J. Rudy Flesher is a Philadelphia based actor, blogger and college student. After a three-year detour working in health care he recently returned to The College of New Jersey to complete his B.A. in Womenâ€™s and Gender studies. He blogs (sporadically at the moment and daily when school is not in session) at The Pistol in Bed Thirteen.
You can also read Rudy’s first post here, “Twentysomething Hairless White Gay Men Who Have Time To Take Pilates 5 Days A Week.”
This is Rudy’s second piece at The New Civil Rights Movement.
Today, I was moved beyond words by Autumn Sandeenâ€™s open letter to President Barack Obama at Pamâ€™s House Blend, “President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ‘Impersonator,’ ‘It,’ Or ‘Shim.” For those of you that havenâ€™t read it, it describes her experience as a transgender retired Navy veteran arrested at Get Equalâ€™s most recent direct action when, along with five others, she handcuffed herself to the White House fence on April 20th. She was misgendered, mocked by U.S. Marshals, and dehumanized, called â€œitâ€ and â€œshim.â€
I was, as I said, moved â€“ moved to rage, to indignation, to a sudden urge to call and text all of my transgender family and friends, to make sure they were OK. Why? From the way Autumn was treated, to a transgender student recently attacked and had the word â€œitâ€ carved into hir chest (I use the gender neutral pronoun â€œhirâ€ because the victim/survivorâ€™s gender was not noted), I fear for the incomparable amount of hatred and violence directed at my transgender, transsexual, genderqueer and gender outlaw family.
Every single one of us needs to stand with Autumn now, and see that this story doesnâ€™t end in the queer and progressive blogosphere. No person is below the status of a full human being, deserving dignity, love, and a life free and violence and fear. No person is an â€œit.â€
What can we do? By drawing national attention to this disgrace, we can open a dialogue about what it means to be transgender on America, and create an opportunity for education, understanding and compassion.
First:Â Letâ€™s create a blog storm that reaches the national mainstream media.Â Use your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and every other place you have a voice to encourage your friends to contact media outlets and request that they pick up this story.Â Copy and paste the following text into the news sitesâ€™ contact forms:
â€œAutumn Sandeenâ€™s inhumane treatment at the hand of U.S. Marshals due to her transgender identity is a disgrace and cannot go unreported, lest it be forgotten, excused or dismissed. Please see her open letter to President Barrack Obama describing the incident here:
and run this story.â€
Choose the news station and newspaper that you read and watch the most, or more if you can!
Fox News: Contacts to individual shows here: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,77538,00.html email here:Â firstname.lastname@example.org
CBS Evening News:Â email@example.com or (212) 975-3247
New York Times:Â firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-NYT-NEWS
Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/about/chi-email-newstips,0,2569758.customform
LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/about/mediagroup/la-feedback-email-form-rr,0,5493970.customform
Donâ€™t see your station or newspaper? I found that Googling the name along with â€œnews tipsâ€ or â€œcontact usâ€ got me where I needed to go.
Second: Donâ€™t just contact these news sites.Â Direct your friends, families, coworkers and neighbors to Autumnâ€™s original piece.Â Let them hear about her experience in her own words.
Third:Â Donâ€™t hate, educate!Â If you yourself know little to nothing about trans issues, today is the day to begin learning!Â Here are a few great starting places:Â The fabulous and incomparable Kate Bornstein has written both Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook: How To Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. Another great start is an anthology called GENDERqUEER, which describes many, many gendered experiences. For a scholarly bent, check out The Transgender Studies Reader.
Not being transgender myself, this is the best way Iâ€™ve found to be a trans ally:Â listen a lot and talk a little.Â Donâ€™t speak for people.Â Say â€œmy friend had this experienceâ€ or â€œactually thatâ€™s a misconception, I read thatâ€¦â€Â And for the love of Pete, please donâ€™t go running to the one trans guy or gal in your neighborhood for the run down on all things trans. Just like thereâ€™s no singular black, gay, or other experience, thereâ€™s no one universal trans experience. Identities are complicated by race, sexuality, class, and geographical location.
The bottom line: you donâ€™t actually need to know anything about a person to realize that you donâ€™t need to hate and dehumanize them! If you simply keep an open heart and mind and realize that every person deserves dignity, move to the head of the class.
You can understand someoneâ€™s experience later, but compassion starts now, today, this moment.
(image via Pam’s House Blend)
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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV
The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.
The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”
The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.
The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.
Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.
Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.
World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.
Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.
John Fetterman Says Bob Menendez ‘Senator for Egypt,’ Should Be Expelled Next
Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) called Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a “senator for Egypt,” and said he needed to be expelled from Congress, much like the now-former Representative George Santos.
Fetterman appeared on The View on Friday. The live broadcast aired as Santos had been kicked out of the House. When host Joy Behar asked what he thought of the vote, Fetterman immediately replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“If you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate? And, you know, Santos’ kind of lies were almost, you know, funny,” Fetterman said. “Menendez, I think is really a senator for Egypt, you know, not New Jersey. So I really think he needs to go.”
Host Sunny Hostin then asked if Fetterman was uncomfortable with expelling Menendez, as, like with Santos, he had only been indicted, not convicted.
“He has the right for his day in court and all of it, but he doesn’t have the right to to have those kinds of votes and things. That’s not a right,” he said. “I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”
This September, Menendez was indicted on corruption charges. He is accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold and a car, as well as giving “highly sensitive” information about U.S. Embassy staffers in Cairo to the Egyptian government, according to USA Today. Menendez was forced to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was replaced by Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Democratic senator.
Menendez denied wrongdoing, and has refused to resign, despite many calls to do so from both Democrats and Republicans.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement following his indictment. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
This is not Menendez’s first brush with the law. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges. He was accused of helping Salomon Melgen, one of Menendez’s campaign contributors, by intervening in a dispute with federal regulators and helping Melgen get a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
In 2017, Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the Department of Justice declined to retry the case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Menendez denied all wrongdoing.
House Votes to Boot George Santos 311-114
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has been expelled from Congress following a 311-114 vote; two House members voted “present.”
The expulsion of Santos follows a debate on his fate on Thursday. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 290 of the 435-seat chamber. This is Santos’ third vote of expulsion; last month, a vote failed with 31 Democrats voting against, according to The Hill.
While the vote was decisive, some notable Republicans voted to save Santos, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told CNN Wednesday. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Santos himself had harsh words for the House following the vote. Leaving the capitol building, he briefly spoke with reporters.
“The House spoke that’s their vote. They just set new dangerous precedent for themselves,” he told CNN. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”
He then cut his time short, telling reporters, “You know what? As unofficially no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer your questions.”
Santos also faces 23 federal charges, which include fraud, money laundering and misuse of campaign funds, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty. An Ethics Committee report found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for Botox and even an OnlyFans account.
On Thursday, Santos said he refused to resign because otherwise, “they win.”
“If I leave the bullies take place. This is bullying,” Santos said. “The reality of it is it’s all theater, theater for the cameras and theater for the microphones. Theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work’s getting done.”
Santos also threatened to file a resolution to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). Bowman pulled a fire alarm in September. Bowman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and said it was an accident. He said he thought the fire alarm would open a locked door as he rushed to a vote. Bowman paid a $1,000 fine.
There have only been six total expulsions from the House, including Santos. Santos is the only Republican to ever be expelled from the House.
The previous expulsion was in 2002, when Representative James Traficant (D-OH) was expelled after a 420-1 vote. Traficant had been convicted on 10 counts of corruption-related crimes.
Before Traficant, Representative Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D-PA) was the first representative of the modern era to be expelled. Myers got the boot following his conviction for accepting bribes. Myers couldn’t keep out of trouble; in 2022, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of election fraud.
Prior to Myers, the only expulsions from the House were in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY), John William Reid (D-MO) and John Bullock Clark (Whig-MO) were all expelled for joining the Confederacy.
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