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Religion and Women January 19, 2010

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NYT  – January 10, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?

It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.

Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.

“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia.

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the “basic causes of the violation of women’s rights,” is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

The Elders are neither irreligious nor rabble-rousers. They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they begin their meetings with a moment for silent prayer.

“The Elders are not attacking religion as such,” noted Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights. But she added, “We all recognized that if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”

There is of course plenty of fodder, in both the Koran and the Bible, for those who seek a theology of discrimination.

The New Testament quotes St. Paul (I Timothy 2) as saying that women “must be silent.” Deuteronomy declares that if a woman does not bleed on her wedding night, “the men of her town shall stone her to death.” An Orthodox Jewish prayer thanks God, “who hast not made me a woman.” The Koran stipulates that a woman shall inherit less than a man, and that a woman’s testimony counts for half a man’s.

In fairness, many scholars believe that Paul did not in fact write the passages calling on women to be silent. And Islam started out as socially progressive for women — banning female infanticide and limiting polygamy — but did not continue to advance.

But religious leaders sanctified existing social structures, instead of pushing for justice. In Africa, it would help enormously if religious figures spoke up for widows disenfranchised by unjust inheritance traditions — or for rape victims, or for schoolgirls facing sexual demands from their teachers. Instead, in Uganda, the influence of conservative Christians is found in a grotesque push to execute gays.

Yet paradoxically, the churches in Africa that have done the most to empower women have been conservative ones led by evangelicals and especially Pentecostals. In particular, Pentecostals encourage women to take leadership roles, and for many women this is the first time they have been trusted with authority and found their opinions respected. In rural Africa, Pentecostal churches are becoming a significant force to emancipate women.

That’s a glimmer of hope that reminds us that while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.

Another excellent precedent is slavery. Each of the Abrahamic faiths accepted slavery. Muhammad owned slaves, and St. Paul seems to have condoned slavery. Yet the pioneers of the abolitionist movement were Quakers and evangelicals like William Wilberforce. People of faith ultimately worked ferociously to overthrow an oppressive institution that churches had previously condoned.

Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior. The Elders are right that religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any person’s human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals.

Avoiding World Conference on Racism Shows Obama’s Disrespect For Blacks April 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Racism.
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durbanby BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama’s “fawning, damn near servile behavior when accommodating Zionist demands” to boycott and sabotage the Durban II conference on racism “should have been a deal breaker” in his relations with African Americans. But what passes for Black leadership accepts any and all insults from Obama, who naturally treats them like the spineless creatures they are. Meanwhile, the White House keeps “Jewish leaders” up to date with conference calls on how Obama is protecting Israel from charges that it is an apartheid state, and also ensuring that the United States is not compelled to make amends for its racist past and present.

 

 

Avoiding World Conference on Racism Shows Obama’s Deep Disrespect For Blacks
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Blacks get nothing from Obama’s White House except permission to worship him as the ultimate role model.”
On Tuesday, April 14, according to the Huffington Post, the White House placed a conference call to American “Jewish leaders,” all but assuring them the U.S. would not show up for Durban II, the international conference on racism, in Geneva, Switzerland. President Obama’s close adviser Samantha Power, of the National Security Council, said the event’s revised draft document “met two of our four red lines frontally, in the sense that it went no further than reparations and it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language. But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I.”
Translation: although the document, under relentless U.S. pressure, has been watered down to the point of irrelevance, it remains unacceptable because it reaffirms declarations of the first World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. There is virtually no chance President Obama will reverse his decision to boycott Durban II, April 20-24.
We must first ask: Why is the White House reporting to “Jewish leaders” on an issue that is of interest to all Americans, most especially people of color? Has Obama arranged such briefings on Durban II for “Black leaders,” “Latino leaders,” or “Native American leaders” – representatives of constituencies that have suffered genocide, slavery, discrimination, forced displacement and all manner of racist assaults right here on American soil? No, he has not. Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will. Across the Black political spectrum, so-called leadership seems incapable of shame or of taking manly or womanly offense at even the most blatant insults to Black people when the source of the affront is Barack Hussein Obama.
Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will.”
Several weeks ago, popular Sirius Radio Black talk show host Mark Thompson (“Make It Plain”) wondered aloud if Obama’s threat to boycott Durban II should be a “deal breaker” – a “last straw” offense against Black interests and sensibilities. It should have been. The Obama administration’s fawning, damn near servile behavior when accommodating Zionist demands – and I use the word “demands” quite purposely – was a lesson in how Power responds to constituencies it favors, fears, or at least, respects. Blacks get nothing from Obama’s White House except permission to worship him as the ultimate role model. Less than nothing, as the unfolding Durban outrage demonstrates.
Obama has done more damage to the Durban process than George Bush, who pulled out of Durban I after the conference had begun. Important language survived the 2001 disruption, such as:
“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and that Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian.”
Urges States to adopt the necessary measures, as provided by national law, to ensure the right of victims to seek just and adequate reparation and satisfaction to redress acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to design effective measures to prevent the repetition of such acts”
As University of Dayton, Ohio law professor Vernellia R. Randall has pointed out, pressures from the Obama White House caused revisions in the Durban II draft that
withdrew  language related to reparations;
removed  the proposed paragraph related to the transatlantic slave trade being a crime against humanity;
removed proposed paragraphs designed to strengthen the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; and, 
overall weakened the efforts related to people of African Descent.
And of course, language related to Palestinian rights and Israeli racism was totally eviscerated. (Samantha Power: “..it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language.”) But none of that was enough to satisfy the Zionists, who hope to utterly destroy Durban II, and erase Durban I from the record. (Power, on remaining U.S. objections: “But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I.”)
Durbin II should have been a deal breaker.”
George Bush’s walkout at Durban I provided a sour ending for the event, but allowed participants to make some important statements and carry out additional work over the next eight years. The United States and other countries were to report to Durbin II on residential segregation, criminal justice, police brutality, felony disenfranchisement and Katrina displacement. That cannot happen if the official American delegation is not in Geneva. Samantha Power told her Jewish leadership friends, who don’t want Durban II to occur, at all, not to worry. “In order for us to participate in the negotiations, to sit behind the placard, to be involved in a frontal way, much more would need to be done. And all four of our red lines will need to be met.”
Israel and the White House speak of “red lines” that they will not tolerate being crossed in politics and diplomacy. But where are the “red lines” that so-called Black leaders will not allow to be breached? Where Barack Obama is concerned, such lines do not exist – which is why he is permitted to walk all over Black folks, with impunity.
Yes, Durbin II should have been a deal breaker. Instead, it was mostly cause for sniveling lamentation and words of “concern” or wishful predictions by Black notables that Obama would change his mind (after the damage had already been done!) and attend the conference.
The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), although initially registering “profound disappointment” (oh, my!) with Obama’s boycott of Durbin II, cheerily added, “we are confident that your Administration will be reversing its decision in time to participate in the conference and its remaining preparatory meetings….” That was on March 27, by which time Obama’s vandals had caused the shredding of almost every word of value in the documents. The Black lawyers’ “Open Letter to President Barack Obama” was signed by an impressive list of many scores of prominent organizations and individuals – but in its determined, concentrated meekness, should never have been expected to have any impact on the White House. And of course, it had none.
Where are the ‘red lines’ that so-called Black leaders will not tolerate being breached?”
The likes of the NCBL would be flattered to have Obama’s people string them along – any attention would do. But Samantha Power and her boss won’t even bother, understanding perfectly well that the meek inherent nothing but contempt. In her thorough and collegial report on Durban to Jewish leaders – who are anything but meek – Power said: “We will make our decision [to attend] up closer to the date of the conference, we want to show good faith to our allies and the people who are working hard to improve the text… But we are also not interested in being involved or associated with fool’s errands.”
Obama’s White House has not seen fit to show the slightest glimmer of good faith to Black people (at least, those not in his immediate family or employ), and seems to consider salvaging Durbin II a “fools errand.” You know what color the “fools” are.
TransAfrica chairman Danny Glover placed an article in the April 8 issue of The Nation magazine that read like a letter to President Obama. “This should be a moment for the United States to rejoin the global struggle against racism, the struggle that the Bush administration so arrogantly abandoned,” wrote Glover. “I hope President Obama will agree that the United States must participate with other nations in figuring out the tough issues of how to overcome racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance, and how to provide repair to victims.”
Let’s see if Glover calls Obama “arrogant” when the president finishes sabotaging Durbin II. My bet is, “disappointed” is about as strong as Glover will muster. Obama sucks the spine out of Black people.
And as long as Black notables (let’s drop the “leadership” charade) turn into invertebrates at the mere thought of Barack Obama, so long will he treat the entire group as inconsequential, harmless ciphers.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Dubois’s Revenge: Reinterrogating American Democratic Theory … or Why We Need a Revolutionary Black Research Agenda in the 21st Century March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Uncategorized.
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William (Bill) Strickland

www.blackcommentator.com, March 26, 2009

I.  PROLOGUE

In 1899, one year after completing what many consider to be the first real Black Study, his magisterial sociological analysis, The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the American Academy in Philadelphia and proposed what might also be considered the first real Black Research Agenda.

