Monday, March 28, 2011

Beyond Bullying: Race, Poverty and LGBT Rights

One of the most pernicious but least discussed stereotypes of LGBT persons portrays them as a highly privileged population. According to the legend, the average LGBT person is white, wealthy and highly educated.

Opponents of LGBT rights frequently point to these so-called privileges in order to advocate against progress on questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, during the campaign to pass an amendment to the Colorado constitution that banned the implementation of laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, the group Coloradans for Family Values circulated the film "Gay Rights/Special Rights." The video depicts gays and lesbians as white, upper-class and sexually debauched. The narrator questions the need for LGBT rights measures on the grounds that gays and lesbians have not suffered discrimination to the same extent as Blacks and Latinos.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia echoed this sentiment in his dissenting opinion in the case Romer v. Evans. In Romer, the Supreme Court invalidated the Colorado constitutional amendment because it denied gays and lesbians of Equal Protection. In protest, Justice Scalia argued that "those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities. . .have high disposable income. . .[and] possess political power much greater than their numbers, both locally and statewide." Accordingly, extending them civil rights protection would amount to "special rights."

The gay-as-wealthy stereotype is patently false. The notion of LGBT wealth often rests on statistical data that uses very skewed samples of "out" persons who make contributions to political organizations and who subscribe to LGBT-related periodicals. Using the stereotype as a way of comparing Blacks and LGBT persons is also bankrupt. Social groups can have different experiences, but they can each suffer from unjustifiable mistreatment. Furthermore, many Blacks are also LGBT individuals. Thus, the comparative approach falsely assumes a separability of the two groups.

Two Recent Reminders of the Intersection of Race, Poverty and LGBT Status

Vicious Attack on Damian Furtch

The intersection of race, poverty and LGBT status has very tangible effects. Several studies have indicated that LGBT persons of color are more vulnerable to hate crimes than whites. This is likely due to them lacking adequate safe spaces to express their identities openly. Also, poor LGBT people cannot afford to move to low-crime neighborhoods, thus, exacerbating their susceptibility to violence.

Despite their greater vulnerability to antigay violence, the national media typically does not make connections between race and homophobic violence. For example, Damian Furtch, a 26-year-old black gay male was recently severely beaten in New York City. His attackers called him a "faggot." Police have labeled the incident a hate crime. As of today, the only detailed news about this crime appears on another blog. Although the media has given antigay "bullying" massive amounts of attention in recent months, the type of street violence that disproportionately impacts poor LGBT persons of color remains virtually unexamined and uncriticized in the general media.

New York State Budget Cuts Imperil Homeless LGBT Youth

Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, has written an "open letter" to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him not to slash state funding of emergency shelters for homeless youth in New York. The Ali Forney Center provides shelter to homeless LGBT youth in New York City. Most of these kids have been kicked out of their homes because they are LGBT. Most of them are also very poor and typically persons of color.

These youths are statistically quite vulnerable to suicide and abuse. While the media has devoted a lot of attention on the issue of suicides among LGBT individuals, it has focused attention primarily upon suicides resulting from bullying -- rather than examining the massive difficulties that poor LGBT youth face when their parents refuse to accept their identities.

Moving Forward

There are many reasons why poor LGBT persons of color are invisible in the media. The media rarely produces serious journalistic accounts of the personal effects of discrimination upon the most vulnerable persons in society. Also, homophobia within communities of color and racism within LGBT populations compounds the discrimination LGBT persons of color already face. Placing these issues on the forefront of social justice movements, however, is necessary for real progress to occur.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Would Obama Have Voted to Invade Iraq? Probably

During the Democratic primaries, then-Senator Obama made opposition to the Iraq War a centerpiece of his campaign. He repeatedly condemned the invasion and even said that the use of military force under those circumstances violated the Constitution. As Jacob Sullum of Reason observes:
In a December 2007 survey of presidential candidates, Obama told The Boston Globe, "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
Today, however, President Obama has nuanced his position:
The White House said the president's actions don't contradict his earlier views, noting that the president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers regarding Libya before any action took place.

A senior administration official said that the 2007 comment envisioned "an invasion like we saw in Iraq. A mission of this kind, which is time-limited, well-defined, and discrete, clearly falls within the President's constitutional authority."
During the Democratic Primaries Bill Clinton said that Obama's antiwar stance was a "fairytale." Many media outlets distorted that comment and suggested that Clinton described Obama's entire campaign as a fairytale. This distortion then sparked accusations that Clinton was a racist. The furor of Clinton's alleged racism deflected attention from the actual substance of the former president's observation -- that Obama is not as dovish as he portrayed himself.

Recently, the New York Times reported that several of Obama's senior staff, namely, Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, convinced him to use military force against Libya. When Bush pressed Congress to approve the use of military force against Iraq, 29 Senate Democrats voted to approve the measure. The list of Senators includes many close advisers to Obama, such as Hillary Clinton, Obama's Secretary of State; Joe Biden, Obama's Vice President; Tom Daschle, Obama's initial choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services; and John Kerry, an early Obama supporter and adviser. If three of President Obama's advisers could convince him to use military force against Libya in the absence of an imminent threat to the United States, it is also likely that influential Senate Democrats could have motivated him to support the use of force against Iraq. Obama has also escalated the war in Afghanistan -- a mission he has always admitted to supporting.

Obama made an astute political calculation to portray himself as an antiwar candidate during the Democratic Primaries. At the time, most of the country -- especially liberal Democrats -- opposed the invasion of Iraq. Because Obama and Clinton had virtually identical positions on most issues, he needed to distinguish himself from her in order to gain attention. His so-called opposition to the invasion of Iraq gave him the perfect narrative to win the nomination. In sum, Obama was a smart politician. Reverend Wright was absolutely correct when he described candidate Obama as a "politician." Nonetheless, Wright was vigorously condemned for this observation. Today, however, his words on this subject are unassailable.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Focus On Ohio Death Penalty Drug Misses The Point -- Terribly

The Washington Post and other media have reported that Ohio has become the first state to execute an inmate using a single drug protocol. Most states use a "three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental to render the condemned unconscious, pancuronium bromide to paralyze the prisoner and potassium chloride to stop the heart."

In January, the lone manufacturer of sodium thiopental abandoned making the product. Ohio has now decided to utilize pentobarbital, a drug that is commonly used to euthanize animals.

Ohio's use of pentobarbital has sparked a debate. Death penalty opponents contend that Ohio should seek more information regarding the use of the drug in humans. Death penalty advocates, however, argue that opponents are simply seizing upon this issue in order to wage their broader campaign against the death penalty.

Behind this warfare, however, is a more critical story. This story concerns Johnnie Baston, the man who was executed. The Toledo Blade, a local Ohio newspaper, focuses on more important issue surrounding the execution in an article analyzing Baston's execution. The TB article discusses the emotions the deceased and his family expressed at the moment of execution. It also reports that the family members of the victim pleaded with the state not to execute Baston.

This article places emphasis on more central issues concerning the death penalty, rather than on the search for a more "humane" way for state governments to murder people. The humanity of the people impacted by the state's killing are central to, but often ignored, in debates regarding the death penalty. The TB article, however, fills this void and even includes a long excerpt of Baston's last words:
I would like to say to my family I am very sorry. I know this is not what they wanted to have happen. I hope they won’t be too bothered by what is taking place today.

It is not their doing. Just the way things go.

I hope my execution, that it will be the last, that people will open up. The victims in my case didn’t want me to be executed. They wanted life without parole. That should have been respected. That should have been respected by our governor ...

I made a bad decision and I hope my family can move on and find some comfort and peace. I would like to say I’m sorry to my family. I made a bad decision.

I want you to reach out to my children. I love them so much. I want you to tell them stories about me. I want them to know the good things about me, even through my time in prison I wanted to better myself, encourage others. Remind them of that. My daughter, she’s quiet, a lot like me. Just like me.
I want you to watch her. If she talks, listen.

I want to thank all the members of my church, my friends who petitioned, letters, faxed, Twittered, hopefully, to the governor, to show mercy.

For a long time I didn’t see a lot of value in myself. It wasn’t until this moment till I had to go through this ordeal that I have seen so much love from so many people. Letters from people all over the world, and even Ohio.

I appreciate every last letter, I appreciate every last card, every last prayer, every last encouragement.

I was hoping I didn’t cry.

Dear heavenly father, I have sinned, and I repent of my sins, I pray for forgiveness. As I close my eyes on the light of this world, I hope to open my eyes to the light in heaven.
Too often, people in the US try to sanitize the use of the death penalty. It is an execution, not murder. The events are not televised. Usually, little, if anything, about the inmate's or the family's emotions are revealed. This article provides a welcoming human side to this process.

Despicable Republican Behavior in Michigan (Video)

Rachel Maddow has a stunning report on horrific antics by Republican politicians in Michigan. Some of the shameful proposals include raising taxes on elderly and poor individuals and cutting corporate taxes in the same magnitude.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Alleged Gang Rape of 11-Year-Old Raises Questions of Gender AND Race

Several media outlets have reported the arrests of 18 men in Cleveland, Texas, who are accused of raping an 11-year-old girl. The alleged rape occurred in November 2010. In published pictures, all of the accused are black. Obviously, the victim's photograph is not published. There are many reasons to believe, however, that she is also black.

Rape: A Feminist Issue

Some of the reporting on the subject has received criticism. In particular, a New York Times article seems to empathize more with the accused rapists, rather than the victim. For example, the article article reports that people in the city are worried about the young men:
The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
The article does not report any statements of concern for the health of the young victim. Furthermore, the article contains quotations from residents of Cleveland that blame the victim and her mother from the alleged crime:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”
For a long time, feminist legal theorists have criticized US rape law. Traditionally, the law permitted defense attorneys to rebut rape allegations by probing into the sexual background of the women. Under prevailing gender constructs, promiscuous women consent to sex and cannot be raped. Rape allegations made by women who are alluring -- either in terms of fashion or makeup -- are also suspicious. Accordingly, the gender-based criticism of the New York Times article is appropriate.

Rape: A Racial Issue

Rape, however, is also an issue of race and racism. Although rape victims are generally disbelieved, race provides important context to this subject. Historically, any black man accused of raping a white woman -- or even flirting with a white woman -- was considered guilty and subject to death -- either "lawfully" or by lynch mob. By contrast, women of color were deemed to consent to sex with any man. They were by law in some states lawfully available for intercourse with impunity.

An examination of death penalty statistics bolsters this observation regarding the relevance of race to rape. Before the Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for rape in 1977 (in Coker v. Georgia), executions for rape followed a dramatic racial pattern. Over 90% of the men executed for rape were black, and 100% of the victim in these cases were white -- even though most rapes were (and still are) intraracial.

By only focusing attention upon the smaller subset of rapes that involved black defendants and white victims, the larger body of white male rapes of white women went unpunished or at least subject to far less scrutiny. Racism, therefore, helped to reinforce the vulnerability of all women to rape.

Race of the Cleveland, Texas Victim

Although the news media has not revealed the race of the young girl in Cleveland, Texas, it highly likely that she is black. First, rape is primarily intraracial; because most (if not all) of the accused assailants are black, it is likely that the victim is as well.

Furthermore, news of the alleged rape has only become a national story several months after it occurred. If 18 black men were accused of raping a white girl, the story would have probably developed into a national issue months ago.

Finally, the lack of concern for the victim in the New York Times article and in other media reports certainly suggests that the victim is black. The reporting simply follows the historical practice of devaluing black crime victims -- especially victims of rape.

If the victim is in fact white, then the circumstances will have deviated from normal practice. Regardless, it is important for critics to remember that rape is both an issue of gender and race.


The victim could easily be a Latina as well -- with similar results as a black victim.

Furthermore, although this case is receiving late attention, there have been several gang rapes with black and/or disabled victims in recent years. These cases did not receive widespread national headlines.


Milwaukee, 15 males rape 11-year-old black girl in 2006

Chicago, numerous men rape black teen with developmental disabilities in 2010

Atlanta, 20 arrested for raping disabled teen outside of Atlanta in 2000.

Detroit, 5 males rape 11-year-old black girl in 2007 (victim was blamed in this case too)

Update II: ABC News reports that the victim is Latina. Before this news emerged, I had already amended the article to reflect that if the victim were Latina or black, the results would probably look the same. My point about race holds: the victim was not white.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Obama Approves Indefinite Detention For Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Obama has signed an executive order that approves indefinite detention for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Although Obama campaigned on promises to close the facility and to end indefinite detention, the executive order he signed authorizes the opposite.

Dissenting Justice has previously reported on the various ways in which the Obama administration has continued policies of the Bush administration, including indefinite detention, that liberals vocally criticized. This does not make Obama a bad president; instead, it should convince liberals not to believe everything that politicians promise while campaigning -- even if that politician is more appealing than others.
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