Susan's Soapbox

A place to discuss the issues that matter most to me. Along with the occasional random musing.

Some things bear repeating..

I originally wrote this in 2009 in response to my cousin, Jennifer Ossoff Kuperberg, replying to my links on LGBT Rights by posting on my Facebook wall, “Does everything always have to be about “Gay” issues? I can care less if you are a lesbian, do you have to flaunt it?”

Apparently, she did not care for my response. Rather than examining her own prejudice, she reacted by deleting me from her friends list. We have not spoken since.  Jennifer is only one of the more subtle faces of prejudice.

Is fighting for civil rights for LGBT Americans “flaunting” it that we are gay, lesbian or transgender?

by Susan Ferman Austin on Sunday, May 24, 2009 at 5:38pm ·

Aside from the fact that it hurt to have this come from a relative and I am stunned that anyone would consider posting links to civil rights issues “flaunting it” that I am a lesbian (bad grammar notwithstanding), I was deeply offended that anyone would have the audacity to complain about what I put on my own Facebook Wall–after all, if you don’t want to read those particular posts, you can just skip them. Better yet, you could try actually reading some of them before passing judgement. None, not one, of my post has contained “adult content” or anything that would be remotely considered offensive; rather I am imploring people to educate themselves about the rights and protections being denied to LGBT Americans. If some people consider that “flaunting” it that I am a member of a discriminated against minority, then so be it.

That said, to take what was probably meant as a rhetorical question and answer it literally, Yes, I do need to keep flaunting it that I do not have the same rights that my heterosexual cousin takes for granted: I do not have the right to walk down the street holding hands with my wife, as my cousin can do with her husband without being in danger of being the victim of a hate crime. If I were working in Idaho (six miles from where I live) I would not have the right to put a photo of my wife on my desk at work, just like my cousin could put a photo of her husband on her desk at work, without fear of (legally) being fired for “flaunting it”. In some states, I do not automatically have the right to be at my wife’s bedside or make medical decisions if she were in the hospital, as my cousin would if her husband were in the hospital, because some doctor or nurse could decide not to recognize my marriage. My wife is a former US Marine, yet if something were to happen to her, under federal DOMA, the children and I could be denied the same benefits that other veterans’ spouses take for granted; if something were to happen to me, my wife could be denied my Social Security Benefits and could lose our home under the Medical Aid Recovery Act, because I am disabled and receive Medicare, unlike a heterosexual widowed spouse, who would be allowed to keep their home if widowed. And these are only a few of the rights LGBT people are still denied.

All of these are rights that my cousin and all other heterosexuals can take for granted, which can be, and are, denied to LGBT Americans on a daily basis. When all Americans have truly Equal Rights and Equal Protection Under the Law, then and only then, will I stop “flaunting” the fact that we don’t.

August 2, 2012 Posted by | censorship, Civil Rights, discrimination, diversity, Human Rights, Inclusive ENDA, LGBT Issues, LGBT Rights, women's issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Reasons Why All Washontonians Should Vote APPROVE on Referendum 74

Marriage equality opponents almost always use religion as an excuse to oppose marriage equality.  They frequently use scare tactics to intimidate less-informed voters into thinking that marriage equality in Washington would somehow infringe on their religious freedom. But a simple look at the bill proves that this is not the case.  For those of you for whom Religious Freedom is a concern, there is no excuse not to support Referendum 74:

“This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.”

The summary further elaborates:

“This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses….It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement.” 

 Your religious freedoms will remain protected; its built into the bill.   Our marriages don’t affect yours and they don’t affect your church.

But they do affect your wallet.

Starting with healthcare. When Marriage Equality becomes a reality,  thousands of Washingtonians will be able to add their spouses and stepchildren to their insurance. People who can afford proper healthcare (including drug coverage and dental care—neither of which are adequately addressed by Obamacare) are less likely to have small ailments spiral out of control into serious health issues. They are more likely likely to be able to pay hospital and ambulance bills, should an emergency arise. And if there is a medical emergency, the children of same-sex couples are more likely to be able to receive prompt emergency medical care if the non-biological parent can simply tell a healthcare provider “I am the step-parent”, rather than having to produce paperwork proving they can legally authorize medical care. The same goes if one spouse in unconscious—have you ever heard of a spouse having to prove they are legally married to an unconscious patient? Well guess what? It happens to same-sex couples all the time. Precious minutes—or even hours—can be wasted if a spouse is not allowed to make life/health saving decisions for an unconscious spouse. And if a person who is not insured or is under-insured ends up comatose or permanently disabled because a same-sex spouse is not allowed to approve a risky procedure that would have either “cured him or killed him”, guess who gets to foot the bill? You guessed it, hospitals and tax payers.

That brings us to taxes and income. (Since we are speaking about State and not Federal law, I will leave federal income tax, etc. out of the equation. Suffice to say, same sex spouses get totally screwed by the IRS). Republicans are always talking about not wanting to raise taxes for “job creators” and Democrats are always talking about not wanting to raise taxes on the middle-class, but what neither side is talking about is the economic side of marriage inequality. Even at companies where health coverage is offered to domestic partners, they often have to pay a higher insurance premium for domestic partners than spouses. Car insurance is mandatory, but many car insurance companies do not offer the “marriage discount” to same-sex partners. And then there is your credit rating. Although the formula for FICO scores is a closely-guarded trade secret, there are some obvious ways in which same-sex couples are at a disadvantage. For example, being “Married” automatically raises you credit-worthiness, as you are seen as more stable. Holding and applying for joint accounts does not make the disparity go away. Two separate incomes changes the income to debt ratio for each individual, bringing down the credit score of the person with lower income, and the two scores don’t just balance each other out—each individual is independently rated. A lower credit rating means paying higher interest on everything from home loans to car loans; the economic impact is huge. And if all or most of the income is in one spouse’s name, the disparity is even more stark. A stay-at-home parent would never be able to buy a car in his/her own name. Or get a loan to start a small business. Or even get a line of credit for dental care.

Which brings us back to dental care. Dental care should not be a luxury available only to those who can afford it, but it is. Even those people poor enough to get Medicaid get no help here (which is mind-boggling to me—ever try to get a job with obviously bad teeth? Nobody will hire you). And serious dental problems can lead directly to serious medical problems. As one example, a close friend of mine was recently in the hospital due to an abscessed tooth that caused a systemic infection. Ironically, Medicaid paid the hospital bill, but refused to pay for the root canal that would have prevented the problem in the first place. In a more tragic example of how important access to dental care is, several years ago a little boy back east died because his family was homeless and no matter how desperately his mother tried to get him dental care the system was weighed against them. The inability to put your same-sex spouse or step-children on your dental plan can have serious consequences. Yet that is just one issue that people who can take their own rights for granted may not even realize is a serious consequence of marriage disparity.

Its time to take prejudice, personal opinion and religious beliefs out of the equation. Support equality and civil rights for ALL Washingtonians. Vote APPROVE on referendum 74.

August 2, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, discrimination, DOMA, Domestic Partnership, Family, LGBT Issues, LGBT Rights, Local, Marriage Equality, Politics, Religion, Washington State, women's issues | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washington state legislators send a Valentine to gay and lesbian families

Great news for Washington State LGBT families.  This really is a great Valentine’s gift!

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers have chosen today – the day that millions across the country celebrate the bonds of affection shared between two people in love – as the day to introduce major legislation that would no longer restrict gays and lesbians from their right to marry.Today is not the first time the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians and the Valentine’s Day holiday have crossed paths.

In early February of 1998, in what has proven to be the darkest of Valentine’s for gay and lesbian families in our state, the Legislature enshrined discrimination as the law of the land in Washington by overriding the veto of then-Gov. Gary Locke to approve the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”

This Valentine’s Day, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the night is darkest just before the dawn.

“Over the past several years, the Legislature and the public together have been steadily building a bridge to equality for gay and lesbian families,” said Moeller. He noted the passage of civil rights legislation in 2006 protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and financial transactions, and then three successive years of securing broader and broader domestic partnership rights — which included successfully withstanding a hostile referendum challenge at the ballot in 2009.

“We’ve made tremendous progress since 1998,” Murray said. “Gay and lesbian families in Washington now enjoy the same state spousal rights that their married straight friends enjoy – except for the name ‘marriage’. The recognition that their loving, lifelong commitment is no different from the loving, lifelong commitment of straight couples is the final step to achieving full equality. I believe the Legislature and the public are both ready to take that final step.”

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Read the full post here, on Pam’s House Blend:: Washington state legislators send a Valentine to gay and lesbian families.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, diversity, Domestic Partnership, Family, Human Rights, LGBT Issues, LGBT Rights, Local, Marriage Equality, Politics, Washington State | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox news unintentionally makes Beck look like an idiot

I preface this by saying that, to be fair, I think that in the midst of his fear mongering hysteria, Beck actually did make a couple of valid points.  But the irony of having Fox’s own commentators belie Beck’s theories is just too funny not to link to.

From Media Matters, with all the sources not just cited, but embedded or hyperlinked.

After Beck’s Show Aired, Fox News’ Prime Time Demolished His Egypt Theory

February 12, 2011 12:36 am ET by Sean Easter

In the weeks since civil unrest began in Egypt, Glenn Beck has peddled bizarre theories and doomsaying about a coming worldwide caliphate and/or communist revolution that will supposedly begin with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Beck’s narrative became so riddled with holes and distortions, the only way to approach it was to demand more proof. Beck tied Egypt to everything and everyone from Code Pink to Van Jones and the Brazilian constitution. His prop chalkboard implied that Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, is a “dictator we’ve made friends with.” Even conservative media figures criticized Beck. Bill Kristol said Beck was “marginalizing himself” when he “rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left.” John Fund said on Reliable Sources that Beck spoke in “apocalyptic conspiracy terms about America becoming an Islamic state.”

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February 12, 2011 Posted by | diversity, Eqypt, Human Rights, International, media, News, Politics, racism, unintentionally funny | , , , , | Leave a comment

Open questions for active-duty servicemembers: What do you think of DADT repeal?

I am working on an a couple of articles about DADT repeal and I would like to hear from both active duty servicemembers and gay or lesbian servicemembers who were discharged because of DADT. One of the articles I am writing  is for examiner.com, Spokane and one is for Yahoo Associated Content. Anonymous responses are welcome, as long as you tell me that you want your identity kept confidential.

I would appreciate it if people who are not in the military, but have friends or family who are, pass on the link.  Questions for LGBT servicemembers are after the jump.  You can respond in the “Comments” section, below, or contact me via e-mail: susanfermanaustin@gmail.com  Please include whether you are currently in the military and where you are from with your replies.

Continue reading

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Congress, DADT, News, Veterans Issues | , , , , | Leave a comment

Women’s Rights victory in Israel

Freedom Riders of 2011
By Sharon Shenhav, J.D.

A major victory for women’s rights was won on January 6, 2011, when the Israeli High Court declared that segregation on public transportation is illegal. Relying on court decisions and legislation, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein expressed surprise that in the year 2011 the court even needed to state the obvious: Women are entitled to sit wherever they choose on public buses.

Reviewing the history of bus transportation, he reminded us that there had never been segregation on public buses, and that the issue of segregated seating was raised only in the past decade by a group of religious extremists. They demanded that women sit in the back of public buses on certain routes that traveled through Haredi neighborhoods. They also demanded that women be dressed in a modest fashion, as determined by their “modesty patrols.”

The Egged bus company complied with these demands and women were directed to the rear of certain buses, while the front was reserved for men. When some women refused to sit in the back, they were subjected to verbal abuse and occasional physical abuse by some male extremists.

A few women were not permitted to board these buses because of their choice of clothing. When best-selling Orthodox writer Naomi Ragen was subjected to severe harassment while riding a bus to her Jerusalem home, she decided to take action. In 2007, she filed a petition to the High Court of justice, claiming that she was being denied the right to sit in the front section of a public bus.

Joined by other female victims of harassment on buses, as well as by the Center for Religious Pluralism, they were hopeful when the court ordered the minister of transportation to set up a commission to study the issue, conduct hearings, and publish its findings. The commission presented its report in late 2009, declaring that segregated buses were illegal.

Recognizing that some religiously observant men (and women) might wish to sit separately on public buses because of concerns for modesty, the court stated that in a pluralistic, multicultural society, everyone should have the right to sit wherever he or she chooses. However, the court made it very clear that women have the right to sit at the front of the bus (or anywhere else on it) without harassment of any sort, whether verbal or physical. Those who interfere with that right would be subject to criminal prosecution.

Justice Rubinstein, an Orthodox Jew, quoted liberally from Jewish law sources in his opinion, noting that respecting human dignity and love of all humankind were basic to Judaism.

Since all of the parties accepted the commission’s conclusions, the court ordered the Transportation Ministry and Egged to implement the report as follows:

  1. All previously gender segregated bus lines are to carry signs stating that every passenger is entitled to sit wherever he or she chooses, except for seats designated for the disabled, and that anyone who interferes with that right by harassing a passenger may be subject to criminal prosecution. These signs are to be of a reasonable size and are to be posted at both the front and rear doors.
  2. Bus companies must publicize in Haredi daily newspapers that segregated bus routes have been cancelled, and every passenger has the right to sit wherever she or he chooses.
  3. Bus drivers are to be trained to implement the Court’s decision that gender segregation is illegal.
  4. The Minister of Transportation is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Court’s decision, and must monitor the previously segregated bus routes to ensure that women are not being harassed or threatened.

The Court declared a trial period of one year to determine if the decision to eliminate gender segregated buses was being enforced. Rubinstein stated that if the Transportation Ministry finds that it is unable to protect women who choose to sit in the front of public buses, it should use its authority to close down those routes that continue to force gender segregation. He concluded that the influence of court decisions on human behavior may be limited. He expressed his hope that all parties would behave with tolerance and good will, for the benefit of society.

Women are cautiously optimistic, but unwilling to rely solely on government agencies and commercial bus companies to enforce the court’s decision.  Naomi Ragen and Sharon Shenhav, a women’s rights lawyer, are organizing a nationwide campaign entitled “Freedom Riders,” which will encourage women to ride buses on previously segregated routes, and to report on their experiences.  Shari Eshet, director of NCJW’s Israel Office met with Naomi and Sharon to discuss how to begin coordinating and organizing the campaign, which will include a hotline run by volunteers and a clearing house for the reports of the riders. Meetings are planned with the CEO of the Egged Bus Company and the Minister of Transportation with the hope that they will support and cooperate in enforcing the Court decision to eliminate gender segregation on Israeli buses.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, discrimination, Human Rights, International, Jewish Issues, News, Religion, women's issues | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network calls on Obama to issue executive order prohibiting discrimination in the armed forces based on sexual orientation and gender identity

Washington, D.C. – In a letter sent to the White House today, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) urged President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination in the armed forces based on sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN recommends that the executive order go into effect on the date of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal, which is 60 days after certification by the President, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen.

“Signing legislation that allows for repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a necessary first step, but it is not sufficient for ensuring equality in the military. We call upon the President to issue an executive order so that sexual orientation and gender identity are not barriers to applying for a job or advancing in your career,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The explicit anti-discrimination provision that was part of legislation to repeal DADT was dropped from the bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President last December.  An executive order is therefore needed to give service members recourse outside their chain of command if they are experiencing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Every service member deserves equal respect and a safe work environment. President Obama now has an opportunity to demonstrate the same leadership that President Truman did when he issued an executive order to end racial segregation in the military, and issue an executive order that protects all patriots regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The President recognizes that it will take more than just repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to end discrimination against LGBT service members, and we couldn’t agree more,” Sarvis said.

To read the full text of the letter, click here.

Despite the President signing the bill authorizing repeal of DADT, it is still unsafe for service members to come out until 60 days after certification by President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen. Warning to service members:  Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: 202-328-3244 x100.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, DADT, discrimination, LGBT Issues, LGBT Rights, Obama, Veterans Issues | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Truth Wins Out Slams The American Family Association For Offensive Remarks Against Native Americans

Truth Wins Out Slams The American Family Association For Offensive Remarks Against Native Americans

Companies Should No Longer Pay Attention to Boycott Threats From Certified Hate Group

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Truth Wins Out condemned the American Family Association (AFA)  today for writing a remarkably bigoted article titled, “Native Americans Morally Disqualified Themselves From the Land.” The AFA is best known for its anti-gay activism and launch of boycotts against companies that it deems too gay-friendly.  The latest op-ed by the organization’s spokesperson, Bryan Fischer, provides yet another reason why corporations should ignore pressure campaigns by the AFA.

“We are appalled by the American Family Association’s reprehensible remarks that distort history and demean Native Americans,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen.  “Responsible companies should no longer give The American Family Association the time of day and their boycott threats should be ignored. This organization has shown itself unfit to be part of the adult conversation and it certainly does not represent the majority of families.”

The American Family Association was recently certified as an official hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Fischer’s latest column provides evidence that this was a wise decision by SPLC.

“In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil,” Bryan Fischer wrote on the website, “Rightly Concerned” a project of The American Family Association.

“This nauseating rhetoric is usually reserved for LGBT people, but apparently the American Family Association has more than one group it likes to dehumanize,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “The true character of the AFA has been revealed and no corporation or politician can pretend that this group has even a shard of credibility. The only reasonable response to AFA threats is to not return their calls and pretend they don’t exist.”

The AFA is a Tupelo, Mississippi-based organization known for launching failed boycotts against companies such as The Walt Disney Company, Home Depot, Wal Mart, Ford Motor Company and McDonald’s. The group once accused Mighty Mouse of snorting cocaine.

Writers for AFA’s website include Chuck Norris, Janet Porter, David Limbaugh and Rev. Ray Pritchard.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | discrimination, diversity, News, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

13-Year-Old Pensylvania boy savagely beaten in broad daylight for 30 minutes before someone stops to help

At Least one of the attackers shot video of the beating with his phone

Last month, what police have described as a “wolf-pack” of teenagers in Upper Darby, PA, apparently at random, picked out 13 year-old Nadin Khoury as he walked home from school with a friend, kidnapped and mercilessly beat the boy, tried to hang him upside down from a tree. When he fell out, they set on him again.


February 9, 2011 Posted by | bullying, Education, Family, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

ACLU: Transgender woman, ejected from Lynnwood store, spurs policy change

This is a well-written, fair piece, on the Seattle PI site, based on a press release from the ACLU.  What is not made clear form the article, but is clarified if you follow the links on the ACLU site, is that the transgender woman in question was using a private, one person stall in the dressing room area.  Nobody’s privacy was in any way, shape or form being violated by this woman using the dressing room; she had every right to be there.  The only person who’s rights were violated is the transgender woman who was not just kicked out of the dressing room–in direct violation of Washington law, but done so in a manner designed to humiliate her.

ACLU: Transgender woman, ejected from Lynnwood store, spurs policy change By VANESSA HO SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF:

After a transgender woman was kicked out of a Ross Dress for Less store while trying on clothes, a civil-rights group said the clothing chain has taken “positive steps” to strengthen its anti-discrimination policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said the company has clarified to employees that gender discrimination includes discriminating against someone on the basis of gender identity and expression.

The happy ending here is that the store immediately redressed (no pun intended) the issue.  The sad and, frankly, sickening part is the string of abusive, bigoted comments and outright hate speech in the comments section of the Seattle PI post.  The comments I am seeing posted tell me that “liberal” Washington State has a long way to go.  Some of them are so bad, that they make me ashamed to be a Washingtonian today.  Most of us are better than that. The bigots just have louder mouths and a whole series of blogs to direct them where to go write their hate speech.

CONTINUED BELOW THE FOLD Continue reading

February 9, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, discrimination, diversity, LGBT Issues, LGBT Rights, Local, News, Washington State, women's issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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