picture of the words "peace" and "justice" with arrow pointing from one to the other in a circular manner.

The Dos and Don’ts for Bystanders in Situations of Danger and Intimidation

picture of the words "peace" and "justice" with arrow pointing from one to the other in a circular manner.

Peace to Justice to Peace; meme courtesy of Word Clip Art

In December, after the increase in hate crimes, intimidation, and interpersonal violence across the United States, the American Friends Service Committee put out a statement on how you, as a bystander, can help without escalating these types of dangerous situations.

As a person who believes that all peoples are and should be welcome, I think these do’s and don’ts are something that all of us should take heed of and act on when we come across these intimidating situations.

Help make your town a welcoming community. Here are the general Do’s and Don’ts when you witness these potentially dangerous activities.  For more on each “Do” and “Don’t,” click here to download and read the details.

Do:

  • Do make your presence as a witness known.
  • Do take cues from the individual being harassed.
  • Do keep both of you safe.

Don’t:

  • Don’t call the police.
  • Don’t escalate the situation.
  • Don’t do nothing.

The Day We’ve Been Dreading: Plans to Evict #NoDAPL Water Protectors Made Public

Native Americans are asking all of us to stand with them. Speak out. Help stop this atrocity and violence against the indigenous peoples.

Transformative Spaces

14917209_1834292066812571_2296314898723987447_o Water Protectors square off with police earlier this month. (Photo: Johnny Dangers)

As people from around the country continue to converge in Standing Rock, and less than a week after police blasted Water Protectors with water cannons in freezing temperatures while gassing them in a confined space, the Army Corps of engineers has lived up to a long-held tradition of the United States government — the displacement of Native peoples. In a letter addressed to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, the Army Corps outlined its plans to remove water protectors from their frontline encampment areas on December 5. In what we can expect will be a violent spectacle, reminiscent of the violence we have already witnessed during this struggle, Indigenous people will once again be faced with forced relocation for the sake of white wealth. While the government has at times voiced sympathy for the Protectors, such actions are, of course, both historically consistent…

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Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Lighting the Way: National Speakout

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Stop Gun Violence

Congressman John Lewis is leading a national speak-out on gun violence. He put together this video to share with everyone why we need to come together and why the “Black Caucus Demands Congress Hold Vote After Shootings”


Organizers hope that folks who live nearby will come to the west side of the US Capitol and fill the mall with our bodies, signs and voices. You can rsvp for the rally here.  If you can’t make this rally, please find your Members of Congress when they come home from the break and ask them to support real gun safety measures before more people die. The killer in Dallas had been “less than honorably” discharged from the military and he should have failed a background check.

Democrats to Hold  ‘ Lighting the Way’

National Speak Out: The Path Forward on Gun Violence

 WHO: Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC), Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Congressional Black Caucus, and Members of the House Democratic Caucus

WHAT and WHY: The House will be adjourning for a VERY long recess and this rally is to point out that they have failed to act on bills to promote gun safety.  If miracles happen, this will be a celebration.

  • Ensuring Universal Background Checks H.R. 1217, Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act
  •  Enacting No Fly, No Buy H.R. 1076, Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act
  • Closing the Charleston Loophole H.R. 3051, Background Check Completion Act
  • Barring Firearm Sales to Hate Crime Offenders H.R. 4603, Hate Crimes Prevention Act

WHEN: Thursday, July 14th at 7:30 PM

 WHERE:  West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

We Need to Save Both Blacks, Police

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said it all in her tweet:

“Black Americans shouldn’t be killed in routine traffic stops, and police shouldn’t be killed while protecting and serving their communities.”

Picture of a gun with a knotted barrel with the words "Stop the Violence" surrounding the gun.

Stop Gun Violence

Nel's New Day

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-NY) husband was killed in a mass shooting in 1993, the same horrific event that seriously wounded her son. Elected to Congress four years later, she fought for gun safety legislation. Not until 2007 did she succeed—in a small way. During the last session before winter holiday recess that year, Congress passed a law requiring federal agencies to keep up-to-date records on people who might be disqualified from purchasing guns such as those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than a year, and those with documented mental health issues.  Other than a vote to renew a ban on plastic firearms in 2013, that’s the last gun safety legislation that got through Congress. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died because of firearms, and the number of mass shootings are drastically increasing.

