune news about why Illinois lawmakers should support the marriage equality bill which has now been passed through the Illinois State Senate.  

5. Obama honors PFLAG founder with Presidential Citizens Medal

Finally, to leave you on what I think is an important note.  Above is an article about President Obama honoring the founder of the group PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  Given the rate of bullying against LGBT teens in the United States, having a strong and supportive structure of family and friends is fundamentally important.  Even beyond childhood, being an ally to the LGBT community is so important.  It is so important for LGBT allies to let their legislators be they local, county, state, or federal, that LGBT rights are important to us all.

Know that there are adults in this country, far too many adults, who think that it's okay to make LGBT teens feel like they are less than, that they are wrong, and that they are not capable of being good people.  When Jeanne Manford's son was assaulted at a gay right's demonstration she formed a group that became a support structure for gay and lesbian children and their families.  In memory of Jeanne Manford and her legacy which continues today, please be mindful of what you say and what you do.  Please know that words can hurt and words can heal.  Please know that in a county where LGBT persons have to fear that their orientation may allow them to be the victim of fully legal discrimination, every voice is important.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang...

Guns are a hot topic these days, as well they should be.  Quite frankly, I think that we in the United States are tragically behind the times on gun control.  In the wake of a rolling list of gun-related tragedies, desire for stricter gun control policies is finally a subject that even the politically cowardly are starting to sidle towards.

On the list of people who don't have a cowardly bone in their body is Kathleen Kane who, in her first month in office, has closed the so-called "Florida Loophole" in Pennsylvania.  Ever heard of it?  I hadn't.  Of course, I don't own any guns and I don't ever plan to, but now that I've found out about the loophole I'm glad that it's a thing of the past.

In case you're unfamiliar, the Florida Loophole allowed people who were denied a concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania to obtain one from Florida and then - because of a reciprocity agreement - carry a gun as though they had gotten their permit in PA.  Why is this a problem?  Well, because Florida's standards for concealed carry permits are much more lax than Pennsylvania's.  The problem occurs when someone attempts to get a concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania and is denied and gets one from Florida successfully.  They can now carry a concealed weapon around a state that already determined that they shouldn't have one.  Now, if Florida had the same standards as Pennsylvania, that would be one thing, but if Florida's concealed carry standards are anything like their standards for a car that is legal to drive...well...  In any case, Kathleen Kane is tackling the gun control problem head-on in any way she is empowered to do so and that is fantastic.

Meanwhile, the NRA and their affiliates in Congress and various state legislatures are doing business mostly  as usual.  You may have noticed that the NRA hasn't been pushing as fervently lately against new gun control measures.  It's not that they've changed their minds about anything.  (After all, you have to have a mind to change it.)  No, they're waiting until the "Connecticut Effect" subsides.  "The what now?", you may ask.  The Connecticut Effect is apparently their hip new term for liberals getting all wanked out of shape about gun policy in the United States in the immediate aftermath of a tragic mass shooting that left twenty-six children and adults dead. 

Oh, is that all?

Yes.  Once we all get past the fact that a single person took a legally purchased assault rifle to a school and murdered a bunch of children, they'll get back to the business of making sure that American citizens have the power to buy more assault rifles and shoot-on-sight anyone who looks at them funny.  In the article I linked above from ThinkProgress, you can read the adolescent bellyaching of a former Republican legislator turned NRA lobbyist about how they can't jam their legislation through full-throttle until rational human beings in this nation get over the murder of children. 

The NRA is looking to get back to the hard work of pushing legislatures to pass Stand Your Ground laws like the one in Florida that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin, among others.  What I hope is that the "Connecticut Effect" never subsides.  I hope that the sobering reality that rational people are beginning to face in the wake of Newtown doesn't ever stop.

