Friday, November 23, 2018

Two major federal actions against transgender rights in the US - Nov. 23, 2018

On Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, the Trump administration made two major moves against transgender rights.

Proposed U.S. ban on transgender soldiers may jump over appeals court and go directly to Supreme Court

On Friday, the administration "asked the Supreme Court to bypass the usual legal process to take on...President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from military service." (Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2018) Trump proposed the ban in July 2017 via Twitter. He ordered Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to develop a plan for implementing this ban, which Mattis did. The ban was challenged, however, in part on the basis that Trump's directive was groundless ("the result of discrimination, rather than a study of how allowing transgender personnel affects the military"). Jennifer Levi of GLAD said that "the open service policy that was thoroughly vetted by the military itself and has been in place now for more than two years. Lower courts upheld those challenges. Trump administration "Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco asked the justices to consolidate the challenges to the ban," the Washington Post article said, "and rule on the issue in its current term."

"The Trump administration has taken an aggressive posture when lower courts have ruled against it on important issues. It has asked the Supreme Court — with varying degrees of success — to accept the cases before they have run through the normal appeals process. ... The effort has drawn criticism from those who say such requests puts the Supreme Court in position to be seen as doing the administration’s bidding."

The New York Times reported the same day that "The Supreme Court does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket." The ban on transgender soldiers has not yet been ruled on in an appeals court, although arguments have already been heard in the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco which has not issued a ruling yet, and another appeal is scheduled to be heard in the District of Columbia Circuit next month. Cases from federal trial court may jump the line, without being first heard by an appeals court, and go directly to the Supreme Court, if the case is shown to be of "imperative public importance as to...require immediate determination in this court.” Solicitor General Francisco claimed in his brief that the ban on transgender soldiers indeed meets that standard. Joshua Matz, a lawyer who filed an amicus brief for challengers, wrote: “Trump’s lawyers fail to understand that the government is not entitled to play leapfrog whenever it loses in federal court.”

Detailed guidance about the rights of transgender federal employees is removed from the Office of Personnel Management

Also on Friday, it was noticed that information had been removed from the Office of Personnel Management's website sometime earlier in the week. The Office of Personnel Management oversees all federal employees. The website "still state[s] that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited — consistent with an executive order President Obama issued that is still in effect." However, all the previous detail, "ensuring that trans workers could dress according to their gender identity, that they were called by their preferred names and pronouns, and that they were allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity," is gone, unannounced, according to an article in ThinkProgress.

Climate change will reduce U.S. GDP by 10 percent by the end of the 21st century

In the New York Times on Nov. 19, 2018:

"Reports of the threats from a warming planet have been coming fast and furiously. The latest: a startling analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting terrible food shortages, wildfires and a massive die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, unless governments take strong action."

And the New York Times on Friday, Nov. 23:

"A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday [today] presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth."

* * *

"...in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds."

CNN reported the same day about the same publication, saying that it "delivers a dire warning about climate change and its devastating impacts, saying the economy could lose hundreds of billions of dollars — or, in the worst-case scenario, more than 10% of its GDP — by the end of the century."

"Coming from the US Global Change Research Program, a team of 13 federal agencies, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was put together with the help of 1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government.

It's the second of two volumes. The first, released in November 2017, concluded that there is "no convincing alternative explanation" for the changing climate other than "human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.""

Thursday, November 15, 2018

On Jewish, Black, and transgender hate crime statistics

About this new statistic that's floating around. Here it is in a recent article in the New York Times:

"Contrary to what are surely the prevailing assumptions, anti-Semitic incidents have constituted half of all hate crimes in New York [City] this year, according to the Police Department. To put that figure in context, there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20."

- "Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?" by Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, Oct. 31, 2018

This statistic excites some people, perhaps because they like to show that their group is more oppressed than others. But, of course, we should not perceive hate crimes statistics as a competition; the desirable rate for all groups is zero. As someone who is both transgender and Jewish, I do not feel better—neither more assured of my own safety nor more righteously outraged—knowing that there are more crimes against one of my identities than another.

It's also important to unpack various possible meanings of these numbers before we rush to interpret them.

First of all, there are 20 times more Jews than transgender people in New York City. New York City has a population of 8.5 million, including (on a low estimate) 1 million Jews. Transgender people are currently estimated to make up about 0.5% of the total population of the United States, which would predict about 50,000 transgender people in New York City. One possible explanation of why 20 times more hate crimes are reported against Jews than against transgender people is that there are 20 times more potential Jewish individual targets than potential transgender individual targets.

Then again, it may not be especially relevant how many individuals there are in the targeted group. What might matter more is how many haters there are, because they are the ones committing the crimes. This would require an analysis of active hate groups. It may indeed be true that hate groups focus more on ethnic/racial/religious identity than on gender/sexual identity.

I do not know what to make of Bellafante's report of the NYPD statistics that four times as many anti-Jewish crimes were reported than anti-Black crimes, since there are twice as many Black people as Jewish people in New York City. Many black people fear interacting with the police even to report crimes against them, or they expect that it's at minimum a waste of their time to do so because they believe their reports will not be pursued. Many of the Black people in New York City are recent immigrants, so they may be even less likely to report hate crimes, or, when they do report them, these crimes may be categorized — I am speculating — as representing bias on the basis of nationality or religion rather than race.

It's also important to note that hate crimes do not always target individuals. Sometimes they target institutions. There are far more visible Jewish institutions (synagogues, community centers, non-profits, political action committees, Israeli-American or Zionist organizations, Judaica stores) than transgender institutions, so it is (sadly) predictable that the visible institutions might be targeted more often.

Furthermore, once a hate crime has occurred that affects multiple members of an organization, it seems that is more likely to be reported than if it had occurred to an individual. When the janitor finds hateful graffiti on the door of a synagogue, she reports it so that the synagogue members can be aware and feel that the issue is being properly addressed. The janitor does not necessarily report graffiti on the door of her own home, for any number of reasons: she is too busy to speak to the police in her "free time," she needs to use her "free time" to clean up the graffiti and once she cleans it up it won't be there anymore to show to the police, she rationalizes it as being "just kids" and not a real threat, she worries that it is a real threat and that she will endanger herself more if she reports it, she is battling intense emotions (shame, anger, sadness, fear of more attacks, anxiety about not being believed) that reduce her available energy for reporting it, she doesn't have a witness to corroborate her account and help her with the administrative task of reporting it, she worries that she knows who did it and that she'll need to take them to court and she can't afford a lawyer, etc.

Many transgender individuals — unlike most Jews — also worry about being "outed" to their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers — and to the police. Even if they are comfortable stating their transgender identity, their gender may be complicated to explain to others, and they may find it a hassle to explain why they believe an incident was a hateful attack on their gender. This may reduce their willingness to report hate crimes against themselves to the police. And, due to pressures they face from their other identities — their race, nationality, language, immigrant status — they may be further reluctant to interact with the police to report encountering hateful attacks based on their gender.

Therefore, in repeating the New York City statistic that appeared in the New York Times, I would be wary of misusing it to downplay the occurrence of hate crimes that are motivated by bias against Black and transgender people. We can combat anti-Semitism while also combatting other forms of racism and bigotry. In fact, we have to combat all kinds of hate simultaneously. Hate groups have multi-faceted agendas out of which their attacks grow. Deciding selectively which kinds of attacks are more important to each of us personally is missing the broader threat. We can't bat down visible, reported anti-Semitism without also batting down what those same hate groups are doing to other groups. If we don't care about all of it and support each other, we will still find ourselves targeted on whatever basis "they" come up with.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Zayn Malik doesn't identify as Muslim: "I don't believe any of it"

In the British Vogue, Giles Hattersley writes of Zayn Malik:

...it’s a simple “Zayn” these days, ever since the 25-year-old boyband survivor from Bradford with perfect hair and poptastic falsetto dispensed with his surname and went fully Cher. That was a year after he fled One Direction, in March 2015, when the world’s most successful group was at the hormone-addled apex of its fame. For a brief moment, Zayn was the YouTube generation’s answer to John Lennon (or Geri Halliwell, at least), devastating millions of fans across the globe with his shotgun exit, then thrilling them a year later with a record-breaking, Billboard-topping debut album. He moved to the States, clocked up billions of streams, dueted with Taylor Swift, shot campaigns for Versus and endured the peculiar menace of having a dozen paparazzi camped outside his door every day. He also became an international figurehead for biracial success and anti-Islamophobia. And I mentioned the hair, right?

While he's "routinely touted as Britain’s most famous Muslim," he told the interviewer that he believes in God, but not in Hell, and that he prefers to keep his beliefs private and wouldn't call himself a Muslim today. He simply wants to be "a good person" and "behave well," and he hopes that this will result in his being "treated well" so that "everything is going to go right" for him.

He says: "I don’t believe you need to eat a certain meat that’s been prayed over a certain way, I don’t believe you need to read a prayer in a certain language five times a day. I don’t believe any of it."

Some may see this as lending new meaning to the lyrics to his song "iT's YoU" (you can listen to it on Apple Music or buy it on iTunes):

I won't, I won't, I won't
Cover the scars
I'll let 'em bleed
So my silence
So my silence won't
Be mistaken for peace

That is, we cannot consent to let others continue to hurt us, and if they do hurt us, they cannot expect us to take it silently. When we acknowledge what is hurting, we may be seen arguing (not keeping the peace), but that argument is essential to honesty and survival. For some, this may describe how they feel affected by religion.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

LGBT people struggle to survive a purge in Tanzania

In Tanzania, the Dar es Salaam regional commissioner has asked the public to report gay people. "Give me their names," he said on Oct. 29. "My ad hoc team"—a committee of 17 police and media officials—"will begin to get their hands on them" in just one week. The next day, he reported that he'd already received over 100 names in over five thousand messages. Although the Tanzanian government clarified that this regional effort does not represent the national government's official policy, it was not clear if the national government intended to stop the Dar es Salaam regional purge.

The organization Jinsiangu, supported by the International AIDS Alliance (donate), has helped people relocate internationally to Nairobi, Kenya for their personal safety.

Background

Tanzanian law, an inheritance from British colonialism, punishes men who have sex with other men with 30-years-to-life in jail.

CNN reported:

"According to 2014 UNAIDS data, 17.6% of men who have sex with men in Tanzania are living with HIV — a rate more than four times higher than the 4.5% in the nation's general adult population. * * * Being forced into hiding also means people do not want to engage in any way with health services and will not test for infections or go to collect HIV treatment. People will avoid anything that will link them to being LGBT and subject to identification, [International HIV/AIDS Alliance executive director Christine] Stegling said."

Recently, LGBT organizations have been shuttered. In February 2017, Tanzania's deputy health minister claimed that homosexuality is not found among animals, only exists among people who live in cities, and is a social construct. The health ministry prohibited HIV/AIDS clinics from running their programs, and then arrested 13 people—including deporting three South African lawyers—who met to discuss how to challenge that new policy. The shutdown of the clinics and the arrest of the activists was done on the grounds that it is illegal to promote homosexuality.

According to a Guardian article: Geofrey Mashala, an activist who is "making a documentary about the Tanzanian LGBT community," said that, considering “all the steps we made as LGBT activists" over the past several years, "it’s like we have to start over again.” Erin Kilbride of the human rights group Front Line Defenders interviewed 80 LGBT people and sex workers earlier this year; "all but two said they had been sexually assaulted or raped by police in custody."