To the white scholars gathered in Philadelphia, Du Bois proposed a path-breaking study of the Negro people:

The American Negro deserves study for the great end of advancing the cause of science in general. No such opportunity to watch and measure the history and development of a great race of people ever presented itself to the scholars of a modern nation.  If they miss this opportunity—if they do the work in a slipshod, unsystematic manner—if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, they do far more than hurt the good name of the American people; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world over. . .” (emphasis mine) [1]

However, persuaded that they were already in possession of ‘the truth’ about race, and perhaps equally unpersuaded that Negroes belonged to ‘a great race of people,’ the Academy declined to participate in Du Bois’s project.

 

Characteristically then, and largely unaided, Du Bois, for the next twenty years—first from Atlanta and later from New York—pursued the racial research we now know as the famous Atlanta University Studies; constructing virtually single-handedly, to all intents and purposes, what was the first Black Studies program in America.  (By celebrating Du Bois in this way, there is no intent to slight George Washington Williams, who Vincent Harding calls “the first substantial scholarly historian of Blacks in America,” [2] and whose 1883 opus, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880 V2: Negroes As Slaves, As Soldiers, And As Citizens , still stands as the original foundational text of black history.  Nor can one overlook Carter G. Woodson, generally regarded as the Father of Negro History.  Rather one wishes simply to call attention to the fact that in regard to Black Studies, Du Bois was, as in so much else, there “at the creation.”)

But Du Bois’s work in pursuit of the truth about the race’s past and present increasingly led him into a collision with America’s self-definition as a “democratic land” which, despite its negligible “negro problem,” still saw and proclaimed itself, in the classical Panglossian sense, “the best of all possible worlds.”

Du Bois vs. the Historical Establishment

Du Bois’s confrontation with the American historiography that had not changed its opinion of the essential unworthiness of the Negro in the three plus decades since Philadelphia, came to a head in 1935 when he published his seminal reinterpretation of the Reconstruction era, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.

 

Concluding the volume with a chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History,” Du Bois charged that “the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed.  The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery, the North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and establish democracy” (emphasis mine). [3]

This critique was both revolutionary and heretical since it not only attributed what we now routinely describe as “agency” to black people but it also struck a Joe Louis-like blow against white supremacy by asserting that black people had been the Salvationists of the Civil War Republic!  Therefore what Du Bois’s perspective represented and what it called for, implicitly, was a new history of America.

Du Bois made that implication explicit on the global level as well in a 1943 letter to Will Alexander, a special assistant in the office of the War Manpower Commission who had written Du Bois from Washington that “there is a small group of scholars here, men of wide experience in international matters, who feel that there is need of a universal history of racism as it has appeared in various places around the world.” [4]

Two weeks after receiving Alexander’s November letter, Du Bois responded from Atlanta “that a universal history of racism would be an excellent undertaking but . . . if you are going to take the wide definition of race including nationalism, minorities, status, slavery, etc., it would be attempting a new universal history on a vast scale” (emphasis mine). [5]

Du Bois’s view that applying a “wide” definition of race to world  history would, ipso facto, produce a new historical paradigm, a virtual reformulation of the way that one thought about the past and present world, is what I want to suggest is also both true and necessary for American political history and theory; that the need to reinterrogate the various ways that race and racism have impacted upon and, indeed, shaped the American nation state is also a history that must be reconceptualized “on a vast scale” if we wish to take up Du Bois’s crusade for “scientific truth.”

At bottom, the question that underlies such an enquiry is quite simple: Since public policy and constitutional law in America have sanctioned slavery, segregation, discrimination and institutional racism, how is it possible to reconcile the democratic theory of the state with the black civic experience?  For example, the state may be conceptualized as an autonomous actor, a neutral arbiter, a gendarme, or an instrument of race, class and gender oppression.  But whichever way the state is conceived, it unquestionably performs a certain role in allocating wealth, status, privilege and resources to some while withholding those perquisites from others.  Moreover, although a taboo subject in conventional American appraisals, the chief means employed by the state and society to maintain and perpetuate the racial social order has been the resort to violence. 

 

Slavery was violent and was only overthrown by violence.  Reconstruction was dismantled by violence.  The system of Jim Crow rested upon the theory and praxis of violence and the resistance to the freedom movement was, at its core, violent.  The challenge, therefore, is to look longitudinally at American political history to try and gain a more accurate understanding of how the Republic has related actually, rather than mythically, to the black presence in its midst.   Consider this example both of one problem unexamined and the kind of research needed to bring it to light.

The Southern Question

In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell was elected to Congress from Harlem and arrived in Washington in 1945, the last year of World War II’s fight against fascism. [6]

But what did Adam have to contend with once he had taken his seat?  He had to contend with the racist rantings of Southern Congressmen like John Rankin of Mississippi who were still freely indulging the epithet “nigger” on the House floor.  (Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as “a little kike.”) [7]

To his credit, and despite the expectation that freshmen Congressmen were to be seen and not heard, Adam rose after another Rankin outburst to say that “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” [8]

So how do we theorize about this incident?  Were Rankin’s fulminations simply an individual expression of racist sentiment or symptomatic of something more organic to American political life?  What, for example, did the apparent tolerance of the behavior signify?  And how far back did this normative racism go?  All the way back to 1790?  Or was it only a twentieth century phenomenon?  That is, did racial insults abate in Congress during the thirty years, from 1871 to 1901, when black men sat in the Congress?  In fine, what is the historical record of racist discourse—and the advancement of racist interests–in the House and Senate of the United States?  Researching that question in the Congressional Record, the Congressional Globe, et al., would be a massive undertaking—and aside from William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress (Knopf, 1995) which details the 1830’s Congressional fight over petitions against slavery–so far as I know no one has yet done it.  But questions such as these need to be answered if we are ever to truly fathom the nature of the American racial state.

Also one might raise many other questions about Dixiecrat power for one’s research agenda, like the political side of the reparations question.  For while the subject of reparations for unpaid slave labor has generated heated political discussion for decades, there has been no similar effort to systematically appraise the cost of federal programs and public policy which the South steered to itself on the backs of the expropriated political power of disenfranchised Blacks.

We know, for example, that the Freedmen’s Bank was burgled by government-affiliated speculators after the Civil War.  We know that many black veterans of World War I were never given their pensions.   We know that the Union army paid its black soldiers only half of what they paid white soldiers until black soldier protest and war exigencies forced the government to relent in the last year of the war.  And we know that the funds of the New Deal programs were discriminatorily disbursed during the Depression.  But we can’t put a dollar figure on these serial betrayals by the national government nor on the spin-off benefits which the South enjoyed because of its stolen political power.  How many public projects and military bases were sited in the former Confederacy, one wonders?  And government subsidies?  And tax breaks?

 

The questions are endless but the answers will help us illuminate the suppressed dimension of the American racial state.

So where might we begin?  At the beginning, of course, with the sacrosanct foundation myths of American exceptionalism.

II.   ON THE POLITICS OF MISREPRESENTATION

“The United States was the land of captivity, of slavery rather than liberty, and the discovery of the New World represented not the founding of a shining city on a hill but the start of the crime against Africans.” [9]   –Manisha Sinha

The problem of reinterpreting America’s history and politics is only partly a problem of new discovery since much of the actual history is known.  It exists in records, documents, oral history and in books, both old and new.

The problem is that non-mainstream history is an embarrassment to the national myths that make up America’s identity so it is banished from the national memory; hidden from national view; concealed behind what Du Bois called The Veil.  What we are left with is invented history, abetted by various “masking devices” such as historical patterns that go uncommented upon; euphemistic language such as “landed gentry” instead of slave-owners; “racial riots” instead of pogroms; “violence” instead of murder; “harassment and intimidation” instead of racial terror, ad infinitum. (emphasis mine)  Another ploy is the examination of the “thoughts” and “minds” of Great White Men while shying away from their deeds.