After the 50 deaths…

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Throwing Gun Safety Away in PA

Stop Violence Against Women NOW diamond

Stop Violence Against Women NOW

I received an email late last night from CeaseFirePA  regarding pending legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Here’s the main part of that email regarding two bills designed to reduce gun safety within the state:

There has been a MAJOR development in our state House that is designed to seriously undermine our safety as Pennsylvanians. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ACT TODAY.

Our state House Judiciary Committee just released a surprise agenda for… March 18 and it’s a doozy. The legislators controlled by the gun lobby are trying to railroad five firearms related bills-at least two of which are extremely dangerous for Pennsylvania-through the legislature without giving the public time to weigh in on them. These dangerous Bills are:

-HB 921, which would eliminate Pennsylvania’s background check system (PICS)–a system that our state police swear by and that contains thousands of records, particularly mental health records and records of PFAs [Protection from Abuse orders]/domestic abuse, that are not included in the National Instant Check System (NICS);

-HB 2011, which would-for the first time EVER in Pennsylvania history-allow a special interest group (in this case, the gun lobby and groups like the NRA) and the interest group’s entire membership base special, automatic standing to sue towns and cities because the group does not like the ordinances that these towns have passed to increase the safety of their citizens, even when the ordinance has not been enforced against any member of that group.

—Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA, Western PA Regional Director

Based on the Gun Safety resolution that both Pennsylvania NOW and National NOW passed, respectively, in January and February 2013, Pennsylvania NOW decided to oppose both of these bills.  [FYI for disclosure purposes, I serve on both of these organizations’ boards — as a member of the Executive Committee for Pennsylvania NOW and as a member representing the Mid-Atlantic Region on the National NOW Board of Directors]. For more information on this NOW policy, go to the end of this blog to see the text of the resolution passed on February 25, 2013 by the National NOW Board of Directors calling for Sensible Gun Safety Legislation; this policy passed following the many concerns raised by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  My very first blog on this site was written the day of these shootings.)

Why Pennsylvania NOW Opposes these Bills

Pennsylvania NOW opposes HB 921 that eliminates PA’s background check for gun sales and increases the threat of gun violence to victims of domestic violence who have or want to seek out a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order.

Pennsylvania NOW also opposes HB 2011 since it allows special interest groups without legal standing to sue to overturn any local ordinance they don’t like.  This second bill could overturn not only local gun-related ordinances, but also other ordinances such as local anti-discrimination ordinances that have added marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in preventing discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Status of these Bills

The members of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee met at 10 am this morning.  I talked to Rep. Thomas Caltagirone’s (D-PA 127) office (he’s the Minority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee).  The woman I talked to said that his entire staff (except herself) was in the Committee meeting and she had no idea as to whether or not these bills had been voted on.  At 2 pm today, I checked the General Assembly’s website.  As of that time, nothing had been posted regarding a committee vote on these bills.

Based on the make-up of the Judiciary Committee, we suspect that both bills will be voted out if they haven’t already been.  So all members of the legislature need to be contacted to tell them to vote no on both bills when they come to the floor.

Be/Become an Activist for Gun Safety

We don’t need to throw away our gun safety laws.  We need, instead, to make sure gun safety rules are in place to protect our loved ones.

So, please take time to contact your legislator.  Here’s where to find your legislator’s contact info. Tell him/her to vote NO on HB 921 and HB 2011 to protect the lives of our loved ones from unsafe gun sales and preemption of local ordinances that improve our local communities.

Addendum

CALL FOR SENSIBLE GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION

WHEREAS, the National Organization for Women (NOW) “[E]nvision[s] a world where non‑violence is the established order”; and

WHEREAS, we, along with the rest of the nation, have witnessed in horror and, with deep sadness, the most recent massacre on December 14, 2012, by an individual with assault weapons, of his mother first, then innocent children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and

WHEREAS, this horrific incident is the latest in a string of recent, shocking gun attacks, all of which have been perpetrated by individuals with assault weapons and which have mostly targeted women and children around the country, including at:

  • a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon in December 2012;
  • the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012;
  • a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured, and where other casualties included the death of 9-year old Christina Taylor-Green; and
  • an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in October 2006 where 5 young girls were slaughtered and 5 more girls were seriously injured after the shooter released the boys and the adults; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congressional Research Services, there were more than 310 million firearms in private ownership in the United States in 2009, and another 5.2 million are manufactured annually and another 3.2 million imported annually, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 people in the US are killed each year by firearms, and the vast majority of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed with handguns by intimate partners rather than by strangers; and

WHEREAS, we respect the rights conferred under the Second Amendment but believe that the right to bear arms does not mean that assault weapons—which are designed solely to kill people—should be sold to members of the public; and

