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So Who Already Is “Tired of Winning”?

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The only U.S. President who had a worse beginning to his term than Donald Trump was William Henry Harrison, the 9th President. At Harrison’s inauguration held on a wet and chilly day in Washington, DC, he refused to wear an overcoat and a hat, he rode to the ceremony on horseback rather than in the closed carriage he was offered, and he delivered the longest inaugural address in U.S. history, which took over two hours to read. Harrison died just 31 days later from complication of pneumonia.

While Donald Trump’s physical health appears somewhat better than Harrison’s during this point in his presidency, Trump’s political health ailments far exceed those of the stalwart hero of Tippecanoe, and, in fact, any of his predecessors.

Though Trump shouted at his rallies over the course of the election season that “We’re gonna win so much, you’re gonna get tired of winning!”, the reality is quite the opposite.

In his first month in office, Trump fired his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, for lying about his contacts with Russian government officials during the campaign. The FBI is currently investigating Flynn for those contacts and a reported $65,000 he received from a Russian firm, plus reported large amounts of money he received from the Turkish government when working as an undeclared agent, and for allegedly talking about kidnapping Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen from his Pennsylvania home with senior Turkish government officials whom they allege masterminded the recent attempted coup in that country.

Federal courts halted Trump’s two executive order travel bans, the first on seven and the second on six majority-Muslim nations, from going into effect since the judges involved in these cases determined these orders represent unconstitutional injunctions on the basis of religion.

Without prior advice and consultation with his military commanders and intelligence officers, Trump went ahead with a raid on a suspected al-Qaida command in Yemen, resulting in the tragic death of a U.S. Navy SEAL and several innocent civilians, while killing few enemy combatants and unearthing little valid intelligence information.

FBI director, James Comey, confirmed in his sworn testimony before a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee that his agency, “as part of its counter intelligence mission,” is looking into possible links between members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian government collusion to influence the outcome of the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign in Trump’s favor. Included in this investigation are reported connections between Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Russian and former Ukrainian leaders.

Comey also debunked Trump’s claim that former President Obama had “wiretapped” or in any way surveilled the Trump campaign before the election or during the transition. The FBI director announced that his agency has “no information that supports those tweets [Trump sent].”

For someone who published the best-selling book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump should have had at least one legislative victory notch chiseled into his political belt by now. Unfortunately for him, but gratefully for the expected 24 million people who would have lost their health care benefits, the Trump/Ryan (Tryan) “American Health Care Act” failed to even make it to the floor of the House due to the turbulent Civil War raging in Trump’s own not-so-Grand Old Party.

Throughout the brief process after Ryan released the plan, Trump showed neither knowledge of nor enthusiasm for the issue of health care reform, even though on the campaign stump he said this would be his first priority from “day one.”

Trump certainly demonstrated no “art” in this raw deal for the people of this country. But why would anyone show surprise since Trump had no skin in the game either in this health care battle nor in The Art of the Deal: Speaker Ryan constructed and promoted this draconian bad health plan, and Tony Schwartz, Trump’s long-time acquaintance, literally wrote the book. Though Trump asserts he at least read Schwartz’s book, the same cannot be said about his reading of Ryan’s legislation.

Trump’s recent approval rating stands at 39%, an historic low for any President this early in their tenure. A whopping 56% disapprove of his job performance.

While many voters understood this sham man for who and what he is, unfortunately his supporters either do not want to recognize or dismiss the truth of the entrepreneur of failed Trump Airlines, failed and fraudulent Trump University, failed Trump Vodka, failed Trump Steaks, failed Trump Casinos, multiple bankruptcies and bank foreclosures, and most recently, a failing presidency.

In his campaign rallies when he harped on “winning,” he asserted that people will contact and tell him, “Please please, it’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore!”

Well, most certainly neither the majority of people in the U.S. nor our allies can take it anymore, but not for the reasons Trump claims.

Snake oil anyone?

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 26th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Confronting Internalized Anti-Semitism

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The joint investigations by Israeli law enforcement agencies and the FBI in the arrest of the suspected perpetrator of bomb threats on Jewish community centers in the United States and other countries raises more questions than it answers.

Was this Jewish 19-year-old of dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship the only person involved? And what were his motives?

In response to the arrest, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement asserting: “These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.”

Though we do not yet have a psychological profile of this young man, if it turns out that he was, in fact, the architect and agent of these terrorist threats, it matters not that he is Jewish. The choice of targets makes these acts anti-Semitic to the core.

Jewish people, and other people of socially marginalized identities and communities, still live in a world that, in many quarters, teaches that we are “less than,” that we do not have a right to exist, and even that we actually do not exist. As such, we can find it difficult at best not to internalize society’s negative teaching about ourselves.

Unfortunately, some of us have taken on the characteristics of our abusers by perpetuating the abuse. I ask, then, what role does internalized oppression play in this equation?

We can understand internalized oppression as the internalization, consciously or unconsciously, of external attitudes, teachings, myths, lies, and stereotypes of inferiority, inadequacy, self-hatred, and sense of “otherness” by the targets of systematic and systemic oppression.

Lipsky, referring to racism, discusses the “distress patterns” of internalized oppression:

“The result has been that these distress patterns, created by oppression and racism from the outside, have been played out in the only two places it has seemed ‘safe’ to do so. First, upon members of our own group — particularly upon those over whom we have some degree of power or control…. Second, upon ourselves through all manner of self-invalidation, self-doubt, isolation, fear, feelings of powerlessness, and despair.”

The notion that the perpetrator of bomb threats against Jewish institutions could himself come from a Jewish background brings up very traumatic memories for me. I grew up with a family member on my mother’s side who deeply resented his Jewish religious and cultural roots, and, I believe, operated from a place of internalized anti-Semitism.

His parents told me that he refused to date Jews while he was in high school. He straightened and bleached his hair, and he desperately wanted to have nose reduction surgery so he wouldn’t “look Jewish.”

Soon after moving away from home, he joined the so-called “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jewish” movement. He wears around his neck a Star of David with a Christian cross intertwined. On the very infrequent occasions when I see him at family events, he tells me that he “prays for me” and he hopes I will “find Jesus.”

Since an incident in the early 1990s, I have increasingly distanced myself from him. We were driving in his car, when he confronted me by saying that “You are going to Hell twice.”

More amused than shocked, I responded that though I don’t believe in the Heaven / Hell binary, I didn’t realize that a person could go to Hell more than once. That would imply that the Devil allows occupants passes to leave and reenter.

He argued, “You are going to Hell first for being a practicing homosexual.” I responded that I don’t have to “practice” since “I’m already really good at it,” which he did not find humorous.

He then asserted that I’m also going to Hell for not opening my heart and allowing Jesus in as my personal savior. I explained that while his choice might make sense for him, I am happy with how and what I am as a Jewish gay person.

“Just for the sake of argument,” I continued, “as you know, the Nazis murdered many of our Polish mishpucha. Where are our family members today?”

Without hesitation he quipped, “You don’t know they didn’t accept Jesus before the Nazis killed them!”

“Well,” I countered, “since they were practicing Orthodox Jews, I must assume that they did not convert to Christianity when the Nazis marched them into the woods and shot them, or transported and murdered them in concentration camps.”

His response: “Well then. They’re in Hell.”

The rage, the anger, the hatred erupted from the very depths of my being, for this was the most hateful statement I had ever heard.

