Tag Archives: Obama

Good News for Same-Sex Nuptials and Unions

February 23, 2011 by Stephanie Hallett at Ms. Magazine

In a move eagerly anticipated by gay rights advocates since his election in 2008, President Obama has ordered the Justice Department to cease its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)–bringing federal marriage equality one step closer to reality.

The 1996 act defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman and allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states where the unions are legal. That means legally married same-sex couples are denied the federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples, such as Social Security death benefits and veteran benefits. In directing the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, constitutional challenges to the law can be brought to court with a hope of succeeding.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Wolff told The New York Times:

The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional.

It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.

In another victory for queer couples, same-sex civil unions will soon be allowed in Hawaii. The civil union bill was successful in the state senate today and the governor has vowed to sign it.

The state’s relationship with gay civil unions has been tumultuous; in July, a similar bill nearly passed but was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. Today, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, “For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Though gay rights groups applaud Hawaii’s decision, they will continue to push for full marriage equality in that state.

Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry:

Loving and committed same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 12 countries on four continents–as well as in five states and the District of Columbia here at home–and the sky has not fallen and the sun continues to rise every morning.

While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities and protection of marriage itself. States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding–providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning–have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.

Clearly gay rights are taking precedence at the federal level. Last year, a repeal of DADT. This year, an end to DOMA. Upwards, toward an end to discrimination!

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The Year of the Transsexuals

Sorry I’ve been hermitic lately.  One more paper and then I’m home free for the semester!


From left: James Franco, Marc Jacobs and the model Lea T (in feathers, right) legitimized cross-dressing.

Bold Crossings of the Gender Line

WILLIAM VAN METER, December 8, 2010

Candy, it turns out, is but one of the more visible bits of evidence that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual. Yes, Mr. Franco is just dressing up and doesn’t feel he was born the wrong sex. But it is a grand gesture of solidarity with gender nonconformists and certainly hasn’t affected attendance at “127 Hours.”

Other celebrities have flirted with “the other side,” cross-dressing for fashion publications. On the cover of the current Industrie, Marc Jacobs is decked out in one of his signature women’s designs (albeit with a beard). Japanese Vogue Hommes revealed its new male model, Jo Calderone, who was, in actuality, Lady Gaga.

Not since the glam era of the 1970s has gender-bending so saturated the news media. The difference now is that mystery has been replaced with empowerment, even pride. Consider a few happenings that have blipped recently on our radar. The blog of a young mother whose 5-year-old son had dressed like Daphne on “Scooby-Doo” for Halloween went viral, initiating a nationwide discussion on the fluidity of gender. (The mother ended up on “Today.”) The performance artist Kalup Linzy became a downtown phenomenon in Manhattan for his gender-bending portrayals of soap-opera divas. Oprah Winfrey welcomed transsexual men to her program.

In November, a transgender student pledged a sorority at Trinity University in Texas. Original Plumbing, a zine for trans-guys, came out with a fashion issue.

This month, Simon & Schuster will publish “My Princess Boy,” a children’s book about a boy who wears pink gowns. “It’s not acceptable for us to sit back when children are taking their lives because they’re not accepted for who they are,” said the author, Cheryl Kilodavis, who based the book on her 4-year-old son.

The only thing that would have raised more awareness of trans people would have been a link with the president — even better, a link that rhymed. That’s when the “tranny nanny,” Barack Obama’s transvestite nanny from his boyhood in Jakarta, Indonesia, was discovered and made headlines. “Trans people are slowly becoming a common part of popular culture,” said Paisley Currah, a political science professor at Brooklyn College who specializes in transgender rights and is the author of “United States of Gender,” which will be published next year.

“Sixty years ago, The New York Daily News used its whole front page to talk about Christine Jorgensen’s sex change operation — ‘Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty,’ ” Mr. Currah said. “Now you have transgender models and mayors. They elicit interest, but it’s not some incredulous response. The public is much more aware of the possibilities of transgender people existing and taking part as leaders in the social and cultural life.”

And so they are. “There are always going to be people who don’t fit into boxes,” said Victoria Kolakowski, who was just elected a superior court judge in Alameda County in California. “What we consider to be normal is evolving and changing. That frightens many people, but it’s the nature of our times.” When Ms. Kolakowski takes the bench in January, she will be the nation’s first transgender trial judge.

Model Lea T


Moonlighting fashionistas dabbling in cross-dressing have surely helped advance the transsexual image, but the real strides in 2010 were made by actual transsexuals and those who define themselves on a spectrum of gender rather than simply male or female. The clearest call to arms was the arrival of the transsexual model Lea T.

Read on here!

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ZERE ees a reason ze villain alvays speaks like zees.

I’ve always had a theory that America’s film villains reflect our country’s changing axis of evil.  In the 1920s and 30s it was sexual women (we continue to have issues with those), in the 1930s and 40s it was Germans, then commies and Russians…. Fast track to the 80s and we’ve got a rise in Eastern Asian and Middle Eastern villains.  Now it’s Muslims or home-grown terrorists.  And there’s always been the fear of the black burglar or rapist.  Let’s not even get into WHY we have these stereotypes.  (ahem, media sensationalism, ahem)

I’ve even read an article about how the upsurge in Zombie attack films reflected the fatalistic and apocalyptic character of 1970s Americans.  You can’t get deny it – our films relay our fears.  And our villains’ thick accents give away our xenophobic discomfort.  Or so we thought?

This is a fascinating article about a social psychology study proving  a) we do distrust people with accents  and  b) we still marginalize these non-native speakers even after learning of our xenophobia.

With the most sensational, xenophobic media at our fingertips, and some crazy racist and xenophobic conservatives claiming Obama isn’t American and that ethnic studies programs should be banned – this will only continue to get worse.  Especially for my accented job-searching friends.  Sorry guys.


A Failure to Communicate

By PAMELA PAUL, The New York Times

THE GIST Many Americans are wary of people who speak with foreign accents.

THE SOURCE “Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent On Credibility,” The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

ZERE ees a reason ze villain alvays speaks like zees. But it may not be the reason you think. A new study says distrust of those who speak with a foreign accent goes beyond common xenophobia. Apparently, when we don’t understand what someone’s saying, we lose confidence in the speaker altogether.

According to recent research, words and pictures that we can process easily — ones that we don’t have to work to decipher — tend to be perceived as not only more pleasant, clearer and less risky, but also more truthful.

Most data on the subject pertains to the written word. So, for example, if a statement is written in a clear, easy-to-read font, people are more likely to find it true than were it to appear fuzzy, as in a wet newspaper. Likewise, if a statement rhymes (“Woes unite foes”) people are more likely to believe it than if it doesn’t (“Woes unite enemies”).

Could this simplicity-sincerity effect apply to speech as well? “We both have an accent, so we’re interested in questions about how having an accent impacts you,” Boaz Keysar, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and an author of the study, explained. He and Shiri Lev-Ari, a postdoctoral researcher and the lead author, were born in Israel.

The trick is figuring out whether a person’s distrust of non-native speakers stems from prejudice or incomprehension. To tease these factors apart, the researchers designed two experiments. First, they asked a group of 35 people to judge the truthfulness of trivial statements, like “Ants don’t sleep” and “A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can,” recited by people with various accents — Turkish, Polish, Korean, Italian and Austrian-German — as well as native English speakers. In all cases, the subjects were told that the speakers were merely reciting statements provided by the experimenter and were not the source of the material. Yet even when speakers were “only the messenger,” listeners distrusted non-native speakers more than they did native English speakers.

The researchers then told the subjects up front that difficulty in understanding leads people to distrust non-native speakers. Would knowing about an accent’s effects erase the effects? Not entirely. While people were capable of adjusting their impressions of people who spoke with mild accents, they still distrusted statements from those with heavier accents. “Even awareness was unable to overcome the effect on credibility,” Dr. Boaz said.

These findings won’t likely assuage an already nervous job applicant who speaks with an accent. “In today’s globalized world, interactions between native and non-native speakers are rampant,” Dr. Lev-Ari said. Businesspeople, newscasters and witnesses often appeal to our capacity for trust, she said, “but we’re judging non-native speakers as less credible than they really are.”

One thing you can believe, though it may offer little consolation: The giraffe is, in fact, able to go longer without drinking water than the camel.

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You aren’t responsible for Quran burners. Don’t hold Muslims responsible for 9/11.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  I hope you find this essay thought-provoking and informative during this day of remembrance.  Let’s hope we can finally learn from 9/11  and work toward resolution and peace.


William Saletan for Slate, link to article here.  Embedded links from original article.

Two days ago, hundreds of Afghans gathered in Kabul to denounce the United States for burning the Quran. They torched American flags, chanted “Death to America,” and carried signs calling for the death of President Obama. Some of them hurled rocks at U.S. troops. A student in the crowd said of the planned Quran burning: “We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States.”

He’s wrong, of course. The Quran burning is the brainchild of a Florida minister and his tiny fundamentalist church. It has been condemned by the White House, the State Department, the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan, Christian organizations, and countless Americans. But when clerics in Egypt denounce the incendiary plan, we feel the heat. When thousands of Muslims rally against it in Indonesia, they do so outside our embassy. When an imam in Kabul threatens retaliation, he casts a shadow on all of us: “If they decide to burn the holy Quran, I will announce jihad against these Christians and infidels.”

This is how it feels to be judged by the sins of others who destroy in the name of your faith. You’re no more responsible for 30 Christian extremists in Florida than Muslims are for the 19 hijackers of 9/11. Yet most of us, when polled, say that no Muslim house of worship should be built near the site of the 9/11 attacks. In saying this, we implicitly hold all Muslims accountable for the crime of those 19 people.

Now you know how it feels to be judged that way. It’s inaccurate, and it’s wrong.

Of course the two situations are different. The hijackers killed 3,000 people; the Quran burners would destroy only their own property. The hijackers were organized by a global terrorist network; the Quran burners are acting alone. But the Quran burners claim to speak for Christianity, just as the hijackers claimed to speak for Islam. And the Quran burners have many open supporters on Facebook in addition to others who are quietly cheering them on.

You, your country, and your faith are being held accountable for the deeds of these people. A widely viewed YouTube video combines “International Burn-the-Quran Day” shirts proclaiming “ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL” (marketed by the same Florida church), satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed, European criticism of Islamic veils, and myths about U.S. troops flushing a Quran down a toilet. The video says these “attacks on Muslims,” including U.S. invasions of Muslim countries, expose the “hatred of the disbelievers.” It calls on Muslims to “rise up and do something.”

The video also features a sign at a rally: “No More Mosques.” Our indiscriminate, collective-responsibility campaign against mosques is being used in an indiscriminate, collective-responsibility campaign against us and our troops.

A pastor who preaches at a nearby Florida church is aghast at the global outrage the Quran-burning minister has provoked. “He represents only 30 people in this town,” the pastor tells the New York Times. “It needs to get out somehow to the rest of the world that this isn’t the face of Christianity.”

It will, Reverend. Right after it gets out to the rest of the world that we don’t think the 9/11 hijackers are the face of Islam.

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“No Nukes! No Nukes!”

Holy shit.  Did you guys hear about this?  The Pentagon finally disclosed its nuclear capability – 5113.  Read the Reuters report here.

“The United States is showing that it is being increasingly transparent,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters at the Pentagon.  “It’s part of our commitment … to set the stage for strength in non-proliferation and for further arms control.”  The news was also a move in pressuring Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to begin nuclear disarmament.

I feel like I should be looking for nutritional values.


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The Gist on the Gender/Race Salary Gap

President Obama declared today, April 20th, National Equal Pay Day:

“Throughout our Nation’s history, extraordinary women have broken barriers to achieve their dreams and blazed trails so their daughters would not face similar obstacles. Despite decades of progress, pay inequity still hinders women and their families across our country. National Equal Pay Day symbolizes the day when an average American woman’s earnings finally match what an average American man earned in the past year. Today, we renew our commitment to end wage discrimination and celebrate the strength and vibrancy women add to our economy.”

Read the full press release here.