WHEREAS, as President Obama said in Newtown, “These tragedies must end;”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW calls upon our federal- and state-level elected representatives to protect and defend our children, our communities and our nation from further gun violence by immediately implementing sensible gun safety  legislation, including:

  • Reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that was in effect prior to 2004; and
  • Banning the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips of ammunition containing more than 10 bullets; and
  • Closing the “Gun Show Loophole” which allows individuals to purchase guns without a background check; and
  • Appointing a permanent position as Director of Tobacco & Fire Arms Department; and
  • Retaining the results of all Federal background checks for five years; and
  • Requiring universal background checks, including checks  for domestic violence for the purchase of any legal weapon; and
  • Creating a national gun registry that will allow law enforcement to track weapons; and
  • Requiring devices be added to weapons which would limit the use of any privately-owned gun to the registered owner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NOW encourages our chapters and members to:

  • Lobby their elected officials for effective legislation to end gun violence, with the NOW Action Center providing educational information to assist in such efforts; and
  • Contact entertainment providers and their sponsors to ask that they do not manufacture or sponsor video games, movies, television shows or music that glorify gratuitous violence; and
  • Lobby and/or protest professional organizations in the entertainment industry that honor exceptionally violent content; and
  • Advocate for programs and their funding in schools to teach tolerance and conflict resolution; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NOW endorses actions advocating for solutions to end gun violence when it can be done in accordance with NOW’s Coalition Guidelines.

—Passed by the National NOW Board of Directors, February 25, 2013

When Men Murder Women: The Violence Policy Center 2013 Report

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The following is a guest blog originally published here by Jerin Arifa, with an acknowledgement to Patricia Reuss for staying on top of this issue and sending the report to us.

Jerin serves with me on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and chairs NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force.

Patricia is the “godmother” of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), having worked very closely with now Vice-President Joe Biden when he authored the original VAWA back in 1994.  She describes herself as “a longtime women’s rights activist pretending to be retired and currently serving as a policy adviser to NOW and the National Task Force [to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women].”

Earlier this year, Pat wrote a guest blog for me on the Violence Against Women Act. It focused on a watered-down version of VAWA introduced by Republican legislators that fortunately failed and was replaced by a strong re-authorization bill signed into law by President Obama on Women’s Equality Day last March. Thank you Pat for all you do for women’s lives.

Here’s Jerin’s guest blog:

The Violence Policy Center has released their annual report, When Men Murder Women, in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study reports the statistics for females murdered by males, and includes a list of the top ten states with the highest homicide rates.

Some key findings:

  1. For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims were murdered by someone they knew. Compared to a man, a woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.
  2. For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 51 percent of female victims were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 73 percent were killed with handguns.
  3. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than five times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents
  4. For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 87 percent were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
  5. Of these, 60 percent involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
  6. For homicides in which the age of the victim was reported, 8 percent were less than 18 years old and 10 percent were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 39 years old.
  7. Owning a gun doesn’t protect women. Females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.
  8. A gun in the home is a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spousal abuse to homicide. In one study, firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults between family and intimates.
  9. Women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.
  10. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2010, the most recent final data available, are suicide (19,392), homicide (11,078), or fatal unintentional injury (606).
  11. South Carolina was followed by Alaska and Oklahoma as the states with the highest homicide rates for women.

Good Start on Facebook Guidelines, But More is Needed

This morning, the Huffington Post posted an article about yesterday’s statement from Facebook.  Facebook has agreed to take the following steps to reduce online violence against women and children on their pages:

  • We will complete our review and update the guidelines that our User Operations team uses to evaluate reports of violations of our Community Standards around hate speech.  To ensure that these guidelines reflect best practices, we will solicit feedback from legal experts and others, including representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.
  • We will update the training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook. To ensure that our training is robust, we will work with legal experts and others, including members of the women’s coalition to identify resources or highlight areas of particular concern for inclusion in the training. 
  • We will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.  A few months ago we began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel and insensitive humor include his or her authentic identity for the content to remain on Facebook.  As a result, if an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content. We will continue to develop this policy based on the results so far, which indicate that it is helping create a better environment for Facebook users.
  • We will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area, including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate our standards. We have invited representatives of the women Everyday Sexism to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has previously established with other groups.
  • We will encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group and other international working groups that we currently work with on these issues to include representatives of the women’s coalition to identify how to balance considerations of free expression, to undertake research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.