“Let me out of this car,” I heard myself demand in as constrained a manner as I could muster. Several months passed before I could contact him. When I did, I stated that if we were to have a relationship, Jesus and homosexuality must remain off the table.

Though I have never broached our conversation since that day, and he would most likely not even remember it, I truly hope he no longer believes what he expressed to me that day.

While his is an extreme form of internalized anti-Semitism, I have come to realize that it arises in many forms. We cannot begin the process of unlearning this oppression until and unless we work to become aware of our own distress patterns, for it is much easier to direct our anger and blame – to project — outward onto others, than to look within ourselves to our own injuries.

Though I have been involved as a political activist and community organizer for 50+ years founding and working for organizations and activist groups, through years of undertaking my “personal” work, nearly on a daily basis, I continually become aware of the “stuff” still in my head: the self-doubts, the shame, the fear of living as a Jewish gay person.

Therefore, to Acknowledge the internalized oppression can be the second step after Awareness, before proceeding to taking Action. This “AAA” 12-step plan to confront addiction can be applied to confronting internalized oppression as well.

For us to work to our fullest potential, we must also work on our “stuff,” the ways in which we have internalized those subtle and not-so-subtle messages, how this has limited us, and how we can dismantle this internalization and move forward.

I hope the suspected instigator of the recent bomb threats will now receive the help he needs.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 24th, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Media Cohesion Essential in Trumpian Post-Fact Era

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“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin

Appearing on the MSNBC “Morning Joe” program Tuesday March 21, White House correspondent for the political center-right Independent Journal Review, Erin McPike, explained why she was chosen as the only reporter allowed to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson aboard his plane on his recent visit to Asia.McPike described how she contacted the State Department on several occasions for an interview with the Secretary of State with little results. Following publication of her article concerning Tillerson’s daily access to the President, Tillerson consented to grant McPike an interview during his Asia trip.

Associated Press White House correspondent Julie Page interrogated McPike about the ethics of her decision to accept Tillerson’s invitation when all other members of the press pool were barred.

Page asked, “Why not do the right thing for everyone and not just your news outlet? Do you think it hurts the case for press access going forward now that they [the Trump administration] know that at least one news organization will take this special access and not stand with the rest of the press core?”

“Well Julie,” retorted McPike, “I don’t know if that’s fair. I mean, if you had the opportunity to get the first interview with the Secretary of State, don’t you think you would have taken it?”

“Absolutely,” Page quipped,” but not if it’s on a plane at the exclusion of other reporters…. There’s a difference between an interview and then the traveling press core that sees the ins and outs of what the Secretary of State is doing, to know who he’s meeting with, to know what he’s doing.”

In her interview, McPike asked Tillerson if he would permit a larger press pool to accompany him in the future. According to Tillerson:

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. Doing daily availability,” he added, “I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that, have a lot of things, have a lot of quotes in the paper or be more visible with the media.”

Seated in studio next to Page, former Republican National Committee Chair, Michael Steele (2009-2011) made the insightful observation that he was witnessing in the exchange between these two reporters a rather successful and possibly intentional strategy of the Trump White House in creating tensions and imposing a wedge to separate and split the media.

Throughout his campaign to the present day, Donald Trump has energized his base of supporters by consistently blaming and attacking the media generally as well as specific outlets. A very brief sampling includes:

“[Journalists are] among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He continually calls them “liars” whenever they write stories unflattering to him and his administration.

“The failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday. And it was very much discredited, as you know.”

Trump continues to describe the New York Times as “failing” even though subscriptions for this newspaper of note rose by 2.5 million alone since the November 2016 election.

Donald Trump apparently does not consider his style of presentation as combative, though he accuses the press of creating a confrontational climate.

“And I’ll tell you what else I see [in the media]. I see tone. You know the word tone [he said sarcastically]. The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.”

Trump admitted that he actually likes and has been positively energized by his feud with the media.

“I will be honest. I sort of enjoy this back and forth, and I have all my life, but I have never seen more dishonest people than frankly the political media.”

While Trump is passionate about his feud with the media, and though Tillerson has no “need” for them, our democracy, on the other hand, not only needs a free and unencumbered press, but it is existentially dependent on it.

So next time Trump or his White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, verbally attack individual journalists and entire press outlets or refuse to address their questions, the remainder of the press attending a briefing must make it known that they will refrain from asking further questions until and unless their colleagues’ receive either an apology or their concerns are addressed.

The reporters at Trump’s recent press conference should have stood unified following the President’s characterization of BuzzFeed as “a failing pile of garbage” for posting, along with some other outlets, an unverified dossier of information supposedly linking the Trump campaign directly to the Russian government.

They should have stood unified following Trump’s refusal to take CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s question at the same press conference because his network published a 2-page summary of that dossier. Said Acosta from the press gallery to the President,

“Since you are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question?”

Trump refused arguing: “They are very, very dishonest people,” and he moved on to take other reporters’ questions.

At press conferences, Trump tells reporters to “sit down” when they ask questions he doesn’t like, and he speaks of a “running war” with the media. He has even accused “freedom of the press” as the cause of terrorist bombings in the U.S.

His chief political strategist, former editor of the alt-right mouthpiece Breitbart News, Stephen K. Bannon, severely castigated the press by calling it “the opposition party”:

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while… The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

Well, in his admission to “deconstruct the administrative state,” Bannon apparently wants to dismantle the free press. The Trump administration’s obvious “divide and conquer” or “divide and rule” (Latin dīvide et īmpera) strategy it hopes will have the effect of inhibiting the media from unifying and establishing a strong block to push for the truth by competing for the limited crumbs in the mirage of the tasty press-access pie.

While definitely tempting for reporters and media organizations to battle one another by pecking at the hard ground for these mere morsels of access, the higher goal of bringing truth to the people should outweigh the crumbs. The media will feed from the entire delicious pie if and when they remain unified.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 21st, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reflections of a Proud “Momma’s Boy”

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I Am Not There…

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Anonymous

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother, Blanche Mahler Blumenfeld, who died four years ago just two day before her 89th birthday. Her father, Simon Mahler, also died at age 89, and her mother Eva Schoenwetter Mahler passed away at around age 92. (We don’t know exactly because we discovered that Eva always told people she was four years younger than she really was since convention at the time of her wedding in 1921 dictated that wives should be younger than their husbands.)

When my father died in 1998, my sister Susan asked me to deliver his eulogy at the funeral on that excruciatingly hot and dry Nevada August day. I was visiting friends in London when he died, and during the flight to Las Vegas, I had no difficulty transferring thoughts to paper, which I read later at the cemetery.

Though I pride myself as being a fairly good writer, this time when Susan asked me to write our mother’s eulogy, I simply could not find the words to what my mother truly meant to me. She was such a large part of my life and my consciousness, and she remains so to this day. She was more than my mother, for she was my best friend and confidant. I couldn’t even imagine my life without her.

Though our society discourages true closeness between mothers and sons, and students at my schools often ridiculed and bullied me for it, I am proud to have been “a momma’s boy.” I am proud to have been her son and her friend.

Mom was certainly not perfect. She was actually far from it, and her imperfections were what most endeared me to her. She was not always the best cook. No matter how hard she tried, she could not make a pot roast without burning the bottom (which for me was always the best part). She made Susan and me eat cow’s tongue, which still to this day makes me nauseous whenever I think of the cow’s taste buds touching my own.

