Category Archives: human rights

No, I wasn’t in New York last Sunday marrying Rachel Rawlings, the woman who has put up with me for 14 years now. Not that we hadn’t been hoping for it for a long time, or that we didn’t tear up when we saw the photo of Cheryle Rudd and Kitty Lambert and Niagara Falls lit up in rainbow colors. I do kinda wish I’d gone  there to bear witness, 10 years after Rachel and I got our domestic-partners certificate in Manhattan.

Photo: Kathy Bockus, The St. Stephen Courier.

By the time of the latter in 2000,  itself a sequel to the one we’d secured in San Francisco a year after we met,  we’d already enacted the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows, at each other’s side during hospitalizations, and were about to dance together at my brother’s wedding. In 2004, during what I called “gay marriage fever season,” we jumped at the chance to try for a marriage license in Nyack, N.Y., joining one of a near-dozen lawsuits charging that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But that suit, like the others,  failed before the state’s highest court in 2006, the justices practically begging the Legislature to clarify the law.

But that didn’t appear imminent when we moved to Pennsylvania two years later; we finally tied the knot last year in a small Canadian town just over the Maine border. (We even made the papers not so much for being a same-sex-marriage but for being the first to marry at New Brunswick’s Chocolate Museum.) Our parents made the trip and our brothers were the official witnesses, something that I’d never have dreamed possible when we met in the 1990s.

Still, as the momentum gathered this year in New York State, we couldn’t help feeling that it was our journey, too. On the day same-sex marriage was voted in, I choked up watching Sen. Tom Duane, whom I’d covered often as a reporter,  speaking about his partner, Lewis Webre, and the bill he’d championed for nearly a decade. And Sunday I loved learning about it on Twitter, as @CityHallNews told me that  “NY County judges prepping to marry ssm couples, affixing brooches to their robes. A reported shortage of inkpads to stamp certificates.” Or from @steven_thrasher: NY #SSM – that “judges don’t say ‘I now pronounce you wife & wife,’ but ‘I now pronounce you married.’ Has a dignity to it.” Absolutely. Over all, 659  couples wed on the historic day.

Rache and I will likely renew our vows in New York, maybe even on our first wedding anniversary. In the meantime, here are some moments many of us will think of as our wedding album:

A week after signing the marriage bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hailed at the city’s Pride parade, along with Sen. Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who proposed to her girl the next day.
12:01, July 24, 2011: Cheryle Rudd and Kitty Lambert start off the day’s festivities with Niagara Falls in the background.
 4  p.m.: Rod and Ricky, the pair of Wall Street bankers  in love from the musical Avenue Q, had a wedding on a Broadway stage along with a handful of the industry’s human gay couples.
 The cover of The New Yorker Magazine, July 25, 2011.

Photo: David Shankbone

Of course, we knew such happiness would be challenged by some people, like this member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which joined for one day with other marriage opponents to stream their rally. (Maybe I won’t put that one in the album, though it’s a useful reminder of why the struggle has taken this long.)

Photo: Jen Doll

5:40 p.m.: Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiates at the wedding of aides John Feinblatt and Jonathan Mintz, to the delight of their ‘tween daughters (and flower girls.)

Please send any photos you  have to supplement these, especially if you were there. We’ll be happy to add them to our gallery. And I’m still so proud of the city where I was born, for helping lead the country into the 21st century.

 

(Originally posted at Women’s Voices for Change.)
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It’s our Independence Day, too

 

 

I know it’s been too long since I actually blogged here – even though my book is finally done! But this crosspost is kind of time-specific.

Today, politicians both active and aspiring are pressing the flesh at Fourth of July gatherings. Many, perhaps especially on the Tea Party end of things, have been claiming the mantle of that week in July pretty hard for the past few years. And now, just in time, Harvard University tells us that Fourth of July parades inherently turn kids into Republicans, claiming that “there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on the  Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican-dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.”

But like Jonathan Turley, who teaches at Harvard, I refuse to concede the Fourth of July, or the idea of America, to any one political faction. Today belongs to me, too.