When I started writing, I was really angry about the words "Connecticut Effect".  However, much like the term "Obamacare", let's go ahead and appropriate it.  Yes.  The "Connecticut Effect" is happening.  Rational human beings whose souls grieve when children are murdered are not going to stand aside and apologize anymore.  Your Second Amendment rights do not trump my right to live in a world where I don't have to fear for my kindergartner's life, and I'm not sorry about that.


 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Contraception Mandate...

...or, "Why I Won't Shop at Hobby Lobby".  

If you have your ear at all to political news lately, you'll notice the 'contraception mandate' popping up over and over.  The argument has been going on for awhile now, but it's slightly fresh news now that the Obama administration's new rules on mandate exceptions have come out.  Under the original rules, only churches were exempt from having to pay for their employees' insurance policies to cover contraception.  Under the new rules...well, let me give you this quote from an interview on The Pew Forum's website...
"The newly proposed rules apply to those religious nonprofits, such as schools, hospitals and social service providers, that HHS did not intend to exempt under the original regulations. Under the new regulations, these religious nonprofits may purchase insurance plans for their workforce that do not offer contraception services. If they do so, their insurance provider will be required to enroll the nonprofit’s female employees in a separate policy that only provides contraceptive services. The insurer will be required to provide these services to employees at no cost. In addition, the insurer, rather than the nonprofit, will have to administer the policy and cover its entire cost. For religious nonprofits that self-insure, the proposed rules require that such organizations must select a third-party administrator that would provide contraceptive coverage to female employees."  Read more at http://www.pewforum.org/Government/The-Contraception-Mandate-and-Religious-Liberty.aspx
Got it?  Seems okay, yes?  Wrong.  At least, not for private companies like The Hobby Lobby.  Maybe you've heard about them, they're a craft store.  Think Michael's or JoAnn Fabrics, then add a giant aisle of crosses.  The owners of the Hobby Lobby, whose defiance of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) provisions regarding contraception is rooted in their apparently devout Christianity, claim that making them pay - even if indirectly - for their employees' birth control is a violation of their religious freedom.  If you buy that argument, I have a bridge in Alaska that I'd like to sell you.  

Now, not all of the Christian community is agreed on this stance.  Prominent minister, Rick Warren, is a fervent believer that the government's new contraception mandate is an extreme violation of the religious freedom of businesses owned by Christians of a conservative bent...
"When the government starts coercing businesses to violate their religious, moral, and ethical values, that is a flagrant violation of our Constitution,"
Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christians-question-hobby-lobbys-defense-biblical-stance-against-obamacare-lawsuit-87935/#EAdklR6pdW1E7Tap.99 
Note, not people, businesses.  I guess we can all thank the Supreme Court for making corporations into people.  It's important here that what is being discussed here is not the religious freedom of Joe Hobby Lobby and family.  What is being put forward as some sort of egregious violation of religious freedom is that the company known as The Hobby Lobby must not violate the freedom of their employees by denying their access to contraceptives.  Some may argue that not having contraceptives covered in your insurance is not the same as being denied access, but if you've ever been a woman who wanted contraception and had insurance with no contraception coverage you would know that it amounts to about the same thing.  If you are supporting yourself or your family with a job in retail of any kind, the likelihood that you have extra money for contraception is slim.  

The point that needs to be pressed home here in a loud and clear way is that, in the same way that your right to free speech ends at the other guy's nose, so also your right to religious freedom extends to your free practice of religion and not your ability to enforce your religious values on others.  When a business puts money towards their employees' insurance policy it is, in effect, a part of what they pay for the service their employee renders to the business by working there.  In the same way that a business owner couldn't prohibit an employee from using part of their paycheck to buy alcohol or r-rated movies or whatever else they may find to be morally reprehensible, if it is determined that a woman has a right to contraceptive coverage then a privately owned business must provide that coverage.  Just because business owners are conservative Christians doesn't mean that their business is religiously affiliated.  

Though incidentally, I don't even agree with those exceptions...but that's a discussion for another day.