She never liked to watch movies with British actors because she said she didn’t understand “foreign languages.” She considered chocolate as her primary vegetable, and she regularly ate her required daily servings. She hated to drink water because “it had no taste,” so she weaned Susan and me on Pepsi, and then later DietRite Cola.

She complained whenever having to go out in snow, but she loved to watch it fall from the window. Her favorite trees were White Birch and especially Weeping Willow because it reminded her of her childhood home in Brooklyn. She wept the day the great Willow toppled in her front lawn during a storm.

She loved to swim, and practiced constantly to beat her older brother, Jack — the only person at summer camp who swam faster. She loved Eva and Simon, Jack and her younger brother Charles (“Chickie”), and she never recovered from their loss. Often, when calling for me, she often slipped and called me “Jack” or “Chic” by mistake, but there was no mistake because they were always part of her soul.

Mother never felt comfortable with the title “matriarch” because she said she never asked to be the last one remaining, and the last one left behind.

In my mother, what you saw was what you got. She was the most genuine and honest person I have ever met. She could not tolerate falseness or hypocrisy, and she could see it immediately when displayed in anyone around her. She had a voice, and she certainly used it. She stated and defended her positions firmly and with conviction, and always with compassion.

My mother was very bright, creative, and she had a number of talents: she could carry a good tune, she could have been a fabulous beautician if she had wanted to pursue that career, she gave great neck rubs with her strong fingers.

She loved beauty, Mario Lanza records, the color blue, sugary snacks, bagels and Jewish rye bread with Philadelphia cream cheese, Guilden’s mustard and Helman’s (Best Food’s) mayonnaise, her own kosher dill pickles, chopped liver, and manicotti. She loved people, and she loved life itself.

Though she might not have been the best at some things, there is no doubt that she was the best mom.

My mother’s life was rarely easy and often filled with constant struggles. We never had much money, and to say that my father was difficult to live with would be an understatement. Mother, though, lived with grace and integrity, with a wonderful infectious sense of humor, and without complaint. She was loved and is loved, and she will never be forgotten.

There is a concept in Jewish tradition known as Tikkun Olam — meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. My mother made the world a better place just by being herself. She brought joy and compassion to all she met. I never heard anyone voice anything but praise for her.

I say Shalom to you mom, and I say to you, go in love and in peace. I know you are still looking after me in death as you always did in life.

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 15th, 2017 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Hey Steve King: They Are All OUR Babies

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U.S. Republican Representative Steve King yet again insulted not only the Iowa residents of his congressional district but also the people throughout our country. In his latest nationalist white supremacist rant this week, he supported far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders by tweeting that civilizations cannot be restored with “someone else’s babies”:

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

King doubled down in a CNN interview by stating that he meant what he tweeted, and criticized immigrants who “don’t assimilate into America.” Soon afterwards, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, retweeted King’s diatribe adding: “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!”

King’s Naked Racist & Xenophobic Clothing

I found it extremely difficult and frightening to watch the Republican National Presidential Convention on its first night, since I had the definite impression that I was witnessing not simply a political gathering, but more distinctly, a neo-nationalist power rally with angry, primarily white and older Party activists.

The following day, I saw a rerun segment of a panel discussion on MSNBC hosted by Chris Hayes, which included Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce who discussed what he perceived as the “old white people” who run the Republican Party. He argued that the convention is filled with “loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people.”

Before I could take pride in the accuracy of my own perceptions, GOP Representative Steve King of Iowa piped in with a jaw-dropping quip by retorting:

“This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie. I mean, I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?”

“Than white people?,” asked Hayes incredulously. King backtracked a bit and emphasized that in “Western civilization itself” and places where Christianity had a foothold was based on the contributions of primarily white people.

While one might automatically dismiss King as simply an extreme Right-wing nut, the presidential standard bearer of his party, Donald Trump, has moved King’s rhetoric and policies to the center. Throughout King’s infamous political career in the Iowa State Senate (1996-2002), and U.S. House since 2002, he has consistently defended the authority of white Christian people.

For example, he, like Donald Trump, have targeted undocumented immigrants, and rejected the notion that many are high-achieving students. King asserted that they should not receive a pathway to citizenship saying that for every valedictorian who is legalized, “there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

What seemed impossible, Trump actually moved to King’s right flank on issues of southern immigration:

“The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems. [Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Donald Trump, arguably the most prominent of the so-called “birthers,” continually accused President Obama of illegitimacy as Commander in Chief by arguing that he was born outside the United States, even well after the President released his official birth certificate. This along with Trump’s supposed investigations into Mr. Obama’s time spent in Indonesia as a child, and inquiries into his African roots on his father’s side coexist as not-so-veiled xenophobic and racist threats.

Steve King was also a prominent and outspoken “birther.” He has consistently tried to define President Barack Obama as “other” by attempting to prevent our former President the right of self-definition – an apparent contradiction within a political party that emphasizes rugged individualism, freedom, and liberty.

In August 2012, King made the absurdist accusation during a tele-town hall meeting that though his staff had found Barack Obama’s birth announcement in two separate Hawaiian newspapers,

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t some other explanations on how they might’ve announced that by telegram from Kenya.”

In addition, according to King while Obama was running for the presidential nomination in 2008:

“When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States…[w]hat does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.”

Echoing King, Trump demanded during his campaign “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which plays into the rising tide of Islamophobia in the United States.

Trump, King, and other anti-immigration activists connect narratives representing immigrants, migrants, and even visitors to our borders in the language of disease, crime, drugs, alien and lower cultural and life forms, of invading hoards, of barbarians at the gates who if allowed to enter this country will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the lesser nations of the world.

The 2016 Republican Party Platform codified the language by defining the “other” as “illegal aliens,” as if they were dangerous and deadly non-human invaders from deep space.

Multiculturalism & Social Justice:

In the course I taught at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa titled “Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society,” I showed students a video of our “Representative” Steve King. Speaking to his supporters on August 21, 2012 at a Le Mars, Iowa, Town Hall meeting, King conjured up a supposed deep and sinister plot to ensnare young and impressionable first-year college students into campus multicultural groups to turn them into victims, which he asserted will convince them to work toward the eventual overthrow of this country’s power structure.

King talked about preparing for a debate on the Iowa State University campus on the concept of multiculturalism. He checked out the university’s website:

“I typed in ‘multicultural,’” he stated on the video, “and it came back to me at the time, 59 different multicultural groups listed to do, to operate on campus at Iowa State….And most of them were victims’ groups, victimology, people who feel sorry for themselves.”

He warned that these groups are “out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group who are feeling sorry for themselves….But just think of 59 card tables set up across the parking lot on the way to the dorm….And the first group says, ‘Well, you’re a victim that fits us. We want to help you. Why don’t you join us?’….And then you’re brought into a group that has a grievance against society rather than understand there’s a tremendous blessing in this society.”

Though King attended Northwest Missouri State University from 1967 to 1970, enrolled in courses toward a career as a wildlife officer, he never completed his degree. His political career officially began when he was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1996. While there, he was instrumental in passing the law mandating English as the “official” language of Iowa.

While in public office, he has consistently taken stands championed by the political Right opposing affirmative action for women and minoritized people, marriage equality for same-sex couples, women’s reproductive freedoms, and gun control, among others.