If you haven’t heard, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make.  However, that statistic is true for the average white woman.  This chart, included in a report done by NPR’s Jennifer Ludden on the salary gap and current legislation’s efforts to squash it, shows how women of color make far less than 77%.  And this is fine and dandy when you’re thinking about one dollar, but do the math and multiply this over the course of your career, from starting bonuses to retirement, and there’s a lot of money hiding in this pay gap.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2008 annual averages) Credit: Alyson Hurt/NPR

And sadly, this is below the global average for women’s wages in comparison to men’s.  According to a 2008 report by the International Trade Union Confederation, globally women earn on average 15.6 percent less than men (that’s 84.4 cents for every dollar). You can read their fascinating report here.  And interestingly enough, in the country of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, women make 40% more than men, which is also mentioned in the report.  Go figure.

Here’s another great chart included in Ludden’s article which shows how the gender/race salary gap has widened and lessened in America since the Equal Pay Act in 1963.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The Equal Pay Act (the details of the act found here) was signed into law by JFK in 1963.  The law argued that essentially this gender salary gap was bad for business.

This act has helped improve the gender wage gap since 1963 by almost 20%, as shown in the chart above.  The act enabled women to file suit against a company within 180 days if they suspected pay discrimination.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill to be signed into law by President Obama (January 29, 2009), extended that time frame by allowing women 180 days after each paycheck to file suit for suspected pay discrimination.  (Find out more details about the act from Wikipedia and Open Congress.)

Obama’s statement on the act follows JFK’s, stating, “It’s about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care,” Obama said last year. It’s about “couples who wind up with less to retire on. [In] households where one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves, it’s the difference between affording the mortgage or not.”

Surrounded by leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with the new law’s namesake, Lilly Ledbetter, at his side, President Barack Obama signs into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- a powerful tool to fight discrimination. Joyce N. Boghosian - White House

This brings us to the Paycheck Fairness Act.  This act, first introduced by then Senator Hillary Clinton in 2005 and Representative Rosa DeLauro, pretty much strengthens the Equal Pay Act of 63.  Ludden states, “the Paycheck Fairness Act would make it easier to prove gender discrimination and would toughen penalties. It would also try to erode what advocates say is a paralyzing secrecy around salaries: The bill would ban companies from retaliating if workers talk to each other about pay.”  (A great breakdown of the act can be found here from the National Committee on Pay Equity’s website.)

Ludden states: “Whether or not the Paycheck Fairness Act becomes law, the Obama administration plans to crack down on pay inequity. Labor agencies, which saw their budgets shrink under the Bush administration, are getting a new infusion of staff and money. Pay equity consultant Tom McMullen says companies should prepare…

In February, the Obama administration announced a task force to coordinate enforcement of equal pay laws. It plans an education campaign to make sure that companies know: Equal work means equal pay.”

Obama’s press release on the proclamation of National Equal Pay Day detailed his administration’s efforts for pay equality:

“To further highlight the challenges women face and to provide a coordinated Federal response, I established the White House Council on Women and Girls. My Administration also created a National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force to bolster enforcement of pay discrimination laws, making sure women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And, because the importance of empowering women extends beyond our borders, my Administration created the first Office for Global Women’s Issues at the Department of State.”

Fantastic news, eh?  And now you are up to speed, amigos.


For those even more interested in the gender/race salary gap, Ludden’s report also has this amazingly interesting sidebar:

Equal Pay For Different Work?

Women’s groups say that fields traditionally dominated by women tend to be undervalued, and that this accounts for much of the ongoing gender pay gap. This is a contentious claim, with critics offering a number of other reasons, such as the danger associated with many mostly male fields. In any case, the Fair Pay Act — which is considered unlikely to pass Congress — would have companies evaluate their salary structure to ferret out such bias. Many large corporations, countries like Sweden and Canada, and a number of U.S. state governments already do this. The state of Minnesota has a gender pay equity law and uses an outside consultant to help set wage levels.

In 1982, a state evaluation found a sex-based wage disparity between delivery van drivers and clerk typists. The two jobs were deemed to be “equal work,” yet the drivers (mostly men) at the time earned $1,900 a month, while the typists (mostly women) earned $1,400.

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