Posts Tagged ‘Nan Hunter’

Judge Walker Raises Thoughtful, Provocative Questions of Prop 8 Litigants

June 10th, 2010 No comments

In today’s column over at, I analyze a few of the many questions that federal judge Vaughn Walker has asked the litigants to address during next Wednesday’s closing arguments in the Prop 8 (marriage equality) case.

Here are a couple of other analysts. The casually brilliant Nan Hunter takes an optimistic, global view of the questions and what they might signal about how this judge is thinking about the case. This analysis by Paul Hogarth runs through many of the questions in detail.

It’s still unclear whether we’ll have broadcast access to the closing arguments. I’m participating in a conference call later today on the issue, and will provide any relevant updates then.

The Public Health Peril in Oklahoma’s Anti-Abortion Obsession

October 18th, 2009 1 comment

Nan Hunter has just run a good summary of recent legislation in Oklahoma that, taken as a whole, is designed to prevent women from having abortions altogether. The state’s determination shows that, Roe v. Wade not to the contrary, there’s plenty that states can do to restrict what the Court has declared to be part of a fundamental right to self-governance, privacy, and autonomy.

The state’s zeal, though, shows that ideologues on a mission can wreak havoc with settled public health principles, thereby jeopardizing the public’s trust in health care — just in case there’s any such trust left. There are at least two recent examples of this misguided approach.

First, a recent piece of legislation — later declared unconstitutional — required women to undergo an ultrasound (vaginally in the case of early pregnancies) before an abortion could be performed. Such coerced invasion of the body has typically been required only in cases of epidemic; even there, often the resisting party can usually forego vaccination and pay a fine, or suffer the less objectionable deprivation of liberty. This would have been the first case I’m aware of where an unwanted, invasive procedure would have been made a prerequisite for a procedure that someone has a legal right to have, and where that first procedure isn’t needed for some other medical reason. In other words, this is quite different from requiring a biopsy before surgery to remove a tumor.

Laws educating women about fetal development (although also typically a smoke-screen for restricting access to abortions) are OK with me, at least in principle. This weird law, on the other hand, is creepy and offensive, and it’s lucky that the legislators blew it through a technicality (shoving too many subjects into a single piece of legislation).

The second, and more recent example, is a law currently under challenge. This one  would set up publicly available, web-based reports on anyone who obtains an abortion. The information would have to be reported to doctors, who would then be required to pass it on to public health officials. This is a very, very bad idea. I don’t even need to talk about abortion (thankfully!) to explain why.

This law will drive a wedge between physicians and their patients. Many people have distrust of the medical and public health professions, and won’t be warmly encouraged to make that next visit to their provider — or to any other — when they’re met with a battery of identifying questions that can then be used to pick them out of a probably hostile community. As a flimsy subterfuge for the laws’ true intent, names aren’t required — but, as a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Rights has pointed out, names won’t be needed to identify someone from sufficiently small communities, especially when so much other identifying information is exposed. According to this article, quoted extensively by Hunter, there will be “answers to 34 questions including…age, marital status and education levels, as well as the number of previous pregnancies and abortions. Women are required to reveal their relationship with the father, the reason for the abortion and the area where the abortion was performed.”

It’s clear that the legislators are trying to slap a different kind of scarlet “A” on these women, hoping that the shame and ostracism of expected discovery will keep them from carrying out their intended abortions. It might have this effect, but the more sweeping result will be a lack of trust that will penetrate relationships between patients, doctors, and public health practitioners. Patients will learn how to lie their way around the obviously unenforceable law (some of the facts sought depend on patients’ willingness to disclose, such as “reason for seeking the abortion” and, often, the number of previous pregnancies), and doctors may be less than forthcoming with public health officials if they see them as interfering with the MD/patient relationship. And any public health official with good training will despise and, one thinks, try to circumvent the law.

Even in states that require doctors to report HIV infection to public health, the goal is partner notification and contact tracing to eliminate an established risk. These laws are controversial, but they at least have arguments to recommend them — and the results aren’t published on public websites.

With this level of identifying information, the Oklahoma statute looks more like the sex-offender laws (which have their own problems, btw) than anything else. What more do you need to know?

On and On and On….

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a story you likely know, at least in broad outline:

During his campaign, Obama promises progress on gay rights. Once in office, his rhetoric cools and — to be charitable — he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Then he makes things much worse with a dreadful brief his Justice Department files in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Critics (including this one) erupt.

Chastened, Obama signs a memorandum extending a few lousy benefits to partners of federal employees. Then the lifting of the ban on HIV-positive travelers moves closer to reality. Hate crimes law should be a reality any day now, but other promises, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and (especially) the Defense of Marriage Act remain just…promises.

Then, this past Saturday night, Obama headlines the gay dinner-to-end-all-dinners — the HRC soiree in DC — where he “opens” for the ubiquitous Lady Gaga.1 His speech makes more concrete (but with no timeline) his goal of repealing DADT and of passing ENDA (the federal non-discrimination law).

Some bloggers continue continue to howl. “When”? “Give us concrete times and dates!” In this vein, Andrew Sullivan titles his post on the speech “Much Worse Than I Expected.”2   Others read it differently. Nan Hunter, for example, thinks that the focus on DADT has occluded Obama’s subtle but important move towards the language of moral equality. (Her post is really worth your time; so is her blog, in general.) Sullivan would say (and has, in almost these words): “We know the man can give a great speech. Now he needs to shut up and do something.”