I advise Mr. King – and indeed, the entire Republican Party establishment and membership – that rather than resisting the concepts of multiculturalism and social justice and viewing these as challenges to our country’s very existence, we need to embrace our rich diversity. Even then Republican National Committee head, Reince Priebus, announced that the Party must undertake better “outreach” to “minorities” in his “autopsy report” following the GOP’s failure to recapture the White House in 2012.

According to the National Association for Multicultural Education:

“Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare student for their responsibilities in an interdependent world.”

Today, the United States stands as the most culturally, ethnically, racially, linguistically, and religiously diverse country in the world. This diversity poses great challenges and great opportunities. I would advise Republicans and others that the way we meet these challenges will determine whether we remain on the abyss of our history or whether we can truly achieve our promise of becoming a shining beacon to the world.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 13th, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Ding Dong, Joseph Nikolosi Is Dead, in Context

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“You should never say bad things when someone dies, only good things. Joan Crawford’s dead….Good.”      Betty Davis

An essential element of liberty is the freedom to define oneself. One of the chief violators of this principle, Joseph Nikolosi, died recently at age 70.

Nikolosi established and promoted so-called “reparative therapy” (a.k.a. conversion therapy). As a psychologist and a co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Nikolosi advanced his belief that people drawn sexually to their own sex can and should change to heterosexuality in the process of “therapy.” He enumerated his theories about human sexuality in his highly controversial and contested book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach.

Most reputable mental health associations have opposed and declared “reparative therapy” not only ineffective, but as psychologically destructive and dangerous: from the Academy of Pediatrics and American School Counseling Association to the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and National Association of Social Workers, among many others.

Five states have already outlawed “reparative therapy”: California, Vermont, Oregon, New Jersey, and Illinois.

Setting the Context

From the so-called “Eugenics Movement” of the mid-nineteenth century though the twentieth century CE and beyond, medical and psychological professions have often proposed and addressed, in starkly medical terms, the alleged “deficiencies,” “mental diseases,” and even “physical” differences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people compared to heterosexuals.

During what has come to be known as the “Eugenics” movement in science (coined by Francis Galton in England in 1883 from the Greek word meaning “well born” or “of good origins or breeding” in which the socially constructed hierarchical concept of “race” was codified), some members of the scientific community viewed people attracted to their own sex as constituting a distinct biological or racial type — those who could be distinguished from “normal” people through anatomical markers.

For example, Dr. G. Frank Lydston, U. S. urologist, surgeon, and Professor from Chicago, in 1889 delivered a lecture titled “Sexual Perversion” at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago in which he referred to homosexuals as “sexual perverts” who are “physically abnormal.”

“…the unfortunate class of individuals who are characterized by perverted sexuality have been viewed in the light of their moral responsibility rather than as the victims of a physical and incidentally of a mental defect…. Even to the moralist there should be much satisfaction in the thought that a large class of sexual perverts are physically abnormal rather than morally leprous.”

Also, the American medical doctor, Allan McLane Hamilton, wrote in 1896 in his article “The Civil Responsibility of Sexual Perverts, in the American Journal of Insanity:

“The [female homosexual] is usually of a masculine type, or if she presented none of the ‘characteristics’ of the male, was a subject of pelvic disorder, with scanty menstruation, and was more or less hysterical and insane.”

Physician, Perry M. Lichtenstein published in his 1921 medical journal article “The Fairy and the Lady Lover,” that: “A physical examination of [female homosexuals] will in practically every instance disclose an abnormally prominent clitoris,” and that the “fairy” is a “freak of nature who in every way attempts to imitate women.”

And in 1857 in France, the physician August Ambroise Tardieu wrote in his book, Medico-Legal Attacks on Morals, that:

“This degeneracy is evidenced in men who engage in same-sex eroticism by their underdeveloped, tapered penis resembling that of a dog, and a naturally smooth anus lacking in radial folds.”

In addition, rather than considering homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender non-conformity merely as emotional, gender, and sexual differences along a broad spectrum of human potential, some sectors of the medical and psychological communities force pathologizing language onto people with same-sex and all-sex attractions, and those who cross traditional constructions of gender identities and expression.

Dr. Sigmund Freud, for example, saw homosexuality as a developmental disorder, a fixation at one of the intermediate “pregenital” stages. He believed this was caused, at least in part, by an incomplete resolution in males of the Oedipal complex.

The Swiss physician, August Forel, wrote in his 1905 book, The Sexual Issue:

“The [sexual] excesses of female inverts [homosexuals] exceed those of the male,…and this is their one thought night and day, almost without interruption. [Male inverts] feel the need for passive submission…and occupy themselves with feminine pursuits. Nearly all [female and male] inverts are in a more or less marked degree psychopaths or neurotics.”

Educational opportunities for primarily middle-class women improved somewhat during mid-19th century in the United States. Often locked out of most institutions of higher learning, they founded several women’s colleges such as Mt. Holyoke College, Vassar College, Smith College, Wellesley College, and Bryn Mawr.

There were, however, many conservative critics who attacked this new trend warning that educated women would be unfit to fill traditional roles in society, and others, like Dr. Edward Clarke, in his 1873 article, “Sex in Education or A Fair Chance for the Girls,” warned that study would interfere with women’s fertility, causing them chronic uterine disease.

And Dr. Havelock Ellis, in Psychology of Sex, concluded:

“Women’s colleges are the great breeding ground of lesbianism. When young women are thrown together, they manifest an increasing affection by the usual tokens. They kiss each other fondly on every occasion…They learn the pleasure of direct contact…and after this, the normal sex act fails to satisfy them.”

Ellis posited that female homosexuality was increasing because of the rise of feminism, which taught women to be independent of men.

This context has resulted in members of the medical professions committing lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, and those who transgress so-called “normative” gender identities and expressions, often against their will into hospitals, mental institutions, jails and penitentiaries, force pre-frontal lobotomies, electroshock, castration, and sterilization. We have been made to endure “aversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” “Christian counseling,” and genetic counseling.

The first Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) (the American Psychiatric Association-sponsored and endorsed handbook of mental disorders) published in 1952 listed homosexuality, for example, as “Sociopathic Personality Disorder.” The “updated” 1968 DSM-II described homosexuality as “Sexual Orientation Disorder (SOD).”

The physician Irving Bieber co-authored a study in 1962, “Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals” sponsored by the New York Society of Psychoanalysts, in which he concluded that homosexuality constituted a psychopathology that could be cured or prevented with psychoanalysis. Bieber later said in an interview in the New York Times, Dec. 23, 1973:

“A homosexual is a person whose heterosexual function is crippled, like the legs of a polio victim.”

In addition, the psychiatrist Charles Socarides, another co-founder of NARTH, argued that homosexuality is an illness, a neurosis, possibly caused by an over-attachment to the mother, which he too argued could be treated. Bieber and Socrarides became the “authoritative” and often-referenced researchers in the area of causation and “treatment” of homosexuality.

(As a side note, Socarides’ son Richard came out as gay and served as a White House counselor and principle advisor on LGBT rights to President Bill Clinton.)

By 1973, the American Psychiatric Association had finally changed its designation of homosexuality for those comfortable with their sexual orientation, now asserting that it does not constitute a disorder.

Two years later, in 1975, the American Psychological Association followed suit and urged mental health professionals “to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.” It declared:

“[H]omosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.”

The American Psychiatric Association, in its DSM-V, the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” which the manual imposed upon transgender people since it published DSM-III in 1980, changed to the designation, “gender dysphoria,” which APA considers as a descriptive term rather than as diagnostic and pathologizing.