But the most persistent disguising tradition has been simply to ignore the messenger. . . the fate of most black critical voices over the ages.  Indeed, Manisha Sinha, in the January 2007 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, points out that “Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology. . . [that] not only pointed to the shortcomings of American revolutionary ideals but also exposed their complicity in upholding racial slavery.” [10]   And, if ignoring the messenger did not suffice, then the reaction was to professionally slay the renegade scholar.  That was the fate meted out to the late Fawn Brodie whose 1974 volume, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, dared to suggest an “intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. . .”   Her reward was to be almost unanimously pilloried by the academic establishment.  So what, at bottom, are we dealing with?

Is America just another case of national vanity run amok since nearly all societies, like nearly all religions, tend to think of themselves as special and adhere to creation myths which attest to their uniqueness?   Or is something more at stake?  Something like America’s aspiration to world leadership based on its self-image of being specially favored and specially blessed?  It is to answer that question that one turns to the past because it is the past which best contextualizes today’s diabolical policies of preemptive war, international kidnappings, secret prisons, sanctioned torture, the gulag of Guantanamo, the excesses of the FBI and the administration’s scornful disregard of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the right of habeas corpus.

 

The past conceptualizes these practices because, although chronologically new, they are remarkably akin to deeds which Du Bois deplored some fifty years ago:

There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world. [11] (emphasis mine.)

Seem familiar?

The significance of Du Bois’s critique is that he saw America not as most Americans see it but through his own racial lens; utilizing the second sight he had gained as a lifelong racial outsider in the land of his birth:

Had it not been for the race problem early thrust upon me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established social order and of the economic development into which I was born. But just that part of this order which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection, seemed to me most inequitable and wrong; and starting from that critique I, gradually, as the years went by, found other things to question in my environment. [12]   (emphasis mine)

So Fawn Brodie questioned an icon while Du Bois questioned the “social order.”  Both interrogations suggest new interpretative spaces where the meaning of America can be remapped in order to investigate the line of historical continuity from the international slave trade to the multi-national corporation, from the Indian “wars” of yesterday to the Iraqi occupation of today, from America’s oft-invoked democratic claims to its oft-enacted undemocratic actions.

III. ON RACIAL (AND OTHER) CONTRADICTIONS
OF AMERICA’S FOUNDING HISTORY

To review American political history from top to bottom is obviously beyond the scope of this paper.  What it seeks to do is reanalyze America’s founding years by piggy-backing on some of the excellent works written both recently and in past years, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of non-mythical American history.

 

In that connection James Loewen’s pioneering, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated Edition (New Press, NY, 1995) must be mentioned as well as THINKING AND RETHINKING U.S. HISTORY , edited by Gerald Horne and published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1988.  (In fact, Horne has been exemplary in resurrecting neglected history as in his Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 (American History and Culture Series) (NYU Press, 2005). [13]   He has also provided us with a critically new perspective on the role of race in World War II in his Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (NYU, 2004) which “delves into forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color.” [14] )

The methodology of inquiry will be to carry on a dialogue with these books; outlining what new historical hypotheses they seem to represent and what new questions and issues arising from them might deservedly constitute a research agenda of the future.

IV.  THE FOUNDING UNROMATICIZED: COLONIALISM, CAPITALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP BEFORE THE MAYFLOWER

In 1964, Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner published their book Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Black-Americans (hereafter G&E) which painted quite a different picture of American settlers from the archetypical image of freedom-seeking Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620.   They wrote that. . . “of the several million persons who reached Great Britain’s North American colonies before 1776, it is conservatively estimated that close to 80 percent arrived under some form of servitude.” [15]   (emphasis mine)

Since we are accustomed to think of servitude and/or slavery as being the lot only of Africans and their descendants and also know that, as of the first official census in America in 1790, these persons comprised approximately 20 percent of the American population, we are left to wonder about the status of this majority of  unknown white settlers.  Who were they, these non-Pilgrims? 

A partial answer can be found in G&E and also in Gary Nash’s classic work of colonial history, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (5th Edition).   Both direct our attention to the Jamestown Landing of 1607 where the two constituent elements of American exceptionalism first came into being, i.e., the awarding of “free” land to the settlers and their gaining of the right to vote.  However, both of these bestowals by the architects of the Jamestown project, the Virginia Company of London, arose out of the financial imperatives of settlement not out of any sentiments of democratic idealism.  More importantly these concessions were made by the London businessmen whose desperate hope was to turn Jamestown into a successful profit-making enterprise as the Spaniards had done in Mexico and Peru. 

Witness Gary Nash:

The English founded their first permanent settlement in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  But it was not a colony at all. . . Rather it was a business enterprise, the property of the Virginia Company of London, made up of stockholders and a governing board of directors who answered directly to James 1.” [16] (emphasis mine)

Thus America was birthed by capitalism, not by freedom.  Indeed the Jamestown Project’s partnership between the corporation and the state was to serve as a useful model later in the century when the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the English slave trade with West Africa in 1672 by King Charles II.

Not Colonists But Conquistadors

We have come to think of slavery and the slave trade as the prime incubators and instigators of American racism with the American South as its birthplace.  Except. . . the first racial slaves in America were not Africans but Indians and the first state to legally sanction slavery was not Virginia in 1661 but Massachusetts in 1641. [17]

 

Moreover Massachusetts’s involvement in the slave trade antedates even their first slave law, e.g., “The first definitely authenticated American-built vessel to carry slaves was the Desire built in Marblehead [Massachusetts] and sailing out of Salem in 1638 [carrying] a cargo, among other things, of seventeen Pequot Indians, whom she sold in the West Indies.” [18] (emphasis mine)   What this neglected history of Indian slavery suggests is that we must see the Indian as well as the African as the original racial “other,” the negation of whose humanity was the dialectical affirmation of white superiority in America; that slavery and the slave trade tie Massachusetts and Virginia together and demonstrate the North-South national pattern of racial exploitation that evolves so seamlessly into racism.

Any new research agenda thus needs to reconceptualize white–Indian along with white-African relations to gain a fuller understanding of the role of race in shaping both the racial and cultural identity of America and in making possible its political and economic development.  Volumes such as Almon Lauber’s Indian Slavery in Colonial Times (Amsterdam, NY, 1969 but originally published in 1913), Allan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade, 1670-1717 (Yale, New Haven, 2002), and others like Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Cornell, NY, 2000) and her most recent book, The Jamestown Project (Harvard, Cambridge, MA, 2007) tell the more inclusive story of how considerations of race dominate early American relations. . .  As we can see by returning to the saga of Virginia:

“In the autumn of 1607. . . when food supplies were running perilously low and all but a handful of Jamestown settlers had fallen too ill to work, the colony was saved by Powhatan, whose men brought sufficient food to keep the struggling settlement alive until the sick recovered and the relief ship arrived.” [19]   (emphasis mine)  So Powhatan, more famous in the white-washed history as the father of Pocahontas, saves the Jamestown settlers in 1607, years before the Pilgrims landing and years before the holiday we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.  But Powhatan’s life-saving graciousness has gone unlearned, unappreciated, unspoken of—even this year, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s Founding.  Perhaps that is because, as Du Bois wrote about the black contribution to the Civil War, the settlers were ashamed of being indebted to those whom they considered their inferiors. Or maybe it’s the historians who should be held accountable. Whatever….  In the historical scheme of things, this oversight does not seem to have mattered because the new settlers soon re-righted their racial world at the behest of their superiors; to wit:

In 1609, the royal governor of Jamestown was ordered by the Virginia Company “to effect a military occupation of the region . . . to make all tribes tributary to him rather than to Powhatan, to extract corn, furs, dyes, and labor from each tribe and, if possible, to mold the natives into an agricultural labor force as the Spanish had done in their colonies.” [20]   (emphasis mine)

“As the Spanish had done in their colonies” meant, of course, that the settlers, told to emulate the Spanish conquistadors, were to subjugate the Indians to their will, establish racial rule over them, divide and conquer where possible, appropriate anything of value the Indians might possess—from food provisions to trade goods—and, first and foremost, enslave them . . . or as the company delicately put it—“mold them into an agricultural labor force.”

But the 30,000 Indians of the Chesapeake would not be “molded.”  They perished from the white man’s diseases.  They fought back.  So the Company had to try a new business plan of luring settlers to Virginia by promising them free land at the end of seven years labor.  But after five years the strategy of trying to turn a profit from these white indentured servants had also not succeeded so the company again raised the inducements for settlement:  “This time 100 acres of land was offered outright to anyone in England who would journey to the colony. . . [Thus] Instead of pledging limited servitude for the chance to become sole possessor of the land, an Englishman trapped at the lower rungs of society at home could now become an independent landowner in no more time than it took to reach the Chesapeake.” [21] (emphasis mine)

It is in this fashion that American exceptionalism is born via the gift of land which in Europe is owned by the monarchy, the church and the aristocracy.  But in America it is made available in a transaction of profit-making speculation.  Englishmen “trapped at the lower rungs of society” can then rise to become “independent landowners.”

But there was still one more “gift” to come: “In 1619 the resident governor was ordered to allow the election of a representative assembly, which would participate in governing the colony and thus bind the colonists emotionally to the land.” [22] (emphasis mine)

 

The pillar of democracy, the right to vote, was conferred upon the settlers not by the Goddess of Liberty but by the Goddess of Capitalism, as was the means of social and economic uplift, the land of the Indian.  And all of this occurred, we are reminded once again, by 1619—and before the fantasy-ennobling year of 1620.  Two other momentous things, whose significance, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. reminds us, cannot be overstated, also took place in 1619.

Speaking of the first Africans to arrive in British America whom he calls the Jamestown Twenty, Lerone sums up the contradictions of Jamestown which were to become America’s own:

“In the months preceding the arrival [of the Africans], the colony had installed the new House of Burgesses [i.e., House of Citizens], formalized a new system of white servitude, shipped its first load of tobacco to England, inaugurated a new system of private property, and welcomed a shipload of brides, who were promptly purchased at the going rate of 120 pounds of tobacco eachThus, white servitude, black servitude, private property, ‘representative democracy,’ and bride purchase were inaugurated in America at roughly the same time.” [23] (emphasis mine)

Or to put it another way, the Jamestown Experiment codified the race, class, gender and political identity of America.  It also demolishes the myth of American exceptionalism because it establishes America as simply one of a number of white settler states like the former Rhodesia, South Africa and French Algeria, and those like New Zealand, Australia, et al. who have  morphed from those origins to the “civilizations” we see today.  Speaking of Australia, we can now answer the question that we posed pages ago about who these non-Pilgrim white colonists were.

 

Some were servants, and some were indentures and redemptioners as we have seen.  Others were  slaves like the white women sold at Jamestown, and many were the victims of kidnappings because:

Exporting white indentured servants became a big business… and closely resembled the African slave trade.  Drunkards were carried on shipboard.  Children were lured away with promises of candy and officials were bribed to turn over convicted criminals to the procurers. . . called ‘spirits’ because their victims were spirited away. . . [24]

But many of these “settlers” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were criminals .  Between 1718 and 1785 Britain banished 50,000 convicts to America, a fact rarely cited in American textbooks. [25]   In fact, it seems a matter of some historical discomfort to reveal the fact that America was Britain’s first penal colony.  Australia only assumed that role after the American Revolution when America’s shores were closed to that traffic.  Indeed the whole subject of white servitude and convict labor has received scant historical attention.  But the evidence is there.  It just is not permitted to confront or alter the tenets of mainstream history.

Again, Gary Nash:

“The colony had been initiated not by men seeking political or religious freedom but by profit-hungry investors in England and fortune-hunting adventurers and common riffraff from the back alleys and prisons.” [26]   The truth about Jamestown’s history, like the truth about American history itself, is gagged, shunted away in the closet to protect the myth of American perfection.  One re-engages with that history not simply to expose unflattering and suppressed truths but because so long as the myth of American perfection reigns, there will be no momentum for change in America.  And look at the world around us today.  Does it not suggest that change, more than likely, is the only hope that we have left?

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over.”  — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1935

his commentary also appears in Souls.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member William L. (Bill) Strickland Teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection. The Du Bois Papers are housed at the University of Massachusetts library, which is named in honor of this prominent African American intellectual and Massachusetts native. Professor Strickland is a founding member of the independent black think tank in Atlanta the Institute of the Black World (IBW), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Strickland was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set), and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, The American Experience: Malcolm X: Make It Plain.  He also wrote the companion book Malcolm X: Make It Plain. Most recently, Professor Strickland was a consultant on the Louis Massiah film on W.E.B. Du Bois – W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. Click here to contact Mr. Strickland.


[1] Du Bois, W.E.B., Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 200.

[2] Vincent Harding, “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for New Land,” in Amistad I: Writings on Black History and Culture, ed. John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 271.

[3] Du Bois, W.E.B.  Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Athenaeum, NY, 1983, p. 711.

[4] Aptheker, Herbert. Correspondence of the W.E.B. Du Bois, 1934-1944, vol. 2, UMass Press, 1978, p. 369.

[5] Ibid., p. 370.

[6] The irony of Amerca’s fighting fascism abroad while segregating Blacks in the military and permitting lynching at home inspired the black community in those war years to launch “the double V” campaign: Victory over the enemies without and within.

[7] Haygood,  Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sinha, Manisha.  “To ‘cast just obloquy’ on oppressors: Black radicalism in the age of revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 64, #1, January 2007, p. 153.

[10] Ibid., p. 160.

[11] Du Bois, W.E.B. Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 415.

[12] Ibid., p. 155.

[14] Horne, Gerald, Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, New York University Press, 2004, book jacket.

[15] Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans, New Jersey, p. 11.

[16] Nash, Gary.  Red White and Black: The People of Early North America, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1974, p. 46.

[17] G&E, p. 16.

[18] Mannix & Cowley, Black Cargoes, Viking, New York, 1962, p. 6.

[19] Nash, p. 56.

[20] Ibid., p. 59.

[21] Ibid., p. 52.

[22] Ibid., p.52.

[23] Johnson, The Shaping of Black America, Chicago, 1975, p. 8.

[24] Mannix & Cowley, p. 56.

[25] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The transportation of British convicts to America, 1718-1785, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990).

[26] Nash, ibid., p. 52.

Bayard Rustin: Thoughts from Charles Merrill on Tax Revolt March 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Uncategorized.
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“I agree all citizens should pay their taxes if they are treated as equals and receive all of the benefits and privileges allowed as U.S. heterosexual citizens. For those of us not allowed 100% of the rights and benefits due to E.N.D.A., D.O.M.A., D.A.D.T., objection to the war, etc., we should protest the unfair discrimination dictated by the majority. If we really believe in our cause we will risk going to prison, otherwise the cause is not worth fighting for. Why should we help pay for Faith Based programs of Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups that discriminate against us and refuse to hire us?

I am a great admirer of the unsung hero Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin the main brain in back of the Civil Rights movement. He was a War Tax Resister and Quaker which means he protested war as he saw the injustice against humanity, The 60’s Civil Rights movement was stimulated by economic struggles and withholding taxes were not a strategy but a bus boycott was.

Rustin travelled to India and studied Gandhi’s non violent resistance and salt tax protests to free India. Would Bayard Rustin be a tax protestor today for LGBT equal rights? Absolutely. Not everyone can go this protest route and keep their jobs or non-profit tax exemptions, but those self-employed and retirees who can, should. Rustin’s biography is here. Talk about a hero, his story made into a film would make Milk look weak in comparison. Because he was gay and belonged to the communist party briefly, Black faith based Civil Rights groups keep his name hushed.”

His bio, my hero: Bayard Rustin

from a comment on The Bilerico Project by Charles Merrill

Allowable Discrimination? February 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Religion.
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Jonathan L. Walton, www.religiousdispatches.org, February 6, 2009 

On the campaign trail this past summer in Zanesville, Ohio, President Obama committed his administration to extending the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships while maintaining the appropriate boundaries between church and state. Part of this boundary, he then asserted, involved undoing President Bush’s policy that allowed religious organizations funded by the federal government to discriminate in hiring. President Obama was adamant that the federal government could not subsidize discrimination.

But yesterday when the president announced the revamped office and introduced his ideologically diverse advisory council, he failed to repeal his predecessor’s unjust executive order. There are reports that President Obama will order the Justice Department and the new advisory board to wrestle with the constitutional implications of this policy of allowable discrimination. To many this is somewhat surprising and disheartening. There are few with the “constitutional law bona-fides” of the president, a former law professor at the University of Chicago. And he has made it clear in the past that if you get a federal grant, it is unconstitutional to discriminate against the folks you serve or the people you employ.

Let’s hope this is just a political ploy insofar as the president would rather do away with this discriminatory allowance behind closed doors rather than announcing it at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast. Because appropriating tax dollars to bigoted faith groups is hardly, “Change We Can Believe In.”

Creature Comforts January 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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It’s no longer just guide dogs for blind people. Service animals now include monkeys for quadriplegics, parrots for psychotics and at least one assistance duck. Should the law recognize all of them?
New York Times Magazine, January 4, 2009

ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT IN A SUBURB of Albany, a group of children dressed as vampires and witches ran past a middle-aged woman in plain clothes. She gripped a leather harness — like the kind used for Seeing Eye dogs — which was attached to a small, fuzzy black-and-white horse barely tall enough to reach the woman’s hip.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images, for The New York Times

Sadie talks Jim Eggers down when he’s on the verge of a psychotic episode.

 

Jeff Riedel for The New York Times

Ann Edie and her guide miniature horse, Panda, checking out at Staples.

“Cool costume,” one of the kids said, nodding toward her.

But she wasn’t dressed up. The woman, Ann Edie, was simply blind and out for an evening walk with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused, waited for a car to pass, then veered into the road to avoid a group of children running toward them swinging glow sticks. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. “Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the “walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade. The obvious question is, Why? In fact, Edie says, there are many reasons: miniature horses are mild-mannered, trainable and less threatening than large dogs. They’re naturally cautious and have exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range. Plus, they’re herd animals, so they instinctively synchronize their movements with others. But the biggest reason is age: miniature horses can live and work for more than 30 years. In that time, a blind person typically goes through five to seven guide dogs. That can be draining both emotionally and economically, because each one can cost up to $60,000 to breed, train and place in a home.

“Panda is almost 8 years old,” her trainer, Alexandra Kurland, told me. “If Panda were a dog, Ann would be thinking about retiring her soon and starting over, but their relationship is just getting started. They’re still improving their communication and learning to read each other’s bodies. It’s the difference between dating for a few years and being married so long you can finish each other’s sentences.”

Edie has nothing against service dogs — she has had several. One worked beautifully. Two didn’t — they dragged her across lawns chasing cats and squirrels, even pulled her into the street chasing dogs in passing cars. Edie doesn’t worry about those sorts of things with Panda because miniature horses are less aggressive. Still, she says, “I would never say to a blind person, ‘Run out and get yourself a guide horse,’ because there are definite limitations.” They eat far more often than dogs, and go to the bathroom about every two or three hours. (Yes, Panda is house-trained.) Plus, they can’t curl up in small places, which makes going to the movies or riding in airplanes a challenge. (When miniature horses fly, they stand in first class or bulkhead because they don’t fit in standard coach.)

What’s most striking about Edie and Panda is that after the initial shock of seeing a horse walk into a cafe, or ride in a car, watching them work together makes the idea of guide miniature horses seem utterly logical. Even normal. So normal, in fact, that people often find it hard to believe that the United States government is considering a proposal that would force Edie and many others like her to stop using their service animals. But that’s precisely what’s happening, because a growing number of people believe the world of service animals has gotten out of control: first it was guide dogs for the blind; now it’s monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

Some people enjoy running into an occasional primate or farm animal while shopping. Many others don’t. This has resulted in a growing debate over how to handle these animals, as well as widespread suspicion that people are abusing the law to get special privileges for their pets. Increasingly, business owners, landlords and city officials are challenging the legitimacy of noncanine service animals and refusing to accommodate them. Animal owners are responding with lawsuits and complaints to the Department of Justice. This August, the Arizona Game and Fish Department ordered a woman to get rid of her chimpanzee, claiming that she brought it into the state illegally — she disputed this and sued for discrimination, arguing that it was a diabetes-assistance chimp trained to fetch sugar during hypoglycemic episodes.

Cases like this are raising questions about where to draw the lines when it comes to the needs and rights of people who rely on these animals, of businesses obligated by law to accommodate them and of everyday civilians who — because of health and safety concerns or just general discomfort — don’t want monkeys or ducks walking the aisles of their grocery stores.

A few months ago, in a cafe in St. Louis, I met a man named Jim Eggers, who uses an assistance parrot, Sadie, to help control his psychotic tendencies. Eggers looks like a man who has been fighting his whole life. He is muscular, with a buzz cut, several knocked-out teeth and many scars, including one that runs ear-to-chin from surgery to repair a broken jaw. Eggers avoids eye contact in public — he walks fast down streets and through stores staring at the ground, jaw clenched. “I have bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies,” he told me as he sucked down a green-apple smoothie. “Homicidal feelings too.”

Eggers’s condition has landed him in court several times: a disturbing-the-peace charge for pouring scalding coffee onto a man under his apartment window who annoyed him; one-year probation for threatening to kill the archbishop of St. Louis because of news reports about church money and molestations by priests in other cities (which the archbishop had nothing to do with). In describing his condition, Eggers says it’s like when the Incredible Hulk changes from man to monster. His vision blurs, his body tingles and he can barely hear. According to his friend Larry Gower, who often serves as a public liaison for him, in those moments, Eggers gets extremely loud. They both agree that Sadie is one of the few things keeping Eggers from snapping.

Sadie rides around town on Eggers’s back in a bright purple backpack specially designed to hold her cage. When he gets upset, she talks him down, saying: “It’s O.K., Jim. Calm down, Jim. You’re all right, Jim. I’m here, Jim.” She somehow senses when he is getting agitated before he even knows it’s happening. “I still go off on people sometimes, but she makes sure it never escalates into a big problem,” he told me, grinning bashfully at Sadie. “Now when people make me mad I just give them the bird,” he said, pulling up his sleeve and flexing his biceps, which is covered with a large tattoo of Sadie.

Soon after what he calls “the Archbishop Incident,” Eggers got Sadie from a friend who owned a pet store. She’d been neglected by a previous owner and had torn out all her feathers, so Eggers nursed her back to health. He didn’t initially train her as a service animal, he says; she did that herself. When Eggers had episodes at home, he’d pace, holding his head and yelling: “It’s O.K., Jim! You’re all right, Jim! Calm down, Jim!” One day, Sadie started doing it, too. He soon realized that she calmed him better than he calmed himself. So he started rewarding her each time it happened. And he has had only one incident since: he dented a woman’s car with his fist on a day when he’d left Sadie at home.

 

 

Eggers didn’t think to use any special language to describe Sadie until he tried to take her on a bus and the driver said that only “service animals” were allowed. Eggers went home and looked up “service animal” online. “That’s when it all fell into place,” he told me. He learned that psychiatric service animals help their owners cope with things like medication side effects. Eggers takes heavy doses of antipsychotics that leave him in a fog most of the day. So he trained Sadie to alert him with a loud ringing noise if someone calls, or to yell “WHO’S THERE?” when anyone knocks on the door. If the fire alarm goes off, Sadie goes off. If Eggers leaves the faucet running, Sadie makes sounds like a waterfall until he turns it off.

Eggers got a service-animal bus pass for Sadie and began taking her everywhere. (He has special insulated cage panels to keep her warm in winter.) For years, few people objected. Then, in the spring of 2007, Eggers went to have his teeth cleaned at the St. Louis Community College dental-hygiene school, and officials there told him that Sadie wasn’t allowed inside because she posed a risk to public health and wasn’t really a service animal. “All I can say is, they were lucky I had Sadie with me to keep me calm when they said that,” Eggers told me.

He filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (O.C.R.), which initiated an investigation. Its conclusion: the school wrongfully denied access based on public-health concerns without assessing whether Sadie actually posed a risk. (Several top epidemiologists I interviewed for this article said that, on the whole, birds and miniature horses pose no more risk to human health than service dogs do.)

But Eggers is still fighting that fight. According to the O.C.R., the school “exceeded the boundaries of a permissible inquiry” by questioning Eggers about his disability. But that didn’t change the school’s conclusion: it labeled Sadie a mere “therapy animal.” If that label sticks, it will mean that Sadie isn’t covered by the federal law that protects service animals and guarantees them access to public places.

Stories like Eggers’s involve two questions that are often mistakenly treated as one. The first: What qualifies as a service animal? The second: Can any species be eligible?

There are two categories of animals that help people. “Therapy animals” (also known as “comfort animals”) have been used for decades in hospitals and homes for the elderly or disabled. Their job is essentially to be themselves — to let humans pet and play with them, which calms people, lowers their blood pressure and makes them feel better. There are also therapy horses, which people ride to help with balance and muscle building.

These animals are valuable, but they have no special legal rights because they aren’t considered service animals, the second category, which the A.D.A. defines as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”

Since the 1920s, when guide dogs first started working with blind World War I veterans, service animals have been trained to do everything from helping people balance on stairs to opening doors to calling 911. In the early ’80s, small capuchin monkeys started helping quadriplegics with basic day-to-day functions like eating and drinking, and there was no question about whether­ they counted as service animals. Things got more complicated in the ’90s, when “psychiatric service animals” started fetching pills and water, alerting owners to panic attacks and helping autistic children socialize.

 

 

The line between therapy animals and psychiatric service animals has always been blurry, because it usually comes down to varying definitions of the words “task” and “work” and whether something like actively soothing a person qualifies. That line got blurrier in 2003, when the Department of Transportation revised its internal policies regarding service animals on airplanes. It issued a statement saying that in recent years, “a wider variety of animals (e.g., cats, monkeys, etc.) have been individually trained to assist people with disabilities. Service animals also perform a much wider variety of functions than ever before.”

To keep up with these changes, the D.O.T.’s new guidelines said, “Animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals.” They also said that any species could qualify and that these animals didn’t need special training, aside from basic obedience. The only thing required for a pet to fly with its owner instead of riding as cargo was documentation (like a letter from a doctor) saying the person needed emotional support from an animal. Legally speaking, the D.O.T.’s new policy applied only to airplanes — the A.D.A.’s definition of service animal stayed the same. But for those looking online to find out whether they could take their animals into stores and restaurants, the D.O.T.’s definition looked like official law, and people started acting accordingly.

Soon, a trend emerged: people with no visible disabilities were bringing what a New York Times article called “a veritable Noah’s Ark of support animals” into businesses, claiming that they were service animals. Business owners and their employees often couldn’t distinguish the genuine from the bogus. To protect the disabled from intrusive questions about their medical histories, the A.D.A. makes it illegal to ask what disorder an animal helps with. You also can’t ask for proof that a person is disabled or a demonstration of an animal’s “tasks.” There is no certification process for service animals (though there are Web sites where anyone can buy an official-looking card that says they have a certified service animal, no documentation required). The only questions businesses can ask are “Is that a trained service animal?” and “What task is it trained to do?”

If the person answers yes to the first and claims that the animal is, say, trained to alert him or her to a specific condition (like a seizure), additional questioning could end in a lawsuit. And in many cases, according to Joan Esnayra, founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, the outcome of those lawsuits depends largely on the words people use to describe their animals. “If you say ‘comfort,’ ‘need’ or ‘emotional support,’ you’re out the door,” she says. “If you talk about what your animal does in terms of ‘tasks’ and ‘work,’ then you stand a chance.”

Case in point: When the dental school questioned Eggers about whether­ Sadie was a service animal, he said she kept him “calm.” If he had said that she alerts him to things like attacks and doorbells, his case might have been stronger.

According to Jennifer Mathis, an attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, “A lot of times when people with legitimate service animals lose these cases, it has to do with the fact that they don’t explain their service animals well.”

Rather than risk a lawsuit, many business owners simply allow the animals, even if they doubt their legitimacy. Then they complain to the Department of Justice that the A.D.A. is too broad in its definition of “service animal,” and too restrictive of businesses trying to protect themselves from people who fake it. Which many people do.

In October, a man in Portland, Ore., took his dog on a bus, claiming that it was a service animal. While getting off the bus, the dog killed another dog that was riding as a “comfort animal.” (In Portland, comfort animals are allowed on public transportation.) A few days later, an editorial appeared in The Oregonian with the headline “Take the Menagerie Off the Bus.” It opened with: “No offense, ferret lovers. … Your pet … may offer emotional support. But it shouldn’t be roaming the aisles of a … bus or train.” It argued that the story of the dead comfort dog was proof that people had stretched the legal definition of service animals to include a virtual zoo of animals.

 

 

Lex Frieden, a professor of health-information science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a former director of the National Council on Disability, sees the issue differently. “People shouldn’t be able to carry their pets on a plane or into a restaurant claiming they’re service animals when they’re not,” he says. “But that has nothing to do with what species a service animal is.” The appropriate response in those situations isn’t a species ban, he says, but rather strict punishments for people who pose as disabled. “It’s fraud,” he points out, “and it results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities.”

In June, in an effort to clarify the confusion surrounding service animals, the Department of Justice proposed new regulations to explicitly include psychiatric service and exclude comfort animals. This was part of a sweeping revision of the A.D.A. intended to increase protection and access for the disabled, which was widely applauded. But tucked into that proposal were a few lines that worry advocates and people with disabilities: the D.O.J. proposed limiting service animals to a “dog or other common domestic animal,” specifically excluding “wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig or goat), ferrets, amphibians and rodents.”

This summer, the D.O.J. held a public hearing in Washington and invited anyone who would be affected by the proposed changes to argue for or against them. Many pleaded their cases in person, others by letter. The arguments in favor of species restrictions came primarily from businesses concerned about having to alter facilities, rebuilding seating areas, say, to make room for miniature horses. Several service-animal organizations and people with disabilities argued that banning reptiles and insects was fine but that excluding miniature horses and primates simply went too far. In their defense, they cited things like dog allergies, the long life spans of several species and monkeys’ opposable thumbs. After considering the arguments, last month the D.O.J. submitted a final proposal to the Office of Management and Budget. Until there’s a ruling, neither office will comment on the issue or say whether the species restriction was removed or revised after the public hearings.

Jamie Hais, a spokeswoman for the D.O.J., said she couldn’t comment on why the department suggested the species restriction. But its proposal expressed concerns about public-health risks and said that when the original A.D.A. was written, without specifying species, “few anticipated” the variety of animals people would attempt to use.

“That’s simply not true,” says Frieden, who was an architect of the original A.D.A. While drafting the regulations, he said, Congressional staff members had long discussions about defining “service animal” and whether­ a trained pony could qualify. “There was general consensus that the issue revolved around the question of function, not form,” he says. “So, in fact, if that pony provided assistance to a person with a disability and enabled that person to pursue equal opportunity and nondiscrimination, then that pony could be regarded as a service animal.” They discussed the possibility of birds and snakes for psychiatric disorders, he said, but one of their biggest concerns was that the A.D.A. shouldn’t exclude service monkeys, which were already working with quadriplegics. Since then, however, monkeys have become the most contested assistance-animal species of all.

On a rainy day in November, I walked through a T. J. Maxx store in Springfield, Mo., with Debby Rose and Richard, her 25-pound bonnet macaque monkey — one of the most controversial service animals working today. Rose was wearing brown pants and a brown-and-gold-patterned shirt. Richard was wearing a brown long-sleeved polo over a white T-shirt with jeans and a tan vest that said “Please Don’t Pet Me I’m Working.” Richard stood in the child seat of Rose’s shopping cart, facing forward, bouncing up and down, smacking his lips and grinning as Rose pushed him down the aisles.

Richard is a hands-on shopper. If Rose pointed at a sweater or purse she liked, or a pair of shoes, his hand darted out to touch them. As we passed a pair of tan, fuzzy winter boots that Rose particularly liked, Richard leaned out of the cart and quickly licked one on its toe.

People stared as we walked. “Why do you have him?” they’d ask.

“He’s a service animal trained for my disability, kind of like a seizure-alert dog,” Rose told them, again and again.

“Can I pet him?”

“He doesn’t like to be touched,” she’d say, “but you can give him five.”

People raised their hands, and Richard gave them five.

 

 

That Rose isn’t bothered by people looking and asking questions is impressive, considering that she has agoraphobia and severe anxiety disorder with debilitating panic attacks. Until getting Richard four years ago, she required heavy doses of anti-anxiety drugs just to go out in public. “I couldn’t have come in this store before Richard, let alone handled all these people talking to me,” she said. “Now I like it.”

Rose adopted Richard in 2004; he was badly neglected and near death. She and two of her six children — whom she raised as a single mother — run an exotic-animal shelter. Rose says she believes that Richard was trained as a service animal for his previous owner, an elderly woman whose son gave Richard away when she died. He had been neutered, and his tail had been surgically removed. He’d also had his large and potentially dangerous canine teeth pulled, a procedure commonly done with service monkeys for safety (and often cited as one of several ethical concerns with using wild instead of domesticated species for such jobs).

As Richard returned to health, Rose realized that he had begun to recognize her panic attacks before she did. Her doctor suggested that she train him to help with her disorder, then wrote a letter approving of him as a service animal, saying that Richard was “a constructive way to avoid use of unnecessary medications.” Rose took that letter to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, got permission for Richard to accompany her in public and has been drug-free ever since. She ordered a service-animal ID certificate online; she even got a restriction on her driver’s license saying that she can’t operate a car without a monkey present. Now he sits in her lap with a hand on the wheel while she drives, and she never leaves home without him.

But the number of places Rose and Richard can go is decreasing. In September 2006, after receiving complaints that Richard was sitting in highchairs in restaurants, touching silverware and going through a buffet line with Rose, the Health Department sent a letter to all local restaurants announcing that Richard was a risk to public health and not a legitimate service animal. It instructed businesses to refuse him access and to call the police if Rose protested. Businesses posted the letter on their doors and in their bathrooms; soon Cox College of Nursing and Health Sciences, where Rose was attending nursing school, refused Richard access, too. Stories­ started appearing about Rose and her monkey in the newspaper and on TV. “Suddenly,” she told me, “everyone knew I had a mental disorder.”

Rose dropped out of school and filed a lawsuit against her local Health Department, the nursing school, Wal-Mart and several other local businesses that had forbidden Richard access, saying that they violated the A.D.A. Kevin Gipson, director of the local Health Department, told me that he had asked Rose to show him what “tasks” Richard performed that would qualify him. “She couldn’t,” he said.

Defining “task” is often a point of contention in these cases, especially with psychiatric service animals, whose work generally can’t be demonstrated on command. Before going to T. J. Maxx, I saw Rose begin to panic while sitting in her lawyer’s office talking about her case. Her face flushed; her voice quivered. Richard, who had been dozing in the chair beside her, leapt onto her arm and began stroking her hair. He hugged her, rubbed her ear and cooed while she talked. She immediately calmed down. “He snaps me out of it before the attacks happen,” she said. “If they start at night, he’ll turn on the light and get me a bottle of water.”

For Gipson, that’s really beside the point. “Even if Richard is a legitimate service animal,” he told me, “if he poses a public-health risk, the A.D.A. says he can be excluded. And we believe primates pose a significant health risk.”

Rose says that Richard is perfectly safe and immaculately clean. She showers and blow-dries him every day and uses hand sanitizer on him regularly, and he always wears diapers. But that doesn’t impress the Health Department. Monkeys can carry viruses, like herpes B, which are essentially harmless to them but usually deadly to humans. Those viruses can be transmitted through saliva and other bodily fluids. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study titled “B-Viruses From Pet Macaque Monkeys: An Emerging Threat in the United States?” saying that 80 to 90 percent of adult macaques like Richard carry herpes B. It’s possible to test them for viruses, which Rose does every year with Richard, but those tests often give false negatives. Plus, Gipson told me, “he could catch it any time from contact with other monkeys, which we know he’s had.” Five days before the Health Department banned Richard, a local newspaper ran pictures of him and several other monkeys hanging out at Rose’s family’s sanctuary.

According to Frederick Murphy, former head of viral pathology for the C.D.C. and co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, the threat that viruses from service monkeys present to humans is essentially unknown. There have been a few cases of primate-lab workers contracting herpes B from macaques — mostly from being bitten — but no cases of people being infected by service monkeys, which are usually capuchins.

The bigger concern, according to several experts, is potential aggression. “People think monkeys are cute and like humans, but they’re not,” says Laura Kahn, a public-health expert at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “They’re wild animals, and they’re dangerous.”

Critics of noncanine service animals tend to focus on disease perhaps because that’s the only way to legally exclude any service animal under the current A.D.A. But on the whole, Bradford Smith, former director of the University of California Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, says, “I would tend to think the disease argument is really a proxy for other concerns, like having to let any person who says their parrot or horse is a service animal enter into public areas.”

Rose’s case is sometimes held up as an example of why the A.D.A. should be rewritten to exclude primates as service animals. But in fact, Frieden says, it’s an example of how the original A.D.A. works well as it was written, since it allows broad use of service animals while still leaving room to protect the public health. “Some situations have to be dealt with on a case-by-base basis,” he says. “You can’t legislate fine lines — that’s just not a functional law.”

Frieden is very clear about his belief that it would be a huge loss if concerns about specific cases jeopardized the use of all noncanine service animals, especially the capuchin monkeys trained to help quadriplegics. The capuchins attend “monkey college” at Helping Hands, a nonprofit organization in Boston, where they fetch remote controls, put food in microwaves, open containers, vacuum floors and flip light switches, all in exchange for treats. Helping Hands capuchins are captive bred, which minimizes the risk of picking up diseases, and they’re provided specifically for in-home use. The proposed species restriction might make it impossible for people to transport capuchins or keep them in their homes because of zoning restrictions. The thought of this makes Helping Hands’s founder, M. J. Willard, shudder. “There ought to be a more nuanced way if somebody just thinks it through,” she says. “Even just minor requirements of verifying the legitimacy of a service animal would solve a lot of the current problem.”

Frieden agrees. He suggests that perhaps a national committee could be appointed to develop certification standards for all service animals as well as a formal process for preventing and punishing service-animal fraud. Doing so might solve part of the controversy, he says. But not all of it. Particularly when it comes to species questions.

“Many people try to make this issue black and white — this service animal is good; that one is bad — but that’s not possible, because disability extends through an enormous realm of human behavior and anatomy and human condition,” Frieden told me. In the end, according to him, the important thing to remember is this: “The public used to be put off by the very sight of a person with a disability. That state of mind delayed productivity and caused irreparable harm to many people for decades. We’ve now said, by law, that regardless of their disability, people must have equal opportunity, and we can’t discriminate. In order to seek the opportunities and benefits they have as citizens, if a person needs a cane, they should be able to use one. If they need a wheelchair, a dog, a miniature horse or any other device or animal, society has to accept that, because those things are, in fact, part of that person.”

Rebecca Skloot teaches nonfiction at the University of Memphis. Her first book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” will be published by Crown in spring 2010.

————————————————————————————————

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 4, 2009
An article on Page 34 of The Times Magazine this weekend about animals that help disabled people misidentifies the location of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, one of whose public-health experts commented on the topic. It is at Princeton, not Harvard.

 

Barack Obama, Linda Douglass, and Little Ole LGBT Me December 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights.
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www.huffingtonpost.com

Karen Ocamb

There’s a saying in the 12 Step programs about being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It’s at this point — generally your own personal version of rock bottom — that you surrender and admit something has been screwing up your life.

Well — I guess that’s where I am now. I’m sick and tired of hope.

I wanted to explain this to Linda Douglass, Obama’s heavy-duty spokesperson, when she called unexpectedly and unsolicited at 7:30 Friday morning. But I was taken aback. When she started to identify herself, I stopped her and said, “I know who you are. I remember you from your time as a reporter here in L.A.” – before CBS News moved her to Washington to cover the Justice Department. I was once a small time producer at CBS News and admired Douglass’ journalistic talent.

But Linda did not call to chat about our different career paths. She called me as the news editor of LA’s two largest LGBT publications — IN Los Angeles and Frontiers magazines — to talk about evangelist Rick Warren, who President-Elect Barack Obama selected to deliver the Inauguration Invocation. In case you haven’t heard, there’s been something of a firestorm from LGBTs over the choice.

Obama chose Warren, Linda said, primarily because Obama “has a strong belief in seeking common ground with those people with whom he disagrees on important issues” so difficult discussions can be conducted with civility. Obama admires Warren’s efforts on behalf of the poor and people with HIV/AIDS and climate change, she said, but he disagrees with Warren on issues involving the LGBT community, women’s reproductive rights, and other issues.

The goal, Linda said, was to make this “the most open and inclusive Inauguration in history, including all points of view.” The choice of Warren “was about his seeking common ground with somebody who is trying to be a voice of moderation” to others in the Christian Evangelical movement and beyond through his book “The Purpose Driven Life.”

“This is a choice that reflects these steps toward inclusiveness,” Linda said, adding that the Inaugural program is being rolled out very slowly and by the end, the Big Picture will be revealed as including a “very diverse, inclusive set of people” and an environment that reinforces the belief that “we’re stronger when we’re united. That’s the goal.”

Linda urged me to urge my LGBT readers to look at Obama’s Warren choice in the context of “the Big Picture — a set of goals that have to do with making sure every voice is heard and making possible progress” by resolving those differences that “get in the way of doing what is right for all the people. There is no reason to fear that [Obama's] commitment to equality for gay and lesbian people is going to waver.”

Linda noted Obama’s “own strong belief in the importance of equality and the importance of doing away with discrimination.” Look at the fact that on Election Night Obama “gave a firm shout-out to gays and lesbians that was heard all around the world,” Linda said, as well as his strong record on LGBT issues, including his opposition to Prop 8 (the California amendment that stripped marriage rights from lesbian and gay couples).

Linda noted that civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery has received “short shrift” as the person doing the Benediction. He’s an “outspoken champion of LGBT issues – one of the really, really strong voices” and he’s “at the other end of the program.”

Yes, thank God.

But Linda, I said, the Inauguration isn’t a town hall meeting where different policy discussions can be hashed out. This is a hugely important moment when you say, “this is what we stand for” — and with no openly gay person on the podium — or in his Cabinet – Warren’s pick is a devastating kick in the solar plexis.

Was Obama aware that in an interview with Beliefnet Rick Warren compared same sex marriage to incest and pedophilia? “I don’t know if he was aware of any specific thing,” Linda said. But he is aware of his disagreements and Obama is a “strong, strong champion” of LGBT rights who favors repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and will sign federal hate crime legislation.

Look at the Big Picture.

But it’s hard to look at the Big Picture when you’re doubled over with pain.

I brought up Melissa Etheridge’s question to Hillary Clinton during the
Logo/Human Rights Campaign debate last year – when Melissa basically asked Hillary how can we trust you when we had such high hopes with Bill Clinton and he threw us under the bus?

Linda said she’s been listening to a lot of pain.

I can imagine. I don’t think the Obama folks were quite prepared for the reaction. And I KNOW LGBT folks were not prepared for the sucker-punch — especially after having our legitimate, fundamental right to marry stripped from us by a simple majority of California voters.

But maybe the outrage has done some good. Maybe Obama will finally “see” us — not as a motley crew with a common issue — but as real flesh and blood human beings who get hurt and angry with good reason — we are the last minority against whom it is acceptable to discriminate.

I was in the room in 1991 — before there were medications to “manage” HIV/AIDS – when candidate Bill Clinton went off script and said to a theater full of angry and pained gays and people with AIDS, “I have a vision and you’re a part of it.” Even without close advisors David Mixner or Bob Hattoy whispering in his ear – Clinton wanted and sought and got the LGBT/PWA vote — because things were soooo bad under Reagan/Bush. We were traumatized — experiencing life and death daily like water gushing through clenched fists.

Clinton included us in the Inauguration — gay families on the family float — panels from the AIDS Quilt — a LGBT viewing corner along the parade route — meetings between LGBT and AIDS activists with transition team members — including Hattoy — who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and Tim Westmoreland.

And then, as everyone knows — in the face of Sam Nunn and threats to defeat every piece of legislation if he executed his promise to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military — Clinton threw us under the bus and created the “compromise” policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with the Defense of Marriage Act following not far behind. But everyone knew beforehand that Clinton was more conservative than LGBTs and people with AIDS wanted.

But at least Clinton saw us. He seemed to understand our lot as American exiles living in America and he “felt our pain.”

So I was as moved by Maya Angelou’s Inauguration poem for Clinton, “On the Pulse of Morning,” as I was when I heard JFK’s Inauguration speech as a child. The possibility of hope filled the air — a marrow-bone belief that one day we will see each other and celebrate our differences with civility.

I think of Maya Angelou everyday as I walk my dogs and nod to my neighbors, “good morning.” For a moment, it all rushes back — that positive possibility of a better world, starting one to one.

That’s what Obama promised. Yes, together we can change America. That’s why the brilliant gay author and legal scholar Tobias Wolff flew across the country on his own dime defending Obama and asking for a second chance after antigay Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin headlined Obama’s “Gospel Tour.” Wolff promised that henceforth no antigay people would speak for Obama.

So when it was revealed that Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation — I felt sucker-punched. My mind drifted to the opening paragraph of the famous book by Ralph Ellison — “Invisible Man.”

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids =- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

At the end of the book, Ellison writes: “Perhaps, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you.”

I finally got it.

It’s not that Obama thinks of this as a “Sister Souljah” moment as I first thought. The fact is — Obama doesn’t think of us at all. The gays who might be near him are staffers who happen to be gay and for whom being gay is apparently not an issue. He doesn’t see them as gay — and therefore he doesn’t see us at all.

We are not a substantive part of his vision.

What to do? Well, for one — expect nothing from this new president for whom we are a nuisance, given how huge are his priorities. Let the national organizations push to their hearts content. But the real work on securing our equality with other American citizens will be done on the ground — locally, statewide and through grassroots networking and coalition building. Through the Victory Fund and electing our own. Through the political clubs and electing delegates to rise up through the ranks to start running the parties. There are as many options as there are creative imaginations among us. Let us be the visionaries. At least we see each other.

Now that’s a cause for hope.

Editorial: Separate and Not Equal December 21, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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Published: December 20, 2008

Civil unions are an inadequate substitute for marriage. Creating a separate, new legal structure to confer some benefits on same-sex couples neither honors American ideals of fairness, nor does it grant true equality. The results are clearly visible in New Jersey, which continues to deny same-sex couples some of the tangible civil benefits that come with marriage.

Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey has long said that he would sign a measure granting the right to marry to couples of the same sex. We are heartened that he has declared that that should happen sooner rather than later.

We hope Mr. Corzine intends to prod legislators into passing such a law early in the 2009 session. That would make New Jersey the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples through legislative action. Three other states — Connecticut, Massachusetts and California — have done so through the courts. Unfortunately, California voters approved a ballot measure in November rescinding that right, at least for now.

Mr. Corzine made his statement after a state commission released its final report on New Jersey’s two-year-old civil union law. The commission noted the hurt and stigma inflicted by shutting out gay people from the institution of marriage. It also found that civil unions do not assure gay couples of the same protections, including the right to collect benefits under a partner’s health insurance program and to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner who is unable to do so. The panel concluded unanimously that the state should enact a law to remove the inequities.

We regret that the leaders of the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature do not view this issue with the same urgency. Senate President Richard Codey, for instance, said recently that progress in civil rights areas “is typically achieved in incremental steps.” We suspect that political expedience is clouding Mr. Codey’s sense of fairness. Next year in New Jersey, the governorship and all seats in the Assembly are up for grabs in an election. Some Republicans already are talking about making their opposition to same-sex marriage a campaign issue.

Governor Corzine typically takes the right side on important issues, but he has been known to retreat in the face of opposition. We hope that’s not the case here. It’s past time for him and for the Democrats in Trenton to find the political courage to extend the right to marry to gay couples.

In a First, Gay Rights Are Pressed at the U.N. December 20, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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www.truthdig.com  

NEIL MACFARQUHAR, New York Times

Published: December 18, 2008

UNITED NATIONS — An unprecedented declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality won the support of 66 countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, but opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize pedophilia and other “deplorable acts.”

The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See’s observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration “challenges existing human rights norms.”

The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.

“How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?” said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

France decided to use the format of a declaration because it did not have the support for an official resolution. Read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina, the declaration was the first on gay rights read in the 192-member General Assembly itself.

Although laws against homosexuality are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, more than one speaker addressing a separate conference on the declaration noted that the laws stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality “are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.

Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were “disappointed” that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. “The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered,” said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.

The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

“We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction,” said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy permanent representative.

Gay-rights advocates brought to the conference from around the world by France said just having the taboo broken on discussing the topic at the United Nations would aid their battles at home. “People in Africa can have hope that someone is speaking for them,” said the Rev. Jide Macaulay of Nigeria.

Faith Leaders from LGBT Groups Issue Joint Statement Denouncing Vatican, Supporting UN Resolution December 20, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, along with faith program directors from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and National Black Justice Coalition today issued a joint protest over the Vatican’s recent decision to oppose an initiative to decriminalize homosexuality.  Advocates are pushing the U.S. State Department to support the initiative and urging media to cover this life and death concern.

The following joint statement was issued on United Nations Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“For far too long people around the world have been ostracized, imprisoned, tortured and denied basic rights to housing, health care and employment simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). In more than 70 countries people can be imprisoned for homosexuality and in several countries same gender love is a crime punishable by death.

“This is why the French government, backed by 27 European Union nations, put forward a proposal, on Human Rights Day to recognize that LGBT rights are human rights and to decriminalize homosexuality. Such a statement simply affirms the most basic of rights for LGBT people: that they be allowed to live in dignity and safety. As faith leaders who work every day with LGBT people who feel the stigma of discrimination, this UN initiative speaks to our core belief that we show our love for God when we care for our neighbors, particularly those who are shunned and marginalized.

“As faith leaders we were shocked by Vatican opposition to this proposed initiative. By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable. Most Catholics, and indeed most Catholic teachings, tell us that all people are entitled to live with basic human dignity without the threat of violence. The Catholics we know believe that Scripture asks us to be our brother and our sister’s keeper. Many are speaking out against this immoral stance in the name of religion.

“Compounding the Vatican’s opposition is the inaction to date of the government of the United States. As faith leaders and citizens of the United States, we call on the U.S. government to join the 50 countries throughout the world that have officially supported this U.N. proposal.  We urge U.S. leaders to stand against discrimination. It is time to let the teachings of the world’s great religions guide us toward justice rather that encouraging prejudice, fear and violence. It is time for the U.S. to stand as a moral leader for LGBT people and to help create a more just world for all of us.”

Harry Knox, Director
Religion and Faith Program
Human Rights Campaign Foundation

The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Director
Institute for Welcoming Resources and Faith Work
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director
Religious Affairs
National Black Justice Coalition

Ann Craig, Director
Religion, Faith & Values Program
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

 The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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