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Posts Tagged ‘lgbt’

Prop 8 Ruling A Rational Win for Gay Rights

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Yesterday Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled California’s Proposition 8 which bans gay marriage as unconstitutional and discriminatory, a major victory for gay and lesbian marriage advocates. The decision has already been appealed and will have to go through the 9th Circuit and, eventually, the US Supreme Court.

Over the last 12 hours I took the time to read through Judge Walker’s 138 page ruling, and what I was most pleased about was how he framed his decision, not in morals or emotional appeals, but in rational fact, which legal experts say will make it much harder for higher courts to overturn.

Walker’s focus on hard evidence and fact thrills me, and reading through his ruling as he methodically and without emotional appeal refutes the claimes of the Prop 8 proponents based on the fantastic legwork of the pro gay marriage legal team.

The anti gay-marriage proponents brought the “gay boogyman” to the trial, claiming that homosexual marriage would errode heterosexual marriage and damage children, and instead of moralizing, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said came back with piles of evidence, facts, precident and expert witness testimony from psychologists to social epidemiologists, methodically rebutting each of their claims. At one point when pressed by Judge Vaughn Walker to provide even one solid, fact-based harm that might come from permitting gay men and women to marry, Mr. Cooper had nothing but “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.” Aside from the boogyman that appeals to homophobic sentiment and discrimination, the anti-gay side has seemingly no evidence to back up their position.

A long list of factual evidence — most of which the Proposition 8 proponents conceeded to during the trial (my understanding based on reading through the ruling) — has been pulled out and is available for quick reading on the Yes Means Yes blog.

Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick has written an outstanding article highlighting the factual, well-reasoned Prop 8 ruling:

“But for all the lofty language about freedom and morality, nobody can fairly accuse Judge Walker of putting together an insubstantial or unsubstantiated opinion today. Indeed, the whole point of this legal exercise—the lengthy trial, the spectacularly detailed finding of facts (80 of them! with subheadings!)—was to pit expert against expert, science against science, and fact against prejudice.

It’s hard to read Judge Walker’s opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn’t much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would “effect some twenty-three harmful consequences” and then putting on almost no case.”

Read the full article on Slate.

And my favourite quote from Lithwick’s article comes at the very end, one with which I heartily agree:

“The real triumph of Perry v. Schwarzenegger may be that it talks in the very loftiest terms about matters rooted in logic, science, money, social psychology, and fact.”

Anti-gay marriage supporters are already calling out Judge Walker and trying to refocus the story, calling his ruling a conflict of interest because he’s gay. This implies heterosexual people by default aren’t biased about this issue, which cleary is not the case: the fact that this is such a fought over, controversial topic tells us both heterosexuals and homosexuals have potential and very real biases and conflicts here. And after reading through the ruling, I have to say I think Judge Walker did an fantastic job of concentrating as much as possible on the evidence of the case — perhaps because he was concerned about being seen as biased, perhaps just because he’s generally awesome like that. In any event and for whatever reason, his ruling is founded on evidence rather than sentiment.

I encourage everyone to read the ruling themselves, but here are a few choice snippets (references to other court cases removed):

In response to the purported arguement that reserving marriage as a union between a man and woman excluding any other relationship on “it’s tradition” grounds:

“Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis for a law. The “ancient lineage” of a classification does not make it rational. Rather, the state must have an interest apart from the fact of the traditon itself.”

“Because it’s always been this way” isn’t a good enough argument to form the basis of a law.

“Proponents’ argument that tradition prefers opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples equates to the notion that opposite-sex relationships are simply better than same-sex relationships. Tradition alone cannot legitimate this purported interest. Plaintiffs presented evidence showing conclusively that the state has no interest in preferring opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples or in preferring heterosexuality to homosexuality. Moreover, the state cannot have an interest in disadvantaging an unpopular minority group simply because the group is unpopular.

The evidence shows that the state advances nothing when it adheres to the tradition of excluding same-sex couples from marriage. Proponents’ asserted state interests in tradition are nothing more than tautologies and do not amount to rational bases for Proposition 8.”

In response to the purported argument that social change should be implemented with caution:

“Proponents presented no reliable evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have any negative effects on society or on the institution of marriage. The process of allowing same-sex couples to marry is straightforward, and no evidence suggests that the state needs any significant lead time to integrate same-sex couples into marriage. … The evidence shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry will be simple for California to implement because it has already done so; no change need be phased in.

Because the evidence shows same-sex marriage has and will have no adverse effects on society or the institution of marriage, California has no interest in waiting and no practical need to wait to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is thus not rationally related to proponents’ purported interests in proceeding with caution when implementing social change.”