It belongs to women too, from Abigail Adams to Sally Hemings, mother of some of Thomas Jefferson’s children; from Maj. Alice Davey Sheldon to Dolores Huerta (left), co-founder of the United Farm Workers.

The best of those Fourth of July parades are the small-town ones, like the one I saw 20 years ago in Saugerties, N.Y., where moms cheered the local Junior ROTC contingent and everyone sang the town song, “Oh Saugerties,” before the Star-Spangled Banner. Or they’re the raucous multicultural festivals we see in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia, where tonight I’ll stand and watch fireworks not far from where the Declaration of Independence was brewed.

I don’t claim to know whether that document was a simple declaration of war, with all that “general welfare” stuff thrown in for fun, as pundits have claimed. But I do know that those words have been cited by men and women around the world, from hundreds of countries and a thousand political perspectives. And today is about celebrating the sense of infinite possibility that America at its  best can represent. And yes, we could all list what America at its worst might mean. But that’s not what today is about.

I’ve watched fireworks on the Fourth when I was 13 and called myself a “democratic socialist”; when I was 16 and a fan of Atlas Shrugged, like Ron Paul; when I was 35 in San Francisco and newly realizing I was a lesbian. None of those times came with a partisan agenda, though my determination to preserve that sense of possibility has only increased. So has the range of fighters for freedom worth applauding. Yesterday, it included the kids, from 3 to 19 years old, dancing at a block party nearby. They deserve the Fourth, too.

Thank you, crazy 18th-century men who gave us this day. Before I go out tonight, I’ll make sure to watch a little of that movie.

Supreme Court Preview: Women and ‘The Wal-Mart Way’

Doris Dukes was a cashier at WalMart when she realized that “The Wal-Mart Way” did not include clear, consistent rules for who gets promotions in the stores. She called a lawyer — and became, more than ten years ago, the lead plaintiff in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a class action sex-discrimination lawsuit against one of the world’s largest corporations. As the New York Times pointed out in December, “The suit now speaks for more women than the combined total of active-duty personnel in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.”

Tomorrow, March 29, the Court will hear oral arguments in the case. In many ways, the stakes could hardly be higher.

WalMart is asking the Court to strike down two major decisions by the Court of Appeals, last year, in California. The Ninth Circuit found that Dukes, the 62 other named plaintiffs, and reams of statistical and anecdotal data had demonstrated that Wal-Mart’s well-known diversity policies had not overcome a corporate culture and associated practices that have systematically made it harder for women and people of color to advance in the company.

Ledbetter redux?

Among those practices are company-wide rules against discussing compensation, which can lead to an employee never even knowing that her pay is significantly lower than her white/male peers. A similar rule was at the heart of the infamous 2007 Supreme Court decision Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (550 U.S. 618), which in effect told Lilly Ledbetter that she had no redress when she learned too late that she and other women had been discriminated against. As WVFC’s Faith Childs observed in early 2009, after the decision “lower courts around the country have been busy deepening its effect, turning away suits charging discrimination based on sex, race and disability.” While that decision was reversed in part by the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed in 2009 by President Obama, that bill didn’t really fix the problem. More systemic redress for women was contained in the still-stalled Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been blocked in the Senate partly due to provisions that would make it easier for women to obtain legal damages from corporations. Barring such legislative relief, Wal-Mart v. Dukes may set the tone for the next few decades.

The attorneys who joined Doris Dukes’ case to hundreds of others spent ten years assembling their case. They found women at multiple levels of the hierarchy in hundreds of Wal-Mart stores who talked of being told women should stay home with their kids, that men “needed” management jobs more, and that if women were paid less it was simply that they weren’t aggressive in asking for raises. Counsel also secured salary and promotion data that demonstrated that whatever one thinks of this or that practice, its result is unmistakable:

Too big to sue?

This week, the Court will not be asked to evaluate the specific antidiscrimination claims of Dukes and her co-plaintiffs, but whether the case itself is legitimate. Wal-Mart’s briefs state that the class’s incredible diversity means that it’s not a true class, since all they share is gender; they also claim that the case violates specifics of the laws governing class action, which have been significantly narrowed since landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. And the sheer size of the class, they maintain, makes crafting any remedy near-impossible and damages that would threaten to bankrupt the defendants. The company maintains that the large number of its stores, managers, and employees means that pay and promotion decisions “turn[ed] on decisions made by individual store managers,” without the commonality among class members required for class certification. Hundreds of companies and organizations filed briefs in support of Wal-Mart’s challenge, including Intel, Costco, the Equal Employment Advisory Council, Pacific Legal Foundation, Altria Group, Inc., Bank of America Corporation, Cigna Corporation, Del Monte Foods Company, Dole Food Company, Inc., Dollar General Corporation, Dupont Company, Fedex Corporation, General Electric Company, Hewlett-Packard Company, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, McKesson Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, NYSE Euronext, Pepsico, Inc., Tyson Foods, Inc., United Health Group Incorporated, United Parcel Service, Inc., Walgreen Co.and Washington Legal Foundation.

Dukes and her co-plaintiffs counter that the class’ diversity is its strength, and that they can show that “sex discrimination at Wal-Mart was the inevitable byproduct of a strong and centralized corporate system that originated in the company’s Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas, and permeated each of the company’s stores in the United States.” In support of Dukes for the Court were the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, AARP, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc., Latino Justice PRLDEF, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Public Citizen, among others.

If the Court agrees with Wal-Mart that there’s no legitimate class action, Dukes supporters say, this will make it much harder to take on employment discrimination. Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center (above left) told an American Constitution Society briefing on the case last week that the impact would not be limited to women: “Older workers, workers with disabilities, workers of color — all would find it harder to make their employers accountable,” she said.

And justice for all?

No one’s placing bets yet on the Court’s decision in June. Tomorrow’s oral arguments promise to be fascinating, given that most of the current court decided Ledbetter in 2007 and ruled for corporations’ rights in Citizens United in 2010 — including Antonin Scalia, whose recent comments declaring that women aren’t included in the Civil Rights Act have caused some to ask Scalia to recuse himself from Dukes.

However, the New York Times‘ Linda Greenhouse, looking at the current Court term, found some perhaps surprising stats: “Employees suing companies for civil rights violations have won all three cases decided so far… By wide margins, the court has rejected arguments put forward by corporate defendants in several cases. It refused to permit corporations to claim a personal-privacy exemption from disclosure of law-enforcement records under the Freedom of Information Act. It permitted a liability suit to proceed against an automobile manufacturer for not installing the safest kind of back-seat passenger restraint. And in a unanimous opinion on Tuesday, the court refused to throw out a lawsuit by investors alleging that a drug manufacturer’s failure to disclose reports that some patients using its cold remedy had lost their sense of smell amounted to securities fraud.” And no one is overlooking the fact that this is the very first such case to be decided by a Court that is, for the first time, one-third female — including, noted the Times‘ Adam Liptak, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who voted to certify an even larger class action in an antitrust case involving eight million merchants, including Wal-Mart, when she was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals.

We’ll have a full popcorn bowl handy while we read the live blogs of the arguments. By all means, let’s comment on them together below — and then place our bets on the outcome in June.

(Originally posted at Women’s Voices for Change.)

missing cairo

Like everyone else, I’ve been mesmerized this whole month by events in Cairo : by the stirring scenes from Egypt, careening from the January 25 Facebook-organized protests, with hundreds of thousands converging in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere to demand that their leader relinquish power after 30 years; to the harsh, government-inspired “Days of Rage” of February 2; to Friday’s “Day of Departure,”with redoubled protests and open negotiations for the future.

It’s 21 years since my only visit (sob!) to that part of the world. My Cairo memories are mostly blurred (nowhere near as vivid as those of the masseuse who befriended me at Sharm-el-Shaikh, or what I still call “the Pyramids of New Jersey”). I do remember its insane traffic and brutal smog, and like everyone else felt the reports of the smog clearing this week (due to cars being replaced by bodies) a harbinger of something good.

Of course, I went off to find the women in this story, to post them at my other shop.

The names most often associated with these world-changing events were, of course, those of prominent Egyptian men, such as President Hosni Mubarak, nuclear scientist and popular opposition figure Mohammed el-Baradei, Army strongman and vice president Omar Suleiman and Mohamed Beltagui of the Muslim Brotherhood. On today’s chat shows, you’ll likely see those names tossed around as Middle East experts try to predict the future.

But what we’ll most remember is the women’s leadership that has evolved right alongside these protests —including human rights activist Nawal al-Saadawi, who speaks above about her return to Egypt years after being imprisoned and exiled by successive Egyptian regimes. Hundreds of images like these adorn the Women Of Egypt Facebook page. “The country’s sisterhood,” notes the Los Angeles Times, “has sparked a movement within a movement.”

Much more here,, including tons of video and Mona Eltahawy laughing in Bill Maher’s face.

A national crisis, now hyper-local

Notice: I am neither dead nor AWOL. Just busier than ever, with a suddenly-really-pending deadline, new blogging at Guernica, and reporting for Newsworks.org – the web portal of WHYY, my local PBS/NPR station.

Here is the very first story I ever pitched to WHYY’s Alan Tu, back in September, Given my background in sussing out tenant stories in Manhattan, I knew quickly that there had to be a story in our slice of the national foreclosure crisis. It’s a story about predatory lending, about neighborhoods, and about a pioneering legislator who figured out 30 years ago what to do about all this.

The story’s also a phoenix: it sat in the pending pile, right behind breaking news, until the city suspended all foreclosures AND I happened upon the perfect interview subject. I hope it absorbs and amuses some folks.

Now to my follow-up story, and to cutting my book manuscript by two-thirds.

Judy Shepard: the true “mama grizzly”

When you hear the phrase “mama grizzly” thrown around as a Republican buzzword, it’s useful to think of heroic women who live up to that phrase. I had the privilege of meeting one last week, at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I was just a mom, who cared about her boys,” said the lovely 5’4″ woman to the 50 people crowding in to hear her, in a campus bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania.  “I was not a public person.”

Yet today, Judy Shepard’s life is entirely public, so much so that she said good-naturedly of her life: “I spend a lot of time on airplanes.” And on, June 27  she was one of three grand marshals in one of New York City’s largest parades: the 41st annual NYC Pride march, urging full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Not that Shepard herself is among them. But ever since her son, Matthew Shepard,  died nearly 12 years ago at the hands of two men who’d been looking for  a gay man to assault, Shepard and her family have worked every day to end such hate crimes.
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any pre-1980 Hunter High alums in Philadelphia?

I’m sitting here listening to WHYY and Talk of the Nation’s report on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. I’m as obsessed with the nomination as many women in America — especially those who, like me, attended Hunter College High School around the same time she did. When I called my best friend, who I met in 1974 during the first week of school there, she didn’t need to ask why: “Is the press conference starting?” were her words upon answering the phone.

But I was calling instead to tell her that the New York Times had run perhaps the first published mention of our reality back then:

The school, which then occupied two floors of an office building at 46th Street and Lexington Avenue, was and remains one of New York’s elite public high schools. It drew girls from across the city and an array of backgrounds — all admitted on the strength of their performance on an entrance exam, rather than money or family connections.

“We were really exposed to tremendous diversity there — whether it was a Jewish girl from the Upper West Side or a cop’s kid from the Bronx or the daughter of a C.E.O. from the Upper East Side or kids whose parents worked in sweatshops in Chinatown,” said Ellen M. Purtell, a high school classmate of Ms. Kagan’s. “It was never about what you were wearing. It was: Did you bring your best game academically with you today and could you contribute to the discussion?”

I wish I knew the exact day in September that I first got into the elevator of that office building — to me, my exact crossover from the east Bronx into a bigger world. And its all-girl status was part of its magic, one that has been lost for awhile. (I was in the first class that admitted boys, but they were too a test case, and too few to change that magic.)
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