What I don’t see in this Facebook statement is an agreement to be more transparent in their monitoring process. I would like to see them report how many and what types of pages/ads that they have monitored, shut down, and/or contacted for possible violation of their regulations.  In addition, in their efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” I believe they need to provide to the public upon request reasons they allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates the new anti-rape policy from remaining online.
There were several petition sites where you could raise your voice to call on Facebook to follow through on this statement to end their misogynistic rape ads that they have called “humor.”  The one that gathered the most signatures was called Demand Facebook Remove Pages That Promote Sexual Violence.  It is now closed.  This petition collected signatures that were sent to Facebook. It successfully called upon Facebook to do several things (others are listed on the petition page itself), including

  1. Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.
  2. Be transparent about the content monitoring process; to state publicly if and how many pages are removed that promotes sexual violence or violence against women.  (Note, this was not part of Facebook’s recent statement, but I believe should be part of their new policy).

Since the second issue of transparency was not covered in Facebook’s statement, I would suggest we continue making comments to Facebook about the need for more transparency.  There is another petition on Change.org. It is still open and allows you space to comment on this issue.  In that comment box, you can make your suggestion for more transparency as they craft this new policy.  Here’s what I wrote to them in that comment box:

Thank you for issuing your statement to review and update your policy on any type of hate speech that allegedly condones or promotes violence against women including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault (whether it is in ads or on pages).  And thank you for agreeing to “establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area [of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking], including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate [your new] standards.”
However what I don’t see you your agreement is a willingness to be more transparent about this issue to the public.  I am therefore asking that your efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” that you to provide to the public upon request reasons why you either allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates your new anti-violence policy from remaining online.

Nel's New Day

MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.

Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook…

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Civil Rights Denied: PA’s Proposed Constitutional Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about the dueling marriage equality and same-sex marriage ban bills recently introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Today I thought I give a more detailed argument as to how discriminatory the same-sex marriage ban is to gays and straights alike.

As previously stated, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.  That bill would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania state Constitution – the Declaration of Rights section – to take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Until the spring of 2012, 31 states across the country had created constitutional amendments to outlaw marriage or anything that looks like marriage between same-sex couples. The last successful attempt at this form of discrimination occurred by referendum in North Carolina in the spring of 2012; all other attempts since then to deny marriage equality have failed.

Marriage equality however has had many successes since then. Three states – Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – either passed a referendum OR legislation legalizing marriage equality following North Carolina’s referendum. One state – Minnesota—is expected to pass their marriage equality bill today; note, this is only 6 months after the voters in Minnesota by referendum killed their proposed same-sex marriage ban.  And one state – Colorado – passed legislation recognizing civil unions even though they have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Instead of moving forward, right-wing legislators would like to have Pennsylvania join the 31 other states that constitutionally ban-same sex marriages and/or other legal forms of relationships such as domestic partnerships and civil unions.  These Pennsylvanian legislators are making their fourth attack on same-sex couples and on unmarried people – gay or straight.  If HB 1349 passes, Pennsylvania for the first time in its history would enshrine and mandate discrimination into the state Constitution.

This amendment would take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  The way this amendment is written would affect all unmarried couples, victims of domestic violence if they are not married to their abuser, and could threaten Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws

Effect on All Unmarried Couples – Gay or Straight

Currently, Pennsylvania statute recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman.

Pennsylvania does not recognize either (1) same-sex marriages or (2) civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other coupled-household status—whether entered into by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.  Those affected by this amendment would therefore, for example, include senior citizens who live together but are not married because of economic considerations, couples who believe they have a “common law marriage” (which is no longer recognized in Pennsylvania), and gay or straight couples who have any type of intimate relationship.

It could also threaten the lives of unmarried domestic violence victims and allow unmarried individuals to be discriminated against in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Effect on Domestic Violence Victims

In 2004, Ohio passed their discriminatory anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which was quickly and unexpectedly used to deny protections to unmarried victims of domestic violence.  Here’s what happened.  Almost immediately, unmarried batterers argued that since they were not married, Ohio could not enforce their domestic violence law because that was treating their relationship with their partner as “equivalent to marriage.” The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed and ruled that the Ohio domestic violence law runs afoul of the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, passed by voters in 2004, and does not apply to “a person living as a spouse.”  As a result, unmarried defendants, who could have faced felony domestic violence charges, only faced misdemeanor assault charges.    It took several years for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse this ruling.  In the interim, unmarried women were at the mercy of their batterers in several counties in Ohio.

