Guest post by Brian Tofte-Schumacher
Voices of lesbian, bisexual and trans women from around the world are rising at the United Nationsâ€”and important people are listening. The 56th session of theÂ Commission on the Status of WomenÂ started this week focusing on empowering rural women.
NGOs and state missions organized sessions expanding the frame of reference to include lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women living in rural areas. Capacity limitations tend to cause most international LBT human rights work to have an urban focus; therefore the rural focus is critical.
Fortunately I had a seat in two special sessionsâ€¦both filled to the brim with activists, UN agency and state representatives from around the world. It was exhilarating for me to be part of this international audience. As the majority of the other attendees were women, I felt honored to be included as I listened intently to conversations and soaked in the dynamics of the room.
In the first sessionÂ I attended, titled, â€œWe are everywhere! Empowerment of lesbian and bisexual women and trans people – in rural areas and beyond,â€ Akinyi Margareta Ocholla from Kenya, Poedjiati Fen Sian from Indonesia, Linda Baumann from Namibia, and Gail C. McNeill from New Hampshire shared stories of violence and discrimination that women who live in these rural areas experience.
The panelists spoke personally about a range of challenging issuesâ€”the difficulty of getting an education, of finding jobs in rural areas, of establishing a social network and of gaining access to the Internet. For people living in urban areas, these challenges can often be overcome, even where state sanctioned homophobia is prevalent. In rural areas, these challenges are exacerbated by social isolation and minimal access to resources and organizations that affirm lesbian, bisexual and trans identities.
â€œWhat are some strategies for activists living in urban areas to help those living in rural areas?â€ asked an audience member. Such a question could lead to a â€œproviderâ€ mentality, privileging one experience over another. But a panelist saved the moment: â€œitâ€™s a two-way street,â€ she replied. â€œThe best way to help someone is to show interest in their issues, listen to their needs and participate in a dialogue to find commonalities between your experiences.â€ She drove the point that by working together we can address issues more comprehensively.
â€œEnd violence and discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity: activism and challenges,â€ the second session
I attended, brought forward the voices of more LBT activists: Anissa HelieÂ (Algeria), Jay Kuru UtumpalaÂ (Sri Lanka), Monica Tabengwa (Botswana) and moderator, Cynthia Rothschild (United States). They addressed recent advances as well as challenges to LBT human rights that we have seen at the United Nations and in state governments. The panel, organized by COC Netherlands, was co-sponsored by several other organizations including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Opening the panel, Cynthia Rothschild spoke about the historic report â€œDiscriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identityâ€Â that the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights released last December. The groundbreaking report synthesizes documentation of very real human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people and includes documentation of instances where human rights defenders have been arrested and harassed for their advocacy. It also includes an epic call for specific state accountability.
The panelists highlighted that today there are nearly 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality. LBT women are at times denied access to their National Human Rights monitoring bodies because, while a state constitution may offer protections based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity are often not protected. Jay Kuru, of Sri Lanka, told the story of an 18-year-old girl whose parents abused her because they suspected she was having a relationship with another girl and another story of a masculine-identified trans person who was outed to his employer and his parents when a doctor discovered he was biologically female.
â€œThere is far too little information about LBT women within the UN system,â€ the panelists concluded, as they identified the reality that these human rights violations are able to occur without redress because of this deficiency. The issue of documentation of human rights violations was identified as critical to progress. Firstly, the international LGBT movement, as well as the womenâ€™s movement, must make a commitment to accurately and sensitively document human rights violations without re-traumatizing survivors. Secondly, more documentation of these violations is vital to ending the horrific human rights violations that many lesbian, bisexual and trans women face. It is only solid, irrefutable documentation of human rights violations that will convince governments and other critical policy makers of their existence and the need for specific measures to stop them.