In the case of LGBT people, the scientific community has consistently deployed the “medical model” to investigate and pathologize the “other.” In so doing, heteronormativity and cissupremacy (oppression and colonization against trans people), therefore, became perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” unquestioned hegemonic norms against which all others are judged.

Heterosexual and cisgender norms have justified and explained away the otherwise unacceptable persecution and oppression of non-conforming sexual and gender identity groups, while evading issues of domination, privilege, subordination, and marginalization. This “medicalization” of homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender non-conformity only serves to strengthen oppression and heterosexual and cisgender privilege through its relative invisibility.

Given this invisibility, issues of oppression and privilege are neither analyzed nor scrutinized, neither interrogated nor confronted by members of the dominant group. But we have taken back the discourse and proudly assert again and again that “an essential element of liberty is the freedom to define oneself.”

The death of Nikolosi signifies, at the very least, that we have reached the middle of the end of externalized definitions of our bodies and our identities.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense Publications), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), and editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 10th, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump and Collective National Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Each week throughout the year as I make my pleasant two-mile walk to my local supermarket with four-wheeled cart in tow, I pass a house with a large white pole and a United States flag in the front yard flowing in the breeze. Recently in my western Massachusetts neighborhood, we experienced very heavy sustained winds with even stronger gusts.

Subsequently, this week as I traveled my customary jaunt, I noticed that the wind somehow noticeably tilted the pole and tore and battered the flag. Seemingly one of the holes hooked up and over the pole causing the flag to knot up onto itself. Metaphorically, this torn, battered, and knotted flag incapable of flying unfurled symbolizes the current political climate ravaging our country.

While strong political winds have forever blown through this land even before revolution detached us from the British empire, our most recent election cycle into the first 100 days of the new presidency has ripped and tattered our politics by reaching unprecedented proportions.

Donald J. Trump has whipped up destructive Category 5 hurricane force winds, and he has left a collective national (possibly worldwide) traumatic stress disorder in its wake with his rhetoric, behavior, and policies. (This could not now be referred to as a collective national post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – since it remains ongoing.)

Throughout the primaries and transition and into his taking over the White House, Trump has used the bodies of entire groups of people as stepping stone in his ascension to power: Muslims, Jews, Latinx and specifically Mexicans, undocumented residents, trans and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, people with disabilities, women and their reproductive rights, journalists and mainstream media outlets, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United Nations, the presidents of Mexico and Australia, people dependent on government entitlements to survive, and many others. (Trauma)

He picked for national security advisor a retired military Army Lt. General who was convicted of having “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign governments, and who was charged with breaking protocol and lying by negotiating with Russian government officials a possible sanctions relief before Trump took office.

He nominated a highly controversial billionaire to head the Department of Education who has in the past advocated for a voucher system that would divert funding from public school to private and parochial schools.

He chose to lead the Department of Energy a former Texas Governor who admitted he was unaware of the function of the department he was to administer, and who, in his infamous “oops” moment in his run for the presidency in 2012, actually forgot that this was one of the three federal agencies he intended to eliminate.

In addition, Trump’s Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted having no experience for the job, a Secretary of Health and Human Services who has been accused of having close financial ties to pharmaceutical and health insurance companies, a Secretary of State with close links to Russian and other foreign government officials, a Secretary of the Department of Justice with a controversial track record at best in the area of civil rights and voting rights and who has been charged by some Democrats with lying during his confirmation hearings about his talks with the Russian government during the election, and an Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who has sued that very agency in the past for imposing regulations he believed were detrimental to business. (Trauma)

Trump has declared war on the environment by proposing a substantial budgetary reduction of an estimated 24% and a staff cut of 20% to the Environmental Protection Agency, consideration of lower automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, relaxation of prohibitions against dumping toxins like coal ash into streams and rivers, reinstatement of the potentially environmentally damaging Dakota Access and Keystone oil pipelines, and increased coal mining, natural gas, crude and scale oil drilling. (Trauma)

He has increased the risk of war by attempting to slash the budget for the Department of State by an estimated 30% while increasing the military budget by around $54 million. (Trauma)

He is pushing for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act to be replaced by a Republican plan, which, if enacted, would make it less affordable for middle and lower income people to purchase health insurance and eliminate an estimated 10 million people currently on the ACA while simultaneously lowering taxes for the super-rich. It would also reduce the number of people eligible for Medicaid, and potentially eliminate federal reimbursements to Planned Parenthood. (Trauma)

Trump’s travel ban specifically targets people from Muslim-majority countries, and his reversal of Obama’s order to permit trans students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities places trans students at increased risk for marginalization and bullying. (Trauma)

We have witnessed a new wave of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country in the form of Jewish gravesite desecrations and bomb threats at over 100 Jewish community centers and at a Jewish children’s museum. Homophobic, racist, and Islamophobic incidents are on the rise, and someone torched and destroyed a mosque in Texas, as the white supremacist ultra-right solutes the new Commander in Chief. (Trauma)

And overarching the entire Trump presidency leers a scandal of unparalleled proportions involving the Russian government’s invasion of our electoral process with possible collusion by members of Trump’s campaign and administration.

Without any shred of evidence, he arrogantly accused former president Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, attacked the reliability and independence of our intelligence agencies, seriously called into question the credibility of a U.S.-born federal judge of Mexican heritage, cynically mocked a reporter with disabilities, labeled the media “the opposition party,” and reportedly admitted to grabbing women by their genitals.

Though he talks like a populist, he behaves like an authoritarian oligarch. He promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington while stocking that very swamp with Wall Street insiders. And he has lied through his teeth on a regular basis.

Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he does not have the requisite character, temperament, and background for the most important job in the United States, and he certainly lacks the willingness to learn.

Resiliency is one thing, but just how much more trauma and whiplash can we as individuals and as a society take?

What this would-be dictator has accomplished, however, on the other side of the equation, is to invigorate the political left-of-center in coming together in coalition to resist the rightward course set by Trump and his Republican congressional cronies.

Like the regressive tactics of Anita Bryant in her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign to reverse “Gay Rights” ordinances in Dade Country, Florida and other locales throughout the country during the late 1970s, and the widespread governmental and larger societal inaction in the opening years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which reenergized the progressive LGBT movement, and the brutality directed against black and brown people by some “law enforcement” officials, which sparked the “Black Lives Matter” movement, Trump in his perverse way has inspired (forced) people of many varied social identities to connect in direct action for mutual protection and survival, some for the first time.

Ironically, Trump has also revitalized our appreciation of and dependence on the media for the information we need to make sense of the times and on which we can better make informed decisions.

We cannot predict how much longer the continual stream of traumatic events will last and how much longer our tattered flag will remain knotted on the pole, but one thing is certain. As the old saying goes, “What does not kill us will make us stronger.”

Warren J. Blumenfeld is associate professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 9th, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Declaring My Gender Liberation

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In this my 70th year of life, I am traveling a journey out of yet another closet.

Throughout my entire 70 years, I have never “felt” male, and except for between the ages of 8-10 when I “felt” female, the vast majority of my time on this planet I have neither felt male nor female. The trans movement has given me the space and the terminology to see and define myself as “non-binary” and “agender.” Specifically, my brilliant and inspirational young cousin, Ariel Mahler, assisted in prying open my gender closet door by courageous example.