Basically, in order to justify “proceeding with caution”, there needs to be a better and more factual reason other than “because people won’t like it”. Nothing but policy has to change to make same-sex marriage a reality: there is no cost or time needed to make it happen, and no limited number of marriage licenses available to the population of California. A same-sex couple getting a marriage license does not prevent or delay an opposite-sex couple from getting one.

In response to the purported argument of opposite-sex parenting over same-sex parenting:

“The evidence does not support a finding that California has an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents over same-sex parents. Indeed, the evidence shows beyond any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes. Moreover, Proposition 8 has nothing to do with children, as Proposition 8 simply prevents same-sex couples from marrying. Same-sex couples can have (or adopt) and raise children. When they do, they are treated identically to opposite-sex parents under California law. Even if California had an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents to same-sex parents — and the evidence plainly shows that California does not — Proposition 8 is not rationally related to that interest, because Proposition 8 does not affect who can or should become a parent under Californai law.”

So Propositon 8 doesn’t have anything to say about children or who is qualified to raise children, which makes the “think of the children” argument irrelevant to Prop 8 specifically. Also:

“Proponents argue Proposition 8 advances a state interest in encouraging the formation of stable households. Instead, the evidence shows that Proposition 8 undermines that state interest, because same-sex households have become less stable by the passage of Proposition 8. The inability to marry denies same-sex couples the benefits, including stability, attendant to marriage.

Proponents failed to put forth any credible evidence that married opposite-sex households are made more stable through Proposition 8. The only rational conclusion in light of the evidence is that Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households. None of the interests put forth by proponents relating to parents and children is advanced by Proposition 8; instead, the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children.”

I’m beyond pleased Judge Walker pointed out this inherent contradiction in this frequently used anti same-sex marriage argument. By not allowing gay and lesibian couples to wed, their families suffer social and psychologial strain that disadvantages them in our society and prevents them from creating a “stable household” which Prop 8 proponents claim to desire over everything else.

In response to the purported argument of protecting the freedom of those who oppose marriage for same-sex couples:

“Proposition 8 is not rationally related to an interest in protecting the rights of those opposed to same-sex couples because, as a matter of law, Proposition 8 does not affect the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or to marriage for couples of the same sex.

To the extent proponents argue that one of the rights of those morally opposed to same-sex unions is the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, as explained presently those individuals’ moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification.”

You have every right not to like it, but not liking something or someone doesn’t give anyone the right to supress the rights of others when no actual, evidential, factual harm is being done.

I absolutely encourage everyone to read through the 80 facts called out in Judge Walker’s ruling on Prop 8 and to read through at least pages 109 – 138 of the ruling itself.

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Preventing Homosexuality & Non-Comforming Women: When Science & Medicine Go Astray

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Over at the Bioethics Forum, a trio of “uppity” women have written an exposé on the research of pediatric endocrinologist Maria New to engineer females in utero to be heterosexual and adhere more closely to female behavioral stereotypes. The article is lengthy and a little science heavy for those of us with a liberal arts education, but it’s absolutely worth reading.

It boils down like this:

New is giving pregnant women the steroid dexamethasone to prevent the development of ambiguous genitalia in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is caused when a fetus receives an excess of androgens, and can lead to a number of things besides ambiguous private bits, including rapid childhood growth, delayed puberty and infertility. For all the outcry going on in feminist circles about this, it is I think important to note that CAH is a legitimate disease that can have lasting effects, and it’s important not to brush that under the rug.

However. This all goes astray due largely to motive. New and her partner Heino Meyer-Bahlburg are pointing to these surges of prenatal androgens as having a significant impact on sexual orientation, noting “research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens” and “findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation”.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though, and here’s where we start wading into seriously murky waters. Because it turns out these nefarious little androgens don’t just influence sexuality. Follows are two quotes from articles written by New and Meyer-Bahlburg:

“CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

“Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in [girls and women with CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior. We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization.”

Most telling and troubling is this quote, which New reportedly said during a slideshow presentation/dexamethasone pitch to parents:

“The challenge here is … to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

Read the full article these quotes are pulled from at the Bioethics Forum.

There are several points of fail here, but I want to point out three in particular.

Firstly:

The idea of “preventing gayness” is both horrible and, sadly, unsurprising. It is not medicine or science’s place to alter people to conform to society’s norms, and the extrapolated future world this kind of people-engineering leads to is not a world I want any part of. I am reminded strongly of Scott Westerfeld’s excellent trilogy Uglies, Pretties and Specials where bodies, brains and behavior is fiddled with to smooth out those unsightly “abnormal” wrinkles to make people more socially compliant, “normal” and “happy”. This is not acceptance or tolerance. This is an outright attack on homosexual, bisexual and transexual people’s right to exist.

From Alice Dreger:

“It sends the message that you must conform to the most conservative social norms to count as acceptable and to be allowed to live, with full rights, free of discrimination and abuse in American society. … A democratic medical establishment does not alter people’s bodies to fit regressive social norms; it advocates for patients by demanding the social body get its act together. As a white woman who grew up with a black brother, I can tell you that the solution to my brother’s suffering was not to have his skin bleached and his hair straightened, prenatally or postnatally.”

Read more from Alice Dreger at Psychology Today.

Secondly:

As a woman who is a poster child for “uppity”, I take massive offense at the idea that I am “abnormal” or need “repair”, and as a feminist the idea that females could be engineered to adhere to conservative, sexist, stereotypical housewife and mother roles is beyond enraging. If women want to be wives and mothers, to be quiet and unassuming, to stay at home, cook and take care of babies, then that’s their business. I have no problem with that life. But when people — and most especially female scientists working in traditionally male dominated fields — tell me I am behaviorally broken or wrong, then I am going to throw down and you will see what this arrogant, aggressive, “masculinized”, career-oriented, childless, unmarried female is made of.

This kind of sexist and homophobic thinking is why Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan has been criticised for ridiculous things like not crossing her legs when she sits and playing softball. And why athlete Caster Semanya’s gender identity was publicly and medically questioned. Kagan and Semanya don’t fit neatly into society’s definition of what it means to be and look female, so we parade them around and label them as “abnormal freaks”.

These women are not broken and neither am I. We do not need to be fixed, most especially before we have developed our own gender identities and personalities. When parents start trying to customize their unborn baby’s behavior and cosmetic physical appearance to sooth their own heteronormative and gender binary biases, science and society has strayed into unethical waters.

Thirdly:

The thing not enough people are talking about when it comes to New’s research and the clitoral surgeries going on at Cornell University is the dubious medicine and science going on here.

In the Cornell case, Maggie Koerth-Baker notes on BoingBoing these are purely aesthetic surgeries that can and often do have well-documented life-long side-effects, performed when patients are infants and cannot consent, and are mostly to placate parental discomfort and “fix” female babies so they conform with societal physical norms.

“There’s been no research on outcomes for intersex adults, but there have been lots of intersex adults who’ve spoken up about being miserable with the results of childhood surgeries. Realistically, there are probably people who are happy with their surgeries, too. But, with the evidence we have, all we can say for sure is that there’s no guarantee surgery is the right way to go, psychologically, for each individual. Meanwhile, the standard practice is to not offer individual choice.

I’m going to go out on a limb and call that wrong. But this isn’t just oppressive to people who don’t fit a neat gender binary. It’s also not scientific medicine.

I love modern medicine. The skeptic movement has turned me into an advocate of evidence-based medicine — the simple idea that tradition, anecdote and common sense aren’t good enough reasons to ask a patient to spend money and risk side-effects on a treatment. If there’s no solid, scientific evidence, what you’re doing isn’t medicine.”

Read the full article by Maggie Koerth-Baker on BoingBoing.

I couldn’t agree with this more. When legitimate science and medicinal techniques are wielded against people unable to consent for wibbly justifications of comfort, abstract potential unproven future psychological gain, and society’s physical aesthetics, it ceases to be legitimate science or medicine at all. The literature suggests there is no evidence or medical justification for this kind of surgery on infants, so why is it being done?

When it comes to New’s research with dexamethasone, Dreger reminds us the research being done is not conforming to standard clinical trial procedures. Women are not being fully informed of the risks, and Dr. New has come under fire repeatedly from multiple medical societies for her methods and poorly controlled trials.

From a letter from Alice Dreger to the CARES Foundation which promotes prenatal dexamethasone:

“There are also important scientific questions raised by what appears to have been such a poorly controlled trial. If these studies were not run as real scientific trials from the start, as they should have been, then it is very hard to know what really happened during the pregnancies in which women were administered dexamethasone.

We are also very concerned by the disjuncture between what Dr. New advertises on her Foundation’s website (“Dr. New maintains contact with all children treated prenatally”) and the substantial number of patients missing from the follow-up studies on which she is a coauthor. Dr. New has made the same claim about continuity of contact with all patients to the CARES Foundation, even though her studies suggest otherwise.

Studies of prenatal dexamethasone give us substantial reason for concern for these mothers’ and children’s physical and mental well-being, particularly given that this usage is aimed at preventing a cosmetic issue (one not even shown to increase a girl’s psychosocial risk) and that 87.5% of the mothers started on prenatal dexamethasone will not even be carrying a fetus that is 46,XX 21-hydroxylase deficient. As mentioned earlier, studies have already shown some concerning adverse effects on exposed children.”

Read the full letter to CARES.

This whole thing is surrounded by fuzzy medical science and motivated by reasons other than the health and wellbeing of mothers and children. Evidence-based medicine this ain’t, and that part needs to be talked about more.

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Citizen and Immigration Minister Pulls Gay Rights Mention from Citizenship Guide

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Jason Kenney, notorious for his anti-gay-marriage opinions, is apparently responsible for pulling sections of the Canadian citizenship guide about the rights of homosexuals in Canada. This includes references to homosexuality being decriminalized in 1969, that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2005. The reason he gives for pulling the mention? Brevity. Apparently those mentions bogged down the 63-page guide.

Uh-huh.

This is not my Canada, either, Mr. Kenney. I’d like for new people looking to make Canada home to A) know that, if they identify with the LGBT community, our country supports them and recognizes them with full rights by law; and B) if they don’t identify with that group and have problems with it, the Canadian legal system doesn’t condone discrimination or hate. I’m not saying I need an 8 page treatise, but the 50 words Kenney axed seems pretty petty.

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Transphobia on Facebook

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Last week Facebook banned Calgary transman Dominic Scaia from Facebook for posting a post-op photo of his bare chest. The photo did not break any of Facebook’s Terms of Service that I can tell. It was neither excessively gory nor sexual in any way.

It’s unclear what bothered Facebook about Dominic’s photos. Section 3.7 of its Terms of Service regulates that content not be “hateful, threatening, pornographic” or contain “nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” It’s clear a male chest falls into none of these categories. Scaia says, “They were from two-and-a-half weeks post-op and included my face. I was holding the camera from above, my chest was bare and I was wearing jeans. None of the photos were in the least bit gory.”

Facebook does not moderate photographs individually. They rely on users to report offensive content. The only people who could view Scaia’s pictures were friends that he’d added to his account. He’d had the photos up for a week without a problem. The evening before he was banned, Dominic accepted a friend request from a young, flirtatious girl. He thinks she looked through his photos and discovered that the cute boy she’d added was not born physically male, choosing then to report his account.

It’s there where things become confusing. It’s Facebook’s policy to remove photos that are deemed offensive and to send a warning. It is not the company’s policy to disable accounts over photos. This does not mean that Facebook has a rule of banning transgender people, it means that one staff moderator made the grossly misinformed choice to ban his account.

Over 6,000 people have joined a Facebook group in an attempt to raise awareness about this. Today, Scaia finally received a reply back from Facebook, saying his photos were in violation of the Terms of Service. His account has been reinstated, but all his post-surgery photos have been removed, and he has been sternly told not to upload photos of “that sort” again, saying: “photos containing nudity or other graphic or sexually suggestive content are not allowed”. Local radio show Gaywire has published an open letter to Facebook. Xtra.ca has an article with one of the photos in question here.

Any signal boosting would be appreciated. Facebook is a major social networking site and a major photo-sharing site that many trans people — including Scaia — use for advocacy and sharing personal stories and experiences with other transmen and women, and sharing post-op photos is part of that sharing. This was a transphobic knee-jerk reaction by a company after one transphobic user reported the image. There was no warning; the account was immediately frozen. It took Facebook over a week to respond to questions and un-freeze the account. This is not cool on many levels.

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Maine Votes, Breaks LGBT Hearts

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

It’s happened again.

These days I am truly thankful to live in a place where the entire country has already long moved past the bulk of the controversy of same-sex marriage. It’s a done deal here, has been since 2005, and while various groups still occasionally flail against it, there has been only one real instance where any possibility of “repeal” existed, and in a free vote (for those not acquainted with Canadian Parliamentary politics, this means party loyalty is released and all MPs are permitted to vote along their own — and hypothetically their constituents — beliefs instead of “towing the party line”) the motion to re-open the issue was defeated in a Conservative government. Yes, even most of our Conservatives can’t stomach the idea of taking away rights granted, despite what their personal feelings may be about same-sex marriage, and I’d like to think the sentiment is echoed by Canadians in general.

I don’t understand the idea that rights given can be taken away by a popular vote. It just doesn’t compute. It didn’t make sense to me when it happened in California, and it doesn’t make sense to me now.

In the last two years the LGBT fight has become so much more real for me, and much more personal. Partly because last year I finally started to explore the greyscale of my own sexuality and partly because I have grown closer to the LGBT people who are my friends and my family, and they have graciously shared with me some of the most profound and personal stories of their life, both glorious and tragic, both related and completely unrelated to their sexuality.

Other reactions from people I respect: 51stcenturyfox here and rm here.

Also from rm, a link detailing an incredibly transphobic, sensationalistic article that appeared recently in Seventeen magazine, portraying transgender people as deceivers and liars.

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