Opinion: Coronavirus has Magnified Problem of, Silence Around, Sexism and Gender Inequality

One can find in the media many important analyses and accounts of the way the coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the myriad inequities plaguing U.S. society.

The most opulent among us can shelter in place and not have to worry about their next paycheck, about being evicted, about having enough food. They don’t have to choose between staying safe and risking their lives by going to work. read more

Opinion: 2020 Campaigns Need to Challenge Trump on Civil Rights

Arguing to center LGBTQ people in contemporary discussions about, and activism for, civil rights, certainly risks igniting an inflammatory comparative oppressions debate about which groups are most marginalized and under assault in U.S. society.

Racism is alive and well in America. Voter suppression efforts, particularly against African Americans, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disenfranchising African Americans.  White nationalism and more pervasive and often less dramatic and thoroughgoing institutionalized white supremacy, endorsed and encouraged by the highest office in the land, validate a reign of terror and more general de-valuing of the lives of people of color, particularly African Americans, in the U.S.  Immigrants of color are being caged and criminalized. And one could go on—unfortunately, on and on.

When it comes to equal rights, and hence civil rights, for women, well, Virginia just recently became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and the ERA still faces substantial obstacles—and heated defiance—in making its way into the Constitution.

Our nation still trembles, indeed inflames, when it comes to validating this simple statement statement in the ERA :

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

And, of course, the all-out assault on abortion rights underscores the ongoing assault on women’s civil rights.

And yet, while it is indisputable that women and people of color have been denied civil rights, their personhood has nonetheless been acknowledged in civil rights legislation. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

This language does not include, apparently, LGBTQ people.  The Supreme Court is currently deliberating a case brought heard last October arguing that the word “sex” should include sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the verdict is not in, a good portion of the justices’ discussion and questions seemed less than promising for the case’s success. For example, Justice Samuel Alito at one point responded to attorney Pamela Karlan, representing two of the plaintiffs, “You’re trying to change the meaning of what Congress understood sex to mean in 1964.”

But beyond the question of whether or not LGBTQ people will find their collective personhood recognized and protected in U.S. law, active efforts are alive and well across the nation and in the Trump administration to exclude LGBTQ from already existing legal protections, rolling back rights already granted.

The Iowa GOP, for example, recently filed a bill to remove transgender people from the state’s civil rights protections. These rights were written into law for LGBTQ people in 2007 when the state added sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination law. According to Alex Bollinger, reporting for LGBTQ Nation, passage of the bill would “make it the first state to give civil rights protections to transgender people – or any class at all – and then take them away.”

Passage of the bill would mean one could be fired, denied housing, and more, simply for being transgender, for being who you are.

In fact, transgender people in America are already enduring—and have persistently endured– the consequences of this lack of protection.

Last December Lola Fadulu, in The New York Times, wrote an extensive piece chronicling the Trump administration’s myriad rollbacks of Obama-era executive orders. The piece begins with the story of Nicolas Talbott, a transgender graduate student at Kent State University who is also enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program.  Because of Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, Talbott was informed that he could stay in the program but would not be eligible to actually become an officer and would also no longer be eligible for the health insurance and student loan forgiveness he had been promised and which others in the program received.

Fadulu provides a laundry list of such rollbacks and consequences individuals have suffered.

The onslaught on LBGTQ people, and transgender people in particular, is intensifying and widespread, and they are being written out of the law.

Or else negatively written into it.  The Governor of Tennessee recently signed legislation enabling foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ parents.

Back in 2017, Education Secretary

Betsy DeVos began rolling back Obama-era read more

Opinion: Chicago Mayor Lightfoot Calls for Democratic Party that Unequivocally Supports Women’s Equality and Abortion Rights

Lori Lightfoot

On this day of the 2020 Women’s March, masses of people across the nation will gather and march to call for recognizing the human rights of women as a necessary element of a truly just and equal society for all.

Especially in this context, it is worthwhile to highlight efforts within the Democratic Party to ensure a united front when it comes to genuinely advocating for women’s equal rights and to promote an understanding of exactly what constitutes equal rights for women.

The anti-women attitudes and policies of the Republican Party are well-documented. It is not a question that, in general, when it comes to supporting rights for women, the Democratic Party is the lesser evil.

That’s right—the lesser evil.

Granting women full equal rights—human rights—entails empowering women to control their own bodies and make decisions about their own health. In other words, women’s equal rights means women have the right to abortion. This position does not have unified support in the Democratic Party.

Recently, Lori Lightfoot, the first African-American lesbian woman mayor in Chicago, elected in 2019, called for a Democratic Party that is unequivocally unified when it comes to supporting women’s equality, meaning abortion rights as well.

Achieving this unity, she bravely asserted, entails revising the proudly advertised moniker of the Democratic Party as the “big tent” party to instead promote a party identity solidly and unconditionally defined by its support and advocacy for women’s rights.

This assertion took the form of a tweet last January 4 against the candidacy of long-time Democratic House Representative Dan Lipinski from Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.  Lipinski is an outspoken foe of a women’s right to choose and one of the two Democrats who signed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit and overturn Roe v. Wade, joining two hundred congressional Republicans.

She tweeted:

“I support a big tent but there’s no room under the flaps for anyone who is actively seeking to deny women control over our bodies,” Lightfoot tweeted from her political account. “Time to leave @danlipinski.”

This tweet, reverberating and garnering press attention in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois, constitutes an important salvo into the discourse around women’s rights and abortion rights, particularly within the Democratic Party.

As I’ve written about in the pages of PoliticusUsa, last November’s elections in Virginia, which resulted in Democrats achieving control of the state government for the first time since 1993, inspired hope that Virginia would become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and pave the way for potential ratification of a constitutional amendment.

Let’s remember exactly what the content is of the Equal Rights Amendment that continues to make this nation quake and resist.

Here’s the statement in the ERA this nation trembles to validate:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

And Lightfoot’s point is that it is not simply the nation that trembles to validate this basic assertion; there are elements of the Democratic Party, with its arguably overly big tent, which refuse to support women’s equal rights. Lipinski is one of those elements.

Indeed, one of the long-standing points of resistance to granting women full personhood has been the fear that constitutionally affirming women’s equality would effectively affirm and eternalize in the Constitution women’s right to an abortion, making it more difficult, if not impossible, to limit or overturn The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

Of course, without control over their own bodies, women can’t enjoy full equality.

Remember last year when Florida House Speaker José Oliva repeatedly referred to pregnant women as “host bodies”?

This kind of language, and the political attitudes embodied in it, should make clear that living up to our nation’s ideal of equality requires granting women the right to control their own bodies and to have access to an abortion—that they don’t have equality if they are effectively viewed as “host bodies.”

Lightfoot’s gesture, her tweet, was a powerful one in calling for a Democratic Party that is not weakened and diluted by division in calling for women’s equal rights.  It is, indeed, not enough to rail against Republican misogyny; one must get one’s own house in order as well and cultivate political and moral integrity in one’s own party.

Calling out Lipinski and arguing he has no place in the Democratic Party provides a model for the Democratic Party, most basically, in defending our Constitution and resolving a wounding and embarrassing contradiction in our nation’s history.

The question as to why this nation can’t and won’t ratify the ERA is even more puzzling when we recall the language of the 14th amendment, which includes the clause:

“nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The only way women don’t already have what the ERA is asking for, according to this language, has to be because they aren’t considered people.

So, refusal to ratify the ERA is a more than tacit admission that the nation is not prepared to grant personhood to women, to acknowledge that women, like corporations, just might be people.

Antonin Scalia, former Supreme Court Justice, clearly didn’t see women as people, asserting the Constitution did not afford women equal rights.

In this sense, Lightfoot is simply asking for a basic constitutional literacy and an end to women-hating.

And she has started with her own house, her own party, re-defining unity in a way that does not brook compromise on essential principles.

On this day of marching for women’s rights and equality, Lightfoot urges us not to accept the lesser evil but demand the uncompromised goodness of full human rights.

 

 

Opinion: Does America Really Value Equality? What Women and Transgender People Might Say

The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations merited certain rights of personhood. The decision in this case became crystallized in the notorious phrase, “Corporations are people.”

This year’s events insistently raise the question of which Americans enjoy the basic rights of personhood in America.

How are we doing when it comes to achieving our nation’s putative hallmark ideal of equality?

A reading of U.S. history we often hear tells the story of a nation that has thus far imperfectly realized its founding premise that “all men are created equal” but that has nonetheless been on an ongoing quest to achieve a fully egalitarian culture for all people, even and perhaps especially those that the initial formulation did not include in its reference to “all men.”

The cherished founding principle that “all men are created equal” animating the American experiment has obviously been vexed by realities of our national life and history, which stand undeniably in stark contradiction to that principle.  The racism informing the practices of slavery and genocide present in U.S. history since the nation’s inception highlight the unrealized status of this value of equality.

But “we” the people still believe in it, right? We’re still just trying to figure it out, right?

It’s just that it is so hard to figure out, right?

While we could ask many constituencies, particularly people of color, how they are faring when it comes to equal rights, let’s take a quick look at women and transgender people might assess the national terrain in this regard.

In last November’s election, Democrats in Virginia flipped the state Senate and House of Delegates to gain full control of the state government for the first time since 1993. These election results have inspired hope that the state government will now become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 1972 and was quickly ratified by 22 states. Any constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. The crawl toward reaching this number has been a slow one, with Nevada becoming the 36th state to ratify in 2017, followed shortly thereafter by Illinois.  Last February, efforts in Virginia fell short by one vote in the House of Delegates. The votes now seem to be there.

But let’s also step back and get a little perspective.  Here we are in 2019 still asking whether or not women—some half of our population—should enjoy equal rights or continue to be relegated to the status of second-class citizen.

Isn’t it strange, for a nation pretending to value equality, that we still ask this question, deferring equal rights to women?

Here’s the statement in the ERA this nation trembles to validate:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” read more