My pronouns are Warren, Warren, and Warren in the first, second, and third person, in the past, pluperfect, present, future, and subjunctive tenses. I also don’t object if people use pronouns to describe me since “he” and “she” never had much resonance or importance in connection to myself.

I am not defining as “trans,” and though I suppose that I present as “cis,” I honestly don’t know, or at this point in my life particularly care, where I fall on the wide and extensive cis/trans spectrum.

I do know quite well, though, that I have deeply internalized the social repression against breaking free from the gender status quo all of those 70 years. I am painfully aware of how I continually self-censor and edit my public behavior and presentation. Though I don’t necessarily like it, I clothe myself in muted colors in my attempts to remain as invisible as possible in the course of my day. I am working now to understand how I want to express my gender with integrity, authenticity, and lack of fear.

I was born in 1947 during the so-called “McCarthy Era” — a conservative time, a time when difference of any sort was viewed with suspicion and scorn. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, a brash young Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, sternly warned that “Communists [often thought of as Jews in the public imagination] corrupt the minds and sexual perverts [homosexuals] corrupt the bodies of good upstanding Americans,” and he proceeded to have homosexuals and Communists officially banned from all government service. To McCarthy, Jews, homosexuals, and Communists were one and the same.

For homosexual U.S.-Americans during this era, police frequently raided their bars, which were usually Mafia owned; the U.S. Postal Service invaded their organizations and even published the names of their mailing lists in local newspapers; and people regularly lost their jobs when “exposed.”

Gender nonconformers and those suspected of “homosexual tendencies” were often involuntarily committed to mental institutions by family members, where they lost all civil rights and control over their lives. Some were never released. Some were forced to undergo electroshock therapy; some were even lobotomized (doctors removed the frontal lobe of peoples’ brains with instruments forced through the eye sockets or the nose).

Before my second birthday, my parents suspected that I might be gay, or to use the terminology of the day, “homosexual.” Shy and withdrawn, I preferred to spend most of my time alone. Not knowing what else to do with what they considered as my gender non-conformity, my parents sent me to a child psychiatrist at the age of four until my 13th birthday.

There was a basic routine in the “therapy” sessions. I walked into the psychiatrist’s office, took off my coat and put in on the hook behind the door. The psychiatrist then asked me if there was anything in particular that I wanted to discuss. I invariably said “no.” Since I did not understand why I was there in the first place, I surely did not trust him enough to talk candidly.

When I was less than forthcoming in our conversations (which was on most occasions), he took from the shelf a model airplane, or a boat, or a truck, and we spent the remainder of the hour assembling the pieces with glue. In private sessions with my parents, he told them that he wanted me to concentrate on behaviors and activities associated with males, while of course avoiding those associated with females.

He instructed my parents to assign me the household chores of taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn (even though we lived in an apartment building and we did not have a lawn), and not washing or drying the dishes. Though I had loved to design and sew clothing for my sister’s dolls, this was now forbidden to me. And as if this all were not enough, he advised my parents to sign me up for a little league baseball team, which, despite my hatred for the sport, I was forced to join for two summers.

I did not tell the psychiatrist when I was about eight or nine years old that I thought I might be – or possibly wished I were – pregnant. The son of my mother’s friend who lived across the street frequently came over to our apartment. On these occasions, he tried to engage me in a wrestling match, but I always refused since feeling I was pregnant, I feared wrestling would harm my fetus. About one year later, I no longer believed I was female.

If I learned anything during my time with the psychiatrist, it was that I should cloak any signs of gender nonconformity from the sun’s exposing rays – to keep it well concealed deep within my consciousness, only to be resurrected during those rare but precious moments of solitude. It wasn’t long into my sessions with the psychiatrist that I began to believe that there was indeed something wrong with me. Why else would my parents be sending me, trying desperately to change me: my “mannerisms,” my interests, my likes, and even my dislikes?

“When you wave,” my father sternly warned one afternoon on the front steps of our apartment building when I was eight years old, “you MUST move your whole hand at the same time. Don’t just move your fingers up and down like you’re doing.”

He grabbed my arm, and despite my free-flowing tears and cheeks pink with shame, he vigorously demonstrated the “proper” hand wave for “a man.” Then, as if anticipating the scene in the film La Cage Aux Folles (and the U.S. remake The Birdcage), my father took me into the backyard and forced me to walk and run “like men are supposed to move.” Obviously, I had previously been doing something wrong. “Of course the other children pick on you,” he blamed. “You do act like a girl.”

For most of my years in school, I was continually beat and attacked by my peers who perceived me as someone who was “different.” Names like “queer,” “little girl,” and “fag” targeted me like the big red dodge ball my classmates furiously hurled at one another on the schoolyard. I would not – and could not – conform to the gender expectations my family and peers so clearly projected onto me, and I regularly paid the price.

This kind of bullying and policing of my gender expression started the very first day I entered kindergarten. It was 1952 and I was attending public school in Bronxville, NY. As my mother dropped me off and kissed me good-bye on the cheek, I felt completely alone and began to cry. My new teacher walked up to me and said, in a somewhat detached tone of voice, “Don’t cry. Only sissies and little girls cry.”

Some of the other boys overheard her, and quickly began mocking me. “The little girl wants his mommy,” one said. “What a sissy,” said another. Without a word, the teacher simply walked away. I went into the coatroom and cried, huddling in a corner by myself, until she found me.

Years later, in 1970, after I came out as gay to my parents, I asked my mother why she and my father had sent me to “the toy doctor,” as they had once called the psychiatrist. She looked at me urgently and with deep affection said:

“You wouldn’t have understood at the time, but we sent you because we felt you were too effeminate, and we thought you would grow up to be a homosexual. Your effeminacy,” she continued, “was the reason why the other children couldn’t accept you and why they hurt you. We sent you because their taunts hurt us too, and we couldn’t think of anything else to do.”

That wasn’t, however, the whole story; she also confided another reason for sending me. She said that my father suffered the pain of being different when he was young. He and his two sisters were the only Jews in their schools in the 1920s to 1930s in Los Angeles. Because of the anti-Semitism at the time, the other boys beat him up nearly every day.

While in elementary school, he hid in a small crawlway beneath one of the buildings during recess period to avoid attack by his peers. My mother told me that she and my father attempted to help me conform to my gender expectations to fit in so I wouldn’t have to go through what my father experienced.

My parents sent me to the psychiatrist, at least in part, in an attempt to direct my eventual gender expression and sexual identity (at the time, they equated my gender non-conformity to my possible homosexuality). My school reinforced this on my classmates and on me every day.

Even in kindergarten, children were channeled into gender-specific activities: boys were encouraged to participate in sports, girls to hone housekeeping skills such as cooking and cleaning. This less-than-subtle encouragement seemed to grow more rigid with every year of school.

Despite this, I developed what would become a lifelong appreciation of music and art. In the fifth grade, I auditioned for the school chorus and was accepted along with only a handful of boys and about 50 girls. The scarcity of boys in the chorus was not due to any gendered imbalance in the quality of boys’ singing voices. The determining factor was one of social pressure.

I and the other four boys in the chorus were generally disliked by our peers. In fact, most of the other boys in our class despised and picked on us, and viciously labeled us “the chorus girls,” “the fags,” “the sissies,” and “the fairies.” The girls, on the other hand, who “made it” into the chorus were well respected and even envied by the other girls in the school.

