Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.





That’s SO… Think B4 You Speak

31 05 2009
Source: GLSEN

Source: GLSEN

That’s so…CHEERLEADER! What if you said that when someone said something vacuous? How do you think that would make cheerleaders feel? Or what if you said “That’s so jock” if someone talks like they are dumb…like a football player who can complete a pass, but not a sentence?

Now imagine that you’re gay and people make the comment “That’s so gay!” as if to say that’s stupid or queer or effeminate or whatever. How do you think that makes you feel as a gay person? Do you ever stop to think about your language and how it affects others?

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is running a campaign now called ThinkB4YouSpeak to make people aware of their use of homophobic language and to reduce bullying of gay people. The campaign to reduce bullying kicked off with the 4/17/09 Day of Silence, which I wrote about in a blog post entitled LGBT (Gay) in America, LGBT in Iraq.

This is from the GLSEN website and tells what the organization stands for:

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community.

Dr. Jill Biden, a lifelong educator and wife of the vice president, will speak at the GLSEN Respect Awards, a gala in New York on 6/1/09.

Carl Walker-Hoover - Credit: www.towleroad.com

Carl Walker-Hoover - Credit: http://www.towleroad.com

Perhaps you think that every kid gets teased in school so what’s the big deal, right? Think again. Children are committing suicide after being bullied and called gay repeatedly. An example is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts sixth grader who hanged himself after yet another day of school bullies calling him gay, making fun of the way he dressed, and threatening him. His mother had called the school repeatedly before this happened. Now she lives with the devastating and senseless loss of her son.

What can you do? Stand up and call people on it when they use language that belittles, diminishes, or bullies gay people. Notify the school if your child is being bullied and make sure that steps are being taken for it to stop. If your child is a bully, educate them on the possibly devastating effects of their actions and let them know that there will be zero tolerance for that kind of language. Educate yourself by reading the materials on the GLSEN website.

Here’s a video from the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign that makes the point of how ridiculous and hurtful it is to call something gay and what you can do about it.





Raped? Pay Up Now! And Then WAIT

11 05 2009
Credit: HRW

Credit: Human Rights Watch

Rape victims having to pay for their own rape kits. Rape kits sitting on shelves by the tens of thousands and not being processed. Women being revictimized by governments and criminal justice systems that don’t take rape seriously. This disgusts me.

I was dumbfounded during the presidential campaign with the news that when Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, rape victims had to pay for their own rape kits. And now it seems that many raped women in the state of Texas (where I live) are receiving letters threatening their credit if they don’t pay for the processing of their own rape kits, which can cost from $1,200 to $1,800 to process. This is outrageous. In what other crime do we make the victims pay to collect and process evidence?

 Joe Cutbirth, Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, wrote an article about this for the Huffington Post site. He cites the U.S. Violence Against Women Act, which says that states must pay for rape kits if they want to get other federal funding. He also mentions how Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott remarkably tries to defend the letters to victims, saying the Texas Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund—which collected almost $100 million in 2007—would go broke if it didn’t put some restrictions on the payout from that fund. In that same year, the fund had a $58 million surplus—money just sitting around that could go to pay for the processing of these rape kits. Governor Rick Perry—who has talked of secession—continues to embarrass and outrage me and many other Texans every single day with unbelievably insensitive and stupid words and actions such as this.

And to add another layer of insult to these women, even when they are courageous enough to report a rape, often these rape kits can sit on shelves for months…or years. Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about this in the New York Times and quoted a Human Rights Watch report, which said that in Los Angeles County, at last count there were 12,669 rape kits in police storage that had not been processed. Some unprocessed kits were more than 10 years old and the statute of limitations for being able to prosecute the case and use the results as evidence had expired.

The Human Rights Watch report Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County puts a human face on the tragedy of this delayed testing through real stories such as this:

Catherine was in her forties, living with her young son. She was awakened at midnight by a stranger who raped her, sodomized her, and forced her to orally copulate him—repeatedly. Thankfully, her child remained asleep. When it was over, the police brought her to the Rape Treatment Center. Like all rape victims, her body was one of the crime scenes. She consented to the collection of evidence.

The detective was told by the crime lab that it would take at least 8 months to analyze Catherine’s rape kit. The detective said he knew from the “MO” in this crime that the rapist was a repeat offender. Eight months was too long to wait. He personally drove the kit to the state lab—where the kit still sat for months. When it was processed, they got a “cold hit.” Catherine’s rapist was identified. He was in the offender database.

During the months Catherine’s kit sat on a shelf, unopened, the same rapist attacked at least two other victims—one was a child.