In thinking about the past 56 years of the Commission on the Status of Women, I asked my self how long have LBT women, and the reality of their lives, been recognized or included in these discussions?Â From what I heard, it seems relatively new. As I left the room following these sessions, there was such an energetic interest among the audience that lively discussions continued through the allotted time, pouring out into the corridors when they were over. I was grateful for the inclusion of LBT womenâ€™s voices, and grateful to be there.
I hope all of us who were there, activists, thinkers, state representatives and aides to policy makers, take the experience of these sessions and use them as a launch pad to further our work in our own communities. Itâ€™s one thing to sit in a room at the United Nations in New York and listenâ€¦the real work gets done when we go home and start talking.
Image, top:Â Jay Kuru Utumpala passionately answers a question from the audience. Photo courtesy ofÂ ZavÃ© Martohardjono/Astraea Foundation.
Brian Tofte-Schumacher is Communications Associate at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He tweets on @IGLHRC and personally as @briantschu.
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‘Heist’: Ginni Thomas Tells J6 Committee Election Was Stolen, Says She Never Discussed Efforts to Overturn With Spouse
Appearing behind closed doors in person for four hours with investigators from the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, far right wing activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas reiterated her false claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen, calling it a “heist.” Thomas also insisted she has never discussed her work to overturn the election results with her husband, the person she publicly refers to as her “best friend,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has resisted calls to recuse himself from any cases surround the January 6 insurrection.
The 2020 president election was not stolen, there has never been any proof to support that false contention, more than 60 court cases claiming fraud brought by the Trump team or their supporters have been thrown out or lost, and even Donald Trump’s own Attorney General and Dept. of Homeland Security officials have said there was no significant fraud, with the later issuing a statement that reads: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”
And yet, despite mountains of evidence President Joe Biden won the election, despite the election being certified with him winning 81,268,924 votes against Trump’s 74,216,154 votes – a margin of more than 7 million, and despite him winning the Electoral College 306 to 232, Ginni Thomas for hours on Thursday insisted Donald Trump was the rightful president.
“During her interview, Ms. Thomas, who goes by Ginni, repeated her assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald J. Trump,” The New York Times reports, citing remarks made by the Committee’s chairman, Bennie Thompson. The Times called it “a belief she insisted upon in late 2020 as she pressured state legislators and the White House chief of staff to do more to try to invalidate the results.”
And yet to reporters Thomas’ attorney called her actions merely “minimal and mainstream activity focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated.”
“Beyond that, she played no role in any events after the 2020 election results,” he added, despite press reports that Thomas held a months-long text message exchange with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, urging him to find a way to overture the election.
“As she wrote in a text to Mark Meadows at the time, she also condemned the violence on Jan. 6, as she abhors violence on any side of the aisle.”
“Ms. Thomas,” The Times adds, “exchanged text messages with Mr. Meadows, the White House chief of staff, in which she urged him to challenge Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the 2020 election, which she called a ‘heist,’ and indicated that she had reached out to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, about Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the courts to keep himself in power. She even suggested the lawyer who should be put in charge of that effort.”
Despite earlier reports Thomas did appear in person, but refused to answer reporters’ questions.
NEW: Ginni Thomas met with Jan 6 committee IN PERSON. She did not answer my questions pic.twitter.com/5z6pypr0S9
— Annie Grayer (@AnnieGrayerCNN) September 29, 2022
‘No Shame’: Trump Judge Overrules Special Master – Stuns Legal Experts
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday overruled the special master Donald Trump’s legal team chose and she installed, deciding to change the deadlines he set, delaying the case and DOJ’s work for months, and overruling his decisions.
Specifically, Judge Cannon ruled Trump and his attorneys do not have to make any statements to support the former president’s baseless claims that the FBI “planted” documents or other evidence.
“Judge Cannon overrules the order by her special master that would have forced Trump’s lawyers to lodge objections to the accuracy of the DOJ’s inventory, effectively forcing him to prove his ‘planting claims,'” Law & Crime managing editor Adam Klasfeld reports. “Trump doesn’t need to do that any more, she rules.”
“Upon review of the matter,” Cannon writes in her order Thursday, “the Court determines as follows. There shall be no separate requirement on Plaintiff [Trump] at this stage, prior to the review of any of the Seized Materials, to lodge ex ante final objections to the accuracy of Defendant’s Inventory, its descriptions, or its contents. The Court’s Appointment Order did not contemplate that obligation.”
Legal experts are stunned by Cannon’s latest move.
The Nation’s justice correspondent Elie Mystal writes: “Trump Judge Cannon trying to preserve the white wing talking point without forcing Trump to prove it. She’s in too deep now. She has to ride Trump all the way and hope he wins and promotes her.”
Civil liberties and national security journalist Marcy Wheeler says, “Judge Cannon unilaterally rewrites HER OWN deadlines to make sure that her Trumpy doesn’t have to commit until after the election. Holy hell this woman has no shame.”
Over at her site, Wheeler expands her thoughts.
“Aileen Cannon, without explaining why she was intervening, just rewrote Judge Raymond Dearie’s work plans regarding the Special Master review,” Wheeler says, calling it “an obvious power grab to ensure her own intervention doesn’t backfire on Trump.”
“With no justification (particularly given the way Dearie has ceded to multiple issues Trump has raised), and after having been scolded by the 11th Circuit for her improper claims of jurisdiction, she effectively just eliminated any claim that the Special Master Trump picked and she appointed is a neutral observer.”
“Cannon is shamelessly acting as Trump’s defense attorney. If you are a reporter, that’s what your story is. If you’re not a reporter, that’s also what your story is,” she warns. “At the very least fact check this woman.”
Slate senior writer Mark Joseph Stern, who has authored a book on the Supreme Court, says, “Cannon was shameless enough to overrule the special master, because she is not a real judge.
Former General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and well-known MSNBC legal analyst Andrew Weissmann calls Cannon “a disgrace.”
“Oy- Judge Cannon tinkers badly with (and with typos) Judge Dearie’s scheduling order, relieving Trump of obligation to say whether docs were planted, even though she had wanted a clear inventory of what was found. She is such a disgrace.”
‘Tarnished Image’: Gallup Releases Devastating SCOTUS Poll – as Conservative Justices Snipe at Kagan’s Warning
Ever since December of 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case that six months later would overturn Roe v. Wade, a 49-year old precedent – “settled law,” Americans were assured by the Court’s Justices in their confirmation hearings – ensuring women have the constitutional right to abortion, Chief Justice John Roberts has been accused of losing control of his justices.
On Thursday, just days before the high court begins its new term, as one of the Justices’ spouses delivers testimony on her role in the coordinated efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, amid sniping by the Chief Justice and a conservative justice at their liberal colleague, and anger across the nation so virulent the midterm elections appear to be rapidly swinging back to Democrats, the right-leaning Gallup organization has released a new poll that’s absolutely devastating for the Chief Justice and the Court he was entrusted to lead – not to mention American democracy itself.
“Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows,” Gallup’s damning headline reads.
“47% trust the judicial branch; previous low was 53%,” “40% job approval of U.S. Supreme Court is tied for record low,” and “Record-high 42% say Supreme Court is too conservative.”
Translated, that means the legitimacy of the court is in question, despite entreaties from Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the Dobbs opinion that discarded nearly five decades of settled law to achieve a desired goal: rescinding the constitutional right to abortion, and with it, quite possibly not far down the road, the constitutional right to contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex marriage.
“‘Less than half of Americans say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust in the judicial branch of the federal government, representing a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year,'” Politico reports, quoting an advanced copy of Gallup’s findings.
“This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago,” Gallup’s own report reveals, “including seven points since last year, and is now the lowest in Gallup’s trend by six points. The judicial branch’s current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup’s trend that began in 1972.”
Respect for the Supreme Court was such a non-question that from 1976, when Americans’ “trust and confidence” in the nation’s highest court stood at 63%, Gallup, it appears, did not even ask the question again in polls again until 1997, when the answer came back at 71%.
Today, under Chief Justice Roberts, it is a mere 47%.
Also today, Ginni Thomas, the far right wing activist spouse of one of the Court’s most right-wing jurists, Clarence Thomas, is testifying before the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack regarding her role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
This week Justice Alito, also a far-right conservative, delivered a thinly-veiled attack against Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, in a rare public forum.
So did the Chief Justice, just weeks earlier.
“The very worst moments [in the court’s history] have been times when judges have even essentially reflected one party’s or one ideology’s set of views in their legal decisions,” Justice Kagan said recently, sparking anger from the right. “The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is the court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process.”
“Judges create legitimacy problems for themselves when they don’t act like courts,” she also said, and “when they instead stray into places that looks like they are an extension of the political process or where they are imposing their own personal preferences.”
“If, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that is a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan warned.
Chief Justice Roberts later delivered a terse retort.
“Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.”
Bloomberg Law columnist Vivia Chen, citing the well-respected constitutional scholar and retired Harvard Law professor of law, Laurence Tribe, recently wrote: “Chief Justice Roberts Is Officially Irrelevant.”
“Having had both John Roberts and Elena Kagan as my brilliant students in constitutional law, and having watched each of their careers unfold, I can’t help thinking that one of them, Justice Kagan, has grown into her role as a wise jurist,” Tribe told Chen in response to the Roberts-Kagan flap.
“Chief Justice Roberts has dwindled in stature as his cliches have lost their power and even their relevance,” Tribe added.
Justice Alito entered the sparring match this week, telling The Wall Street Journal: “It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit. But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”
It was a clear swipe at Justice Kagan.
“It’s embarrassingly obvious that recent decisions rendered by the conservative supermajority hew to a certain political agenda,” Bloomberg’s Chen noted, asking: “where does one start? I guess Dobbs was a biggie because it destroyed almost 50 years of reproductive rights for women.”
“Then,” she added, “there’s the decision that crippled New York’s gun-control law and the one that severely cut back climate change regulations. And let’s not forget how the court keeps siding with religion, as if the separation of church and state is an optional part of the Constitution.”
“That the Supreme Court lurched so far to the right in less than a year is breathtaking,” Chen observes. “It’s like we’re suddenly transported to a country where Wayne LaPierre, Christian fundamentalists, corporate polluters, and the ghost of Phyllis Schlafly are calling the shots.”
(For those looking fore even more justification of how the Supreme Court is undermining its own legitimacy, this video clip offers an additional answer.)
All this turmoil, turbulence, and trouble comes days before the Court begins its new term.
“The Supreme Court will return to work on the first Monday of October, after a three-month summer break, with all the determination of a Renaissance-era explorer looking for new lands to conquer,” snarked – or warned – The Nation‘s Elie Mystal. “Last term, the court’s conservative supermajority showed it was willing to ignore precedent (overturning Roe v. Wade), reality (issuing rulings that will lead to more gun violence and climate pollution), and facts (making up evidence in the praying-football-coach case) to arrive at its preferred judicial outcomes.”
“This term, the high court will cement its grip on political life in America, overturning affirmative action and other critical protections along the way,” he says.
“The conservative Supreme Court has been willing to suppress the vote or let Republican-controlled state legislatures gerrymander district maps to the point where the popular vote is all but meaningless, but so far, the court has been unwilling to throw away enough votes after the fact to change the outcome of an election. We’ll see if there’s a first time for everything.”
How bad could it be?
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Affirmative Action. Tribal Sovereignty. LGBTQ+ Rights. Voting Rights. They’re all on the chopping block this coming Supreme Court term—and this is just what we know so far. In this essential SCOTUS preview, @ElieNYC lays out what’s at stake this term. https://t.co/i3C1vHntmY
— The Nation (@thenation) September 29, 2022
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