When I was 12-years-old, the bullying, the shame, and the pressure from my father to conform merged to bring me to take a large bottle of aspirin from our bathroom medicine cabinet, and toss a large quantity into my mouth. Somewhere I learned that doing this would cause massive internal bleeding, which could lead to death since I wanted to end the pain I was feeling.

A part of me, though, still wanted to live, and I quickly spit out the pills into the sink with the bitter taste lasting literally in my mouth and figuratively in my spirit.

During high school in the early 1960s, I had very few friends and I rarely dated. It was not that I did not wish to date, but I wanted to date some of the other boys. I could not even talk about this at the time since the concept of high school Gay/Straight Alliances was still many years in the future. In high school, the topic of homosexuality and gender-nonconformity rarely surfaced officially in the classroom, and then only in a negative context.

I graduated high school in 1965 with the hope that college life would somehow be better for me. I hoped that people would be more open-minded, less conforming, more accepting of difference.

To a great extent, things were better. At San José State College (later University), I demonstrated my opposition to the war in Vietnam with others. I worked to reduce racism on campus, and I helped plan environmental ecology teach-ins. Nevertheless, there was still something missing for me. I knew that I did not and could not conform to societal gender expectations and that I was gay, but I had no outlet of support through which I could express my feelings.

As far as I knew, there were no openly gay people, no support groups, no organizations, and no classes or library materials that did anything more than tell me that homosexuality was “abnormal” and that I needed to change.

In 1967, I finally decided to see a therapist in the campus counseling center, and I began what for me was a very difficult coming out process. And then during my first year of graduate school in 1970, I experienced a turning point in my life.

In my campus newspaper, The Spartan Daily at San José State College, I saw the headline in big bold letters: “GAY LIBERATION FRONT DENIED CAMPUS RECOGNITION.” The article stated that the chancellor of the California State University system, Glenn Dumke, under then Governor Ronald Reagan’s direction, had denied recognition to the campus chapter of the Gay Liberation Front.

In the ruling, Dumke stated that “The effect of recognition…of the Gay Liberation Front could conceivably to be endorse or to promote homosexual behavior, to attract homosexuals to the campus, and to expose minors to homosexual advocacy and practices” and “…belief that the proposed Front created too great a risk for students – a risk which might lead students to engage in illegal homosexual behavior.”

Consensual same-sex sexuality remained illegal until 1975 in California until almost five years after I left California.

This was the first I had heard of such a group, and the first time I had heard about other gay people on my campus. I called the coordinator of the group, and she invited me to the next meeting. Since the chancellor did not permit group members to hold meetings on our campus, they met at a little diner on a small side street a few blocks off campus. Unfortunately, this only confirmed my fears of the underground nature of LGBT life. As I approached the door to enter the meeting, I felt as if I were a member of the French resistance during the Nazi occupation.

Upon entering, I saw around 15 people. I recognized one young man from my chemistry class, but the others were strangers. I saw a near even mix of men and women, which made me feel a bit easier. In my mind, I had envisioned 50 men waiting to pounce on me as I entered, but I soon discovered that they were all good people who were concerned about me. They invited me to their homes, and before too long, I relaxed in their presence.

I left San José in January 1971 to work for a progressive educational journal, EdCentric, at the National Student Association in Washington, DC. Within a few months after arriving, I founded and became the first director of the National Gay Students Center, a national clearinghouse working to connect and exchange information between the newly emerging network of LGBT campus organizations within the US.

One year after leaving San José, I read that students at Sacramento State University, represented by the student government, sued the chancellor in Sacramento County Superior Court and won the case forcing the university officially to recognize their group. The court upheld the students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association by affirming their contention that “…to justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable grounds to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced; there must be reasonable grounds to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent.”

During the early 1970s, I was an active member of Gay Liberation Front in Washington D.C., which formed the leading edge of a movement rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Our first meetings were held at Grace Church, the Washington Free Clinic in Georgetown, and All Souls Church on 16th Street, until we managed to rent a brownstone on S Street NW to establish a Gay Liberation Front living collective. Meetings provided a space for gays, lesbians, bisexual women and men, and trans people to come together and put into practice what feminists had taught us — that the “personal is the political.”

We laughed and we cried together. We shared our ideas and most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid out plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression. And, somewhere along our journey, we began inventing new ways of relating to one another.

For those of us assigned male at birth, we came to consciousness of how we had been stifled growing up in a culture that taught us to hate the feminine within – that taught us that if we were to be considered worthy, we must be athletic, independent, assertive, domineering, and competitive. Most of all, we at least began to rejected the idea that we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.

Through the years, with the increasing visibility and recognition of people along the trans spectrum and of intersex people who have contested and shaken traditionally dichotomous binary notions of gender and sexuality, I have been able to go even further in my “coming out” process.

Their stories and experiences have great potential to us back into the future — a future in which anyone and everyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender.

I am proud and thankful to those who have laid the path and all who have traveled and extended its course by courageously calling into question this social myth of gendernormativity, the boxes society places us into as it imposes upon us our gender scripts.

Trans and intersex people have opened the boxes for all of us ultimately to obliterate the gender status quo of binary oppositions by demonstrating the visible ways, the options upon an enormous gender continuum, one that does not depend upon a sex assigned to us, a sex that is imposed and forced upon us by others. The trans and intersex communities have shown us the essential fluidity of gender.

In my case, who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks? That is simply an ageist expression anyway!!!!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 8th, 2017 at 12:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Trans People Defined Outside the Norm Who Lack Prior Claim

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The Trump administration recently annulled federal guidelines issued last May by former President Barack Obama that authorized public school students to use restrooms and other public facilities aligning with their gender identities. The Obama-era directive was based on the premise that the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, Title IX, covered gender identity as well.

Trump’s “justice” department under Jefferson Beauregard Sessions disputed this claim, and argued instead that the issue should be decided separately within each state. But as we know, the demand for “state’s rights” throughout our history has been nothing less than a codification for the state’s rights to discriminate.

On Monday, March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia trans male high school student who has sued his school district for the right to enter school facilities corresponding with his gender identity. The Court’s decision vacates a lower court’s ruling in Grimm’s favor, and now the case goes back to the court of appeals for retrial.

In her pioneer book, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Suzanne Pharr describes a series of elements she finds common to the multiple forms of oppression. Such elements include what she refers to as a “defined norm” and a “lack of prior claim,” among many others.

Pharr explains a “defined norm” as “…a standard of rightness and often of righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it. This norm must be backed up with institutional power, economic power, and both institutional and individual violence.”

Another way “the defined norm manages to maintain its power and control…” and kept exclusive is by what Pharr refers to as the element or system of “lack of prior claim.”

This, according to Pharr, “…means that if you weren’t there when the original document (the Constitution, for example) was written, or when the organization was first created, then you have no right to inclusion….Those who seek their rights, who seek inclusion, who seek to control their own lives instead of having their lives controlled are the people who fall outside the norm….They are the Other.”

In the original and unamended version of the U.S. Constitution, for example, since only European-heritage male land owners had the right to vote, all Others, including women and people of color (those outside the defined norm and who lacked prior claim) had to fight long and difficult battles against strong forces to gain access to the voting booth, often under the threat of and actual violence inflicted against them.

Some who continue to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples claim that this would undermine the sanctity of marriage, and possibly lead to the destruction of society, often using religious sanctions as their justification.

For example, responding to Vermont’s Civil Unions legislation in 2000, Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law reflected the opinion of a number of New England Cardinals and Bishops:

“The Legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the Civil Unions Bill [countering the defined norm and lack of prior claim], has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself [by these Others].”