There’s the story. Now the question: Where to stand?

I’m trying to find some way of accommodating these two truths: First, Obama is an advocate (except on marriage). Second, so far and perhaps for good, he isn’t willing to expend much political capital on LGBT rights; so he moves slowly or (perhaps in the case of DOMA), not at all. This is advocacy in name (and soaring rhetoric) only.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your sanity. So far, they are working for me:

  1. Focus on the states, where marriage equality will continue to play out. Right now, Maine is hugely important. If Question 1, asking the voters to repeal the recently enacted marriage equality law, is voted down, then the right can’t argue about courts — or, weirdly, even legislatures — subverting the will of the people. Of course, some leadership from Obama wouldn’t hurt in this regard, either. (So far, silence).
  2. Be practical — not ridiculous, as in waiting for 2017 to render judgment, but realistic. If we get hate crimes and ENDA this year, as well as the regulatory repeal of the HIV travel ban, and the end of DADT next year, I’d swallow my disappointment over DOMA (not for long) and congratulate Obama on some actual accomplishments. (As I wrote here in summarizing the remarks of Chai Feldblum and others, getting legislation through Congress is tough because of the difficulty of getting their time and attention.)
  3. Continue agitating, and criticizing the Administration. Consider supporting organizations other than the HRC, at least until they can show something, anything, for their decades of black-tie fund-raising efforts.

Maybe this is too timid, maybe I’m too critical, maybe…I should go to bed.

  1. Who sang a freshly kitted-out version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that stands with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin retread of “Candle in the Wind” (to fit Princess Diana’s memorial) in the “lazy songcraft” pantheon. I’m sure the guests would rather have heard “Pokerface.”
  2. Some context is useful here. Earlier, Sullivan had leveled HRC Pres Joe Solomonese for a letter he’d sent out supporting Obama, and suggesting that we wait until 2017(!) to evaluate his Presidency. Although some of the post is needlessly incendiary (esp. the title), Sullivan was right in the essentials, and it’s hard not to read Obama’s speech in light of the HRC’s bland acceptance of almost anything he says or promises to do.

Stonewall’s Progeny

June 28th, 2009 No comments

On the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall, there are any number of great places to find an account of the uprising that began on June 28, 1969, and lasted for some two weeks. I especially recommend Nan Hunter’s typically excellent post, which includes a bunch of useful links and an extended quote from the great writer Edmund White, whose pulsing account of events she quotes extensively.

I want to make a different point, though. Several years ago, a good friend of mine in Michigan was expressing his frustration with well-to-do, polite gays — almost exclusively white men — who cared little about the rights of people more on the fringe than they were. Here of course he was referring to gays and lesbians of color and gender non-conformists (including but not limited to the transgendered community). His admonition to the polite class: “If it’s not safe for the most outrageous drag queen, it’s not safe for you, either.”

Well, yes and no. In a theoretical sense he was right, because the oppression of any group enables the oppression of another; dehumanization and essentialist thinking are easily transported to new contexts, so that the group safe at the first pogrom might not survive the next. Here’s a brief comment that gets right at it from one of the readers of Pam’s House Blend:

“We are all gender transgressors in the eyes of society, either by loving the ‘wrong’ gender, or living as the ‘wrong’ gender. Pretty simple. But I’ve had arguments with boneheaded gay friends who insist ‘those people’ are ruining ‘our’ cause.

“It’s all one cause, people.”

Yet my friend’s admonition often fell on deaf ears, because the privileged class isn’t often on the receiving end of the worst kind of discrimination. Their efforts to maintain the status quo with the “tweak” of formal equality are less threatening, and more $1,000-a-plate-fundraising-dinner friendly, than the messier demands for the social equality that alone lead to good public health and welfare outcomes for transgendered people and other true outliers.

The other point my friend might have made is that the LGBT movement as we know it today simply would not have existed without the reckless courage of those same outliers; people still too often shoved to the margins in the march to formal equality. Having the least to lose and the most to gain, these radical queers sparked the revolution that today has the rest of us comfortably within the social mainstream. And they didn’t start in June of 1969; the transgendered community, working outside the sticky cocoon of a double identity that sheltered many more “passable” gay and lesbian folks, had augured Stonewall with an uprising of their own, four years earlier — in Philadelphia, at a place called “Dewey’s.” Kathy Padilla discussed this event, and provided a sketch of earlier TG visibility, as Pam’s guest blogger.

Because of these ground-breaking — doubtless trembling — efforts, we can argue with seamless confidence today for the full measure of legal equality that is surely soon to come. Even the Obama DOJ’s awful brief defending DOMA underscores rather than contradicts the point; a generation ago, the homophobic cant that the brief recites would have passed, unchallenged. Today it is a major embarrassment for the Obama Administration, which has been forced to respond by agreeing to meet with gay legal advocacy groups before filing the government’s brief in the other DOMA case, due in the Fall.  That’s progress.

And for those of us who congratulate ourselves for being “out,” it’s worth thinking today about the forefathers/mothers who made this possible; even easy, in some cases.

It’s often and accurately stated that the LGBT rights movement doesn’t have a true leader. But we do have pioneers, and Stonewall is an apt time to both remember them and the deep lessons of their courage.