The Ohio amendment is very similar to that of the one proposed for Pennsylvania.   In Ohio, by providing protection to persons living as spouses,” the domestic violence statutes created a legal status for cohabiting relationships that is “equivalent to a marriage,” according to the appeals court. The appeals court decision in Ohio then denied protection from abuse to unmarried individuals – gay or straight – because the domestic violence law gave legal standing to an unconstitutional relationship – that of an unmarried couple. The courts argument overturning these domestic violence protections utilized similar language found in Pennsylvania’s HB 1439, which states that no other legal union… or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

We have no way of knowing how the courts would rule on a similar argument should this amendment pass and become part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.  Who knows if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would protect the victim or allow batterers to circumvent Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law?  We need to protect all people from domestic violence and sexual assault.  Passage of this amendment could deny the protection offered by Pennsylvania’s domestic violence and protection from abuse laws; it could even risk the very lives of unmarried people–gay or straight–because this constitutional amendment denies the rights, privileges, and protections of law to people who are not legally married or who have a relationship that is “functionally equivalent” to traditional marriage.

Effects on Employment, Education, Housing, and Public Accommodations

It also looks like current and proposed employment, education, housing, and public accommodations anti-discrimination laws at both the state and local levels might be jeopardized for unmarried individuals.  Discrimination based on marital status and family responsibilities is unlawful under a variety of existing laws. With a few exceptions, under current state and federal law, people who experience this form of discrimination must fit their claims into an appropriate legal theory—as discrimination based on gender, a violation of family and medical leave laws, or another legal theory.  In addition, many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania have passed or are considering ordinances that would make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and in some cases, public accommodations specifically based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.   Will the state courts, the PA Human Relations Commission, or local Human Relations Commissions be able to enforce these laws if Pennsylvania’s constitution has been amended to require unmarried couples to be treated differently from married couples?  We do not know.  Passage of HB 1439 as a constitutional amendment could put all of these protections at risk since any person, company, or school could argue that their business is mandated to deny employment, hiring, and benefits to any person who is not married.

Civil Rights Denied, Reiterated

Last, but not least, exclusion, discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. This discriminatory “Marriage Protection Amendment” denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve. Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of this amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

The proposed amendment could also take away existing legal protections for committed long-term couples and their children, such as second parent adoptions, cohabitation agreements, co-parenting agreements, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., regardless of their sexual orientation.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

Let’s all work to stop this bill now!  So I’m once again recommending that you keep up-to-date on this horrible bill as well as other LGBTQ legislation at  Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

Pennsylvania General Assembly Again Attacking Women’s Reproductive Health

Keep Abortion Legal NOW Round

Keep Abortion Legal Safe, Legal and Accessible (http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/)

It’s 2013 and the Pennsylvania General Assembly continues to attack women’s access to reproductive health. According to WeveHadEnoughPA.org, the Pennsylvania legislature has launched and maintained a 2+ year attack on women’s health. There have been numerous bills introduced and in some cases passed that restrict women’s vital access to reproductive health.  Since January 2011, there have been at least 55 votes in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict access from birth control to safe, legal abortions.

The most recent attack is happening this month.  On April 10, the Pennsylvania Senate Insurance and Banking Committee heard and passed out SB 3 by an 8-5 vote; a floor vote could occur any time this month.  This coming Monday, April 15th, the Pennsylvania House Health Committee will be hearing and voting on HB 818, the companion bill to SB 3.

The Additional Burdens on Women Seeking Abortion Care in These Bills

Both of these bills would prohibit insurance companies who provide health care coverage from including abortion coverage within the new healthcare Exchange crafted by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The only exceptions to this proposed ban are for women who become pregnant because of rape or incest if they personally report the sexual assault to law enforcement officials and for women who will die without immediate access to abortion services. If a woman doesn’t meet one of these two exceptions, she must completely pay for the abortion totally out of her own pocket, unlike any other medical care she would receive under her health insurance plan.

Currently, about 80% of private insurance companies provide coverage for abortion services. This is important because these very same plans will be offered to people purchasing insurance through the Exchange. As part of the federal law, however, all plans that offer abortion coverage in the Exchange must have a separate payment for that portion of the coverage. This bill would deny women the right to make this separate payment and deny them what is currently available to most people covered by the current private health insurance system. While women would still be able to have abortions in this circumstance, they would be forced to fully pay out-of-pocket all cost for these procedures; their insurance company would be prohibited from paying any portion of this treatment.