Similarly, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, warned: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change [countering a lack of prior claim] when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America [by these Others who are outside the defined norm].”

Cardinal Law and Professor Dabney engaged in similar dire predictions, but, and here is the key, they are referring to two different events – the Cardinal referred to marriage for same-sex couples, Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, referred to women’s suffrage — but they forewarned similar consequences: the destruction of the family and civilization as we know it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provides an example on the institutional level. LDS President, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent [outside the defined norm] from the ranks of LDS priesthood.

In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple Endowment and sealings [lacking in prior claim], which the Church dictates as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.

Young attributed this restriction to the so-called sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro? [lack of prior claim],” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them [the Others] from the Priesthood.”

Since those in power in the United States have excluded trans and intersex people from the category of “defined norms” by viewing trans and intersex people as the Other, and the founding national and institutional policy documents have likewise excluded trans and intersex peoples’ civil and human rights from a prior claim, a spate of state legislatures have either passed or have considered passing laws prohibiting trans (and by implication, intersex) people from entering public restroom facilities that conforms to their gender identities and expressions, but may differ from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificates.

North Carolina’s HB 2, for example, its Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also goes by its extended title, “An Act to Provide for Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations.”

Last year, Republican Delegate Mark Cole of the Virginia House of Delegates proposed House Bill 663 that would require all people in public buildings, including schools, to use restrooms corresponding to their “correct anatomical sex.”

This bill, if passed, would have the effect of prohibiting trans and intersex people from going into the restroom facility matching their gender identities. The bill defines “anatomical sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy.” Referring to schools, the measure states:

“Local school boards shall develop and implement policies that require every school restroom, locker room, or shower room that is designated for use by a specific gender to solely be used by individuals whose anatomical sex matches such gender designation.” Violation carries a $50 penalty.

How would such a law be enforced? Civil rights advocate Tim Peacock argues:

“[A]dults would be required to inspect children’s genitals before they use the bathroom. This is what the conservative movement has devolved into: forcing children to allow adults to examine their genitals out of misplaced fear that transgender kids and adults might commit a hypothetical never-before-seen act of violence or sexual aggression (that would still be against the law with or without transgender protections).”

In Texas, a proposed bill, HR 2801, included a provision that would offer students $2,000 for reporting and claiming “mental anguish” for having to share restroom facilities with students of another assigned sex.

Members of the trans community often suffer the consequences of so many Others. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are of trans women of color.

So the draconian measures undertaken by state and local governments and by individuals against trans people and their civil and human rights directly and intricately connect with elements of oppression suffered by Others outside the defined norm who lack prior claim.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 6th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Administration Flushes Trans Bathroom Protections

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The Trump administration has cancelled the federal guidelines issued by former President Barack Obama in May 2016 that allowed students in public schools to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.

The Solicitor General’s office submitted a document to the Supreme Court asserting that the Obama administration’s directive did not “undergo any formal public process” or explain how the directive was “consistent with the express language of Title IX,” the federal law outlawing sex discrimination in education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, initially reported to have opposed rescinding Obama’s order, has since released a statement asserting that “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” and added Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue.”

Contrary to Session and DeVos’ views, this is most emphatically a federal issue.

This once again raises the concept of “tyranny of the majority” articulated back in the 1830s by Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, who traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America.

Though he favored US style democracy, he found its major limitation in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs. In a country that promoted the notion of “majority rules,” this effectively silenced minoritized peoples.

This serves as a crucial point because in a democracy, without specific guarantees for the rights of minoritized peoples, there is danger of domination or tyranny over others whose ideas, values, and social identities are not accepted by the majority.

Though, or course, most issues are different in many ways, but take the following cases as examples:

If the issue of prohibiting the practice of slavery were not settled in Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and later codified in the US Constitution, and left instead to the individual states, I question whether the states would have voluntarily outlawed the practice of slavery, and I believe the practice of legalized slavery would have lasted long after the Civil War in some states.

If the issue of school desegregation were not settled in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme Court decision and later strengthen in the federal Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and left to the individual states, I question whether the states would have voluntarily relinquished the practice of racial segregation, and I believe this practice would remain to this very day in some states.

If the issue of women’s reproductive freedoms were not settled in the 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, and left to the individual states, I believe today women’s rights to control their own bodies would be dependent on their geographic location, thus disqualifying many women from their reproductive rights.

The founders of this country provided a mechanism for the protection of minoritized people against the tyranny of the majority. The checks and balances between the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, and the authority of federal legislation over the individual states have been seen time and again (though of course not perfectly and not without major adjustments and reversals of policy along the way) to offer some form of protection for minority rights and responsibilities.

If we leave these important issues of social justice and social inequality to majority rule, then many of the evils that have plagued this country throughout its history will continue long into the future.

While the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, (“…no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”), our current patchwork of disparate and contradictory laws and state constitutional amendments remains not only confusing but also inequitable.

Just think back to before the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide for same-sex couples in June 2015. Prior to the decision, a couple could marry in some states but not in others. And if that married couple moved to a state that did not grant marriage equality, depending on the state, their marriage could be declared null and void.

Some legislators and community members list several objections to gender inclusive facilities: people would become uncomfortable, women would be at greater risk for assault, expense would be great to replace urinals with toilet stalls, it would go (no pun intended) against tradition, and other reasons.

Well, let’s take these concerns in order. First, change, any change, often taps into people’s anxieties. but over time, people generally accommodate or assimilate new ideas and knowledge into their overall mental library.

Secondly, yes, women have suffered assaults by men entering women’s rooms. Some gender inclusive facilities people are advocating, however, include primarily single-user lockable restrooms. These types of facilities substantially increase safety for all users. In addition, in larger multi-user restrooms, though the clearly stereotypical stick figure wearing the tacky stick dress stuck onto the door announces this as a female-only space, it cannot and has not ensured the occupants’ safety.

Gender inclusive restrooms, while nothing new in many locations and other countries, in others might be seen as non-traditional, contrary to what has existed before. This is the so-called “lack of prior claim” argument: if it was not there at the beginning of our organization, our culture, or our country, then it should not exist now.

We heard this theme voiced and written during the fight against the institution of slavery and against “Jim Crow,” when women began to organize for the right to vote, at the start of labor union organizing, calls for direct voting of US Senators rather than leaving it to state legislators, movements to abolish gender-based clothing mandates and other restrictive gender rules, demands for marriage equality, and many other progressive social, cultural, and political changes.

The current bifurcated restroom designation contradicts the realities of peoples’ sexed bodies, gender identities, and gender expressions. Many intersex people define neither as “male” nor as “female.” Which restroom must they choose, or which are they allowed to choose?

The “sex” designation typed onto many trans peoples’ official records assigned to them at birth simply do not accurately and integrally reflect their actual gender identities. They had no power or control at the time of their birth to list the designation that most closely matched their actual gender identities, and many laws today make it extremely difficult and expensive to permit any changes.

Gender must be seen as a continuum rather than as constituting binary oppositions. Basically, the criticism of maintaining bifurcated restroom facilities rests upon one primary foundation: cisgender male privilege. By permitting only cis-Johns and not Janes into their Johns, even in single-user facilities, cismen will perpetuate their unearned privileges. The ol’ boys club will remain safe and secure, keeping the gender infidels outside the perimeters as the barricades hold firm.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 22nd, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized