Thursday, June 30, 2011

Libya's Fighting Women

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is calling for fresh volunteers in a months-long war with rebels attempting to end his 42-year rule - and women of all ages are answering. At the training facility in Bani Walid, women are training to "defend Moammar and the country," said Sgt. Faraj Ramadan, a woman who is training other women to properly handle weapons. "They train to use it, assemble it and take it apart, and to shoot," she told CNN recently. "They were trained and got excellent scores."

Women who attended the training would graduate at the end and are then fully eligible to prepare for combat no matter what the age of the women. Is this an attempt at making women equal or to kill them off. Is it a chance to save their government or to return to the conditions they had before. No matter what the reasoning women are fully interested in this opportunity and they are training in the thousands.

A woman, who did not want to identified, fresh from the front lines, attended the graduation of former trainees. She was still wearing a cannula in her wrist."Do not underestimate any woman in Libya, whether old or young," the woman said. "The woman is still able to perform more than you think."

Women from in and around Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli have been traveling south to a training facility in Bani Walid to practice with weapons, a common sight in a country where young girls receive military training in schools.As NATO's airstrikes crossed the 100-day mark and rebels continue to fight to oust Gadhafi, he is tapping everything and everyone in his arsenal to hold on to power and to fight to keep him in power. Check the video to see these women in uniform.

Comment and tell how you feel about this issue.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Affirmative Action... On The Basketball Court?

Zaneta posted this video on facebook wondering what people thought about it. I started to respond in a comment, which quickly grew far too long for facebook's word count... and so here we are.

If you don't want to watch the video, this comment from the youtube page for the video more or less sums up the director's main (ill conceived) point:
None of these "future leaders" don't seem to understand affirmative action. It's all right to cheat a student who worked hard for 12 years to achieve high grades to loose an education to a student with lower grades, but don't weaken their basketball team.

This is partially true, the people that they interviewed don't fully understand how affirmative action works... but neither do the filmmakers.

The Basics of Affirmative Action

First, lets get a major misconception out of the way: quotas are illegal. Schools do not have a certain number or percentage of students from various minority groups that they must admit. Instead, schools and employers set goals for inclusion based on what groups are not being represented, and then they set a time frame during which those goals should be met. However, they face no retribution of for whatever reason these goals are not met. [Source]

In this framework, affirmative action is not a plot to screw more qualified white students out of "their" place in an institution, but rather to keep the concept of diversity firmly in mind when creating a student body or a group of employees. To meet these goals some organizations employ a "points system" whereby being a part of an underrepresented group gets you a certain number of points... but so do your SAT scores, grades, references, your community involvement, and so on. Within this system being a member of an underrepresented group does not get you a free pass into a college or place of employment based on your race, but rather, it affords you a few extra points in light of the fact that (more likely than not) you have faced some amount of race or gender based discrimination in your life that has hindered your ability to get stellar references/grades/whatever.

Basically, affirmative action comes down to two major concepts: generating diversity AND acknowledging the uneven playing field that exists, and taking that into account when making decisions about people. [Click to learn the truth behind some more myths about affirmative action!]

So Why Shouldn't We Apply Affirmative Action to Basketball Teams?

Basically, if we lived in a world free of race and gender based discrimination, where everyone was afforded comparable resources and opportunities to succeed then, yes, affirmative action would be silly. But that is not the world we live in. In order to apply the concept of affirmative action to basketball, we'd have to make a compelling argument that white people are facing some sort of systemic discrimination that hinders them from achieving in basketball.

Or, as the filmmaker so eloquently put it...

"How is like, academic ability really different from athletic ability. [...] I mean athletics is the same thing as academic ability."
Although none of the people in the interviews made the final cut of this short film could answer the question, I can! Academic success is largely influenced by a student's environment. While raw academic ability can provide students with an edge, ultimately they need a strong and supportive background in which that ability can be nurtured to succeed. Children who grow up in poverty tend to lack that background: they don't go to schools with funding for fantastic teachers and up to date equipment and textbooks, they often go to school hungry and return to homes where . It just so happens, due to the social structures in place due (in part) to the United State's history of slavery and race-based discrimination against immigrants, that people of color tend to be disproportionately impacted by the cycle* of poverty.

This same argument can be applied to basketball. Players who can afford great coaches, nourishing food, the time to practice, and so on will have an edge over other players. Are white basketball players somehow systemically being denied these resources? If anything, given what we know about who tends to be impacted by the cycle of poverty, the opposite can be argued in terms of the big picture. White people are more likely to have access to these resources... so why, again, should they get a leg up when trying out for a basketball team?

All of this said, I think the affirmative action model could use some improvement... luckily I am not alone in that belief!

In this modern day and age many institutions and politicians are considering and experimenting with shifting to a model that focuses more on socioeconomic status. This makes tons of sense to me since people with money tend to have access to better resources (like homes in good public school districts, money for private schools, money for SAT tutors, the freedom to take an unpaid internship, and so on) not to mention the fact that they also have their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) met, thus freeing their minds to focus on getting ahead rather than just surviving. Although people of color disproportionately tend to be forced into this cycle, systems that looks primarily at socioeconomic status are a viable way of ensuring that all people living in poverty get assistance in breaking the cycle.

At the end of the day, if affirmative action was simply about giving certain groups of people a leg up for no discernible reason, the video's argument would make perfect sense. Its not though. I'd challenge the directors of this film to point to the social structures that keep white kids from excelling at basketball (while subsequently putting black children in a position to excel at it.) If someone can convince institutions that the basketball field isn't equally accessible, then it would make sense to look at ways of leveling it... but until that argument can be made, affirmative action on the basketball court just doesn't make sense.


Crossposted at Imagine Today

* Why is it called a cycle? I mean think about it, if your parents are poor they are not going to be able to provide you with the food you need to focus in school, a home in a well-off school district, tutors when you fall behind, etc. Thus, you are more likely to not make it to college and not go on to get a better job than your parents, thus setting your children up for a disadvantage. This is why it is called a cycle - its not to say that people don't break out every day, its just acknowledging that the odds are stacked against them. Affirmative action is one way of evening out those odds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Glitter Bombs" for Equality?

First it was Newt Gingrich...

Then it was Pawlenty...

And TODAY, Michelle Bachman became the latest receiver of the glitter shower.

The glitterings seem to only be related in the sense that the first incident inspired other individuals to act independently, but the latest video of the glittering calls for people everywhere to join the "glitterati movement." While the first person to throw glitter was not involved with GetEqual, the organization is now asking for others to "Get Equal" with glitter. 

I literally can't decide how I feel about throwing glitter on politicians. A part of me thinks it's hilarious and harmless and bringing much needed attention to some anti-queer happenings, but another part of me can't help but feel that it will ultimately hurt queer political efforts. Some folks are calling the glitter showers "glitter bombs" and categorizing them as assaults.

The latest glitter protester explains the reasons behind her actions:

How do you feel about it?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weinerlogues **strong language warning**

How does one continue to hold office after this? Thoughts? Reactions?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The “Gay Girl in Damascus” Hoax didn’t cause any real harm…right?

MacMaster with his Che shirt trying to get brown activist-street cred
Cross-posted at BornLikeThis.

Daniel Nassar and other amazing activists and bloggers who are actually living in totalitarian states think otherwise.  As reported, hoax-man Tom MacMaster kind of apologized for the lies, but in the end he feels as though he's brought light to an issue near and dear to his heart. He's even joked about writing a book about the entire process.  Tom thinks he's doing the world a great justice by speaking for a group of people, but I wonder if he's ever spoken to Syrian LGBTQ folks about their needs.

Daniel Nassar has something to say to Mr. MacMaster:

"I'm so outraged I can't even type well.

Mr. Tom MacMaster, with due respect, has the audacity to say on the blog he created over the last two years that he did not harm anyone with his fictional writing; I beg to differ.

Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm's way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.

This attention you brought forced me back to the closet on all the social media websites I use; cause my family to go into a frenzy trying to force me back into the closet and my friends to ask me for phone numbers of loved ones and family members so they can call them in case I disappeared myself. Many people who are connected to me spent nights worrying about me and many fights I had with my family were because you wanted to play your silly game of the media.

You feed the foreign media an undeniable dish of sex, religion and politics and you are now leaving us with this holier-than-thou semi-apologize with lame and shallow excuses of how you wanted to bring attention to the right people on the ground. I'm sorry, you're not on the ground, you don't know the ground and you don't even belong to the culture of the people on the group.

You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.

I'm outraged, and if I lived in a country where I can sue you, I would."

Well said! Silencing those who are oppressed so that your own voice can be heard is not liberation.  Rather, Tom has committed liberally-educated "do-good" work that he was only able to accomplish because he comes from a place of privilege. I hope he is held accountable for his actions, and if he decides to publish a book, it should primarily feature actual Syrian LGBTQ voices.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Humor is NOT an excuse for homophobia, Tracy Morgan

Cross-Posted at BornLikeThis (A new project I'll be writing for!)

Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan recently went on a huge homophobic rant during one of his shows. Here are some excerpts (trigger warning):

-”All this gay shit is crazy”
-”Born This Way is bullshit”
-”Gay is a choice because God don’t make no mistakes”
-”There is no way a woman could love and have sexual desire for another woman”
-”Gays need to quit being pussies and not be whining about something as insignificant as bullying”
-”Gay is something that kids learn from the media and programming”
-If Tracy’s son was gay…he “better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little n**** to death”
-Tracy said he “doesn’t f***ing care if he pisses off some gays, because if they can take a f***ing dick up their ***…they can take a f***ing joke.”

Did any of that sound like a “joke” to you? You may feel differently about it, but I think he really feels that way. From Comedy Central Roasts to a former Seinfeld cast member spewing out the “N”-word, comedians often get away with a lot more than other celebrities. How are we to hold comedians accountable when lines are clearly crossed? Thoughts? Reactions?

**Update** Tracy has issued an official apology for his rant. Is it too little too late?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Transphobia and Thailand's Ladyboys

Gender is cultural.

Gender is understood differently in different parts of the world.

Transnational gender experiences and identities are not meant for humor/entertainment! Meet the LadyBoys of Thailand:

This message goes out to The Hangover II and Uberhumor! Now don't get me wrong, I loved The Hangover II.  While the plot was basically identical to the first one, the situations were way more ridiculous and absurd.  I laughed out loud (quite embarrassingly so) for almost the entire movie, except for one section. One of the main characters sleeps with a dancer whom he believes is a cis woman. He later comes to find that she has a penis. Now the feminist in me would love to think that the writers of The Hangover II were trying to push the lines of the gender binary and beauty standards. But the realist in me knows that this plot turn was intended to add a gross-factor, as evident of the movie theater's collective reaction of "Ewwww....grosss...that's sick, ect...."

Along the same lines, the website Uberhumor (which claims to be the funniest site on the web), posted a set of pictures recently that asked their readers to "pick out the transsexuals from the girls." After clicking a link, it is revealed that all of them are "actually boys" and competitors of the Miss LadyBoy Pageant in Thailand. The joke is on the reader for thinking that any of these beautiful people were "real women." Get it? Hahaha (SARCASM).

Ladyboys are actually apart of a third gender category in Thailand, and are somewhat similar to the Hijras of India. While not quite equivalent to trans women in the states, they definitely blur the gender binary! But movie audiences and blog "test" takers are not going to see rich histories or vibrant culture. They're going to see a chick with a dick, and react the way their upbringing has told them to react, with disgust and fear.  I don't see any humor at all in that.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HIV/AIDS: A Reflection on 30 Years

It has been 30 years since the CDC issued its first report about a new disease that was initially thought to be a rare form of pneumonia. Many doctors thought these rapidly fatal symptoms in homosexual men to be a rare form of cancer. From pneumonia to GRID (gay-related immune disease) to HIV/AIDS, the medical field has attempted to understand the disease we have come to know as HIV/AIDS in ways that have stigmatized people living with the virus.

In response to a lack of support by the government for medical treatment and non-discrimination, many folks came together in the early 1990s through an organization called ACT Up to demand direct action to end the AIDS crisis. The work of ACT Up through rallies, kiss ins, and courageous activism moved the nation to think of people with HIV/AIDS as individuals demanding respect and equal rights.

While progress has been made as Obama recently promised increased support for HIV/AIDS research and prevention, HIV/AIDS continues to be understood by many people as a "gay" disease. How many gay men have heard from family members on multiple occasions that they need to be safe because HIV/AIDS is a "gay" disease? I know I have, and yet my family does not understand when I explain to them how HIV/AIDS can affect ANYONE and it has. 60 million+ people around the globe are infected with HIV/AIDS and 30 million+ have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Even though some institutional support has been given to help prevent the spread of HIV, there is still a 30 year build up of ideas, stigmas, stereotypes, and beliefs about HIV/AIDS that need to be deconstructed and educated about. I think it is important that this prevention work also include education work. Education for people living with the virus, for family of people living with HIV/AIDS and for the other people who could be at risk for the contact with the virus. Many grassroots organizations and NGOs around the globe treat their patients medically and emotionally by offering counseling to patients and their families/friends about living with HIV/AIDS and being supportive.

OK...thirty years later, what are the next steps? As feminists and activists, what are your thoughts?

For those of you who are interested in doing further exploration, start with this article in the NYT from 1981 and work your way to today! Hopefully, you can come up with some thoughts about next steps.