This proposed ban places an undue burden on victims of rape and incest and on those women whose lives are in danger health-wise by adding unnecessary barriers to receiving the critical medical attention they need. The two exceptions allowed are extremely limited. These bills require woman who are victims of rape or incest to notify the police and identify the perpetrator prior to seeking abortion treatment.  It also limits women with health issues that complicate their medical treatment to those that are in immediate danger of dying and requires additional medical certification by second, non-attending physician.

This bill places these restrictions on access to health insurance not by mentioning rape or incest or the death aversion clause, but by referring to and expanding Pennsylvania’s version of the Hyde Amendment.  This language is embedded in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3215(c) and would expand restrictions on public funds to all privately paid insurance plans purchased within the Exchange. The law (18 Pa.C.S. § 3215(c))as currently written is a prohibition of the state spending of public funds but not personal funds provided by the person herself for her own health insurance coverage.

The Rape and Incest Exception

Women and minors who are raped would be denied access to abortion services unless they formally report and identify their rapist to the police or child protective services.  Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police. This is even truer when the perpetrator is a family member or acquaintance. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, sexual assault occurs at a much higher rate than is actually reported.

Reasons for not reporting include an initial denial that they have been raped; fear that you won’t be believed or are ashamed for having been raped; or having an ongoing relationship (such as a spouse or parent) with the perpetrator. In order to be safe from further violence by the perpetrator, women and girls may decide not to report the attack to the authorities.  And if you are in denial you are also unlikely to report your rape or the incest of your child to authorities as required in this proposed legislation.

So that means if this bill becomes law and you become pregnant from rape or incest, you are further burdened with the additional costs of fully paying for the abortion. If this bill were not to go into effect, then following the restrictions placed on abortion care under federal law, you would have the abortion services covered based on the insurance rider you purchased in the exchange and you wouldn’t be forced to file a complaint with the police.  This is just one reason why this bill should be voted down.

The “Avert” Death Exception and Need for Expanded Health Exception

In addition, under this proposed law, women who are near death could receive an abortion.  However, say a woman develops cancer or an infection during her pregnancy that will not immediately kill her but would complicate her medical treatment should she continue with the pregnancy.

This health threat/complication is not included in the current bill’s health exception as that exception allows abortions only to “avert” the woman’s death. Any woman with a medical condition that is complicated by the pregnancy but doesn’t immediately place her in danger of death would be forced to bear the additional burden of the full cost of an abortion in addition to the increased threats to her health as well as the additional medical bills for the remaining part of her care.  The medical community, advocates and some legislators are very concerned about this limited exception and have proposed an amendment to both the House and Senate bill to expand this exception from “averting” her death to coverage of the abortion for any pregnancy that poses a substantial risk to the woman’s physical health.

But even if the health exception is expanded to include threats to women’s physical health and care, this bill continues to attack women’s health and lives and should be voted down.

Why this Bill Should be Voted Down

The question of whether abortion will be covered in federally subsidized insurance exchanges has already been settled.  In response to concerns raised by US Senator Ben Nelson, a staunch opponent of abortion, women who want to use their own money to purchase a health insurance plan that covers abortion services must send a separate payment so the funding for abortion coverage is completely separate and paid entirely by the individual. This bill denies women their right to make this separate payment.  And with an estimated 80% of private insurance plans currently covering abortion care, banning abortion coverage in the state exchange would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.

Abortion care is a legally authorized and fundamental component of women’s basic health care.  Women should not be denied access to safe, legal, and critical care as part of health care reform implementation.

If abortion coverage is available to some, it should be available to all.  Politicians should not discriminate against women participating in the health insurance exchange.  All women deserve the same peace of mind that they can obtain the health care they need, regardless of where their insurance comes from.

The decision to have an abortion is a private decision between a patient and her physician. It should not be denied by politicians interfering with an insurance company and the policies they offer to the consumer for this procedure.

Banning abortion coverage in transactions between a private company and an individual is governmental activism of the worst kind.  With all of the heated rhetoric over healthcare reform, one would assume that lawmakers would be sensitive about taking any action that suggests government intervention in private healthcare decisions.

Finally, instead of denying Pennsylvania women access to fundamental reproductive health care services, politicians should be working to protect and advance women’s health.

Action Needed

Contact your Pennsylvania Senator and Representative today (find their contact information here).  Tell her/him to support the expanded health exception amendment to both SB 3 and HB 818 and to oppose the entire bill regardless of the inclusion of the amendment.

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”