Does any of this alarm you? Piss you off? Sadden you? Evoke any emotion at all? It does for me. I have known in my lifetime several women who have been raped. It is absolutely devastating. And without exception, these women experienced the legal system raping them all over again. We must stand with these women and support those who have the courage to report what happened to them.

Want to do something about this? Contact Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott at greg.abbott@oag.state.tx.us or the U.S. Department of Justice at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.

Here’s the CNN report on Texas billing women for their own rape kits. Below the video, please note an update to this post.

UPDATE 5/15/09: I was incensed about this and wrote the State of Texas (where I live) Attorney General’s office. Here’s the reply I received:

Dear Ms. Beeler:

Thank you for your recent message. We appreciate your contacting the Office of the Attorney General.

There has been much confusion regarding a Houston television station’s recent report regarding the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. In response, we have posted on our website a message which addresses inaccuracies and misinformation contained in the report. Please read “Notice To Crime Victim Advocates” on our website at

Rest assured, the Office of the Attorney General is committed to protecting and serving Texas crime victims.

Sincerely,

Carlos Ibañez

Public Information & Assistance

Office of the Attorney General of Texas

http://www.oag.state.tx.us/victims/advocate_notice.shtml.





LGBT (Gay) in America…LGBT in Iraq

13 04 2009

gays-holding-hands1As gay marriage, gays in the military, gay teachers, gay friends, etc. become mainstream, we must not forget that LGBT people still suffer. A gay couple was thrown out of the beautiful Four Seasons hotel downtown in Austin (a very gay-friendly town) recently because one guy sat on the other’s lap in the lobby. Students are still harrassed in school.

To bring attention to this, the Day of Silence is being celebrated throughout the U.S. on Friday, April 17. According to the website:

Founded in 1996, the Day of Silence has become the largest single student-led action towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Students who participate in this stay silent the entire day to bring attention to the silence faced by LGBT students in the face of name calling, bullying, etc. According to the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), 61% of students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

If you’d like to encourage Congress to support the National Day of Silence, go to this Gay Rights page on the Change.org website and sign the petition.  The resolution was introduced to the House of Representatives on April 2nd.

The White House and President Obama support several LGBT initiatives, which can be found by going to this whitehouse.gov civil rights page. On June 1, 2007, candidate Barack Obama said the following:

While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.

We are making great strides in treating LGBT people with respect, but there are still hate crimes and murders here. And while our government is struggling with how to treat LGBT equally, police here are at least not hunting down LGBT people as they are in Iraq.

Is there anyone to help me before it is too late? That’s the urgent plea in a handwritten note released last weekend from a member of the Iraqi-LGBT who is being held for execution because he is gay. In an April 7, 2009 article, the New York Times reports:

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

The police have been working to “clean up the streets” of beggars and homosexuals lately. A gay subculture has sprung up with the increased freedom in Iraq, but homosexuality is still against the law. The Times speaks of the fatwa that was issued against homosexuals in Iraq:

In 2005, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree that said gay men and lesbians should be “punished, in fact, killed.” He added, “The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” The language has since been removed from his Web site.

Below is a disturbing report from CNN about gays being targeted in Iraq. One young man interviewed says he would rather commit suicide rather than admit to his family that he is gay. So when you walk down the street and think of the freedom that you have to love who you want and hug your partner, remember that if you were lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgendered, it could put you in danger in an American school or get you killed in Iraq.

 





Renditions and Torture: Outlawed

26 01 2009

A powerful 26 minute film that every American should watch. Go to this link to see it: http://hub.witness.org/node/8109. A description from the website is included below:

Human rights groups and several public inquiries in Europe have found the U.S. government, with the complicity of numerous governments worldwide, to be engaged in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture. The U.S. government-sponsored program of renditions is an unlawful practice in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly flown to third countries, where they have suffered additional human rights abuses including torture and enforced disappearance. No one knows the exact number of persons affected, due to the secrecy under which the operations are carried out.

Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror’ corroborates these findings through the harrowing stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have suffered as a result of the U.S. government’s disregard of the international legal instruments dealing with respect for fundamental rights. The film features commentary from Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael Scheuer, the chief architect of the rendition program and former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. President George W. Bush.

OUTLAWED is a 27-minute WITNESS production in association with 14 production and distribution partners worldwide, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Amnesty International; Breakthrough (US/India); the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; the Center for Constitutional Rights; the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice at New York University School of Law; Freedom House; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; the International Commission of Jurists (Switzerland); Liberty (UK); the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; Redress (UK); and Reprieve (UK).








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